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Posts tagged “traditions

The Mongolian Yurt: Ger Sweet Ger

Recently, I re-discovered my 2010 Mongolia trip photos while searching my archives for images to submit to stock agencies. I’m now motivated to publish a few more blog posts about this intriguing country.

The traditional portable home for nomadic herders roaming the vast grassy steppes of Mongolia is the yurt, or ger as it’s called in Mongolian which literally means home.

Ger pepper the landscape throughout Mongolia and today between 30-40% of the country’s population (Source: Wikipedia) live in a ger, not only on the steppe but many in city suburbs.

Due to the nomadic nature of its occupants, a ger is designed to be dismantled easily and moved, so construction only takes about 2 hours.

A collapsible wooden lattice wall with a door frame supports long, roof poles and a circular crown leaving an opening for the central chimney. The entire framework is covered with layers of wool felt for warmth then ropes secure waterproof canvas over the top.

These photos show the stages of ger construction: the bare skeleton of wall lattice and roof poles, the entire framework covered in layers of felt, and the completed ger with the outer cover of waterproof canvas.

Contructing a Mongolian ger. Wooden wall lattice, roof poles and door. Khutag Ondor, Central Mongolia

Constructing a ger. Wooden wall lattice, roof poles and door.

Contructing a Mongolian ger. Layers of wool felt cover the framework. Khutag Ondor, Central Mongolia

Layers of wool felt cover the framework.

Fully constructed Mongolian ger alongside partly constructed ger. Khutag Ondor, Central Mongolia

Fully constructed Mongolian ger covered in waterproof canvas and secured with ropes alongside partly constructed ger.


Todos Santos: Cemetery Celebrations Part 3

This is the last post in my Todos Santos series. The graves in this remote highland village in Guatemala were vibrantly painted and adorned with flowers and gaudy wreaths for All Saints’ Day or El Día de Todos Los Santos on November 1.

If you haven’t already, check out my other posts Todos Santos: Cemetery CelebrationsTodos Santos: Cemetery Celebrations Part 2 and Todos Santos: A Drunken Guatemalan Horse Race.

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Todos Santos: Cemetery Celebrations Part 2

“The merry dance, beer in hand, in the grave choked hillside cemetery alongside marimba playing musicians.”

While visiting Todos Santos in the remote highlands of Guatemala during the festivities of El Día de Todos Los Santos or All Saints’ Day on November 1, I found these locals celebrating in the village cemetery.

Men clad in the unique village uniform danced unsteadily, beer in hand, among the tightly packed, painted graves to the typical Guatemalan soundtrack of marimba.

Check out my first Todos Santos: Cemetery Celebrations post and the earlier Todos Santos: A Drunken Guatemalan Horse Race.

Marimba playing and dancing in the cemetery, Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Huehuetenango, Guatemala

Marimba band playing and merry locals dancing in the cemetery

Marimba playing and dancing in the cemetery, Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Huehuetenango, Guatemala

Local men dancing to the sound of marimba among the graves in the cemetery, beer in hand

Marimba playing and dancing in the cemetery, Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Huehuetenango, Guatemala

Everyday clothes for men and women in Todos Santos. The men have their uniform and the women have theirs. Each village has their own unique traditional costume worn daily not just for special occasions.

Marimba playing and dancing in the cemetery, Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Huehuetenango, Guatemala

A little tipsy


Todos Santos: Cemetery Celebrations

‘The festival continues as families pay their respects to departed loved ones, praying and decorating tombs with gaudy garlands.”

As in other areas of Guatemala, the remote village of Todos Santos just over 8000 feet above sea level in the northern Guatemalan highlands celebrates El Día de Todos Los Santos or All Saints’ Day on November 1.

Countrywide cemeteries are the heart of festivities. However, in Todos Santos locals also hold a unique horse race with Mayan roots; “…inebriated, traditionally clad locals race horses…. All-male jockeys, hardy residents of Todos Santos, spend a sleepless night beforehand ritualistically drinking themselves into an alcohol-induced stupor….”.

Below are a few shots of cemetery scenes taken on my arrival in Todos Santos on October 31 a couple of years ago.

While this post focuses on the cemetery, you can also check out Todos Santos: A Drunken Guatemalan Horse Race from where I took the extracts above.

Cemetery wreaths, Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Huehuetenango, Guatemala

Plastic wreath and flower stall in the dirt street outside the town cemetery

Selling cemetery wreaths, Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Huehuetenango, Guatemala

Selling plastic wreaths and flowers outside the cemetery

Town cemetery, Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Huehuetenango, Guatemala

Inside the town cemetery. U.S.A. flag painted on a tomb. Houses scattered on a foggy hillside in the background.

