A pen and ink sketch

temple at phimai
Pen and Ink - The temple at Phimai in Western Thailand, Isaan.

A good draftsman always lays it out first, and gets the proportions right. But hey, I was rushing, it was getting dark and they wanted to kick me out. I ran out of time, and I ran out of page. The Khmer temple at Phimai, Isaan Thailand.

Saigon museum
Pen and ink - Carved screen in Saigon Museum
ceramic pot
Pen and ink - Ceramic in Saigon museum.

A short off topic digression

I have mixed memories of a group conducted tour that we once did in Saigon.  (that's what old farts do, you know, conducted tours).   We went to the beautiful old french colonial style museum with it's tropical architecture of louvred shutters and high ceilings, dating back to the 19th century.  The building itself was well worth a full morning's stroll.

We had an hour and a half to see the lot.  We were lead from one exhibit to another, listening to the almost unintelligible spiel of the guide.   I lingered over a beautiful piece of woodcarving (as you do) and then I realised that the group had disappeared.

Panic?  I didn't have time. A young lass approached me shyly and gestured which way the group had taken.  I rushed off and caught them up. Almost immediately I got absorbed with some ceramics.  You just would not believe the ceramics they have in Saigon museum!  A gentle touch on the sleeve, blow me down this same girl is looking worried and edging me along with bows and shy smiles.  They had left us again!  She had picked me out as a lingerer and she continued to look out for me the rest of the trip.  She was, I guess a trainee guide and like a cattle dog, responsible for rounding up the stragglers.

That was my last conducted tour in a group like that. Most of my companions were bored stiff with glazed eyes, aching feet and sweaty armpits.  They just wanted to get back into some sort of air conditioning. So, even though I enjoyed the experience greatly, I prefer going at my own pace now when discovering something new, and I enjoy it even more,

I first went to Thailand only about four years ago and immediately regretted not going there before.  We could have easily stopped off a few times when going elsewhere rather than just flying over.

Ayuthaya steps
Pen and ink - Temple steps worn down over time, of course my builder's eye tells me that these particular ones could be just soft brick and so not really old:-)
Ayayuthaya temple prang
Pen and ink - A main tower or Prang in Ayuthaya, Thailand

On our first visit we had five days in Bangkok scheduled, but we extended it to seven days. (Then it was back to work unfortunately).  The reason we extended our stay was that after seeing all the temples and sights of Bangkok I wanted to see the old Thai capital of Ayuthaya.

Determined not to go on another group tour, we hired a guide and driver for the day.  We went at our own pace (which slowed down as the day got hotter) and saw heaps of mind blowing sights.  By the afternoon, typically we would pull up outside an ancient monument and I would stroll off camera in hand, and Hilary (SWMBO), the driver and the young woman guide (whose high heels were giving her curry) would find a shady refreshment area and have a quiet chat and a smoke.

I have noticed this before on our travels, I see the sights and do the leg work, Hilary, once the novelty has worn off sits in the shade with the locals and finds out all the juicy snippets of gossip that don't make it into the guide books.

Just seeing the ancient buildings, or walking up a flight of steps that have been worn down by countless thousands of other feet over the centuries had a profound and peacefully calming effect on me. I wanted to linger and maybe get a sketchbook out.  A few times when I was inside the chamber of a not so popular prang I realised that that my footprints were the only ones showing in the spongy bat droppings underfoot. I was the first visitor for how long?  It was very easy to feel an atmosphere and a connection to the people of the past in many of these places.

So having formed a love for the ancient monuments and people of South east Asia, in early 2006 I headed off solo, for an eight week backpacking tour, with just a vague outline of seeing Ayuthaya again and a few other sites in Thailand.  As it turned out I went a lot further on the budget I had set myself.
No plans, no pre-booking, no heavy baggage, NO WORRIES.

OK back to Phimai, after doing the sketch above almost dusk I wandered around an open market and had a feed and a couple of drinks.  From the sidewalk cafe that I was relaxing in I noticed a sight that I is still common in Thailand, an elephant slowly walking along in the traffic and crowds, with it's handler and an offsider (Oz for assistant) going along collecting donations for the animal and owner's upkeep.  Elephants are sacred to the Thais, but they are in a grim situation now with modern machinery having taken away their traditional work.  Most rely on tourism and just plain handouts.

Later that evening as I was walking home I noticed a dark shadow slowly falling across lighted shop windows.  It was only when he turned into a side street opposite that I saw my old mate the elephant. Then as he walked away from me in the darkness I saw that he was wearing a red flashing tail light, tied (you've guessed it) to the top of his tail.  I had to laugh and I made a note of it in my sketchbook when I got back to the guest house.

"The art of drawing which is of more real importance to the human race than that of writing... should be taught to every child just as writing is... " John Ruskin 1819-1900

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