Sunday, December 26, 2010

Bangkok.. the conclusion

Another picture heavy post... I hope you are enjoying this mini-travelogue as much as I am enjoying putting it together. It helps me relive the vacation and reflect on what I saw and learned.

Bangkok is famous for its floating markets. We visited one of the larger ones, I think. You hire out a boat for an hour and are paddled around the market. You browse through the stores, some of which are on boats and some of which are on land. Vendors in boats also peddle food and drink. Some of it looked very interesting although I did not experiment with street food on such a short trip. This is one of the quieter parts of the market.
This is a close-up of one of the stores that were on land. As you can see, the wares are displayed so as to be easily viewed from the boat. The store owner and the oarsman (in our case it was an oarswoman) cooperate to keep the boat close to the store. The store keepers also had hooks by which they could snag a boat and bring it close to their store. They also used this to hand items to people on boats who couldn't come close to the store (you'll understand why very shortly).
Bangkok is notorious for its traffic snarls. The floating market is no exception. We were caught in this jam for quite a while. It was a lot more enjoyable than being caught in a car jam as one can people-watch, shop and enjoy the nice weather. This is also why boats can't pull up to a store sometimes. Interestingly, the boat owners provide hats to the renters... The hats are a necessity as the sun is hot. Fortunately I had brought sunscreen although I didn't bring my hat to the market.
We also visited the Thai Human Imagery Museum. While this is reminiscent of a wax museum, the figures are made of resin, not wax. The very first one I saw made me look twice because one of the docents was explaining that we shouldn't sit on the furniture or touch the figures. Behind her were a couple of lounging figures and that is when I realized that they were part of the display! As we left, I saw a man sitting on a bench. He was very still and by this time I was conditioned to expect displays in the public areas of the museum. I was convinced he was part of the display till I saw that he was swinging his keys back and forth!
These men are playing chess.
There are also images of famous people like Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln. But most of the figures are from Thai history, culture and religion. A small museum but a real gem.

The next day we went on a temple marathon. Bangkok is full of lovely Buddhist temples called Wats - each with its own flavor and architecture. We only visited a few of the major ones. We started at Wat Phra Kaew - the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Sadly, the temple itself was closed that day due to some event that was taking place. But the grounds were open and there was a lot to see.

Right in front of the the entrance to the temple is a shrine where people can make offerings. There are a number of figures in this enclosure.
This is the ornate entrance to the temple. Since I couldn't see the Emerald Buddha myself, I thought I would share this image with you. It was as close as I got to it.
There are a number of other structures in the courtyard, representing different periods of Thai history and architecture.
This tower has a number of very intricate figures at its base. Each one is different.
I have already forgotten what each one of these is but the variety in the architecture was fascinating.
Each gate is guarded by these tall guardians who represent characters from the Ramakien, Thailand's national epic.
The galleries around the temple are filled with murals depicting scenes from the Ramakien. Gilt paint is used prominently in Thai art and architecture - as is evident from these photos. It shines very brightly in the sun and highlights the details of the decorations.
Adjacent to the temple is the Grand Palace. This used to be the residence of the royal family and is still used for some ceremonies. It too was closed so we couldn't see the museum or the throne room inside. We had to be content with the courtyard and the architecture.
This structure is used by the king to mount and dismount from a ceremonial elephant. It is very beautiful in its proportions and architecture.
Another lovely structure. I really enjoyed looking at all the buildings and I think I've fallen in love with the roof lines of Thai architecture. They are so graceful in the way they reach up to the sky.
The next temple we visited was Wat Pho - the temple of the Reclining Buddha. This Buddha is truly gigantic, in contrast to the Emerald Buddha. How serene his face is...
This is a view of the entire length of the Reclining Buddha, trying to show the scale of the figure.
The soles of the Buddha's feet are intricately engraved. The toes have prints on them. What a gorgeous work of art!
Lastly, we visited Wat Traimit - the temple of the Golden Buddha. This Buddha is lovely and so is its shrine, which has recently been renovated.

