Kathin ceremony at Plekwiwek Dhamma Center

Chula Kathin is a yearly ceremony held at Plekwiwek Dhamma Center featuring the handmade production of monk robes directly from raw cotton.  Local women from Karen and Lisu tribes turn cotton bunches into dyed and sewn robes in under 24 hours!  Six ATMA SEVA staff members and volunteers were fortunate to go to Wiang Haeng district to participate in the event, held each fall.

The roots of the ceremony go back centuries.  Historically, monks were itinerant, traveling nine months out of the year.  During their travels, they would collect scraps of cloth for their robes from charnel grounds (locations where people are layed after death).  During the three months of the rainy season, however, they stayed at a temple and did not travel.  Thus, they were unable to collect cloth during this period.  To supply them with fresh robes and gain merit, local villagers would make them new robes at the end of each rainy season.  At present, most robes are mass produced and purchased, making the ceremony where a handful of robes are still handmade at Plekweiwek Dhamma Center very special.

Step one: Pick the cotton

Most of the raw cotton came from Myanmar, however several bushes grow at Plekweiwek. Attendees honored these bushes through a flower and incense offering that celebrated their bounty and then picked the cotton.

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Offerings under the cotton tree

Step two: Readying the cotton for spinning

Impurities and seeds were removed from the cotton bunches by hand.

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Preparing the cotton

Step three: Spinning the cotton into yarn

Cotton was fluffed and fed slowly onto a spinning wheel (it sticks together like the pull-apart Halloween spider web decorations).

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Stringing the cotton

Step four: Weaving the yarn

Cotton yarn was threaded onto a simple loom and then woven together, creating long pieces of cloth.

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Taking the cotton from the wheel

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Weaving stations preparing the cloth

Step five: Dyeing the cloth

The cloth was dyed overnight for twelve hours using the center bark from a local tree that was steeped in a vat of hot water.

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The center part of the tree is used for the orange dye

Step six: Preparing the robes

The fabric was dried and sewn together into saffron robes.

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Weaving and sewing the robes

Step seven: Presenting the robes

Robes were presented in a special ceremony. The festival attracted visitors who flew in from as far away as Bangkok.

Below are pictures from the ceremony!

Corinne Kolm, on-site intern

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

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My view of Chiang Mai: from the seat of a Motorbike

trafficDoes this look like harmony, togetherness and peace to you? Is it an ugly rush hour nightmare, or something rhythmic and strangely beautiful?  On the surface, most of us would say the former.  When I arrived in Chiang Mai and took my first tuk-tuk ride, another volunteer Victoria was exclaiming how the traffic here really was special.  All of the different vehicles worked together in a beautiful, harmonious flow.  I naturally took one look at the noisy chaos of traffic around me and thought, “Wow…are all of the people at ATMA SEVA out of their minds?!” But now I have realized that while the traffic may seem stressful and chaotic on the outside, if you actually take time to observe and experience it, like Thai culture itself, it really is quite special.

As ATMA SEVA’s newest on-site intern, I will be helping with social media, volunteer coordinating and anything else ATMA SEVA needs!  I am living in Chiang Mai city close to the office, not at a temple or outside district.  I think that, because of this location, I have had a slightly different view of Thailand than some of our other volunteers.  Living in the city is definitely louder and more hectic on the surface but, even amongst the masses in the city, the underlying principles and values such as community, warmth and friendliness make Thailand what it is.

I have been here for almost a month now, but I have to say that I didn’t have a full understanding or appreciation of Thailand and its culture until about a week and a half ago.  So what happened a week and a half ago you ask?

My awesome motorbike!

My awesome motorbike!

It was my first day on a motorbike!  This is the first time I saw harmony in the city.  I don’t like to admit this, but I was pretty scared to get on a bike in Chiang Mai.  At first glance, the motorbikes, cars, tuk-tuks, and songtaews seem to be haphazardly zooming around the city without any mind to other motorists or traffic laws, an intimidating prospect for someone coming from a fairly civilized driving country.  I took it slow at first on smaller streets and almost immediately realized that they have a method to their madness here.  Everyone shows respect for each other, and all types of vehicles on the road work together to create space for all.  It is definitely an environment where you have to be very aware of your surroundings, but I think that this awareness also creates a sense of community.  I have been courteously allowed into traffic countless times as I fumble around the many one-way streets of the Old City.  This mindfulness of one another on the road alludes to the welcoming and kindness I have felt from all of the people working with ATMA SEVA.

