Bangkok to Kolkata

068589C2-6274-4077-83C8-8A6C6CC9771EArriving in Bangkok, I was quick to remember just how HOT it can get this time of year. It gets so hot in Bangkok that there’s a huge water festival called Songkran where businesses close down and most of the city engages in one big water fight for several days. That was happening in a couple weeks.

Before I headed over to India, I stayed a couple days at a Couchsurfer’s house. Now, for those who know me, I love the social travelers network Couchsurfing. Most may think the motivation for utilizing the site is to save money while traveling, which was also my first assumption when I joined it in 2007 after hearing about it constantly from fellow traveler friends. Yet, after using it, it quickly dawned on me that the friends I was making through the network were almost always amazing individuals, full of openness, generosity and kindness. Lifelong friendships were easily forged and adventurous memories made.

So, it was no surprise to me when I came across a profile in Bangkok that had over 1,000 unique positive references that this person would be kind and generous in spirit.

7F91A573-284C-4A6A-BD43-EF0E7015E889
Old CS saying back in the early years of the social network..

I stayed at “Toom’s” house for a few nights and inside one can see the hundreds of personalized notes of thanks for hosting and sharing the local Thai life with them. A trend developed on the walls too, which was posting ones extra passport photos. Looking at the wall, it was a living memory of all the fun traveler experiences that were had at his 3 story house outside downtown Bangkok. There were literally thousands of mementos spanning as far back as 10 years ago.

A09814BC-32A1-45E5-A413-652EEFEF10B1
Notes of thanks from travelers through the past decade

I had been a few times to Bangkok and I wasn’t looking to visit any touristy spots, but Bangkok is known for it’s good food, and so I engaged in nightly excursions to indulge in street food stalls, soaking up all the flavors the city had to offer.

Toom is one of those couchsurfers who hosts multiple guests at the same time, as he has a big house to accommodate. There was an Italian guy, coming to Asia for the first time to learn Thai massage , a Cyprus couple traveling around for a year around Asia, a Belarusian girl who travels and does tattoos and teaches yoga, an Austrian who is practicing Tai Chi from masters and also doing community based tourism, and a couple from the UK who have been bicycling for 11 months from England and plan to go to Indonesia, Australia and then the US.

All sorts of travelers, nomads, seekers… I have been that full time traveler too, but just don’t do it full time as much these years.

8A01BA26-4E39-493B-8287-302C936C8A54
Couchsurfing Host – Toom
FB2A4E3D-08C3-417D-8463-572B9946A1ED
Decided I would take one bite of chicken blood to appease a friends dare

I flew to Kolkata on a late night flight arriving at 1:30am. For those that don’t know, I have spent about four months of my waking life in this crazy bubbling city in India.

It was the city that really rocked my world as a 21 year old. I witnessed suffering on a level I had never experienced before and the realities of our humanity were in my face stronger than ever. Back then, it was hard to see entire families on the street with nothing but a mat along with little babies sleeping next to the mothers on dirty concrete surfaces and people dying due to under-resourced hospitals and seeing all sorts of human deformities caused by polio and other infections.

006C6779-538B-4A0E-B94A-0ED4F1B66937

F948B883-2219-42AF-8F9A-C9B5DB456991
Rooftop view from friends house in Kolkata

It was the city that Mother Teresa found her calling to work in for her life and I could see why she was moved as well back then. While she was a Catholic, she never tried to convert those to her religion so much as to just give love to those who need it. I learned in Kolkata that simple acts of love and compassion can mean so much to someone. The act of sharing a smile and eye contact with someone who is otherwise disregarded as useless or a nuisance to the society can mean the world. I shared my smile, my eye contact, and handshakes that stayed as longer holds.

This time around, I was only in Kolkata for a night before flying up to the North East region of India, so I booked my pre-paid cab at the airport, and drove to my friends house to catch up.

Wasim was also a friend I met through the Couchsurfing community in Kolkata and is one of those lifelong friends that was made. We were happy to see each other after 3 years, and eat some sweets, drank tea, and stayed up all night talking.

Around 6:30am, I felt it would be nice to visit the Mother House of Mother Teresa’s organization, where I went as a young  volunteer. Anyone can volunteer with her organization, and no matter your background or beliefs, all are welcome to serve in their hospices and orphanages across the city.

As I congregated with the volunteers for that day, I was reminded of my younger self back then, as many of the volunteers looked about that age, coming from Italy, Spain, Latin America, China and other places. I talked with one guy from China who said he felt inspired to help because in his country there are not as many opportunities to do so.

