Time travelers

So we're back in the US of A. At this point, I've been up for over 30 hours. Now I can't sleep. I'm exhausted but I'm wired.

Monday morning, headed to the Bangkok airport.

Time travelers. We arrived in Medford 45 minutes before we left. The last leg of the flight from San Francisco to Southern Oregon was in a tiny, prop engine plane with one stewardess. The engines were so loud and so full of vibration it seemed the plane might shake apart in the air. M. Lee slept through it all.

Time traveler

I read an article during the flight about Revive and Restore, a research project focused on developing genetic rescues for endangered, and even extinct, species like the passenger pigeon and dodo bird. I so hope they succeed.

Swami enjoyed it all

I will always remember the sadness I felt when, as a child, I read that the exotic, sweet-natured, defenseless Dodo bird was extinct and that humans were the cause. Now perhaps, wiser humans will be able to bring them back.

Back from the past?

In a few days, we'll drive to Portland. We've got a babysitting job there on New Year's Eve.


Hong Kong Xmas Eve


photo by asha

Came upon these giant coils of burning incense

photo by asha

while walking down an alley in Hong Kong tonight.

photo by asha

They were hung in a open air alter. No one was in attendance.

photo by asha

This is what I love about the world.


Buddha's lizards

photo by asha
Buddha and his lizards

We leave for Hong Kong in the morning and, on the 26th, fly from there to the US, arriving in Oregon 40 minutes later. I'm going to miss Thailand and all the lovely Buddhas here but it's time to go, at least for now.

photo by asha
Buddha and his lizards

Lately, I've been in a kind of emotional undertow. Sensory overload, I suppose. We've been traveling for the last nine months and, though I'm not all that excited about returning "home" I think, for a while anyway, it's where I need to be.


Winter Solstice, 2013

photo by asha
If you meet the Buddha on the road, he's probably hitchhiking.

Happy Winter Solstice


Place holder

Sukhothai is wonderful. Having a motorbike to get around the site was perfect. The inner city alone covers 30 sq. miles. And there are temples in the outer ring as well. All in all, it's a huge area. As always, I took lots of photos but have no time to post them. Today we will go to Si Satchanalai which is also a World Heritage Site. Again, we'll use a motorbike. It will be about 100 miles round trip by the time the day is done. I like noodling around but hate navigating the city streets. Sukhothai is way more mellow than Chiang Mai but it's still chaos. Okay That's it for now. Gotta go.


Footnote to the day

We're leaving in the morning for Sukhothai. It's a five hour bus trip from Chiang Mai. As usual, I have been unable to keep up with things here. We did a Wat crawl a couple of days ago. I took lots of photos but haven't had a second to organize them. The next day we did a 70 mile loop on the motorbike. I haven't really made peace with motorbikes yet but it was nice to get out of town. We saw some elephants along the road carrying tourists on their back but didn't stop. I didn't even photograph them. I love elephants but have no interest in seeing them in this context. And last night we had dinner with a friend who told us he used to be a practitioner of black magic. That was interesting.

I did add a few photos to my Facebook page but that's it. It all takes time but first thing every morning, we are up and out. The only time I have for any of this is at night but, like now, it's after 10 and I'm tired. Besides, the thoughts and impressions of the day are long gone.

Tonight some fucktards have turned on their fucking TV and it's blasting out over the courtyard. I'd close the big window but there isn't any glass in it. Yes. I'm complaining. Like JudyBlueSky says, sue me.


Biking Chiang Mai

photo by asha
Minutes before the accident

I don't feel like writing about it but it's what I do here, note the passing days. We had a minor motorbike accident today. No big deal, unless my hand ends up getting infected but it probably won't. I always worry about things like that. I was on the back. We were needling through Chiang Mai traffic and, in order to avoid rear-ending a truck, M. Lee laid it down. My left hand ended up at the bottom of the pile, palm up, scrapped and bleeding and he banged up both knees and his chin. And my phone got smashed. I had it open to Google maps at the time as I was being the navigator. I will say this, I held it all the way down but the gorilla glass shattered anyway.

photo by asha
Biking in Chiang Mai

Thai people learn to drive a motorbike before they can walk. It's second nature. It gets so you expect to see moms on motorbikes nursing one baby and holding another or whole families sharing a bike, including the dog. And all the vehicles on the road, whether motorcycles, cars, bikes, hand-drawn carts, trucks, tuk tuks or taxis flow together and around each other like corpuscles in an artery. It's mindless and intuitive. Pure zen. And there are people in the mix. Pedestrians thread their way across traffic like fish navigating a stream. And it's nothing to see someone sweeping the street in the middle of traffic while vehicles flow by like a river around a sandbar. No one is perturbed. No one honks. And about a dozen people die a day in motorbike accidents, although the number is under-reported, or so my friends tell me.

photo by asha
Chiang Mai graffiti

Our confidence is a bit shaken. We were following a friend who has lived in Thailand for years and is experienced with this kind of thing. He zipped through an opening which closed just as we made the move. It could have been worse so okay. And that's life. People on the street were very helpful. A fellow took me into his shop and helped my clean up my hand. And our friend bought a round of ice cream bars, because ice cream always makes things better. So we stood and ate them on the sidewalk before heading home where M. Lee watched a couple of episodes of Walking Dead and I curled into a ball and slept.