After that, we went to Chatuchak market which is a fascinating maze of the most incredible stuff - from things you would find at any flea market in the US to lovely handicrafts and silk as well as modern decorative arts. The rest of the time was spent with family - eating and visiting and lounging around. I wish we could have spent more time there. Bangkok seems to be a fascinating place to explore - let alone the rest of Thailand, which has a lot to see and do.

Now I return you to our regular scheduled knitting...

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Continuing the travelogue, we went sightseeing in Cambodia. This is the longest and the most image heavy post.

Specifically, we went to see the temple complexes at Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. What I didn't know is that there are dozens of temples in this area because it was the capital of the Khmer empire for centuries. Angkor Thom means 'Large city' or 'Major city'. The city where one stays is Siem Reap which is a major tourist destination, now that Cambodia is at peace. Cambodia is a very poor country and is mainly agricultural - a major rice exporter. Therefore tourism is a very important part of the economy. The sad part is that most of the investment is by foreign private companies so the profits tend not to get re-invested in Cambodia.
One of our first stops was to see the giant inland lake called Tonlé Sap. There are fishermen who live in floating villages on the lake. However, this is the end of the rainy season so the lake is very high and they stay in the river till the water level drops. Here are some of their boats on the river.
We also stopped by a memorial to the victims of the Pol Pot regime that ruled Cambodia from 1975-1979. One of the killing fields was near Siem Reap and this honors their memory. There is also a bulletin board with photos showing the history of the time and what was discovered after the regime was overthrown.
Enough with the modern stuff, let's move on to the twelfth century. We started at a temple called Ta Prohm. It has two claims to fame. It was featured in the movie Tomb Raider and it is kept in the condition that the entire set of ruins was found in. The entrance is featured above.

There are many interesting tree roots in and around the complex. Sometimes they are literally holding the stones together, and at other times they are driving them apart. We photographed one interesting root structure above. The two legs hanging down look like a human rear end.
This is an example of the tree featured in the movie. A large network of roots hanging down is photogenic. I haven't seen the movie so I can't tell you what the tree was used for.
An important feature of all the temples is the lovely carving that decorates them. Here is an apsara, or divine nymph, dancing. These carvings have inspired a style of costume and dancing that is featured in the area.
The guides bring us to these scenic photo spots. Here is the central temple at Angkor Thom, called Bayon, reflected in a pool. The entire area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many countries are working cooperatively with the Cambodian government on preservation and restoration of these priceless ruins. We saw Germany, France, Belgium, India and other countries' projects.

One of the key features of the Bayon temple are these lovely faces. Here are three in a row. They represent the Boddhisatva Lokiteshwara or the King Jayavarman as the Boddhisatva. Cambodia practices Theravada Buddhism.
This is the entire temple complex at Angkor Wat reflected in a pool. It is huge and this photo doesn't do it justice.

This is another view to show the scale. We are looking from the second level gallery out to the external wall. This level of the gallery has stories from Hindu mythology carved all along the sides. Beautiful carvings.
Here is an example of some of them.
These are women (and men) who dress as Apsara dancers and charge tourists money to get their picture taken with them. A way to make money. I am sure the costumes are quite expensive to create and maintain.
This carving is from a temple called Banteay Srei. It is the only red sandstone temple in the area and is one of the older ones. It is from the tenth century. Some of the carvings, also representing Hindu mythology, look as if they were done yesterday. It is very interesting to hear the Cambodians carefully pronouncing the Sanskrit names and telling us the stories from our own mythology.
Lastly, this is a carving from the only brick temple in the area, called Prasat Kravan. Next time, we'll go to Bangkok, Thailand.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Breaking a long silence

Please accept my apologies for being absent without leave (AWOL) for so many weeks. I have been feeling guilty but I had very little to talk about. But now I am back and I have lots to talk about. I promise to be more regular as we move forward. It is the lack of knitting content that was keeping me silent.