I ate some chapati, eggs and potato from Wasim’s mother before heading back the airport to get to the Northeast part of India.

and we’ll save that one for the next post…

3876965D-2564-492D-99B0-41B10B584B26 (1)
Thai newspaper cover…Politicians and…Cats?
45C595C7-CC58-421A-B655-F2BFACD054B7
Welcome to our Hotel, your durian will have to wait outside
DA954BB4-0A9F-484A-B8C2-5A72BE9601CA
Ronald MacDonald – Thai Style
Advertisements

Back in Asia After a 3 Year Hiatus

1200px-hongkong_airlines_airbus_a330-200

It’s been just over three years since I was last on the continent of Asia. As I become an older traveler, I realize that time can just fly by faster and it’s good to pursue the opportunities for adventure/discovery/opportunities abroad when they just seem too good to pass up. My philosophy regarding traveling has been simple over the years: Listen and follow your heart.

Sometimes we worry about our commitments, responsibilities, finances, pets, “cross-cultural ineptness” and so on and we end up not pursuing that opportunity to travel. I’ve learned though that any of these worries can be shelved temporarily and that your inner circle of family/friends/community is willing to help you if you’re willing to ask.

So, why am I back in Asia? The last time I was here was when I lead a tour group through South East Asia, going to Thailand, Cambodia and Bali. Then I went to India to go to my friends wedding and checked out the beaches of Goa as a conclusion to that trip. That was in October – December 2015.

Now this trip has a few purposes: The main one stems from a Whatsapp message I received about three months ago from a friend I met in India on my first trip to the country in 2004. His name is Apen and he is from the Northeastern region of India, commonly known as the “Seven Sister States.” His state is Nagaland and his tribe is  Konyak.

north-east-map-2

I met Apen through a study aboard program I participated in back then 15 years ago. I haven’t seen him since, but thanks to Facebook (after inputting a email address I had of his) we have been able to keep in touch. A few months ago he told me out of the blue that he wanted to create a classroom for the children in his village who don’t have many opportunities and come from low income families. He invited me to help co-create this project.

Initially, I told him that I would be happy to provide the funding for this project while he can help identify partners/educators in the local region to create the program. I attempted a few times to setup a video call for us to discuss the plans yet Apen was insistent though that I come to Nagaland to meet in person to co-create the project and that I come for his tribes most celebrated gathering; their Spring Festival.

This Spring festival is not only about celebrating the coming of Spring and the planting of physical seeds but also symbolic of new beginnings and new relationships. While Apen and I met 15 years ago, we are embarking on a new relationship and a new project together. I find this invitation strikingly human and something that has permeated throughout the course of human history. It is a ritual of sorts that just doesn’t nearly exist as much as it used to. Friendships and relationships can begin as simply as a click and there aren’t too many indigenous tribal gatherings too as the world becomes more globalized and connected.

download

1519422230_Aoling-Festival4

While we can do the planning and project managing all online for this project, it seems the best way and the next step is to celebrate life together in the highlands of the Himalayas, meeting the Konyak tribe and participating in their gathering.

So, here I am… In a guesthouse in Bangkok before getting up to NorthEast India, a region of the world I have wanted to visit ever since Apen invited me 15 years ago (and telling me he would get permission from the chief for me to come). I haven’t done travel blogs for a few years now and it seems due, even though blogposts have been replaced by podcasts to some degree. Either way, hope you enjoy the next posts for the following few weeks. There are other purposes to this trip too and I’ll share those later.

It’s nice to be back…To experience the smells, the kindness, the sounds of the street and even the humidity…More to come…Enjoy the reading 🙂

mark-twain-quote

 

 

 

 

Going to Burning Man – Here’s a short reflection on the journey

315340_2317718671536_1696720523_n

I woke up this morning inspired to write on this dusty blog and to tell a bit about my journey to Burning Man and how it has shaped my life in the past few years. It’s that time of year again when everyone from around the world gets to “that thing in the desert” and I just stayed up till 4am packing and am now wide awake at 8am ready to make the trek, or rather, the pilgrimage or ritual of sorts to get up there.

For those of you who have read my blog over the years faithfully and encouraged me to write on it, this post is for you. 😉

Burning Man shattered my box in a way I didn’t think was possible. Already before I had arrived at Black Rock City for the first time in August of 2011, I had traveled pretty wide and far and had seen various ways of life. I had slept in yak hair yurts and participated in annual horse festivals in Tibet, lived in Europe for a year in an international intentional community,  trained across India and worked in slum clinics, and had traveled to close to 40 states in the US seeing the wide array of diversity the country has. As someone who had an “anthropological lens” I was always observing and data-filing in my head all the ways us humans live and work and love and marry and parent and procreate and protect and fulfill roles, live in community and shape identity.

When I arrived to Black Rock City for the first time in August of 2011, I had not thought that this type of environment could ever exist on this planet. I could not believe that this many humans could come together, and participate in a form of community that I had not thought possible, given all the industrialization and civilizing, consumerism and individualism that had set in.

It captured me, and I have never looked back.

My first day was one to remember. I had arrived on Thursday, which even though 4 days into the event, was the earliest I could get there because I was working an event for World Vision in Texas yet I had arranged with friends from Seattle and California to bring supplies like my bike and water, and I would be able to come with my little tent and duffel bag.

