The Priority Pass lounge at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport is called The Miracle Lounge. I’m writing this from there. From one of many rooms. My flight’s not until 1:30 am, but I’ve been so conditioned by my wife Charlotte over the years, that I got here an ambitious four hours before takeoff.
While the food offerings are far from reaching miracle status, the size of the lounge itself compensates more than enough. It’s really big and as per usual here In the land of smiles, wonderfully overstaffed. So when I asked if they had any vegetarian alternatives in addition to the usual lineup, the hostess was eager when she suggested the kitchen make me a stir-fried vegetable and rice dish a la minute. It was pretty good, too.
Earlier, at the checkin counter, I asked, more or less jokingly, if there were any seats available in Business Class. Thai Airways is notorious for their upgrade pricing, so I wasn’t even seriously considering it. The soft-spoken airline rep that checked in me and my bagage, smiled and told me the flight was fully booked. She still managed somehow to reassign my seating to so that I got an exit chair. If you haven’t been seated by an exit on a Boeing 777, the legroom is on par with what you get in Business Class.
For whatever reason, I found the immigration process unusually smooth tonight. What typically takes about an hour, was completed in under half that. It’s still very serious business and I never feel as far removed from the country’s renowned gentleness and politeness as when entering and leaving the country. Once in a rare while, I’ll get a richly decorated official to share a smile with me. But not tonight.
Just learned that my flight to Europe has been delayed an hour. Which is a bummer, but a manageable bummer as long as I’m in the Miracle Lounge. It’s gonna be a long flight home…
I met and had a brief chat with a biking Bangkokian earlier today as I was just about to enter an old Chinese cemetery below the towering Mahanakhon building in the Saladeng/Bang Rak area. The friendly chap worked as a sales and marketing rep at the Bangkok office for Holiday Inn’s waterpark resort in Hua Hin, a few hours south of the capital.
With it’s overgrown crypts,looming gargoyles and mini-mausoleums, the overgrown cemetery was kinda spooky, even in broad daylight.
According to my cycling acquaintance, the cemetery used to cover a much larger area and that what ever is left of it now, will likely be relocated to a patch of land near Pattaya to make way for more property development in the area.
With that in mind, I ended up spending an hour documenting the grounds as much as I could (much of it is semi-sunk in an urban swampland. I wonder how the kinsman of the Thai-Chinese buried their feel about the move. Maybe they’ll be compensated somehow by whoever’s going to be placing what will inevitably be another skyscraper there.
Stumbled onto this old car wash place just off Sukhumvit Boulevard the other day. Not entirely convinced it’s been totally abandoned, but probably. It’s hard to know for sure in this ever-changing and evolving megatropolis.
On a few occasions, I rode my fire engine red Schwinn home from Saint Victor’s – the elementary school in West Hollywood I attended between first and fifth grade. The school was just below Sunset Boulevard, so fairly near the Hollywood Hills. I’d first ride down a insanely steep street and turn left on Santa Monica Boulevard and then bike eastward on the sidewalk all the way to La Cienega Boulevard. There I hung a right and two blocks later turned left on Willoughby Avenue and arrived at 849 N. Alfred Street, where we lived at the time, one block later.
I never took that way to school, as I would have had to walk my bike up that steep-ass hill to get there. I mention this since on the route home, there was one of those old school car washes. It might still be there, but I doubt it. Anyway, there was a big basket full of multicolored, flat lollipops that they gave to customers waiting for their clean and shiny vehicles to arrive after the wash team (which consisted mostly of African Americans and Mexican Americans all dressed in bright blue overalls). At the time, I was short enough to sneak just below the cashier’s counter and grab a couple of those tasty lollipops as an after school treat for myself.
Back in Bangkok. Feels good after almost three weeks in the relatively rural north. My relationship with the capital has evolved over time. I still love exploring Bangkok, but today I am dependent on my abiity to be inspired by what I find and photograph or film while going on long, long walks, discovering interesting compositions and challeing myself creatively. Few people seem to appreciate that once you put aside the heat and pollution (often intertwined), Bangkok is actually quite walkable. Two of my favorite stretches are from Thong Lor along Sukhumvit to Siam and Silom Road and from Taksin Bridge to Chinatown or even Rattanakosin.
