Honoring Teachers in Thailand – พิธีไหว้ครู ๒๕๕๗

Honoring Teachers in Thailand – พิธีไหว้ครู ๒๕๕๗

An assortment of wai kru flowers on phan พาน made by the students.

An assortment of Wai Kru flowers on phan พาน made by the students.

This morning I arose with the sunrise, before the sounds of traffic, even before the monks chanting, only the sounds of the occasional gecko and dog accompanied me. Again I felt overcome with gratitude for Thailand, especially since today was Wai Kru Day พิธีไหว้ครู. Wai Kru is the day to honor teachers. Students bring in flowers symbolizing respect, wit, humility, and perseverance to present to their teachers.

Students with their wai kru flower arrangements they made.

Students at Panyaden with their Wai Kru flower arrangements they made.

The same day our class was preparing the flowers for Wai Kru, there was a shooting at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon where a teacher was shot and another student was killed. That’s about 5 minutes away from where I taught elementary school for 5 years. My heart sank. Kids that I used to teach are in high school now, maybe some are even there. I found the juxtaposition of this and Wai Kru staggering. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Portland. It is still my favorite place in the whole US to live, but what is with the senseless killing? The thing that really made my stomach turn is how it’s become so common that no one pays that much attention anymore. Sigh.

It’s true, right now Thailand is in a military coup d’ état. What does that mean on a daily basis? Military presence around Chiang Mai, and there was midnight curfew around the country that was just lifted. Otherwise, things seem to be the same. 

Wai kru flowers

Beautiful Wai Kru flowers (and eggplant) for teachers

Wai Kru is a lovely ceremony and is just one more reason I think I’ll stay for a while longer. Sure, the driving is harrowing, it’s hot, there is pollution, snakes, spiders, and mosquitoes are abundant, but each day I am reminded of why I love it here. Today, is a fantastic day to be a teacher in Thailand.

Teachers with their wai kru flowers

Teachers with their Wai Kru flowers

Songkran, Wats, and Dancing Shrimp in Phayao

Songkran, Wats, and Dancing Shrimp in Phayao

The date I left India was no accident – I wanted to be back in Thailand for Songkran. Songkran is Thai New Year’s Day from April 13 -15. Traditionally people throw water to cleanse away the old and welcome the new. People also visit Buddhist temples, and their families. Throughout the country Songkran becomes an at least 3-day long water throwing festival, and it is difficult to go anywhere without getting wet. Chiang Mai is the center of the biggest Songkran celebration and I’ve enjoyed the past two years of the festival in the city where I live. This year it was time to try somewhere new – Phayao.

I arrived back from India on the night of April 11th, and the next morning was on a bus headed to Phayao. My friend and colleague Mark had reserved me a bus ticket, and in my travel weary state, I took the journey to Phayao to meet him and his girlfriend there. When I arrived, it was already a raging water party.

Taking photos is a tricky thing to do during Songkran because everything gets wet. Bangkok Airways even handed out plastic protection purses to keep valuables from getting soaked. All of these Songkran photos and video were taken through that very plastic purse, please forgive blurriness.

Armed and ready for Songkran in Phayao

Bucket in hand and ready for Songkran

Riding in the back of a truck/swimming pool

Riding in the back of a truck/swimming pool

In front of the lake in Phayao

In front of the lake in Phayao

 

Splashing water everywhere

Splashing water everywhere

Armed for fun

Armed for fun

Mark showing the colored chalk paste that is also put on people's faces. This doesn't happen in Chiang Mai.  Apparently the chalk has roots from the monks blessings. I thought it was from Holi festival in India.

Mark showing the colored chalk paste that is also put on people’s faces. This doesn’t happen in Chiang Mai, so I was kind of surprised. Apparently the chalk has roots from the monks blessings. I thought it was from Holi festival in India.

I took this video as an attempt to show the huge amounts of water. While walking through the crowd, I couldn’t see what I was filming. Water was continually being thrown at me and paste was being put on my face…

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After all the splashing, we enjoyed snacks by the lake at sunset

Mark came back to the table and said to the group of us, “I ordered something that I love, but Elizabeth will hate.” It was dancing shrimp. I’d heard of these before, but never seen or eaten them. They are small shrimp that are still alive, but are then ‘cooked’ in the spicy sauce put on them. Here’s what they looked like:

Pretty afraid to try dancing shrimp

Pretty afraid to try dancing shrimp…

I surprised everyone, including myself, when I tried one. I couldn’t handle eating it while it was still moving, so I waited until they stopped. It was actually really tasty. I had a few more with some sticky rice.

...but I tried them anyway

…but I tried them anyway. They were much better than my pre-tasting face shows

We decided to go when it started getting a little buggy

We decided to go when it started getting a little buggy

At Cupcake coffee shop

Next morning at Cupcake Coffee shop – a dog shaped cake? Why not!

