A Picture Paints 1000 words

Images that are just a stolen moment in time and place, build stories if we step back from them. The image becomes more than a reflection of that moment, it develops a life of its own as we imagine a story around it. It is no longer just what we saw, it creates its own little world

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And a warm welcome to our home from all of us.Who are these people??

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The gate to a house in Chiang Mai. Who on earth lived here?

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The day of theTriffids

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Still smiling after 1000 years.

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Religion and commerce collide. We all get thirsty sometimes

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A magical mystery tour

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Stripped down lorry chassis carrying a throne.Rural Cambodia

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The claw of a very large chicken.

Each a potent story line and flight of imagination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Layers in Cities.

 

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img_6969All great cities have their layers, the public and the hidden, the prosperous and the poor, the safe and the dangerous, the historical and the modern, the picture and the real place. If you start in the middle its usually all the good things and as you move away from the middle it gets more ordinary and less certain, and the harder it is to find what in fact is the real life of a place. img_6971Sometimes these distinctions can exist side by side, and it can make the city all the more exciting to see if you visit these “other” places and feel the contrasts between the city as presented to you the traveller and the city as it really is. img_6956

In Bangkok, within walking distance of the Royal Palace, the Democracy Monument and the Golden Mount is am area with its own canals buildings and life hidden away from the Bangkok as presented to us, but it is the real Bangkok for those who live there.

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The canals there are grey, the water ruined by the life beside it, electric cables droop into the water, people are packed together living their everyday lives. A small area of historic houses, not the mansions of old but small ancient buildings, still accommodate people and have shops and people living in them and you walk the narrowest of streets beside them. If you walk behind the Golden Mount, a major attraction, you can see the old ruined graves of people of times gone by and that adds some life to the monument that you wont find from the monument itself.

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Not only are these areas of cities fascinating of themselves but also they add a valuable counterpoint to the city as it is presented to us and helps get the real feeling of the inhabitants and the lives they live.

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You would not know it was there is you didn’t go and look around, so its always good just to wander a bit off the beaten track and find these little gems. They are not as pretty as the “sights” but they have their own impact on you.

 

 

Cultural Contrasts.

 

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It is a statement of the obvious but of you travel then outside your own land, your own place and way of doing things you will travel to another culture. It is part of the nature and experience of travelling. It is one reason why we go in the first place. But when we do and we find this other culture and we enter it how do we treat it? Do we accept the culture or what it is, do we shrink from it, do we try to impose out own culture on that which we find, do we adapt to it, or do we reject it? Of course we go with an open mind, but then a new culture can attack our senses and confuse us. And when we come with our own culture and enter another one, what happens to ours, have we left it behind?

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In Asia some of the most beautiful monuments and sights are Buddhist. An ancient religion still very prominent, revered and practiced by the people who live there. We want to see these buildings, temples, icons, and so we do. Some like Angkor Wat are historical, empty relics, large stone constructions that give us an image both of something extraordinary but also an image of a bygone era. Some on the other hand are alive and part of the everyday lives of the communities around them.

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Enter a Buddhist temple filled with people having removed our shoes and watch what people do. The dress code is sometimes serious and perhaps it irritate us that we are not appropriately dressed. So do we ask ourselves why on earth do they have these rules, or do we accept this as just part of the culture and comply? Sometimes we stand to one side quietly, trying to be unobtrusive so that we don’t interfere in what is happening. Or maybe we deicide we want to be a part of it, we might buy some incense sticks or a piece of gold leaf for the Buddha, or sit and meditate.

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Unless it is our own religion we are always outsiders but accepted as such by the people at the temple. We may, discreetly, take a photo, or ask a question and we are careful not to impose either ourselves or what we think and how we act. Having sampled, we wander outside to be met by the sight of a monk standing at a souvenir stand sipping from a can of Coke through a straw. It’s a jolt, we don’t expect it, and it’s amusing but why not? There is our culture and his culture coming together and neither one is the less for it.

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In times gone by cultures rose and fell on war, attrition and the supremacy of one over the other, now perhaps they start to blend and we can hope that the best of both is what the traveller carries home.

A Trip on Bangkok’s Waterways

 

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Like all great cities of the world Bangkok has a river, the Chao Phraya, which flows through Bangkok and on into the Gulf of Thailand. Cities often begin their existence where there is water not just for living but for transport too and Bangkok is no exception. Off the Chao Phraya flow innumerable canals and small tributaries known as Klongs. Many of the klongs have now been filled since they were not exactly healthy, but there are sufficient left to give you a great alternative look at Bangkok, at what became know as the Venice of the East although that name might not quite be valid today.

 

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Travelling on water sets you slightly apart from the world that borders the water, and in Bangkok that helps you to see the city without the danger of being run over! The river is wide, busy and carries you through the heart of Bangkok, through the history of the city combined with a view of the modern metropolis of office blocks and hotels. And once toy have done that divert into the networks of canals that subdivide, criss cross and are a labyrinth. There is every kind of boat including some that seem to be driven by outboard engines taken from large lorries.

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Bangkok is famous for its floating market on the canals which is often crowded being a favoured tourist destination but away from the you find sellers on small boats floating slowly down the canals in search of business. ~The sellers are often gentle faced ladies earning a crust, but they drive a hard bargain and are very persistent. They will sell you a drink a souvenir and if they don’t have what you ask you they will persuade you to spend your money on something else, or at least try to.

 

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Where there are rivers people live, and the canals are lined with old houses leaning over the banks of the canals jammed together, constructed haphazardly and remaining there for generations. Some even collapse into the canals and lie there a forlorn reminder of previous inhabitants. Wander in amongst those houses and you find networks of alleys and small streets and walk past people washing and cooking I the street, or plying their trade selling or making small things.

