Saturday, June 28, 2008

Sydney Biennale

View from inside a ferry
On to Sydney!

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon seeing Sydney's harbor (around the Opera House--it really is very beautiful in person) and attending the Biennale. The Biennale is Sydney's contemporary art festival. For my fellow Americans, make sure you pronounce every one of the letters in the title. The festival is on from now until September 7th, and has numerous venues around the city. I decided to take the free ferry service to Cockatoo island for my first festival visit. Cockatoo island is the largest island in Sydney Harbor, and was formally used as a prison and a shipyard. All of the industrial buildings are still standing, and it made for a really excellent contemporary art venue. In most cases, I actually found the buildings more interesting than the artwork. It was all the more interesting when an artist incorporated aspects of the building into their work. William Kentridge projected his video installation onto bricked up windows and walls of one darked room--as you watched these cartoony cutouts move across the wall, it became very hard to decipher what was video and what was the building structure. My other favorite was Mark Boulos, who set up two projection screens opposite each other. One showed scenes from the stock exchange trading floor the other showed guerillas in Nigeria talking about waging war against 'all things white.' It was actually really fascinating to watch.
Images from Cockatoo Island


The second course I took in Chiang Mai was a silver jewelry making course. In the one day course you can choose to make either a pendant or a ring. The design can either be your own, or the instructor has a number of samples you can choose from. I decided to make a delicate ring with an attached concave hammered disk. I had a little familiarity with the techniques, as we discussed many of them in grad school, but I had never really gone through the motions. I started out with silver wire:

Annealed it to make it malleable, turned it into a circle, and soldered the ends together (with a little creme brulee torch):

Hammered out the kinks and polished it:

Cut out the disk from a sheet of silver metal (the instructor had me use something quite thick, which resulted in a different effect than I had in mind--not quite as delicate, and it didn't pick up the hammering texture as well as I suspect a thinner piece of silver would):

Hammered the disk to make it concave and give it texture:

Polished everything up, soldered the two pieces together, et voila:

My very first ring! I'm fairly happy with it, especially considering it was my first attempt. I would definitely like to take more silver courses, perhaps at Lillstreet in Chicago, if I ever make it back!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Thai cooking

One of the very excellent things about Chiang Mai is the plethora of courses you can take. Anything from traditional Thai massage to meditation to my favorite: cooking! I took a day-long cooking course from the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School. I had such a great time! I made quick friends with some of the other people in the class, and really enjoyed both the cooking, and the food. It was a very professional set-up. First, you get an introduction to Thai ingredients, and the master chef demonstrates the dish you will be preparing (there were 6 dishes over the course of the day). Then, you go outside to your own cooking station and cook the dish for yourself! They were very accommodating for my vegetarian diet, although I ended up using fish sauce in everything--you really can't avoid it in Thai food, and I'm not all that strict about diet when I travel--it would prevent me from eating so many delicious things!

Tom Yum soup--spicy, lemon grassy, absolutely delicious! The best part is that it only took a few minutes to prepare (plus veggie and stock prep, which our friendly assistants largely did for us.)

Preparing to make green curry.

Me! Making a chopped mushroom salad.

For desert, 'rubies:' water chestnuts coated in tapioca flour with syrup and coconut cream. These were actually really good. The water chestnuts had a nice crunch to them, and the tapioca had that gummy bubble tea consistency. The red color is from food coloring.

Chiang Mai

I ended up spending 5 nights in a luxurious boutique hotel in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. It cost me $18 a night! I'd say it was worth the splurge. Chiang Mai was absolutely delightful. I spent the first day walking around, wandering into temples, knitting in a nice little cafe, and just relaxing. I can't remember the last time I felt so at ease!

Another street scene--I like these kinds of pictures. It's so hard to capture what your every day experience looks like while traveling in a foreign country. More often than not, I just take pictures of the beautiful places. In this image you see one of the communal pick-up trucks-turned-taxis. If you look closely, you'll see that one of the passengers is a monk, dressed in the traditional bright orange cloth.

Small historic temples with lovely teak carvings.

I think this image speaks for itself. Wouldn't this look great as a textile pattern? Maybe I'll use this if I ever give spoonflower a try.

Worldwide Knit in Public Day

In my attempt to hightail it out of Ayuthaya, I ended up spending half a day in the Ayuthaya train station waiting and waiting for a very delayed train. Happily, I had easy access to my knitting, and so I celebrated Worldwide Knit in Public Day on an old-timey train station bench in Thailand.

My bright yellow vintage sweater is coming out quite nicely, thank you. I finished the back panel (seen here, half finished) and just started on the front. I'm meeting up with a Sydney SnB group tomorrow, fun! One slight problem is that I may have been using two different sized needles (2 and 3 US) for an unknown portion of the back...hopefully my gauge won't be too far off if I try to stick to just size 3s for the front. We'll see! I think this one might be wearable!


Upon leaving Cambodia, my impromptu travel buddy and I parted ways and I headed North. I spent my first night in Ayuthaya, Thailand. Ayuthaya was the old capitol city, and has a scattering of ancient temples throughout the fairly modern city. Apparently I came down pretty hard from the highs of Cambodia, because I found myself a bit depressed in Ayuthaya. I no longer had a buddy to hangout with, I was the only person in my guest house, and the town was pretty much dead. The thing is, it was actually quite a lovely place. Walking around the extensive park lands, you see local Thai people exercising, kids riding bicycles, and the ancient temples are not too shabby! My mood was such that I decided to get out of town as soon as possible the next day, to skip Sukhothai, another former capitol, and head straight to the mountain town of Chiang Mai in the far North. Looking back at my photos now, I don't think I gave Ayuthaya enough credit at the time.

