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Tradition & Function: Living Bridges in India

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Long ago in North Eastern India, the War-Khasis tribe of Meghalaya were way ahead of the green movement. They realized they could grow their own bridges! Meghalaya is known as “the wettest place in the world”, and once received 25 meters of rain in one year, making the world record. The southern Khasi and Jaintia hills are intersected by numerous, rapidly flowing rivers. Nearly all the rainfall occurs during the monsoon of the summer months, and the gentle rivers can  quickly become wild, raging and dangerous to cross. The people still had to cross these waterways, and discovered they could utilize their natural resources to benefit their lives in a beautiful way, while remaining harmonious with nature.

The only material needed for the creation of these bridges is a tree, known as Ficus Elastica. This is a species of rubber tree,that can grow to a size of 30-40 meters. These trees have a secondary root system, which causes the roots to grow outwards. The roots grow upwards, towards the upper part of the tree and are incredibly strong. The Ficus can comfortably and sturdily grow from the edges of huge boulders, as well as within the river beds themselves.

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Although the trees grow all on their own, people must use tools and frames to guide the growth of the trees in the desired direction. The trunks of betel nut trees are slices down the middle and hollowed out, and used as a guidance frame for the roots of the Ficus. This causes the new and therefore tender and thin roots to grow straight out, across the river, instead of spreading in all different directions like they would without help. When the roots grow long enough to reach the soil of the other side of the river, they take root. Over time, the roots grow deep into the earth, and provide a sturdy structure that spans from one side of the river to the other. People also choose places a bridge is needed, and plant a tree there. Then they must wait for the tree to grow strong and tall before cultivating a bridge. In this aspect, there is significant planning involved in growing root bridges, and serious patience.

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Dilligent attention must be paid to this process and it typically takes from 10-15 years for the bridge to be completed. Some of these bridges can hold the weight of 50 people and reach a length of over 100 feet. The most amazing thing about these bridges, is they actually get stronger with age. Through time, the wood of the roots obtain a strength of what is compared  to steel cables. In fact, it is the “alive” aspect of these structures that allows them to be so strong. Their constant growth adds to their durability. It is estimated that some of the “ancient” root bridges used daily by the people in this region are well over 500 years old. Talk about sustainable development.

One of the most astonishing and unique root bridges is believed to be the only one like it in the world. It is two bridges, one growing about 14 feet over the other one.  It is known as the “Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge”.

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There is a lot of well deserved attention being paid to these wonders, because they were re-discovered by a man from the Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort. Denis P Rayen wants to promote interest in the bridges. To prevent the  bridges from being destroyed or replaced with steel in favor of modernizing, the local people have been alerted to their value and potential. I think they were probably already aware. Currently, a new bridge is being grown, and should be finished within this decade.

In this video, a man teaches his daughter the knowledge and skills needed to complete the bridge he has been growing for over 30 years. He knows he will not live long enough to see it finished, and he wants to ensure his daughter will take his place and see it through. To me, this wisdom and knowledge being passed down from generation to generation is a striking parallel to the “living bridges” themselves. Each generation begins a bridge to the generations to come, by teaching their children these secrets. This a moving story of people living in humble awe of the miraculous earth around them, and the power of growing instead of cutting down.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oESC2iDZArI]

Komodo Dragons and National Parks: The Majesty of Indonesia

It was only about one hundred years ago that human beings became aware of their Earthly coexistence with real live dragons. Despite this longstanding ignorance, Komodo dragons have been around for millions of years. It is on the Indonesian Islands of Rinca, Flores, Gili Motang, Padar, and of course, Komodo, that these guys lurk, flashing their creepy, death tongues. It is widely said that the saliva of a Komodo is so ridden with toxins and bacteria it will eventually kill you, even with a minor bite.

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Komodo Dragons are the largest lizards on earth, reaching lengths of 10 feet and weighing up to 300 pounds. A popular theory states that their size is due to Island Gigantism. This is when the size of animals isolated on an island increases dramatically in comparison to their mainland relatives. Island gigantism is one aspect of the more general “island rule”, which posits that when mainland animals colonize islands, small species tend to evolve larger bodies, and large species tend to evolve smaller bodies. With the arrival of humans and associated predators (dogs, cats, rats, pigs), many giant island endemics have become extinct.