Town cemetery, Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Huehuetenango, Guatemala

Inside the town cemetery. A little girl arranging flowers at a tomb while thick fog creeps in.

Town cemetery, Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Huehuetenango, Guatemala

Inside the town cemetery. Plastic wreaths and bunting adorn painted tombs.


Chiang Mai Artisans: The Art of Thai Silk

Thai silk worms, caterpillars rather than worms, munch on mounds of mulberry leaves before using their spittle to form cocoons. Weavers soak these cocoons in boiling water to extract the silk thread from the cocooned caterpillar then hand reel the raw silk on wooden spindles.

After dyeing, they weave blends of colorful threads on traditional hand-looms making exquisite Thai silk cloth.

This post is the last in my series about artisans of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. I took these images in a Thai silk making and weaving workshop documenting some of the stages from silk worm cocoons to finished product.

For background on the origins and process of Thai silk making check out Wikipedia’s Thai Silk article. Also, the rest of my Chiang Mai artisan series: The Art of Making Traditional Thai ParasolsThe Art of Wood Carving and The Art of Thai Lacquerware.

Finished Thai silk products in the store, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Finished Thai silk products in the store

Thai silk worms, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Thai silk worms

Close-up of Thai silk worms eating mulberry leaves, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Close-up of Thai silk worms eating mulberry leaves

Thai silk worm cocoons, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Thai silk worm cocoons

Thai silk worm and cocoons, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Thai silk worm and cocoons

Thai silk worm cocoons, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Thai silk worm cocoons

Weaving Thai silk on a hand-loom, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Weaving Thai silk on a hand-loom

Weaving Thai silk, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Weaving Thai silk

Dyed silk threads, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Dyed silk threads

Weaving Thai silk, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Weaving Thai silk

Weaving Thai silk, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Weaving Thai silk

Gorgeous golden threads of Thai silk, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Gorgeous golden threads of Thai silk

Spindles of dyed Thai silk threads, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Spindles of dyed Thai silk threads

Bleached raw Thai silk threads before dyeing, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Bleached raw Thai silk threads before dyeing

Dyed Thai silk fabric drying, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Dyed Thai silk fabric drying

Dyeing Thai silk fabric, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Dyeing Thai silk fabric

Weaving Thai silk, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Weaving Thai silk

Weaving Thai silk, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Weaving Thai silk

Weaving Thai silk, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Weaving Thai silk

Weaving Thai silk, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Weaving Thai silk

Spindles of Thai silk thread seen through threads on loom, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Spindles of Thai silk thread seen through threads on loom

Close-up of spindles of Thai silk thread seen through threads on loom, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Close-up of spindles of Thai silk thread seen through threads on loom

Spindles of Thai silk thread, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Spindles of Thai silk thread


Chiang Mai Artisans: The Art of Thai Lacquerware

Continuing on from my series of artisan posts from the highland city of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, this series of photos shows skilled artisans and their craft during various stages of the Thai lacquerware process.

Elephants, pots, boxes, trays, vases and plates, all different shapes and sizes, are just some of the lacquered handicrafts created. Engraved patterns gilded with gold leaf, broken eggshell inlays or delicate hand painted designs adorn them.

Check out the article Northern Thai Lacquerware for more information on the materials, methods and history of this exquisite art form. Also, my other Chiang Mai artisan posts The Art of Making Traditional Thai Parasols and The Art of Wood Carving.

Lacquerware workshop, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Pots before applying lacquer

Lacquerware workshop, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Lacquered pots

Lacquerware workshop, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Polishing lacquered items

Lacquerware workshop, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Polishing stars after applying gold leaf

Lacquerware workshop, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Elephants and pots decorated with gold leaf

Lacquerware workshop, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Applying gold leaf to an elephant

Lacquerware workshop, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Applying gold leaf to an elephant close-up

Gold leaf inlaid lacquered Jewelry box, Thai lacquerware, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Gold leaf inlaid lacquered Jewelry box

Lacquered tray, Thai lacquerware, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Painted lacquered tray with eggshell inlay

Lacquerware workshop, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Painting pots by hand

Lacquerware workshop, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Painting pots by hand

Lacquerware workshop, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Applying eggshell to pots

Lacquerware workshop, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Painting by hand

Lacquerware workshop, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Painting by hand close-up

Lacquerware workshop, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Painting by hand close-up

Lacquerware workshop, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Painting designs on an elephant

Lacquered elephant, Thai Lacquerware showroom, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Large painted lacquered elephant in showroom

Lacquered urn, Thai Lacquerware showroom, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Large lacquered urn in showroom

 


Chiang Mai Artisans: The Art of Wood Carving

In the highland city of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, I recently photographed various artisans at work.