Had breakfast this morning with a friend from Sweden who’s just moved here with her family. Managed to mix up the restaurant I had chose, but it worked out anyway and the food was delicious. These days, most restaurants serving western dishes here are really good at it. Not like when I first visited Bangkok in 1988. Back then, you had to either eat at the Mandarin Oriental, Sizzlers or, the last resort, McDonald’s, just to get a burger that at least visually resembled and tasted somewhat similar to what most Americans were used to filling their bellies with.
I got in much later than I expected last night. The flight from Chiang Mai was smooth. But we had horrendously slow flowing traffic in from the city’s old airport, Don Mueang. Which was most likely due to an afternoon rainstorm that flooded the highway’s outer lanes and created total gridlock on turnpikes. After arriving at the “aparthotel” in Thong Lor, I just barely had time to grab a Grab (Über) and head in to La Monita Taqueria to order a juicy veggie burrito and a cold San Miguel (they charge exuberantly for a Corona these days, something like 11 bucks a pop).
Shot a ton of walls during today’s 11k walk around town. Weather’s been quite favorable – as long as it was cloudy. As soon as the sun showed up, even for just a minute or two, the thermometer spiked and the temperature soared. And when that happens, it’s literally like opening up the door to a heated convection oven.
I have more than 800 TV and radio channels to choose from in my hotel room. I’ve flipped through a couple hundred of them and was blown away by how many Thai stations there were. Noticed only a handful of English language channels and several Chinese, Hindu and Arabic stations. Stumbled onto an American channel called “God TV”. As one might be inclined to assume, the channel broadcasts non-stop Christian programming 24/7. I have to admit that I’m a little fascinated by this stuff and just had to watch for a little while. There was a lot of sermonings and preachings in palatial halls with massive audiences yelling, crying and likely speaking in tougnes. And to think that the current president, the dude that honestly thought he could buy Greenland and have US businesse sever ties with China all in the same week, has spellbound so many of these religious folks. on a really.
There’s also a channel called “Fight” where they at least during the segment I saw promoted a rifle that shot burst of highly pressurized water and was positioned as an anti-demonstration, anti-prison riot weapon. Russia Today (RT) was available on the “dial”. I rarely turn on a hotel room’s TV and today’s exception reminded me all too well why. Apparently, the remote control is the filthiest thing you can touch in a hotel room. I think Charlotte had read somewhere that that remotes are rarely wiped clean and just accumulate disgusteness.
Tomorrow I’m heading to the river to explore Thonburi for a few hours. Will hopefully return with a bunch of new textures, patterns and interesting surfaces. Like that of a durian pictured above, one of few fruits here that I avoid – but not because of the smell. I just don’t find the fruit’s layered fleshiness particularly appetizing.
Nearing the end of my 20 session, two week intensive Qigong course. It’s indisputably been a challenge, both physically and mentally. Most of the other participants are already instructors or heading that way. So, I’ve been practicing together with quite an esteemed troop – which in turn has provided me with the opportunity to learn and understand the foundation of Medical Qigong at a much deeper level than what most new arrivals are privy to. Learning by doing has always been my life’s motto and so I feel very excited about returning home with a mind full of mindful Qigong knowledge.
Now, I’ve only scratched the surface and will need oodles of hours practicing and additional guidance to absorb and integrate what I have learned to eventually reap the benefits of Medical Qigong. But the journey has most certainly begun. The question is, is there, or, rather, can there ever be an end to this path I’ve stepped onto? Probably not.
The above photo is from just outside my homestay, Stay with Brite. I still don’t know exactly where the house is located (even if I look it up on a map). But it can’t be all that far from Chiang Mai airport, now can it?
I’m going to be genuinely sad about leaving this place. After these two very pleasant weeks with the genuine Thai family at Stay with Brite, I will definitely consider “homestay” as a sensible option when I want to get away from the often superficially, antiseptic hotel experiences. That said, I am kinda looking forward to checking in at the roomy “aparthotel” I’ve got lined up for my few days in Krung Thep. Time to ramble on…
One day, I just happened to arrive about a half an hour early to one of our Qigong sessions in Chiang Mai at a local University (which I was told was entirely funded by the US government). And since the chairs were organized in a proper circle, it reminded me of what a group therapy seating might look like. Maybe even an AA meeting or something. Perhaps something less serious, like musical chairs but on a high, academic level. In any case, I just couldn’t resist the temptation to somehow make use of the room during my wait.
