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Happy Spirits in Bhutan

This post will cover the two most spiritual things I have ever experienced. I was deeply moved by both of them. Bhutan is a deeply Buddhist country. I have mentioned before that if I ever decided to convert, as if I were disciplined enough to try, it would be in Bhutan. I found that the Tantrayana sect of Buddhism appeals to me for some reason I cannot fathom. Maybe it is just that it seems unspoiled by outside influences, much like Bhutan itself.

On the longest touring day in our itinerary we drove through beautiful mountains.

Prayer flags for our loved ones.

Our drive took us to a  place called Punakha Dzong located at 3050 meters.

These are the Bhatan version of Stupas called Chortens. They were located on top of a hill at the 3000+ meter elevation.On a clear day, you get a great view of the Himalaya from here, but this was off season, so the weather was off as well. There were 108 (an important number) of these Chortens. They were built by the fourth Queen of Bhutan. Next to them is a temple the current King uses on certain ceremonies.

Each Chorten has an identical portrait of the Buhdda.

I climbed to the top of the hill for the view, and to sneak a smoke. Across the road I noticed acres of prayer flags strung from tree to tree. Prayer flags are just that. Little flags with prayers printed on them that certain sects of Buddhists hang where the wind blows so that the prayers are carried away to be answered.

When I came back down the hill Mary Ann let me know that there was a Monk there who sold strings of prayer flags. That is exactly what I had just wished for. I do not care if I am in a Christian church, a mosque or a temple, I always say a prayer for the sole of my departed son. I really wanted to hang a string of prayer flags for him.

Each string contains flags of multiple colors.The white flag is for the sole of dearly departed. I bought a string, and Mary Ann bought one also. We tied them together, which is cool I guess, the monk did not say otherwise.

The monk and our guide accompanied us up the hill to the spot where the flags get hung. It was over 3000 mtrs high and Mary Ann got a bit winded Not me, I was too excited.

When we got to the top of the hill, the monk and our guide helped us tie up the strings. We said a prayer. I felt more assured that my prayer helped my son Neal more than lighting a candle in St. Peter’s Cathedral.

Hearing the Voice of  Buddha.

From here we drove further until we reached what is called the most beautiful valley in the Himalayas

This is the fascinating valley of Phobjikha.  This is the winter home of black-necked cranes that migrate from the arid plains in the north to pass winter in milder and lower climate. Unfortunately for us the Cranes do not visit during low season. Yet it is easy to see that Bhutan has many unspoiled and beautiful areas. Like I keep saying, the last Shangri-La.

As spiritual as beauty can be sometimes, in Bhutan you just never know what comes next

At the edge of the valley is this magnificent monastery. Because it has a name too long to pronounce it is also called the Gangtey monastery. We went to visit it. I figured, “OK time to take off the shoes again, and see another temple” I was so very wrong.

This is the entrance to Gangtey monastery. No cameras allowed inside.

What we saw inside was a very large court yard surrounded by “dorm” rooms for a considerable amount of Monks. In the middle of the court yard was a temple. It was completely full of both Monks and civilians. They were all intently listening to an elderly Monk speaking a lesson. We peaked in, but did not feel like making a scene and trying to enter the crowded floor space. The man’s voice sounded wonderful, It sounded soothing. People were paying rapt attention.

When we left, our guide said how lucky we were to have heard the voice of Buddha. He could see by the look on my face that he owed me an explanation.

He went on to explain. In the Tantrayana sect of Buddhism, at any time there are three men walking the earth who are Lamas. One carries the spirit of Buddha, one the mind of Buddha, and one the voice of Buddha. That is who we had just been listening to. This was his monastery, these were his Monks. He is in his eighth reincarnation. His first life was in 800 A.D. Apparently he has clear memories from each of his lives. This is basically how they know he is a venerated Lama.

I was feeling very privileged. After seeing something like a million statues of Buddha in the last few years, to magically be transported to a place where I could hear his voice, made me start thinking…”am I destined for Buddhism?”  Probably not, there is no way I could tolerate a mosquito biting me without killing it.

That is it for spirituality for the day. Time to go beat my wife’s cat for scratching the couch. Share with a friend, subscribe, comment, anything. Just let me know you are out there!

 

Bhutan, Happy in Old and New Knowledge

Bhutan Protects the Timeless Knowledge

My wife Mary Ann strolling in the Bhutan National Library. This was not a stop on our itinerary, but being that Mary Ann is a professional Librarian, when we passed the library, we made sure our guide stopped so we could “tour” it.

There were three floors of the “old” library, each with a shrine to the Buddha.

Each of the floors had rack after rack of prayer scrolls which are quite old. Each prayer is contained in a silk bag. They are all cataloged. The cataloging system was not exactly Dewey-Decimal! Each of the prayers were used by monks for specific requests such as more rain, stop the rain, and so on.