First of all, the featherweight cardi is done. This is a bad photo of it in its unblocked state. I need to block it today. I wore it a few times and enjoyed it. It also came in useful as I needed a light cardi right after I finished it.

One of the reasons I was silent was that we made a quickly planned trip to India, Cambodia and Thailand. More on the latter two in the coming weeks. This post is devoted to the India part. We went to visit family so there isn't a lot to blog about with respect to activities. There was a lot of visiting, eating and a little shopping.

While I was in India, I took a solo train trip to visit my aunt and uncle in Bengaluru, Karnataka state. The visit itself was fun and uneventful but both ends of the train trip were fraught with excitement like a pair of bookends. To set the scene, it had been raining heavily off and on while I was in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. My train was scheduled to depart at 6 am and I had arranged for a taxi to come and pick me up at 5:15 am to get to the train station on time.

I woke up at 4:30 am to find it raining cats and dogs. I didn't think much of this as trains in India deal with rain all the time. I showered, dressed and finished packing for the 2 day trip. At about 5:05 am, I started looking out for the taxi. They usually come about 5-10 mins early. In the rain and early morning darkness, it was difficult to see whether it was there or not. But I hung out on the porch looking for it.

At 5:11 or so, the power went out. Now, it is common for power to go out in India and most people have batteries on inverters that provide power for a few lights and fans for an hour or two. However, in the house where I was staying, the battery wasn't holding a charge for more than a few mins worth of power. So we hurried to look for flashlights and candles. Being guests, we didn't know where these were. My hostess was still asleep as far as I knew. Our host was up but was floundering as badly as we were. My husband kept a watch out for the taxi while my host and I continued with the hunt for the lights. At 5:20, defeated, I gave up and went to wake up my hostess. She was up and had her cell phone out wondering if the taxi driver might have called her for directions.

She came down and got the candles lit and called the taxi company. They gave her the number of the driver's mobile phone. Unfortunately, he was still about 20 mins away due to the rain and bad planning on the taxi company's part. By now it was 5:30 am. We waffled a bit - first we told him to cancel and I decided to give up on the trip; then we remembered that there was a train an hour later and called back to tell him to come anyway.

I rolled up my jeans to the knees so I could wade around in the water and puddles. My husband came with me to the station to see what we could do about getting a seat on the later train. We were at the train station by 6:10 am or so. Sadly, as we expected, the train had left on time despite the rain. The Indian railways are one of the most amazing logistical operations in the world. They move millions of people daily with minimal disruption due to weather and other conditions.

We dashed up to the counter, waited in line (my husband went to the info counter to find out what we needed while I waited in the reservations line), filled out forms while we waited, and were able to get a seat on the later train. Yay! This was done by 6:30 am! The next train was at 7:15 am so I had a bit of time to wait. While we were waiting for the train, I thought I would call my cousin's husband in Bengaluru and tell him I was coming by a later train. He was going to meet me at the station there.

We had left our Indian cell phone back home here in the US so I had borrowed a pre-paid cell phone from my nephew. It didn't work so I thought it was missing minutes. My husband said he'd make sure some minutes were added to it but I gave him my cousin's husband's number and asked him to call. It is a good thing I did because the phone was missing its SIM card! It was just a pretty weight in my bag.

After all this excitement, the rest of the trip was anti-climactic. But it was fun. I met up with a number of crafty Ravelry friends. I was meeting them in real life for the first time. They were hospitable and generous. They brought me gifts. I feel very guilty that I didn't bring them anything, but I have ideas for the next time I visit. Here's the entire group. What a lovely group of ladies and two gorgeous sons!

If you've been following along, you'll remember that I said there was excitement at both ends. I made my original train on the way back. I made small talk with the lady sitting next to me, I napped while listening to my ipod, I ate my breakfast and drank coffee and was anticipating seeing more family members in Chennai.