Before entering a temple, you must remove your shoes and put them on the racks (or 'lacks' in this case). (p.s. clicking on any photo will allow you to see an enlarged version, should that interest you)

To honor the Buddha, and gain merit, practitioners can purchase gold leaf and apply it to Buddha statues. In this case, they weren't very well adhered and were blowing in the wind.


In addition to visiting the Angkor temples, I enjoyed the surrounding areas of Cambodia. Although it has certainly begun its recovery, Cambodia spent a long time suffering due to its long, fairly recent war. As a result, it is much less developed than neighboring Thailand, and really seems to maintain small village life.

Motorcycles and bicycles are far more common than any other sort of transportation. Tourists generally take tuk-tuks, which are motorcycles with a small carriage with open sides attached to the back. I snapped this picture at a red light to give you an idea of what a typical street scene would be. When I see this many motorcycles in the US, it usually means the Harley enthusiasts are out for a massive joy ride.

My friend and I took a boat trip to see the floating village on Tonle Sap lake near Siem Reap. It was very cool to see--everyone lived in floating houses, and got around in boats. Although it seems like a strange idea to those of us who aren't from a culture so connected to water, it really starts to make sense when you think about it--they are as close as possible to everything they need--water, fishing, rice paddies. Plus, I think this area floods like crazy in the wet season.

A floating supermarket.

Boats and houses on the edge of the lake.

Passing through the main thoroughfare of the area.

I've always thought it would be an excellent idea to make a quilt based on the designs I've seen while flying above agricultural areas. I love the way all the geometric shapes interact with one another. This river, near Bangkok, was particularly nice from the air.

Ancient temples

I've been in Sydney for a week now, and really love it so far! It actually reminds me a little of my hometown--Chicago. I mean, it's really completely different, but the way it is organized feels very familiar. I started working 24 hours after I arrived, and haven't had a lot of energy to write on the blog--which is a shame, because I have such a backlog of things to tell! I'll start off now telling you a little about my favorite part of my Southeast Asia trip: Angkor Wat. I had been wanting to see the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples for ages. In the past few years it has become much more accessible. If you have a little cash to spare you can fly direct to Siem Reap, Cambodia (6km outside of Angkor) from Bangkok or other nearby hubs. I had planned to come alone, but met an Australian my first day in Bangkok who decided that it sounded like a fun trip, and came along. We spent three full days touring the ruins. The more popular sites were teaming with tourists, despite the fact that it was the low season. However, there were some slightly-less-spectacular sites were you could be virtually alone. It was really, really amazing--surreal even. I would highly recommend a visit!

I took about 300 pictures over the three days I was there. I would happily sit each of you down for the full slideshow--there are many excellent ones! But I have a feeling I would lose all of my readership pretty quickly if I did that. I'll try to pick some of the more inspiring highlights.
'To give you a sense of how monumental these ancient (Buddhist and Hindu) temples are, the first doorway is somewhere around 7ft tall. The steps on this temple (Ta Keo) were very steep and plentiful. My muscles ached for days after climbing to the top! On a conservation/restoration note, many of these temples were actually completely taken apart and rebuilt as part of a conservation effort!! Can you imagine?

At the Bayon temple, over one hundred giant faces (7-9ft tall) are carved into dozens of towers.

The iconic trees of Ta Prohm. This was my favorite of all the temples. As a former biologist, current conservator, I'm very interested in biodeterioration. Ta Prohm was covered in all kinds of biological materials, including these gigantic trees. Apparently this one was in Tomb Raider, but I don't know anything about that.

The biodeterioration of the temples really lends itself to some gorgeous images. Greens, orange, black--all kinds of colors have developed over the delicate stone carvings of the temples.

One of the many wonderful things about visiting the Angkor temples was that they can be appreciated on so many different levels. As you arrive at each new temple, you are impressed by the scale, the shapes, the colors. As you go closer, you climb steps, enter through passageways, and find all sorts of interesting and beautiful details. I found myself wishing that I had a sketchbook with me. I would love to sit for hours in one spot, and see things through the eyes of an artist: capturing each small detail and relationship in order to really appreciate and understand what I see.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A taste of what's to come

I'm in the Bangkok airport waiting for my flight to Sydney, so I thought I would start to share a bit about my trip. I started out with a few days in Bangkok, Thailand. Unfortunately I caught a pretty bad case of food poisoning from the airline food (thanks American!) I hadn't had a bite to eat in Thailand, and yet I was laid up in my guest house room for a full day. Once I had that out of my system, I was free to enjoy some of the sights. I spent several hours at the Grand Palace/Wat Phra Kaeo. I took a lot of detail shots throughout my trip. I often find the textures and shapes to be really inspiring later in my art/craft work.
This last one is the backpacker street I stayed near--Th Khao San. It's kind of nuts, and not at all authentic, but some people love it!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Travelin' ligh

Greetings from Chiang Mai, Thailand! I so desperately want to update by blog with stories and images from the places I've been visiting, and updates on the craft front. Unfortunately my internet connection is too weak to upload photos at the moment. Hold tight for a few more days and I'll start writing updates when I arrive in Sydney! I hope everyone is enjoying a nice summer (or winter for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere!)

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Breaking news...

We interrupt this irregularly scheduled craft blog to bring you breaking news on Meghan's whereabouts.

I'm currently sitting in the Tokyo airport waiting for a flight to Bangkok. I'll be traveling through Thailand and Cambodia for a couple of weeks before heading down to Sydney, Australia for a couple of months. I know it can be a bit annoying when bloggers go on and on about their travels, but I hope that a few of you might find some photos interesting, and fear not, I will be knitting! On my plane ride from LAX to Tokyo I got a nice start on my yellow vintage sweater.

I hope everyone will be enjoying an excellent summer!