Here’s a series of my images taken in a furniture workshop. Skillful wood carvers chisel intricate relief scenes from blocks of teak to create screens, sculptures and elaborate chairs while other artisans inlay delicate mother-of pearl designs decorating rosewood tabletops and cabinets.

Check out my previous post Chiang Mai Artisans: The Art of Making Traditional Thai Parasols.

Carving a rural Thai scene in teak, wood carving, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Carving a rural Thai scene in teak

Wood carver's toolbox, wood carving, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Wood carver’s toolbox

Carving flowers in teak, wood carving, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Carving flowers in teak

Wood carver's tools, wood carving, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Wood carver’s tools

Carving in teak, wood carving, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Carving in teak

Carving in teak, wood carving, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Carving in teak

Carving in teak, wood carving, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Carving in teak

Inserting mother-of-pearl inlay in rosewood, wood carving, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Inserting mother-of-pearl inlay in rosewood

Inserting mother-of-pearl inlay in rosewood, wood carving, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Inserting mother-of-pearl inlay in rosewood

Cutting mother-of-pearl for inlay, wood carving, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Cutting mother-of-pearl designs for inlay

Carved wooden elephants on the back of a chair, wood carving, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Carved wooden elephants on the back of a chair

Beautiful, twisted tree trunk with wood carving scene behind, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Beautiful, twisted tree trunk with wood carving scene behind


Chiang Mai Artisans: The Art of Making Traditional Thai Parasols

During my recent trip to Chiang Mai in the northern highlands of Thailand, I visited handicraft workshops to watch artisans making traditional Thai parasols, silk, wood carvings and lacquered pots, boxes and ornaments.

This series of photos shows the parasol workshop and its artisans.

Painted and unpainted parasols, Thai parasol workshop, Traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Painted and unpainted parasols in the parasol workshop

Painted and unpainted parasols, Thai parasol workshop, Traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Close-up of painted and unpainted parasols

Painted and unpainted parasols, Thai parasol workshop, Traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Bundles of unpainted parasols alongside finished, painted ones

Artisans in Thai parasol workshop, Traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Artisans in Thai parasol workshop

Frames of drying sa paper made from mulberry tree bark, Traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Frames of drying sa paper made from mulberry tree bark

Frames of sa paper made from mulberry tree bark drying in the sun, traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Frames of sa paper, made from mulberry tree bark, drying in the sun

Cutting bamboo spokes for parasol frames, traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Cutting bamboo spokes for parasol frames

Bamboo parasol frames, traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Bamboo parasol frames

Close-up of bundles of bamboo parasol frames, traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Close-up of bundles of bamboo parasol frames

Bundles of bamboo parasol frames, traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Bundles of bamboo parasol frames

Fixing bamboo spokes to make parasol frames, traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Fixing bamboo spokes to make parasol frames

Cutting sa paper to size around a parasol frame, traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Cutting sa paper to size around a parasol frame

Glueing pieces of sa paper to parasol frame, traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Glueing pieces of sa paper to parasol frame

Close-up of glueing sa paper to parasol frame, traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Close-up of glueing sa paper to parasol frame

Glueing sa paper to parasol frame, traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Glueing sa paper to parasol frame

Glueing layers of sa paper to parasol frame, traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Glueing layers of sa paper to parasol frame

Parasols in different stages of production, traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Parasols in different stages of production

Glueing sa paper to parasol frame, traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Glueing sa paper to parasol frame

Glued sa paper drying in the sun, traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Glued sa paper drying in the sun

Fixing bamboo spokes on parasol, traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Fixing bamboo spokes on parasol

Finishing touches to parasol, traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Finishing touches to parasol

Painted parasols, traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Painted parasols

Parasol workshop, traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Parasol workshop

Artisans at work in parasol workshop, traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Artisans at work

Parasol paraphernalia, traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Parasol paraphernalia

Painted parasols, traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Painted parasols

Painted parasols and artisans at work, traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Painted parasols and artisans at work

Painted parasols, traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Painted parasols

Painted parasols, traditional Thai parasols, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Gorgeous painted parasols


The Colors of Traditional Thai Parasols: An Outdoor Exhibition

Changing the topic from my Phuket beach series, here are some photos of traditional Thai umbrellas or parasols. I stumbled on an outdoor exhibition of these colorful handicrafts during a golden hour walkabout around the streets of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.

