It is one of those places which makes my eyes big and curious. It smells both like death and life at the same time. The butcher chops a goat with his big meat axe. He is precise and powerful. No plastic wrapping. Only raw nature. My Indian friend is embarrassed. “We don`t have fancy super markets like yours in the west”, he says. “Our markets are very primitive”. But for me, this is how a food market should be. It is not only because of the exotic impression. I simply fancy fresh food in no branded packing. It is honesty. The visit to the meat market in Darjeeling not only made me understand where the food come from. It made me aware where I come from.
I will never ever forget my first meeting with the master munk Kruba Noi at Wat Sri Donmoon (Chiang Mai, Thailand). I had been visiting maybe hundreds of monks before that, but this was special. The temple was full of devotees waiting for the master. A characteristic rythmic sound of a wooden stick against the floor witnessed that the master was on his way to the alter. When he past me, Kruba Noi hit my head with a book. One of the old thai women whispered “chog dee” meaning good luck.
Kruba Noi is famous for making magical objects such as statues and amulets. They are known for giving protection and business luck. The temple was therefore full of business men in suits. I had seen it before in other temples. The special however, was when Kruba Noi started to chant his mantras. I have been told that he had powerful teachers and that he mixes traditions from Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.
Anyway the chanting took me into an altered state of mind. Goosebumps all over the body-yes! But it was more like a stream of energy moving from the top of my head, down to my toes and back again. I am not kidding, but it was like a glimt into the mysterious soul, or into the real nature of being.
In 2015, I went back to Kruba Noi together with my girlfriend. I was happy that he remembered me. Kruba Noi is powerful and authoritarian, but in the same time very loving, kind and humorous. I have always been fascinated by special, charismatic persons. And Kruba Noi is certainly one of them. Respect!
How to get there: wat sri donmoon is in Chiang Mai province, but about 30 minutes outside of CM city, in Sarapee area. I always pay a tuk tuk driver to take me there and make him wait 1-2 hours. Show them a picture (there are more munks called “noi”) and most of them know. In 2015 I think I paid about 4-500 baht for the whole trip. For any further question, don`t hesitate to let me help you.
We was expecting a long and rather boring traintrip from Kandy to Ella. That was until Radeem found his drum. Those hypnotizing rythms is difficult to explain with words. You may imagine drumming in a way that even the most stiff norwegian have to shake embarrasseing with the body. And all the unknown people start to clap their hands and two old men throwed their walkingstick and started dancing in the gangway. The only time when the rythm stopped was ehen the train reach a new station. Sellers entered the train with chai tea, a variety of snacks, but most imortantly- PAN. Pan is betelnuts and herbs wrapped in a green leaf. Radeem pumped pan in his mouth and the drumming became even more intense. I hate dancing. Maybe it is a symptom of fear? Fear of letting the soul be free. Like a turte hiding in his shell. Well, Radeem and his friends healed me. “Awaken the spirit within!” He shouted. And while I was moving awkwardly around in the old train I felt really alive and at the same time a bit embarrassed.
Tobacco, ricewine and betelnuts. Sticky rice, fruitjuice and fish. And not to forget a big pig`s head with yellow candles in his nose. The time is about 6 o´clock in the morning. I am in Thailand, more precisely in the remote area of Surin (Isaan). Its still cold, but the sun is just starting enlightening the foggy grass. I am invited to participate in an animistic ritual. Familiy and neigbours gather to offer food and drinks to the “dead” friends and relatives. And they offer food which they liked (a central argument for the continuum of traditional thai food). In a thai cosmology the deceased are not dead in the sense of end of existence. They are in another sphere and can be contacted ritually. They serve their ancestors food while talkning to them. Not unlikely the way western chritians speak at the grave. Some also laughing and asking for lottery numbers. However, they didn`t win. But superstition or not. I argue that such a focus missing the point. Because as Noom said “we really don´t know if they are there or not. But it is important to remember our forefathers and mothers. They gave us life itself. Wouldn´t you be remembered after your death?” I realised the enormous power and comfort to belong to a tradition where neighbours, friends and family anually ritually remembering you after death. The ide that you will “never” be forgotten gives strenght to both this life and the potential life thereafter. Sometimes the most rational choice is to get unrational, disconnect the logical thinking and participate, yes even surrender temporarily to another worldview. When putting “yourself” in paranthesis, new knowledge are allowed to enter your being.
“The Buddha statue is so beautyful” I said to Nong, my thai friend. “Yes indeed” he replied but said that “westerners often misunderstand buddhist objects in thai context. They are first and foremost containers of “saksit”, holy power.” Nong fired up three sticks of incense. He hold them between his palms and lifted them up to his front head. His eyes was closed and he was in a praying trance. He then but the incense stick in a big bowl, showed respect to the Buddha and left. I did the same thing. It really felt good and I got goosebumbs over my whole body. “The Buddha statues are a kind of spiritual technology in thais way of thinking, It contain supernormal power and laypeople may get protection and luck if we approach this power in correct ways,” Nong said. “That is why westerners are not allowe to bring Buddha objects out of Thailand. It will merely become decoration in your homes, and no respect is given to the holy power”. I could understand Nongs perspective. I don´t know what happened during this ritual, but it certainly gave me a good and unusual experience.
