Eating pain and vegetarian food

I’ve become instant friends with Paul, an Aussie who is a Youth Ambassador working for a small NGO. A mutual friend from home hooked us up before I left so we met on the Wednesday night after I arrived and we hit it off. It’s great already knowing a few people here; my work colleagues I’ll get to in another post, and I met another man today who will also have a role in my life – but I’ll get to his story a bit later too. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been here only 5 days! There are moments where it feels like I’ve always been here which is very odd as it took me ages to really settle into London life when I did my UK stint.

My first Friday night in Chiang Mai involved checking out some performance art and an artist talk at a small arts venue called ‘Malateh’ close to my office on Soi 17. Paul and I weren’t expecting much, and that’s just as well – it was a very small turn out of around a dozen people, and half the people there were directly involved somehow. But it wasn’t quite as awful as all that. Maybe I’m in quite a forgiving mood at the moment, fuelled by jetlag and the fact that everything is so novel.

Long story short – we watched a Canadian woman eat pain. She blindfolded herself and got each person to write a burden that they carried on a quarter of softened rice paper. We each wrote our words with a small paint brush dripped in chilli paste. I wrote ‘domestic violence’ and Paul wrote ‘distance’.

We each carried our ‘burden’ away with us until she got up to join us. The idea was that we would each feed her our burden. After we had done so we would lift a part of her body till she eventually came off the ground. After a minute of us holding her off the ground, she ordered us to put her to the ground and to walk away and not look back.

Paul looked back. Oops.

I wasn’t really feeling it and found the whole thing pretty amusing. I tend to think of myself as being very earnest but it’s experiences like this that make me realise that I don’t take myself that seriously. An artist from Newcastle in the UK who was also there said afterwards that she thought it was “powerful”. I found it “interesting” but wasn’t surprised to later hear expressions like “my body is a vessel”, a “platform for my art” etc. The usual stuff. I half expected her to start talking about “deconstructing” something.

There was also a talk by a Swedish/English artist who had also completed a month-long residency in an artists’ village not far from Chiang Mai. I actually enjoyed her talk, even though she said very obvious stuff which could be summed up as something like, “existing in the moment is, or should be, what life is all about”. But her art was pretty and she had a good sense of colour. What she painted seemed a bit like ‘tourist art’, the kind you see at markets all over the world. But I liked the way she described her practice, about the exercises she used to let go before getting into a space where she was painting intuitively. As she put it, the transition from being predominantly left brained to being more right brained. I got what she was saying because the same process applies to writing and acting.

Pomelo saladBy this stage we were absolutely starving so went from watching a woman eating pain to eating some vegetarian food at Khun Churn, a very ambient and open-air restaurant close by. I love Thai presentation of food and it was particularly good here. We had homemade lemonade and a number of dishes including pomelo salad served on betel nut leaves. Delicious.

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