Between Two Mountains

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2007 | 16 Days | 6 Cities | 11 Travellers 

Kuala Lumpur > Jogjakarta > Pulau Pinang >

Bangkok > Chiang Mai > Chiang Dao

“Between Two Mountains” is a photo-essay from a road-trip project that took place in 2006. The idea came from chatting with two friends on Yahoo! messenger one night.  One is an Indonesian, the other a Thai. We all became friends during the AYA (Asian Youth Artsmall) exchange that happened a year before.

Both conversations were somehow about mountains - one in Jogjakarta: the fiery Mount Merapi; the other, Mount Chiang Dao, somewhere up in Northern Thailand, in this place called, well, Chiang Dao. Someone proposed a holiday trip, to meet up and climb mountains. That idea - of climbing two mountains - was so utterly preposterous for a smoker like me, it became interesting.

This photo-essay is a pictorial memory of that road-trip. A photo-essay about art, people, places, and conversations. This photo-essay is also my earlier attempts at storytelling with images and text.

 

I don’t have a very good memory, to begin with. Some attribute this to the number of cigarettes I've smoked. Some say I have Malaysiamnesia, a fairly common affliction among Malaysians. This photo-essay contains gaps, omissions, aspirations, and fabrications. If you’re expecting journalism ... you’ve been warned.

Related link

note: While the photo slides remain the same as those published online in 2007, the text in this photo-essay have been updated.

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Project Itinerary

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Aziz

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Mark

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Fahmi

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Myra

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Gabriel & Adrian

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Tay Sy

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Kung Yu

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Wai Lam

The Gang

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Meteor, Plane and, Cannonball

Kuala Lumpur       19/12/2006      around 8:30p.m

These E-cards were emailed to the holiday gang as a countdown to the trip. The photos plays off Hariati Azizan’s nickname, Hari. Which means “day” in Bahasa Malaysia, and her belief that I hate her, and would love to see her dead. Oh yes, our relationship is complicated. Cheers Hari for being a good sport.

Hari is also part of the AYA project. She wanted, but couldn't join the trip because of prior work arrangement.

"Tinggal  3 Hari" can mean 3 days left.

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The early bus ride to the LCCT for our flight to Jogjakarta via Solo. We flew AirAsia, which is cheaper, but the flight time is expectedly at ungodly hours. 

The early bus ride to the LCCT for our flight to Jogjakarta via Solo. We flew AirAsia, which is cheaper, but the flight time is expectedly at ungodly hours. 

The faint silhouette in the right panel is Mark TehMark and most of the people on the trip, were my frequent collaborators in those years.

The BOH Cameronian Arts Award are a set of awards that celebrates outstanding performances in dance, music, theatre and musical theatre in the Malaysian art scene.

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Our first lunch in Indonesia was at a roadside stall in the city of Solo. The lady boss is friendly, the food yummy, and them Dji Sam Soes smooth. (3rd panel, a brand of clove cigarettes)

Dji Sam Soe sounds very much like 2,3 and 4 in Hokkien. Hokkien or Fujian is a province in the south of China. One of the places of origin for the "Chinese Diaspora" in this region during the 19th & 20th century. 

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We were early, so we explored Solo while waiting for our train to Jogjakarta. The smiley face building on the right panel reminded me of visual artist Pak Moelyono (who ran a masterclass during the AYA exchange) and his “magic string” drawing method.

If you are interested in working with your local community using the arts. Look up "Pak Moel" and the "Turba" movement in Indonesia for reference.

Turba = Turun ke Bawah, translate loosely as, "going to the community"

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Our trip was planned to coincide with Anak Wayang Indonesia’s PakPung, a community organized art festival. We also visited another children art festival. The name of the organizer escapes me.

Indonesia seems to have an abundance of community organised festivals with a focus on empowering children.

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We were hosted by KUNCI during our stay in Jogjakarta. KUNCI carried out an oral history project in this village at Juminahan. A project which they presented during AYA.

The mural on the bridge is by one of the many young artists working in Jogja. The Jogja art scene has since exploded regionally.

The kid insisted I take a photo of him with his eyelids folded. He wasn’t in any pain, as far as I know.

KUNCI means "key" in Indonesian. They are a cultural study centre that is based in Jogjakarta.