I got my camera back to the guesthouse before all the splashing took place

I got my camera back to the guesthouse before all the splashing took place and left it there for the day. Thankfully Mark had his camera and gave me some of the following shots of the day.

More funny food - Period

More funny food – Period

These were some of the first Songkran revelers we met

These were some of the first Songkran revelers we met that day

...the nicest biker gang you'll ever meet - Grandiose

…the nicest biker gang you’ll ever meet – Grandiose

I wanted to join them

I wanted to join them

After spending the day getting soaked, I retreated to the rooftop patio.

After spending the day getting soaked, I retreated to the rooftop patio.

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Songkran is fun, but after 2 days of constantly being soaked, we took a trip to some temples

Songkran is fun, but after 2 days of constantly being soaked, on the third day we took a trip to some temples to make merit

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I rode on the back of Mark's motorbike and we still got splashed a lot, but the trip was worth it to end up at Wat Analayo

I rode on the back of Mark’s motorbike and we got splashed a lot, but the trip was worth it to end up at Wat Analayo – what a stunning wat in the forest on a hill

Putting coins on the year of one's birth animal

Putting coins on the year of one’s birth animal

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Scaffolding Buddha

Scaffolding Buddha with protective nagas

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That was one huge Buddha

A huge Buddha

A hazy view from atop Wat Analayo out toward the lake in Phayao

A hazy view from atop Wat Analayo out toward the lake in Phayao

Nagas were a theme of the day...

Nagas were a theme of the day…

 

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…then we saw a snake in a tree.

We ended the day at a waterfall.

Boombin looking lovely at the waterfall

Phayao, I will be back. Thanks for your wonderful wats and Songkran splashes. So happy to be back in Thailand!

 

 

 

 

Quaint Fort Kochi

Quaint Fort Kochi

The bus from Munnar to Fort Kochi was much shorter than our previous bus trip…

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Super fast? Not really.

Super fast? Not really

Coffee beans drying on the side of the road

Coffee beans drying on the side of the road

…but I can’t say it was less eventful:

Thanks Lex for taking this video and cracking me up.

When arriving in Fort Kochi, we didn’t have a place to stay. I randomly picked somewhere that sounded nice from my guidebook while in the tuk tuk from the bus station. It’s safe to say that I chose well. Secret Garden was absolutely beautiful!

Secret Garden in Fort Kochi

Secret Garden in Fort Kochi

Lex drinking a poolside coffee

Lex enjoying a poolside coffee

Cooling off with a quick swim

Cooling off with a quick swim

We had no problem relaxing there for hours. In fact, we moved so little I asked Joseph, the lovely hotel manager, if we were the laziest guests ever. He said no, but I’m not so sure about that.

Strolling through town, we stumbled upon a cricket match

Later, while strolling through town, we stumbled upon a cricket match

I loved the enormous trees everywhere

I loved the enormous trees everywhere in Fort Kochi

 

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We met up with these boys...

We met up with these boys…

...who immediately befriended Lex

…who immediately befriended Lex

Sculpture park by the water

Painted living tree sculpture by the water

Chinese fishing nets

Chinese fishing nets

One of our best meals in Kerala - Fish with Kerala spices cooked in banana leaf, veg. curry, and fried okra.

One of our best meals in Kerala – fish with Kerala spices cooked in banana leaf, veg. curry, and fried okra

The next morning I had a yoga class here under the mango tree at Secret Garden

The next morning, I attended a yoga class here under the mango tree at Secret Garden

At breakfast we observed this guy doing some tree pruning

At breakfast we observed this guy pruning trees

Early that afternoon, unfortunately, it was time to say goodbye to Lex. We had had a fantastic few weeks together. I’m so grateful that he changed his plans and traveled with me. We’ve spoken about seeing each other again as soon as possible. He left for Canada, and the next day I would return to Thailand…but I still had a bit of time to explore.

Feeling a bit sad with Lex not there, I was pleased that this is the first person I met

Feeling a bit sad with Lex not there, I was pleased that this was the first person I met

Gorgeous sunset in Fort Kochi

Gorgeous sunset in Fort Kochi

with or without a filter

with or without a filter

at any angle

at any angle

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I enjoyed some aromatherapy at an oranic spice shop

Enjoying some aromatherapy at an organic spice shop

Secret Garden felt a little empty without Lex

Secret Garden felt a little empty without Lex

For my last morning in India, after yoga and breakfast, I cycled over to the another town called Mattancherry. There wasn’t much time to explore, or I’d miss my train. Plus, I wanted to do some last minute shopping, as well as receive an ayurvedic shirodhara treatment. I raced around and snapped these pictures while drenched in sweat.

Mattancherry was dripping in color. What a fun place to have a camera!

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IMG_2839IMG_2838IMG_2841IMG_2844IMG_2842IMG_2846IMG_2847IMG_2850IMG_2851IMG_2852IMG_2854IMG_2857With my hair soaked in oil from the shirodhara treatment, I boarded the train bound for Trivandrum. On trains in India there are sections for women only, which remedies the constant staring of men. I didn’t see one of these sections, but sat with a family instead. No hassles at all.

