Sunday: 29 January, 2017

Today was day two of maker party. More robot battles, more cool projects, and I made a cat mask from one of the kits at our Makerspace Thailand booth. They gave away a lot of free coffee and sous vide eggs, and sold a bunch of kits as well. When it was over we packed everything up and made the trek back to Makerspace. Everything was unloaded and put away and we had a debriefing meeting to talk about how the event went and how they could do an even better job next time. After the meeting all the young guys and I went out for a fancy Thai dinner together. Golf had to go home after dinner but Pak, Goong and I went out to the big farang bar to drink. We met a bunch of people from all over the world, and had a great time getting to know each other outside of Makerspace. They crashed at my place and left early the next morning no worse for wear.

Saturday: 28 January, 2017

Day one of Maker Party! I spent the day checking out all of the booths, talking to all of the makers, trying out all of the electric vehicles, and spreading the word about Makerspace Thailand and the Artisan’s Asylum. Everyone is really excited about the prospects of future Maker Exchange programs and about the creative and cultural benefits that could come along with them. It’s been really interesting being the ambassador for a program like this and for the US maker scene. When people here about the program, it makes perfect sense and they start talking about how they can totally do similar things on a local and national level.

In the evening the festivities turned toward the first night of award ceremonies and a big communal meal with live music. I got to meet all of the robot teams who came from around the country to battle it out at Maker Party. I told them about Mass Destruction, Stompy and the Megabots Project. Rob, you would love these guys!

When Maker Party was over Goong, Pak and I hit the arts district for night two of Galleries’ Night. We scootered around to the C.A.P. (Chaing Mai Art on Paper) Studio, Gallery Seescape, Minimal Gallery, and the Art Mai? Hotel gallery. I’d been wanting to check out the C.A.P. Studio since I read about it in the Creative Chiang Mai book that I borrowed from Nati, and had made one unsuccessful attempt to check it out last Saturday night.

They have a print share business model. This means that they work with artists to create original works in pencil, oil, acrylic, pen, etc. These pieces are then etched into one or more large zinc or copper plates using any of several acid etching techniques. Then an initial run of the print is made. The artist pays for none of this, however, the studio keeps half of the prints to sell in its’ own gallery. If the first run of prints is successful more prints can be made at the artists’ discretion. In this way large-scale printing and large volume production are made accessible to young artists and others who would not otherwise be able to afford them. The owner/artist, Kitikong, is super friendly and has in this way helped to foster young talent and bring a lot more attention, both domestic and international to the Chiang Mai art scene.

The studio was running a one night print giveaway for Galleries’ Night. Visitors could pay 300 baht (about $8.50USD) for the chance to win one of over one hundred prints of different sizes by fishing one a small plastic egg out of a kiddy pool with a little net. Each egg hid a small piece of paper with a number on it which corresponded to a specific print on display in the gallery space. I took the chance and won one of the ten large framed prints! I met the artist and photos were taken. It was awesome!

Gallery Seescape is a two stage indoor/outdoor gallery and coffee shop. It is a favorite hangout for many young artists and students and a pillar in the arts community here. We met several notable artists and new friends here; Mit Jai-Inn, prominent Thai abstract painter and political agitator, Dejan Dukic Bosnian/Austrian painter, and Kan Natee a Thai interior designer.

Minimal is a tiny alternative Japanese restaurant by day and an underground non-spray art gallery by night. The owners are two young artists/musicians who run the restaurant to support their art and music interests. They are super nice and hilarious. Art Mai? Hotel is a boutique art hotel. One guest-room on each floor was designed by a different notable Thai artist, and each floor has a gallery space devoted to a different artistic style. We met back up with Mit Jai-Inn, Dejan and Kan here. Kan designed the interior of the hotel itself and all of the rooms outside of the special rooms on each floor. She took us on a tour of several of the special rooms and the rooms that she designed. All-in-all a pretty wild day. Made a lot of new friends and I’m finally getting into the arts and maker scenes here. After the tour Goong dropped me off at home. Good night!

Friday: 27 January, 2017

Today we packed up and moved everything to Maker Party. We set up the booth and got things organized for tomorrow. Met the dudes from Chiang Mai Maker Club, a non-profit, free, and open-source hakerspace. I got a tour of their space and an introduction to all of the cool stuff they have built and are working on currently. Projects include: two drift carts, a completely home built Segway, several different custom drones, and smart lighting systems, fish tank and coffee maker, voice controlled by an Amazon Echo. They were also busy gearing up for robot-maze and battle-bots style robot competitions, which are happening all weekend. These guys are so friendly, excited, and nerdy and are working so hard to make it awesome. It’s going to be great event!

We drove back to Makerspace and I left for the first night of Galleries’ Night Chiang Mai, similar to Somerville open studios, complete with live music and great street food. I checked out the Lanna Architectural Center’s exhibition about Architectural Conservation and the GNCM Young Artists Showcase, the Supachet Exhibition at Supachet’s Studio, and the MORE THAN WORDS exhibition at Mini Wall at D-Bistro Gallery before everything closed up at midnight. Plenty more going on tomorrow.

