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Saturday, July 31, 2004

a Buddhist Ceremony 

was held at my friend's guesthouse in Luang Prabang, and we were there to witness and photograph it. 

The elderly monks filed in, an hour after the ceremony was scheduled to start. 
They lit candles,


and novices sat outside with the mostly western rabble.

They passed around a ball of string, each of them holding a length of it in his hand.



The audience's attention was fixed on the monks as they began chanting, variously atonal or melodic.


One of the front desk girls kept glancing outside into the sunshine.


At the end of the ceremony, the grande dame of the guesthouse knelt in front of offerings, and brought out food and drink for all.


A group of elderly laypeople tied strings round the wrists of westerners and one another, wishing us safe travels and a speedy return home.

Of course I've no idea where home is these days.
It's simplistic to say that "home" is within me, as I've said for years now, wandering between temporary homes.

Several weeks ago, on the Mekong boat to an ancient sacred place in Laos called Pak Ou cave, I met a flaming-yet-stately Englishman, perhaps thirty years my senior. He was travelling with his dimunitive Thai lover this time around, and has met many American expatriates throughout his travels.

After a brief discussion of English/American/Korean/Thai/Lao politics and philosophies, he asked me, not when I planned to return to the States, but:
"Do you ever plan to live in the States again?"

"Very perceptive of him," the boy said last night when I told him, as we lay in bed after an early night filled with heat and rain.
I rolled over in tears.
"I don't belong anywhere!" I sniffed.  In a mood to feel sorry for myself that day, after reading too much of family squabbles and disagreements over lifestyles and decisions.

The boy looked attentively at a point somewhere near my navel, though his thoughts were likely elsewhere, probably somewhere inside his Italian phrasebook.  I delved back into a tattered copy of Erica Jong's Fanny, and was soon lost in the bawdy dialect of pyrates and scatological sea captains and masquerades.

Now it's time to run and meet him at Bangkok's massive Chatuchak - weekend - market.  Belated apologies for the inconsistently-sized pictures; every computer seems to display the photos differently!




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Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Monks & Bedbugs 

"Do you want to come with me on the monk run?" my friend - the aggressive photographer - asked. "5:45am, the street corner over there, bring your camera!"


The next morning, we spotted them in a silent line, their orange robes wavering in the light mist.


Every morning, the monks walk barefoot around the city with metal pots,


and people give alms of sticky rice or small change or leaf-wrapped delicacies.


This woman charged me the tourist price of $1 per bag of alms, and kept putting more inside my basket.  Finally I had to wave her away.  I call her the "saleslady".


Th monks  range from young to old,


and from swift to slow in their pace.


They walk according to their rank: the oldest stride first, and the youngest follow.

This happens throughout SE Asia nearly every morning, and it's a wonder to gaze upon, even from the sidelines. 

On a more earthly note, as I read in bed yesterday afternoon, I killed something that I was convinced was a bedbug.  To call the seedy guesthouse where I've been staying "a dive" would be generous.  Massive cockroaches in the courtyard, dogs roaming around breakfast tables, etc.
This creature I plucked from my skin could've been a flea...I'm not certain.  Engorged with blood, it spattered all over my book.
After research, it might've been too small to be a bedbug, but I changed to another room (had already paid for my last night at the place) and turned everything inside-out...twice!


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Saturday, July 24, 2004

Luang Prabang 

in Laos is a world heritage city, and I liked it so much I ended up staying there for 8 days.

Met a guy in LPrabang who teaches in the same Korean town that I have for a year.
He's a giggly Puerto Rican guy who's acclimated to Korea with his laughter and desire to connect to Koreans; after all, he's been there for 7 years. (SEVEN?!?) 
Still, he needs to escape it as much as anyone else does, and we both grew restless when a group of poet-college Koreans sat next to us at a night market.  They laughed and pointed at the food, their voices reaching that pitch I know so well...men snicker, their voices cracking when they speak, and the women shriek plaintively.  "Take picture?" they asked the Lao girls who hovered over steaming pots.
Unable to stand it any longer, after a moment I added: "Please?"
They looked sheepish, and I was abashed at my rudeness, but my friend just smiled.

From the market:


This guy's also an agressive photographer, and by taking pictures with him for several days, I lost some of my inhibitions.


Monks from a temple on the unfortunately named Phousi Hill (there was also a Poussi Massage down the street....forgot to take a photo of that one, though!)


Silver nagas guarding another temple


Glimmering light inside a somber temple


"Monk and Monkey!" my friend laughed. "You've gotta get one of this guy!"


Masked dancers from a "Royal Ballet" cultural performance


Gorgeous dancers from the performance...I like this one...impressionistic.  Magical.


Some snakes preserved in Lao Lao (Lao rice whiskey...damned strong stuff...we had our first taste at 9am)


A last view of lovely restoration done at yet another temple.

Next time: photos from the "monk run". 