Time out in Chiang Mai

King Bhumibol Adulyadej's birthday is being celebrated this week

We've been in Chiang Mai for five days now. I really like it here. It's both very mellow and very surreal. The historic part of town where we're staying is crammed with colorful centuries old Buddhist temples, restaurants, food carts, shops and open air markets. And there are lots of expats, which at this point provides a much welcomed break from the language barrier.

photo by asha
Dogs chilling at Wat Chiang Man

Originally, we intended to save Chiang Mai for last but we were so wrung out from Angkor Wat the M. Lee found a nice room for $9 a night and here we are. We're staying at the Sindy Guest House located near Wat Chiang Man, a very cool temple that shelters street dogs and has lots of very excellent elephant sculptures. The dogs there lead a very peaceful life except when free roaming dogs pass by on their evening jaunt. That requires some serious barking through the fence until the intruders are out of sight.

Our room at the Sindy House

Our room isn't as dark as it looks in this photo. Actually, it has quite a lot of light. The young guy who runs the place is nice, it's quiet and the internet is great so, other than the fact that there's no kitchen, it's just fine.

Swami likes it here
but then Swami likes it everywhere

Chiang Mai has a lot of vegetarian restaurants and they are very affordable. Brown Rice Organic Bistro is one of our favorite places. It's all vegetarian and the owner/gourmet chef is really friendly. Another place we like is Number 9 Restaurant on 207 Soi 9, R.Muang. They are not all vegetarian but tofu is an option for every dish and the food is good.

Thai for vegetarian (L7)
pronounced "J" aka "J Pad Thai"

Also, there's a vegetarian food cart at the Wui Lai Night Market but I don't remember their name. I'll post it later. They're great. And the fruit cart across the street will whip up a mango shake for sixty-six cents. As for the meal itself, at any one of these places it ranges from one to three dollars.

Wat Chiang Man temple dog


Swami, Dalai and the Tulku

I started this post in the Siem Reap airport this morning while waiting for our flight back to Bangkok. Seven days in Cambodia was more than enough. For all the beauty, nice people and stunning ancient ruins, it's a dark hard place to be. I even dreamt I was blown up by a landmine. Trust me. That wakes you up with a start.

photo by asha
Swami contemplating Ta Keo,
the cursed temple

We went back to Ta Keo three more times but the girl who said she'd keep looking for Swami was never there. So sadly, whether lost or stolen, Swami is gone and now we must move on. If one of the girls selling souvenirs at Angkor Thommanon took him, I hope he brings her much happiness. His smile truly is irresistible.

photo by asha
Swami contemplating Swami

I will say this. I had an ominous feeling about Ta Keo the minute I saw the place. Swami felt it too. I have since read that during its construction, the High Priest declared the presence of an evil omen, halted the work and the temple has remained unfinished to this very day. That was a thousand years ago. Recently the Chinese adopted Ta Keo as a pet restoration project and are hard at it, putting what remains back together. Good luck.

photo by asha
Swami leaving Angkor Wat

But here's the thing. We have decided to think of Swami as a low level Tulku. To put that in perspective, the Dalai Lama is a top level Tulku. Top level Tulkus have to leave their bodies (die) before they can reincarnate in a new body. It's much easier for low level Tulkus. They aren't incarnations. They are "incarnate emanations" which means that the original doesn't have to die for a new emanation to manifest. Get it? Copies can exist simultaneously. Slick, eh? And emanations can be just about anything, human beings, deities, rivers, bridges, medicinal plants, animals, trees, birds, art, crafts etc. I suppose even puppets and dolls. Confused yet? The Dalai Lama goes into lots of detail here but put simply, Swami is back!

photo by asha
Swami and the Big Buddha of Ko Kood

He's there, wherever there is, and he's here with us. For now he's in a strange little body made of coral, a piece I picked up on a lonely stretch of beach on Ko Kood. It had such an odd shape I couldn't resist. Okay. It called to me. And I just happened to have it with me in Angkor Wat when Swami disappeared. Of course, we will look for a little yellow guy with a big red smile. M. Lee has already begun searching online for a doll maker who has experience replicating them. Reconstructing Swami will be our winter project. As they say, life goes on.

photo by asha
Swami contemplating the full moon.
Ko Kood


Looking for Swami

photo by asha
Girl at Ta Keo helping us look for Swami

This little girl represents the last small chance that we may yet find Swami. She was at Ta Keo the day we lost him and helped when we went back the next day to look for him. I mentioned a cash reward and she shot up the temple's steep, narrow stairs and scoured the third level before I even got to the second. No luck, but we'll check with her one more time before we leave. If he's there, she'll find him. She's a smart kid.

photo by asha
Looking down the stone
stairs from Ta Keo's top level.