Traditional Thai umbrellas or parasols, outdoor exhibition, Chiang Mai, Thailand Traditional Thai umbrellas or parasols, outdoor exhibition, Chiang Mai, Thailand Traditional Thai umbrellas or parasols, outdoor exhibition, Chiang Mai, Thailand Traditional Thai umbrellas or parasols, outdoor exhibition, Chiang Mai, Thailand Traditional Thai umbrellas or parasols, outdoor exhibition, Chiang Mai, Thailand Traditional Thai umbrellas or parasols, outdoor exhibition, Chiang Mai, Thailand Traditional Thai umbrellas or parasols, outdoor exhibition, Chiang Mai, Thailand


Songkran: Thai New Year Water Festival

Aquatic mayhem infects the kingdom during the Thai New Year Water Festival or Songkran when Thailand plunges into a frenetic nationwide water fight on the grandest scale. Not just child’s play, crowds hit the streets armed with hosepipes, water guns and cannons, pails and tubs to spray, splash and douse.

Pickup trucks stocked with barrels of icy water cruise along overflowing with drenched merrymakers showering anyone they pass, in turn receiving a deluge. Barefoot water warriors stand at the roadside targeting all who pass by, hurling bucketfuls of chilly water over motorcyclists, pedestrians and truck troopers.

Older Songkran traditions still thrive, a time to visit family, pay respect to elders, pray at Buddhist temples and leave offerings for monks. People cleanse Buddha images in homes and temples using fragrant water containing flower petals. The “blessed” water is then collected and gently poured over the hands and shoulders of elders to pay respect and bring good fortune. Throwing water in the streets originated from this custom as relief from the heat.

Shared with neighboring Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, Songkran runs from 13 to 15 April each year in the hottest month at the end of the dry season. It has been a national holiday since 1940 when Thailand’s official start to the calendar year changed from the Thai New Year to 1 January to coincide with the Western business world. The Buddhist calendar however, which is 543 years ahead of the Gregorian calendar, is still in use. The year 2013 is 2556 in Thailand!

Different parts of Thailand play with water for a varying number of days at Songkran. When I lived in Nakhon Sawan in central Thailand, it dragged on for about ten days but here in Phuket the law now allows it only on the 13th as they try to cut down on accidents. This was the first Thai New Year I dared get my camera out (from the relative safety of a doorway) and take some photos. Afterwards, I joined in the mayhem, splashing and soaking to my heart’s delight!

Songkran (Thai New Year) water fight, Karon, Phuket, Thailand

Roadside mayhem!

Songkran (Thai New Year) water fight, Karon, Phuket, Thailand

Motorcycle target!

Songkran (Thai New Year) water fight, Karon, Phuket, Thailand

Kids enjoying the fun!

Songkran (Thai New Year) water fight, Karon, Phuket, Thailand

Cooling off!

Ice truck, Songkran (Thai New Year), Karon, Phuket, Thailand

Buying ice from an ice truck to chill water for throwing.

Soaked with faces smeared in white powder. Songkran (Thai New Year), Karon, Phuket, Thailand

Soaked with faces smeared in white powder.

Ice buyers become victims of icy water, Songkran (Thai New Year), Karon, Phuket, Thailand

Ice buyers become victims of icy water!

Pickup truck armed with barrel of water gets a drenching, Songkran (Thai New Year), Karon, Phuket, Thailand

Pickup truck armed with barrel of water gets a drenching.


Holy Week in Antigua – A Close up of Alfombra Making

World famous for its Lent (Cuaresma) and Holy Week (Semana Santa) celebrations, Antigua and surrounding pueblos in the central highlands of Guatemala buzz with people, emotion and activities at this time of year more than any other. Families, friends, neighbors and communities spend hours together creating elaborate ceremonial carpets called alfombras along the route of religious processions.

Some make simple alfombras of pine needles strewn with flowers. Others create intricate, time-consuming works of art using stencils and sawdust (called aserrín) stained the varying hues of an artist’s palette. For these, they level a surface of sand or plain sawdust over the uneven cobblestones before sifting a fine layer of dyed sawdust to paint a colored background.

Placing their choice of cardboard or wooden stencils cut into various images and patterns on the blank canvas they carefully sift contrasting hues of sawdust to create the effect they want. Laying on platforms of sturdy planks of wood placed on blocks spanning the width of the alfombra, they avoid damaging their art.

After months of planning and hours of work and painstaking concentration, masterpieces carpet the cobbles in the path of processions only to be trampled moments later into an impressionistic mishmash between gray stones.