The new section of the library was almost all in English. It contained books about the philosophy  and  practice of Buddhism. It even had a business section about how to run a business according to Buddhist principles!. It had a reading and study area. If I ever decide that I have the discipline to be a Buddhist (fat chance 😉 ) this is where I will go and read for a few months before I ever sit down with a monk.

Bhutan Enters the Digital Age!

Just outside of the capital city of Thimpu, there is a brand new IT Park

Almost finished, the government has already declared it open.

Built as a modern IT building, it nonetheless incorporates classic Bhutanese architecture. It is actually an attractive building. It uses a solar/water based system for air conditioning.

Space inside this building has already been leased to Microsoft and other international high tech companies. It will also serve as a start-up bed for Bhutanese entrepreneurs.

Facilities inside are as modern as any I ever worked in during my career in software development. I have high hopes for this place.

The Project Manager for the construction phase is an Australian that goes by the name of Shax. he keeps an interesting blog about the project and life in Bhutan. I suggest you read it, here.

This is Shax inspecting the water powered prayer wheel he incorporated into the landscape plan.

This is something he did NOT put in his plan. This is the most common weed in Bhutan. It grows EVERYWHERE. Gross National Happiness!

Next post, A sacred ceremony Mary Ann and I performed which was the highlight of my five weeks in Asia.

Please  share. Please return. Please comment. Please enjoy.

Bhutan, Gross National Happiness and Wonderment

Yes, Bhutan is a happy place. I mentioned before that the government actually does a yearly census to evaluate the level of happiness and look for ways to make people even happier, now THAT is a wonderment.

I also mentioned that there is a US$250 “tariff” you must pay to visit Bhutan. This is actually a good deal because it includes everything except beer and souvenirs. So, it cost us a bit more ;-). That tariff is actually in place to keep Bhutan from becoming over run with back packers like what happened with Nepal, India and Thailand. I know it sounds snobbish, but thank Buddha they figured that out. The result keeps everyone happy!  OK backpackers…snipe away in the comments.

One thing every country wants you to see are the handicrafts. Weaving, carving, and paper making. I always enjoy going because you know what…it is always different in every country, not to mention the best place for souvenirs. (My wife and I have a sort of unspoken but over riding rule, if we see something made, we are going to buy it.)

The distinctive patterns from each country are an excellent art form. At the gift shops, they will have everything for sale from bed spreads to scarves. Mary Ann bought so many scarves on this trip that I lost count.

An endless array of patterns, colors and opportunities to spend money!

Besides the crafts, tours in Asia always make sure you see the temples. I know I have been in more Buddhist temples than 95% of the Buddhists on the coconut. But like the weaving, they all have a certain distinctness to them. You have to look hard but it is there. In our travels I have seen the worlds smallest Buddha, and now I have seen the worlds largest under construction Buddha.  When he is done, he will just be a big beautiful Buddha, not the worlds largest. Some very rich man from Hong Kong is paying for this project. I wish I could be there when they consecrate it because I am sure it will be a spectacle.

He is probably 300+ feet high. I am sure if I looked it up, it would turn out that he is multiples of a magic number from the ground to his crown. They always make sure to do that. This Buddha sits on a high hill and overlooks the capital city of Thimpu, and you can see him from anywhere in the city.He is a wonderment.

The next post will take a quick look at Bhutan old and new. The ancient library and the brand new technology center. Whatever makes you happy! Stay tuned, share with a friend.

An Albino Turtle in Sri Lanka!

Have you ever seen an albino turtle? Betcha haven’t. We saw two today in totally different and amazing Sri Lanka.

But before I treat you to that vision I’ll fill you in our total day. It was a long fun filled one, so this post will be a bit longer than my last few.

In the morning we visited a mask museum/factory/store. Made from balsa wood and painted with natural colors these traditional masks are still used today to warrant off the spirits of poor health or bring good luck. I bought a couple for future use.

This young man carves the masks. He is a third generation artisan. He really liked my ball cap, but I could not work out a trade with him.

I am unsure what spirit this mask wards off or attracts, I just like it.

I found this outside the store.This is probably for a charity to buy sacred cows before they get sold to McDonalds. I just loved the wording, so I gave them a few Rupee.

From here we went on a “river safari”. I am going to cheat here and give you some pictures from two different “river safaris” we went on. Sri Lanka has many large rivers, and they all cut through dense jungle, so a visitor gets to see many birds and creatures.

A water monitor in Sri Lanka

This is a critter I had never heard of before . It is called a Water Monitor. He was about 6 feet long and resembled a giant lizard.

A watermonitor in a tree

On our second river safari we saw a half dozen of these Water Monitors. This one, in a tree, was keeping a close eye on me while I invaded his space with my Nikon.

We went a ways up river from the ocean into a very large lake. A boy and his monkey came out to greet us and pick up a dollar for getting his picture taken.

He was not happy when I gave him 100 rupee, which is roughly a dollar. I am not sure what the going rate is, but a dollar is a dollar kid. Go feed the monkey.