Bye for now India. Thanks for providing me with vibrant memories. I’m sure our paths will cross again someday in the not too distant future. Now it’s time to get back to Thailand just in time for Songkran!

 

Chai and Chilling Out in Munnar

Chai and Chilling Out in Munnar

After our day-long hike through the tea plantations, we took the next day to relax over tea and take in the town.

An election was taking place,  so political party signs and posters of people running for office were everywhere.

An election was taking place, so political party signs and posters of people running for office were everywhere.

Nature taking over

Nature taking over

Our hotel was way up in the hills. It boasted lovely views, though the tuk tuk rides there were a bit dodgy. All part of the fun…

Up at a view point

Up at a view point

Back at our hotel

Back at our hotel

That night, we watched Sri Lanka defeat India in the cricket final tournament.

In the late morning we walked into our local hilltop village. Dogs and goats eating garbage

Late next morning, we walked into our little hilltop village. Dogs and goats eating garbage

We stopped for tea at the local tea shop

Having tea with the locals

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We took a tuk tuk into town. For the first part of our ride, there were 14 people in it. I don’t even know how the driver drove.

Munnar local market

Market in Munnar

Indian style eye chart at the optometrists in town

Indian style eye chart at the optometrists in town

Nothing unusual about seeing a cow in India

Nothing unusual about seeing a cow in India

In this little city there was a mosque, a Hindu temple...

In this little city there was a mosque, a Hindu temple…

...and a Christian church

…and a Christian church

Being a lazy cloudy/rainy day, we spent most of the time here...

Being a lazy cloudy/rainy day, we spent most of the time here…

...drinking tea

…drinking masala chai. This was the best I had in India.

On the streets men were preparing the night food stalls. Lex and I watched them making parothas for a while. Parothas are a buttery India bread. It’s kind of like a flat croissant with plenty of ghee.

 

I think these were noodles, but I’m not entirely sure…

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We met our helpful tour guide, Jegen, who had traveled 6 hours to and 6 hours back from work that day. We invited him to dinner and asked him to pick his favorite night food stall.

We met our helpful tour guide, Jegen, who had traveled 6 hours to and 6 hours back from work that day. We invited him to dinner and asked him to pick his favorite night food stall. Masala Dosa

It was delicious

It was delicious

Bye bye Munnar

Bye bye Munnar

 

 

Panorama in Munnar

Panorama in Munnar

Several different friends recommended heading up to the hills of Munnar to escape the heat and take in the tea plantation views. From our houseboat, Lex and I were taken immediately to the bus station for a sweaty, crowded, and almost 5-hour ride, then 3 more hours on a second bus, to finally reach Munnar.

Our first bus to Munnar

Our first bus to Munnar. It was not the most comfortable, but certainly not the worst bus I’ve ever been on either.

When we got to our hotel, the sun had set, though we still had this view.

When we got to our hotel, the sun had set, though we still had this view.

The next day we  hiked through the tea plantations

The next day we hiked through the tea plantations…

...with our trusty guide Samuel.

…with our trusty guide Samuel

Here are some of the views

Here are some of the views…

 

Glad to see compost being made

Glad to see compost being made

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Something interesting that we learned from Samuel – black tea, green tea, and white tea all come from the top part of the same tree.  The black tea leaves are the most mature, biggest, and cheapest, then the green in the middle, and the white tea leaves are the youngest and most expensive. The flavors are different, and apparently much more delicate in a white tea.

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We didn't see any elephants, but saw their footprints and poop

We didn’t see any elephants, but saw their footprints and poop

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This is old Munnar. It's hard to see, but there is a Christian church, a Hindu temple, and a mosque all at the same altitude. Religious diversity and acceptance at its best.

This is old Munnar. It’s hard to see, but there is a Christian church, a Hindu temple, and a mosque all at the same altitude. Religious diversity and acceptance at its best.

 

We found a porcupine quill

We found a porcupine quill

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I'm pretty sure someone lived in the second house

Someone lives in the second house

Ouch!

Ouch!

lunch

lunch

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Our favorite part of the day was happening upon this family.

Our favorite part of the day was happening upon this family.

There was some kind of event going on, and they invited us to stay for lunch. We had already eaten...

There was some kind of event going on…

...and they kindly invited us to stay for lunch, but we had already eaten. I don't think the meat (goat?) would have gone down without a fight.

…and they kindly invited us to stay for lunch, but we had already eaten. I don’t think the meat (goat?) would have gone down without a fight.

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Look at the size of that pot!

Look at the size of that pot!

Playing around with my art filters

Playing around with my art filters…

...

...

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Munnar…beautiful views everywhere!