Here’s a photo tour of the elaborate process of alfombra-making! Click here to see all my Holy Week posts from previous years. For this year’s Semana Santa photos and all things Antigueño, check out Antigua Daily Photo.

Spraying a completed sawdust alfombra with water to stop it drying and blowing away in the wind, Antigua, Guatemala

Spraying a completed sawdust alfombra with water to stop it drying and blowing away in the wind

Making alfombras all Maundy Thursday (Jueves Santo) night for the early morning Good Friday (Viernes Santo) procession, Antigua, Guatemala

Making alfombras all Maundy Thursday (Jueves Santo) night for the early morning Good Friday (Viernes Santo) procession

Making alfombras all Maundy Thursday (Jueves Santo) night for the early morning Good Friday (Viernes Santo) procession, Antigua, Guatemala

Making alfombras all Maundy Thursday (Jueves Santo) night for the early morning Good Friday (Viernes Santo) procession

Making alfombras all Maundy Thursday (Jueves Santo) night for the early morning Good Friday (Viernes Santo) procession, Antigua, Guatemala

Making alfombras all Maundy Thursday (Jueves Santo) night for the early morning Good Friday (Viernes Santo) procession

Dyed sawdust (aserrín) for making alfombras, Antigua, Guatemala

Dyed sawdust (aserrín) for making alfombras

Stencils for making alfombras, Antigua, Guatemala

Stencils for making alfombras

Lying on raised wooden planks to decorate and avoid damaging alfombras, Antigua, Guatemala

Lying on raised wooden planks to decorate and avoid damaging alfombras

Close up of dyed sawdust (aserrín) and stencil, Antigua, Guatemala

Close up of dyed sawdust (aserrín) and stencil

Adding detail using dyed sawdust (aserrín) and stencil, Antigua, Guatemala

Adding detail using dyed sawdust (aserrín) and stencil

Sifting a base of dyed sawdust (aserrín), Antigua, Guatemala

Sifting a base of dyed sawdust (aserrín)

Sifting blue sawdust (aserrín) flowers on to the orange base using a cardboard stencil, Antigua, Guatemala

Sifting blue sawdust (aserrín) flowers on to the orange base using a cardboard stencil

Arranging fresh flowers around the alfombra, Antigua, Guatemala

Arranging fresh flowers around the alfombra

A simple alfombra of leaves and flowers, Antigua, Guatemala

A simple alfombra of leaves and flowers

Scattering natural colored sawdust on a pine needle alfombra, Antigua, Guatemala

Scattering natural colored sawdust on a pine needle alfombra

Flower and pine needle alfombra, Antigua, Guatemala

Flower and pine needle alfombra

Using wooden stencils for intricate dyed sawdust alfombra, Antigua, Guatemala

Using wooden stencils for intricate dyed sawdust alfombra

Different hues of dyed sawdust, Antigua, Guatemala

Different hues of dyed sawdust

Showing scale and intricacy of dyed sawdust alfombra, Antigua, Guatemala

Showing scale and intricacy of dyed sawdust alfombra

Stunning detail of rear view of a Guatemalan indigenous woman, Antigua, Guatemala

Stunning detail of rear view of a Guatemalan indigenous woman

Crowds admiring the completed alfombra moments before the procession walks over it, Antigua, Guatemala

Crowds admiring the completed alfombra moments before the procession walks over it


Chinese New Year in Nakhon Sawan Part 5: Day Parade

Finally, the last of my Chinese New Year in Nakon Sawan, Thailand series!

Following on from the night parade of February 12 was the day parade the entire next day in sweltering heat and humidity.

For my earlier posts, check out: Lanterns, Dragons and DancersChinese Opera; and Chinese Lion Dance.

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Chinese New Year in Nakhon Sawan Part 4: Night Parade

Every Chinese New Year in Nakhon Sawan city a giant, glowing dragon tears gracefully through the streets parting the crowds, twisting and writhing its way up a towering, swaying bamboo pole before finally sinking into the murky waters of the Chao Phraya River.

Extravagant parades of florid floats and martial art displays, angels and goddesses, dancers and musicians fill the streets while Chinese lions perform ritual dances on the ground or leap dramatically from one vertical rod to another.

Here are some of my photos from the evening parade of February 12 that ran from 6 p.m. to midnight.

For my earlier Chinese New Year in Nakhon Sawan posts check out: Lanterns, Dragons and DancersChinese Opera; and Chinese Lion Dance.

A belated Happy Chinese New Year!