I had been dropped off at the gate of Burning man  by a friend and had to switch cars to get in and I got driven to Distrikt Camp, a large sound camp. I was wearing my jeans and a shirt and as I got out I realized not many were wearing these daily type of clothes that I had on. Sure, I had my international hippie-ish garments ready to wear but I hadn’t put them on yet.

I made the trek walking to my camp, which was on the other side of the city , and as I walked I became more and more excited to be in this environment.

There was no cell reception, or wifi, and you had to arrange to find your friends BEFORE you go to the event. I was lucky enough to spot that yellow penske truck at the 3:30 and G  location. My friends were there and I was happy to see two camp groups that I had connected being neighbors. One from Seattle and one from California and they were the Zepto Space camp and Mini Man Camp. Zepto had about 6 peeps, and MMC was a camp of 15 coming from Italy, Canada, France and Santa Cruz.

Yay! I was here! I set up my little cheap tent I had bought at a Texas Walmart the night before and before I could even do the next thing, I was roped into “Shawn, let’s go on a bike ride!”

Bam, off we went, a crew of five, and as we biked, my eyes lit up everywhere. Every little participation and interaction was fascinating and fun and new and exciting. Typing on this typewriter, drinking this cuba libre, talking to this 70 year old colorful woman, seeing groups of all demographics and genders talking to each other and sharing life…We biked out to the open playa to see some art…

And very soon I came across my cousin, Kirsten Berg’s art piece the Constellation of One. It wasn’t hard not to recognize, it was made of mirrors and would reflect in the sun. I told our bike crew “That’s my cousins art!!” another replied, “Let’s go!”

2011main.jpg

We went to check it out and it was beautiful. A star tetrahedron with bubble mirrors all over it. I was happy to see my cousin expressing herself as an artist, as I had seen her small art pieces in our grandmothers home growing up, which also involved shards of mirror.

I knew there was a secret door, and so I told my friends, I have something to show you….

We opened the small portal and went in…There was a man, shaved head, all dressed in white, sitting in the lotus position surrounded by battery powered candles. “Welcome,” he said.

We sat around him and he said his name was Mr. White. He began to explain the deep significance of this geometric shape and how it was resemblant of a Merkaba and could take you to different dimensions as he packed a pipe with what looked like some green powdery substance.

In a ritualistic way, he handed the small pipe to each of us to take a puff and hand it back to him. He carefully cleared the bowl and repacked for the next person, making sure none of us took two puffs. I don’t know what it was, but I could tell I was instantly high.

Thanking him for his gift, we walked out of the multi-dimensional spacecraft art of my cousin, and lo and behold there she was with her partner! We hugged, yay! I was finally at Burning Man for the first time. I tried my best to act sober as I said hello to them, and soon I was on my way biking again.

Our group went to another art installation right after, and this one was always held a special place in my heart to this day . It was Marco Cochrane’s welded torso of “Truth is Beauty.

13b4c7d9ae5d5810f2084c170b75f047

One could climb it and I did. I went to the top of the torso, and I found the piece moving to me and I loved it. (To this day, it has been my favorite piece on the playa. Maybe because it was one of the first I ever interacted with.)

So yeah, movement happened around the playa, the sun was setting, and my heart was bursting with energy and joy as I traversed around this playground.

The night had came and I knew some of my friends from my small hometown of Woodside were throwing a little gathering and party near the main man base structure in the center of the playa. Happening north of the man at 12 0’clock I saw the group There was a table and drinks were being served and I saw my hometown friends and they gave me great big hugs lifting me up in the air. Some 50 of us hung out and reconnected, some of whom we hadn’t seen since the middle school years.

11_theme_manbase2

Then all of a sudden as we were close to the man in the center of the playa, two large fires ignited about 200 meters from us, then another 2, then another, 2 and another 2, and soon, there were 24 large fires surrounding us ALL AROUND. As I attempted to wrap my brain around the fuck was happening, my crazy long red haired friend Tyler yelled out to us all and the playa, “BURNING MANNNNNNN!!!!!!!!!!!!“””

Indeed it was. Indeed it was.

So what now? Did I expect that I would connect with a person that night who would become my partner for the next year, helping me become a better human and more conscious and aware? did I expect that I would go back year after year to help with my cousins art, deepening our relationship and friendship in ways I had wished to have with a cousin? did I expect I would discover this radical environment to be a social experiment that could be prototyped and applied around the world pushing and breaking cultural boundaries and values, some which need breaking and reflecting again? did I expect that I would travel around the world to the first regional burn in Israel to see some of those cultural boundaries pushed and write about it as a journalist? did I expect that I would eventually work for the Burning Man organization helping facilitate social impact projects that burners do around the globe???

