It’s a favourite especially as I know no-one else took this photo of Buddha getting his nails painted in a non-tourist area of Thailand.
While searching for a document I found this summary of 1999 I’d sent to friends. What a privileged life I lead – be assured I value and treasure it.
“I have swum in the Nile and Mekong rivers, in the South China and Aegean seas; and in swimming pools in Egypt and Thailand; Scuba dived and snorkeled off the Perhentian islands in Malaysia;
I’ve studied Islam, Buddhism, Hindu and Chinese religions; was silent for ten days in a Buddhist temple and did a cooking course in Thailand.
Learnt to say ‘no problem’ in four languages, read junk novels, inspiring stories and travel tales as well as keeping copious notes for my own writing.
Been offered jobs in Thailand, Malaysia and Laos, and worked for 5 weeks in Athens, Greece. Had a proposal of marriage, a few propositions and some foxy flirtations.
Celebrated four new years…. The calendars for Christian, Islam, Buddhism religions and the Chinese one. Currently the year of the rabbit
Stayed in little villages, large cities and islands.
Climbed . . up into Buddhist temples and down into tombs, up to sacred caves and over narrow planks to boats.
Traveled on planes, camel, horse, bus, songthaew, cars, trishaw, bicycle, dingy, fishing boat, felucca, truck, river taxi, train, and cargo boat.
Slept in beds, bunks, hammocks, fleapits and 4 star hotels, on a concrete slab; on a mattress on the felucca, and on the roof of a hostel in the old city of Jerusalem with 29 others!
I’ve danced. . . on beaches in Malaysia and Israel, in a Cairo hotel, on the banks of the Nile, as well as in Hindu and Buddhist parades.
Experienced monsoon rain and dessert dry; from 48 degrees centigrade in the Valley of the Kings, down to 12 degrees in the hills of Malaysia and needed a blanket for the first time for ages
Been blessed by monks and had water thrown over me by school children, ladyboys and farangs. I’ve played volleyball, frisbee, backgammon, scrabble, cards and petanque.
Eaten pigeon, fresh fish, fruit shakes on the beach, coconut straight from the tree, and copious amounts of rice and noodles. Drank water from the tap every where including the streets of Cairo and am still waiting for tummy problems! Had my hair cut in men’s and women’s shops, by people who spoke no English, as well as under a palm tree in Malaysia and in a garden bar in Athens by an Aussie
Made music with bongo drums, spoons sang Pali chants and both Thai and Egyptian love songs as well as playing drums in a traditional Malay cultural band.
Taught English and swimming; became a grandmother in Malaysia and a mother-in – law in Thailand. And I’ve een called mum, sister and auntie, renamed Hedda, Hezza, fox and H as well as Pouhi.
Ate in night markets, street stalls and fancy restaurants, in people’s homes. . .including the Minister of Health’s’ home in Malaysia!
Prayed in mosques, temples and churches of many religions. Chatted with monks, children, tourist police, street people and shopkeepers.
Witnessed funerals in Malaysia, Thailand and Egypt.
Swam with turtles and tropical fish and the most poison-ness snake in the world! In clean water, clear water, and polluted water; warm and cold water, calm and rough, blue and green; fresh, salty and chlorinated water.
Been to the toilet watched by kids, on swaying trains, in smelly dirty rooms, off the back of boats and developed good thigh muscles on the Asian squat toilets (which I missed when I arrived in Egypt.) Learnt to forgo toilet paper for months and use my right hand for eating and greeting!
Sold beer and bananas on the beach in Malaysia served pancakes, nasi goring and BBQ on the same island and cooked countless meals in Athens.
Been offered hash, opium, and marijuana and changed money and brought cigarettes on the black market.
Met people from all over the world was proud to be a Kiwi, ashamed of many westerners attitudes and behavior. Joined the inverted élite snobbery of being a traveller not a tourist.
Gave blood in Malaysia, broke a toe, and had an allergic reaction and apart from bites have been disgustingly healthy.
And have kept developing my courage and resilience despite fears!
Looking at some of the TV programmes I have recorded while travelling recently I see one looks at a British explorer and biologist, Alfred Wallace who discovered evolution in Malaysia. I look forward to watching it as I wrote really briefly about him in my book (pub April 2015) see below.
“Somewhere, in a museum, newspaper, or conversation, I also learnt about something called the ‘Sarawak Law’ which I’d not previously heard of. Alfred Russel Wallace was a British naturalist and biologist known for independently conceiving the theory of evolution through natural selection. He believed this natural selection was very clear in Sarawak Borneo and his paper on the subject was published with some of Darwin’s writings in 1858 – leading Darwin to later publish his own ideas a year later in the Origin of Species.
In his book, The Malay Archipelago, 1869, Wallace also wrote: ‘The Rajah held Sarawak solely by the goodwill of the inhabitants. Rajah Brooke was a great, a wise, and a good ruler – a true and faithful friend – admired for his talents, respected for his honesty and courage, and loved for his generosity, his kindness of disposition and his tenderness of heart.’ Quite a recommendation and as I said earlier, a film about the White Rajah will be most interesting and I’ll be watching out for it.”
Note: this book has been entered in the Malaysian Tourism Awards 2015 which will be announced on 21st November.