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The canals are in all the various parts of the city, the water grey, turgid and not smelling of roses, but the life that is around them goes on as it has for generations. It is not difficult to walk a short distance from all the symbols of the modern Bangkok and find the canals and people living there, hidden away , seemingly separated from modern Bangkok but still actively part of it.

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The canals are a fascinating world of seeming tranquillity in the heat and noise of Bangkok, the houses and buildings look forgotten but they are not, and aside from the Bangkok of condos and blocks of flats its another world, another Bangkok to see.

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Wanderlust

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I don’t make long term plans about travelling a journey. I like to ponder where I want to go and then other than taking time to deal with the formalities of travel, visas tickets and satisfying the official permissions of life, I like to just go and do it. There is this edginess in side me that needs to get moving. It is as if life at home, however pleasant, familiar, comfortable and enjoyable it is amongst the familiar, ones family and friends, is unsatisfying. That edginess starts, you become distracted the next destination looms. I am addicted to cigarettes and chocolate but even they don’t create that same edginess, they are mild and comfortable compared to the need to get moving again.

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I need to decide where to go. At the end of many journeys has been the sense that I want to go back to where I have been to see and learn more, to take advantage of what I have seen and learned already and delve deeper into that world. But inevitably I go somewhere new. It’s rare to retrace my steps. Travelling is a bit like a life lesson that you know, that the first joy of a place or an experience can never be repeated, it feels pure and new only once and so you don’t retrace your steps but you go to new places all the time.

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I wonder often when I come back from a journey what the most satisfying and enjoyable moment is, and I often think that the most exciting moment of a journey is the beginning, the moment you set out on that road to who knows what. You close the door behind you and are gone, the world maintains its daily routines but at that moment you seem to detach yourself, start to look and watch things that you do every day as if you are detached from them.

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Travelling is not all easy. You face difficulties, disappointments and even dangers and you know that is going to happen again, but you learn never to expect the easy outcome, the place you are going is not designed to make you happy, it’s designed to make the inhabitants happy. You know that on your journey you are going to bump into things, and see with open eyes things that you take for granted, see the extremes of kindness and misery that you don’t need to face at home.

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Does this urge to wander, to move, to travel to experience change you? I think so. When I return to the familiar to the people and things I love, I know I am different to the person who walked out the door some time before. It does change you. Travel and you realise that there is little in life that is black and white however convenient it may be. Nothing is ever quite the same again.

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Then, satisfied you get your feet under the table, you ruminate on what has gone before and try to put some words together to describe it and before you know it that edginess is back, the wanderlust is rising up again. Why? I think its because the greatest joy in travel is to be able to experience all the time everyday things as if for the first time. To be able constantly to rediscover that feeling of not taking anything for granted and finding novelty everywhere.

 

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Wat Phra Kaew – Bangkok

 

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In the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok stands Wat Phra Kaew, the temple that houses the Emerald Buddha, a statue 45 cms tall depicting the sitting Buddha made of jade and clothed in gold. The image is thought to have originated in India and was moved from place to place before finally coming to Wat Phra Kaew in the 18th century. The image is said to bring prosperity to each country it resides and so is deeply revered and the protective image of Thai Society.

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The buildings that house the image and surround it are exquisitely created with fine detail grandeur and the reverence that the image commands. Traditional Thai art did not distinguish between the artist and the artisan, seeking to depict the Thai sense of community and religion. These works of art were created to achieve some religious merit for the creators of the shrine and buildings.

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The area is right in the heart of Bangkok near the Chao Phraya River around which Bangkok is built. It is away from the main bustle crowd and stresses of Bangkok but an important tourist site. THB500 buys you a ticket and there are endless guides to lecture you if that is your thing, otherwise just wander and absorb the magnificence.

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Given that you will have experienced the pollution crowds traffic and general stresses of Bangkok, it’s hard to believe you are in the same places despite the crowds of fellow viewers. As always in Bangkok ask the price of everything specially taxis and tuk tuks before you start since this is a prime hunting ground for transport looking for willing tourists.

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The tradional Buddhist colours, ubiquitous gold and terracotta create a sense of light and contrast that reflects the importance of the place and is in major contrast to the heat and greyness of most Bangkok streets. It is crowded but you can find your own space and absorb the wonderful detail and care that is taken of this place. Good to go with a local if you know someone Thai, they don’t pay to get in and can give you a great flavour for what it all means.

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Buddharupa

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Buddharupa is the Sanscrit name given to statues of Buddha or those who have attained Buddhahood. Images of Buddha abound throughout Asia in various shapes forms and postures. Normally gold or at least partly having the gold colour they sit, stand, lie in temples and every community.

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Each posture has a meaning the most common being that where Buddha is sitting with legs crossed his left hand in his lap and his right pointing downwards, this being Calling The Earth to Witness and depicts the moment of enlightenment for Buddha. In some places each day of the week has a Buddha pose associated with it and that pose attaches to the day you were born.

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The noticeable thing also is the variety of facial expressions. The gentle smile the beam and the laugh. These you see also depicted on the many statues that abound. Its not enough to see a statue of Buddha and assume its is the same, many places show the varied styles and messages of the statues.

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Some statues are tiny, some enormous, some you will see with covered in small pieces of gold foil as a mark of requesting fortune or good luck. These small pieces are attached by those offering at the temple and cover the statue. For those suffering pain the gold leaf is placed on the statue at the place where the pain exists in the supplicant.

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As well as being central to the lives of the people who live around them, the statues are beautiful; works of art in varied states varied presentations and varied settings. To us they can simple be that, a work of art but to others who follow the religion, they are at the core of their religion and life.

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