Dusky Langurs

Dusky Langurs . . .
An afternoon spent with Dusky Langues is an afternoon well spent.
I love these guys. That is all.


Swami, one year later

A story is like a river. Sometimes a river disappears, but that doesn't necessarily mean it has dried up. Sometimes it goes underground where it travels, not just miles, but hundreds or thousands of miles through the secret earth before resurfacing... to be it's own same/never-the-same self again, like it always was.

The thread of this story disappeared amid the ruins of Angkor Wat, leaving us with the clangorous ring of the cicada and the rattle and whir of Mr. Keen's tuk tuk as our only comfort in the dark broken heart of Cambodia.

This story began a year ago almost to the day and is in three parts, here, here and here. If you've never met Swami, I took this video in Ankor Wat last December, about a half hour before he disappeared. It's good way to get to know him before reading further.

 Swami riding in Mr. Keen's tuk tuk


One year ago Swami, our beloved traveling companion of nearly 15 years, disappeared at Angkor Wat. It was totally my fault. I was careless. He was very vulnerable riding in his little bag. I kept telling myself I should make a harness for him but never did.

M. Lee and I were heartbroken. It wasn't like losing a family member. Swami is family. It was devastating. But, traveling without him is inconceivable so he immediately "reincarnated" as coral Swami. I know. We're odd.

The cursed temple of Ta Keo and the last photo of me & Swami
Me flouting a warning at the cursed temple of Ta Keo

But here's the thing. After that first, heart stopping moment when we realized Swami was gone, the idea that we'd never see him again was simply and totally unthinkable. To even consider such a thing was not only preposterous, it was impossible. We knew he would return. He just had to.

So, this last year, we've combed secondhand stores, gift shops, baby boutiques, toy stores, junk shops, art museums, Pintrest, Etsy, Ebay and countless other websites hoping to find him or someone who could make a new yellow Swami body. Family and friends, old and new, joined the search, some even volunteering to sew a new one and finally we realized that, unskilled as we are, M. Lee and I would have to figure out how to make the yellow Swami body ourselves.

Swami with his friend Andy
at the old Whitney Museum in New York

Then a few weeks ago, almost exactly a year to the day since Swami disappeared, a very strange thing happened. Totally out of the blue, and in his usual innocent and cheery way, Coral Swami turned to me and said, "Yellow Swami is coming back". We didn't know what to make of it. How could he know? On the other hand, how could he not know?  But last week, when we were still in Chiang Mai, M. Lee stumbled on this.

Yes, yes. Click the button and watch the scary, bad clowns.

We replayed the part around 0:35 seconds, where HAM sprinkles vinegar on everything and stuffs his mouth with more chips. The music is building as he picks up the newspaper, sees the picture of a little yellow dude in the ad section, throws his bike into high gear and roars off into the store to claim him. And we paused at 1:07, the part where HAM first sees the little yellow dude on the shelf. so that we could read and re-read the name on the wall.... Flat Eric! Of course, we had checked out Flat Eric before but the searches never led anywhere. This time was different.

And don't miss this one. It is part of the narrative.
Flat Eric

What happened next went as fast as the gunfight but had a better ending. M. Lee did a quick search for Flat Eric. That took him to a six-year-old discussion where someone had posted a link to the German Ebay account of a guy named buecherfritzke01 who sells second hand collectibles and there he was... Swami! We bought him immediately and, within the next 24 hours, buecherfritzke01 sent him on his way. Thank you very much. And a couple of days ago yellow Swami arrived in America! The mailer was beat up and taped back together, but he is still smiling. Now he is waiting for us in Portland, Oregon. I hear he's hanging out with some crazy Christmas angels there. We'll be home in January, Swami! See you then.

Swami, resurfacing at last

So, thank you HAM, Mr. Oizo (aka Quentin Dupieux) and Flat Eric. And thank you Dalai Lama and the Tulkas. And especially thank you, our family and friends. The fact that you guys get it and care, or at least care, makes all the difference. And thank you, Mr. Swami! Welcome home!

Swami contemplating the moon
Ko Kood, Thailand, 2013

PS.  No. I do not think M. Lee is at all like Mr. Oizo and certainly I, in no way, resemble his tailgate buddy so don't even go there.


Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice is my personal New Year's Eve but I've not got anything special planned this year. I'm not at home. I'm not in my own country. I don't even have a candle to light. I am observing the solstice quietly, in passing, a moment of reflect ion on this, the longest night of the year, a moment of peace in the pause as the earth rounds it course and begins it's journey back towards the light. Best wishes in the coming new year.


I'm not posting it like I have other years but, if you like, here's a link to a Winter Solstice poem I wrote some time ago.


Hua Hin

Big Buddha near Hua Hin

So we're now in Hua Hin, a beach town located on the west coast of the Gulf of Thailand. It's a lot like Florida's gulf coast towns in that it's half ghost town. Hua Hin is close to Bangkok so there are a lot of second homes, weekend get-away condos and apartments. Even the King has a residence here.

Dogs will be dogs and so will we

We're staying in an apartment M. Lee found on Airbnb. It's right on the beach overlooking the Gulf and much nicer than the tiny room we had in Chiang Mai. It's way to nice for the likes of us but we're willing to be corrupted. The odd similarity is that, like our place in Chiang Mai, we are very nearly the only people here. It's like we're ghosts in a vacant house. We're the only people on our floor so we've been sleeping with the front door open for the breeze.

Hobbit monk blue door into rock inner sanctum

It's a bit creepy but a nice draft. Our isolation here is compounded by the fact that not one member of the skeleton crew that runs the place speaks a word of English. That just seems like a bad idea to me but that's the way it is. Anyway, we met the owner of the apartment next door this afternoon. He is preparing the place for a family coming this weekend.

Me, Swami and Giant Golden Tortoise

Bummer. But it's late. More on Hua Hin later. I've got to get to sleep.


A five-year-old's Christmas list

Christmas is coming so, of course, we asked the parents for gift lists for the grandkids. This is one of the ones we got back in reply:

"I opened this up to Miss Thea:

My own chapstick.
My own pack of gum that's my own, because I think I'm old enough now.
And that's it.

Are you sure? You don't want anything else?

Well, maybe some new tights because I don't have very many that fit me.
And popsicle sticks without popsicles.

For crafts?

Yes, for crafts.
And I really really really really really want a picture frame.

What for?

I just really need one.
Also, batteries for my camera
Art supplies, cause I just love to do art.
A necklace that is red with snowflake beads
Red socks with snowflakes
A pillow with polka-dots and stripes
Shoes with red and green flowers and blue snowflakes
A blue blanket with snowflakes
... Oh, and did I pronounce that I really want a blanket? Not just on the idea list, but I really want it for Christmas?


Did I pronounce the necklace already?


Okay then, that's it.  G'night."


Visa run recap

The visa run went well the other day. Mostly we waited. M. Lee read. I did some reading, people watching and talked with some interesting people. When my number was finally called I stepped up to the counter, handed over my passport and paperwork and, most important, paid the fee... 1900 baht (about 60 dollars US). We were both done and out in three hours. Before lunchtime. A friend happened to be there at the same time getting his residency extended (a yearly task) and I hear, three days later, it's still not done.

I will say this, the Immigration office is a world class crossroads. Everyone who wants to extend their stay passes through there... tourists, travelers, scholars, entertainers, writers, photographers, cyclists, charlatans, nuns, missionaries, do-gooders, clergy, monks, imams, shamans, wizards, warlocks, expats, refugees, wanderers, outlaws, volunteers, professionals, politicians, drunks, addicts, dirty old men, kooks and just plain crazies. I think a good many of them were there on Monday. I hear there are services that, for a fee, deal with Immigration for you, otherwise you go in person. Of course, that doesn't mean everybody does but they run the risk of fines and deportation.

Our extension was routine. The 60 day tourist visas we got before leaving the US had expired. We had to either extend them or leave Thailand. We did 30 day extensions so we'll leave mid-January and return to the States. We want to spend some time with the family. The grandkids are growing up way too fast.

As for photos of the place, I didn't even try to take one. The second anyone snapped a shot, an Immigration officer immediately appeared and made them delete it.