Of course my "problem" is inane. This child, who should be in school or off playing with her friends, is forced by extreme poverty to be a tout. It's so sad seeing kids on the street like this but there they are and the second you arrive at a site, they swarm and cajole you, hoping you'll buy something.

photo by asha

You have to ignore them, because, if you don't, if you say "no thank you", if you even glance at someone, if you do anything that in any way acknowledges their existence, they suck in closer and stick longer. They are well trained.

photo by asha
Touts working the tourists at Angkor Wat

So you learn to totally ignore them but they are kids, for god's sake. Why is this happening? Same as always, graft, cronyism. Increasing millions of tourist dollars flow into Angkor Wat yet the temples are not properly protected and Cambodians remain the poorest people in Asia. It sucks all around.



Last photo with Swami?

Swami is gone. We are heartbroken. It was my fault. He was riding in my shoulder bag and either fell out while I was climbing around the structure in the above photo or a pickpocket got him at the next temple. Either way, I feel absolutely horrible about it. The three of us have been traveling together for the last 14 years. We're really going to miss that little guy. I'm crushed. But... dare I say... he left us with this video? I wouldn't put it past him. I just happened to take it during a tuk tuk ride through Angkor Wat, about a half hour before he disappeared.

Tuk tuking with Swami and M. Lee through Angkor Wat

As soon as I noticed he was missing, we retraced out steps. We hadn't gone far but no luck. This evening, looking at photos from the day, I managed to narrow down the area where we lost him so we'll check around a bit more tomorrow because we can. I just have to.

Me & Swami at Angkor Wat

Good night, Swami. Sleep tight. Don't let the bed bugs bite. See you on down the road.


Dog vs. saxaphone

We were walking on Kalayana Maitri Rd. in Bangkok the other day when we heard wonderful music coming from a small shop selling eye glass frames. Turns out a very jolly fellow was playing a very excellent bamboo saxophone for his perhaps not so appreciative dog or was she singing along?

Thai guy playing bamboo sax for his dog from ashabot on Vimeo.

We're at the Bangkok airport waiting for a flight to Seim Reap to visit the Buddha. At this point, it doesn't look like there are many fellow passengers on this flight which is a bit disturbing. Cambodia Angkor Air is known to cancel flights that aren't full enough.

"Woo-hoo! Let's go!"

But turns out we're in luck. Enough people showed up so we're on our way.


Koh Kood, hello and good-bye

Breakfast with Swami,
Mangrove Bungalow

I'm sitting at a table in the open air restaurant at Mangrove Bungalow. It's got a lovely deck which extends out over the mangrove lined Klong Chao and is a great place to start the day. The river is high this morning but that varies with the tides. It's basically the Alligator Creek of Thailand only, instead of flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, the Chao moves through the mangroves and palm trees on its way to the Gulf of Thailand.

Coconut boat on Koh Kood
Coconut boat - Koh Kood Thailand

The last 10 days we've been staying at a family run place on Koh Kood called Mangrove Bungalow. We're paying $30 (US) a night, breakfast included, which makes it all possible. There's one resort on the island where accommodations  go for as much as $17,0000 (US) a night but I wouldn't even want to stay in a bubble like that. Our cabin is 10 feet from the river. And it's a nice place. So what if nobody speaks much English? It gets awkward at times, but everybody is low key and we’re about a quarter mile from the beach so really. What’s to complain about? We point and smile and otherwise they ignore us. Here, in the land of smiles, a smile goes a long way, even when they're fake.

View from the cabin,
Mangrove Bungalow

Thailand has a lot to recommend it. The people are nice and the country itself is warm, colorful, exotic, beautiful and as lively or quiet as you want it to be. We prefer quiet and, other than the ringing of the cicada, (which I love) Koh Kood is not one of the party islands. It's quiet here. It's the kind of place people come to relax. It's a family destination. Beyond that, the tourists seem to be mostly Russian or Scandinavian. We haven't seen any other Americans. My theory is that, other than tours, most Americans are convinced the world is far too dangerous to explore.

