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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Chiang Mai: Loi Kratong T-shirt, 1989

Chiang Mai is a craft center, and one of the tourist things to do is go to the 'factories' to watch things being made by hand. Most of them are in villages that specialize in a particular craft. Thus you go to the 'umbrella village' or the 'celadon village'.

My first time in Chiang Mai, back in 1989, I hired a tuktuk and did a factory tour. I bought a paper umbrella, a laquerware box, and a small celadon vase, and took some nice photographs.

At the umbrella factory, the women who do the hand painting on the umbrellas look very carefully at every woman who comes in. They are looking for some accessory with a blank space on it, a space that they can paint. I had them paint the front of my little red canvas pocketbook.

For years I used it whenever I traveled, with its little flower decoration gradually fading. It outlasted the pocketbook, though. Now I wish I had cut it out and kept it, maybe pasted it into my journal. Instead this origianl work of art went into the trash.

I still have my other original work of art. They don't do festival T-shirts here, and I really wanted one. Every day I walked past this man's shop, where he air-brushed T-shirts. Finally I asked about festival T-shirts. He thought it was a pretty strange idea. After a day or two, I asked what it would cost for a custom T-shirt. He gave me a price, but couldn't understand what I wanted. I had to tell him it should be a picture of some festival activity, maybe kratongs. It should say, 'Loi Kratong Chiang Mai Thailand 1989'. A strange request, but he agreed.

As soon as I saw it, I ordered two as presents for the couple I had been hanging out with. The woman was a nurse practicioner, and had taken me back to their room one night, peered down my throat, pronounced it strep, and told me what to order at the pharmacy. I had been looking for a thank you gift, and this was perfect.

Since then I've been saying that I'm going to frame that T-shirt, or at least the picture part. And I will, one of these years. After all, it is a rare item. Only three Loi Kratong 1989 T-shirts were ever produced!


Anonymous said...

Hi Cindy,
I to was in Thailand in 89, havent made it back yet but maybe soon - wondered what your thoughts were re how touristy is it now. In 89 I had just come from Nepal / India and thought it was very developed and commercial - has it changed much or just got a bit more of the same ? Curious to know your thoughts - Cheers Lis

Cindy said...

I don't think it is more commercial, but it certainly is more sophisticated. I just had Thanksgiving dinner. I chose Italian. Fettucine with artichoke cream sauce, imported wine. It is also more expensive. Those $1 meals are only obtainable at the street vendors now. Rooms aren't too bad, and certainly seem to have improved in quality. More and better English is spoken, also.

It's busier. Lots more cars, lots fewer tuk-tuks.

Of course Chiang Mai is all about the treks and the tours, just as before.

You would find India much more changed. I went in 2003-2004. Everyone I talked to who had been there ten years or so before said how much easier everything was. I hope you get a chance to visit Thailand again soon.

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