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Chinese New Year in Nakhon Sawan Part 3: Chinese Lion Dance

Youths clad in garish Chinese lion masks and costumes prance nimbly, leaping in the air, twisting and rolling over on the ground in the ritualistic Chinese lion dance of Chinese New Year.

Bowing, they enter stores and homes bestowing good luck and receiving red envelopes of cash in their mouths from proprietors. The clash and beat of symbols and drums, the eardrum shattering crackle and acrid smoke of firecrackers deafen and choke in the stifling heat.

I followed different groups of Chinese lion dancers around the streets of Nakhon Sawan in central Thailand, photographing their colorful and energetic displays.

Check out my posts on Chinese opera and other Chinese New Year events.

DSC_9195 DSC_9197 DSC_9200 DSC_9204 DSC_9219


Chinese New Year in Nakhon Sawan Part 2: Chinese Opera

Daily evening performances of Chinese opera are a popular part of the Chinese New Year entertainment in Nakhon Sawan. Heavily made-up, elaborately clad performers strut and rant in lilting tones on gaudy, makeshift stages erected along the riverside.

Following are some Chinese opera photos taken during my visit to Nakhon Sawan this year during Chinese New Year.

Check out part 1 of Chinese New Year in Nakhon Sawan for a taster of the atmosphere and other events.


Chinese New Year in Nakhon Sawan Part 1: Lanterns, Dragons and Dancers

Back in Thailand after ten years away, I decided to revisit Nakhon Sawan (my home for three years before moving to Phuket) during Chinese New Year.

Famous for its large Thai-Chinese population and flamboyant Chinese New Year celebrations Nakhon Sawan attracts tens of thousands of national and international visitors every year during the festival.

The largest city in the central plains, governing the identically named province, Nakhon Sawan (meaning Heavenly City) is known locally as Pak Nam Pho. Here the Ping and Nan rivers merge forming the Chao Phraya that runs through the country’s capital Bangkok.

Spanning over 12 days, this year from 3-14 February, Chinese New Year banners, crimson decorations and glowing Chinese lanterns adorn streets, shopping malls, businesses and homes. Chinese opera, food stalls, temple fairs and open-air concerts and shows saturate the senses.

Here’s a taster of the atmosphere and some of the events running up to the parades on the 12-13 February.


Holy Week Alfombra Detail: Part 2

My post Holy Week Alfombra Detail: Part 1 was just a taster of the thousands of alfombras created during Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Antigua, Guatemala. As so many intricate details grabbed my attention, I had to break them down into separate posts.


Holy Week Alfombra Detail: Part 1

Semana Santa (Holy Week) has come and gone again in Antigua, Guatemala along with thousands of ceremonial carpets known as alfombras, laid and destroyed in the path of processions.

This post is dedicated to details of these pieces of art made of dyed sawdust, pine needles, flowers, fruit and vegetables where biblical and Mayan themes, crosses and hearts predominate.

For more of my alfombra posts check out  Holy Week in Antigua: Alfombras and Just Kids: The Art of Alfombras. For all my Semana Santa posts including processions and velaciones (Holy Vigils) click here. Also, Holy Week Alfombra Detail: Part 2 is now posted.


Todos Santos: A Drunken Guatemalan Horse Race

International Living recently published my article about a unique Guatemalan horse race with drunken Mayan jockeys. Below is my original submission with many more than the one photo published with the article.

My childhood dream  was to explore the world, treading in the footsteps of past explorers while discovering the wonders of its landscapes and people for myself.

After many long stints of traveling and returning to save for my next trip I qualified as an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher and spent over five incredible years teaching in Thailand before hitting Latin American soil.

AWAI travel writing and photography workshops opened doors to an entirely new world and I’m now based in the beautiful colonial city of Antigua in Guatemala living my dream as a travel writer and photographer.

Last year I headed with a friend to the remote village of Todos Santos just over 8000 feet above sea level in the northern Guatemalan highlands.

We went to witness the famous annual festival with inebriated, traditionally clad locals racing horses on All Saints’ Day on November 1. All-male jockeys, hardy residents of Todos Santos, spend a sleepless night beforehand ritualistically drinking themselves into an alcohol-induced stupor.

The following morning, families dress riders in the unique traditional uniform worn every day by male villagers, tough red and white striped pants with thick blue and white striped shirts trimmed with embroidered collar and cuffs.

For the race, they wear a ceremonial red sash and their everyday straw hat brims with streaming feathers and multi-colored ribbons symbolizing the sacred quetzal bird.

Helped onto the back of a horse, rented especially for the day, these inebriated jockeys set off unsteadily in a muddle of flying legs and flailing arms, whooping and singing loudly, pounding point to point along a short dirt track in the cold mist and drizzle.

