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If you go to Chiang Mai please visit the Maiiam Contemporary Art Museum on the outskirts of town. Even if you’re visiting Chiang Mai for the ancient temples, the rich cultural history, or to start off on a trek, this modern art museum is a big deal. Here’s why.

Sometimes I don’t know what I don’t know until I am presented with more information. The Maiiam opened my eyes about the incredible talent of contemporary Thai artists and the relative lack of visibility that Thai artists receive on the international art scene. The artwork housed in the Maiiam is amazing, plus, the museum is architecturally gorgeous and their cafe and bookshop are fabulous. Just grab a Grab (Thailand’s Lyft-like app) and hop over there.

I love contemporary art. I like how I feel when I stand next to big colors and big courage and the ability of different artists to transmute big emotions into something tangible. A light turns on inside me.

When we travel, we museum. And while we’re museum-ing, we notice that certain artists are everywhere. Beyond the Warhols adorning the major modern art museums, there are (rightfully talented) artists who are ubiquitous. For example, in the span of a few years, we’ve seen Anselm Kiefer in Copenhagen, Paris, San Francisco, L.A., and New York. His pieces are massive—scorched landscape murals and torched airplane hull installation art—the muted destruction of post-WWII Germany as experienced by a child. Everyone who is anyone has their hands on his stuff. It’s fascinating, and it’s everywhere.

My wife and I remark that surely he is the art world’s most recent darling, but I didn’t grasp the bigger picture of who wasn’t hanging on the walls. Where is there space for the rest of the world when the same people are showing up time and again?

At the Maiiam a light went on. (Side note: their current exhibition (running through March 3, 2019) titled Diaspora: Exit, Exile, and Exodus in Southeast Asia was phenomenal. More on that in a minute. First, I always have to use the bathroom.)

Inside the Maiiam’s bathroom was a photographic reproduction of a guerrilla art installation by artist Thitibodee Rungteerawattanon. In 2010, the artist smuggled contemporary Thai artworks into the men’s bathroom of the Tate Modern in London. He installed the works in the bathroom covertly and then photographed the exhibit, titling it ‘Thai Message.’ His commentary was clear—was this the only space for these Southeast Asian artists in the international art world?

Letter outlining the project in English and Thai. Photo: thitibodee.tumblr.com

Sometimes I get so used to looking at what is given to me to see that I forget to question what isn’t being shown. There is underrepresentation by non-Western artists. We are shown a sliver of works by a disproportionately small group of artists. How can this cultural hegemony be shifted? Some of that shift can start with me and looking deeper than just what is presented to me. Thanks Maiiam for sparking me.

Speaking of internationally unsung artists, Diaspora: Exit, Exile, and Exodus in Southeast Asia is phenomenal. The exhibition features artists depicting the experiences of the many groups of people whose lives and cultures have been shifted and/or harmed by movement. My wife and I were crying. One particularly moving collection was a series of portraits by Hmong artist Pao Houa Her. Born in Laos, her family escaped the violence of the Laotian ‘Secret War,’ fought in tandem with the Vietnam War. They eventually settled in Minneapolis and she began documenting the idea of identity for Hmong Americans. Her ‘Attention,’ series showcases Hmong Veterans who fought alongside U.S. troops, but didn’t receive military recognition or honors until 2018—over 30 years after the Vietnam war ended. The men are photographed wearing self-sourced medals and uniforms. The photos are beautiful, dignified, and honestly so heartbreaking. I wish I could tell you about each artist and each collection.



Hmong Veterans, Attention series
Pao Houa Her

While I had narrowly thought of Thai art in terms of the kingdom’s Buddhist history and its glorious, golden statues, the opportunity to visit Thailand gave me a chance to see how much I’m missing when it comes to contemporary Thai (and Southeast Asian) art. Clearly, there are internationally renowned Thai artists, like Navin Rawanchaikul and Rirkrit Tiravanija. And Bangkok itself is modernizing so rapidly that contemporary art is a natural response to the shifts. To that end, the Bangkok Biennial—a response to the exclusivity of events such as the Venice Biennial—was launched in 2018, and showcases Thai and international artists in a range of venues throughout the city. So modern Thai art is claiming its rightful space on the international scene, but this exhibit opened my eyes to how complacent I am in accepting what is offered to me. (Side note: I’m fascinated by the work of the Guerrilla Girls to bring more visibility to women and minority artists.)

