There is a small province called Nong Khai in the Isan region of Thailand on the bank of the Mekong River. I travel there often because it is the home of an older actress of mine, and we have made many films together there. Besides the Mekong, there is another place that I like to visit in Nong Khai, a temple called Sala Kaew Kuu. It was built in 1978 through the initiative of one man.
The founder was an outcast who escaped to Laos and came back to build the temple, establishing himself as a guru. Judging from photographic records, I am quite certain was gay. In a way, he perceived and used religion as a way to redemption. Homosexuality and poverty were perceived as negative traits, like being born in the Northeast. Interestingly, the region has the highest concentration of revered monks in the country. It may be that the dry, hard-to-cultivate land drives people to dream, to try to connect with something beyond everyday life.
Historically, people were also driven by political force from Bangkok that had colonised the region to achieve unification (Thaification), and resulted in ethnic cleansing. There were several revolts. The founder of this temple was accused of being a communist and was jailed for a while. Some of his sculptures were destroyed because the army suspected him of hiding weapons inside them.
For me, the temple echoes the history of Isan itself. It is a manifestation of revolt. The fact that it was not recognised or supported by the state reflects the man’s independence. He was free to commission unconventional sculptures. Free, but at the same time forced to struggle, and to dream.