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Soda Gembira is a neon-colored super sweet drink. As its' name suggests, it makes you happy, as demonstrated by Fahmi Fadzil. 

"Gembira" means "happy" in Indonesian. "YB" is an abbreviation for "Yang Berhormat" in the Malaysian language. It translates loosely as "The Honourable". A title used by members of the Malaysian Parliament. 

YB Fahmi Fadzil has since became a father to a boy with a gembira face!

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Got our badminton butts kicked by the Indonesian at Kedai Kebun Forum (KKF). A hybrid art + food + community space that is run by the very generous Agung Kurniawan and Yustina  Neni.

If I remember correctly, Wednesday is badminton night. Apparently, there is also a monthly haircut night by a hairdresser simply known as "Boy". KKF mirrors the Jogja art scene. Irreverent, fluid and fun!

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Mark doing his "Physical Theatre" thingy, I think. Mark has also became a father to a baby boy!

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That is "Boy", working the scissor. KUNCI manage to get him to do a house visit to cut our hair. After a brief but intense deliberation, Boy gave me a mullet. In fact, I think we all got versions of a mullet that night.

Other notable mullet wearers include Billy Ray Cyrus, MacGyver, and early 1990s Wong Hoy Cheong.

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Hari really wanted to see Borobudur, but she didn’t make it.

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The KUNCI gang took us dangdut dancing at this open-air joint called Purawisata. We were expecting a dangdut gig, but instead got a band that played covers of songs by 1960s Indonesian pop band Koes Plus. We danced nonetheless.

A wise person once said, "The world will be a better place if everyone learns to dance." I agree, despite my two left feet.

"Dangdut" is a genre of  Indonesian folk and traditional popular music that is partly derived from Hindustani and Arabic music.

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Some members of KUNCI also live in the three-storey building where their office and library are. Seems like standard practice for creative types in this region to maximize the value of our rent. Nuning looks tired (top left photo) after days of chaperoning us around Jogja.

It was Nuning who told me about Mount Merapi. Andari can be seen editing her new documentary. Her debut short-docu is fantastic. It's about child jockeys in Sumbawa.  On our last night at KUNCI, we watched an hour of Yasmin Ahmad’s “Gubra” before calling it a night.

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Some downtime, before we start again. The emergence of no-frills air travel surely helped the growth of what resembles a regional art scene we have now.

Yet, it was around that time I somehow began to lose interest in being part of a wider arts community.

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I present to you, Mr. Fong Ten Sent. The most articulate uncle in Balik Pulau - maybe the whole of Penang. The visit was part of Arts ED’s heritage tour project. Arts ED is a fantastic reference if you want to work with your local community through the arts.

As he was demonstrating his silversmithing techniques, Mr. Fong related to us that being a bachelor gave him more time to pursue his genius. What a cheeky fella!
 
Regretfully, Mr. Fong passed away in 2016. 

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The Penang Festival. A complete opposite to the two festival we visited in Jogjakarta. It was still fun though. 

I agreed when told, It's who you're with, not where you're at that matters.

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Before we departed for Bangkok, we went on a heritage tour of George Town. This is also an Arts ED’s project. The tour guides are secondary school kids that were trained by Arts ED.

For some reason, Penang reminded me of Jogja and Solo. Maybe it's because the proportion between people and city seems correct. Later that day, we departed for Bangkok.

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Korean barbeque in Bangkok. This was the beginning of a week-long pampered existence, courtesy of Guay & Rong. The top right photo captured the precise moment Rong decided we should have chicken for dinner.

Guay & Rong are members of the legendary theater group Mahkhampom. We met during AYA. It was Rong who told me about Mount Chiang Dao.

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Makhampom’s headquarters was our home during our stay in Bangkok. It's located very near the famous Chatuchak Market.

The girls worked to set up our makeshift bedroom. And as always the boys goofed around. 

Adisorn (3rd panel, left) was a former member of Makhampom and lead a masterclass during AYA. If I'm not mistaken, Adisorn is an educationist and uses art as a form of therapy.

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An exhibition of abodes from the Middle East, at a big mall in downtown Bangkok. Apparently, there's was a trend in Bangkok for major institutions to move their premise into shopping malls. As a way to reach more people.

Malaysia have about 600 malls (2018) with a total net lettable area of about 135 million sq ft. That number is expected to grow, but  I digress.