What I’m trying to say is, when you’re visiting Chiang Mai—a visit to Maiiam Contemporary Art Museum is a must. Get a ride using the Grab app and don’t go on Tuesday when it’s closed.

Beautiful Bangkok, a city run by tuk tuk power, street vendors, and centuries old golden buddhas.

Sky high commerce and crumbling poverty jostle for street space while long tail boats cruise up and down the Chao Phraya river.

Little kids are canal swimming and tourists are Instagram posing and food vendors slinging moo ping pork skewers, all under resplendent portraits of King Rama X of Thailand.

Our first day in Bangkok, sparkling fresh with jet lag, we  explored the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew—The Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Bangkok was our first leg on a three week tour of the country.

The Grand Palace is tourist central (us included) due to its religious, historical, and political importance to Thailand since its construction in 1782. Also, it’s really beautiful. Glittering mosaics, gilded gold, and opulent murals adorn every building. The Emerald Buddha (actually made of jade) is only 26 inches tall and has seasonal outfits of gold for summer, rain, and cool.

How tourists dress is important to Thai people, especially when visiting revered religious sites. It’s hot in Thailand, but we took care to wear modest clothing at all times: think pants or skirts to knees and no tank tops.

The November was muggy and in the mid-to-high 90s. The action of the city streets is enervating, no matter how much iced tea + condensed milk you drink. My wife is an expert lodging-finder. Usually when we travel for long periods we arrange home exchanges, but this trip we stayed in hotels. Our Bangkok hotel was a dream.

Chann Bangkok Noi, was accessible only by foot or boat. A taxi carried us as far as it could into a dense, riverside neighborhood where hotel staff met us at a foot bridge to guide us in. We walked several blocks down a raised pathway that peered into backyards and jungly terrain. We hooked a sharp left through a break in the corrugated metal fencing and down a sidewalk (marshy swampland and homes on stilts on either side) until suddenly coming upon the Chann Bangkok Noi sign.

Chann Bangkok Noi provided true respite from the chaos of Bangkok’s streets. After our Grand Palace adventure, we slept the merciful sleep of the jet lagged to prepare us for our walking cultural tour the next day led by Bangkok Vanguards.

My wife and I love walking tours to experience the heartbeat of a city and learn more from locals about local life. I’ll tell you all about the cultural tour here…it was really fabulous and I took lots of pretty pictures, so check it out.

Nashville, land of honky tonk dreams.

This small town big city is like Austin, Texas and Butte, Montana had a steel guitar baby. All the wee bricky homes of Butte, with the rolling green, mid-city river, rhythmic soul of Austin.

We’ve been eating, tour-nerding, and exploring neighborhoods. Neon signs, BBQ grills, deep fryers, and Southern greens are all around. Getting acquainted with the Ryman Auditorium had me reeling. Bluegrass was born on its stage and every single sequin-suited country singer worth their boots has rocked there, while the star-making Grand Ole Opry lived there from 1943 – 1974. Then, walking out the Ryman’s door and stepping onto the Broadway strip, hearing the honky tonk angels at iconic joints like Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge just sealed the deal. Maybe everybody’s a star in Nashville.

It’s so damn charming here. The cozy boutiques and neighborhoody vibes, country music and street art had my heart singing. On top of that, we came to visit family, so that had a sweetness all its own. Nashville is completely new to me, and we did a lot in five days, most of it revolving around food. But—if for some reason—you’re teleported here and only have one day to explore, I’ll share this snapshot of East Nashville (plus a sprinkle of other fun) for your adventuresome soul.

East Nashville

We geared up for the afternoon at Pinewood Social with food, libations, and locally roasted Crema Coffee. My lady can be a cranky shopper so I like to give her a little booze before we mosey into uncharted waters. I don’t drink, so I loved their creamy latte with the special coconut and almond milk blend. Their low-key, upscale menu (shaved brussel salad with grilled salmon for me) fits the industrial chic vibe of the large warehouse. It’s been converted to house a cozy sitting zone, coffee shop, big central bar, tufted booths, and an indoor bowling alley, swimming pool out back, airstream bar, and bocce ball. Heaven? Yes.