 

Life on the Backwaters of Kerala

Life on the Backwaters of Kerala

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in the town of Alleppey, though the reason we visited there in the first place was to cruise through the backwaters on a houseboat. Leaving our posh resort, we boarded this rice barge:

Our captain

Our captain

View from our boats - lots of rice barges.

View from our boat – plenty of rice barges and palm trees

Backwaters life

Backwaters life

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Lunch prepared by Chef

Lunch prepared by Chef. This was just for two of us.

We're on a boat

We’re on a boat…

...and there's a goat!

…and there’s a goat!

We saw this from a distance, and weren't sure just what it was...

Seeing this from a distance, we weren’t sure just what it was…

I don't know if duck herding is an actual thing, but these guys sure made it look like it.

I don’t know if duck herding is an actual thing, but these guys sure made it look legit. I have never seen that many ducks in one place before. Literally thousands of ducks!

I had read about 'toddy', which is a fermented palm tree sap alcohol. I wanted to try it, but knew it was probably not something Indian women did. Lex and I went to a 'toddy shop'. They are all over the place in Kerala. It had a real speak easy vibe from prohibition years. Toddy is an acquired taste, and Lex and I together couldn't even finish this glass.

I had read about toddy, which is a fermented palm tree sap alcohol. I wanted to try it, but knew it was probably not something Indian women did. Lex and I ventured off the boat to a ‘toddy shop’. They are all over the place in Kerala. It had a real speak easy vibe from prohibition years. In retrospect, I’m not 100% sure these shops are legal. Toddy is an acquired taste, and Lex and I together couldn’t even finish this glass.

We also stopped for a coconut...

We also stopped for a coconut.

...which are harder to cut than one might think.

They are harder to cut than one might think.

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As the sun was getting ready to set, our houseboat was parked for the night. We were told that a good spot for sunset was to walk up ahead.

As the sun was getting ready to set, our houseboat parked for the night. We were told that a nice spot to watch sunset was to walk up ahead.

We didn't have a good view of sunset, but instead had some engaging interactions with locals.

We didn’t find much of a view for sunset, but instead had some engaging interactions with locals.

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These girls were adorable

These girls were absolutely adorable

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For the record, Lex was pointing to me when he said, “Her English not so good.”

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What a cutie!

What a cutie!

Our evening consisted of smile-filled conversation and a battle of flying insects attracted to lights on the rice barge. When we retreated to our room, we watched a cockroach scurry across our pillows. Luckily, we were able sleep in the other room.

I arose to our boat starting and chef having another huge meal for us.

I arose to our boat starting and chef having prepared another huge meal for us.

Kayaking on one knee

Kayaking on one knee

A little morning chanting…

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The backwaters in Kerala, where life slows to the pace the water flows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spices and Salwar Kameez in Alleppey

Spices and Salwar Kameez in Alleppey

After a while in Varkala, Lex and I were ready to move on. One charming thing about India is the prevalence of train travel. We arrived at the station early enough to grab a bite here before traveling north to Alleppey.

While leaving Varkala was difficult, it's nice to know that almost everywhere in India, vegetarian food is close at hand.

It’s nice to know that almost everywhere in India, vegetarian food is close at hand.

This family was also awaiting the train

This family was also awaiting the train

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On the train headed to Alleppey...I think...

On the train headed to Alleppey…I think…

Ummm… we may have gotten on the wrong train. It was only temporarily wrong and we were able to switch at a station up the track. The wrong train didn’t stop us laughing.

 

We did not exactly rough it with our accommodation Alleppey.

We did not exactly rough it with our accommodation Alleppey. We stayed at the Punnamada Resort

There were even flowers on the bed

There were even flowers on the bed

We stayed on the edge of the backwaters so it was a picturesque spot for sunrise

We stayed on the edge of the backwaters,  a picturesque spot for sunrise

One of the hundreds of houseboats

One of the hundreds of houseboats

We watched two women fully clothed in saris jump into the water. At first I thought they were bathing, but soon it was obvious they were fishing for something. We observed as the women kept ducking under the water.

We watched two women fully clothed in saris jump into the water. At first I thought they were bathing, but soon it was obvious they were fishing for something. We observed as the women kept ducking under the water and coming up with something in their hands.

The door at Punnamada resort

The door to our room at Punnamada resort

View from the breakfast table at Punnamada

View from the breakfast table

After a leisurely morning, we borrowed bicycles from the hotel and rode into town.

Though there were many place to buy spices in Alleppey, this guy was just terrific at his job.

Though there were many place to buy spices in Alleppey, this guy was just terrific at his job.

Nutmace

Nutmace

Star anise

Star anise

Nutmace, star anise, and Alleppey cinnamon

Nutmace, star anise, and Alleppey cinnamon

 

 

After loading up on spices, Lex wanted to get a Dhoti, which is Indian sarong for men. It ended up being a much longer shopping spree for me attempting to buy a Salwar Kameez.

