Springtime Arrives along with the Popepool

Arriving here at the end of winter has the great advantage of being able to get ecstatic about the first glimpse of spring while being knocked senseless for only few weeks by the bitter cold. It was so warm today, that I just had to go out for a nice bicycle ride and a hike up to the large park along the western ridges. The trees in blossom now are plums. The cherry blossoms are spectacular but not even budding. The plum blossoms announce the coming of warm weather and have special place in my heart.

Oh, about the popepool. The other day, I was outside moving gracefully through my tai chi form when I suddenly began coughing and gasping for air. It was The Smoke from the incinerating of the mechanics oily rags across the street. Sure enough, when I checked the news, they had elected a new pope. I was later to find out that my poor nephew had lost his entire life saving (I may be exaggerating a little) in the office pool to guess which name the new pope would change to. All of the news media have had to make a big thing about the selection of a new pope. Really doesn’t make a difference. It’s still the same old game. What’s important to me is that he didn’t choose to call himself Pope Kundan. Now, that would have been a worry. Would have had to change my name again.

RedPlum

WeepPLum

BeautyWins

Camellias

Farmer

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Did I Mention It Snowed?

The last few times I arrived in Japan, I have felt a thrill at being back in this country. This time it was as the tires touched the tarmac. The earliest yet. I’m not sure what this thrill is about. I suspect it’s a mixture of being in an exotic place, which Japan will always be for me, and, returning to a place that I am so familiar with.

This trip, I arrived at Haneda Airport. It became a domestic only airport when Narita was built but in the last few years has begun taking international flights. I wish all my flights in and out of Tokyo were through Haneda. The immigration seemed to take a little longer but once through the gates, I was only 25 minutes from Ikebukuro Station by Airport Limousine Bus for only 1200 yen. This is so much much much much faster and cheaper than from Narita.

As usual, I dropped off my bigger bag at a delivery service. For less than $20.00 it would be delivered to my doorstep in Chichibu. The man told me that it would arrive in two days because it was going to snow the next day. He did not say that they “expected it to snow”, he said that “it was going to snow”. I liked his certainty in an uncertain world. On the bus going into the city, there was no sign of snow but I trusted him. As things would have it, I arrived too late at night to catch my train out to Chichibu, so, I had arranged to stay at Kimi Ryokan near Ikebukuro Station where I catch the train to Chichibu. It was nice budget accommodation. A 4 ½ mat room. (A tatami mat is approximately 1 x 2 mtres or yards. It was after midnight by the time I checked in, so, no bath only a shower. This was a great disappointment as the O-furo is one of my favourite Japanese experiences. My american made trailer does not have an O-furo. Ah, what so many people are missing.

41:2 Mat

So, as I was saying, the next morning, I was up and on my way to the train station. People had their umbrellas up to ward of the snow flakes but I just went without feeling my mustache freeze in the briskness of the air. The Red Arrow Limited Express to Chichibu. I’ve written of this train before. Reserved seats, coach class style with a conductor who bows and greets everyone when he enters the car. On outskirts of Tokyo, we began passing fields covered in snow and trees with branches with ribbons of white resting on them. I was really enjoying my nice warm seat on the inside of the window. I often read during the first part of the ride and start sightseeing once we start up the valley. This time, I just watched the whole way. Shortly after starting up the valley, we went through a long tunnel. As we came out, I was surprised by a landscape that was pure white. I felt a smile spread at the knowledge that this beauty was waiting for me.

SnowTrailer

So, that’s the snow. That was three weeks ago and it has only snowed once since then. That was a week after my arrival. Instead, it was bitterly cold. Nights got down to minus 8 C, 17 F. I was wearing my down jacket as one of five layers. The heater was getting a good workout. My sleeping bag hood came in handy to act as a warm cave to keep my head from freezing. Some days were better than others. The overcast days brought joy to my heart because it meant it would be warmer. Somehow, I survived.