We went to a buddhist temple in the midle of the lake and actually saw a Bohdi tree.

Bohdi Tree

Buddha received enlightenment while sitting under a Bohdi tree. That exact Bohdi tree is in India. Cuttings from that tree have been replanted at many Buddhist temples. This is one. The tree casts a lot of shade and would make a perfect place to meditate. For a better understanding of Bohdi trees please go http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bodhi_Tree

Budhas hands

The monk who guided us around this temple pointed out the the Buddha does not have lines on his hand like you and I, his lines depict lotus flowers. Betcha did not know that! Here is proof!

Another spot in this lake is called Cinnamon Island, for obvious reasons. I read somewhere that Sri Lanka produces something like 90% of the world’s cinnamon.

Making cinnamon in Sri Lanka

There are certainly more modern ways to produce cinnamon, but this inhabitant of cinnamon island does it the old way. To make cinnamon sticks, he strips the inner layers of bark from a branch of the tree, then rolls them together. He also made cinnamon powder and cinnamon oil.

To cut to the chase, we now have a life time supply of cinnamon in our kitchen.

We moved on and found a guy in a Sri Lankan cayuco who rowed up to us. I thought he had something to sell, but he just wanted to share his piece of nature with us…

My wife happens to be someone who will cuddle a baby anything. Here she is on River Safari 2 cuddling a month old alligator. The teeth on this little guy were razor sharp. This purveyor of nature got 5 bucks for his efforts!

OK OK already, the albino turtle is coming up!

The only reason seeing an albino turtle was not on my bucket list is because I did not know they existed! Our guide stopped at the Kosgoda Turtle Center to show us the operation there. This is one of four such projects in Sri Lanka. Because they are all located at the beach, they were all wiped out in the tsunami, but have come back, mostly with volunteer labor. If your thing is turtles, you can volunteer there for as long as you like.

Turtle eggs, here and worldwide, are poached by the locals to eat. This practice is the main reason for the drop in turtle population in the world. Turtles have always had to deal with predators, but human overpopulation has made the situation even worse. These projects purchase turtle eggs from the locals for more than they can sell them to restaurants. Then they incubate them.

This is beach sand inside the turtle center where the eggs are incubated until they hatch. The signs denote the type of turtles (there are four in Sri Lanka) and the expected hatch date.

When they hatch they are transferred to a holding pond. They are held for three days. They were so cute that even I cuddled one. At the end of three days they are released back into the ocean at night to deter the bird population from snaring them. The center claims a 50% survival rate for it's turtles, which is considerably higher than the 1% in the wild.

And now for the great finale!

An Albino turtle in Sri Lanka

Here he is! He was captured in a fisherman's net and if he had not been an albino would have been eaten. But he was brought to the folks at Kosgoda for us all to enjoy. He lives in his own holding pond. He has been there for many years. When the tsunami hit, the dirctor ran out to the pond, grabbed him, and ran to safety. Aint he cute? There are two of them at Kosgoda.

That’s all for today dear readers. Thanks for being here, tell a friend, make a comment, or go to Sri Lanka to work with turtles!

My next post…up close and personal with BLUE WHALES!

Boxing Day Tsunami Photo Museum, Sri Lanka

On boxing Day in 2004, I think we all remember the incredible destruction caused by a tsunami all over SE Asia. Sri Lanka certainly did not escape the carnage.

The country has come back from the destruction. When you remember they have also had a civil war in the last decade, it is very impressive to see the recovery. Not to say a casual ride along the coast is bare of  examples of destroyed buildings. You can still see shells of concrete buildings, but they are the exception.

We were in transit when I saw this sign.

I gave out a shout to our driver, Farzan. This was NOT on any itinerary. However that is one big advantage to having a private tour, you can damn well stop where and when you want. This "museum" was just an old house that was probably pretty well destroyed on 12/26/2004.

The museum was started by a Danish expat and survives on contributions.  It is very moving and impressive. You walk around in this old house in a very somber mood.

This is a photo of a local train that along with the rails was completely destroyed. It was caught in the second wave, which I believe is always bigger than the first. Many many people died in this train because after the first wave they ran into the train thinking it would survive the wave.

This was not merely a photo museum. Half the space was dedicated to drawings by children survivors who were encouraged to draw what they experienced as therapy. This drawing of the train wreck especially caught my attention.

This painting seems to express the terror quite well.

We were told that not a single Buddha statue was destroyed. This one survived.

Some child summed it all up. Not only for the tsunami victims but for civilization.

We walked out of this museum, after making a decent donation, in quite a somber mood. I think that was the intent.

Thanks for reading. Share this with a friend. Next time you see a natural disaster on TV, be glad it wasn’t in your neck of the woods and try to contribute a few bucks to the recovery, please.

Next post, ALBINO AND BABY TURTLES!

