Related Posts with Thumbnails

Monday, June 29, 2015

Adrian Tan Photography

I saw these stunning photographs on my Facebook. It was the otter that I completely fell in love with. I love how the photographer was able to capture the personality of the creatures so well. The otter looks frisky and mischievous. The eagle looks aloof and stern.

See more of Adrian Tan's pictures at...
(1) HERE...
(2) and the best pictures... HERE

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Making Celadon Ware The Chiangmai Way

I am not paid for this post, but I have no right to mess with another's livelihood by revealing all the yummy secrets of the tour. The process is far longer and more elaborate than depicted here. I have left out three quarters of the process so as not to spoil the surprise for you, nor curtail their revenue. 

Do drop by Chiangmai Celadon to tour their factory. 

This vat mixes the clay. Water is then removed.

The clay is further churned and kneaded for smoothness, and then extruded.

The potter throws the clay on the wheel and fashions vases and bowls.

The clay pieces are a dark brown before they are fired in the kiln. Figurine shapes are processed differently. Do visit them to see how. I would hate to reveal their secrets here and deprive them of income to keep them afloat.

A layer of light blue paint (which will be burned away in the kiln is applied) is applied to the dark clay. Why? Go ask them or figure it out?

An artisan etches the clay. The piece is then sent into the kiln to be fired.

When it comes out of the kiln, it is a rose pink in colour.

The rose pink piece is dipped in glaze.

Another 8 layers of glaze are painted on. The piece is then re-fired in a kiln.

The finished product looks pale green with tiny transparent cracks...  like this.

Or pale green with dark cracks ... like this...

The Elephant Nature Park

Unlike the other elephant nature parks, this one does not provide elephant performances. When you train an elephant to perform, you are making it do things that are alien to its nature. This park exists to give elephants (abused and injured ones) a good life. It is actually an elephant rescue. It is a bit like visiting an SPCA for elephants.

So, if you are looking to ride an elephant or to watch one paint a picture, then you will be disappointed. Tourists are tolerated because the park needs to fund their rescue effort. We are NOT the priority. It is a good park to visit if you do not prioritise your own enjoyment over the elephants' right to live as elephants.

Many of their elephants are injured. Some are blind.

Jokia: The Blind One
The story of Jokia was particularly awful to listen to. Jokia was a logging elephant. The rescuers noticed that she was blind and queried the owner, "Why are you working this blind elephant? How did she get blind?" After some haggling and persistent sleuthing, they discovered that Jokia was made to work the logging trails right up to the day she gave birth. At the moment of birthing, Jokia was pulling logs high up on the mountain. She was tethered to the logs. Her newborn, still in its birth sac, rolled down the mountain cliff. Jokia was frantic. She could not get free to save her baby. Elephants love babies. They love babies to the point where they will experience false pregnancies.

After her baby died, Jokia refused to work. Her mahout used the elephant hook to gouge her skin. That is the common way to tame an elephant. You break its spirit. Jokia simply refused to get up and work. Her mahout gouged out one eye. Jokia used her trunk to sweep her mahout away. This enraged her mahout even more. He gouged out the other eye.

Elephants love babies. The herd will always form a body wall around the little ones to ensure that they are safe. A baby's distress call will bring the whole herd running and they are NOT friendly to whomever upset their baby.

Medo: The One With the Broken Hip
Tourists get to pet, feed and bathe the tamer elephants. I saw an elephant limping away from us at quite a distance. I asked. That one was injured during a forced mating. Elephants, like humans, choose their sexual partners. When baby elephants command a market price of 2 million baht (SGD$80,000), the humans don't allow that choice. The female elephant in estrus is immobilised in a steel and concrete structure. The bull elephant will come and do what he wishes. It is rape. Pure and simple. Anyway, the bull elephant is strong and he is NOT gentle. This poor young girl elephant had had her hip and one leg broken during the intercourse.

