Saturday, December 27, 2008

Humanity Is One

THE DREAM is my home and I am content in it. Wherever I am in the world THE DREAM is providing me all I need. I have no longing for a physical home, and the fewer possessions I have the more freedom I feel. In a Kris Kristofferson song called Me and Bobby McGee, the blues singer Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.” It is profound to have nothing to lose, since then, there is everything to gain. On the other hand, the more possessions a person has, the more they risk losing. This causes a certain amount of fear. I am aware that since I began buying goods in India, Thailand and Vietnam, I have felt less free. Now, there are loans to repay, and I often feel responsibility for all the items—their safe arrival in the USA, storage, and eventual sale and repaying of debt. I feel obliged to return to Santa Fe soon, and so I have ticket on January 15 from Auckland, New Zealand to Santa Barbara, California where my parents live. By January 20 I will be in Santa Fe. Certainly, THE DREAM will not end with my traveling, since it is the fabric of my consciousness.

The International Baha’i conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia included communities from Korea, Singapore, Myanmar, and Malaysia. The main language was English, with translations in Malaysian, Timor and Mandarin. About 3000 people attended, and the main focus of the gathering was discussing the progress of consolidating, and teaching the Baha’i Faith to the greater world at large.

Tomorrow, I leave for Australia. I will arrive at Gold Coast, an area famous for it’s fine beaches and upscale development. On January 4, I fly to Auckland, New Zealand, my last country before I return to the USA on January 15. I say “home”, but really, THE DREAM is my home.

More than ever before, I feel the truth of Baha’u’llah's words: “The world is one country, and mankind is its citizens.” Ábdúl Bahá said, “Wars are caused by purely imaginary racial differences; for humanity is one kind, one race and progeny inhabiting the same globe. In the creative plan there is no racial distinction and separation such as Frenchman, Englishman, American, German, Italian or Spaniard; all belong to one household. These boundaries and distinctions are human and artificial, not natural and original. All mankind are the fruits of one tree, flowers of the same garden, waves of one sea. In the animal kingdom no such distinction and separation are observed. The sheep of the East and the sheep of the West would associate peacefully. The oriental flock would not look surprised as if saying, "These are sheep of the Occident; they do not belong to our country." All would gather in harmony and enjoy the same pasture without evidence of local or racial distinction. The birds of different countries mingle in friendliness. We find these virtues in the animal kingdom. Shall man deprive himself of these virtues? Man is endowed with superior reasoning power and the faculty of perception; he is the manifestation of divine bestowals. Shall racial ideas prevail and obscure the creative purpose of unity in his kingdom? Shall he say, "I am a German," "I am a Frenchman," or an "Englishman" and declare war because of this imaginary and human distinction? God forbid! This earth is one household and the nativity of all humanity; therefore the human race should ignore distinctions and boundaries which are artificial and conducive to disagreement and hostility. We have come from the East. Praise be to God! we find this continent prosperous, the climate salubrious and delightful, the inhabitants genial and courteous, the government equable and just. Shall we entertain any other thought and feeling than that of love for you? Shall we say, "This is not our native land, therefore everything is objectionable?" This would be gross ignorance to which man must not subject himself. Man is endowed with powers to investigate reality, and the reality is that humanity is one in kind and equal in the creative plan. Therefore false distinctions of race and nativity which are factors and causes of warfare must be abandoned.” Ábdúl Bahá, from Foundations of World Unity

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Time And Space In Dream

What happens to time and space in dreams? For me, it seems youthfulness exists in dreaming because events occur that are not bound by physical law. All sorts of fantastic actions occur in dreams, and the occurrences are effortlessly woven together into a symphony of experience.
THE DREAM has provided me with a symphony of experiences that make me feel I have stepped beyond the ordinary into magic. Within a day of arriving in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, I found myself living on a Chinese junk, a flat-bottomed sail boat, with 10 other international travelers and five crew, touring Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The boat cruised very quietly and with hardly a stir over placid water in a bay among dense clusters of 1,969 limestone monolithic islands, each topped with thick jungle vegetation. The islands rise spectacularly from the ocean and several are hollow, with enormous caves that we explored. My sleeping cabin was all wood, and cozy, and meals were served on white linen with delicious food. I felt transported by the beauty of my surroundings. Then it was back to bustling Hanoi, which actually intimidated me with its liveliness. The streets are small and teem with life. Often, sidewalks are impassable because they are being repaired with new stone, or are crammed with parked motorbikes, or street vendors are cooking food and customers are sprawled about, sitting at stools and eating. Traffic is ceaseless and whirls by; mostly people on motorbikes, frequently tooting horns. Small shops, eateries and hotels of every description are crammed together wall-to-wall, and often someone is out front, begging passersby to come inside. I became lost several times and could not understand the Vietnamese street names. In the end, I bought some artwork and became an ingredient in the big bubbling-over pot that is Hanoi.

Next, I flew to Danang, mid-way on the eastern coast of Vietnam and then took a one-hour taxi ride to Hoi An, a well preserved and quaint town of about 80,000 inhabitants that is famous for custom manufactured clothing. Incredibly, over 500 tailor shops thrive here. I have never seen anything like it. I have had two suits and 7 shirts made. Shopkeepers take measurements one day, and the next day, your custom ordered clothing arrives. It is all expertly handled with a wide assortment fine materials to choose from. The prices are so low, and quality so good that everyone is smiling in the end. Hoi An is relaxed and scenic as well. I have strolled around for hours, photographing and making friends with locals. Yesterday, a friend and I went swimming at a marvelous beach in DaNang. Hardly anyone was there except for some surfers and a handful of locals selling small things along the shore. We visited Marble Mountain, where generations of sculptors have been making carvings from marble. The quality is excellent and again, I ended up buying artwork for investment and resale in the USA. My friend helped me get the best prices.
Tomorrow, I return to Saigon for three days, and then I am off to an international Baha’i conference in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Odd, But True

