All of my 2003-2004 Baha’i youth year of service was to be in Macau, China but visa problems eventually led the government of that city to kick me out. While on exile in mainland China I made arrangements to continue volunteering with the Thai Baha’i community. I was sent to a small town in the North-East to help the local Baha’i youth with their children’s classes and other activities. While there I also worked on the library at the Baha’i-inspired Santitham Witthayakhom School, had my first Songkran, learned to carve pineapples and almost Fasted to death.
Some of the most mind-blowing and eye-popping images were taken by be during my recent return there to scan pictures, I tell you. Better pictures than I have ever taken – nay, will ever take. I’m going to have to ask you to take my word for it because I accidentally deleted them. Every last one. To mark the stop and get closer to completing the documentation of my year away I have scanned and posted some of my old photos from 2004. Click here to view them.
In related news, the semi-autobiographical rhyming illustrated children’s travelogue that I have been working on with my BFF Chloë Filson for the past three billion years is finally finished and will be consumable somehow somewhere at some point by someone. The below drawing is one that I started back then in Yasothon and is the last one in the book.
While I was in the geopolitical neighborhood this year I had the chance to offer a month of service with the Baha’i community of Thailand, one of the sites of my 2003-2004 youth year of service. The Thai Baha’i community is a young one compared to many other countries, but many of their earliest members are starting to die off, so the community is particularly interested in capturing its own history right now. As part of that effort they sent me to a few places to find and digitally archive (read: scan) as many old photos as I could find. Along with these photos, I was to shoot some that would be used in the relaunch of their website and for promotional material.
Leena and I
Sitting in an historical vacuum and scanning more than 2,000 photos gave me a warped appreciation of the community’s history – one told entirely in images, most of them rigidly staged. It was also a neat way to learn more about some people I already knew, and all about others that I had never met. At one point I had the chance to meet one of the very first Thai Baha’is in Chiang Mai after already seeing hundreds of pictures of her going back to the ’70s.
Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, and its Head from 1921 to 1957 left volumes of writings and translations as just a part of a legacy that continues to guide the entire Baha’i community. In his writing he would often leave the explanation of important events to a group of people he referred to as the future historians. In my reading of a book of his letters collected under the title The World Order of Baha’u'llah, I found at least six references to these future people who will be tackling the past. As the above then/now shots illustrate, history repeats whether we know what happened or not, so we might as well find out what happened. So here’s to the future historians who will be surrounding all those beautiful pictures with beautiful words.
Canadian-born Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum speaking in Thailand, 1987
Also posted on my flickr site are a handful of photos from Chiang Mai. Not too many, because I didn’t really see or do anything in the tourist-popular city, I spent most of the time indoors, sweating, eating junk food, and scanning.
Posted in this new set of photos are photos from Bangkok are images of Bangkok, some of its contents and several from this year’s Songkran festival. Songkran takes place over about four days every April to celebrate Thai new year, and is the most awesome holiday in the world. Below is a short video I shot of the crowds in downtown Bangkok during a night of Songkran. If you like escalator jams and very tall Danish people, I think that you will really the above video.
While I may technically be back in Canada now, and did not have the chance to post any content for the past few weeks, don’t think for a second that us here at the Life and Works will not be milking the past few weeks over the next several weeks for content.
Having served in Thailand for five months at the beginning of 2004 I came back more than a little bit proud of having been there all that time without once setting eyes on a beach. I was turned off by the horror stories of overpriced food, beaches crawling with Europeans and the horrible things besides the beach that attract the tourists. I was similarly proud about my having not visited Goa, India’s beach resort city, during the six months I was living three hours away from it in Northern Karnataka.
When I wrote to some old friends in Thailand about my coming over, they invited me to tag along on for a beach trip a couple days after my arrival to the island of Ko Samet not far from Bangkok. The island gets its fair share of foreigners, but it’s more of a destination for Thais living in Bangkok. I went, and swam, and ate, and it was good. Click here to see the set of pictures.
I decided when I started the website that I would never apologise to you people for occasions of infrequent posting or for my views on Europeans, can tell you that now that I am in the land of free time and high-speed wireless, there should be nothing preventing me from rehashing the past into content on a much more frequent basis from now on. More later on Thailand.