Thong Bai: The Old One
One particular elephant was 90 years old. She was so old that another elephant challenged her as herd leader. She lost the contest and went away to be by herself, without a herd. In nature, these elephants die. They are so old that their teeth and digestive system cannot process the high fibre diet. They either starve to death or are attacked and eaten by predators. They willingly leave the herd to die alone.

Buys and Maintains Elephants
The Elephant Nature Park buys the elephants they rescue. Elephants are considered property. It does not matter how intelligent they are nor how humanlike their emotions. They all had owners. Once bought, the park lets them roam on land donated by Bert Von Roemer of the Serengeti Foundation. The elephants are also fed using donated funds.

Elephant Chooses His/Her Mahout
Each elephant has an attending mahout. I was very touched by the sight of a mahout hugging and kissing his elephant. The elephant actually responded affectionately too. There was clearly a bond. I commented on this to our guide. She said, "Here, the elephants choose their mahouts, not the other way around. Sometimes, there are mahouts that all the elephants avoid. Then we know that that mahout has been abusing the elephants behind our backs. The elephants become very attached to their mahouts and they will be grumpy and depressed on their mahouts' off days."

Time Can Drag
It was good to see the elephants in their natural state. It was good to know that our tour money went to a good cause. It was heartwarming to see the mahouts cuddle their elephants like they were dogs or horses. However, the day dragged on. There were many breaks where we sat around and did nothing. I would have been happy to pay the same price for a half day experience, minus the breaks. That way, I would have had an extra half day to do something else.

You can really go up close to pet the elephants.

If a baby approaches you, you run. Babies can wail for strange reasons and if one wails, the rest of the herd will come and stomp on whomever they think frightened their baby. This baby sent a group of tourists running. One tourist dropped her water bottle in her hurry. The baby found the bottle and then had great fun trying to burst it like you and I burst bubble wrap. Then it climbed up on the log. It had to be enticed down with a basket of watermelon. I was too close to the baby and had to skedaddle  at the end of the video because a huge nanny elephant was bearing down on me!!

Next time, I will just transfer funds to Save The Elephant Foundation as I have done twice before without even visiting - HERE. It is very easy to donate via PayPal. If you are an American citizen, it is even tax deductible.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Chiangmai Celadon Visit

I found the visit thrilling.

There were fine examples of Lanna Teak Houses all over the factory grounds. These are traditional wooden constructions. They don't build these anymore so it was like walking through a bit of Lanna history. You cannot see this at any of the other celadon factories.

It is sort of like the bonus of visiting Chiangmai Celadon.

Seriously, if you want to visit a celadon factory in Chiangmai, skip all the others and head straight for this one. You get a lot more than just pretty vases. There are rabbits to cuddle on the grounds and a brood of 40 hens and cockerels. You get great food served in beautiful surroundings. You get a warm welcome and hostesses with infinite patience. You get to try your hand at throwing pottery on the wheel, painting pottery, etching pottery. You get to roam about the extensive grounds to take all the pictures you want.

The Main Gallery.

40 chickens roam the premises.

There are lots of tame rabbits too.

The Cafe.

The Phad Thai served to us as part of our day package.

A Sticky Rice Dessert.

Mango. Very sweet!

Condiments on the table.

Details of the Lanna teak house.

They cut 2 holes into the 2nd storey to let the mango trees through! It sure makes it easier to pick fruits!

Bedroom. Indoor and outdoor spaces are permeable. Isn't that quite the fashionable architectural concept in Singapore now?

Dresser.... also very near to the outdoors.

Sitting room. They did not have aircon back then, so these well ventilated rooms were ideal for entertaining.

The Boss

The Manager

The Allure of Celadon

Since forever I have loved celadon ware. It is a type of pottery that has been produced in China since AD25. In almost every other type of pottery, crazing (the phenomenon where the glaze is cracked) is considered a defect, celadon pieces are prized for their crackle glazing. If you examine each piece carefully, you will see a network of fine cracks in the glaze.

