February 22, 2006
See Cambodia in ten days and...Feb/12-22
After skyscrapers, traffic jams and the endless shopping malls of Bangkok it was quite a shock to arrive to the quiet and modest Phnom Penh. The motorcycle is the most common vehicle, often loaded with 5 people and an array of bags. Roads are still muddy and full of potholes. There are no shopping malls and plenty of other things you soon forget.
Visiting Cambodia reminds me of my previous visits to Vietnam and Myanmar, which also seem to be light years behind the trendy neighbour Thailand. In good and bad... Nevertheless, I have found people of these countries warm and welcoming, gentle in a heartbreaking manner. The poor conditions and terrible governments are not able to kill everything...
I spent one day in the splendid National Gallery photographing Khmer Buddha statues I have admired since my childhood. The thousand year old Buddhas look exactly like cambodians who watch them! Gentle wide faces, full lips and mysteriously smiling eyes. The building itself is remarkably elegant with red roofs and a garden with lotus ponds.
The next morning I took an early boat towards Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. I really should avoid boats. I had bad luck with a boat like this last time I went to Myanmar. This time the air conditioning was out of order, and I caught a cold - in the tropics. When the boat arrived to the Siem Reap harbour (nearest town to Angkor Wat), after six hours of suffering, I had fever and difficulty to breathe.
On the way I noticed how empty Cambodia is, incontrast to the rich and populated neighbouring countries. Like in Vietnam and Myanmar, elderly people are few. One third or one fourth of the population got killed under the bloody regime of the Khmer Rouge. A fact which went unnoticed by the rest of the world for four long years.
I gave myself a treat by staying in a quiet and stylish French owned hotel surrounded by a lush tropical garden. It had a pleasant salt water swimming pool I could only watch from my terrace. After a sleepless night, a tuk-tuk driver took me to a fine clinic. Surely not affordable by locals, I thought sadly. A young doctor told me I have bronchitis, and gave me five bags of pills. After taking some of them I noticed my hands were trembling so much I could not take a single photo. And I was two miles from my goal, the fabulous temple area of Angkor Wat, one of the miracles of the world.
Back in the 1980´s I learned that the most negative side of travelling alone is when you are ill and don´t know anybody around. Luckily the Thai mobile net worked in the Cambodian side of the border, and I could exchange text messages with homefolks, and feel I´m still on the same planet. During the next days recovering, I had new ideas for my next exhibition. Thanks to the broncitis, I had to stop and could rethink many things.
Then I finally got to Angkor Wat with Mr Soben and his charming tuk-tuk. We drove 120 kilometers on jungle roads, and I stepped a thousand stone steps of ruins and temples during the first day the doctor allowed me to work! I photographed people (Angkor is popular for local wedding photo sessions), ancient trees growing from ancient ruins, delicate dancers carved in stone, and landscapes. When I got back in the hotel, I was half dead again. But after looking at the the results from my camera, I took my pills and went to bed happily, with lungs whistling ”River of Kwai”. I got what I ordered!
I spent three days in temples and enjoyed every second of it. In the evenings I went out to eat and discuss with local people. One day I accompanied Mr. Soben to his favourite place. It was a simple hut run by chinese women, who were creators of culinary marvels I have never tasted before. Our georgeous meal with fresh coconutmilk as drink cost 5 USD. I will never forget this meal, and the pleasant conversation with Mr. Sompat - about life and death in Cambodia.
He gently offered me the meal, but I objected and told that we have a habit in Finland that I have to respect, otherwise I get bad luck. The one who does not have kids pays. He could not but obey. Bad luck is a serious matter in Asia.
One of the nights I saw shadow puppet and dance performances by an art school of orphans, organized with French support. At least some of the children of a war torn country can avoid prostitution... One of the little dancers caught my eye with her unbelivable grace and determination. Dance IS a language, and she spoke with every gesture. Her eyes followed me all the way back home.