Worlds’s Smallest Buddha

Our travel style,in case you are a new reader, is to hire a private guide with a comfortable car who is ours for they duration. We do not just show up and say “whatcha got.” We do our own research with every book we can find, and do not forget my wife is a university librarian. We also peruse all the social media sites, the usual suspects and a few that are truly suspect.

Then we start contacting guides using again every source we can find. If we send someone an email and get no response within 48 hours, that person goes on the dung heap never to be recycled.

That is pretty brutal, but pity the ones who get right back to us. We let them make a proposal in the form of an itinerary. Then we hack at it. They come back with changes. What we are really looking for is a bit of creativity and daring on their part. This consumes a lot of their time. Mary Ann leaves it up to me because I have nothing but time. This puts us in a distinct advantage. We may be playing on their field, but I’m Sandy Koufax and I don’t care where I am pitching.

The person who I ended up choosing was a guy named Johan at Noramix Travels available through www.Srilanka.com. I threw him a few curve balls, and he had a great turn at bat.

All that brings me around to this trip to Sri Lanka.

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Sun rise over Sri lanka from our Air Arabia flight, taken with my new IPAD

Our first hotel, The Mt Livinia, was chosen for us by the previously mentioned tour agency because one of the things I said I wanted was a taste of the colonial lifestyle. You can't get much more colonial than having this guy run your bags to your room. I ruined the colonial experince by tipping him.

Now that we were settled into a wonderful room our driver, Farzan, or as he put it “not Tarzan”, started taking us around Colombo. It is pretty port town dating back to the days of spice and tea trade. The Portuguese and English in turn ran the trading businesses through this town. Sri Lnka has been independent since shortly after WWII.

The country suffered through a civil war that just ended a few years ago. The tourism industry is recovering nicely in the south west quarter of the country and a bit slower elsewhere. Colombo shows no signs of the war.

Another thing we saw in Colombo, and everywhere else in Sri Lanka,  is a comfortable co-existence of Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian religions. You see it in the temples, mosques and churches and the cultural dress. I wish that were worldwide, alas.

We drove around and saw the city. Nice, but not much to blog about. However we did find one thing I have always wanted to see, a snake charmer.

I can scratch another item from my bucket list!

Then we went to a place that was a combination museum and temple.  This museum is more like a warehouse, but it’s full of valuable and beautiful treasures. Some of the shrines and buddhas were actually made of gold or completely covered in diamonds.  I was busy taking photos of this cute little Buddhist monk…

I just thought it was so cool, but really the monks in the buddhist religion are just normal young men who traditionally become a monk for a few months,or a couple of years, then go back to whatever career is their calling. This guy probably became a surfer.

…when my wife called out, “You gotta see this”. On my bucket list is the worlds largest Buddha statue, which I quess I will need to go to China to see. I had never considered the worlds smallest Buddha but here he was right in front of me .

My photo did not come out so well, so I stole this one from another blogger. This lttle Buddha is in a glass case (This picture makes the case look larger than it is) with a magnifying glass built in (on the right of the photo). If you put one eye up to it and look like a mad scientist into the glass jar you can see a very intricate carving, in gold, of the Buddha. The carving is about the size of a grain of rice, and absolutely beautiful. I do not know where it came from or any other details, but the curator of the museum was proud to tell me it was the world's smallest.

We had been travelling across the coconut all night and day, so we went back to the hotel,  had  our first of many wonderful Sri Lankan meals. We had to get up early in the morning for the trin to Kandeeland!

We were treated to this sunrise while we waited at the train station.

It was worth waiting for! Such a cute train!

Next post, Kandee! A wonderful city in the hill country, gateway to the tea plantations of old Ceylon!

Thanks for reading, tell a friend, pass it along, and remember, I get paid by the comment!

Kowloon, Lantau and Macau are Not Chinese Menu Items

They are instead three islands near Hong Kong, which we took whirlwind tours of this week. All three deserve more time, alas our time is limited. I have not blogged for three days simply because when we get back to our hotel, have some real menu items to eat, a couple of TsingTao beers (the best beer with Chinese food, but strangely not by itself), I just crash.  I suppose if we were 25 again, we would sample the night life in Hong Kong, which I hear is responsible for this smile on Buddha.

Happy is as happy does!

First, Kowloon.

Yes, believe it or not it is pronounced just like it looks like it should be pronounced. I have not delved into the history to find out who named it that, or why. Instead I will just assume it was where mad Cow Disease originated.

Kowlooning around!

Kowloon Is a five minute ferry ride across Victoria Harbor from Hong Kong proper. By the way, when the Chicoms take over in 35 or so years, there will be no more English names for things. No Queens Blvd. or Prince Albert’s can. Nope, all the names will change to Mandarin. This will be tough on the locals as well, because they speak Cantonese. So to get to Kowloon one can take the ferry, or go under the channel in an automobile tunnel, or take the metro in another tunnel. We purchased what they call an Octopus card which is good on all local public transportation except taxis. Public transportation, including taxis, are one of the few bargains in the SAR. The what? The Special Administrative Region, the official name for “one country – two systems” rule in existence today. After buying our card, we walked for ages, it seemed like miles, underground to get to the metro platform. The first thing you notice after your sore feet, is that there is not as much as a gum wrapper on the ground. Hong Kong is CLEAN. No one litters. The fine for littering is 5000 HK dollars. (1US$=7.80 HK$, you do the math)

keeping Hong kong clean is everyones job, not just the thousands of people who get paid to do it. You really do NOT see people litter here.