As an intern, I have been fortunate enough to see almost all of ATMA SEVA’s locations for our  Wat Doi Saket Project in the time that I have been here through various volunteer set-ups and visits.  I feel so lucky to see all of the places that we work with because we have a huge network of truly unique locations and spectacular individuals.

From government schools to Buddhist temples and Dhamma centers, and from principles and English teachers to novices and monks, everyone I have met is enthusiastic about volunteers and teaching English to their students, and teaching Buddhism and Thai culture to us.

I have met principals who take in volunteers as if they were their own children… a monk who was a chef in the Cheesecake Factory… novices who love Liverpool Football Club…

Novices playing English games

Novices playing English games

I have done circle dances with the local ladies preparing for Loy Krathong and watched cotton being made into beautiful, dyed robes in just one day as a donation for a Kathin ceremony.

Process of creating beautiful robes!

Process of creating beautiful robes!

I have seen a temple nestled in the foothills of the Suthep Mountain in Chiang Mai city and a beautiful Dhamma center in the mountains near the Myanmar border.

Dhamma Center in Wiang Haeng district

Dhamma Center in Wiang Haeng district

At first, I was a little bit nervous about going to so many new places so quickly but, at each and every place we have visited, they have welcomed us with open arms and treated us like family.  I have been overwhelmed by the sense of community and openness from everyone I have met in Thailand.  All of these people and places truly amazed me and are just a few examples of my experiences with the ATMA SEVA family.  I have been here only a short time, but I am SO excited to continue to experience and learn about Thailand and its people through this extended family.  And you know what? I am even excited to continue experiencing the “harmonious” Thai traffic jams on a daily basis 🙂

Amy Kaylor, on-site intern

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

Photography Corner: Art in the Concrete Jungle

While it may not come as a surprise to most, but many people view Bangkok as a dirty, crowded and grimy city (except perhaps the Siam Center area, with the extravagant malls and decor). But it is usually not recognized for its art. However, within this large and chaotic city, you can find some beautiful, and maybe sometimes misunderstood, art just walking along the streets.

When walking around a lot of neighborhoods in Bangkok you can easily stumble upon art that may represent some factor of Bangkok life and culture. It may also be completely random and confusing. But either way, it is a representation of this city. In many cases there is a stark contrast between the amazing art you see in front of you and the slums it is surrounded by. It is also fascinating to see this kind of art with grand skyscrapers in the background – which really tells you the story of how Bangkok has grown and is still growing.

Street art is quickly becoming an embedded part of Bangkok. As a result, the very first Street Art Festival was held earlier this year. It was such a major event that the Bangkok Arts and Cultural Centre gave over 400 square meters of exhibition space over to street artists, which was the biggest exhibit of its kind.

So while Bangkok may not be well known for its art, when you’re in the city always take a look at your surroundings – you never know what you might stumble upon.

Katie Davos, research intern

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

Photography Corner: Day Trip to Fang District

Prior to wrapping up my on-site internship in Wiang Haeng, I had the opportunity to take a short day trip with a fellow teacher and some students from grade M. 4 (the equivalent of 10th grade in the United States) to the neighboring province of Fang. It was an interesting time to travel as the rainy season was in full swing, threatening to keep us confined to the indoors. We left early in the morning and, due to my tendency to get very car sick, I spent a great deal of the three hour drive in a Dramamine-induced sleep. But as I began to fight off the drowsiness I realized that the rain had stopped and the landscape had transformed into a vibrant sea of green. While the rainy season can be draining, with its lack of sunlight and grey skies, it also creates some spectacular sights. As soon as the rain stops, the fresh planted rice turns technicolor green, the sky a radiant blue, and the mountains in the distance covered with a misty haze. As the views unfolded in front of me, I quickly reached for my camera and tried to capture the beauty of northern Thailand with its expansive rice fields and surrounding mountains.

Our first stop was Wat Thaton, a large temple filled with Buddha relics from around the world. The novices and I enjoyed exploring the hundreds of statues and the variety of designs – some were very modern looking, while others were very old and traditional. Afterwards, we walked up the naga-style ramp to the top level of the temple where we paid respect to an ancient, and very well respected, Buddha relic. The views from the top of the hill were amazing as we looked over the town of Thaton and neighboring hill tribe villages and the Maekok River. By this time, the sky had fully transformed from grey to brilliant blue and the air felt crisp and fresh.From there we headed to the Fang hot springs where we marveled at the park’s geysers and beautifully maintained park. The park had ancient trees with raised, knotted roots that added to the mysterious beauty of the park.

I think the students enjoyed the trip as much as I did – it was great to get a change of scenery and explore different landscapes. I had no idea Fang district had so many outdoor activities to explore. I hope to return in the near future to explore the area further and all it has to offer!