With no official start or finish, riders stop briefly at each end of the track to snatch another mouthful of booze before wildly dashing back in a tattered group, hooves throwing clods of dirt in the faces of onlookers.

Some tumble in the mud but are quickly dragged out of the path of oncoming steaming, rain-soaked steeds by helpers along the track. The chaos continues for seven hours, stopping only for lunch, participants joining and leaving (usually when they’re too drunk to stay on the horse) the event as they wish.

Spectators are mainly colorfully clad locals from Todos Santos and surrounding settlements with a handful of outsiders. Crowding against the wooden railings or scrambling up a steep grassy incline for a birds-eye view, neither cheering nor clapping, each village’s distinctive costume clashes against its neighbor.

Like no other horse race I’ve seen, Skach Koyl as it’s called in mam the local Mayan language, is more a rite of passage than a competition as there’s no winner. Its roots are vague but most agree it began around the time of the Spanish conquest when the Spaniards introduced horses to the region.

Mayan tradition expects village men to participate four times in a lifetime. The final year on the last mad dash along the track the jockey brandishes a live chicken triumphantly as he rides. Later that night he eats the entire bird alone to signify the end of his obligation.

The festival continues as families pay their respects to departed loved ones, praying and decorating tombs with gaudy garlands. The merry dance, beer in hand, in the grave choked hillside cemetery alongside marimba playing musicians.

The intrigue of new people and places, customs, foods and festivals not only quenches my lust for travel and adventure but provides an income too. Trips like these can pay for themselves with a little effort in the field to take photos and gather fodder for articles. But when you’re living your dream, doing what you love, you can hardly call it work!


Aryapala: A Modern Mongolian Meditation Center

A path snakes its way through scrub and sparse trees over a rickety wooden footbridge and upwards to a trunk of steep steps. The tranquil, gaudily painted Aryapala Initiation and Meditation Center perches on a hillside backed by a rock face, overlooking a valley and gently undulating hills draped with conifers and rocky outcrops. Turtle Rock or Melkhi Khad as the locals call it, crouches in the distance.

We headed there while staying in a ger camp in the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, about 55 km from Mongolia‘s capital Ulaanbaatar known affectionately as UB, for a couple of days relaxation after my younger brother’s wedding in the city.

After visiting Turtle Rock, we bumped along a dirt road (the norm in Mongolia) to the entrance gates of the meditation center and strolled along a path to its hilltop lookout. The hills of central Mongolia swept out to the horizon, greenness sloshing against the shore of blue sky.

From the arrival of Soviet communist rule in the 1920s until the 1990 democratic revolution, when freedom of religion was restored, the official “religion” in Mongolia was atheism.

During this time, particularly during the purges of the 1930s, communists destroyed most of the nation’s temples banning and almost wiping out Buddhism in Mongolia. Nowadays between 50-80% (depending on sources) of Mongolian people are Mahayana Buddhist.

Established in 1998 the Aryapala Initiation and Meditation Center is now visited by Buddhists worldwide.

Prayer wheels line the sides and rear of the center. According to Buddhist custom, to gain merit believers spin prayer wheels clockwise to follow the sun while rotating the syllables of the mantra in the direction they should be read.

The Buddhist mantra Om Mani Padme Hum written in Tibetan script (considered the classical language of Buddhism) adorns the outside of prayer wheels and prayers penned on pieces of paper fill the hollow interior.

Four different alphabets cover this sign. Along the left and right reading from top to bottom swirls the Classical Mongol Script.  Abolished by the Mongolian government in 1941 due to Soviet pressure, since 1994 it’s been making a comeback although mostly for artistic decoration. The average modern-day Mongol has little knowledge of this beautiful script.

In the center is the now commonly used Russian Cyrillic alphabet. Adopted in 1937, there is a high literacy rate throughout the country.

Along the top is Tibetan and finally, an English translation lies at the foot of the sign.

Throughout Mongolia, Buddhist traditional ceremonial scarves known as khadag hang inside temples or flap in the wind on ovoos (stone shrines). Each color holds a different meaning but the use of blue khadag is very particular to Mongolian Buddhism. The color of respect, it symbolizes the sky, its roots dating back to the Mongol ancient shamanic worship of the Eternal Blue Sky (Tenger). Present day Mongolian life combines both shamanistic and Buddhist beliefs.

Inside the meditation centre, paintings and wall hangings portraying Buddhist teachings, painted sacred symbols and shelves containing money offerings and prayers wrapped in orange cloth smother the walls in splashes of color.

