Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bouncing Ball

Part of the love of travel is encountering unexpected circumstances that are challenges. Sometimes though, it is like playing roulette and being a bouncing ball careening around in a madly whirling wheel. As I chase the sun around the spinning globe, it was bound to happen that I would unexpectedly find myself landing in a place where mass political unrest erupts. The day after I arrived in Phuket, Thai protestors stormed the major airport in Bangkok and effectively shut it down. It has been closed ever since, and now I will be lucky if I get out of Thailand when I expect. Already my plans have shifted because I cannot return to Bangkok to catch my flight to Vietnam.

People have said that they hope my dream never becomes a nightmare. I do not believe in nightmares, only THE DREAM, and if it turns dark, then it is only guiding me to use my inner powers so that I can find the light of guidance and resolve the darkness. I trust THE DREAM, and I trust destiny. So if the stock market drops suddenly and wipes out 40% of my savings, and I have sold my belongings, and suddenly find I am in a foreign country in turmoil and cannot get out; well, how interesting!

Phuket has been built up by developers who cater to tourists that come here seeking tropical charms, sun and surf. The Andaman Ocean water temperatures are comfortable, the waves are just right, and wash up on fine, white sandy beaches. This time of year there are loads of visitors. You can tell the female ones from Europe because they go topless. There is plenty of shopping, and of course, massage parlors are on every block. I rented a motorbike and have been visiting various beaches with a Thai friend. We also took a boat to neighboring islands and snorkeled among fantastic coral reefs with exquisite, colorful fish.

When I left the United States, I wanted to disappear into the matrix of the earth. I can’t imagine just being with white people like myself. I am happiest experiencing native life across the globe . . . this is where my heart goes and the rewards have been wonderful.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Remain Mindful

Bangkok has thoroughly impressed me as a clean, modern and attractive city. I have heard of its problems with pollution in the past, but it has addressed these issues and although the streets can sometimes be jammed with traffic, the city busses run on pollution-free natural gas. Something I have not seen before are “tourist police” who are a phone call away to address issues of fraud, for instance if you think a taxi has overcharged for a fare or a business has cheated you.
Bangkok is also famous for its sex service industry, and many people come here for this. I found myself in the midst of a notorious area early one evening and was repeatedly approached by hawkers soliciting me to have a good time and enjoy a “happy ending” massage, or see a show with women that shoot ping-pong balls from there private parts etc. One night I went dancing with friends until the wee hours of the morning and saw drunken men fondling “dates.” The music and dancing was fun, but witnessing such crass and rude behavior was repulsive. The girls think of their time as service work and make big money to send home to their poor families in the countryside, so smile and keep up a good face. When we left, I thanked God for the dignity He placed in my heart and that He causes me to remain mindful.

This morning I went to a service at a Baha'i center in the city and enjoyed meeting people that I can consider extended family. This is a bounty of being Baha'i; being a member of a world community that works toward the unity of humanity.
Tomorrow I leave for Phuket, a famous tourist destination, renowned for fantastic beaches and natural beauty. I will stay a week, then go to Vietnam on December 2.
Recently I updated my website with artistic photography, to include the photos I took in Africa and India, so have a look.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Impeccable Timing

THE DREAM has impeccable timing. I arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city, at the beginning of Loi Krathong, a major festival that brings foreigners and natives together in three days of revelries and merrymaking. Most of the big activities start in the early evening, continuing until midnight. Parades wind slowly through the streets, fireworks crackle, little boats with candles, flowers, and small offerings are let loose with prayers to float away in the river and into the night, and thousands upon thousands of huge paper bags rigged with burning candles are heated until they soar upward with good wishes, making the sky look like the milky way for as far as can be seen all evening long.

I am hooked on the Thai massage, so had a treatment and afterward, felt so good toward Noi, my masseuse that I asked her to dinner. She speaks only a few words of English, so her friend Nee came with us and we ate in a big hall with several hundred Thai people. Big woks, sitting atop hot coals are on the tables so you can prepare your own food and as much as you want exactly how you want it while a waiter serves you drinks. We roasted huge, fresh shrimp, and dipped them in spicy sauces, ate sushi, cooked meats and vegetables, made broths, ate fruit and had desert. The selection is extravagant, and the total price for all three of us was less than fifteen dollars. Since then, Noi and I have seen each other frequently, and despite the language difficulty enjoy an easy ambience together and have fun. I rented a motorbike for five dollars a day, and had my hair cut for the handsome price of two dollars.
Yesterday took me into the countryside and now I can say I have taken a ramble through a jungle on the back of an elephant. The same day included white-water rafting, trekking to a waterfall and swimming under cool, cascading water, and visiting a mountain tribe to walk through their village.
Thailand is beautiful, but it is the Thai people that make the country wonderful. They are warm, accepting and open, and the slightest smile brings a smile in return. I now have friends in northern Thailand who will be here for me when I return. Now I must go back to Bangkok and visit the embassy of Vietnam so that I can get a visa to my next destination country.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