The store was extremely crowded

Just an idea of how extremely crowded the store was

When the shop keeper knew what I wanted he introduced me to Mini, who was rather mini, and a tremendous help

When the shop keeper knew I wanted a Salwar Kameez, he introduced me to Mini. She was rather mini, and a tremendous help. She made the whole experience enjoyable.

Salwar Kameez #1

Salwar Kameez #1

Salwar Kameez #2

Salwar Kameez #2

Salwar Kameez #3

Salwar Kameez #3

Mini told us this was the new style of Salwar Kameez. Sure enough, I did see plenty of Indian women wearing these. On the other hand it made me feel like a human bell.

Mini told us this was the new style of Salwar Kameez. Sure enough, I did see plenty of Indian women wearing these who looked stunning. It made me look like a human bell. No.

Now I think that #3 looks the best. I bought #1, which needs to be tailored. Maybe I should take it to Climax Tailors and have some work done there.

Thankfully, Lex did end up getting a dhoti…

 

Nearing sunset, we cycled home from the traffic to quiet small lanes. Once in the out of the city and in towns, many people would shout hello, smile, and wave. Sometimes I felt like a celebrity.

Hindu temple in Alleppey amongst the chaos

Hindu temple in Alleppey amongst the chaos

Back at Punnamada

Back at Punnamada

After the heat the pool felt fantastic

Post cycling in the heat, the pre-dinner swim felt fantastic.

My arm was feeling better. In the morning it was finally time for a yoga class. Ahhh.

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The reason we came to Alleppey, was to be out on the backwaters. Time to go on a houseboat.

The reason we came to Alleppey, was to be out on the backwaters. Time to go on a houseboat.

Adventures in and around Varkala

Adventures in and around Varkala People had told me that Varkala is a pretty chilled out place, especially for India. They were correct. It’s an excellent place to enjoy life and just take it all in.

It helped moving to somewhere with a balcony, pool, and a sea view.

It helped moving to somewhere with a balcony, pool, and a sea view. It also didn’t hurt finding $100 bill. We gave it all away.

Where I stayed for 6 days, Krishnatheeram.

Where I stayed for 6 days, Krishnatheeram.

Lex and I spent hours drinking coffee and laughing at Cafe del Mar.

Lex and I having our standard 3-hour coffee and laughs at Cafe del Mar.

We watched the sunset daily from somewhere on the cliff top

Watching the sunset daily from somewhere on the cliff top

Having dinner with Eyal, Lex, and Anna at Abba.

Having dinner with Eyal, Lex, and Anna at Abba

Looking down the beach at loads of people

Looking down the beach at loads of people. This wasn’t the kind of beach to wear a bikini. Tourists do, but locals stay on the beach and swim fully clothed. Even while I was wearing a dress on the beach, a man made a lewd comment and gesture toward me.

Going for walks along the cliffs and down to the beach

Going for walks along the cliffs and down to the beach

After days spent lazing in Varkala, it was time to take a little trip out of town. Lex and I rented a motorbike and headed north in search of some more remote beaches and local Indian flavor.

Crossing over the palm tree bridge to the beach in Edava

Crossing over the palm tree bridge to the beach in Edava

Locals were continually both fascinated and confused by Lex.

Locals were continually both fascinated and confused by Lex. They would say, “You look like Indian people,” and then probably think, but you don’t talk or dress like it.

IMG_2478 IMG_2493 We ended up getting a little bit lost… …but these boys were ready to give us directions. (My favorite part is hearing the brakes when the second set of boys pull up on their bike.)

They got on their bike asking us to follow them to the nearest food stall.

After trying to give us verbal directions, the boys got on their bike gesturing for us to follow them to the nearest food stall.

Lex having a masala chai at a local tea shop

Lex having a masala chai at a local tea shop

Quite accidentally, we ended up in Kollam, which had an India-meets-Coney-Island feel to it. IMG_2501

Roasting peanuts on Kollam beach

Roasting peanuts on Kollam beach – delicious

Other food stalls we were a bit too afraid to try

Other food stalls we were a bit too afraid to try

We bought a kite to give away to the first  kid who wanted one

We bought a kite to give away to the first kid who wanted one

Lex getting his fortune told by a bird

Lex getting his fortune told by a bird

Here is the bird fortune teller in action. I shudder to think how he was trained.

After Lex, I got my fortune told.

After Lex, I got my fortune told.

I got Ganesh!

I got Ganesh!

Although my picture was different, the written fortune was the same. We figured he probably just had one version in English.