Kowloon is supposedly the bargain shopping area for greater Hong Kong.  The most famous of the various shopping destinations is called Ladies Street. This is a six block long pedestrian walkway with hundreds of booths on each side of the walkway. Once you have walked a couple of blocks you notice that every 10th booth or so is selling the same junk, And I Do mean junk.

Ladies Street Block after block of junk

Not that I like any Yankee cap, but this one on Ladies Street is the ugliest I have ever seen!

Now the only hawkers in all of HK are for tailors. There are probably more tailor shops in HK than any other city in the world. I thought Bangkok had a lot of tailors, but HK has BK beat. I hate being tall and white in Asia. The hawkers see me a block away and make a move for me. I have my radar out now. If I see a guy with a handful of business cards head toward me, I duck into a storefront, vitamin store, bathroom fixtures, lingerie, it does not matter. But they wait  for me outside. They follow me at least a block telling me I am dressed like a beggar and should have a suit made, or three, special price for three!  They pester me until I enter the hunting area of the next hawker for the next tailor.  Mary Ann, who is the best dressed librarian in Sharjah had already decided she would have a suit made in Hong kong to go with the half dozen she had made in Thailand. She had already chosen her tailor, who happened to be in Kowloon, so the day was not a complete waste.

At this point in the process, Mary Ann turned to me and said she had lost interest. Then the sales lady said something like 3 suits for the price of 1!. All I know is now we need an extra suitcase to get home.

Lantau Island.

Our next day in fab HK was spent on another group tour. we like tours. Usually we hire a private car tour, just the two of us and a hopefully all knowing guide. But in HK they are prohibitively expensive, so we ride on buses with20 or so other people. At least most of these people are so old that I feel relatively young.

Lots of old people, and us! There was one guy on this bus I refused to be anywhere near because he was sniffling sneezing and hacking. Luckily I did not catch whatever exotic disease he had!

Lantau is the home of the worls “largest- outdoor- sitting -bronze Buddha”. Of all the buddhas I have seen in my travels he s the largest. I still do not know where the largest Buddha in the worls is. I think I will find out and put him on my bucket list.

He was very big, but where is the biggest? I'll have to Google that one.

Maybe this is a better photo. I am still learning my camera, and it was a grey day. We spoke to a tourist who went the next day and he said that it was so foggy that you could not see Buddhas head!

Buddha sits on a hill over a very nice temple that is well used. Every temple sells incense for people to light and make prayers. This temple sold the largest incense sticks I have ever seen.

I hear these burn for a week. They only sell them in packs of three, for about 700 HK dollars. You must really need to pray hard!

Lantau also has an amazing aerial cable ride which takes about 30 minutes to go from Lantau all the way to Hong Kong. It passes right near the HK airport, giving an excellent view of all the planes taking off and landing. This is a very busy airport as you might expect.

I think every international carrier in the world flies to HK. Why not? It is rated as one of the top airports in the world. The thing I liked about it was that the immigration lines were well staffed and that they had a single line to stand in which fed all the stamping stations, so you do not feel like you got "in the slow line again."

It also passes over an example of typical housing ing in BK. People here live in high rise buildings for the most part. One of our guides says the typical apartment is 500 sq feet. A person does not own an apartment ,only big companies. However if  one chooses, you can rent a government subsidized apartment, but they are not as nice as these.

Buildings like these are all over HK. Crowded together. In mid town they are much dingier, and do not have the view. Our guide showed us the most expensive apartment building in HK where the apartments are 5000 sq. feet and rent for...US$21,000 a month. Plus a big dollar amount for a parking space. If you drive to work, you pay another huge monthly fee to park in a building in town. Therefore, public transportation is inexpensive and very well used. The buses and metros at rush hour are crowded as a beehive in spring. I think that the best business to have in HK must be elevator maintenance and repair.

On to Macau.

Macau was a magic name to me when I was 8 years old because that was where all the really good firecrackers were made. That was all I knew about it. Now that is not the case. The fireworks industry has gone away and is replaced by casinos. In fact Macau now makes  more money from wagering than Lost Wages, Nevada.  It is another SAR. It pays no taxes to the Chicoms. In fact there are no taxes in Macau at all, which makes it a shopping haven. It is a separate government from HK and you must pass through immigration and customs going both ways. (Just a bit of a brag…I counted my the stamps in my passport while standing in line returning to HK. When I get back to the UAE, they will have the honor of applying the 100th stamp in my precious blue book. Wow.)