I'm not exactly looking forward to today. We have to go to Immigration to renew our visas. I hear it can be a brutal, all day wait. A guy I met here waited five weeks for his wife's visa but ours should be pretty straightforward though it could take all day. I'm ready. I've got snacks, my Kindle, all my devices are charged, including the portable charger which is indispensable when you take a million fucking photos with your phone every day. And I have pen and paper... you know... in case I want to write something. We are hoping for the best.

Sadly, our temporary stay in the Kingdom of Thailand is running out. We have a week left in Chiang Mai and I haven't done one post about the place yet, though I photostream an account of the passing days at Instagram and Flickr. Anyway, time to go. Have a good one.


Elephant and more elephants

Finally I got to spend time with elephants. I went with a friend a few weeks ago to Elephant Nature Park in northern Thailand. Most of the elephants there have been rescued from heartbreaking situations but now, happily, they'll never be abused again. And the Park is not only a refuge for elephants, but is also home to some 400 dogs and countless cats all co-existing in relative harmony. 

Do not get in the way of an elephant butt rub

Before lunch, we got to bathe an elephant in the river. It's a bit hokey but a harmless way for us to interact with them. Our group bathed a lovely lady named Kathong. She's new to the Park and still healing after stepping on a landmine a year ago. 

Bathing Kathong

She's not the only elephant there recovering from a landmine. Another Park resident was in the hospital for three years, but Kathong's injury is the most recent. She's still shy and keeps to herself but didn't seem to mind munching a basket of fruit as we splashed her with buckets of water. And, of course, her mahout was by her side.

Kathong and her mahout, an amazing fellow.
He is her comfort and protector and hangs out with her in the field
all day, everyday. At night, he returns to his family who live in one of 
the mahout huts at the edge of the forest. You can see them in the background.

I appreciate that the Wikipedia page on mahouts includes a link to Elephant Nature Park. It's a nod in the right direction, The hooks, bludgeons, whips and chains used by traditional mahouts have no place at the Park where everyone is treated with compassion, respect, savvy and buckets of treats.

Elephant Park's newest family.

In the afternoon, after an amazing vegetarian feast, we took a walk with our guide. Along the way, we met this mama and her baby. The calf was an orphan who had come to the park, and been with his new mother, for only two weeks.

Who could object?

Of course, we all stopped and oohed and awed and started clicking away. We didn't think anything about it. After all, we were their well-wishers and delighted to see the new, happy family. But mom had a different take on things.

Mama doing what mamas do

She came around the fence, and her mahout followed her as she followed us, but it wasn't until our guide clued us in that we finally got what was going on.

And stay out!

He quietly warned us not to run but quickly follow him slowly away, and pointed us towards a larger group about to enjoy a tasty dinner. After that, the new mother turned and went back to her calf.

After a day of eating it's dinner time

All in all, being around elephants, for even such a brief time, was not only delightful, it recalibrated my soul and, no, I don't care how corny that sounds.


RIP Mark Strand

Mark Strand (1934-2014)

Cat in a Hat by Rene Magritte

Canto XVI
-from Dark Harbor

It is true, as someone has said, that in
A world without heaven all is farewell.
Whether you wave your hand or not,
It is farewell, and if no tears come to your eyes
It is still farewell, and if you pretend not to notice,
Hating what passes, it is still farewell.
Farewell no matter what. And the palms as they lean
Over the green, bright lagoon, and the pelicans
Diving, and the glistening bodies of bathers resting,
Are stages in an ultimate stillness, and the movement
Of sand, and of wind, and the secret moves of the body
Are part of the same, a simplicity that turns being
Into an occasion for mourning, or into an occasion
Worth celebrating, for what else does one do,
Feeling the weight of the pelicans' wings,
The density of the palms' shadows, the cells that darken
The backs of bathers? These are beyond the distortions
Of change, beyond the evasions of music. The end
Is enacted again and again. And we feel it
In the temptations of sleep, in the moon's ripening,
In the wine as it waits in the glass.

So You Say

It is all in the mind, you say, and has
nothing to do with happiness. The coming of cold,
the coming of heat, the mind has all the time in the world.
You take my arm and say something will happen,
something unusual for which we were always prepared,
like the sun arriving after a day in Asia,
like the moon departing after a night with us.

More poetry by Mark Stand