Friday, August 27, 2010

ice cream manners

Having admired another sparkly wat, I walked out into the courtyard, still marveling at the mystery of the shiny Buddhas and colorful murals. I still don't really know what it all means. Buddhism seems so odd to me, and a part of me feels like I visited a big theme park. I'm not sure I understand much more about this way of life, but I've watched and learned enough to understand some basics--take off my shoes, cover my knees and shoulders, never touch a monk, kneel and bow before Buddha images. It's tough to get answers when you don't know how to ask questions, but it's amazing what one can learn just by observing.

When I stepped out into the sunlight, I saw a bunch of baby monks eating ice cream. A fuzzy-headed orange cloud of little boys gathered around a man with a little cart, and he handed them little cups of ice cream, one at a time and collected a coin from them. This particular town, Luang Prabang, Laos is known for its elaborate alms ceremony in the morning. Each morning, just before dawn, all of the local monks parade in a line to receive offerings of pinches of rice from the townspeople, and that serves as their meal for the day.

It was surprising that the kids were eating ice cream as there are such strict dietary guidelines, but it seemed celebratory and special. After all, who wants to associate with a religion that denies kids ice cream?

I was getting a little envious, considering whether to walk over and get some ice cream myself, though it seemed as though it would have been awkward, like maybe I was interrupting a private moment between the baby monks and the vendor. Suddenly a woman, the only other foreigner around, strode confidently over to the monks and asked the vendor for an ice cream. She paid, walked a few steps over to a stray dog lying nearby, and placed the cup in front of him, cooing at him, and left it there for the dog to eat. Her boyfriend took pictures.

Everyone else around gaped.

"How was your trip?"

People ask me, "How was your trip?" and I think about the many adventures. I'm bursting with things to tell them, but I need a shortcut, something brief to let them know how meaningful it was to me without droning on. How could I possibly sum up one month in a few minutes?

"I learned that there are real live Buddhists; they aren't just on tv!"

That'll have to do.

any morning. this morning.

I awoke early, not on purpose, and now I am thinking of this poem:

Any Morning
William Stafford

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can’t
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won’t even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Thailand has many cultural norms that are unusual to Westerners. Don't pat the top of anyone's head. Don't point the bottoms of your feet at anyone. Take off your shoes before entering a home or a wat. Bow regularly. They're really not all that challenging to learn, but it's good to be aware of them.

Many of the rules relate to Buddhism. Buddha is everywhere here. I'm currently on a boat and the cabinet of lifeboat vests is stored next to a framed portrait of Buddha. Many people stop walking down the street and bow when they pass an image of Buddha. Monks abound. It is, as you might imagine, important to respect Buddha.

On a train ride back from a day trip spent marveling at monkeys climbing on a temple, Avni, one of my travelmates, asked to have a look at my postcards. The train was packed with Thais, mostly schoolchildren and people on their way home from work. They filled the seats and the aisles, and we were trying to pass the time. I retreated to my book, but Melinda and Avni were chatting. It was only a matter of time before they started playing a game. They're good at making up games, but I was too tired to take part.

A few minutes later, I heard slapping, followed by gleeful laughter, I looked up to find Melinda and Avni were playing a new game they made up using postcards: They placed the postcards face up one at a time, until . . . SLAP!

They were playing Slap Buddha. The rules were like Slap Jack, but a bit problematic. Think Slap Jesus. On a train in the Bible Belt.

I exclaimed, “Are you slapping Buddha?” I was a bit too loud. Melinda and Avni grew quiet, realizing what they had done. We all looked around the train to see who had been offended.


What it's like in Thailand

Thailand is like a Thai restaurant. No kidding. There are twinkly lights and sparkly things and shrines and Buddhas and nice people and good smells all around. Even though it seems like it could be overwhelming and tacking, somehow it remains tasteful, dreamy.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


I think Thailand has more 7-11s than Northern Virginia, and that is saying something.

Monk Watering

After a long day of wandering from wat to wat, I was hot, hot. I was trying to focus on the beauty and majesty of the temples, but all I could think about was the dripping sweat and the pesky flies. I looked over and saw a monk watering the grass, pulling the hose behind him. I walked over, motioned for him to shower me and watched him grin as he directed the spray at me. I bowed, thanked him, and went back to touring wats, much refreshed.

