Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Last Words

This is it, friends. I'm leaving tomorrow and you have a sampling of my pictures and thoughts. It is fitting to leave with an image of the Buddha, as he looks with compassion on the devoted. I spent the morning giving Reiki to poor (financially) cancer patients and it was a wonderfully rewarding experience. A way to give a wee bit back to these people who have opened their country so warmly to me.

I leave Thailand with these impressions: the people smile from their hearts, and genuinely welcome strangers. They want to talk to and learn from us and want to share their ways with us. They will walk 2 blocks, leaving their store, just to guide a lost tourist to her destination. They love their King and country, and live in close relationship to family and community. They strive to live the country's three pillars: Buddhism, King, country. Thailand is modern, clean, and with excellent health care. It is an exotic place with temples, tribes, modern art and architecture, and a lovely, lively, interesting culture. It is very hot and humid this time of year, and to compensate they have the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen, with turquoise, blue/green waters. On the flip side, I've heard repeatedly about government corruption - a siphoning off of funds that do not go to improve living conditions. Politics are a problem - they are currently debating their 17th new consitution in maybe 50 years (just guessing time frame). They have regular peaceful coups, demonstrations, and yet nothing really changes. There are big problems in the South, where thousands have been killed in the last 2 years in religous clashes (Buddhism/Muslim). The standard of living is quite low in the country, and the water not potable - some of it comes out red from dirt that is not showerable unless allowed to settle first. Education is not compulsary and that holds back progress. The traffic is noisy and crazy, but there is cheap public transportation. So, they have their problems, but they are warm and secure in their friendships and family, and happy to be alive in this beautiful place. I love it here too. You should go.

Bell at Wat Souk Dok.

Me and the one with rough skin. On top is a tourist from Australia who is learning how to train the elephant.

Training elephants. This baby dumped the trainer within seconds of this photo.

I always wondered how they got Bamboo Shoots - well, this is it - raw shavings from the bamboo.

The two pics below are from an ancient city built about 12oo a.d. It was the original Chiang Mai location, but it was flooded repeatedly. When the last biggie wiped it out, they moved to the current location - perhaps 10 kilometers away.

Stupa from the old city. I wondered what that word meant as I saw it everywhere - it is this shaped structure as part of a Wat.
The Hill Tribes in Northern Thailand. Simply Amazing.

I visited a village today that housed several of the Northern hill tribes. They are considered ethnic minorities in Thailand because they speak very different dialects and maintain their old ways. For example, they've been burning the fields to get ready for planting when the rainy season starts in May. BTW, the smoke created respatory problems for Chiang Mai residents, sending many to the hospital. Below, men are building a roof for a hut. They use dried leaves that must be replaced every 3 months. Don't think I'll complain about replacing my roof in the future!
Mama and babe - note her earrings.

Below are pics of the Karen Tribe. It reminds one of African practices.

This is a young girl, just starting to wear the neck brass rings. Karen woman in training.

Weaving-a source of income for the tribe. It looks very uncomfortable, but the women told me that they are used to it, so no problem. Plus, I imagine that it helps these poor tribes to earn money - letting tourists take pictures and paying some money for entrance into the village. This thought helped me get over the idea that it was a privacy intrusion and kind of "zoo-like." But the women seemed to enjoy seeing tourists and there were only a few of us around.

Teenagers, laughing and animated in conversation just like their peers worldwide.

Locally, the nickname for this tribe is "long necks.

The story is this about the hill tribe neck rings: In the past the men would go hunting and sometimes tigers would kill the women left in the village. So, they came up with these brass rings to protect the womens' necks. They also wear a few rings on each leg, right below the knee. Apparently they used to tuck leather under the rings, covering the lower leg and protecting them from snake bites. Although tigers still exist in the wild they are not such a danger but tradition continues.

Lotus flower in the village.

Separating the rice from the outer husk. The women in this village work this gizmo and then put the grain in a basket, shake it, and the husk falls out. Hoarder me, picked some of it up from the ground to bring home and show around.
Chiang Mai!