Just had to share tonight’s dinner, a homemade Pad Thai Tofu dish that tasted exactly as splendid as it looks. I had kindly requested that Pak Chi Farang (Long Leaf Coriander or, Sawtooth Coriander) would be added to the meal. And then all I had to do to get it exactly where I wanted it to be spice-sour-sweet-wise, was to sprinkle a few generous pinches of chili flakes and squeeze some zest from a half a lime over those crushed peanut covered noodles and I was good to go. As the homestay’s “resident photographer”, I’ve kinda taken it upon myself to document each and every meal my gracious host serves me (with my iPhone, so it’s a little bit of challenge). Tonight’s dish was extraordinarily photogenic.
There’s no course for me on Sundays, so I waited for my clean laundry to arrive and then went to Chiang Mai’s popular Sunday Market in the old town.
The trick to getting the most out of any kind of open-air, tourist-focused market is to be an early bird and get there just as the shop owners are opening up their stalls. That’s what I did yesterday and as soon as the hordes started pouring in, I booked a Grab (Über here in SE Asia) and went back to my quiet little teak house.
In September, I’m having two separat exhibits. Both in Malmö. One is an outdoor show between September 15th and the 29th in our beautiful Slottsträdgården, an area dedicated to flowers and other flora and located in Castle Park (Slottsparken). The other will be held during Gallery Night (gallerinatten) at Rådhuset at Malmö’s Stortorget (the city’s Big Square) on September 28th and daytime on the 29th.
While the theme for the first exhibit will be aerial photographs of some of Malmö’s most iconic places, aptly called “Malmö Upside Down”, the second – and unnamed – show will be entirely dedicated abstract images inspired by the city’s industrial past.
Hope to see some of you there!
It’s been an incredibly interesting week at the Qigong course where confusion is at times replaced with clarity and understanding, only to be smothered later with yet more confusion.
I don’t mean confusion as in what’s being taught is by any means nonsensical or, that I ‘m not getting it. Not at all. It’s just that there’s so much to learn and that even when I try hard, I still get confused as to what to prioritize and how to store the knowledge I’m exposed to in a sequence that helps me lower the inevitable steep learning curve and perennially improve my training.
Our teacher, Arjan, works through his system in an organic, non-linear way. Which, when coming from Sweden, where everything is organized and structured in absurdum, was initially a little perplexing. But within a day or two, I had let go of that excessively orderly approach and decided to go with the flow. Instead of forcing my projected expectations (based on how things are done elsewhere), I decided to just listen, replicate what I saw and had heard and merely accept that time will eventually come when I’m ready to understand the answers to my many queries. That answering them now in the inception phase would only add to my incertitude and probably make even learning incrementally more difficult.
I am curious by nature and conditioned by the society I live in. This new perspective on implementing something before actually understanding what it is, based at least initially only on faith and trust, certainly makes for an interesting, intellectual challenge. My gut feeling tells me this could be a healthy way for me to learn new things going forward.
At 56, taking on something so wide and deep as learning (even the basics) about Qigong is invigorating. For even if I sometimes feel like my head is going to explode from the constant stream of new things we go through during each session, I am already conscious of the tangible, positive physical effects the training is having on my arthritis.
One may think Qigong would not be anywhere near as exerting as, say, a long run or a spinning class can be. But let me tell you, after a five hour day filled with various full-body stances and movements as well as arm blocks and kicks – all done repetitively in slow, controlled sequences, I’m as exhausted as if I’d run 15k, but without any lasting muscular fatigue that I usually associated with jogging. One of the key upshots I noticed today (when we spent most of the afternoon doing slow motion kicking) was that it took only minutes to recover – and that afterwards, I was super energized, albeit still very, very sweaty.
It’s interesting – and possibly a cultural issue – how much exercise has come to be defined by a level of almost debilitating exertion. The immense popularity of crossfit training being just one of many examples of ways for folks to get a few hours of hard, physical activity integrated into their often stressful, jam-packed lives.