The short answer is no, but what in life can we expect? The journey in Burning Man culture has been amazing and I am excited to see where it manifests and iterates next. Last year close to 30% of those participating at Burning Man (20,400 people) were from out of the country. Burning Man is going global. From the roots of the San Francisco Bay Area where I grew up, to the far reaches of the world.

All the open minded, pioneering, rule breaking, and envelope pushing peeps from every country are coming to the petri dish of Black Rock City; of Burning Man; to be inspired, encouraged, shaped, and whatever else they may experience that brings them to another trajectory and vision. These spirits and artists and makers and dreamers are going back to their home communities and bringing the spirit of Burning Man locally. And now that spirit is being brought to the highest levels of governments and corporations and non-profits around the world we’re seeing. There are lessons to be learned and extrapolated, and indeed the 100 plus academic papers and publishings prove there is an unlimited amount of philosophy and analysis into this thing in the desert that is blossoming around.

For those who know me well, they know Burning Man has been a large and exciting part of my life. and they know for a crazy ass adventurer like me who never seems to satisfy his thirst for new countries, cultures and experiences, Burning man must be important for the amount of time and energy I have given to it.

I’m leaving today for the playa, and I’m excited as fuck. Thanks for reading. Thanks for supporting, if you’re at Burning Man this year. Find me at 2:45 and Esplanade at Burners Without Borders Camp.

Video of our Zepto Crew including my first sunset walk for me on playa

Film about those 24 burning effigies, made by my co-worker at BWB, Christopher Breedlove 🙂

Some Highlights of 2015

2015 is over and 2016 is here, the year of the Monkey..Oooo oooo ahhh ahhh!

I hope it was an alright year for everyone, with learning and growth I hope..

I’ve posted highlights of 2011,12,13 & 14 on this blog before..So here are a few for 15! I’ll start from the beginning of the year and work my way to the end….

Ecstatic Dance at Kalani in Hawaii232526_web_Ecstatic-Dance-featuring-Shaman’s-Dream-at-Kalani           Over on the East side of the Big Island in Hawaii is a retreat center called Kalani. It is a special place that has existed there for 30 years and provides a communal sanctuary full of spirit.  Each Sunday is Ecstatic dance, and here in this particular community it really was a special experience because it was here that the idea of Ecstatic Dance began. I recommend everyone to go to an Ecstatic dance in your local area, or create one if your area does not have one! It’s super liberating and sometimes we just need to let it out in dance, with no one judging how we move.

Experiencing Sydney, Austalia

This year marked my first time to the land down under and I spent about 3 months in Sydney, Australia.

sydney-aerial-view Sydney has a high standard of life, with superb coffee, bakeries, and an ample choice of restaurants to choose from. I lived in the district of Potts Point, right across from the offices of George Miller, the creator of Mad Max.

While there, I got to preview the Mad Max vehicles before the film was released internationally. They were quite the setup and was fun to see. I had actually never watched any of the Mad Max films before, and a local theatre was playing the old ones, so I did the trilogy marathon before seeing Fury Road. Good film and good fun.

May15_24

Really enjoyed the sourdough bread and sailboats of Sydney as well. And made some friends too, but I also was happy to part after 3 months… Need a little more ‘flavor’ in cities for long term living..I think I will check out Melbourne and Byron Bay next.

Taking a trip to Joshua Tree and Camping under the stars

A full moon, a secret location between massive boulders, and one of your best friends to share a memorable summer night camping. It was enlightening and fun and I recommend everyone to do a little summer camping trip over there at the national park.

Anyone can ‘wilderness camp’ if you are at least one mile from the road. So go on google maps, check out where there may be a good place and blaze your own trail. But remember, bring enough water 🙂

jtree1jtree21

That Thing In The Desert 2015 “Carnival of Mirrors”

If you have been reading my personal blog for some years, you know I go to “that thing in the desert” and it makes this list every year.

Again, it was a wonderful year and this year especially was nice for two reasons:

One, I gifted a ticket to one of my best friends who I had been trying to convince to come for many years. He finally did and we were able to connect and make some wonderful memories out there. This year, we hope to make more.

Two, I got to participate and gift my energy to the CouchBurners Camp, which is the couchsurfing camp. I love couchsurfing as many know, and together we had a stellar crew where lots of fun was had. So many good friendships forged out there. Sending love to anyone reading this who was part of that experience this past summer :*

cbc222

(Jaybol and I making coffee for those looking for a hot cup)

cbc

cbc11

compund1111

(Art crew for Compound (i) this year, I took a break from the team, but she shined lovely as always this year!)

Quality Time with a Good ‘Homie’ known as BENNY D

You know, sometimes you need some good time with a friend, and it was due for my good friend Ben Davis and I.

Some believe in universal connections and for some reason, this guy and I always seem to run into each other around the planet. I’m talking like, on the same flight from Beijing to Tokyo, highway driving, large gatherings type of connections.

