Not a week goes by here in Thailand that we don’t learn and discover something new. Just in this past week and a half we have got behind the wheel (a pottery wheel), meditated with monks, and learned the many ways of a wok.
I am thoroughly enjoying all the hands on learning we get to experience here at CMU. Our classes really bring together what we experience in Thai culture and what we learn in the classroom. Everyone has different learning styles, I personally think using a tactile approach adds a refreshing source of reinforcement, since not everyone can absorb or grasp concepts solely from PowerPoint or lectures. The well roundedness of our curriculum is teaching us all how to think independently and gain valuable knowledge, while also enhancing our cultural immersion to make our interactions more genuine and receivable.
To my surprise, art has become the class I look forward to most. It has been so interesting to learn about the role art plays in Thai history and culture. After learning the background, we get to see some of the works, and then get to make some ourselves! Northern Thailand has a history of producing quality ceramics. The finest of ancient ceramic pieces that have emerged from the area were Celadon. Celadon is a transparent gloss that is used in ceramics to beautifully highlight surface textures. Available in different colors, here in Thailand, typically the green glaze is most popular because of its resemblance to jade, an admired stone and color associated with wealth and success.
One of our art professors, Ajarn Meem, took us to Baan Muang Goong Pottery Village. It was a small, quaint village where it was free to walk through and observe the grounds and all the artists at work. Ajarn Meem gave us the tour and explained the various niches. We got to get a close look at the kilns, where the clay objects are fired at extremely high temperatures to strengthen the mold. It was so cool to see the artists in their environment and all the innovative wheels and throwing techniques they used. In this village they make everything from big pots and vases to candleholders. Most artists were either hand building and/or throwing. A lot of the artists who were throwing, were using small cleverly made wheels that they turn by hand… or foot. After the walk through, we arrived at a house with a sweet set up of 10 small stools in a circle, each with a wheel and a chunk of clay. Lets just say we quickly had a newfound appreciation for the artists we had just watched at work. They made it look so easy! So effortless! After ten or so minutes of fiddling with frustration the instructors helped most of us finish the job so that we could have a nice, and more importantly functional, little vase to take home.
The following Saturday morning we set off for our weekend trip and headed to Lampoon, one of Thailand’s oldest cities, located about 30 minutes north of Chiang Mai. Our first stop was Wat Pra Taat Ha Ri Phunchai, a very large temple with numerous structures dating back from different periods. This temple is peacefully situated right along a river where the bridge doubled as an O-top shopping area. Many wonderful different stands set up for clothes, accessories, and snacks. Of course we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to do some great shopping! We reconvened after shopping for a delicious family style lunch. The cashew chicken was a-mazing.
Next stop was to Wat Pra Baat Tak Pha. Beautiful grounds situated on top of a hill. We drove up to the area, but the other side has approximately 400+ steps up the side of the hill that lead to the temple. Ajarn Mike mentioned that in previous years students would race up the steps and quickly a handful of people said they wanted to follow suit. Sophie, Carly, Kyle, Will, and Vincent all trucked down the many steps preparing to race back up. The stakes: winner gets an ice cream courtesy of Ajarn Mike. The remaining people in the group stood at the top of the stairs cheering on our friends, watching as they climbed in the torturous heat. When Will, whom was leading the pack, got about 5 steps away from the top he sat down. We all shouted, “Go Will! C’mon don’t quit now, you can do it!” But he didn’t get up. Confused, we watched as the second place runner came up and took a seat right next to him. Each following racer did the same. When the last person reached that step they all stood back up, held hands, and climbed up the final steps together, stepping over the finish line at the same time. Ajarn Mike had no choice, but to treat all 5 winners to some much-deserved ice cream.
Next pit stop we unloaded from the Rot Dangs to have a go at some spelunking! After a 10-minute climb up a hill, we reached the entrance to the cave. Headlamps on and in we went. The cave was filled with stalagmites, stalactites, and a ceiling of bats; it was remarkably scenic, when you could see that is.
Finally, we arrived at the forest temple where we would be staying at for the night. Upon arrival at the forest temple, Wat Doi Lung Tham, we shared a delicious meal provided by the temple followed by our first mediation session. The abbot talked to us about the practice and teachings of the dharma how they related to meditation. Two different types: The 14 step hand motion to help guide your focus, concentrating on keeping your hands in the formalized motion; The second was sitting, 3 different ways to sit. We sat and focused on our breath alone. The busy day followed by the calming meditation session made for an excellent night sleep.
Greeted by dusk with our 5am wake up. I was hesitant to unwrap myself from my blanket as we gathered with the monks and traveled down to the village where they collect alms. After 20 minutes of following them, the sky began to lighten and we entered the village where people came out of their homes and were waiting with offerings. The monks chanted blessings to the people who gave offerings. It was so humbling to the many people out so early in the morning to provide for their community. In the midst of these happenings right in front of us, we saw a whole new meaning and understanding of Buddhism and its role in the community. We went back up to the temple, and shared the food that was all offered earlier that morning. After breakfast, in our second meditation session, we got the opportunity to learn about sitting and walking mediation, with a little yoga to go along with it. After a modest lunch of fried rice and fruit we had the opportunity to take a sauna that was especially created by the monks at the forest temple of Wat Doi Lung Tham. It was the most refreshing way to complete a relaxing, but busy weekend.
Back at school in the coming week we learned about one of Thailands’s biggest claims to fame… the cooking of course! Cooking class with a Southeast Asian twist. I bet you would have never thought our first instruction was to remove our shoes before entering the kitchen, but hey that is the Thai way after all. We were excited to see all the work and ingredients that go into the dishes we have come to love. We covered all the bases. We made a soup (Kluay buadchii- banana in coconut milk); two entrées (Muu thord kra thiam phrikthai- fried pork with garlic and pepper and Kuaytiaw phatthai- fried thai rice noodles (pad thai) phatthai) and a dessert (Kluaythord- banana fritters). Not only was the act of cooking fun, but we also got to enjoy the bounty afterwards! Comparing and tasting each other’s dishes, we saw that they didn’t all taste exactly the same, but they were all delicious. Plus, we got to take home the recipes so we can make sure to bring some of this new found knowledge back to the states, yum yum!!
This week’s blog post was written by Kori Hahn, pictured above. Kori studies nutrition and dietetics. Kori is from Long Island, NY. To view the photos from this week please click the following link: Pottery Village & Temple Stay.