Although my picture was different, the written fortune was the same. We figured he probably just had one version in English. “Don’t worry – be courage” the lesser known hit by Bobby McFerrin

This gives the sense of the Coney Island amusements

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this place was called Mahatma Gandhi Park. It gives the sense of the Coney Island amusements, though clearly in India

One of the funniest things at the park was a haunted house, which seemed to have been both designed and operated by a group of 10-year old boys. They were enthusiastic to lure us into their dark, cavernous, house of fright.  It was very cute and provided a lot more laughs than screams. OK, the one skeleton that popped up did scare me a bit. IMG_2524

cute kids everywhere

Cute kids everywhere

After a fun day out, it was time to head back to Varkala, but, to continue with the theme of the day, we didn’t really know how to get there. At the gas station when asking directions, people pointed in two completely different directions, which wasn’t very reassuring. We decided on what looked like the more direct route. After at least 15 minutes of waiting at the railroad crossing this happened… We ended up on a highway in rush-hour traffic and then it started getting dark. When stopping for directions, we were told a variety of ways, if people even understood us. One man corrected us on our pronunciation, “Oh, you mean Warkala! In English it’s Warkala. In Malayalam it’s Warkala.” Oh, I see. Now that we can pronounce it, how do we get there? After endless wrong turns, small village roads, near misses with buses, and hitting potholes in the dark, we arrived back in Varkala several hours later without even a scratch. Thank you iPhone, Waze, and Lex for being a tech savvy driver.

Back in the peace of Varkala

Back in the peace of Varkala

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More coffee and laughs at Cafe del Mar. Unsuccessfully trying not to crack up and Lex's pose

More coffee and laughs at Cafe del Mar. I am unsuccessfully trying not to crack up at Lex’s pose.

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For the final day in Varkala, it was time to shop and have clothes made by the tailors .

For the final day in Varkala, it was time to shop and have clothes made by the tailors

Burying and being buried in sand while fully clothed

Burying and being buried in sand while fully clothed

This tailor, Anthony, finished sewing our silk items by candlelight...and with a smile

This tailor, Anthony, finished sewing our silk items by candlelight…with a smile

Goodbye Varkala

Goodbye Varkala

It's time to take a northbound train

It’s time to take a northbound train

Finally Getting to India

Finally Getting to India

It all started back in college. For a period of time I was a textiles major. One of my teachers showed us slides and fabrics from a trip she’d just taken to India. Seeing the intricate swirly patterns and vibrant colors of silks and cottons, I fell in love and wanted to go there too. Not long afterwards, I discovered yoga and Ayurveda, which added fuel to my fire. Then seeing pictures of gorgeous landscapes, and learning that vegetarian food would be available everywhere, I knew I had to go.

Back in 2000, while traveling through SE Asia and Nepal, I was supposed to visit friends in Dharamsala and the Andaman Islands, but due to my mother getting cancer, I returned home to be with her. Now, for the 2 1/2 years I’ve been back in Thailand, I have also planned on going, but at the last minute decided to visit somewhere else. Even this trip almost didn’t happen, because I’d heard the Chiang Mai Indian consulate makes it rather difficult to get a visa, so I thought I might just stay in Thailand. Then I found out about a visa service that charges more and takes longer, but gets you a visa. I applied, booked my tickets, and collected my visa just hours before my flight. Finally, after 20 years of waiting, I made it to India.

One thing I’d heard from most every woman I know that has been to India, is that it is not the easiest to travel there. You will be stared at a LOT, and possibly groped. Though I’ve traveled in over 30 countries independently, I thought India might be a good place to travel with a man, preferably an Indian man. Since I didn’t have one of those available, I chose to travel to one of the ‘easier’ places in India – Kerala. My first stop, the beach town of Varkala.

In the cab on the way from the airport to my homestay, this was suddenly a traffic obstacle.

In the cab on the way from the airport to my home stay, this was a sudden traffic obstacle.

The kind driver pulled over for me to snap this shot.

The kind driver pulled over for me to snap this shot. I love the elephant!

After checking in and having a shower, I was famished. My first meal in India was a parotha and curry. A parotha is almost like a flattened out Indian croissant. With the coconut milk curry, this proved to be too rich to finish.

After checking in, and having a shower, I was famished. My first meal in India was a parotha and curry. A parotha is almost like a flattened out Indian version of a croissant – very buttery, (or  maybe I should say, ghee-y?) With the coconut milk curry, this proved to be too rich to finish.

After lunch I headed down to the beach.

Looking at the cliff on Varkala beach. In this picture it isn't obvious, but there was a huge amount of garbage on the cliffs and more was continually thrown from the top.

Looking at the cliff on Varkala beach. In this picture it isn’t obvious, but there was a huge amount of garbage on the cliffs and more was continually thrown down from the top.

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View of Varkala beach from the cliff.

View of Varkala beach from the cliff

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Although it was pretty on the cliffs, there were tons of shops selling almost the same things in each one. It was a good place to shop, but walking along the cliff I was constantly solicited with, "Hello madam. Where you from? Just have a look, looking is free."

Although it was pretty on the cliffs, there were tons of shops selling almost the same things in each one. It was a good place to shop, but walking along the cliff I was constantly solicited with, “Hello madam. Where you from? Just have a look, looking is free.”