From what I understand so far about Qigong, especially medical Qigong, is that what one can learn will have positive physical, mental and possibly spiritual implications on a timeline that extends far beyond what just goes on whilst practicing. And it is exactly that prospect – the width and breadth of benefits brought forth from Qigong, as a means to both heal and to stay healthy in the long-term, that got me here in the first place.
The umbrellas above are totally unrelated to this post. Well, as they’re probably made in China, the origin country of Qigong, I guess one could argue that there is after all, though far-fetched, a connection.
Some afternoons after class, I walk around the old town and shoot textures and basically anything that grabs my attention. There’s something very meditative about photography when it’s unhinged from any particular mission or objective. Very enjoyable, indeed.
If I’m in town long enough, I’ll then hitch a ride with my host, Khun Dow, the mother of the family where I’m staying. She runs a small vegetable shop at a medium-sized market a few blocks outside Chiang Mai’s old town.
The market is in the middle of a busy residential neighborhood and you can buy just about every imaginable variation of fruit, vegetables, fish and flowers there. I love Asian food markets and especially those in Thailand where there is always an abundance of smells, colors and sounds to keep me busy.
I got to “Kit Kom” market a little early yesterday and walked around the block a couple of times. It was about 7:00 pm (we leave for the homestay at 7:30 pm) and the area’s sidewalk shops were about to close. The sun had just gone down and the day’s heat was slowly dissipating. Folks were just hanging around, chatting and I guess getting ready to head home. During my wait, I walked passed and smiled at the flower lady, complimenting her beautiful arrangements (with my limited Thai vocabulary). Like most people here, her default facial expression was covered in a smile, so she beamed back and thanked me politely.
I’ve always wondered why it’s so easy for some people to smile so spontaneously and so seemingly hard for others.
I am now into my second week at the Qigong course and things are intensifying. Which is good, as long as I can replicate my learnings upon returning home…
The fifteenth of August, 1998. Twenty one years ago today. That’s when Charlotte and I exchanged rings just before we were pronounced man and wife by the family priest, Ola Stålnacke in Brunnby Church, near Mölle-by-the-Sea in Skåne. It rained most of that day, and boy, was I nervous before and during most of the wedding ceremony. But afterwards, as we climbed onto the horse driven carriage, or, perhaps it wasn’t until the Rolls picked us up a little further down the country road, that I started to relax. We had an amazing wedding party during the evening with a whole bunch of great friends and plenty of family.
Our marriage has been consistently smooth, with only minor bumps and hicups along the way. I know of only a few other couples that have been married as long as we have and that still enjoy each others company as much as Charlotte and I do.
It’s certainly a little sad being so far apart on our anniversary. But thanks to FaceTime, we’ll chat later this afternoon about our wedding 21 years ago today.
Charlotte, happy anniversary, my love!
Got to the morning session a little early today and took a few photos around the clinic’s garden. It’s called a clinic because of the focus on benefits gained from learning and practicing the Chinese Medical Qigong system taught there.
Today a lovely couple in their 80s joined us for a few hours and I understood that both have been helped tremendously by practicing Qigong.
As part of this journey, I am detoxing from all kinds of deleterious habits. For one, there is very little stress in my life right now and I’m eating just about as healthy food as I can get my hands on. Just fruit and nuts during the morning and midday break, and then a sumptuous, hot meal for dinner after returning home. I drink plenty of water and a few rounds of green tea during my 5-6 hours at the clinic. But nothing stronger than that. It feels good to eat less and yet not feel hungry or be without energy. I can also tell that I’m slowly shaving off some of that “spare tire” I’ve been carrying around for a while.
Walked passed this wonderful bookstore a couple of days ago in the old town of Chiang Mai. A younger version of me used to read a lot of books, fiction and non-ficktion. For at least a decade I was a huge Stephen King fan and read everything he produced. But it’s probably been a dozen or more years since I last read a book. I do read a lot, but it’s all online. I’ve actually been thinking of buying an e-reader, a Kindle maybe, but haven’t gotten around to it.
“We are buried beneath the weight of information, which is being confused with knowledge; quantity is being confused with abundance and wealth with happiness.”
I read that quote by Tom Waits somewhere and it seemed so apt in this day and age.
It’s been about a week since I arrived and my focus is now entirely on the course I’m taking in Medical Qigong. While learning the theory of each series of motions isn’t difficult per ce, coordinating the body within each movement definitely is.