Yes, friends, I have paid my dues and today, I began collecting them. It has been a warm sunny no wind day. 15 C, 59 F. Oh, the smile on my face as I walked around my neighbourhood. I was in only three layers. I went out shopping on my bike when I didn’t really need to buy anything. I took the long way to the market. An hour later, I just went out and rode around aimlessly until I remembered the antique shop that is way on the other side of town that I don’t usually go to because it’s so far.

Yes, life is beautiful!!!

Revitalised in Paradise

BaanSign

So, I left you as I was arriving at the Baan Hom Samunphrai “The House of Sweet Smelling Herbs”. http://www.homprang.com/

The two founders and carers for this place are Homprang and Christopher. I fell in love with Homprang the moment I met her. Unfortunately for me, she is married to this great guy Christopher. The first thing she did when she heard of my recent ailment was fix me a herbal rice soup with a mug of herbal tea. I was given a room and rested until dinner which was delicious as are all the meals here. Just being here on this two acre property is a treat. Lawns and trees, a pond, and old wooden houses that they bought locally, took apart and reassembled to Christopher’s designs with common areas on the ground and sleeping above.

BaanBuild

My room was upstairs in this building.

MedSala
The Meditation Sala where I played my flute.

InsideSala
Inside the Meditation Sala.

When I arrived, there was a class of four thai massage students in their last week. Three French and one American. (Classes are limited to eight students.) In my two weeks here, people have come and gone as students and as paying guests. We have our meals at a long table so that you get to see everyone as least at those times. We’re nine kms outside the centre of Chiang Mai, so, people don’t just drop in. Occasionally, someone will come all this way just for a massage. It’s worth it.

BaanDinner
This photo is unfortunately blurred. Sorry. It does give you and idea of dinner time. Standing is Christopher. The second person in on the right side is Homprang. Lots of young women around me at that time. That pepped me up.

My first massage here was on my second day. It was a ‘two hour full body massage’. Well, it went for two and three quarters of an hour and was one of the best therapeutic massages I’ve had in my long career of enjoying what life has to offer. None of my massages here have been less than two and a half hours. The credo here is to keep going until the massage is done. Nit, the woman who has been my massage therapist is this thin little woman who is very strong with incredible endurance. The first three of my five massages were two days apart but I found that I needed an extra day between for my body to fully integrate the changes. My last two massages included being massaged with hot herbal compresses during the second half. Want to melt your bones? That’s the way.

I must remember to mention the herbal steam baths I have been relishing every evening. How am I going to get one of those into my backpack?

Plunge
This is the plunge pool beneath the room where you receive massages. The door in the back leads into the steam bath.

I haven’t said much about Christopher and Homprang because there is so much to say about them and so much that can not be said about them. Homprang is this ball of energy and love who moves gracefully about with the ease of one who is in harmony with existence. She makes one smile in wonder. There is a brief bio at the bottom of the home page for their website. My next to last night I finally got Christopher to tell me how they met. He gave me her whole bio and it was a story that if you saw it in a film you wouldn’t believe it. Christopher is this soft spoken American poet who lived much of his life in Britian and is a wealth of fascinating knowledge about Thai culture and life. There’s a link to some of his poems and a brief bio on the homepage. The two of them join us all at the evening meal where we relax and wander in conversation. I am so happy to be one of their friends.

It only took me two days here to begin feeling sprightly again and every day since has been a day of increasing vitality. The last two weeks have been full of good company, loving care, transforming massages, delicious food and a peaceful environment.

If you are ever in Chiang Mai, visit this place. You will be happy you did.

Dream Crashing On The Way to Paradise

The plan was that I would arrive a day early in Chiang Mai and check into Sripoom House. Then, I would head over to my favourite restaurant that caters to westerners like me. There, I would pig out on delicious food that I could only dream of in India.