I was exhausted from travel and in no mood for shopping, but besides all the shops, there were also tons of Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine) centers. My arm really hurt and a massage sounded good. There are many types of Ayurvedic massages, but most include quite a bit of oil. My massage was supposed to be energizing and deep. It was, but with the rapid strokes, it wasn’t exactly relaxing. I left feeling better, if a bit oily.

The first of many gorgeous sunsets from a cliff top restaurant.

The first of many gorgeous sunsets from a cliff top restaurant.

Upon waking in the middle of the night, this was the view from the balcony. I figure, along with the elephant, it must be auspicious.

Upon waking in the middle of the night, this was the view from the balcony. I figured, along with seeing the elephant upon arrival, it must be auspicious.

Morning out the window - sweeping the dirt.

Morning out the window – sweeping the dirt.

As I was eating breakfast, the Casa Eva Luna Home Stay owner – Esther, who was from Spain, though had been in India long enough to have Indian in mannerisms and speech – told me there was a puja (Hindu religious ceremony) at the temple. She called it a Pongali festival, though I’m not entirely sure what it was. The festival went on for several days. Esther invited me to go with her to the temple and had a tuk tuk coming to pick us up a few minutes later. I do not know much about Hinduism, and will not pretend to. However, I do know that there are many gods, goddesses, and religious rituals – pujas – which are usually colorful, involve food, and are sometimes extremely loud.

The following photos are what I saw and interpreted to be happening. To all Hindus, sorry in advance if my interpretations are incorrect, or in any way offensive.

Arrival at the temple

Arrival at the temple

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Hundreds of women preparing rice and masala spices for the puja.

Hundreds of women preparing rice and masala spices for the puja.

Esther, my guesthouse owner and her neighbor. I was grateful for her invitation to the puja festival.

Esther and her neighbor. I was grateful for her invitation to the puja festival.

Lots-o-rice

Lots-o-rice

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Truly a living goddess

Truly a living goddess

Intricately designed Hindu temple

A colorful Hindu temple

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Here a woman is whispering a prayer to this statue of what looks to me like a sacred cow.

A woman whispering a prayer to this statue of what looks like a sacred cow.

Huge scales

Huge scales

This tree was supposedly a fertility tree. I made a donation and was played a 'snake song'.

This tree was supposedly for fertility and abundance. I made a donation and was played a ‘snake song’.

At the base of the fertility tree.

At the base of the fertility tree. Is this Laxshmi?

A little bit scary symbols of fertility

A little bit scary symbols of fertility

Leaving the temple

Leaving the temple

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Endless beauty

Endless beauty

I know it's a bit difficult to see such frumpiness after the loveliness, but I had Esther take this picture to show my arm. See how bent the left arm is? That was as straight as it would go...and it hurt a lot.

I know it’s a bit difficult to see such frumpiness after the loveliness, but I had Esther take this picture to show my arm. See how bent the left arm is? That was as straight as it would go…and it hurt a lot.

My initial plans for Varkala were to be on the beach, go to yoga classes, hopefully surf, and learn some more about Ayurveda. Well, with my arm like this, and in being in a lot of pain, neither surfing, nor yoga seemed likely options. Feeling energized by the puja, yet disappointed about not being able to move my arm properly, I went to a cafe overlooking the sea and to ordered a lemon soda. The heat was intense, so I ordered a second while gazing out at the puja on the beach and rethinking my plans of what I’d do in India.

Beach puja

Beach puja

Upon arrival at the cafe, I couldn’t help but notice someone sitting at a table nearby. There was an energy about him and knew I had to meet him. It wasn’t like he was a guru or anything, but more like some kind of connection. It’s hard to not sound too new agey, but I was drawn to his presence.  He was sitting with two other people. My arm was increasingly painful, and that gave me an idea. I walked over to their table and asked if they knew of any good Ayurveda doctors in town.

One man happened to be a body worker, and started asking me a bunch of questions. They asked me to join them for a masala chai, and we all ended up talking for over an hour. Eyal, the body worker, offered to give me a treatment. He was traveling in India with his new wife, Anna. During the course of that first hour, for a variety of reasons, the man who I was drawn to, Lex, decided to miss his train and stay in Varkala an extra day.

After having a wonderful 24 hours together, Lex postponed his flight back to Canada and changed his ticket to leave India until 2 weeks later to spend the remainder of his time with me! I was ecstatic!

Maybe something happened at that puja. Maybe there was a reason that I hadn’t made it to India until now. Maybe my arm hurting was a sign from the universe to change my plans. All I can say is whatever it was, it made me very happy.