River of Reverie

I don’t take anything for granted, so as THE DREAM reveals to me its wondrous surprises, I give thanks. In Kolkata I felt as run down as the dilapidated streets. In fact, just walking onto the dirty avenues and smelling foul air made me feel worse. Usually, I can handle such places while I engage and study the human factor, but with dysentery, my energy was gone. My thoughts often returned to the United States. Then, the night before I was to leave for Thailand, I received a surprise Email from a friend who had read my blog and she said she had good friends in Bangkok, and asked if I would like her to contact them. I am not entirely surprised anymore when charms arrive. I said yes, and the outcome is that when I arrived in Bangkok, Stan, a very likeable guy, two years older than me, met me and brought me to his spacious downtown apartment. That evening, we both enjoyed two hours of Thai massage. Stan’s wife is away and we have become friends.
The dysentery is gone, and I find that Thailand is appealing. Life seems relaxed compared to India, and people are open and warm. The famous Thai food is everywhere, streets are clean, transportation is good, and there is plenty to see and do. Today I visited The Grand Palace; an ornately designed and embellished complex established in 1782 that houses not only the royal residence (Thailand has a king and queen), but also a number of government offices as well as the renowned Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Visiting this place had the same effect on me as the Taj Majal.

I have been here about four days and have received six hours of Thai massage for about thirty dollars. It is so good and inexpensive, that if I lived here it would certainly be a regular habit. The treatment involves stretching and rubbing muscles in a fluid symphony of movement that is uninterrupted from beginning to end. It all begins with a change into loose, freshly cleaned cotton garments and the masseuse bathing your feet in warm water, then patting them dry. During the session, her whole body plays into the treatment—including sometimes stretching and kneading muscles and ligaments with her feet while she has hold of you with her arms. If an area is painful, pressure is lightened and touch becomes caress. The vibes are loving and peaceful, and it is like floating pleasantly down a river of reverie.

Sunday, November 02, 2008


This week feels as though I have died and been reincarnated at least nine times. One minute I am dazzled by a lovely lady in her colorful sari and her trail of sweet perfume, and the next moment stumble on a dying man covered with flies lying on the pavement with a beggar’s cup next to him and a stench in the air. India is not for the faint at heart or those with a weak stomach. It can be alluringly beautiful one second and utterly ghastly the next. Streets are whirling with rickshaws, cars, bicycles, trucks, buses, people, horse drawn carts, dogs and cows—all sharing the traffic jams. Gentlemen in tunics and women dressed in brilliant flowing silk are on the same sidewalks as lepers and deformed beggars in rags. Men, who feel the urge, simply stop and urinate in public next to the streets, and everyone ignores them. Vendors cook over the same gutters that are used to piss into. Trash, dirt and dust is everywhere, and the people appear oblivious to the filthy conditions except when they go in homes or businesses and take off their shoes.

I feel blessed because wherever I arrive, the first person to meet me has befriended me and become my guide and guardian. It truly feels as though angels are watching over me and sending the right person to enter my life, and then, the way is clear for me and I can just surrender and go with the flow. The more I surrender, the more dazzling the journey becomes. In Agra my angel was Ilyas Khan, an old taxi driver who drove me around and watched over me like a hawk to be sure nothing went wrong. He even bought me locks for my suitcases. In Varanasi, it was Rama, a young man who with his friend spent hours driving me around in a rickshaw all hours of night and day, and brought me to his home to meet his family. In Bodhgaya, the first person I met was Varun, a handsome, gentle young Indian who has a good grasp of English and some college education. Together we have visited maybe 20 Buddhist temples and driven far into the countryside to visit his grandmother who lives in a village. On the way, he said I would be the first foreigner to visit there. The children and I quickly bonded and they took me around so I could take pictures. At times, we walked hand in hand, and must have looked funny when one by one, other kids joined our group and whole tassel of us became a parade.

When I arrived in Agra, I had some prejudice about seeing the Taj Majal, since it is a premier tourist destination and has been hyped so much over the years. But when I first laid eyes on it in the morning light, I was immediately dazzled and smitten. It is bewitchingly beautiful. One of the most beautiful creations of man on earth, it has been called “ a materialized vision of loveliness,” and a “dream in marble,” and a “resplendent, immortal tear drop on the cheek of time.”
In Varanasi, (also called Kashi, also called Banares), the mysticism of the east captured my spirit. Varanasi is the most holy place for Hindus, who believe that bathing there in the mighty Ganges River cleanses them of sin. To be cremated in Varanasi and then have your ashes sprinkled in the river makes for certain entrance into heaven. That is why cremation fires burn day and night. To be on a rowboat and see the bonfires along the river at night is quite moving, also, as dawn breaks over its eastern bank when devotees are bathing, doing yoga, chanting, burning incense, going into the temples to make offerings, ringing chimes . . . an amazing scene.

Bodhgaya is where I have been the last few days. It is purported that Buddha received his enlightenment here, and a great many temples have been built. Devotees, especially monks from around Asia come here and can be seen everywhere in their brightly colored robes and with shaved heads. Governments of countries with big Buddhist populations, like Japan, Malaysia, and others, have sponsored the building of temples, and also donated toward helping the local people.

Now I have just arrived via train to Calcutta (Kolkata), and before next weekend expect to be in Bangkok, Thailand. Varun made arrangements for me to stay with his parents in Calcutta, and his father picked me up at the rail station. Unfortunately, I ate or drank something yesterday that made me sick. I have been cautious, but in the village, I was polite and ate some food and drank village water that was graciously offered. In the evening I was throwing up and going to the toilet every ten minutes. Today I woke up feeling terrible but took the train anyway. I can’t touch food for a while. Varun’s family is quite sweet but the bed I was offered is too small. I have found a hotel room that is adequate for the short time I am here.