Honk Kong is a very strict place. they have rules and rules and rules. They are serious about them and fine you on the spot for violating them. Littering I have mentioned. They also restrict smoking to little permitted smoking areas. You can always find them because they have groups of people puffing away. ut the weirdest rule I have run up against is the customs regulation about how many cigarettes you can bring into the country. Get this, the number is 19. One short of a pack. If anyone can explain that I will be glad to hear it.

Rules at a park in town.

Rules at a beach. Check it out...there is nothing left to do!

Macau being the gambling capital of the world,is now waging a civil war to build the largest casino. An old guy named Dr. Ho used to have the monooly on casinos in Macau. He also owns half the airport,docks, and other infrastuctures. Now, American and Australian companies are moving in.

This is your first view of Macau from the ferry. It is one of many American and Austarlian casinos in the SAR now. MGM and Wynn also have built monstrosities.

This is Dr. Ho's latest attempt at having the biggest gaudiest casino in Macau. Rumor is, it will be surpassed very soon. With all the money the Chicoms drop at the tables here, there is just no limit .

There is another type of gambling one can do in Macua. The stakes are your life, or maybe just your sanity.

From the top of this tower, you have three options. First is to walk around an un-barricaded sky walk. Next is to bungie jump off of it. Or you can just jump, attached to a rope that finally slows you down as you approach the ground. The height is 764 feet, the worlds highest bungie or free fall site. I just bough the t-shirt.

Macau was settled by the Portuguese. There is a long historyof Christain in-fighting in Macau with Dominicans, Franciscans and of course the Jesuits all trying  to reign supreme. One of the iconic structures of Macau is the remains of the church of St. Paul.

All that is left of a church built in the late 1600's. On the street next to it were two groups passing out literature, one of them was the church outlawed in mainland China"fong garonadinggong" or something like that.

 

And of course there are Buddhist temples and any tour in this part of the world will take you to a Buddhist temple. It must be in the licensing contract. Finally after visiting enough temples to start feeling outright religious, I found something unigue.

This is a singing water bowl. First you throw a coin in the bowl which is half full of water. Then you rub your palms quickly back and forth across the two handles until the water starts to actually bubble, and the the bowl sings. It is supposed to bring you good fortune. I was hoping it would help me take back some of Dr. Ho's money.

Our last stop was a casino, and thank Buddha we only got a half hour to gamble. I did not win any money…singing bowl or not. But I only had a half hour to lose. Mary Ann went to a facory outlet next door and further burdened our suitcases for the return tripwith some really nice and very inexpensive brand name clothes. If you come to this part of the world, HK is just fine. It is exciting and vibrant. But for better deals and more fun, be sure to visit Macau.

That is it for today.  My next post will cover the Hong Kong Harbor Symphony of Lights. Stay tuned. Tell a friend. Make a comment. You CAN write a sentence can’t you? I should say thank you to my regular commenters.

Blogging from 30 Thousand Feet Over the Arabian Desert

If you ever asked me in my younger days what would be an exciting week I may well have said something like “fly 5000 miles, have currencies from 4 countries in my wallet, and wake up wondering where I am.”

In my adult life I have had quite a few weeks like that. I am in the middle of another one.

The day before yesterday I was in Chiang Mai. A 90 minute flight on Air Asia took me to Bangkok for one night. At five a.m. I was on my way to the airport to catch a 7 hour flight to Doha on a Qatar Air Triple 7. After a three hour layover in the Doha airport, an hour on an A320 to Dubai, and hour in a cab to our townhouse, I spent one night in “my own” bed and got up with the call to prayer for my ride to the Sharjah airport.

As I write this I am in an Air Arabia A320 on my way from Sharjah to Beirut. Yes Beirut. They say it is the Paris of the Middle East.  (I have heard that honorific compared to winning the NIT.)

I have a relationship with the back of the seat in front of me that the second dog in a dogsled team must have with the lead dog.

But I love it.

Let us start this episode of The Other side of the Coconut in Chiang Mai. I had planned to be there a month. My plans were for nothing more exotic than oral surgery and subsequent recovery. The surgery went extremely well and the recovery was like finding a $20 bill in an old pair of jeans, pleasant and quickly gone.

I was able to change my flight home very inexpensively.

So my month was now a week. I was very familiar with Chiang Mai. I had done just about every dumb tourist thing to do that exists there. I had timed this trip to the dentist to attend Loy Kathrong, which if you are a faithful reader you already know I enjoyed immensely.

There was one thing in the Lonely Planet book that I missed last time, and was determined to see this trip. There is a village in the mountains north of CM, near the border with Myanmar (or Burma if you prefer). The name of the village is Mai Salong.