Thursday: 26 January, 2017

Worked on adding relief to my second piece all day. I took time to photograph the compound and some of the folks I’ve been working with. Maa Bua is a bit under the weather today and took it pretty easy, napping for most of the afternoon. I packed up all of my stuff and Nati came to pick me up at three. I had an odd feeling when he arrived and I realized how used to the Woodcarving Village and the people there I’d become. I was pretty bummed to be leaving so soon. Maa Bua gave a lot of praise to Nati over my first piece and the discipline that I showed while being there. She said I have manners (as it turns out) and was a dedicated student, and should have a bright future. We made plans for Maa Bua to buy a set of tools for me at the weekly market on Saturday which I wont be able to attend as Maker Party is this weekend. I thanked them all for the life changing experience, said a sad but brief good bye until next week when I will come back out to pick up the new tools.

I showed off my stuff at Makerspace when we got back and saw what the guys have been working on for Maker Party this weekend. They spent all week making kits for paper masks, foam board airplanes, and laser-cut 3-D puzzles of rubber-band guns and Star Wars ships. The rice-cooker sous vide peripheral is ready to go, and the cold brew coffee machine is running off of a solenoid valve until the peristaltic pump is finished this coming week.

Wednesday: 25 January, 2017

Today I began a new project. Maa Bua and I worked on the design and flat drawing, and spent the morning v-carving and outlining it. At lunch we went on a walk to see the Wat nearby that features many wood carved pieces by Maa Bua and her late husband. Dozens of intricately carved pieces ornamenting the exterior of the buildings. Very impressive!

We walked through the elementary school next-door to the Wat to visit the teachers, Headmistress and the kids who learn carving after school, and who were present for the CNN interview. I finished the first pass of outline on the new piece and started to bring down the background to create a relief. A friend of Chookiat’s came over for dinner and hung out talking with us. We spent most of the evening talking about language, politics, and the cost benefit to the people and city of Chiang Mai of all of the farang (foreigners) in Chiang Mai. I also got a free Thai language lesson out of the deal, and an inside peak on the difficulties of foreign real estate development from Chookiat and Kai who are a couple of architects.

Tuesday: 24 January, 2017

I’ve learned the language of the tools. It is now a conscious knowledge and I don’t need much direction, and I can’t remember why it was so difficult to understand before. I put in another solid eight hours of carving today. Baa Bua makes me stop to eat but is otherwise leaving me alone to work, checking on me every half-hour or so. We went to the market this afternoon to check out what is grown locally and to meet people in the greater community. I ate the best strawberries I have ever had there. Baa Bua and the other carving folks that drop by during the day seem to be impressed with the work that I’m doing. I was told today to call Master Bua, Maa Bua instead of Baa Bua, Mother vs aunt. I’m developing a real bond with Maa Bua and Chookiat, her son.

I’m totally exhausted and my eyes hurt from forgetting to blink while working but I managed to finish my first project! It feels great and I am pretty happy with the result. I think I can slow down a bit now before I burn out. I can take more time to really get to know the people here.

Monday: 23 January, 2017

My education began in earnest today. 4 hours of carving in the morning then lunch then 4 more hours in the evening. Learning these tools is like learning a new language. There are 25+ individual steel chisels, each with a specific purpose. We’ve gotten into a system where Baa Bua shows me how to do something, I attempt to do the same thing, and I get either an “okay” or a “no!’, at which point she’ll hand me the correct tool that I am not currently using or she’ll correct the chisel angle, mallet striking force, or angle of strike compared to grain direction. There is an almost complete oral-language barrier but absolutely no work-language barrier. She is so consistent and exacting in what she expects me to do that there is no room for miss interpretation of her “no!”s and no time to develop any bad habits. It’s surprising and beautiful.

It is very difficult working within this very specific, very old aesthetic. This morning Baa Bua may have been getting a little tired of my lack of knowledge of what the design is supposed to look like when properly carved. It’s hard when I’m not Buddhist, not Thai, and have had only a week of exposure to this aesthetic passively from visiting temples around the city.

Somewhere along the way today though, something eventually clicked and I got a total mind frame shift. Somewhere in the depths of learning in my brain on a not-quite-conscious level, I began to understand the relationship between the curves the levels of relief, and each tool’s personality and I started to get it. It was wild! The coolest part was that Baa Bua could see it first, and she started treating me differently. In her genius I think she could see that the mistakes that I was still inevitably making were at least the “right” kind of mistakes. She became more engaged again and I started moving through the piece on my own. She is having fun adding new elements to complicate the piece and to push my skills forward as fast as I can go, and inducing playful agony as I understand how much more time the carving will take to finish as each new element is added. I am now drawn to certain tools for specific tasks, not because I consciously know those are the correct tools to use, but because they seem connected to the previous tool used or step completed, or because it just feels right. I have not had a similar experience before and I am SO thankful for this opportunity.

Also, all the graduates from Chiang Mai University and their parents left this morning so I got my own guest-room. Sleeping hard tonight!