My visa in Vietnam has been extended, so now I am not under time constrictions for my visit. This afternoon I fly from Nha Trang to Hanoi. I am told the weather there is colder and it has been raining. Okay, it is all part of THE DREAM, which is giving me everything I need. So is the chest-cold I contracted in Saigon and have had all the time I have been in Nha Trang. And this was just after I bragged to my friend Hang (who had a chest cold) that I could not catch a cold because I never get sick. Here in Nha Trang, Trinh got me an appointment with a Vietnamese doctor who speaks English who prescribed some medicines and now I am recovering. For the most part, this week I have been lying low in my hotel. I have been around on the motorbike I rented and bought more silk items. The beaches are beautiful, and if not for my cold, I would have gone swimming in the ocean. I have been to Trinh’s family’s home several times for socializing and lavish meals that her mother prepared. The food is virtually fat free and delicious. Last night, a big pot sat on a hotplate in the middle of the table and we first cooked and ate fresh squid, then jumbo shrimp, and last, beef and broccoli with steamed rice. Always, there are tasty sauces to dip into. Chopsticks are normal, except with soups, but knife and fork are offered. A big reason the people in Asia are attractive is that everyone is trim. They look healthy and show good figures. (As for me, I am now pulling back four notches further on my belt since I left the USA.) I have also been enjoying the broad faces with high cheekbones, black hair, slanted eyes, broad noses and full lips. Especialy beautiful when all this is combined with a beaming smile.

I have to say a few words about my trustworthy travel gear. For over ten months I have been traveling with two suitcases and nothing else. I have lost things, stuff has worn out and been thrown away, and things have broken or been abandoned. The best is still with me: my Clark shoes which I have owned for about four years have probably walked around the earth by now and still feel comfortable. They have been in marble-floored museums and also stuck in jungle mud, but they keep serving me. In Santa Fe, before I left, I bought an Eagle Creek suitcase that has wheels, is rugged, can be worn on my back, and comes apart into two pieces so I can use the smaller section as a backpack. It fits in the overhead bin of the airplanes and has endured quite well. My other standard suitcase, a Samsonite, has been on many trips besides this world tour and has taken an extreme beating but continues to be durable. The handle extends and contracts, it has not ripped or torn, the zippers work and nothing is broken. My Nikon D200 camera has been bounced around and in all kinds of weather but continues functioning well. My only problem has been specks of dust that sometimes get inside, but I have been able to get it cleaned. Last, but not least, my Apple MacBook Pro laptop computer, which is essential for my websites, E-mails, online bookings, bookkeeping, personal records, music, photography . . . so many things, is excellent. It has stayed with me on airplanes and boats, in hotels and on Safari, been jostled and violently shaken, subjected to many temperatures, turned on for days at a time, and dropped on a hard airport floor and bent so the CD player does not work, but it keeps doing what I need, for which I am very grateful.
I must say that it is funny seeing so many plastic Christmas trees and holiday decorations at shops in Vietnam. The same with Thailand. These are not Christian nations and Vietnam is socialist. Often too, familiar Christmas carols are being played in the background. Odd, but true.
Let us see what Hanoi is like.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Beauty And Adventure

The day I left Thailand, its high court decided to make the prime minister step down, and banned him and his cronies from politics for five years. This is what the 50,000 protestors occupying the Bangkok airport wanted, and they celebrated, announcing the re-opening of normal activities. Meanwhile, I negotiated through the troublesome situation and managed to arrive in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), only a day late.
Immediately I began finding friends. The evening I arrived, two young security guards at my hotel caught sight of me in my safari hat and one called out to me with a big smile, saying “hey cowboy!” They beckoned me to sit between them and one put his hand on my knee while the other massaged my back and we talked. The next day I found myself on a motorcycle behind Hang, a woman who sells handmade items in street markets. THE DREAM brought us together to become friends. She has acted as my agent while I bought lacquered boxes, silk clothing and carved wooden objects for resale in the USA. Since then, we have spent hours each day together, shared meals, gone dancing several times and one day, she posed in traditional Vietnamese silk dresses while I photographed.
People for the most part are eager for contact, and at least in the cities, speak some English. Many people are street vendors or tourist industry employees and must communicate, at least enough to say, “Hey mister, what are you looking for?” Mostly, street stalls are worked by women and often the younger ones are quite forward. I have had my arm grabbed and been pulled into stalls by smiling ladies who want me to buy something or other.

Vietnam is one of the few socialistic nations on earth but you would not know it. A raging free market thrives everywhere. The Viatnamese currency is in dong. One dollar is worth 16,750 dong. So, at an atm machine I can be dispensed two milion dong at once. It is tricky, especialy since I do not see perfectly well without reading glasses, and several times I have given over a big note, not reading all the zero's. In a restaurant, when the bill was 40,000 dong, I gave a 500,000 dong note, thinking it was 50,000. Fortunately, the correct change came back, but I was surprised. This has happened more than once and now I am very careful.
It seems there is no lack of commerce or business. I have never been anywhere that had so many motorcycles in the streets. Actually, it is good since fuel is saved and streets are less crowded with cars.
My brother Wade lives in the Washington DC area with his Vietnamese wife of three years, Huong, and their one year old son. Today I am going from Saigon to Nha Trang, a city of 500,000, famous for beautiful beaches on a gorgeous bay. I will visit with Huong’s family, especially Trinh, a young woman who speaks fluent English.
I need to extend my visa which expires December 19. Vietnam is full of beauty and adventure, and I want more time here. Places in the north, like Hanoi, Hoi An, Halong Bay and Saba beckon.