Revitalised in Paradise


So, I left you as I was arriving at the Baan Hom Samunphrai “The House of Sweet Smelling Herbs”.

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.


My room was upstairs in this building.

The Meditation Sala where I played my flute.

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.

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?

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.

Shojin Ryori

When in Japan, one could be forgiven for thinking that there is no tradition if vegetarian cooking. Even some Japanese think that vegetarians don’t exist I Japan. Being a vegetarian myself, I have learned to expect a very limited choice when eating out in Japan. However, Shojin Ryori is a long tradition of Buddhist vegan cooking in Japan.

You can find a few places that prepare Shujin Ryori in the guide books, however, the cost of a meal is far beyond my curiosity budget. One day, I will find my way to one of these establishments because of the traditional setting with the tatami mat floor, shoji screens, garden view, etc that is included. I’m sure that it will an event worthy relating to one and all. In the meantime, I’m happy to be able to tell you of my little Shojin Ryu adventure during my recent sojourn in Kyoto.

Mikoan Dinner Set

First off, I have to give credit to the Digital Nomads, They are an English couple who sold up two years ago to travel the world. When I was preparing for my trip to Kyoto, I did a search for vegetarian restaurants that I could visit and came across their blog entries. These two fellow vegetarians maintain an informative good looking blog as part of their journey. I had landed in the right part of cyberspace.

There are a few places that they recommend in Kyoto. Shigetsu, within Tenryuji temple serves the traditional Shojin Ryori all of the ambience and high price that puts it in my ‘sometime in the future’ list. Then, there is Mikoan.

Mikoan was the Digital Nomads’ favorite place to eat in Kyoto. I followed the link to the japanese only webpage that contained directions and saved as a PDF. My guest house hosts printed it out for me and told me the nearest subway station. I figured that I had time before the beginning of the Shakuhachi camp at mid- day to have a quick meal. Well… it was a hot and sweating Kundan who gave up in uncertainty and grabbed an egg salad sandwich and ume onegiri at a 7/11.

Being of good samuria stock (well maybe in a past life), after the camp on my way to the opening of the World Shakuhachi Festival, I stopped in at the Kyoto Tourist Information office at the main train station. A very nice woman gave me a tourist map and marked the spot. She also told me which bus to catch and showed me the route. I love the ladies in the tourist offices in Japan. With map in had, I caught the bus and got off at the closest stop. Walking back, I found my way to what I believed was the correct street. An enquiry of a shop owner sent me six shop fronts up looking for a lane way. I got to what I thought was the lane and turned left. It didn’t feel right. Backtracked and discovered that I had walked right past the sandwich board and the lane way. This lane was slightly wider than shoulder width between two shops. In the back, I came upon a house that looked like it was out of the 70’s. I walked through the front door and entered another world!

Mikoan is the kind of place where I feel comfortable. Perhaps it’s because it is so un-Japanese and, at the same time, so Japanese. The right side of the ground floor has been turned into a bar/restaurant. From where you step into the room to with in a couple feet of the back wall runs a beautiful thick wooden slab of a counter.

Looking towards the front door.

The left side is this tiny kitchen/serving area and the right side is lined with stools. There is just enough space between the stools and a bookcase covered wall to slip by. When you arrive, the proprietress motions for you to move down to the far end where there is a bend in the counter to accommodate a couple more people. The whole length has maybe a dozen stools. Besides the fact that it would be difficult to maneuver past and occupied stool, the end of the counter closest to the door appears to be the mama-san’s office where she stands and studies papers when she isn’t cooking or serving. If the place fills up, she lifts a pile of papers off for the final customers. Unlike the usual Japanese establishment, the entire room has no bare space except where your food or drink may sit in

front of you. Along the serving side of the counter and on every other available surface there is what might be called clutter. I would say that it is merely an abundance whose order is fully known by one person.

I ordered a lunch set. One of the few things in English on the menu. It was just what I wanted. Brown rice and various types of veggies prepared in traditional Japanese ways.

The next day, I brought a few curious fellow shakuhachi players with me. They were thrilled.

The final night of the festival, I brought even more.

The Dinner Crowd

It was so gratifying to hear people enjoying themselves and thank me for finding this place. So, you don’t have to just take my word. Try it out yourselves next time you’re in Tokyo. It is one of those uniquely Japanese experiences.

Grand Tour Day One

Stopped in Truckee for lunch. Definitely a meat eater’s menu. But, hey, it is the Donner Pass.

A couple hours later at  a rest stop. (click on photo for enlargement.)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Donner Party (sometimes called the Donner–Reed Party) was a group of American pioneers who set out for California in a wagon train. Delayed by a series of mishaps, they spent the winter of 1846–47 snowbound in the Sierra Nevada. Some of the emigrants resorted to cannibalism to survive, eating those who had succumbed to starvation and sickness.

Eating the Bay 3

Venus Cafe- Berkeley, CA

The morning after Picasso found me walking down Shattuck looking for a cafe that had been recommended for breakfast. Getting farther and farther from downtown. Slowed down. Did I come too far? A few yards ahead, something different. Somehow inviting. The Venus Cafe. Read the menu in window and entered. Waitress with a bright smile took my order for a cappuccino that came just as I finished perusing the menu. Ordered the Warm Poached Egg Salad. “Two poached eggs on a nest of mushrooms with tomato, goats cheese, mixed greens with tapenade toast.” The cap was in a little bit smaller cup than I had been served at other places. Just a little foam on the top. Dark brown underneath. Full rich flavour. This is what a cappuccino should taste like.

My food arrived just as I finished the cap. The poached eggs had large round balls of yolk containing a deep bright color inside. They sat on top of the mixed greens with the nest of mushrooms under all. A light dressing. I was able to finish the toast this time. After I had cleared my plate, the waitress asked how I liked my meal. I said, “I wish I didn’t have to stop eating.” All other breakfasts will be measured by this one. If you are ever in Berkeley, check it out. They use organic and local ingredients.

Eating the Bay 1

Homemade Cafe, Berkeley

My first morning in Berkeley, my couch-surfing host recommended the local cafe. We were in a residential neighbourhood away from the main commercial areas. I had seen the cafe when I had eaten at the Bread of India Restaurant the night before. It is on the corner; a traditional looking cafe. Big sign in the window “Sunrise Special 7-9 am $4.95”.

I arrived at 8:30 and found a seat at a small table near the kitchen area. Ordered a cappuccino and a Sunrise Special; two eggs (scrambled), fried potatoes with a large dollop of sour cream on top and toast.

The cap was passable, the eggs were light and cooked just right, the potatoes were cubed and fried nicely and plentiful (not too greasy). I couldn’t finish the toast. I was stuffed. The table had a pot of medium hot salsa that I used to help digest it all. For that kind of meal it was good. I enjoyed it. It kept me going until dinner time that evening. It was the kind of food that I can enjoy once in a great while.

What I really liked about the Homemade Cafe was it’s relaxed friendly happy feeling. The staff were joking with each other. There was that atmosphere of customers who came to be amongst each other even if they weren’t talking to each other. People reading the paper or a book. A few talking. An old-fashioned neighbourhood cafe.

An Indian Feast

Indian Feast last night at Satyamo and Sambodh’s house. We did the sounding meditation at 4 pm instead of the usual 11 am. Everyone brought a plate (potluck in Amerispeak). Fresh chapatis. Filled my plate with 20 different choices. I brought two chutneys. A sweet Tomato one and an Orange and Apricot tangy one. Put on a Bollywood dance dvd after dinner and danced like mad. Made some new friends. A Great Night.