Contrasting with the Island Gigantism belief, more recent research suggests that Komodo dragons are representative of a population of very large, Varanid lizards, which died out after the Pleistocene. These ancestors lived across Indonesia and Australia, with other giant animals. Fossils similar to Komodo dragons have been found all over Australia, dating to more than 3.8 million years ago.

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Because of their size, Komodo dragons are the dominant predators in their habitat. They often hunt in groups, and prey on both birds and mammals. When a dragon is hatched from its egg, it spends its early years in trees, hiding from possible predators. It takes about 9 years to mature and is estimated to live up to 30 years. Because of increasing human activity, their range of living space has been limited and Komodo dragons are currently listed as a vulnerable species. Indonesian law protects them, and a national park was created to help preserve their existence.

Komodo National Park

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Komodo National Park is made up of three major islands: Rinca, Komodo, and Padar, and many smaller islands as well. These Islands originated from volcanoes, and span a total area of 219,322 hectacres. They exist directly at the juncture of two tectonic plates and are part of the “shatter belt” within the Wallacea biogeographical Region. The land is a global conservation priority area. The climate here is dry and hot, yet there is also a rainforest and monsoon element.

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Although the Komodo dragon is the ham of the animal band in this region, there are other notable species living in the background, such as the orange-footed scrub fowl, the Timor deer, and an endemic rat. Because of the strong sea currents and expansive coral reefs, sea turtles, whales and dolphins also hang around.

Tourism
If you plan to travel to Komodo National Park, you can expect nothing short of paradise with a pretty exhilarating “Journey to the Center of the earth” vibe. Pastimes for tourists include lots of picnic lunches, swimming and snorkeling in the clear as glass water, hiking the fantastic and varied terrains of the islands, learning all about Komodo dragons and observing them close up in their natural habitat. It is also possible to stay in one of those mesh-ceiling huts on stilts in the ocean that seem to cover screen savers everywhere. Tourism here cannot accommodate more that 60,000 people a year, which keeps things reasonably intimate. However the buzz is ever-increasing and tourism jumped by 9,000 people between 2009 and 2010.

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Dragon Lust
Despite people two centuries ago being unaware of the Komodo dragons existence, Indonesian myth and folklore (influenced strongly by and often overlapping with Indian culture) is filled with dragon stories.

This one is called, Biwar Kills a Dragon: http://www.st.rim.or.jp/~cycle/MYdragonE.html

Check out our one of a kind dragon sculptures. These guys are made of Teak Wood, and were carved by hand in Indonesia.

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Karole Explores Art Basel Miami Beach

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Just a couple of weeks ago from December 5 to December 8, art lovers from all over the world gathered in south Florida for the annual Art Basel Miami Beach. This is a festival drawing over 75,000 national and international visitors that showcases work from 250 of the world’s best art galleries. Referenced below is some info from the Official Basel website, explaining how Art Basel began, how it operates, and why it works so well.

History

In 1970 Art Basel was founded by Basel art gallerists Ernst Beyeler, Trudi Bruckner and Balz Hilt. At this time there were 90 galleries and 30 publishers from 10 countries who exhibited at the inaugural show.This first Basel exhibit drew 16,300 visitors. By the time Art Basel was 6 years old, it had grown to 300 exhibitors, which is where it stands today. In 2002, Art Basil debued in Miami Beach. This spot is considered the “nexus of North America and Latin America.”

“The show reflects the city’s multi cultural identity, presenting a diversity of work from the galleries and artists of the region. It immediately establishes itself as the premier show in the Americas, and ranks among the favorite winter-time events of the international art world”

The Role Of Basel

“The dynamic relationships between art galleries, their artists, private collectors and public institutions play an essential role in today’s art world, and connecting the international art community has been Art Basel’s goal since its beginning.”

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About The Shows

“Three annual shows bring the artworld together in some of the world’s most exciting venues: Basel, in the heart of Europe; Miami Beach at the nexus of North and South America; and Hong Kong, the gateway to Asia”

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Who Runs Basel

“Behind Art Basel stands a team of individuals with a range and depth of experience in the artworld and related disciplines. Each member channels his or her expertise into making Art Basel shows the most prestigious platform for artists, gallerists, and collectors. To learn more about our team, including employment opportunities offered by Art Basel and its parent company, MCH Group.”