And a couple years ago, we traveled together for 2 months. No conflicts at all, in fact, I’ve never got in an argument ever with this dude. And that’s saying something when you travel and live with someone for a bit. Benny and I hung out for a couple weeks at his place and we caught up after not hanging for 2 years. Good times. Go see your good friends and connect with them if they can. Then when you are 70 or 80, you can laugh about the memories you shared when you were in your younger years .

ben

My led South East Asia Trip (Thailand, Bali, Cambodia)

Over the years, I have prepared and led trips for non-profit organizations, and I decided it may be time to go into business myself with all the travel mojo I have accumulated over the years.

Thus, a trip was prepared for South East Asia, and it was a blast. I took a group of friends to Thailand, Cambodia and Bali, and we experienced everything from Palaces, Angkor Wat, villages, fire dances, rice fields, temples, and a variety of cuisines. All in all, it was a successful trip and I look forward to doing another one later in 2016.

seasia 8seasia1seasia2seasia3seasia4seasia7

My first Indian Wedding in Pune

My friend Priyank was getting married and he invited me. Of course I had to come!

Even though I had been to India multiple times, and spent almost a year there, I had not participated in a proper Indian wedding. Let me tell you, everyone should experience at least one in your life!

Lots of eating, lots of dancing, and lots of love. I had a wonderful time there and congratulations again to Priyank and Prapti.

pri1pri2pri22

GOA, INDIA

As a traveler, eventually you always hear about Goa, about it being the end of the famous ‘Hippie trail’ from the 60’s/70’s and the evolution of it’s nostalgia and magic.

But in recent years, you hear it’s been overrun by Russians and it’s played out.

So, I never really pursued it as a destination to go to, yet, since I was attending Priyank’s wedding 12 hours away by bus, it seemed like a good idea to go and check it out. AND, I had a partner in crime to join me in this adventure, a fellow traveler, couchsurfer and sailor known as Miss Cristina Limon!

And I have to say…I was surprised on how much I enjoyed being there.

Yes, there were a lot of Russians, and yes, it was a little played out commercially like many of the best places are unfortunately these years.

But in the midst of the saturation, there still remains a spirit and culture to the area. There are still many old timers who came decades ago and still come back. Honestly, I don’t run across too many places like that.

And there were open mic nights, and drum circles, bonfires, and endless meals with fellow travelers there on the beach.

I had a wonderful place on a hilltop close to an early place where travelers congregated to in the 70’s and the place still retained a sanctuary feel as I looked out watching dolphins jump in the distant ocean as the sun set vibrantly. Absolutely magical.

So, if you get to India, and you happen to be there from November to April, check out the northern beaches of Goa and you may just find yourself there for a while. You may find other special things too.

goa

Kona Town for the Holidays

It’s the 3rd year in a row I am in Hawaii for new years. It’s always nice to be with family at this time and to reflect on the year past.

Now onto 2016! Hope everyone has a wonderful year ahead and make the most of life! 

KonaSeaWall1

ALOHA! 

and Mahalo for Reading!

Criss Crossing the Equator

It’s November 4 around 8pm and I’m in my room on the Khao San Road in Bangkok. Now to be honest, I’m not really a fan of the Khao San area. It may have been a chilled hangout for the hippie travelers back in the day, but now it’s quite the gong show each night, each restaurant blasting its music they think westerners want to hear be it reggae, classic rock, pop or trap, combined with food stalls, buckets of any combination of booze, spontaneous ladyboy lap dances (whether the tourist knows or not), and smells of smoke, sweat and college.

KSfeatured (1)

So why am I here? Well, I’m not here for my own personal pleasure, that’s for sure. Been there, done that when I was as young as most of the revelers around here are. No, this time around I am leading a tour group around South East Asia on my own custom tour. And you know, each person has just got to experience the vibes of Khao San at least once if they are to go to Bangkok. There really isn’t many other places like it..

I’ll tell you what..When I was last here in 2013 for the SongKran (Thai New Year), there were tens of thousands of people were all blasting each other with water guns and buckets full of water. I along with 90 other couchsurfers from 15 countries went out in full force each day and I got to say, that was pretty fun.

cs bk

cs bk 2

But besides my rants about the vortex that is Khao San, Bangkok has been a pleasant visit. Went to the Royal Palace again, yet this time around it was quite saturated with swarms of Chinese tour groups. The Chinese are really venturing out and with lessening travel restrictions and more disposable incomes, it will be a matter of time before they will traverse everywhere it seems. Look out for big white buses..china1

I don’t really have an issue with Chinese tour groups, as long as they respect the local lands they visit. Everybody is expanding their horizons in their own way.. I must say though, my last trip to the Palace in Bangkok with hardly anyone there in 2011 felt a bit more of an authentic experience as opposed to feeling like I was leaving a baseball game.

Bali….

Prior to my arrival in the BKK, I spent the better part of 2 weeks visiting friends in Bali. For me, this was the first time on the fabled island, even though I had several opportunities to visit in the past when I visited Indonesia. To be honest, all the travelers tales about Bali made me feel that the island had lost a bit of the original charm it once had due to over saturation of tourism.