Thailand has become my second home. My girlfriend is from Isaan and yearly we spend weeks in her hometown. I also have been on several trips exploring this amazing country, including an anthropological fieldwork for seven months. Sometimes I reach the mental state of “going native”. It is when a person “adopt the lifestyle or outlook of local inhabitants”. I admit that the picture may look pretty unpleasant, but I had an hardcore hangover going on. However, after spending some time in the village the cap is switched to the farmers straw hat and malboro with the local handrolled tobacco. I start to mentally adjust to the local thai thinking. Slow living, seeking shadow in the middle of the day, eating on the floor in a circle and enjoying local brew under the stars. Learning the language, being open and showing respect are fundamental to fruitful stay, not only for you but also for the local people. Go native is going with the local flow of everyday life.
“We don´t perceive fragrances with our nose, but with our brain”. With this psychological approach to perfumes I knew that Aivaras at Crime Passionnel, a niche perfumery in Copenhagen, would take me deeper into the universe of scents. Not only “oh that smells nice” kind of thing. And I was right- Aivaras took me on a journey through the enchanting world of fragrances. He introduced each perfume with a story. It could be about the perfume maker´s inspiration or vision for creating the scent or an imaginary picture envoked by the perfume itself.
The smell of a green garden after the rain. The fresh feeling of recently squeezed oranges and the happy mood of an early summer morning. The mysterious smell of a bonfire in ancient time. The exotic scent of a spicemarked on the silkroad. The sexuality and energy of an alfa male. The adventurous fairytale of 1001 nights.
Crime Passionnel Perfumery is stunning, but it´s not snobbish in the way as other niche parfumeries usually are. No, this is a shop with rough aesthetics and it leads my thoughts toward the japanese concept of wabi sabi. Brick walls and shelfs made of industrial iron bars displaying the artistic vials of perfumes. It´s like the rough and smooth, feminine and masculine comes together in a perfect harmony. “This place has the courage and integrity to walk its own way” I was thinking for myself, “and that philosphy also apply to the way we should choose perfumes”. Aivaras grabed a midnight blue bottle with gold decoration from the top shelf. “This is Interlude Man” he said. “By Amouage”.
Amouage was established in 1983 by the Sultan of Oman to restore the arabian art of perfuming. Amouage use only the best ingredients, some of them are rare and very luxurious. They are blended in masterful ways by the best parfumers on the planet. Creative director Christopher Chong said this about Interlude Man:
“I interpret what I see and feel into scents. All the social and natural chaos and disorder surrounding us today can be translated to a much more intimate level. The interlude moment is a reflection of all the trials and tribulations one overcomes to attain personal satisfaction and achievement.”
“Interlude is the bomb!” Aivaras smiled and gave some generous sprays on my arm. I became speechless. There is no words to describe that experience. At that moment I was not categorizing the scent as “good” or “bad”, the fragrance just belonged to a sphere outside of language. Mysterious and otherworldly on one side, near and known on the other. It was like a interplay between consciousness and subconsciousness. This was the moment I for the first time experienced perfume as art. The whole day I had to sniff my arm frequently in curiousity. The smell was adicting like a drug. Natural high quality notes like myrrh, oregano, balsamic, leather, vanilla, flowers, pepper, wood was playing on my arm in dynamic ways. Constantly shifting. It was a kind of chaos and disorder as Pierre Negrin intended when he created this masterpiece. And then, in the last phase, the perfume flowing into a heaven of vanilla, of peace and harmony. Like a sweet creme brulé after an overwhelming dinner. Like the sun shining from a blue sky after the storm. For me Interlude doesn´t only has a story. It is like a living being, a storyteller, narrating its own biography while you wear it. I am still trying to understand this phenomen. Amazing stuff.
Monday morning I went back to Crime Passionnel and bought Interlude. “Im really happy you liked Interlude”, Aivaras said. “Its like a perfectly cut diamond revealing different faces. Thank you for appreciating quality of Amouage ingredients.” It was one of the best and most personal shopping experiences I ever had.
I am new to fragrances, but I have to say that the world of high quality perfumes really should be appreciated as artwork. Scents stimulate our senses just as a painting, music or films do. A painter use colors and put them together to affect its audience. In a similar way, a perfumer put toghether aromatic ingredients to influence the phenomenal world. So, what is the reason why perfumes has been ignored as an artform? (Or has it?) It is a shame, in my opinion, that these niche parfumes mainly falls into categories like “cosmetics” and “beauty” when it really belongs in an art gallery.