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Many SOWA area gallery directors and artists were in attendance this year at Art Basel, including our own store manager and visual artist, Karole Moe. Karole jet-setted to Miami for a two day tour of the winter’s most exciting art festival and some coveted vitamin D… we are jealous! Here are Karole’s thoughts on what she saw, and some of the photos she was able to snap of her favorite pieces.

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Have you ever been to this show before?
It was my first time at Art Basel!

According to the internet, Miami Beach was crammed with around 75,000 spectators. Describe this scene.
The scene was CRAZY!  All kinds of people, artists and buyers alike.  In fact, each building had special “collector’s room” that I peeked into where they were serving dessert and champagne to those who purchased.

I know there were Several SOWA area galleries participating as well. Were you able to see their exhibitions? How do the Boston Galleries compare with what you saw from the rest of the world in Miami? Not better or worse, but were there any aspects that were different?
I did not see any of the SOWA galleries there but I do think that they would compete very well. After being at Basel, I confirmed that Thayer Street has a very good scene here!  Yay, for us!

Advice for anyone participating- anything goes!  The art was really wild.  Some of it may not be right for everyone, but super unusual.

In conclusion I would say that I wished I had gone for a week vs. 2 days.  As an artist and designer, I can never get enough.  Of course my head might have exploded after a certain point!

Favorites:

Yayoi Kusama – she is the polka dot artist from Japan… look her up!

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Markus Linnenbrink – The white art room- see the straws!

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The repros of Basquiat and Rothko made up of small portraits of themselves:

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 Pieces made up of moving parts and lights were also really interesting as well.

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[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAb10bCMLFE]

The Spa Life in Thailand and Spa Gifts for Your Home

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If money were no object, and you wanted to cleanse your body and spirit at the most innovative, relaxing, beautiful spa in the world, I’d suggest going to Thailand. In the last two decades, Thailand has become a mecca for those in search of luxurious renewal. Here are a couple of my picks for a dream spa retreat.

The Dheva Spa and Wellness Centre, located at the Dhara Dhevi in Chiang Mai, was modeled after a Mandalay palace. It is 3,100 square meters and the largest spa in Asia.

It is an architectural masterpiece, constructed of Teak wood, and covered with ornate moldings, sculptures, and Buddhist murals. You must climb white marble steps to reach the white marble courtyard. The courtyard is canopied by a seven tiered teak roof, symbolizing the seven steps to Nirvana.

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This place is run by a pair of husband and wife doctors who direct the spa, Ayurvedic Centre, and a soon to come academy. When you book an appointment here, you don’t just get a facial or a massage. You gain knowledge of the changes you can make and the habits you can pick up to enhance your quality of life. Lots of questions about your lifestyle and diet are asked, and remedies are chosen based on your specific body type.

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One treatment you are sure to receive is the “Soothing Foot Ritual”, a traditional Thai practice to show respect to the guests and welcome them.Between treatments you can lounge in the teakwood spa pavilion, sipping on warm ginger and fruit tea, and eating green tea biscuits. I can not believe there is anyway you could leave this place not feeling like the absolute best version of yourself.

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The concept for Oasis Spa is to create an “Oasis in the middle of the city”. This motto has been so successful that it has expanded into eight branches throughout Thailand. Each location is unique and has its own theme, but all incorporate the traditional “Lanna” philosophies to healing, creating an environment that inspires tranquility, serenity and pleasure. The designs include reflective ponds with gold fish, waterfalls, wooden bridges and walkways, private treatment villas and ancient venerable trees.

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The Oasis spa uses a combination of natural ingredients and traditional Thai herbs in its treatments, as well as a blend of ancient and modern techniques. The products are prepared for individual customers by hand, and are made daily. The ingredients are supplied by local villages, and only 5% of the ingredients are imported.