My emphasis right now is on understanding and then recreating the instructor’s movements as best I can. Much of what I am learning and how it effects the body (and mind) is revelatory. As usual, practice makes perfect. So benefits will take time to arrive. But I already feel invigorated.
Khun Dow, my host here at the homestay, continues to impress me with her excellent cooking. Everything she makes for me taste like it’s the original recipe. The massaman curry she served the other night was just superb. A simple yet so full of flavor, aroma and texture. What I enjoy most about Thai food is how relatively uncomplicated it is – and should be – both to cook and to enjoy.
I took a cooking class up here in the north once (I’ve probably taken 3 or 4 around the country, all-in-all) where a Thai chef politely pointed out the immensely popular misconception that Thai cuisine has to be super spicy. According to him, nothing could be further from the truth and only the ignorant serve food so hot it can’t be eaten without breaking into a sweat.
To this chef, the fundamental philosophy should be – for anyone trying to make Thai food – to create an equilibrium between sweetness, sourness, saltiness and bitterness – and umami, when meat is involved.
While eating dinner tonight, I noticed a tall wooden bowl sitting next to me. It was teeming with dark green fruits of some kind. The dining room was dimly lit and my eyes don’t exactly excel in poor lighting. I figured it was a local fruit I’d not yet tried. Khun Dow sat down opposite me and asked how I liked the Pad Thai Tofu she’d made for dinner. I told it was very tasty and that she should really consider opening up a restaurant in or near her homestay. She laughed and said she might just do that one day.
As I continued to grab noodles and tofu with my chopsticks, my host took one of those green oval shaped fruits and cut it up with a small knife. To my surprise, it turned out that those green things were avocados, grown locally on the hills that surround Chiang Mai.
Avocados have always been somewhat of a luxury item here in Thailand. You can get them at most supermarkets where western goodies are sold, but they’ll usually cost a lot more than in Europe and are nowhere near as flavorful as in the US, Mexico or Indonesia (where, for example, on Bali, there’s an abundance of avocados).
Anyway, I told Khun Dow enthusiastically how ridiculously popular guacamole is in America and Europe and then asked if I could have a bowl, a lime fruit, some salt and chili flakes.
As soon as she provided me with what I needed, I showed my host how to make a rudimentary version of my famous guacamole. She liked the taste and totally understood the potential if she one day did open a restaurant. Her only qualm was pronouncing guacamole. But I broke it up into manageable syllables for her and we practiced for a few minutes. Before I left for the evening, I wrote down “gua-ca-mo-le” in her paper notebook. Khun Dow looked up at me, smiled and said, “Homework!”. Tomorrow she’s promised to buy all the ingredients needed to take my guac to the next level.
Considering the aforementioned bad lighting situation, I am amazed at how well I was still able to grab the shot above with my iPhone X Max S. The camera (and related software) is freakingly usable, even in really shitty light.
Got caught in one of our daily thunderstorms yesterday.
It’s monsoon season here, so I’m not exactly taken aback by the frequency of torrential downpour. The trick, however, is when the floodgates of heaven do open up, you need to be somewhere dry and pleasant. Like sitting in a comfy café or a getting a foot massage. I didn’t have the luxury of choosing anything other than shelter yesterday afternoon when the storm hovered above downtown Chiang Mai.
I just barely had enough time to make it under a ramshackle hut next to a wat (temple). It took about an hour for the gates of heaven to close again and in the meantime, I shot the above clips from the vantage point of my tiny, mostly dry refuge.
The humidity level is tangibly high after a storm here. If it was 85% before the rain, it soars to at least 100% directly afterwards. The two pair of sneakers I brought with me are both soaked and will likely take days to dry. Might have to buy a third pair today when I visit a co-working space located in a fancy mall that one of my fellow students mentioned after Friday’s class. Or, maybe just get some rain boots…
Shot this beautifully aged and decrepit wall in some alley here in Chiang Mai. I can’t get enough of this kind of abstract urban art. I don’t “read” in much to what I see. Instead, I just find it interesting when I locate a series of scuff marks, wall cracks, chipped paint and crater holes create a visally compelling composition.