The Baha’i world is now on day twelve of the nineteen day fast. The one nineteenth of the year when we abstain from food and liquids while the sun is up. The other eighteen nineteenths are known to me as my love affair with lunch, arguably one of the three most important meals of the day. Today was the second time in my eight-year fasting career that I slept in and missed my chance to take breakfast, also among the three most important meals of the day. What better time than now to post the letter I wrote to my father during my first tropical fast from Yasothon in North-East Thailand in 2004? Through a freak publishing accident, it made to the Canadian Baha’i community’s newsletter magazine, making it the silliest thing ever to be in Baha’i Canada. Here it is, illustrated with pictures of delicious, refreshing and vandalized tropical fruit from my set of photos of food art.
This the most difficult fast I have ever done, Dad. I don’t think you can even begin to understand. You slobs in Canada just skip lunch for a few days, watching the sun shoot through the sky like a comet during your ninety-minute winter day. Days here are near never-ending, yours often-ending, ours endless, yours endfull. This day is a good example; by all indications it has not yet ended, and it does not plan to.
I want to cry but, alas, I can’t, for I am missing the vital, the wet ingredient to make tears, so little grains of salt just discharge from the sides of eyes. If you were to cut my arm off I wouldn’t even bleed, and I wouldn’t mind either because the pain might distract me from my thirst. My blood is so dry it has all become scab. It flows through my veins and arteries in the form of pellets, that roll and bounce through my oxygen-super-highways by way of gravity. I need to stand on my head every ten minutes when I start to become slow so that the pellets of blood will roll to my brain. If I’m too stupid to do it someone has to do it for me. I often regain intelligence to find myself being hung upside-down by a team of worried Thais.
I feel the same way an unfortunate African country must feel to be so chronically in debt that I may never recover. I scrounge some calories in the morning and totally use them within an hour of sunrise, so I borrow calories by eating the inner lining of my own stomach and other measures, putting myself into calorie-debt. My Fast-breaking meals are no more than feeble payments to the service the debt. I have done the math and the only way I can get back on my feet again is to eat a hamburger every hour for the next nineteen years after the fast is over and only drink, cook and bathe using pepsi.
I’m still not sure have begun to understand what it is that I am saying. Well, I hope you will think of me while on your skiing trip Dad, standing on my head and constantly eating processed meat for eternity. Please be careful while sliding down those mountains of cold precipitation.
The chilly mornings and nights and windy days over here have made way for unbearable heat. That must signal that one nineteenth of the year in which Baha’i Bloggers and Baha’is alike are abstaining from food and drink from sunrise to sundown has started. Not like the fast my Ethiopian Orthodox roommates do for two sixths of the year where they abstain from animal products, which some do one oneth of the year. More like the one twelfth of the year that Muslims fast except at a different time and length in a solar calendar year.
Fasting in various forms is a practice you can find in nearly every world religion and increasingly as a health practice in its own right. When I was living in the North-East of Thailand in 2004, I was asked to put together a short study group on the subject for a group of youth among whom several were about to have their first fast as many had recently enrolled into the Baha’i Faith or had just reached the critical age of fifteen. While choosing quotations on the topic to be translated to Thai I found that the law of the fast is very closely joined with that of the obligatory daily prayers. This was illustrated in the words of Baha’u'llah with many visual references to illustrate their centrality to Baha’i life as pillars, wings and the sun and moon. We ended the study with some of these quotes and each of us made our own visual translations of the texts. My above drawing from my new set of drawings is based on the following two quotes that can be found in this recent compilation:
“Fasting and obligatory prayer are as two wings to man’s life. Blessed be the one who soareth with their aid in the heaven of the love of God, the Lord of all worlds.” - Baha’u'llah
“Cling firmly to obligatory prayer and fasting. Verily, the religion of God is like unto heaven; fasting is its sun, and obligatory prayer is its moon.” – Baha’u'llah
Coming up: My ridiculous 2004 article on fasting in Thailand, a simplified greywater reuse system and my departure from Dharwad.