 

 

Air Pollution in Chiang Mai – Please Stop Burning

Air Pollution in Chiang Mai – Please Stop Burning

Chiang Mai is a wonderful city. Unfortunately, this time of year there is a lot of smoke in the air. The growing traffic congestion doesn’t help matters, but the main problem is the slash and burn agriculture practices. It is quite common in Northern Thailand to see fires burning on the side of the road and in the hills. Most of what is being burned is organic debris from rice fields, and farms. To a lesser extent there is some burning of trash mixed in too. Being in a valley, the smoky air gets trapped in Chiang Mai and makes the air quality rather miserable from mid-March to mid-April. Hot, dusty, smoky and dry are words to define this season. It isn’t always like this though…

Here we are on Canal Road coming into Chiang Mai from Hang Dong. Blue skies all around! February 7, 2014.

Here we are on Canal Road coming into Chiang Mai from Hang Dong. Blue skies all around! February 7, 2014.

In the center of the Old City, Chiang Mai. Skies are quite blue! February 23, 2014.

In the center of the Old City, Chiang Mai. Skies are quite blue! February 23, 2014.

The new building at Panyaden School, looking kind of smoky. March 14, 2014

The new building at Panyaden School, looking kind of smoky. March 14, 2014.

Pink full moon over the Ping river. March 16th.

Pink (due to smoky air) full moon over the Ping river in Chiang Mai. March 16th, 2014.

In the Old City. Kind of blue sky. March 17, 2014.

In the Old City. Kind of blue sky. March 17, 2014.

And this was yesterday in Chiang Mai. Gross! March 21, 2014.

And this was yesterday in Chiang Mai. Gross! March 21, 2014. OK, to be fair, this is a an ugly view of Chiang Mai on any day…

...so here is the lovely Wat Phra Singh. Look at that smoggy sky. March 21, 2014.

…so here is the lovely Wat Phra Singh. Look at that smoggy white sky. March 21, 2014.

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3 Kings Monument. March 21, 2014

3 Kings Monument. March 21, 2014

Wat Inthakin facing west. March 21, 2014...

Wat Inthakin facing west…

...And facing east.

…and facing east. Look at the hazy sky. March 21, 2014.

In front of Hug Academy, right in the center of the Old CIty. Smoke filled air.

In front of Hug Academy, right in the center of the Old City. Smoke filled air. March 21, 2014.

The south side of the moat near Chiang Mai Gate. Smog of March 21, 2014.

The south side of the moat near Chiang Mai Gate. The smog of March 21, 2014.

I was cycling around the Old City while taking these pictures and had to go home because my eyes were red and burning from all the particulate matter in the air. At least I wasn’t coughing, but I’ve been sneezing today. It’s time to wear my heavy duty mask while cycling.

Curious to see just how bad the air was, I looked at this website http://aqmthai.com/ to better inform myself.

This is what I found: In the middle of the Old City

This is what I found: In the middle of the Old City at Yupparaj Wittayalai School the PM level was 237. Yikes! Wait, what does that mean?

As you can see from the chart, most numbers are in white, but red means ‘unhealthy levels’ of particulate matter. The exact number of what is unhealthy seems to vary from place to place, but anything over 100 isn’t good. 237 is horrendous! Trying to get a better sense of the air pollution, I checked the Air Quality Index:

AQI - Air Quality Index, Thailand. March 22, 2014

AQI – Air Quality Index, Thailand. March 22, 2014. Chiang Mai is in the unhealthy zone at 153.

Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 7.56.57 AMWhat is that blue part? Oh, a measurement taken on top of the mountain – Doi Suthep. It must be above the smog. Note: it is only 2 points away from moderate.

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This explains a bit about the Air Quality Index

This explains a bit about the Air Quality Index

These graphs and charts aren’t fun at all, and the pictures of different faces are hardly original. To help keep some humor about the situation, a woman in Hong Kong devised the Bruce Lee Air Quality Index for her blog Expat Lingo. I like her ideas a lot. Perhaps in Thailand we could use a similar plan – the smiling to crying elephant? Maybe employ Thai comedian Khun Note Udom to liven up the AQI a bit? At least in Thailand, we know this air pollution is seasonal, and when the rains come, it will put out the fires and diminish the smoke.

Why is it so smoky?

This is a common scene just outside of town - the rice fields and mountain are stunning...and then there's the smoke. Please stop burning.

This is a common scene just outside of town – the rice fields and mountain are stunning…and then there’s the smoke. Please stop burning!

As for now, I sleep with the windows closed despite the heat. Each morning I wake up and walk out of my room, I immediately smell smoky air. Upon taking down my laundry, it smelled as if I had dried it over a bush fire, which, in a way, I had.

What is the solution? It’s a very complicated issue here. Stopping burning means using more labor intensive composting and tilling practices. It’s not an easy switch for farmers.  I am definitely not an expert on air pollution, or SE Asian farming. As a guest in this amazing country, I have no right to tell anyone how to do their business. Being an educator, I teach. It is my hope that the students will pass on the information and educate others in their communities. Children are the future. They are the ones who will make changes by leading the way to environmental sustainability.

As I was writing this very post, it started to rain for the first time in months. Hooray! Bring on the rain! Chiang Mai looks forward to having its clean air back!