This is the town everyone loves. Actually it is a city, second in size to Bangkok. There are lots of Farangs (foreigners) wandering about, and many who've moved here. It has the old world charm of an ancient city, complete with gates and a moat. There is a new age healing vibe with lots of yoga and even plenty of vegetarian restaurants. I like it here but haven't found it astounding, as expected. Maybe it was a too-high expectation or maybe it is the effects of nearly 4 weeks of travelling, wearing the same clothes, and sensory overload. The sight of monks wandering the streets and markets, of fabulous Wats (temples), and interesting transportation (tuk-tuks) has become "normal" and lost some of its exoticism for me. Still, it is a wonderful place. And I guess I'm ready to return home. Which is a good thing since today is my last full day in Thailand :-). OR it is time to dig in and stay put in one place as a way to really learn it more deeply. Schlepping has its limits.

In the news: a policeman regularly parks his car at the station with his 6 year old daughter sleeping inside while he is at work. Last week, following the same routine, he left the car running with AC on for the gir's comfort -- but, someone stole the car. The thief had no idea a kid was inside. The police put out an alert with the license number and a taxi saw the car, relaying it to other taxis. Eventually 100 taxis rallied to the scene and surrounded the car, catching the thief. The child never woke up during this so is no wiser to her accidental abduction. What I found remarkable is that the people (taxis) jumped in to help another Thai in need. This is so typical of these wonderful people. Do you see this happening in the U.S. or other first world country?

Below are some pictures of another wonderful Wat.
Monk taking pictures of Buddha

Lotus flower in foreground - We leave it as offering to Buddha.

I think this one is groovy - the Buddha sat on a river bank after his enlightenment and it started raining. A cobra came along and coiled, fanning above Buddha's head to protect him from the rain. This image is all over Thailand.

Northern gate to the old Chiang Mai city.

My modern hotel room. I note that as I am in waning days of a long trip, the weariness justifies a top hotel :-). I ended up moving from the hotel I booked online because it was 20 minutes from town in a very nice secluded location - meaning, no taxis out the door. Also, no tuk-tuks or other transportation people knew where it was, so it took me 1 hour to return home at night due to getting lost - this after giving them a map in Thai provided by hotel. Part of the adventure of traveling! No problem - just move on...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

In the News
A woman and 5 of her 6 children were taken from her home in Malaysia because the officials claimed she was Muslim and her husband Hindu so they were not legally married and she/kids needed removal for "re-education." They missed the 6th kid because he wasn't home at the time. The husband says this is a mistake - she is Hindu and they've been married for 17 years. Apparently her new ID card says Muslim (old one says Hindu but I guess she relinquished it when getting the new one) and when she presented it at the kid's school for their registration, they turned her in.

Now the husband is threatening a lawsuit because he wants them back. The Malaysian government is washing its hands because there is civil law and there is Islamic law, and since she is "Muslim," civic law does not apply. The government admits there are some inconsistencies between the two systems. The folks who took the family say that if the husband sues they will arrest him and charge him with adultry.

Tough life. I had no idea this kind of stuff went on.
Learning Vipassana (Insight) Meditation

This is a Swedish woman (below) who showed up to learn meditation at the same time I did in Wat Mahathat, Bangkok. I was late because I got stuck shopping :-). This English speaking monk spent 3 hours with us! He described the process, discussed Buddhism, and answered all of our questions. By the way, he claims that reincarnation IS part of the Buddhist belief system, unlike what others have said. He is nearing the end of his 1 month stay as a monk. When asked, he said his is doing it to honor his family (having a son become a monk for even a short time is a good thing).

After an hour of discussion, he showed us how to do both walking and sitting mediation. You start with walking because it clears the mind better - the physical activity stops the thinking process some. I mentioned the process in a previous post (slowly walking and repeating the words for your actions three times in your mind (e.g., lift, lift, lift; prepare to turn, prepare to turn, prepare to turn). Then after 20 minutes of this, we did sitting meditation. Of course I complained about not being able to sit without leaning on the wall ("my back is killing me") and that I couldn't cross my legs for a long time... blah, blah, blah. He said, do it as comfortably as possible and then don't move for 20 minutes. If your leg hurts, think "pain, pain, pain," and if your mind runs, say "thinking, thinking, thinking" but don't let it get into a story. So, I did it for 20 minutes and did not scratch any itches (remarkably they disappeared shortly after thinking "itching, itching, itching.").

