The studio was named after my grandfather Clay Owen Johnson. He was the kindest man and the most caring person in my world thus far. Unfortunately he passed away a year before the studio started but I would like to think that he can see the happiness it brings me and the community of Anchorage. He came here on a shipping freighter from Detroit in 1941 with his parents and younger sister. Back then there were no roads from Homer to Anchorage which is where the ship docked. My great grandma cursed for the only time in her life when she experienced her first earth quake in Homer the first month they stayed and believe me cursing for a her was big deal, it was a big deal for any woman the 40's.
Traveling to Chiang Mai Thailand
Let me give you some tips on some very important things to bring with you or to purchase when you get here. If you are not used to a hot climate and a very humid one you will need some baby powder. Our first big walk here our legs rubbed together and stuck together so badly we had a huge rash on our thighs. Don't let this happen to you, its very uncomfortable. baby powder will help with this. Also if you are a Westerner bring toilet paper with you everywhere. Most bathrooms do not have it but instead have a hose for you to wash with. If you are uncomfortable with this you are going to need to carry some toilet paper.
So what did the trip cost us?
Because we are from Alaska we took four connecting flights to get here. We were upset about the long lay overs but our advice is to at least have one long lay over so you can get some rest in between. On the way back we had no lay overs and it was way more exhausting and hard to catch connections. The travel time was 28 hours total in the air.... yikes but it was worth it. I don't know how we would have done it without a travel agency. We used expedia and got a package deal for hotel and flight. All together for two people for flights and eight days at our hotel is was $3100.00. That included in flight meals. If you fly with any Asia airlines such as EVA which is the airline we took it is much like the countries you visit... everything includes food and they will not stop feeding you. Every activity you do in Thialand will most likely include lunch or dinner. In fact " have you eaten today?" is a common expression used almost as a hello to strangers. Our first flight was on Alaska Airline, the remaining flights were through EVA Air. We did have an 8 and a twelve hour layover but honestly it was great to have that long of a break to be off the plane, to eat, and to wash our stinky pits. Our longest flight was 12 hours and we were getting squirelly on the plane even with the free movies, games and meals. On our flight on Alaska Airlines it was about $9 for a head set for movies which isn't too bad.
The currency here is Baht and 1000 baht is about $30 in American money. So it was really hard for us to put into perspective what to tip or if you were supposed to tip here. The answer is yes typically between 20 to 40 baht is a good tip. When I first got here I was tipping 100 baht which is way too much but it was hard to put into perspective as it is only $3 to me. Which explains why people were waiting on me hand and foot ( I'm sure this is the only time as an artist I felt wealthy at least in the monitary sense). The average monthly salary for a laborer in Thailand is 6000 to 8000 baht, if you have a degree it is 10000 baht. So may help you to put that into perspective. Food here is really cheap, its about 300 to 400 baht per meal for the two of us and this is at restaurants if you go to the massive night markets here food can be 100 to 75 baht per person. Really cheap and it is not as scary as they say as long as you go to a vendor who is selling food consistently and it is not sitting out.
What activities did we do?
Flight of the Gibbon Zip Lining
Well our favorite activity was the Flight of the Gibbon zip lining trip. It was the first zip line established in Chiang Mai. The guides were super funny and really put you at ease. You are strapped in the whole time so don't have to worry about falling. However if you are not in good physical shape it might not be for you. There is some hiking through the jungle that is involved. So if you are lease than physically fit you will be breathing heavy by the time you get to where you are going but it is smooth sailing on your way down. The tour was about $112 each however it was two and a half hours with 38 obstacles and after they served lunch in the mountain village. You will find many of the activities in Chiang Mia come with a meal. It also included round trip transportation from hotel. After the activity they will also take you to see one of the most beautiful waterfalls and you can choose to hike up it. So well worth the money.
Bobby's Elephant Park with guide Ton Pawat ( look him up on facebook to get a tour)
Our next favorite was riding the elephants. There are many different parks you can visit to see the elephant. The Elephant Nature Park is the largest with over 70 elephants however you don't not get personal time with the elephants. We choose to support a smaller park called Bobby's Elephant Park which is right next door in the Northern part of Chiang Mai about a half hours drive from the city. We learned many things about elephant and our guide really took the time to not only showing us something we have never seen before but to educate us on these animals. We waded through thigh high mud and just as I was watching an elelphant... well... ummm... made a lake in the mud in front of me I was stepping right in it.... with my bare feet. So if you don't mind some adventure you can walk your elephant through the mud and fall on your face a couple times like I did or you can choose to ride him across. Riding an elephant is no the most comfortable so I would advise against tours where you ride them for three hours. They gave us a beautiful fifteen minutes atop the elephants and given their hairs are like a wire brush that was more than enough time. They are highly intelligent and stubborn creatures but so gentle and fun. We learned that each has its own special personality. They eat about 100 lbs a day! The domestic elephants were domesticated firstly to be used in war with the king riding the Elephant and soldiers with swords guarding the feet however with the invention of the gun the second generation was used just for farmland and transportation. With modern technology these Elephants are placed in Elephant parks to be cared for and fed by those who can spend a lot of time with them and maintain a relationship. There are only two species of elephants in the world the African and the Asian elephant. The Asian elephants are small and only the males have tusks, they also have two humps on the head African elephants have flat heads and are much larger. African elephants both male and female have tusks. You can not purchase ivory here and bring it anywhere to help put an end to the ivory trade. African elephants are also not as smart as Asian elephants typically and are hard to domesticate so they are most often hunted as it is harder to use they for another purpose which is sad to say. I wish their purpose could be seen as just a creature to admire. Anyway elephants travel in families and some families get along and some don't. Elephants are pregnant for two years typically. They live the same life span as humans they can get up to 80 years old. When feeding them you have to establish eye contact. They are best trained with food, they will follow someone with food anywhere. They eat mostly pumpkins at the farm we went to, bananas are treats as they have too much sugar, and they also eat corn stalks. They have 32 teeth in four sets of eight but they are deep inside the mouth and are flat. We learned so much today and it was so much fun!
Glass Blowing and Lantern Making
Since I run an art studio I wanted to get to know local artisans and take some classes. Back Alley Arts is a company that connects students with teachers for arts in other countries. It is owned by a Portugese man and they feature lessons such as Thai Boxing, Soap Carving, and Wooden Crafts that are the trade of many people in Thailand. They operate in about four different countries and will hire a translator for you when you take a class. These lanterns were specific to northern Thailand. These ladies are making hundreds of these for the water celebration ceremony that will be happening on November 3rd. These lamps represent joy and luck in life. We started by bending bamboo strips around a measured board. You can see the board in the photo in this woman's lap. Once the structure is done lace and fabric is glued onto the frame a section at a time and the excess in cut away. The edges are glued golden paper and the tails are glued on last. It was a lot more intricate then we thought and will a lot of help took us about two hours lol. We did a small one but took a picture of a large one outside of a temple so you can see how big they can get. These ladies have owned this business for two years.