After we left the penultimate station, the train suddenly stopped for about 10 mins. This is not unusual as sometimes trains have to wait for signals outside stations. But suddenly, a large number of porters boarded the train and told us that the train wouldn't be moving for a couple of hours! For people who were getting ready to disembark, these statements caused total disbelief. A few of the men in the carriage got down and checked on the situation. Unfortunately, it was true. The porters told us we were about 1.5 km from the destination station. We had two options: walk along the tracks to the station or get onto a road near-by and find a taxi or auto-rickshaw to take us to our final destinations. Since I had no idea where we were, I opted for the former.

A very nice gentleman helped me get out of the carriage (it is a l-o-n-g way down when there is no platform) with my bag and we walked together to the station. He was very companionable and we had a nice time chatting as we walked. As we walked, we ran into the problem that had held up our train.

This locomotive had come off its rails and was blocking our train. [You can see our locomotive on the right hand side] It belonged to an oncoming train that was on a parallel track. The amazing thing is that no one on either train was hurt. But our train had to wait for the locomotive to be put back on its rails before it could continue into the station.

One of the things I love about India is how friendly and inquisitive everyone is. I had a nice chat with my co-passenger on the train and found out all about her family, where she was going, and other little details about her life. The gentleman who walked back to the station with me also shared information about his family and his business. He even complimented me on not looking my age. In return, one is expected to share the same sort of information about oneself. Maybe I've been in the US too long but I don't like to tell people where I'm from. I am willing to tell them where I'm going, all about my family etc. But not where I live. I think I've lost some of that Indian generosity of spirit by being so reticent.

More on various other aspects of the trip in future posts as well as my next knitting project.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lots of stuff!

I didn't post last weekend because I had a busy weekend at the NY Sheep and Wool Festival. I have no idea why I didn't post the previous weekend. So, to make up for all that, I have a lot to talk about today. It is a real mish-mash of stuff.

First of all, aren't these cute? They are popcorn cobs from my CSA Farm. Apparently I can pop them right on the cob. I haven't tried that yet. It will be a treat for the week.
A couple of weeks ago, I had an open house at my place for some of the local knitters I've met through our local yarn store. It gave me the opportunity to photograph these two Faroese shawls that are similar to the one I made from sock yarn. It is a great way to use up those single skeins of sock yarn and because the st count varies with each row, you don't get splotches of color.
Here's a photo of our happy crowd! We were so happy to sit and chat and eat lots of goodies. Everyone brought goodies so we had more than we could consume.
Another photo of all of us. So many bags of knitterly things...
Now, on to my activities on the fiber front...
I've made good progress on the silk featherweight cardi. The body is done and I'm on the first sleeve.
I also got a haul of red mink/cashmere yarn from Great Northern Yarns. I wore the shawl I made from it to the Sheep and Wool Festival. It kept me warm and lots of people fondled me (in a very fiber-y way). My hands were kept warm by the fingerless mitts I made from the leftovers. One of the knitters at Camp had a jacket made out of this yarn and she inspired me to make one for myself.
In contrast to that lovely yarn, here's my very first spindle spun skein! It is a mix of different fibres but it was spun and plied on my Bosworth spindle. I took a class at the Sheep and Wool Festival for the first time. I plied the yarn in the class and finished it this morning. It isn't much but I'm proud of it.

Now on my acquisitions from the Sheep and Wool Festival. I had a ball most of the day helping out at Jennie the Potter's booth. It was a very exciting day and it helped me keep my purchases to a minimum. I really need to make a dent in what I already have rather than adding to my stash.
I bought a niddy noddy to make skeins from my handspun. It is a pretty basic one.
I bought a Golding Tsunami spindle made of purple heart. There is a better picture further down on the Golding page. It is a lightweight spindle, to complement my mid-weight Bosworth. I want to try spinning some laceweight.
Lastly, I bought 3 oz of Icelandic lamb roving from Frelsi Farm. The black yarn in my spindlespun skein above is Icelandic roving and I loved spinning it. The lamb is very soft but supposed to be easy to spin. So I thought I'd try it on the spindle.