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Check out the spas description of a massage called “The Voyage of Golden Lanna”:

 “We had to take Music Therapy to a higher level to compliment a treatment that guides you on a journey to extreme wellbeing. This unique musical masterpiece was developed solely to enhance each phase of the Signature Golden Lanna Massage experience. This delightful fourhanded dance of twenty skilled fingers choreographed to music, also covers you with fragrant oil infused with pure gold. This unforgettable 90-minute journey of rejuvenation will leave you golden – both inside and out.”

Oasis Spa is one of Thailand’s most prestigious spas and has locations in Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket.

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If a trip to Thailand isn’t in the cards this winter, turn your own bathroom into a sanctuary of pampering. Stock up on our favorite supplies at Mohr & McPherson, or create a spa inspired gift for the woman in your life who could use some treasured rest and relaxation.

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Lux Aromatica Vegan Soaps – $12 ea

Lavender, Ice Mint, Crankey Yankee, Spice Island, Old Salty

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Lux Aromatica roll on perfumes – $17.50 ea
Bijou-floral, citrus, amber
Lebu-lemon grass and eucalyptus
Sweet Slumber-clary sage, lavender, frankincense

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Paddy Wax Candles – $26 ea
Cucumber Melon, Rosemary Fennel, Meyer Lemon, Current Rasberry

Soy, Wax, Hand poured

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Reed Diffuser Set – $14 ea
Jasmine, Rainforest, Ocean Sky

SKU: 40094 

 

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Traditional Japanese Incense

Scents-Honoka Silhouette, Oboro Illusions, Kasui gossamer

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Vintage Japanese Kimonos – $84 each

Assorted colors and prints

Giving Thanks in Thailand: The Festival of Lanterns

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While Americans are braving grocery stores for last-minute thanksgiving items, fighting legendary traffic, and snoozing through football games after turkey bliss, different traditions will be practiced on the other side of the world. From November 24th until November 28, the people of Thailand will celebrate the Loi Krathong festival. The largest celebration is in the Thai city of Chiang Mai. Activities include the procession of hanging lanterns, fireworks display, Miss Noppamas beauty contest, light and sound presentations, arts and culture performances and the Krathong desire contest. It’s kind of a big deal.

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Loi Krathing has been celebrated for centuries in Thailand, always between the middle of the eleventh lunar month and the middle of the twelfth lunar month (November). When the full moon shines on the rivers, everything is able to be seen more clearly. The celebration was once called Chong Pa Rieng, which means “floating lantern of royal ceremony.” It was a Brahman festival to worship the Gods. However, when the Thai people converted to Buddhism, they kept this ceremony because of its cultural heritage and altered it to worship the footprint of the Buddha on Nammathanati river beach in India.

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“Loi” in English means “floating”, while “Krathong” translates to “decoration”. The tradition of floating Krathongs along the river specifically was started by Nag Noppamas, who was the favorite concubine of the Sukhothai king. She made large, lotus shaped Krathongs, and the king floated them along the river. He made it law from that point on, that the kings of Siam were to keep this tradition to worship the footprint of the Buddha on Nammathanati River.

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Traditionally, the Krathong are made from the trunk of a banana tree, or a spider lily plant. Today it is more common for Krathongs to be made of bread or styrofoam. Styrofoam is often banned because it is not biodegradable and cannot be eaten by fish. The floats are decorated with banana leaves folded in elaborate shapes, incense sticks and candles. On the night of the full moon, Thai people launch their Krathongs on a river, canal or pond and make a wish.

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There is also a Lanna (Northern Thai) festival known as Yi Peng. In this celebration, sky lanterns (Khom Loi) are launched into the air. They look like large groups of Jellyfish. These lanterns are usually made from rice paper or other thin fabric, which a candle is attached to. The lantern will float into the air because of the hot air trapped inside the lantern when the candle is lit. The Lanna people will also decorate their homes, gardens and temples with “Khom Fai” which are paper lanterns that do not float. These lanterns are very detailed in shape. There are also lanterns that hang from sticks and are carried around. These are called “Khom Thue”.

Yi Peng was traditionally celebrated on a full moon of the 2nd month of the Lanna calendar, but is now celebrated during Loi Krathong, as a part of the large festival in Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is the ancient capital of the former Lanna Kingdom. The result of both holidays being celebrated at the same time is an awesome display of candles, lights, lanterns and decorations filling the waters and the skies.