Only 15 km from Kuching (and 5 km from the Damai Beach Resort (where I have stayed three times while at the magical, annual Rainforest World Music Festival) is the Kuching Wetlands National Park (2002) in the estuarine reaches of two rivers.
It’s also where I have twice planted mangrove trees as part of the “Greening of the Festival” which Sarawak Tourism does with all the festivals it hosts, helping offset the carbon I’ve spent getting to Malaysian Borneo.
The park is a mostly saline mangrove system of many waterways and tidal creeks connecting the two major rivers that form the boundaries of the park.
An important spawning and nursery ground for fish and prawn species and it also has a wide diversity of wildlife, including proboscis monkeys, long-tailed macaque monkeys, silver-leaf monkeys, monitor lizards, estuarine crocodiles and a range of bird life, including kingfishers, white-bellied sea eagles and shore birds, including the rare lesser adjutant stork. In 2005 Malaysia designated the park as a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance.
To explore this park you need to travel on the river and a number of tour operators offer coastal and river cruises in and around the park.
To read more about eco-tourism in Malaysian Borneo see my small book (A love letter to Malaysian Borneo or, can this travel writer be green) which has been entered in the Malaysian Tourism 2015 Awards.
These three photos are copyright to the Sarawak Tourism Board and were taken by the official Rainforest World Music Fesival photographers
Opposite the infamous Tong Sleng prison, amid the dust, heat and noise of Phnom Penh, I found an oasis of green and peace. The Bodhi Tree Guesthouse and Café have welcomed people for meals since 1998 and for the past three years (written early 2000’s) have also had guest accommodation. The ten rooms are individually decorated with traditional Cambodian materials: all are extremely tasteful and most have an en-suite.
I know the food is great, not only because I tried it, but also because some 70% of their customers are locals who eat there .
The main idea of the Bodhi Tree, as well as being commercially viable, was to give a comfortable working space for young Cambodians who find themselves in challenging circumstances.
I talked with a young man who has worked there for two years.
‘I could find another job with more money but it would not be good like here’ he says ‘I like to stay here. Everyone is friendly and all are equal. I have learnt so much. Before I worked at my Auntie’s shop and could speak some English but I did not understand anyone talking it. The accent was too hard – now I can talk to many people.’ He continues ‘I want to study management. My boss wants me to help others improve too. We only have people here who have a good attitude.’
Another young man tells me he has worked there for five months and that it was ‘ . . . a good place to work. I get two meals a day and it is a nice place to be. People are kind to me and I am learning many things. I stay in a house with some of the others who work here’ He also told me the restaurant was named after the tree in the story of how Buddhism started. (See sidebar)
The cook, who has cooked for three years, produces wonderful meals. She had been a cleaner at the Bodhi Tree before learning to cook and now her menu and skills could be used at any international restaurant she chose to work at. Along with the Asian and continental breakfasts from the kitchen, these became my favourites during my stay:
- Slow roasted honey and cinnamon Asian pears – topped with fresh blue cheese and walnut – served with balsamic vinegar.
- Red bean and steamed spinach salad with black pepper grilled bread with grated Parmesan and summer vinaigrette.
- Spanish potato omelette served with tomato, olives, and mint salad and garlic bread.
After a week of travelling on the back of a truck in the remote north-east of the country, being served these, while sitting on cane furniture, leaning against silk cushions, under a Bougainvillea tree in an outdoor room, and with a Buddha gazing serenely on the scene, was heavenly.
Surrounded by the delightful artwork, birds of paradise, orchids, lotus buds, and other floral arrangements or plants it was hard to imagine the horrors that had occurred right across the road in the prison S 21. (See sidebar 2 below)
Note: I wrote this many years ago and have just refound it!
Sidebar 1. (As told to me by one of the young workers at Bodhi Tree )During the 16th century, in what we now call Nepal, Prince Siddhartha Gautama became curious about what life was like outside his comfortable court existence. When he saw people suffering it caused him great pain and he decided to alleviate their suffering.
Giving up his comfortable life, and his wife and child, he set out to study various religions for the answers.
After some time he adopted a life of self denial and fasting until, on the verge of death, he realised that this was not the way to end suffering: in fact he was perpetuating it.
During this time he was meditating under a Bodhi tree and this was where he received the revelations which led to his enlightenment. These were on three successive nights: on the first night he saw his former lives pass before him; on the second he came to understand the cycle of life death and rebirth, and on the third night the four holy truths of suffering.
Despite receiving enlightenment he chose to remain on earth and help others.
Toul Sleng (known in the Pol Pot years as S-21 or Security Office 21) is now The Museum of Genocidal Crimes. This was Angkor’s’ primary security institution: designed for the interrogation and extermination of anti Angkor elements. Originally a high school (Ponhea Yat) and built in 1962 it was enclosed with corrugated iron and electrified barbed wire during the Khmer rouge regime. Prisoners came from all over the country, all walks of life and included different nationalities including British, American Australian and new Zealand.
Over 12, 000 people were killed at S-21. While in the cells prisoners were shackled to iron bars and on arrival had been photographed and details of their life recorded.
The museum is not only a reminder of Cambodia’s very recent history, but also serves as a warning about how badly very ordinary human beings can treat each other.