And well…I just avoided places like Kuta, because, the photos paint a good enough picture on Google images for me to know that it’s not my cup of tea, ever.

But in the end, Bali was a unique experience, although I have to say I had some unrealistic expectations. And I try not to have expectations, but it seems  subconsciously I had some for this land..

Expectations such as seeing vast open rice fields, serene settings for miles, little traffic in some parts, a small pleasant island really… Sure Kuta was partied out, but Ubud and other parts? They were still unspoiled in my mind… I pictured the beautiful scene in the movie Baraka showing a local carrying fruit on her head walking on the rice terraces.

Baraka0179

I had an idea Ubud was a special sanctuary of a place, attracting conscious spirits around the world, where people chilled in organic cafes, practiced meditation and walked around the countryside from place to place. It sure seemed as such when I was considering renting villas a couple years back there.. But what those photos and films failed to show was the businesses, the shops, the traffic and the burning of trash.

And as I drove into the area of central Bali for the first time, feeling it was a bit of a pilgrimage of sorts, I was not met with the open fields and serenity… But rather was met like how the rest of large cities in Java are. Narrow roads with endless shops. This time it was a bit more spiritual with the selling of glittering Ganeshes and Buddhas, glamorizing the spiritual factor.

As the drive was happening, there were hardly any vast natural settings, as it was all occupied by some form of business, and to be honest I got a bit emotional and needed to have my friend pull over the car, while I contemplated what the hell happened to this beautiful island and to shift my subconscious expectations to the reality.

It bums me out to see any country that holds a beautiful place in their hands, and then allow it to be sold off to the highest bidder with little or no regulations and fail to consider the long term effects all these businesses and merchants will have on the environment and the culture of a place. Sure, everyone would like to make a living, but not at the expense of spoiling a special place. It’s more important than ever to protect the beautiful parts of the planet.

As travelers, we all hear the stories of the old days from those who went before us, traveling in the 80’s, the 70’s, 60’s and before that to the 30’s and the centuries before.

These lands and cultures were unique, open, and fairly preserved. Life was a bit more simpler then and people connected in a slow way.uuuSometimes I wish I lived in those days…

The reality is that Bali the paradise island is a short flight from many countries including Australia, China and India. And this land sees  some 2.7 million visitors a year coming for all sorts of reasons whether they want to rest, party, surf, eat, pray or love. There also are more and more Indonesians coming from Java, Borneo and the rest of the country coming to make it on the island too where the opportunities are greater.

Yet in the midst of the craziness, the traditions still exist. The rice is still grown, the incense and flowers are still given to honor the spirits (along with candies, cigarettes and rice, because you know the spirits like that too), the children still sing songs and the prayers are still prayed. It just happens in the evolving context of a bustling tourism market. And if you really wanted to find some peaceful place, you can. It will take some effort to get there though..

Bali_2011_014

I had fun in Bali. I saw some good friends, ate some good Mie Goreng, Bakso, and Ayam amongst all other Indo foods. I channeled the my Dutch-Indo heritage (my family lived in Indonesia for a long time before WWII), and I got to attend the 12th Annual Ubud Writers Festival, where I got to connect with amazing authors including Pulitzer prize winner Michael Chabon and also Jono Lineen, who walked 2700km in the Himalayas and managed hospitals in war zones for Doctors without Borders (MSF). Lots of amazing authors and people there..Program-Launch-Concept-2

I got to witness poetry slams from Indonesians, Australians and Americans, witness ceremonies from the indigenous tribes of North Borneo talking story and honoring the spirits on what was Halloween night, and watch the sunset while the surfers caught their finals waves of the day.

bali sunset

And I’ll be back there in 5 days with members of my tour group.

Tomorrow I will depart the 10 million strong city of Bangkok and fly away to the exotic lands of Cambodia to visit again what I consider one of the most special human made monuments in the world: Angkor.

I hope the Chinese haven’t discovered it yet…

Good night all, I’m off to meet some couchsurfers at a local pub, talk some travel stories with locals and travelers alike.

Thanks for reading as always~~~More posts to come during this time..

Bali traveler

a reflection . .

I’m always a little sad when a vibrant life passes. 

I remember a few years back when I saw a memorial collage honoring a young man of 28, who had passed while kayaking rapids… Based on the photos, one could tell this man had joy in his life. His smile was a contagious one could see and his friends pictured next to him were happily affected by his presence.

I didn’t know him, but I was moved with his memorial..And I began to weep and let it out, yet slightly smiling knowing that he was at least able to share his spirit with those while he was here.

Yesterday, I found out that another strong spirit passed. Yet this person I knew… Candace Coffee and I met as part of an international group of students and professors on a survey trip of Tibet. I was still in college and she had recently graduated from UCI with a degree in dance and international studies. She had aspirations for grad school, and future endeavors around the globe.