Then we had a debriefing. It was interesting. I found my mind doing all the stuff that runs me - like when I was doing the walking meditation criticizing myself for not going as slowly as the Swede could and for not having good balance, and when sitting, evaluating my experience so I'd be ready for the debriefing ("thinking, thinking, thinking.") And then planning, planning, planning... how I'd make a labyrith in the backyard at home so I could do this walking meditation I'd practice every blah, blah, blah. Mental diarrhea. Guilty as charged.

I think this mediation is a good thing. It gives one an immediate awareness of every little mental thought or physical twitch competing for attention. Once acknowledged, it seems to disappear. It can return, but then you just do the three time process again. Yeah, this is the practice that can lead to in the moment. I want that. ME, ME, ME, teacher....

Helena, the Swede, and me with our teacher after meditating. He gave us his e-mail address: joe :-). Before the photo he reminded us "don't touch me." While walking on the street I had to always remember to move away from monks because they are not allowed to touch women - and not look us in the eye, either, except for this kind of situation. Helena and I hung out some afterward - it was great to talk with another woman traveling solo.
Train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Kinda grubby, but great service.

MBK shopping mall in Bangkok. Interestingly, the malls are filled with small stalls like this - and just an occasional department store. It is more like a street market with air conditioning.

$49 hotel in Cambodia, complete with lovely pool, great food, and beautiful rooms with AC. The staff, like all Cambodians were wonderful. The grounds were meticulous. Superlatives for these Asians, once again.

Tourist Meltdown
Finally, it happened... I took an overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (12 hours) and didn't sleep well. Ate nuts and raisins because all the food had meat. Got off the train in sauna-like 50 celsius heat (over 100 F), and asked a taxi driver to take me to my hotel: the Golden Cupid. He said sure, I know where it is, 100 Bhat. Then he took my confirmation paper and saw there was no address and revealed he didn't really know where it was. I said "you lied to me." He agreed... So, here i was, tired and hot and unshowered, and no address or phone for the hotel that no one had heard of. Well, it was highly rated on Tripadvisor, but Expedia didn't think of presenting location info with the confirmation e-mail.

So, I saw an Internet computer and went to look it up - decent solution. Meanwhile, the taxi driver lingered about a foot from me. I asked him nicely to back away - about 5 times. Then he finally did and sent two buddies to ask me if I wanted a taxi. They all have this way of "claiming" you - the first one to ask, tells others to back off and if you go with another, the first gets a cut. Also, the Asians have this idea of personal space that is 1 foot from each other and that does not fit my American social space needs... They watched over my shoulder while I checked e-mail, reading to see if they could see a hotel address, and I finally became THE UGLY AMERICAN. Ok, not that bad, but just turned around, raised my voice quite loud, and put up my hands and said "everyone please leave me alone!" Then I walked out of the train station with address/phone number, into the street and got a tuk tuk (motorcycle with two seater on back).

While riding, I recalled my day before. I was at Wat Marahat learning Buddhist mediation for 3 hours. It was wonderful. More on that later, but the procedure--while walking as slowly as possible, for example--is to say each thing in your mind 3 times: lift foot, lift foot, lift foot...lower foot, lower foot, lower foot, tread, tread, tread. It is a practice that gets one to be more mindful of every body/mind thing in the minute and to not let a story in the mind or body run on and on while one is doing something else.

Soooooo -- back to the tuk tuk: hot air, hot air, hot air; agitated stomach, agitated stomach, a.s.; road vibrating, road vibrating, road vibrating; thinking, thinking, thinking; tired, tired, tired; Thailand, thailand, thailand; beautiful trees, b.t., b.t ... It worked! I got right into the pleasure of the moment again and did not rehash the train station unpleasantness...
I must also say that something I learned on my weekend with Tracey at Taylor Group helped: Responsibility is not blaming anyone for what happened, including yourself, but just going forward with a solution.