When I went south to Gudjarat and the ashram, I did not anticipate having to eat white rice, dahl, chapatis and overcooked veggies for the next three and a half months. I did import sea weed, vitamins, minerals and Super Green powder to supplement the Indian diet. It was not enough. (I now understand how much of an oasis the Poona ashram/commune/meditation resort was. We had the safest most varied diet in India. Even fresh salads that you could eat without fear of the usual tropical third world diseases that accompany such actions.) Even with the supplements and the Yang Cheng-Fu form, my body slowly lost it’s vitality. On top of that, I ran into a new to me Indian hazard. It’s called the loudspeaker.

When I first visited India in 1976, to own even a small radio was a luxury. In the early nineties, electronic goods, though more accessible, were still something special. Now, even a small mud and wattle shack has a satellite dish on the roof. Owning a sound system is common. The Narmada River is lined with ashrams and temples that all seem to have loudspeakers stuck at odd angles from their roofs. The various priests and sadhus think nothing of playing recordings of ‘devotional music’ and chanting at any time day or night. Two o’clock in the morning, there is a burst of very loud music for fifteen minutes. Or, maybe some chanting around that time that went on for an hour. The guy in the next village believed that everyone wants to hear ‘the name of god’ from 5:30 or 6:00 every morning at a volume so high that it sounded like he was outside my window. For nine years, my time of deep sleep had been from 5:30 in the morning. This was totally disrupted. Even when he slacked off a bit and turned down the volume, my body would be in stress while the music was playing. It was often beautiful music, it just was often too loud and at the wrong time of day. There was a nine day music festival that had the ‘music’ so loud that it was literally pounding on my body. Even the Indians in the ashram had trouble with it. For some reason, I was more sensitive to it and could not ‘just accept it’ as I was advised. The result was my never establishing a good sleep pattern once my old one was broken. And, of course, my body suffered from the tension.

So, why would I stay so long in such a place? A good question. The answer is a man named Baba Puranand Bharti. From my first meeting him at the ashram when he came for a brief visit, I knew that whatever discomfort I was going to suffer, it would be worth it to spend time with him. It was. To explain to my satisfaction would mean a very long dissertation that may not even make sense in the end. To be near Baba is to have the opportunity of experiencing a very deep state of bliss. During my time in his ashram, there were events and understandings of which I am very grateful. Much was an affirmation of my life’s trajectory and much was a deepening in my trust in existence. In addition, I made some very dear new friends and got to better know some already existing friends.

So, I stayed. And, had dreams of delicious meals that I would eat in Thailand.

My departure from India was through the Ahmedebad Airport. There was a four hour drive after lunch to arrive in the prescribed time. When I wheeled my cart past the army guards into the terminal building, I found myself at the end of long serpentine queue (line in ‘merican). It eventually ended at a single baggage scanner. It took half and hour to reach the scanner belt. Along the way, I had a feeling to avail myself of the services of the plastic wrap machine for my larger piece of luggage. As I stepped around the scanning machine to retrieve said bag, the man say’s “open your bag.” Those were not the words that I wanted to hear. I said, “what does she want to see?” (there was a woman in the driver’s seat.) He says again, “you have to open your bag.” I say in an exasperated tone, “what does she want to see?” To my amazement, the woman in the driver’s seat waves me through! So much for security.

I will skip the interminable waiting in the check-in queue and, then, the hour and a quarter late departure that I am sure was because of the inadequate number of check-in queues. Between the check-in and my gate, I bought a veggie burger. I had him microwave it to kill any life that might be lurking in it. Just filler for this hungry traveller.

There was a transit in Mumbai (Bombay) to a flight to Bangkok and, then, a short flight to Chiang Mai. I nibbled on three planes and in three airports. I slept maybe two hours. I got dropped at my guest house so tired that I was afraid I might not get as many meals in at my favourite restaurant as I was hoping.

I lay down on my bed waiting for sleep. Within the hour I was writhing in agony gulping in breaths. Then… Well I won’t go into the details of the experience of food poisoning. At some point during the day I had enough energy to yell out for help. No one heard me. When I eventually was able to make it to my room door, it was late at night. No one heard me. Some time in the early morning, I woke to find that I was over the hump and feeling better (very relative term here!).