Swami and Buddha on Koh Kood
Swami and Buddha on Koh Kood

The hard part for me is the food. There really is a food barrier and here in Koh Kood I hit it hard. It's like people have never even heard of anyone being a vegetarian. Forget about finding tofu. We haven't even been able to get beans. The other day we ordered kale at at restaurant and it came with huge chunks of pork. But we spend a good part of every day exploring the island and its beaches on a motorbike which, for me is kind of scary, but also a helluva lot of fun. The island doesn't have any wilderness but it's not overdeveloped ... yet.

Swami looking over the bay
Buddha looking over bay

Nothing I say today, no photos I may post, guarantee Koh Kood will be the same even a year from now. Progress. Sometimes it sucks. But, for today, Koh Kood it still kind of sleepy and rural and clean. If this were Mexico, the rivers would be choked with plastic bottles and bags and foamy with soap and sewage. Not so here. They are all remarkably clean. And we’ve biked just about every road on the island and hiked a bit and there is no litter along the side of any road or in the forest. Some homes have litter around them but it's contained. Wake up, Mexico and Central America.

Swami and Buddha on Koh Kood 03
Swami and Buddha on Koh Kood

In the morning we return to Bangkok for three days then we're going to Cambodia to visit the World Heritage Site, Angkor Wat. I have to clear some hard drive space before then. I'm nearly out of storage.


Biking Koh Kood

I took this shaky cam video from the back of a motor scooter on Koh Kood, an island in the Gulf of Thailand.

It is not dramatic. There is no music to spice it up. There are no amusing annotations. It's just six minutes/sixteen seconds of Koh Kood from the back of a motor scooter. Sorry, but due to a combination of having very little time online and excruciatingly slow upload speeds (it took three days to upload) this video must remain, at least for now, raw and uncut. It is, as they say, just for the record.


Three photos of Thailand

Swami in Thailand

Koh Kood fishing village

Buddha watching over the village


Thai etiquette

M. Lee and the Coconut Lady

Before we left China, M. Lee emailed me this link to help me prepare for Thailand. Worth a read if you're ever planning to visit the place. The main thing to keep in mind is that, though petty scamming is second only to tourism in the Thai economy, Thais still very much appreciate courtesy and a smile from visitors. Now M. Lee is not above using manipulation when sharing a word to wise but he told me that recently some tourist got rude about an inflated taxi fare so the driver leaped out of his cab and killed the guy with his machete.

Getting a drink of tasty coconut milk in Thailand.

Whatever the case, at least two days in, I like Thailand a whole lot better than China. For one thing, even in a big nasty city like Bangkok, there are birds chirping away outside the window. And, instead of peering through a suffocating cloud of highly toxic, ground level pollution, I can see the sky. And yeah. People do smile a lot.


News at 7:01 PM (CST)

Qihelou Jie street

We've been staying in a small hutong house off Qihelou Jie street just across the moat from the Forbidden City. Tomorrow we leave for Thailand and M. Lee's mom returns to the States. We are just three weeks into a 10 week trip and I've already taken about 5000 photos, around 24 GBs worth. I don't know if my camera will last. It's on the verge of expiring. I must be insane.

Little white cat in the hutong

I find it very hard to write anything here. I don't have the time to organize my thoughts which are, by nature, impressionistic. As usual, the prospect of leaving tomorrow fills me with dread. 


Hacking the Great Wall

Hacking the Great Wall.

Yesterday we hacked the Great Wall. It began with a very vertical hike on a forested mountain trail out of a remote village. When we got to the wall we climbed a handmade ladder to get into a decrepit beacon tower. It was all downhill from there and much of it over surprisingly rough, sometimes dangerous, terrain. It was wonderful. We ended at what is the usual starting place which was, of course, choked with souvenir stalls spread out over a nice wide rebuilt walkway.

So...rushed as usual. M. Lee has sounded the five minute bell. Gotta go but more photos to follow.


Dirt Market

Swami and Vincent at Art Zone 798

Today, and very soon, we are leaving for the Dirt Market, Beijing's giant, stupendous, "world's largest" outdoor flea market. Luckily, pollution levels are down from yesterday's extremely hazardous levels in the 300s to a lovely 50. Well, it's up to 55 now and climbing but that's still better than yesterday.

Another day, another 300 photos

Beijing 798 Art Zone - broken heads
Beijing 798 Art Zone

We were out all day. I'd like to post better notes about this trip for future reference but every day, by the time we get home and I finally, finally wind down enough to get around to it, the details of the day are lost or faded into irrelevance the way things do. We went to Art Zone 789 but I did take photos. Lots of photos. And posted more to the Beijing album. And tomorrow we'll get up early and launch out again. This time to a massive street market. It will be interesting. Again, I will take far too many photos to manage. And the day will fade again, like this one has faded.

Maybe I'm depressed. Maybe it's the air. Pollution has been at the extreme hazardous level for the last two days.