Samrit is so cool, I mean it's hot, but chill. Jordan and I made a daily routine of walking around the countryside and I spend the rest of my time sketching and taking photos. We are fast friends with Jin, the woman who owns the shop across the street where we eat our meals, Art, the program director at Samrit, and Alba, the other resident artist from Madrid. Art and Jin generously invite us to do all sorts of things and are open, curious and I enjoy their sense of humor. Alba has a very tender heart and shared with me some of the community projects she works on in Spain, including mural collaborations with inmates at the prison in Madrid, and feet paintings with the students at the art school for adults with special needs, where she teaches.
We had a memorable trip to the market in Phimai and dinner with Art's large family, including an observation of 36 people training for a village on village paddling race at the end of the month. They train three months in advance for two hours every evening (in the dark as the sun sets around 5:30-6:00 p.m.). Jin took us to explore her rice paddy this morning as she and her husband flooded the field from the nearby river. We eat her rice everyday at the shop and this particular crop will be ready to harvest in November.
The pace of life here is slow and peaceful.
The village of Samrit was enriching for me both personally and artistically. I took a roll of paper along with some walnut ink and charcoal (for ease and because I'm trying to break my love affair with oil paint...toxicity, environment). I was immediately struck by the plant life and foliage there...of course. It was so lush and verdant wherever you looked. Even a plant in the concrete jungle of Bangkok looked like the healthiest plant you could imagine. Also, I couldn't get enough of the patterns and attention to detail in the tile work found in the cities and villages, the variety of fences and gates (everyone had one), and the colors and overwhelming amount of advertising.
I can't read or speak the Thai language and thus could more easily overlook the nefarious nature of advertising and labeling. Or at least view it with humor. The images on billboards, signs and packaging became these visceral paintings comprised of complex symbols and shapes to me. I mostly played around with documenting plants and ornamentation while at Samrit and worked on a couple of murals - one with the other resident, Alba, from Madrid. Yet, I find myself wanting to dive in to a big palette of juicy oil paints to create some "advertisements" of my own now that I'm back home.
One of the many reasons I'm hooked on travel is because it changes the way you look at your world when you get back - at least for a while. It helps me be more within the moment with family, friends and outside. Even mundane tasks like cleaning the house and doing laundry have a fresh feel. The people of Samrit gave me a deeper view on what I'm grateful for in particular.
It's true that where we were visiting is the poorest part of Thailand and that there were not many luxuries. You can't flush toilet paper down the toilet (there's a hose instead), the water is unsafe for drinking and there are bugs and lizards and rats running around in and above your accommodations. But you quickly get used to those differences, maybe find some tourist-like endearment in them... then finally realize it's like red squirrels or hard water back home. I did not have a big revelation that the people of Samrit have so much less than we do. But I did find myself thinking that they have more in a way- a strength and resilience.
Now it's true that I was seeing everything with the starry-eyed vision of someone experiencing trouncing around in the mud to catch catfish or the exhilaration of paddling in unison with 30 others in a very long, skinny and tippy boat on a foreign continent, for the first time. I'm certain the people of Samrit do not feel their lives as naively as I did. I think they probably live very hard lives. They're mostly rice farmers in an industry that's now losing the competition to export with Vietnam, another impoverished country. They're facing the challenges of a land soured by fertilizer due to a western solution to growing more food faster. The Chinese have come in and created shell corporations under Thai names and have taken over many businesses. It's very difficult to get a bank loan there, so people are forced to buy them on the black market, etc. Yet the Thai people smile a lot and are a very generous, collaborative and accepting people. Which I will remember and take with me
Within a surprisingly short amount of time, Jordan and I felt like we were part of the community of Samrit village. Art, the Program Manager at the Artist Residency, was a great host - leading us around to authentic and interesting places, answering our endless questions, and joking around with us. We fell in love with Jin, the woman who owns the shop across the street where we ate meals, her mother, Cheun, and their family. They'd take us to their plot of land where they grow the rice we ate. And without a lot of verbal exchange I learned some things about rice farming, including that my head is certainly too oblong for the hat Jin lent me. I enjoyed getting to know Art's large group of family and friends- his fabulous mom, On and her husband Lindsay, the founders of Samrit, his brother, his wife & adorable son, the boat team, the beautiful girls who taught us some traditional Thai dancing, Paddy the dog who we're now trying to bring back here, and on and on.
It was a beautiful experience and I am thankful to all the people who made it so. I'd highly recommend the residency stay for any artist who likes adventure, a different pace of life and respectfully learning about new cultures.