Mai Salong did not exist before a regiment of the Kuongmintang Army escaped from China after the revolution, complete with their families, horses and traditions.  Horses are rare in Thailand and the Thai word for these people translates to “The Galloping Chinese”.  For the first 35 or so years of their existence, the villagers survived, and thrived, on the opium trade. The village was inaccessible except on foot or hooves. Eventually, the King of Thailand told the people that they would be accepted in Thailand, but they had to quit running opium, and let the government build them a road to civilization. The King also sponsored a new industry, that being the cultivation, processing and sale of tea.

Lonely planet described Mai Salong as a mini Hong Kong, steeped in Chinese culture and architecture. Poppycock. The only thing it is steeped in is tea. Lots and lots of tea.

Bags of locally grown tea of different types. I tasted about a half dozen before I had to run and find a bathroom.

The Chinese lady who made me tea, then sold me a bunch of it.

Picking tea.

At the tea plantation I found this sign. If you can tell me what it means, I will buy you a cup of tea.

The only thing remotely Chinese about Mai Salong was this. It is the Chinese Martyrs Museum. The museum is dedicated to the Kuongmintang of the area that fought the Chinese communists in a nasty war in Northern Thailand in the late 1970's. We did not hear about it of course because we were in our own nasty war a bit east.

It was interesting to find four Christian churches and two mosques in Mai Salong. I do not remember seeing a single wat.

The following day I was up before the poppies bloomed to go see an amazing, yearly, but amazing event. The entire Monastic community of Northern Thailand, 12,500 strong, gathers in Chiang Mai in a ceremony to receive alms. The monks arrived in the dark and filled about five city blocks on one side of a raised platform.  The platform had a statue of Buddha and the venerated elders of the monastic community. The four blocks on the other side were filled with civil and military authorities. The point of the gathering, after much praying and chanting, was the thousands of monks walking thru the government/military people who put offerings in their big bowls. Normal civilians could also give alms. You bought them from an alms dealer nearby. The alms were mostly rice, noodles, bottled water and fruit juices. The bowls filled up quickly and people walked behind the monks and transferred the lot to large plastic bags. I would estimate that they collected at least a few tons of subsistence for the monasteries.    I will let the following photos give you a better picture of the event.

Monks gathered before dawn.

When the sun came up, it was like orange water color in the rain. Orange everywhere. My orange receptors went on overload.

There were old monks...

… tattooed monks

..and baby monks!

My alms dealer

This is also a custom. You pay a bit for a bird in a cage and set it free.

My bird going free. For all I know they fly back to the "Bird man" and he sells them to someone else. But thats cool.

The entire point of the morning is to watch the politicians and military people pay homage and give alms to the monastic community. Thailand ROCKS!

 

OK, the plane is now coming into Beirut. I am looking forward to seeing this city that is so full of history and conflict.

Thanks for reading this post. Tell a friend, make a comment, and stay tuned for the story of our visit to the land of Danny Thomas.

Buddha Buddha Buddha Buddha

They are everywhere. I think this was on a metro, maybe not.

Thailand is obviously a Buddhist country. It shows in their customs, their kindness, their complete avoidance of interpersonal confrontations, lack of crime, but most obviously in the fact that you can find a Buddha anywhere. Perhaps the only more ubiquitous thing in Thailand than Buddha is pictures of the King. Of all the pictures of him I saw, my favorite (which I failed to get a shot of, bummer) is a picture of the King with the KING, that being Elvis Presley! But I did get a picture of this picture;

Wooing his wife the queen to,,,Jailhouse Rock???

I downloaded this one off the net, I just love Google.

Elvis wooing the queen?

Ok, now I will take you along with us on our last tourist experience in Thailand. We booked two trips through the Thailand Authority of Touristm,  I snuck a look at the receipts other people payed for the tours, and if in Thailand, book through the TAT, it will save you a few Baht. We booked the trip the day before to The River Kwai and this trip to the ancient capital of Siam, Ayutthaya. Pronounce it any way you want.

The guide our first day spoke pretty good English and seemed to know what he was talking about. Our guide for this trip, neither. I tried desperately to make him explain what we were seeing. Other people on the trip asked me “what did he say? Where are we now?” I just shrugged. How was I supposed to know? I hunted down brochures or tourist info to help me understand what I was seeing. So don’t take anything I say here as gospel. In fact, never do that. OK?

Ayutthaya looks a lot like a mini Angor Wat. First, it is quite old. From what I gathered, some of the site is BC, but not BB. In fact, the biggest building on the site is where Buddha was buried. His remains have since been relocated, but my guide made it sound like they were now in Trenton New Jersey or somewhere. Damn, I could not understand this guy. There are many Chidas. Chidas are all over Thailand. They are ancient burial sites, constructed with a red brick.  These three were next to the Buddha’s burial site.

Three princes were buried here. As far as I could figure from our guide they were Larry, Moe and Curly, but I'm sure I'm wrong.

Ayutthaya was the site of a historically important war between Siam and Burma. Neither country is any longer called Siam (Thailand) or Burma (Myanmar) but at the time I guess it was important that they fought. Burma defeated Siam in the first battle and pretty much laid Ayutthaya to waste. What they could not burn, they stripped of gold. Then they beheaded all the Buddhas.