Afterwards, we headed straight to 5 Points—at the intersection of Woodland, Clearview, and North 11th—and began the Country Christmas shopping experience at the badass collective called the Idea Hatchery.

A handful of local businesses incubate in the low rent, minimal overhead, community setting of the hatchery. I loved Walker Creek Confections‘ Sea Salt Carmels and am gifting a bag to my mama if I manage not to eat them on the plane. I also adored Haulin’ Oats and their mason jars full of oatmeal magic. I got so damn figgy with it this morning.

Next, we popped over to Art and Invention. We got a sweet Joan of Arc hot pink savior of wall art chain metal thing. You know the kind. Made by local artist Wynn Smith, the shop is full of Nashville artists’ paintings, jewelry, metalworks, and  more. It’s sweet.

We paused the shopping bonanza and took in some dancing bears and muraled ladies rising up by artist Leah Tumerman. Street art shines all over in this city.

When the buzz started to run low, we headed over to the converted garage turned coffee mecca that is Barista Parlor. Caffeine dreams really do come true. Shot of espresso, side of dark chocolate, soda water. So grown up.

Coffee not doing it? Nothing like sugar to save the day. We hit up local legend Five Daughters Bakery for a fix. My wife thinks gluten free donuts suck booty, but I feel real fancy free when I get to indulge. To that end, I loved their Paleo Crushers. I had both the orange chocolate and gingerbread. They were both dense and sweet and not reaaaalllly donuts but they tasted good. (P.S. The gingerbread dominated.) The 100 layer donut is their claim to fame. The vibe inside the bakery is hot pink neon and super fun. We also liked the charming 12 South neighborhood spot.

12 South

We clearly led this trip with our stomachs. The 12 South neighborhood was also really cute. I am in LOVE with Frothy Monkey coffee and their seasonal specialty, the Golden Monkey. Steamed milk, espresso, turmeric, ginger, and a lil sweet syrup. So dreamy and right.

12 South has its share of murals, too.

The ‘hood also has a slew of fancy/pricey boutiques and fabulous eateries like Edley’s BBQ. The 1/2 chicken was damn fine and the BBQ sauce just the right combo of heat and sweet. Local studio Liberation Yoga had a Christmas Eve class taught by Raquel Bueno that was so sweet and special and centering before diving into the tornado of wrapping paper and whirling dervish that is a four year old nephew opening gifts.

There’s so much more to do and see here. Next time I’m touring the new site of the Grand Ole Opry and will venture out into the Smokey Mountains. And maybe hang out with Dolly Parton.

 

This time jet lag snuck in the back door, resetting the clocks like a teenage daughter out till dawn. Back in our Oakland bed, home from Denmark, I had a whole week of sleep, cycles, and serenity. Yes. YES. I have finally transcended jet lag. Then the crabbiness , the microscopic analysis of domestic affairs, the subtle bickering with my wife. And there it was, bursting into day eight of our return like a real concern, the un-emptied dishwasher becomes the central focus of my silent sulking. Delayed onset jet lag, you sneaky snake.

We’re home and antsy. Finding problems to fix. The punishment for hurtling through multiple time zones. Is this why I meditate? So I can remember there are no problems? Jet lag is a luxury not a problem. Empty the dishwasher.

Oakland’s shifting summer weather is like Copenhagen, but higher highs punctuate the fashion climate. Back home I am in a short sundress, the room so muggy one night it’s hard to sleep. Two days later, I wear a pea coat. The witchy Bay weather never settled for long.

In bed, I order shoes—both lamenting and justifying such a quick 180 from my new slow fashion resolution. Copenhagen gave me an awakening of conscious: Think about what business practices I support with my spending. Did jet lag cause me to forget? Miz Mooz, are you slow in your fashion? Do you sustainably source your materials, protect the environment, and respect workers’ rights and wages, or do forced hands and smushed lives stitch the darling mauve leather Shay sandals I just had shipped? I swear though, the shift is happening. For years I’ve been opting not to pay attention to who makes my clothes. What do they call that, an inconvenient truth?