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Friday, July 16, 2004

Laos and more 

Flashback to Korea: pink dildo machine from our last love motel.
For a solid plastic model: under $10US
For the motorized version (a much better value): under $20



To the recent: from Ayutthaya, Thailand's ancient capital.



We had "beans" - shaped like a pair of horns, brownish-black on the outside, and white starch crumbled into our mouths as we bit through the thick, salty exterior.

Fried banana chips - green (savory) and yellow (sweet).

Opaque grey soup with onions, greens, a hint of spices.

We scooped sticky rice with our hands from large woven baskets, dipped it into chili sauce - fire up the nose, a rush to the senses - then tore pieces of rich greyish chicken and stuffed it into our mouths, laughing, drinking BeerLao and speaking with our hands.

Two more slender men: obsidian-eyed, graceful - rode up the dirt path on motos. With a live chicken in each hand. One man descended from our platform and grabbed the chickens by their feet. Held them up for us. Handed one chicken to another man and spread his on a stump I hadn't noticed before. Grasped a thick blade and hacked off the chicken's neck in one blow. Handed the animal to a boy and then returned to his dinner as though nothing had happened.

Later, a drunk policeman took me on his scooter back to my guesthouse, after many hugs and thank-yous.



Reclining Buddha, Ayutthaya (Christo'd be proud of this one)



Crooked golden spire, Ayutthaya



Khmeresque Buddha, Ayutthaya



Offerings and ants at a temple in Vientiane
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Sunday, July 11, 2004

Vientiane 

the capital of Laos, is a sleepy French colonial town near the Thai border.

It's been overcast & humid these past few days, and the glint of temples' golden spires are muted by giant clouds in a sky where the horizon stretches further than I'd remembered was possible, living as I have in a Korean city filled with white soulless buildings: giant teeth slashing up mountains and sky.

Last night I sat down at one of the tin-roofed stands outside the market and had a beer while trying not to imagine the full length of tanned skin Viennese travel companion possesses (his smiles are easy and his conversation never flags...so far I've managed to avoid doing the silly things I tend to do while travelling alone).
A tiny Lao boy put a paperclip under his nose; a slender steel mustache, and he hid behind a pole to escape my blue eyes. I laughed and motioned to my camera. "Picture OK?" He loved looking at his image on my digital camera.

His aunt then invited me to dinner: "You like chicken soup and beer?" said her friend, a Thai woman who lived in Laos. I nodded.
"He is policeman," she pointed at a companion. "And so is he, so you will be fine, don't worry."
We set off on the policeman's motorbike in spitting rain past one temple after another and another. Concrete buildings disappeared and wooden houses on stilts took their place. Thick tropical plants replaced dirt clearings. Rice fields stretched into a darkening sky.

We drove onto a dirt road and under a stilted house.
Two couples already sat on an elevated platform covered with woven mats and plastic tablecloth. Large cows wandered after boys in a field twenty meters away. Wild chickens screeched a call-and-response, nearing the end of their free-ranging days under rattan baskets.

I must pack and run to the market to buy them a thank-you present, before heading on the well-trod backpacker path to Vang Vieng, so this will be continued soon....

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Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Change of plans 

as usual!

After a minute or two of reflection, I decided to head to Laos tomorrow night instead. Trains are my favorite mode of transport, and those in SE Asia can range from great to abysmal.
(Check out Seat 61 for train info all around the world.)

I want to try as many trains on this subcontinent as I can, and those in Myanmar are run by the oppressive regime. I may head over there - if I've the cash - after taking those in Vietnam, perhaps Cambodia, Southern Thailand down to Malaysia and Singapore. (My original intent in Myanmar was to donate paints to local artists and do demonstrations of an encaustic [wax] painting technique, but the supplies are now all likely in a guesthouse dustbin.)

Laos has no train system to speak of, so it'll be treacherous buses as I pass through that terrain....it's also the wet season, so many roads'll be washed out, as well!

At the moment, I'm sweating away into a little flame-red t-shirt I got today. It reads: "Can I have hot water in my pot?" below the silhouette of an ornate teapot and Chinese characters. I love it, and the innuendo, too.

The boy is now in Seoul, checking out jobs there. I'll join him wherever he is, whenever I return.

It'll be refreshing to be in a quieter city, however teeming with backpackers, after too much time in Bangkok (definition: anything longer than 24 hours after you've been here once).
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Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Thailand Mis-adventures 

Still it seems I'm unable to view my blog or comments, so if you read me regularly, come back sometime soon!

It's nearly dusk in Bangkok, and the afternoon heat disappears as mosquitos roam round ankles and ears. The PC attendant slaps at them playfully.

Little sleep last night led to dozing on the airport bus this afternoon, and my luggage was stolen by a skanky NAmerican backpacker...a strangely lightened sensation afterwards as I filed paperwork at the Bangkok Tourist Police office. Freedom from the weight of paints and obligations, deet and bikinis. Yet still materialistic enough to buy some clothes before I crash early in an air-con double room on Khao San.

Tomorrow: in search of a visa and ticket to Myanmar.
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