February 08, 2006
Tarot opening at National Gallery, Bangkok
In my very first days in Bangkok I also visited the National Gallery, a charming colonial style house with a row of fragrant frangipani trees in front of it. 23 years ago I dreamed of exhibiting my art there. Today my dream became true, and it was easy to smile when I stood there in my new fuchsia thai silk dress and listened to our ambassador Lars Backström giving a speech to the guests of opening. The tarot exhibition has arrived to its seventh country.
After the opening ceremony I read the cards as long as I could. Somebody whispered to me, that a certain attractive lady in the line was from the royal family. She got the King of Wands. This time I had to think twice before I opened my big mouth! What about my King, she asked noticing my hesitation. A clever girl, I thought, and told her everything that I saw from the cards she picked. She should work harder if she wants to become a writer, and have less social life... After all she invited me to her house for a dinner and told ambassador I blamed her being too lazy.
Tarot got an entire Nation Sunday newspaper page with massive photos aattacjed to the title ”TAROT TECH. Talk about ”smart cards” – Finland´s Marita Liulia turns medieval magic into a modern marvel at a Bangkok exhibition.” A very well written and definetely positive article.
Thai journalists told me that Nokia is naturally a well known brand in Thailand, but if the Finns also produce high quality content for mobile phones, it´s something new and interesting. I did my best to promote Finland and the connection of culture and technology in many interviews.
Tigermob, the biggest content provider of Thailand made an offer to make a deal about the Tarot mobile service in Thai language. Definetely, yes! Tarot has been available already for six years in Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. 70-million inhabitants Thailand is most welcome.
With all these good news and somewhat worried about the mass demonstrations next to National Gallery (against corruption suspect ridden prime minister Taksin) I bought a flight to Phnom Penh in order to travel through Cambodia, and end up to Angkor Wat.
February 05, 2006
It´s raining gold in Bangkok
The next day after the performances, without any rest, I fly first to Paris and then continue to Bangkok. There I have a one day break before we start to build up the Tarot exhibition in the National Gallery. The Finnish Embassy is again very helpful, and Sirkku is a real gem. Without her I would not be here.
In the night I try to keep awake with the jet lag hammering my body. I stay at the good old Royal Hotel (locals call it Loyal), and walk over a busy road to Sanam Luang, a large open field next to the residence of the royal family, the main temples, museums and the National Gallery. There are rows of tents selling all kinds of delicacies with fiercy thai spices, that I can not resist. I eat and cry and smile to tuk-tuk drivers and night butterflies (male and female prostitutes) enjoying the same food. Absolutely delicious. After the meal I walk over the field towards the golden temples glimmering miraculously in this soft tropical night, full of familiar smells and sounds.
In the middle of the field there is an all-gold pavillion with a golden Buddha on top. People walk up the stairs and rub gold leaves to his robe, hands and feet for good luck. An old woman stares at me, noticing my ultra short hair and long black dress. She bows her head and makes a wai, the Thai greeting. She propably thinks I am a buddhist (nuns have short hair) and that somebody from my family has died (black dress). I respectfully wai back. I sit under the pavillion and get the restovers of the gold dust all over me. It´s raining gold. Alleluja. It´s raining gold. It´s like Buddha´s blessing. Welcome to Bangkok, Miss Liu, so nice to see you again.
I arrived to Bangkok for the first time 23 years ago. At that time, I always travelled with a stiletto in my pocket. I spent the first night in an ancient chinese hotel near the Hualamphong station. I liked everything there,
the dark teak wood floors, the faded green paint on the walls, the old men playing cards and spitting, the smell of incent, the hard beds, the rusty fans, and the occasional cockroaches risking their lives by crossing the wide, airy corridors. I was so exited that it was hard to sleep, and when I left before midday, I forgot the knife under my pillow.
The day after, I went back to the hotel to get it back. An old chinese man pulled it out from a chinese box under the reception desk. It was carefully wrapped in plastic, with the number of the room written on it. He hold the package like a poisonous snake and dropped it to the desk in front of me. The gesture made clear what he thought about young women and stilettos travelling together.