For about a decade, I‘ve developed a deep appreciation for the cross-section where form, function, and fate meet. It’s kind of like a “Duchampian” approach to the beauty of ordinary things, shapes and textures – all easily accessible in our urban environments – that have come to rot, rust and decay in a way that strikes a chord within my soul. Some of what I find ends up as integrated elements or ingredients in my art.
For a while now, I’ve been promising myself to once again quit, or, at least take another prolonged break from the confines and shackles of social media. Studying Qigong below the hills of Chiang Mai seemed like an optimal opportunity to initiate this decision.
My main argument is and has always been that these channels, apps or whatever the fuck you want to call them, prove time and time again to have a degenerative influence on my creativity and emotional balance.
When I arrived here in Asia a few days ago, I deleted Instagram, the only social media app installed on my phone. It took a few hours getting used to not unlocking the phone’s screen several times a day and flipping through what my online and offline friends and family have been up to. And unsurprisingly, I do not miss the infinite cavalcade of mundane escapades, jam-packed group selfies, life quotes or the “kum ba yah” gospel some try so hard to channel. Not even a little bit.
I’m not totally consitent – once in a while I’ll use my laptop to post a photo or a video on this page. But that habit is also falling on the wayside.
About a year ago, a press photographer and a journalist I’d met tried to convince me of how important social media actually was. How being active had provided them with assignments and valuable connections. They seemed to think I was foolish to not see the glowing benefits and all the low-hanging fruit of opportunities waiting to be picked in the fields in between posts, comments and likes.
I know there are edge cases, circumstances and situations that help argue social medias existence. But like most folks, both of those dudes were way too intoxicated from their addiction to be able to think straight and dispassionately about social medias overshadowing influence on their lives or the amount of wasted awake time they spent on a bloated myth that online interconnectivity really augments the quality of life.
Over the years, I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how to make use of social media. Either as a source for artistic inspiration or by using it as a means to share my love of photography and art. To inspire others, you know? While I’ve failed miserably at the former, I know from feedback that some of those that follow my work in Västra Hamnen and in Santa Monica are inspired by my creativity. And I am sincerely happy if I have added even just a little shine to their lives.
That said, I have still always felt a deep, disproportionate relationship with social media. It simply takes way more than it adds to my life. It’s a conundrum how so many respectable, well-educated souls seem to genuinely feel their lives have improved significantly ever since we all gained the ability to share it online in realtime. It really boggles the mind.
I don’t know exactly when I’ll wave a final goodbye to all my social media endeavors. But as I’m currently on a galvanizing journey with the ambitious goal of releasing a lot more of my creative energy by using Qigong to re-connect or rewire my body, mind, and soul, this could happen anytime. If my only outlet for sharing thoughts, ideas and creative efforts is here on this site, so be it. I’ve been posting somewhat regularly here for more than 13 years and will gladly continue. In the grand scheme of worldly things, I honestly don’t think “unsocial me” should worry about the fear of missing out.
Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, abbreviated ASMR, is where some people experience that certain repetitive sounds and visuals are extremely satisfying to listen to and watch.
What exactly triggers an ASMR reaction is up to individual preference, but can include as mundane things as people mixing stuff, kneading dough or clay, walking in a quiet forest, eating super-crunchy food, drinking through a straw or, like in my video above, seeing and hearing water drops from a fountain I filmed yesterday just outside of Chiang Mai’s old town wall.
There’s an element of translike meditation involved with ASMR and some seem even to be able fall asleep easier while listening to sounds that trigger an Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. But from what I’ve recently seen on Youtube, there’s a plethora of really obscure ASMR videos out there, particularly those which are food-theme. I’m thinking there might also be a level of perversity at play here. Like this one.
I met this dude briefly during a walk around the old town yesterday afternoon. He surprised me by saying something in English as I was getting a shot of the old wooden house next to his. Don’t remember what it was he said, but the fact that he had spoken to me (and chuckled afterward) signaled to me that taking a closup portrait of him wouldn’t be completely impossible.
Turned out I was right and I got a couple of decent shots of the fella – considering the only lens I had with me was a wide 23 mm lens. Of all the walk-around lenses I’ve ever used, the Fujinon XF16mm f1.4 is by far a favorite. It’s light, light-sensitive and produces edge-to-edge sharpness. And if you just get close enough to your subject, it works great for street portraits.