Riding to Chiang Khang

We've hired a car and driver to go from Chiang Mai to Chiang Khang today, about a 6 hour journey. I'm sitting in the passenger side, the left side. I tried to climb in the driver's side by accident. As I type, I'm looking at Thailand go by.

Two observations:

1.According to his identity card, our driver's name is Mr. Deth.
2.The car is actually chilly from all the a/c. I looked down to see if I could turn it down and noticed that there is no heat in this car. Just a big circle of blue with no red option. Apparently, it is never cold enough in Thailand to merit having heat in a car. In the event of such low temperatures, one might have to resort to opening the windows.

Tomorrow, we cross the Mekong into Laos!

Friday, July 16, 2010


Before I left, many people were concerned about my safety. Rightfully so. There was an encampment of red shirt rebels camped out in the middle of a busy part of Bangkok. There was violence. Some people died. A colleague who frequents Thailand exhorted me not to come.

A month or so after the uprising, things had quieted down. Melinda, Avni, and I arrived.

The funny thing is that I feel safer in Thailand than I have in many other countries. I walk down the streets and through the markets unmolested. I take care with my possessions, but I don't feel threatened. I have seen absolutely no evidence of political activity. Funny that before I came, all I thought about was the possibility of violence, and now that I'm here, I spend my time visiting Buddhist temples and hanging out with monks.

some experiences

I paid to put my feet and lower legs in a fish tank and have some special kind of fish (gara funa?) nibble away at me for a bit.

I went on my first train sleeping car during the overnight voyage from Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai! I loved it. Forget walking across countries. Sleeping across them sounds even better.

Yesterday I was massaged by an ex-con as a part of a program where women prisoners are trained in the art of Thai massage and then have jobs at this special salon afterwards.

two things

I'm typing and looking out the window as I sit at the restaurant, a couple of monks have walked past, clutching their orange robes. Also, I noticed that there is a little basket of tissues on the table discreetly placed next to the toothpicks. Good thing, after one bite, my nose had started to run.


I visited my family in my quaint hometown before coming to Asia. While I was there, my mom and I went to pick up some grinders at Bennie's, a small local market. My first job was working as a cashier there after school, and I knew nearly everyone who came in. I still recognize some familiar faces when I go there. I was a bit surprised when I met the eyes of this older gentlemen who I was sure I knew and he didn't show a flicker of recognition. I was positive I knew him. I felt a little hurt.

Then I realized that it was Morley Safer, a local resident and 60 Minutes host.


We've only met on Sunday nights and haven't exactly met.

We met up again a couple of days later in Bangkok when his face peered out at me from a television in a shop window.

What a weird world.


This morning I saw a larger than life size figure of Ronald McDonald with his hands held together, leaning forward in a traditional Thai bow.

pod people

Normally, I'm okay with not being fabulously wealthy, but when I boarded the plane from New York to Hong Kong, a 16+ hour direct flight, I walked past those pod people, those people in First Class with a full private cell with recliner, I hated them. My own brother is a pod person, and for that moment, I hated him, too. I'm not proud of it, but there it is.

go go go

We've been so busy seeing everything and doing everything that I haven't taken any time to blog. Today I finally sat down to write (over an amazingly delicious meal at a veggie restaurant where I will be taking a cooking class tomorrow), signed into blogger, and found that it was entirely squiggles of Thai characters. Even the signs here have translations! I figured it out, though.

So I think I might have to undertake some kind of twogging or bleeting because I have so much I want to record but have insufficient time to elaborate.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Aun Yong

I'm sitting in Logan airport, enjoying some ice water. I love ice. I miss it so much when I'm in foreign lands. Last year for my birthday celebration in Barcelona, Scott gave me a bag of ice.

I have roughly 24 hours of travel in front of me. Boston to NY to Hong Kong to Bangkok. I'm going to the other side of the world. A month in Thailand and Laos with two dear friends, a grand adventure!

I've never really traveled someplace where I don't speak the language, unless London counts. It makes me nervous to think that I won't be able to chat with the locals. That is one of my favorite parts of traveling. It also makes me nervous that the signs will all be in squiggles.

Also, the malaria meds. Ugh.

But the very idea of Asia is fascinating to me. I know nearly nothing about what to expect, and that makes it even better. Buddhists! Monkeys! Exciting fruits!

Flight to NYC leaving soon, no more free wifi. I'll write when I can.