The new and improved Judy.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Going to Work in Cambodia
Early morning glimpse of the industrious folk. Well, except for the wee one below.
Dreaming in Cambodia.

Fishing on the monochrome.

Monk taking a morning bath (see soapy body and nearby water pump). I'm so grateful that these lovely Cambodians let me take such intimate pictures as this.

Dad and son cruising in the mobile mini-mart. Can you believe all this on a motorcycle?

This woman is cutting ice with a saw, in the market. I think the village people must only have iceboxes - big guess.

Lots of Cambodians carry stuff this way. We are so lucky in America.

Carrying coconuts on bicycle. Many people ride bikes to work, some with their wee kids in front and another family member behind. They must have amazing calf muscles! The more fortunate ones have motorcycles to carry the family.

Carrying hay on bicycle.

This woman is spreading out some kind of lake snail in shells so they'll bake in the sun. This is at the local market.

Man at door. Duh... just an image I enjoyed.

I had a nice long chat with this monk, in a Wat across the street from my hotel (through a kid translator). He was very interested in my life and said really complimentary things to me ("I can tell you are a good teacher...").
Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia (near Siem Reap)
This is a huge lake - about 40 kilometers wide. It is only about 1 meter deep right now because Cambodia is at the end of the dry season. All the rice paddies are dry ground too. After the rainy season this lake will be 8-10 meters deep and much wider. The people live on this lake during the dry season and move into the hills when it rains. It is much cooler here and they have plenty of water - even though it is a pretty polluted. This is poverty at its finest. I really felt humbled by seeing how people live here. They do have a floating school, library, and even a floating basketball court.

One thing that really amazed me is how they love having me take their pictures. They pose and smile - I don't think I'd enjoy lots of tourists driving by my house and snapping pics all day. These Cambodians are truly wonderful and friendly people, very interested in tourist stories. Many speak a little English (they learn English and Chinese in school). According to one tuk-tuk driver Cambodia's worst problems are government corruption and education. The rural people only get a few years of school because it is not compulsary. Another thing that amazed me is how clean and fastidious they are. I saw women sweeping the dirt roads to remove rubbish, and their clothes are always spotless and ironed.

The woman cover up completely when out in the sun. It is cooler, but also in these countries, darker skin means lower on the social totem pole.

Stuff is really cheap here - I had many wonderful $1 meals, and my lovely hotel was only $49 (with AC and pool). There is so much more to say, but the bottom line is: GO and see for yourself.

This boy came up to our boat to ask for money.

She's washing her baby while he works on the boat. To wash the kid involves him jumping in the dirty lake, mama soaping him down, then mama pouring fresh water from the buckets over him. They have to paddle into town to get fresh water from the community wells.

Boat house and apparatus for keeping the wood dry - I assume it is for cooking.

Mobile Mini-Mart

Ankgor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia
This complex is about 21 square miles of temples, in various states of ruin. They were built between 1000-1600 or so, and some were to honor Vishnu and the Hindu gods, and some the Buddhist religion. I'm on a $30 an hour computer right now and don't have my guide book so I'll make this short. It was AWESOME. Thanks Dave Archer for recommending this side trip.

Monk at the main temple of Angor Wat - the biggest religious structure in the world.

Angor Wat at sunrise - yes, another 5 a.m. wake-up for me.The temple has 4 entrances in front - Middle one for the King, two side ones for worker bees, and the right hand one for elephants.

Looking up into the light in one of the other temples in Angor Thom.

Mama and baby on the Angkor grounds

One of the pools. It has been 100 F. and humid. I've learned two things about this kind of heat: 1) it is truly better to wear loose fitting clothes that cover the body entirely (better than shorts), and 2) noon to 4 p.m. is hammock time.

Cleaning the moat around the Angkor Wat temple - moat surrounds it completely except for the causeways in.

This was a amazing at it looks. A temple being reclaimed by nature. This is Ah Phon (don't know if I'm spelling it right), where Tomb Raiders was filmed.

Here I am, standing where Angelina Jolie made a movie. Look just like her, don't I?

Elephants after giving rides into the temple complex. Note the first guy checking his cell phone.

Cambodian dancers.

The West entrance to Angkor Wat