What is glaze? It is that shiny green layer that coats the whole piece of pottery.

There are many styles to celadon pottery. The more antiquated style sports large angular dark cracks. This is my favourite style of celadon. See below.

The antique style of celadon. It is hard to find these on the market these days. They do not seem popular. I got this one for SGD$30 at a pasar malam.

The celadon at Chiangmai is the more modern style with fine, white crackle glaze. The Chiangmai style is interesting in that the pieces are carved/etched before the first firing. After the glaze is applied and the pieces re-fired in the kiln, the designs look like they are floating at some depth inside the surface.

For decades, all I could do with celadon was to stare at museum displays and through shop windows. I could not afford them. They were so fine and so expensive. Celadon is strangely captivating, and not least because people have found beauty in its brokenness. Cracks in the glaze are not flaws in celadon (though they are in other types of pottery). It is a little like being a Christian don't you think? God finds beauty in us when we are broken and then made whole by Him. Celadon pieces are broken and whole at the same time.  

In the past 10 years, PRC vendors would set up shop at pasar malams to sell workshop rejects from factories in China. I would scour every pasar malam for celadon pieces. A few years ago, they were easy to find and cost less than $100. These days, the vendors ask SGD$200 a piece, even flawed. I did buy 1 lovely piece a few years back with a small defect for $30. I also bought a Jing De Zhen piece with a tiny defect for less than SGD$50.

I did not know that Chiangmai is the celadon capital of Thailand. When I found out in the taxi on the way to the hotel, celadon ware was all I wanted to see. We passed by jewelry shops, umbrella shops, silverware shops, bronzeware shops. I had only a single obsession - celadon. I asked to go to Chiangmai Celadon. The hotel arranged with the taxi to send us to Baan Celadon. I guess they think that tourists do not know better. I was quite offended to find that they had brought me someplace I did not want to go, in the hope that I would like their choice better than my own.

I threw a hissy fit.

Then, I phoned Chiangmai Celadon HERE. They sent a car to pick us up from the hotel. We agreed to a day tour comprising a tour of the factory (with very in-depth explanations of process) and a pottery workshop (throwing clay on wheel, painting and etching). I took videos and will upload on Youtube and blog again.

Celadon tea set.

This piece has been etched and fired once.

Glaze is applied after the first firing in the kiln.

The grey portions of the elephants have a layer of dried on glaze. The pink parts will be painted.

Here is what a painted piece looks like. This is before the 2nd firing.

After the 2nd firing, the gray glaze layer turns into a very zen pale green with a characteristic crackling.

After the 2nd firing, the painted colours become more vibrant. The gray glaze takes on a shine and its characteristic crackling. This piece is a stunning SGD$10,000. The painted layer actually looks like cloth. The entire elephant is bursting with energy and motion. If I could afford it, I would have bought this piece.

These are the 3 elephants we painted at the pottery workshop.

This is the piece I walked out of there with.

Dinner At Tong Tem Toh

I badly wanted to try out the local food but The Husband was not very keen on the streetside stalls. Tong Tem Toh was quite highly recommended HERE. We made our way there by tuk-tuk to try out the local fare.
It turns out that pad thai and all those Thai dishes we thought we knew, are NOT local dishes in Chiangmai. Chiangmai is known for Lanna cuisine. Lanna means "land of a thousand rice types". It is a brain searingly hot cuisine. Both lunch and dinner set my tongue on fire!
Nice ambience.

Bamboo shoots and pork soup.

Sweet leaves omelette. Sweet leaves is a local vegetable. I don't think we have had it before in Singapore. It tastes like a cross between sweet potato leaves and kang kong.

Ant eggs soup.

A close up of ant eggs. They taste like butter knobs.

This is good, even though a bit more dry than a sausage should be. It is spicy pork sausage with all sorts of inveigling spices. There was a very strong taste of lemongrass.