In the morning, I extended my stay by four hours and paid extra for the damage. At two in the afternoon, I got a ride in a red truck out to Baan Hom Sumanphrai School of Thai Massage and Herbal Medicine. I arrived into the hands of the two most wonderful people. I was not a pretty sight.

Tick Another One Off the List

Dear Friends,
The good news is that I found out that I can get to Rajpipla and back by shared Jeep or rickshaw for only 10 rupees (20 cents) each way. Sounded preferable to risking life and limb on the back of a motorcycle. I have used this new mode of transport several times now.

Below is a photo of a normal rickshaw. It differs from the shared rickshaws in that the shared rickshaws have an extension on the back with two facing benches that are big enough to hold two small Indians each. I lost track of how many Indians actually fit in them. This is the first new rickshaw that I have ever seen in India. It won’t look like this for long.

NewRicshaw

My first time to catch a shared rickshaw, I walked the ten minutes out to the one lane paved road and waited only about ten minutes before a rickshaw pulled up.

As far as I could see, the shared rickshaw that stopped for me this time was full to over flowing. However, the driver waved me around to the other side and pointed to a space on the seat next to him. Well, there was a stray sadhu on the other side, so, I figured it was a legitimate way to go. The ride into town is ten minutes on winding country road with assorted bumps and potholes and, then, about five minutes on a two lane main road. The one cheek that fit onto my portion of the seat did fine. The rest of me was suspended between the hand clutching the roof strut and my foot on the edge of the floor was less than happy. Being set down in town was something that caused me considerable joy.

When I had finished my shopping, I was headed to the place where you catch the shared jeeps when up pulls the afore mentioned rickshaw. The driver smiles at me and indicates the same piece of his bench. I shake my head in horror. He understands and scoots over to give me a full portion. It’s hot and I don’t want to wait, so, I accept. This was a much more pleasant experience for yours truly. However, the man on the other side of the driver did not seem so pleased. When we turned off the main road, we came upon some construction at the railway crossing. The driver stopped and went to see what was happening. Everyone piled out to stretch their legs. I was just beginning to loosen the long ones when the driver came hurrying back and jumped on his seat. It was time to go! I hopped on my side only to discover that the man on the other side had slyly taken a full portion in my absence and I was back to one cheek again. I made it home.

So, not being one to be dissuaded by one setback, I ventured forth the next time that I had to visit the tailor. I was fortunate enough to get a ride from one of our guest for the trip into town. This time, I passed by the rickshaws and got a ride in a shared jeep.

The Rule of the Road in India: If your vehicle will not move under it’s own power, then, you have too many people on/in it. Below is a “shared Jeep”. I have never had to ride hanging onto the outside. With this one, there wasn’t even room for that.

JammedJeep

Upon arriving at the place where you catch these vehicles, I was directed to the front seat and a young man slid forward to make room for me. There were only five of us sharing the driver’s bench seat. One time, I was the first passenger on the scene and got a the best seat. In the middle section on the driver’s side. You have to get in and out on the passenger side. I had people arrive when seeing me in my place give me a dirty look before turning away to take what they could get. Even little old ladies acted in this way!

Here’s a photo from the inside of a jeep when I was in the middle of the middle seat. The front seat has six people with a guy hanging off the left side. You can maybe see the arm of the guy sitting on the floor to the right of the driver with his arm wrapped around the steering column. The guy you see on the far left is actually sitting on the seat of a man that you can’t see. The bag of bread rolls belongs to the guy hanging off the side.

The view from the middle seat.

The view from the middle seat.

Yesterday, it was time to go pick up the clothes from the tailor that were supposed to have been ready three days earlier. I went one day after the due date to find that the fabric had been cut but not stitched. So, I had to return. I then realised that this was what had happened the previous time. What I should have done is go in two days before due date so that he can finish it for me on time. (I have since talked with other people about my experience with my tailor. I’m very fortunate. One friend had to wait one year for a shirt to be made!) When I flag down the shared taxi going into town I’m lucky and a 12 year old girl makes space in the middle seat for me. I only have the one leg hanging out with foot resting on the running board. We start up and thirty seconds later she leans across me to let loose a long stream of saliva onto the road. Thirty seconds later, the same. This continues all the way into town. I figured that she must have been practicing for a statewide contest as no one needs to spit that much. It was an uneventful ride otherwise.

