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The decline and fall of Vang Vieng

Chiang Mai – a Cultural City

 

The decline and fall of Vang Vieng

 

Chiang Mai – a Cultural City

Elena Edwards
‘Culture’ is an interesting, and occasionally misinterpreted concept - especially in a city like Chiang Mai, with its diverse ethnic communities. Even the expat community is divided into a great many separate groups, not necessarily according to an original country of origin. To each of these groups, wherever their origins, the word may well have a different meaning. To some, it may signify social activities, to others a sense of heritage and tradition. Yet more, irrespective of nationality, may relate the cultural aspects of their lives to the arts, and possibly also to religion, in which, throughout human history, both the visual and the performance arts have played a major part.
In our city, ‘cultural’ events abound, including local festivals (some of which are famous worldwide, and attract large numbers of visitors), musical and theatrical events both Western and Thai, classical and modern, plays, lectures and talks on a huge variety of subjects (both at the universities and, lately, in cafes, bars, restaurants and galleries), seminars, art exhibitions, gallery openings, visits by international performers and speakers, student performances and charity shows featuring both traditional Thai and Western dance - all occur frequently.
The majority of the performing and visual arts events are of a professional standard, with occasional visits by artists of international fame, as in the recent Chiang Mai Music festival, an all-too-brief series of concerts and workshops under its director, the famous Korean pianist and teacher, Tong-il Han, together with 4 of his amazingly talented young students.
Traditional Lanna arts, including textiles, are well represented by shops and exhibitions, resulting in an increasing awareness of the rich folk and handicraft traditions of the wide variety of nationalities and tribes here in the north. For those interested in Buddhist art, the concentration of wats in Chiang Mai and its surrounding areas provide examples dating from almost 1,000 years ago to the present day. Traditional Thai music can be heard at festivals, or even in the Sunday Walking Market.
The festivals themselves, apart from the major events, are often not well publicised, but give a fascinating insight into local culture and traditions. Delving into, and learning to appreciate and enjoy, the arts, music and culture of Chiang Mai and the north of Thailand - as well as our own - can help all of us to understand exactly where it is we are living.
Appreciation and enjoyment of the many cultural events and occasions in this city, whether Thai or Western, should, surely, help to bring together all the Chiang Mai communities. Wherever we were born, music and art, whatever the style, are basically expressions of our thoughts, feelings and inspirations, and are our way of communicating without words, either by composing, playing, painting, sculpting, writing, acting and creating – or just by watching or listening. Nothing is truly unfamiliar, all is there to be understood and appreciated by all. ‘Culture’ is what we allow it to be - there are no boundaries.
The dream of a number of people involved in the arts in Chiang Mai is that, one day, a truly all-embracing, multi-cultural, multi-national and multi-discipline Festival of the Arts will be able to be organised, to take place over a period of several weeks during the winter season. If this can be made to happen, Chiang Mai truly will deserve the title of ‘Cultural City of Thailand’.
Those who enjoy classical music are very well served by the increase, over the last few years, of fine instrumental performances at various venues in the city, although Jazz is well-represented, both informally at bars and restaurants, and in the more formal setting of the concert hall. As regards the visual arts, even in these difficult times, new and interesting galleries continue to open - exhibitions at the universities of final year students’ work are also of interest.