Smelling is maybe the most poetic of all senses- scents envoke feelings in our bodies and images in our minds. It can take us to our childhood, exotic places and imaginary worlds. A smell can make us feel happy or sick or nostalgic. It stimulates our body and mind in magical ways. For me the gateway to this “new” world was Crime Passionnel, this small distinguished perfumery in Denmarks capital, and I am glad that the “gatekeeper” Aivaras sprayed me in to this universe.
Hyskenstræde 14 (find Zara in Strøget shoppingstreet and follow the crossing street a few meters)
I am that kind of guy that easily get lost and love it. That´s probably why this day became so amazing. I had one goal- to find Nyhavn in Copenhagen. As being one of the most attractive places in Denmark´s capital, the task shouldn´t be to hard. However my inner compass was not exactly fine-tuned and I ended up on a splendid journey through Copenhagen´s mix of traditional and modern architecture, vivid folk life and niche shopping stores. I had a home made icecream, jumped on a trampoline and took a lot of pictures before I found my way to historical Nyhavn.
A short history of Nyhavn described by Wikipedia:
Nyhavn was constructed by King Christian V from 1670 to 1673, dug by Swedish war prisoners from the Dano-Swedish War 1658–1660. It is a gateway from the sea to the old inner city at Kongens Nytorv (King’s Square), where ships handled cargo and fishermens’ catch. It was notorious for beer, sailors, and prostitution. Danish author Hans Christian Andersen lived at Nyhavn for some 18 years.
In the moment I reached Nyhavn (“New Harbour”), the clouds uncovered the sun and the old colorful harbour showed herself from her best side. The pier was bustling of life and people in holiday mode. Big ships and sailing boats showed off and set the atmosphere in the area. People were enjoying cold beers, wine and food at Nyhavn´s small charming restaurants, but many also chose the much cheaper (but not less enjoyable) option: consuming drinks bought at seven eleven while dangling with their feet above the canal. I avoided the places with white tablecloths and found a nice rustic place with a colgate smiling waitress from Sweden instead. She served me a local Tuborg beer. The glass was steamy. Small white flowers on my table was dancing in the breeze and the street musician played some funky jazzmusic.
At that moment I thought “this is happiness”. In retrospect of my own life it seems like the main feature of happiness is moments of simplicity. When there is absoultely nothing to do but to breathe and enjoying something good to drink.
“Hey, Frank, wake up!” It is only six in the morning and my neighbor Khong is knocking on my door. I am in a small village in Surin province. It´s located in Isaan, just one hour driving from the Cambodian boarder. “We have to eat a masculine breakfast before the masculine work.” I join the circle of five thai men sitting on the floor with a raw cow cutted up in pieces. Yes, included intestines and a chili sauce made of the cow´s stomach acid. “Today we go fishing in a special way. We need a solid breakfast before we go. Please, help yourself.” I know that this is not only about putting nutrition inside my body, it is also a question about being inside or outside the group, so I dig in.
A tube is connected to a tractor engine and put into the dam. It pumps the water out and it all looks like a straw emtying a cup of chocolate milkshake. And now we are ready for fishing, dirty fishing! With a bucket we all go out in the sinking, slightly heated mud and literally picking fishes. “Be careful when puting your hands into the mud” Khong warns. “There can be snakes and fishes with stingy spikes”. Oh my Buddha! I continue my work as a nervous wreck.
“Many fishes hide in the mud. We need to give them a small electric shock to get them to the surface.” Another neighbor comes with a car battery in a backpack which is connected to sticks of bamboo. “Not a single fish will escape this home made machinery” Khong says and I am glad not being incarnated as a fish this time around.
The sun goes down and leaving the sky pink, red and orange. We make a fish barbeque party and enjoying a cold beer. “This is life”, Khong say with tranquillity in his voice. “This is life”.
Four hours driving from Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand, we finally reach the small places Fang and Thaton. A small curly road lead us to the legendary buddhist monk´s temple on the mountain top. The monk Kruba Sitthi is abbot of the temple Wat Pang Ton Dua, and today we are here to be present to a blessing cermony. The materials of a new batch of magical amulets are going to be sacralized. Alot of prominent monks from Thailand are gathered at this remote temple, but where is Kruba Sitthi?
Suddenly an ambulance comes to the temple. All the attention draws toward the old monk who is carefully put in a wheelchair. All the people are bowing with greatest respect for the venerable Kruba Sitthi. His physician places him in the center of the cermony and white strings goes from the monk´s hands to the amulet material. In Thailand there is a belief that some monks have “saksit”, or holy power that can be transferred to objects like amulets. And by keeping and worship these magical objects, they can protect its wearer.
I buy a couple of them from the temple´s shop before I leave. They have an image of the charismatic Kruba Sitthi and will always remind me of this special meeting and moment of time. For me that´s a kind of power too.