So, my tailor had my Kurtas ready and I bought a few provisions, drank a coconut and headed up to the edge of town where the jeeps were waiting. I waited, and, waited, and, waited. Then, the group of people suddenly headed back down the line to a jeep that already was half full. By the time I reach the scene, there was only on space left and that was beside the driver with my knees under my chin, my legs twisted and my hip aching all in ten seconds. Plus, the gear shift was under my legs. This was dangerous territory! I got out. I looked around. I was in no mood to wait for I didn’t know how long to catch another jeep and maybe be in the same predicament. So…

The good news is:
I will never again climb up the back of a jeep onto the roof and settle into the roof rack on a quite comfortable extra bald spare tire with one foot braced against the back rail of the rack to keep from flying out the back whilst facing backwards then bending forward and holding the two side rails in a death grip in order to stop from flying forward. As we hurtled down the highway I asked the universe why there wasn’t a good traffic jam when you need one. Manoeuvring the country road I kept my head down not knowing whether some improvising Indian had strung an electric cable across the road in the last few minutes at just above car height.

We finally came to my stop. I managed to unclench my hands and, with every part of my body shaking, I clambered down to wobble around like a drunken sailor. I have no idea how I managed to retrieve ten rupees from my wallet for the driver. As I staggered down my dirt road, I said to myself, “I should have done this when I was in my thirties, so that, I would know better than to do it in my sixties”
——–
Kundan! You get in the house. Right now.

Yes, Mom.

My Resting Place

Most mornings and afternoons, I go for a walk beside the river. I take along a cotton lungi (sarong) draped over my shoulder and use it to sit on or as a wrap if it’s windy. The river here is very wide and shallow. There is a dam upstream that releases enough water to keep it flowing year round. During monsoon, the level of the river is 10 metres above what it is now. You can see the plastic bags stuck in the trees on the cliffs. Our side of the river is somewhat level grassy area for about 10 metres wide to the foot of the cliffs. The other side of the river is slowly sloping sand that extends maybe 30 metres.

In the morning and evening there is a lot of bird life. I have become a bit of a bird watcher. First it was the ducks on the other side. Then, the cormorants that dive for long periods underwater. Sometimes they swim against the current with just the tops of their heads showing. When it is late, many birds swoop, reflected in the water, as they feed on the insects. There are many smaller birds the size of a sparrow. Some have bright yellow breasts. Others are an iridescent green with a dusting of red on their wing tips that you see as they swoop from their perch and back again. I can get within a couple metres of many of them.

Often a fish will jump out of the water. Once in a while I will happen to see it. Sometimes there a very loud splashing sound and ripples that I believe is a large fish catching a smaller fish near the surface. The young men (teenagers really) who work on the construction site use the river for bathing in the late afternoon. The fun in their voices as they play is carried to me.

I often walk about a kilometre along the river to a ghat. It’s a large concrete platform with steps leading down to the river. A few of the village women still gather water or wash their clothes there though it is rare these days as most people have access to a well.There are two young brothers who put out and gather in fishing nets along the shore in their small boat. The younger one poles and the older sets or takes in the nets. They’re maybe six and eight years old. We Namaste to each other. They have lovely smiles. Yesterday, I passed them walking on the bank and one of them held up one finger and said, “One.” They went up to five and I congratulated them.

You will often find me still on the bank til dark as the colours of the sun on the water are so beautiful that I have a hard time heading back. The slow movement of the river. A few ripples. The stillness in the air. I can understand why this river has so many ashrams and temples along its shores. This evening, I did my tai chi form on a flat section and it was dark by the time I returned. Stillness and movement.

brothers