Maria Moreno

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

Photography Corner: Elephant Nature Park

Chiang Mai is one of the most beautiful cities in Thailand. Being surrounded by nature, it offers an amazing amount of outdoor activities that one can partake in. One of the most common activities that people do in Chiang Mai is taking an elephant riding tour. Many people take up these tour opportunities without doing proper research on the company they are going with – this is exactly what I did when I first visited Chiang Mai three years ago.

What many people do not realize is that many of these tour operators do not treat their elephants with proper care and respect. They are used as an object for tourism purposes only, with the expense being taken out on the elephants. While riding an elephant can be an amazing experience, it is extremely important to make sure the tour company you are going with treats their elephants properly.

This is where the Elephant Nature Park comes in. The park is an elephant rescue and rehabilitation center for those elephants that have been abused. The elephants are free to roam in a natural environment on their own, surrounded by a river, and beautiful mountainous landscapes. Most are extremely accommodating to the many visitors that help out at the park.

While it is a completely different experience than taking a general riding elephant tour, you get so much more out of it. Not only are you there to volunteer and help, you get educated on the problem of abused elephants in Northern Thailand. I participated in a one-day volunteer visit. This included feeding the elephants by hand twice throughout the day, bathing them ourselves in the river, and ending the day with a documentary on this issue (for example, I learned that there are only 30,000 Asian elephants left on the planet, – on their website they put it in the perspective of under a third of a sports stadium crowd. Also, lunch was included and it was an amazing vegetarian feast.)

There are many different ways in which you can visit and volunteer at the park. Besides a one day visit that I did (where they pick you up and drop you off at your guesthouse), you can also partake in being an Elephant Volunteer for 7 to 14 days, or even be an Elephant Helper Overnight for 2 days and 1 night.

The organization is doing great things, and you have an opportunity to give back and gain knowledge that perhaps you did not know before. You can find all of the information, background, and volunteer offerings on their website: www.elephantnaturepark.org, and usually your guesthouse will have information on the park as well and set everything up for you.

Enjoy the pictures!

Katie Davos, research intern

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

Photography Corner: Koh Tao, Thailand

Koh Tao is a small island in the gulf of Thailand, just beyond Koh Samui and Koh Pha-Nang on the western shores of the gulf. Also known as “turtle island”, Koh Tao is a tourist hot spot known for its amazing snorkeling and diving in the crystal clear blue waters surrounding the island. The marine life and coral reefs are still surprisingly healthy despite the steady stream of people, and dive sites range from lush coral to looming rock formations and even a ship wreck. Whale sharks have even been known to make appearance around Sail Rock, a world class site for advanced divers. Although Koh Tao is close to the full moon parties on nearby Koh Samui, this island has a more relaxed vibe with people focused on outdoor sports like diving, hiking, rock climbing and biking. There are of course bars and good night life around Sairee beach, the largest stretch of beach and main hangout on the island, but the best parts of this island off of its shores.

Getting to Koh Tao is pretty easy but can be a lengthy trip depending on your budget. If you are short on time, there are flights into Ko Samui and Chumpon from Bangkok, which take only an hour but can cost considerably more. From there ferry services run to Koh Tao daily.  If your traveling on a budget like I was, I would recommend taking the bus from Bangkok down to Chumpon and then the ferry to the islands. I booked both my bus and ferry tickets in one package with Lomprayah, and the cost about evened out if I booked each separately. I would highly recommend them if you are looking for an easy reliable service! (http://www.lomprayah.com/E/index.htm)

Once on the island there are dozens (if not hundreds!) of places to stay ranging from small hostels, to beach bungalows to 5-star resorts. I went to the island with no reservations and found a cheap little bungalows on the southern tip of the island for only 300 baht/ night. However if you are looking to travel during the high seasons I would definitely recommend booking ahead as little island paradise fills up fast. If you are looking to scuba dive, and you absolutely should be, there are dive shops all around the island where you can sign up for course for open water certification, advance your existing certification or just dive for fun in shallower waters with a guide. You can also just rent a snorkel and go out and explore for yourself!

Below are photos I took from my trip to Koh Tao in August. Unfortunately even with an underwater camera I wasn’t allowed to take the camera diving but I hope you can still get a sense of the beauty of the island. If you have any questions about traveling to Koh Tao please leave a comment below!

Katherine Devine

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

ATMA SEVA photo exhibition in Cabo San Lucas!

Hello everyone, I am back on the blog again…and as most of you know I was in Thailand volunteering in 2012. I had received so much while I was in Thailand, that when I got back to Mexico I began working towards a fundraiser event. It all started as a small family and friends get together, and slowly progressed to a lovely event held at the Cultural Pavilion in Cabo San Lucas.