Candace
Candace and her little ones, Jude & Jack

I got to share many wonderful memories in this season of traversing China and Tibet with Candace and our group. Whether it was playing Gang of Four cards on a sleeper class train from Beijing to Xining, sharing spicy yak noodles for lunch, or even the lamb kebabs that the Uyghurs would make on the street. It was exploring monasteries and nunneries, bathing in mountain hot springs, horseback riding in the country, sleeping in yak hair tents sipping on that special Tibetan drink we all love; yak butter tea. གཟུགས་པོ་བདེ་ཐང་།! (Cheers in Tibetan)

Ah the memories! Such ones are close to my heart, and 13 years later, I still feel a connection to all of those who were on that trip, because in today’s world, a trip like that does not exist anymore due to heavier travel restrictions in the Tibetan region.

As all of us were becoming friends at 3,650 meters in Lhasa, staying in our guesthouse three blocks away from Barkhor Square, something triggered in Candace’s body and she took a turn and was beginning to lose her vision..

_44506799_tibet_noborder_416

She was flown to Hong Kong for immediate medical attention. As we learned some time later, she had to go back to the States. She went blind in one eye, then the other, then her vision regained…She felt numbness in her body…and for a while, she and many physicians did not really know what was going on in her body. 

As it was discovered, Candace had Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO), a rare condition of which not everything is entirely known about.

And I didn’t see Candace for a few years after then…

When I saw her again, it was with our fellow partner on the Tibet trip, Jared. And together we shared a day and evening together, laughing and reminiscing. She had gone through some humps, but was in general good spirits and still very strong and able. I think she may have been doing a bit of dance, and acting as well.. This was 2004/05..

Yet, as the course of events that would happen for Candace’s life from here on, she would be encountered by a different sort of ‘Tibetan Himalaya’ to climb. These Himalayas which she would consistently conquer and overcome, regardless of what the level of intensity they could be.

I was inspired always by Candace, and while I didn’t get to see her as much face to face in LA, I felt I was still a part of her life through her photos. Whether she was traversing to beautiful places, gracefully dancing or fighting for the openness of embryonic and stem cell research in California, her life was vibrant, and encouraging. It was a joy to see her become a sweet, sweet mother for her two monkeys, Jack & Jude.

jj

I had another cry last night, and I looked to the stars of the Hi-Desert. In the distance, I saw a red sparkly star just above the horizon of the mountain range…And I named that star Candace, because she is a star…and her life and how she emanated it will always be here.

I will miss you Candace..Thank you for being You..

Until we meet again…Au Revoir, Adios, Auf Wiedersehen..

s

Video of Candace talking about NMO

Contributions can be given to an education fund for Jack & Jude, Candace’s precious boys

candace 2
Candace and Marlen near Qinghai Lake, looks like yaks in the background..

After 14 countries this Summer, it’s back to INDIA and NGO Work ~

IMG_6830

Ok Ok Ok Ok~

It has been a while since I posted an update. Sometimes, when I am moving so fast from place to place, there isn’t really much time to reflect. I have learned more and more to live in the present and experience the days fully. Only now do I really have some time to give an update on the past and what is happening now.

Some have requested a new post and to keep blogging, so here it is and thanks as always for the support through reading and commenting, whether online or in person.

When I posted last, I was in India and it was the month of May.

Now 5 months later, I am back in India in the the city of Kolkata. My last post highlighted my experience with this Mother Teresa figure I have been friends with for 10 years. His name is Francis and shortly after I posted on his life, he sent me an email requesting me to come fill in for him while he is gone in Europe for the Fall.

Well, can one say no to Mother Teresa if she asks you to help? Haha, after some short reflection, I felt it was time for me to do some volunteer work again. It had been years since I last was involved in such work, yet it felt right to do it. So here I am.

But before I go into the details of this work, I will quickly update on what just happened for the past 5 months.

CAT

After Darjeeling in May, I flew to Israel for a month. It had always been a dream of mine to visit the land, and it was one of the more amazing experiences I have had. I loved Israel and the Israeli people. I was welcomed with open arms everywhere I went and made some amazing friendships. I was also there when the tension began with the unfortunate killings of the teenagers, and I left right before the Israeli Defense Forces were mobilized. Many I met did not want conflict at all, but what would you do if your home country was attacked? Conflicts aside, Israel has a special place in my heart and I will continue to go back as the years go on…I recommend everyone to visit and have a good time there. Let me know if you want contacts to meet.

Midburn Gathering, Negev Desert , Israel
Midburn Gathering, Negev Desert , Israel
MidBurn
MidBurn

shabbat

I-Love-Israel

After Israel, I flew to the Balkans and traveled around Romania, Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia. In the month of July, this region is beautiful. I had visited Romania in 2000, and now 14 years later, I visited friends I had made back then. The same family that hosted me back then, hosted me again. I love how with the help of social networks today, I can keep in touch with my friends from all over the world.