The class really re-ignited my interest in spindling and so I am now going to do some more with it. It probably will mean even less knitting. I'm not sure how to fit everything I want to do into my life!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Tutorial: hand-warmers

This is the second in the series of what to do with your hand-knit socks after they have worn-out soles. Here is a lovely sock in a mohair/wool yarn that I loved to wear. It was soft and warm and cuddly. Unfortunately, it developed a number of worn out spots on the heel. This sock was knit toe-up so the method I used in the cup holder won't work. You can't unravel a knit backwards. It will only unravel from the bind-off to the cast-on and not vice versa.
So I snipped a st and unraveled a row right where the heel began.
I then used a contrast colored yarn and picked up sts right below the cut edge. In this case, I think I did it two rows below so it wouldn't unravel any further. I then knit a hem that would cover the cut edge, did a turning round and knit the inside of the hem. I stitched the live sts down on the inside to completely cover the cut edge.
These socks had a rather long cuff and also some shaping at the ankle. That makes them rather long hand-warmers. A shorter cuff will yield wrist-warmers.

You can also knit on a thumb gusset and hand and convert them into fingerless mitts. In that case, I would do a blanket st or overcast st on the cut edge and tack it down to the newly knitted fabric. Embroidery floss is good for this as it is soft and you can match the cut edge color very closely. You may need to use only 3 or 4 strands of floss.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Maybe the slump is over?

I have been knitting away on my featherweight cardi. As you can see, I have made progress beyond the yoke and am about half-way down the body. It is a lovely knit, lightweight and soft, and since it is just stockinette, it is pretty mindless. The only thing I have to watch out for is that I don't miss one of the 3 strands as I knit.
I was going to put a lace border on and have been scanning my lace pattern books looking for an appropriate design. Unfortunately, nothing is calling to me right now so I may just stick with the stockinette and leave the lace for another version. I have lots of lace weight yarn and this pattern is a very easy one to wear as it is lightweight.

Today's topic, though is the follow-up on the other two books I recently purchased. Dover had a sale so I bought the two re-published Alice Starmore books and the new commemorative Knitter's Almanac. Now to compare and contrast the old and the new editions of these.
I had the UK version of the Fair Isle Knitting book. So the cover is a bit different from the US version. The left is my older hardbound copy and the right is the new paperback. The paper is glossy and nice in both editions. There is no new content as far as I can see. This is a great book to learn the techniques of Fair Isle knitting and also to get a compendium of fair-isle motifs to pick from.

The patterns for garments in the book call for 2-ply jumperweight. The older edition mentions Jamieson and Smith. The new one doesn't. The older edition mentions the shade # in J&S as well as the name. The new edition just mentions the name. So you will have to find a supplier who keeps the name along with the number if you want to source it.

At the back, there is a new About the Author section which has a bio of Alice Starmore and a list of her books. On the facing page are photographs of 3 of her later designs Mara, Marina and Oregon Autumn. Both the back and the front of each are photographed.
The last of the 3 (I did Aran Knitting last time) compare and contrasts is Knitter's Almanac. Both of these editions are currently available from both Dover and Schoolhouse Press.
As you can see, the new edition is much larger and is hardbound. The content is of course, unchanged but there are some goodies in it.
The first is a lovely reproduction of a Andrew Wyeth painting featuring the Maltese Hat. Andrew's wife is a knitter and an Elizabeth Zimmerman fan and this is a favorite.
There is a new introduction by Stephanie Pearl-McFee.
The garments have all been re-knitted and are photographed in color.
There is the mystery blanket...and some mittens for winter.