This is actually Mary Ann's Buddha. Someday I will photo shop her head on her Buddha.

We found a restored Mary Ann Buddha, and she paid her respects. I hope the Jesuits never find out!

I think she left a flower, or a baht.

There were many restored Buddhas. This is my favorite shot of one.

I just like the way I framed this shot. It is an ego thing I guess.

Ayutthaya is a wonderful place to walk around. You can tell it is special and sacred just by the vibe. Many of the edifices are in spectacular shape condsidering the ravages of time and war, for instance this huge Chedi/shrine.

Our guide did not mention any spiritual benefit from walking up this stair case, so I just took a photo.

My favorite Buddha at Ayutthaya was actually just a Buddha head. As far as I could discern from our verbally challenged guide, this head, after being chopped off a Buddha statue by one of the nasty Burmese  was buried and a tree raised it up in all its glory.

This is quite stunning to see.

I had to pay my respects to this combination of nature and religion.

Now the story of Ayutthaya (have you pronounced it right yet?) gets very interesting. It seems that two more battles were to come. Maybe because there was not much more to destroy, maybe because neither king wanted to upset Buddha any more, they fought the next two battles Mano a Mano. Yes. Imagine how wonderful the world would be if world leaders decided who won a war by taking each other on personally instead of sending young men off to die for their personal goals.

The first of these two battles looked like this. (Mind you, all I know is what I got from our guide, who I have maligned enough already, but I think I got it right)

In the first one on one war, the two kings rode their best "War Elephant" and fought each other like knights. I think they both rode white elephants. All white elephants then, as well as now, become the property of the king.

I do not know who won, blame the guide. But I do know that the second battle was even more weird. The second battle was, of all things, a Cock Fight!

An even better way to fight a war.

There is a really big shrine to this King just a mile away from Ayutthaya. That is where the previous two photos were taken. Now remember, somehow or another this King is remembered and revered in Thailand as, well, the Cock King. I am not sure what they call him, or what his name was, but get a load of these pictures of his monument.

All the kings of Thailand come here to pay their respects, as do the generals of the Army. AND, Cockfighting is a major "sport" in Thailand, openly advertised and practiced.

More shots, you’ll like these.

As tall as I am.

Beautifully ornate

These two cocks welcome you to the main entrance to the shrine.

I must refrain from many possible captions for this shot. It is taken in front of the shrine.

We had two more stops on the tour. The guide could not quite explain where we were going, so we just sat back and enjoyed the ride. The countryside in this part of Thailand is quite beautiful and very agriculturally productive. This is not rice country. Instead, corn, dairy cows, fruit orchards and more. Thailand has a lot of food to feed the people. This comes from the edicts of a benevolent king who strongly believes in ecologically sound practices.

The next site was an active Buddhist Monk community. It turned out to be very interesting, if not historically significant.

See Forrest? This is what you will look like if you keep gaining weight!

We were both wondering just how many Buddhas we could see in one day!

The entrance to this site was adorned with these two monkeys. Don’t ask why, I tried. The best I could get out of my guide was “we are out of cocks.”

I had a spiritual experience here. For 100 Baht you could “buy” a pail full of essential items to donate to the Monks. Mine had food and an umbrella. The money is then used to maintain the temples, and the Monks need this stuff. An aside…all young men in Thailand become Monks in their youth, for as long as they want to. They take vows of poverty and chastity. Some don’t stay in the order very long, but some do.

When you make the donation to the attending Monk, you get blessed. It was of course all in Thai, but I felt the blessing and still feel blessed.

He chanted, waved burning incense over me, then sprinkled me with holy water. This ritual was a bit of a risk for a good Catholic girl like Mary Ann so she passed.

Then I found some Buddhas bound for Bocas!

When they show up at Lily's pier, treat them nicely please.

There was another reclining Buddha here. For 20 Baht you can buy alms. The alms consist of a candle, an incense stick, and a piece of gold leaf. You adhere the gold leaf to the Buddha. Some buddhas are covered in these small (think thumbnail) sized pieces of gold. I decided that I would honor my favorite Buddha.

He had been desecrated in the first war of Ayutthaya and the burn marks still show. Couldn't they just let him sleep?

I put my piece of gold leaf on his toe being careful not to wake him.

OK, just a few more Buddhas, bear with me.

A jade Buddha. He was translucent. I could not get the green glow because the lighting was wrong, but it was beautiful.

And now, the biggest Buddha of the day.

He was the biggest Buddha of the day. I still do not know where the biggest Buddha in the world is. My guide, when asked, mumbled something about "China Town in Topeka", but again, I am sure I am wrong.

And a parting shot.

Well kind readers, thats all from Thailand. Mary Ann and I are back in Sharjah. I will write a quick post about that soon.

Future adventures? In two weeks we go to Nepal! In November, probably Borneo. No joke. Stay tuned, and please comment.

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