Then after the Balkans, came that thing in the desert and this year was nothing short of spectacular again. I was there in the Black Rock Desert for two weeks and had a nice time there.

681x454

bm_playa_deep

Then it was off to prepare for India and this is where our story continues….

Francis works with the children and youth that have grown up in the massive train station called Sealdah in Kolkata. It is one of the busiest train stations in India and indeed the world, with hundreds of thousands of people in and out everyday. It is bustling with porters, people going to work, street merchants, and from 6am-11pm, there is a sea of people that take some keen navigation to move through and along. Being back in India, one always has to be aware of where you walk.

Francois 3

The boys of the Railway station are a tight crew. They look out for each other and some do little jobs to make some money, such as carrying luggage or goods. They sleep at the station, just on the ground, some live with their families, some have no family. Some are married (because it is common to get married at a young age) and some are fathers at age 18. Some have a wife that is expecting and some have mental and physical disabilities.

Francois 30

The list goes on. But like any boy, they like to have fun, and they like to have freedom. Most of their lives, they have had no formal education and the local government has not been able to assist their lives in any relevant way. This is where Francis and his Pilgrims of Charity Friends Organization comes in.

The work of Francis’ work involves just being present like a big brother or father to the boys. He provides them food, his smile and is there to help with any problem that they may encounter. For instance, one of the boys fathers had passed away and the mother had no where to go. Francis was able to arrange accommodation for her and a place to work.

Besides, being with the boys and giving them education twice a week, Francis also has a host slum where he provides basic first aid to the occupants of the slum. Most of the people who live in this slum are Bangladeshi and don’t have the same type of opportunities in Kolkata. They are slightly discriminated but the situation for them in Bangladesh isn’t much better, so they live there near a river (picture the water black) and the train station.

IMG_2595

So, I have been here for a week already and I have been the new “Big Brother” to the boys. They all met me in May, and were all happy to see me again. They enjoy having an American as a friend and are curious about all sorts of things. I also have visited the slum and have been addressing the medical needs. There is everything from common lacerations and abrasions, to skin, eye and ear problems. For more serious matters, I bring the person to the local hospital and with my NGO card, I can get them in right away for treatment. I have seen some pretty bad skin issues, because the fact is that the people don’t take as much showers as they should. Common hygiene is not really practiced or known, and with the treatment I administer, I also educate as best I can.

IMG_6833

IMG_6825

Besides, the slum and Train station work, I also visit the local government hospital a couple times a week and it is still is as difficult to see as it was for me 10 years prior when I came as a student. Yet even though the conditions are difficult to see, the simple human to human connection is still needed. And the very simple action of going to an old man, who is looking dazed and to hold his hand and look him in the eyes with a smile and respect can bring even him to some grateful tears. It is sometimes the most simplest actions such as these, that can spur life into the temporarily broken bodies and spirits in the hospital.

I am grateful to be here, but it is also another one of the most difficult experiences in my waking life I have ever experienced. To see so many on the street, disabled, hurt, diseased. After so many people, it sort of becomes commonplace and one can just accept that everyone in this environment is struggling to eat but that somehow no one is really starving. The Bengali people do look out for each other, but can only give so much of their own resources.

Now for these boys, they can live in the train station their entire life. And to be honest, some of them probably will. They love the station, it is their home, their identity and family. Yet, it is not the best place to raise a baby or a family, and of course there can be exploitation or even kidnappings, as it happened to one of the little babies of a young man we know.

When I visited the boys earlier this year, I got an idea to bring more education resources to them through the use of laptops and technology. I felt they were more than capable to interact and learn programs, and that with the right initial directions, they could self teach themselves and add to their own livelihoods.

Now, 5 months later, this idea has transformed into raising $5,000 seed money and acquiring 8 laptops to kickstart the classroom/computer lab project (link here). The simple mention of my decision to help these boys has inspired 4 of my friends to come volunteer alongside and contribute collectively to make the classroom a reality for them.

Just a couple weeks ago I proposed the project to the boys and asked if it was something they wanted and they all raised their hands enthusiastically. When I asked them a good location for them so they can all walk there easily, they gave me the best location and district.

Next week, my friends arrive and soon the classroom (titled Avasar Shala) will begin in addition to the existing work of the Pilgrims of Charity. I am writing from an internet cafe now where I pay 15 cents an hour and listening to some deep house music. It is the weekend, and I will definitely take some needed rest after my first week here.

Thanks for reading, for the continued support at this time. I launched a small campaign for the project and if you want to contribute financially, you can. Or if you want to visit me while I am here, come. I will stay till Dec 20.

Cheerio and Connect with me on FB if you ever want to chat more deeply.

CIAO!

IMG_2579

IMG_2603

IMG_6848

 

10502390_10154809883165717_5626502655377406327_nAll photos used with permission by Tara Beth Currah