Maybe awakenings can be gradual. As a result of slow fashion research, I have foresworn Forever 21. Not that I’m surrendering to the age gap—god no. I forever love the trashy fashion they churn out. I’d wear that shit all day, gold bomber jacket perfectly matching my gold foil leggings. But I’ve started to feel like an asshole if can afford to buy fair labor clothes and I don’t. I would never feel like an asshole in gold foil leggings though.

My wife hasn’t slept all week. Jet lag swooped her up and tumbled her hard. I slept like an angel baby for 7 days straight. All week I reveled, free from intense self-obsession and self-centered fear. Is this the promised land, I thought? Is this how normal, sleep-hydrated brains work? Have I finally arrived? My years of fitful sleep and anxious brain chemistry miraculously rewired by the fresh, Copenhagen air. I finally solved life. 

And then day 8. Delayed onset no sleep. Delayed onset internal clock rebooting to a 9 hour time zone change. Delayed desire to be helpful and empty the dishwasher. Is this domestic bitchiness attributable to jet lag or am I passing the buck?*

By the way mom and dad, so sorry I would come in late and reset your bedroom clock on the weekends. Like you didn’t have a watch at your bedside. Like this actually worked?

by: annie.

 

*I emptied the dishwasher. It took me, like, two minutes.

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Jet lag is a merciless beast. Flying frequently doesn’t mitigate the pain of hurtling body and brain across multiple time zones in one sitting. But weird beauty awaits in the early morning streets of Copenhagen for the sleepless, the weary and the brave.

I woke up at 1:51am Copenhagen time, anxiety brain in full gear. It was a dark night of the soul, full of ego crises and work panics and deathly aloneness while my sweet wife slept at my side. Sleep meditation apps are useless in the face of rapid time zone change.

WebMD tells me to avoid exposure to early morning sun so as not to fuck up my circadian rhythms even more, but that’s hard when the Copenhagen summer dawns at 4am and the Danes don’t believe in blackout curtains. My eye mask is no match for the flood of light in this flat.

By 4:30am I was sitting down to meditate. By 5:30am we were out the door, in hunt of the city’s best pastry (dare we say danish) shop that reportedly opened at 6am.

Encounter 1. Botanical garden in full summer glory with nary another guest. Could be because we wandered in an unlocked gate at 5:45am and the park didn’t open until 8:30am. What do these people do with 4.5 hours of sunlight and a city that’s still asleep?

Don’t mind the clashing pink socks and fuchsia shoes. It’s a miracle I’m not in jammies.

The quiet air and brick buildings, the ivy framed windows and bicycles lining the streets are picturesque northern Europe. I was thinking the still morning was the calm before the storm, but of course the storm is all on summer vacay—that lull time in European countries where the gang goes to the country house and coffee shops close till mid-August.

The Botanical Gardens were just a ruse, really, to get us walking across town to Sankt Peder’s Bageri, Copenhagen’s gluten masters since 1652. It’s been 7 years since I’ve consciously eaten gluten, a health choice based on vanity, a friend’s encouragement, and my attempts to improve my useless digestive system. This morning at 7am I knowingly chucked that choice. See exhibit A below:

Apparently danish pastries are Viennese in origin but the Danes are doing a hell of job with the concept. The black sandy looking one was filled with a slightly sweet almond paste that made me real happy. Potential gut destruction aside, the walk through the streets of Indre By neighborhood prior to Sankt Peder’s 7am opening was a delightful re-introduction to the nightlife I can no longer stay awake long enough to participate in.

A nice couple stopped mid-walk 10 feet ahead of us (after she kicked the toilet paper off her shoe) and dove into a doorway for a 6:45am full exposure, sweet love making session. I’m not sure if they just met, but her red plastic heels looked terrific in the morning light.

A group of young men, too wildly over exuberant for the quiet streets invited us to join them, not sure where they were going or leaving from, but my pink socks weren’t ready for the party.

A crabby English lady saw her preferred pastry wasn’t ready at the bakery and refused to wait outside the door with us until it opened.

All this to say, a night without sleep generally makes me stabby in the brain. But the gorgeous blue skies, the cream cheese frosting, and the beauty of young love makes it all worthwhile.

Brought to you by coffee:

by _Annie_Crawford