Spicy pork sausages in a basket.

Elephants: Up or Down

It appears that whilst most tourists prefer elephants with their trunks uplifted, the Thais themselves prefer elephants with their trunks hanging down in a relaxed manner. That is the posture of a happy elephant.
Elephants with trunks held high represent luck. I suppose that most tourists prefer luck (and all that it portends, wealth and prosperity) to happiness. The Thais prioritise happiness in family relationships above luck.
I think the Thais are much wiser than the rest of the world.

Hong Kong Tailor, Chiangmai

We are so pleased with this tailor in Chiangmai. I don't have much fashion sense. The Husband has even less. This tailor, named Boy is an Indian man, who runs a shop called Hong Kong Tailor in Chiangmai, Thailand. He has very fine fashion sense indeed.
We looked through his range of cashmere fabric. Boy was able to help us choose a fabric appropriate for the occasions The Husband had in mind for his suit. This one (with stripes) is a bit flashy, and so a little casual. That one (in dark brown) is good for formal occasions. Finally, we settled on a dark blue-gray fabric with very discreet gray highlights that made for a very rich tone of blue-gray.
Gee... men's fashion is really something else. Everything is dark blue, black, gray or brown but the differences are subtle. Can you imagine? Something black with dark gray stripes is considered "flashy". Hmmmm... a very very different approach from women's fashion. Pairing the cashmere fabrics with an inner shirt fabric was an even greater challenge. I can tell when things go together but I cannot pick out the colours from the shelves. Boy did that for us, providing multiple pairing options. Then, it was a matter of personal preference.
24 hours after the first measurement, we were back in the shop for a tryout. Boy made more measurements and stuck more pins onto the fabric. We will be going back to get the suit tomorrow.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Sunbird In the House

This is the very first time we have had a Sunbird fly into the house. We have had countless pigeons and sparrows (about 7?) but this is our first Sunbird. The Sunbird kept flying from different parts of the house back to the roses. I think it was confused by the fake roses. How can anything look so much like food and not be food? 

Whatever it is, this house's attraction to birds is undeniable. Maybe I can start a swiftlet farm at home?

I am not exactly sure what attracts the birds. It could be the spot of greenery at the top of the staircase. Perhaps they are looking for food.

It could also be the way the stair well resembles a cave. Perhaps they are looking for a place to roost. This is possible because we once had to catch a Husband+Wife pair of roosting pigeons. The birds usually fly in on a sunny day. Perhaps they are attracted to the cooler temperatures inside the house? Oh dear me... who can tell what a bird thinks?

Friday, June 19, 2015

Roast Pork Belly

Thanks to the ceramic knife that is sharp enough to score the skin like butter, I made roast pork belly with a perfectly crispy skin. I used to prick the skin. I would prick and prick and prick but the fatty layer could never get through the tiny holes well enough to fry the skin to a crisp. I don't know how other people can do it. I just could not.

Brine the meat in a salt solution (2 to 4 teaspoons salt to 2 litres of water... depending on how salty you want your meat). Do not put too much salt because a very concentrated salt solution will draw out meat juices. Score the skin with an ultra sharp knife.

Steam the meat for 1 hour.

Apply a thick layer of salt to the skin to draw out moisture from the skin. Rub the the non-skin parts with equal parts cumin powder + coriander powder + 5 spice powder + salt. Wrap the non-skin portions with aluminium foil (to prevent the meat from drying out). Refrigerate for 4 hours or more. Before popping into the air fryer, scrape off the thick layer of salt. Brush with vinegar. Air fry for 30 minutes at 200 DegC. Brush again with vinegar. Air fry for another 30 minutes at 200 DegC.

Tada! See how the meat juices are flowing out of the succulent meat. See how crackly the skin is?

We had clam chowder to go with the roast pork because it was too much of a waste to throw the milky liquid left over from steaming the clams.