Intricate paintings decorate the exterior roof eaves on three levels. Scenes from everyday Mongolian nomadic life lie below heavenly flowers while on the belly side rage gory depictions from hell.

Swastikas (a holy symbol of good fortune in Buddhism) and Yin Yang (a symbol representing perfect balance) also adorn the outside.


Guatemala: 190 Years of Independence

Packs of runners of all ages, seasoned athletes or not, blast on whistles as they pound Guatemala’s streets, independence torches ablaze. Runners, spectators and parades crowd main squares and central parks, a festive buzz charging the air.

Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica proclaimed independence from Spain on September 15, 1821. This year they celebrated 190 years of autonomy.

Each year, for weeks beforehand, neighborhoods vibrate daily as student bands practice, the patriotic decorate windows and doorways with independence bunting and street vendors sell Guatemalan flags.

Runners charge excitedly through the streets all over the country on September 14, heading to city central plazas to fetch the independence flame from burning beacons for their community’s independence torch.

On September 15, colorful celebratory parades of brass bands and dancers boom and boogie their way for hours through streets teeming with expectant onlookers.

At 6 p.m., towns and cities nationwide hold civic ceremonies in their central squares. Speeches commemorate the signing of the Independence Act and pledge allegiance to the flag. The Guatemalan flag is then lowered while crowds solemnly sing the Himno Nacionaltheir national anthem.

These are some of my favorite images of the runners shot on September 14, 2009 and 2011 in Antigua, a favorite place for fetching the independence flame. Last year, due to severe weather causing treacherous landslides countrywide, authorities suspended the tradition for safety reasons.


Mongolian Countryside: Kazakh Eagle Hunters and Travel Rituals

As we headed out into the Mongolian countryside from the capital Ulaanbaatar we passed by modern colorful houses clashing against simple traditional gers in a landscape of sun splashed undulating hills and open steppe.

1. Landscape of colorful houses and undulating hills

2. Modern brightly colored houses

Not far from the city we stopped on the roadside for a close up look at a majestic golden eagle with its Kazakh eagle hunter.

3. Kazakh eagle hunter with golden eagle

Kazakh Eagle Hunters

Many Kazakhs fled over the border to western Mongolia several hundred years ago during the advance of the Russian empire into Kazakhstan bringing with them the ancient tradition of eagle hunting.

These eagle hunters usually train the larger, more aggressive female golden eagles, hunting with them from horseback during the extreme winter months, when the pelts of rabbit, marmot, fox and wolf are most luxuriant, before turning their prey into the famous Kazakh fur hats.

During summer, some offer passing tourists the chance to hold these giant weighty yet noble birds for a fee.

4. Magnificent golden eagle

5. An ovoo dominates the landscape

Ovoos

Throughout our travels in the countryside we passed ovoos. At crossroads, mountaintops and other high places, these piles of rocks and stones crowned with prayer flags fluttering in the wind color the landscape.

Mongolians customarily stop at ovoos during their travels, circling clockwise three times on foot and adding a rock to the pile believing this ritual would grant them a safe onward journey. Hasty travelers on four wheels suffice with a passing honk on the horn.

Ovoos are spiritual sites for worshiping the mountains, the sky and the revered sky deity Khokh Tenger (translating to “Blue Sky”). They’re also used for Buddhist ceremonies and act as landmarks in a terrain with almost no signposts. Worshipers insert sticks tied with traditional ceremonial blue (symbolizing the revered sky) silk scarves called khadag into the ovoo, chant prayers and leave food offerings.

6. Close up of khadag atop an ovoo

7. Another ovoo


Just Kids: The Art of Alfombras

Guatemalan kids love to express their creative side helping their parents in the art of making elaborate, vivid alfombras (carpets) of gaudily dyed aserrín (sawdust), pine needles, flowers and fruit during Semana Santa (Holy Week).

Engrossed in their handiwork, mostly oblivious to onlookers, they play with color and form. Laying flowers and petals on carpets of soft, scented pine needles or sifting, spooning and massaging with fingertips psychedelic sawdust into carved out shapes in wooden stencils: this is the ultimate art class for kids!

Here are just a few images captured in Antigua at this time.

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Just Kids: Little Girls

Not just the cucurucho boys take part in the processions during Semana Santa (Holy Week).

Mothers dress up their young daughters in formal black and white, often covering their heads in lace shawls, and either carry or lead them while they take part in processions.

Like the boys, the girls too have their own procesiones infantiles, mini child processions where they carry their own andas (floats) helped by adults and chaperoned by their parents.

Here are a few photos of some girls in Antigua.

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