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One Loi Krathing festival website provides this list of reasons for celebrating:

  1. To ask for forgiveness Pra Mae Khongkha because we use and drink water. Moreover, we often throw rubbishes and excrete wasted things in the water.
  2. To worship the footprint of the Buddha on Nammathanati River beach in India.
  3. To fly away misfortune and bad things like floating sin- Bhrama ceremony.
  4. To pay respect to Uppakhud whom mostly northern villagers show their gratitude. According to legend, he was a monk who was supernatural to kill Mara.

According to Wikipedia, the official reasons for Thanksgiving are as follows:

It has been an annual tradition since 1863, when, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens”. This was after the day had already been an American tradition since the first pilgrims feasted with over 90 Native Americas, to give thanks for their health, safety, and good fortune.

While the specific traditions of Thanksgiving and Loi Krathong/ Yi Peng contrast greatly, the main ideas are complimentary. This last week of November, the people of both America and Thailand will be paying respect to the gift of life, and asking for seconds.

Lotus: The Sacred Flower of Peace and Love

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Your home is your haven. Why not fill it with signs of peace, harmony and healing? In Asia, the Lotus leaf is a symbol of exactly those things.

These beautifully unique wall panels are covered in real Lotus leaves from Thailand. The leaves have been covered by hand with acrylic resin and gilt in gold dust. The leaves vary in size, shape and color and no two are alike. Colored richly with gold, rust, crimson, and forest green, these panels add instant warmth to a room. The autumnal aesthetic of the colors conjures up the traditional festivity of the New England Holiday season, and blend seamlessly together with harmonic, Eastern imagery.

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In Thailand, a Buddhist country, the Lotus, or “Bua”, is a sacred flower to the people, because it is the traditional flower of Buddhism. There is a legend that the Lord Buddha was able to walk at birth, and that when he took his first seven steps, Lotus blooms opened up from underneath to support his feet. In murals around the globe, the Buddha is portrayed surrounded with Lotus blossoms.

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The Lotus, being a water flower, is rooted in mud, and grows up above the dirty water, into a flower of great beauty. This is used as a metaphor for mans attempt to rise above his earthly existence to attain spiritual purity.

“He who is low-born may develop and improve himself like the lotus growing out of the mire. The followers of the Buddha shine above others through their wisdom like the lotus.” – Buddhist Doctrine

The Lotus is also shown surrounding many deities in the religion of Brahmanism, which is connected to Thai history. Brahman Goddesses are often holding Lotus blossoms in their hands.

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In traditional herbal medicine, the Lotus leaf is used to aid in digestion, alleviate fever, heal bruises, reduce muscle spasms and stop bleeding. One of its most common uses is to ease dizziness and nausea. Nearly every part of the Lotus flower is edible. A popular Thai sweet is made up of dried Lotus seeds boiled in Syrup and added to crushed ice.

Here is a delicious and fairly simple recipe to try, Sticky Rice Wrapped in Lotus Leaf:

  • 3-4 cups sticky rice (uncooked)
  • 1 cup chinese sausage, cut up into bite size pieces
  • 3 dried black shiitake mushrooms, soak and cut up into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup fresh shrimp, cleaned
  • 3 salted egg yolks (optional), cut up into small pieces
  • 1/2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 4-5 dried lotus leaves
  1. Soak lotus leaves for 30 minutes, weighing down with a small bowl if necessary. Fry Chinese sausage. Set aside.
  2. Steam sticky rice using a little less water than usual for firm rice. Cool to room temperature.
  3. Put oil into pan and fry garlic until turning golden-yellow. Add rice, mushroom, shrimp, and soy sauce. Stir until all ingredients are cooked.
  4. Pat dry softened lotus leaf and brush back of the leaf lightly with oil. Cut leaf in half. Put half the rice mixture on one leaf and top with salted egg. Wrap rice in a rounded bundle. Repeat with the other half. Either cook immediately or store in fridge for later use.
  5. Steam 10-12 minutes.
  6. Cut salted egg yolk into half. Put Chinese sausage and egg yolk on top. Serve.

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