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On our way back after another long day out, we encounter this surreal scene. A group of dalmations howling away at us from a low roof. Guay calls them birds.

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We had a picnic lunch in Makhampom’s courtyard, before boarding the night train to Chiang Mai. We had all kinds of good food during the trip

Makhampom have a fantastic volunteer program that supports their extensive outreach programs. When I asked Guay for their secret, he simply said "Work together, play together and eat together."

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Waiting for the perpetually delayed train, some of the gang decided to do what seems like theatre exercises. Staying still and staring straight ahead.

The theater gang have since worked together on numerous theater productions and presented their work all over the world.

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At Chiang Mai, we were hosted by Monthatip Suksopha a.k.a Tip. Tip is a member of "The Wandering Moon". A shadow puppet group. She is also an AYA alumni.

Kung Yu, one of our art sifu, joined us for the Indonesian but not the Thai trip. Jogjakarta is about palaces, and Chiang Mai is about temples. I imagine Kung Yu would have liked these temples. 

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We found out about the 2006 Bangkok  New Year’s bombing through SMSes, while we were having dinner. All kinds of rumors were swirling about.

The mood was somber as people gather to watch the King’s New Year address. 

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Families and friends celebrated the new year by gathering in a public square to release paper lanterns while making wishes for a good year ahead.

I was told that these lanterns were first invented in ancient China for signaling purposes during war. Quite a turnaround in terms of purpose.

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Tip took us to another temple. This one have a “monk chat” corner, and plenty of happy dogs. The dog (right panel) just finished half a cake. Maybe it was her, or perhaps his birthday.

In Chiang Mai, I felt a palpable change of pace. Everything just slowed down. This was Chiang Mai in 2007 though.

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Thai people really, really, really love their King, tributes to him are everywhere. I suppose being remembered is a big compliment for a species that generally don't live more than 80 years.

I did a lot of walking and reflecting on what I've done in the past few years and wonder what I'll do next. The next day, we left for Chiang Dao.

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This is Makhampom's unofficial(?) retreat in the north. Most if not all the members of Makhampom bought small plots of land adjacent to each other. Together it becomes a super compound and a fantastic idea. 

We all stayed at one of the member's house. His name is Richard. We didn't get the chance to meet, unfortunately. He and his family were away.  I was supposed to work with them after the trip. That didn't happen because I got myself involved with something else. Which I regret.

Gabriel and Adrian (left panel) are currently working for UNHCR, and have gone on many trips around the world. Usually to places in the world where tourists cannot be found.

Myra (right panel) is now a mother to a handsome boy! She and Fahmi got married a few years ago.

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Chiang Dao is cold, that time of the year. We finished another feast of a dinner, courtesy of Guay and Tua.

 

Memories of that night kinda make me sad. In hindsight, it was around that time that I realize that my creative journey ahead will be on my own.

“I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different.”

Kurt Vonnegut (1922 – 2007)

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I was asked to make a wish before we release our new year lantern. 

“Good times, good food, good friends”

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Chiang Dao is quiet. A place where standing still in a small pool of warm spring water is absolutely normal.

I remember the light from that day. An illuminating brightness, without the heat.

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So much space and clean air. Chiang Dao have happy and chilled animals. I imagined it's a lovely place to live for most people.

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We all had episodes of diarrhea during the trip. Adrian (left panel), had a particularly violent spate after eating that green apple.

That butt crack (right panel) is not Adrian's but belongs to the Cameronian Arts Awards' most promising young artiste of 2006.

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We spend another day visiting more temples and eating more good food. We left for home the day after.

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We were on our way to Chiang Mai’s airport when for a moment, time stood still. Everyone stopped what they were doing when the Thai national anthem was played from the yellow pickup truck. (left panel, bottom left)

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Two views of the mountains that inspired the road trip. We didn't climb either one. But it was never about the mountains. It is about energizing the connections made during AYA. Personally, I was hoping some creative collaborations will emerge organically on a person to person level during the trip. Outside the politics and bureaucracy of any institutions. And some did.

Between these two mountains, a phase of my creative process came to an end. 

I spend the next decade finding my way in the arts. Mostly on my own. I've been working full-time as an artist for the last 6 years, which is a luxury. You can see most of those works on this website.

 

There's definitely more work to do and more journeys ahead. And hopefully, more good times with good friends over good food to come.