Sunday: 22 January, 2017

Got up extra early this morning to grab a taxi to meet Nati and Joy and the CNN crew outside of town. We all met up at Starbucks. I scarfed a banana chocolate chip muffin and we took off to the Woodcarving Village.

Melissa from CNN let me know that they’d like to interview me and make more of a story about this westerner studying traditional Thai wood carving and the idea of the Maker Exchange Cultural Residency Program, so I got to do some awkward walking, praying, drawing, and interviewing, for which I felt a little underprepared. When those guys were satisfied with the footage, we all said good-bye. I went with Nati and Joy to check out their house and to meet Joy’s parents, as they live pretty close to the Woodcarving Village. After meeting her folks, a tour of their house and some coffee, they dropped me off back at the Woodcarving Village and I was on my own with Baa Bua (auntie Bua) and her son Chookiat.

We started almost immediately on my first piece that I had already partially fouled earlier by doing some freehand carving for the camera. After an hour or so I had dinner with Baa Bua and Chookiat. I showed them some pictures of my work, the Artisan’s Asylum and Makerspace Thailand. Unfortunately all of their guest rooms were full of parents of the students graduating from Chiang Mai university tomorrow. So, I did some urban camping in a tent next to the koi pond and Buddhist shine. Slept like a baby.

Master Bua

 

Saturday: 21 January, 2017

Today is the big day! CNN showed up at Makerspace before opening at 10am, Melissa, the on-camera anchor and Matt the camera guy. They set up lights and their camera equipment and started by interviewing Nati. Melissa talked to all the members that were there and they took some footage of all of their projects and the shop projects that Nati, Golf and Goong are working on; the automated cold brew coffee maker with peristaltic pump and Peltier cooling apparatus, modular automated hydroponic farm, and rice-maker sous-vide peripheral. Ong, Goong and I did some fake woodworking for the camera. Ong’s interview about his company, Rada Loom was awesome! When they were done filming I got lunch with Nati and Joy on their brief break before the next group showed up.

Folks from Deep South Thailand collective showed up about an hour later. They are a league of young business owners from the far south of Thailand trying to rebrand the area and bring new business and investment to the area to combat the negative and dangerous reputation the area has had historically. They stayed for several hours, talking with Nati and Joy trying to glean advise and connections to help them move toward their goals.

I finished teaching the band-saw box class with Goong. He started making a second box immediately as he wasn’t satisfied with his first attempt. After closing up I went to the big Saturday night market and Wat Sri Suphan (Silver Temple). I talked to several silversmiths about modern vs traditional roles of silverwork in Chiang Mai. There is a tradition of giving a large raised silver bowl with traditional motifs chased into its’ walls, as a retirement gift. The government supports this tradition in order to help sustain the traditional craft. Modern silversmiths must however produce contemporary work as well, because the demand for silver vessels is not high enough to support the entire silver industry. This situation produces incredibly skilled artist producing amazing traditional pieces as well as very high end contemporary jewelry. High-relief silverwork is on of the ten traditional forms or divisions of Lanna artwork. There are masters of each craft who regularly teach novice and advanced students at the temple complex. I’ll definitely need to spend more time there but I had to get back home to pack for the wood carving intensive that will begin tomorrow after CNN does their thing at Woodcarving Village.

 

Friday: 20 January,2017

This morning I had a lovely breakfast with Karen Christians friend Elena. A the story goes, they met at Burning Man one dusty evening and bonded over a shared love of this country. Elena has done a lot of traveling in her day and has made Thailand her home for several years, after being lured to Chiang Mai on a not-very-well-thought-out scam, centered around a fictional teaching position, from which she lost nothing and gained a new life. I learned a lot from Elena about what it’s like to live here for an extended period of time. She is fluent in Thai, and earned a “student of the year” award from the government her first year in Thailand for being so dedicated to her studies.

She told me an interesting fact about the Thai prison system and vocational opportunities for women. As a reward for good behavior female inmates at the prison in Chiang Mai are taught Thai massage. After completing a 180 hour course these women perform Thai massage at locations around the city and at a spa located on premises at the prison.

The Lila Thai Massage program was created by the former Director of the woman’s prison here in Chiang Mai as an effort toward “bridging the gap  between a non accepting public, and the problems released inmates encounter adapting to a new community.” If they work at Lila, inmates are brought to work in the morning at brought back to the prison in the evening. They are paid for their services and are allowed to keep any tips they earn. In this way, women are able to save enough money to open their own Spas after they are released, and thus have a very low recidivism rate. Cool right?!

Anyway, back at Makerspace we spent the day preparing the space for the CNN International crew who are coming tomorrow to Makerspace, and on Sunday to Woodcarving Village. Finished polishing the new anvil and hammers and helped clean and organize. When the work was done and we were all closed up I took the opportunity to get my first Thai massage, and it was awesome! Why didn’t anyone tell me how much better Thai massage is than the watered down versions of massage that we get in the States? I mean I could not have imagined how many ways are there to make a leg feel great! I slept great and I’m hooked.