Over my nine months stay in Thailand I had taken over 14,000 photographs. I decided to print some of them thinking that maybe I could sell some and raise some money for scholarships and ATMA SEVA.  It took months to select just a few among thousands. I wanted to show all of them lol, but that just wasn’t happening. I learned that digital photos and printed photos are two very different worlds. I had to learn about aspect ratio, printer profiles, sizes…etc. It was indeed a lot more work that I could have possibly imagined, but the thought of giving something back was a great fuel for my engine. I was very excited to organize this and in the end it all paid off.

After looking at my photos over and over and over again, selecting…I got a bit overloaded so I asked my niece Daniela and my friend Karena to help which was an excellent idea; their input meant all the difference; looking at the photos from a different perspective helped me narrow the thousands to hundreds. After months of planning and working I was able to constrict the topics to only six: The beginning of the story, Thailand: Landscapes and People, Daily Life Style, Temples, Monks and Novices, and ATMA SEVA. It was a story told through photographs; what had taken me to Thailand and what I had seen there. The exhibition was called “A taste of Thailand through my lens”.

A lot of people got excited with the project and helped me. My mother took me to all the places I needed to go (I can now drive but not as much as I would like) she also helped with all the errands and supported me anyway she could. My niece Daniela, from Love Ideas, helped with all the planning and logistics.  My friend Mirna (from MX producciones) helped with all the permits and locations. My friend Heidi invited me to her radio talk show. The local radio station, Cabo Mil, helped with spots during the days prior to the event. My friend Adaisa donated all the photo framing from Marco Framing; her employee Aldo was an amazing help framing and handling all of the photographs. Nico, one of my students from ‘Bonaria carpentry’, helped with the set up and construction of the blackboards and display boards. My nephew, Luis Fernando, from Cantoya Studios helped adjust the ATMA SEVA logo for the event. My friend Nivea donated the cloth for the display boards and all the tablecloths. The Faraway Restaurant Lounge, in Cabo San Lucas, donated some food for tasting during the event. My friends Martha and Josefina helped at the photo selling station. Also, my friend Indalecio, from Los Cabos News came to the event to photograph and published an article about my story and how I got to Thailand! Many of my students helped that day with whatever I needed. So, as you can see this was a wonderful and successful volunteer-team work!!!

The team in Thailand led by David Poppe had set up a video to show at the fundraiser. The video was excellent!! I had been showing our YouTube videos during the exhibition and at the end we showed the video where David explains about ATMA SEVA and the monks chant a blessing for all the participants and donors at the event. Everyone loved it! Prior to showing the video I spoke a little about the experience, shared some anecdotes and I was shocked to see  how people showed great interest in what ATMA SEVA does, the monks, the food, and asked many interesting questions. One little girl asked about the girls in Thailand: “Why aren’t there any girls?” she said….I had displayed many girls but most of the photographs were of novices and monks. I was happy with her question which gave me the chance to speak about our huge project: the building of a school.

The day of the event Cabo was hit by a storm and we considered canceling it but in the end we thought best to continue and opened it anyway. We had a great turnaround, over 90 people showed up regardless of the heavy winds and rain.

A lot of people got involved and learned about our work. Many were intrigued by the culture and Buddhism. A very nice couple arrived early, while I was still getting things organized but they didn’t mind, they waited and stayed till the very end, wanting to hear me talk and watch the video.  During the set up as well as during the event I could hear people calling other friends telling them about what a great exhibition it was and asking them to come to the photo event.  I will forever be grateful to everyone who helped and believed in me and the project.

Planning and organizing this fundraiser was a unique experience, I am planning on doing it again someday when I go home. We would love for you to organize something like this and be part of our worldwide community; you can help us spread our work and raise money to help us for the school we are planning on building for kids less fortunate here in Thailand. If anyone is interested and would like more details please send me an email! (marcia@atmaseva.org)

Thank you sooo much to all of you who helped, believed in us, and made of this event such an incredible night. May you all be blessed with abundance and love!!!

I hope you enjoy the photos!

Again, huge thank you to all supporters and friends who helped make this event a true success!!!

Bonaria Carpentry, Nico Marchesi

Cabo Mil

Cantoya Studios

Faraway Restaurant Lounge

Heidi Von Der Rosen

Los Cabos News

Love Ideas

Marco Framing

MX producciones

Pabellon Cultural Cabo San Lucas

Platicando con Heidi

 

 

Marcia Somellera

marcia@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org