Thursday, September 27, 2007


This past month I've had the pleasure of sharing breakfasts, hallway greetings, and an evening of photos of a journey to Tibet with sister Theeta and Bryony. Theeta is a Russian nun in the Thai forest tradition and Bryony is a member of the same UK monastery currently on hiatus but planning to return to the robes. This was the last morning together for the three of us as Bryony left shortly afterwards for a flight back to London. Before she did, we had a photo in the guest house garden.

Hope to catch up with you down the road, ladies.


Eyes, nose, lips - no two alike

Last week. This week. Face, face, face. As you can see, each one a little different. They should all be - as much as possible - the same. So I guess I'll be drawing Buddha faces a while more.

Friday, September 21, 2007

And the one who could . . .

Found this beautiful specimen in the garden of my guest house last week. The two times I've visited Nepal it was winter. I never expected such a variety of gourgeous butterflies.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The butterfly who couldn't

On the way from school Monday I spotted this beautiful creature. Flapping furiously, he remained stubbornly earth bound.


Sunday, September 16, 2007


Friday was lovely. I met up with my Nepali nephew Sandip at Pashupatinath, the city's largest Hindu temple, which was on this day thronged with ladies in red. The occasion was Teej, the first of a three day holdiay during which women make offerings to Shiva to insure a long life for their husbands, or if single for the chance to marry.

I've been to the temple on at least three occasions, but never was it as lively and as colorful as for Teej. There was something very special about being in such large crowds with very few men around. And of course, as you can see, the colors were dazzling, as were many of the ladies themselves.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Hometown Hero

This picture shows the main entrance to the Boudha stupa, over which is draped a banner I can't read but imagine is congratulating and exhorting Prashant Tamang to victory in Indian Idol. While an Indian national, Prashant is an ethnic Nepali who has been adopted by the whole of Nepal as a son of the country. Ironically, he comes from among the Tamang, a Mongolian ethnic group practicing Buddhism that has long been marginalized in Aryan Hindu Nepal. The area around Boudha is heavily populated by the Tamang and their ethnic brothers, the Tibetans, and many have told me that even though they haven’t been following Indian Idol, they are now intensely interested – and proud. Like American Idol, the general public is allowed to vote, but only those within India. Thus there is now a large and well-organized campaign to assist Nepalis to visit Indian to take part in the voting. The final is scheduled for September 23. If only the national elections, slated for November, could be organized with as much fervor and attention to detail.

Om Yoga Kendra

As I'm on holiday from school this week I too the opportunity to join a yoga class at a the nearby Om Yoga Kendra, “kendra” meaning a school or center. I've been on my own all week but Thursday, when a German woman showed up, a youth pastor in the Catholic Church who practices yoga at home and who wanted to see what yoga was like in the land of yoga. Over tea afterwards she revealed how surprised she was. At home in Germany they practice very slowly, a kind of meditative exercise as much as physical exercise. What we experience at the kendra is much more animated. The teacher seems to be a bit hyperactive, always bouncing on his feet or pacing about the room while we're doing our stretching, and when he thinks were finished, peppering us with “OK?” He encourages us to move a little faster, to thrust a little harder, to bend a little deeper. He likes to joke whole we're practicing, though his repertoire (at least in English) so far seems limited. From what I have seen of his classes prior to and after mine, the students are largely middle-aged women, who I imagine are not too interested in meditation or contemplation so much as they are in controlling their weight or some other physical problem, or simply in maintaining physical flexibility and stamina.

The difference in this woman's yoga experience and her expectation I put down to the same difference one sees here with Buddhism. In the west it is almost strictly a contemplative practice, whereas here Buddhism is much more pedestrian, more about following the rules than transcending them, more about believing precepts than about faith in experience. In the west Buddhists meditate; here they say prayers, do prostrations, spin prayer wheels, make offerings, and are generally more concerned with making merit and not accruing bad karma than with transcendental experience. I suppose this is true across all cultures and all religions. Few contemplate or seek the mystical; most are comfortable with the familiar myths and traditional practice.

A class of Tibetan ladies


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bangkok revisited

Had a little time the other night before bed and was flipping through some photos from Bangkok. After playing around a little I came up with these. Hope you like them.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Color banner and pencil Buddha face

After this morning's first yoga class and being waylaid to Little India, I finally got back to my room and got some work done, including finishing the painting of a banner, and penciling a Buddha face, my first on paper and the third one I've drawn this week.


Little India

There are a number of beggars who come to Nepal to work the Buddhist pilgrimage sites, the area where I live, Boudha, being one of them. This morning I was recognized by one such girl I first met in March who used to ask for money every time I saw her until she realized I was living in the area, after which she became my acquaintance with whom I would swap greetings whenever we passed on the street. She asked me this morning if I'd like to see her house, which is just nearby. I live in a tent, she said with a touch of pride which seemed a bit out of place.

Down a side street, through an alley, and down a gentle slope we went to see a small shanty town, one of the most amazing things I've seen in my life. According to her the “town” used to be a field, but is now divided up into small plots on which stand rickety homes built of bamboo frames, canvas and plastic sheeting. Large plywood beds built above the dirt floor serve also as work spaces, for those that have it. When it rains hard, the water runs through. There are no walls and thus no hindrances to insects, cats, or anything else that wants to walk or fly through. Little India has about 30-40 tents populated almost entirely by Indians, many of whom appear to live otherwise ordinary lives. I saw a boy with a nice cell phone. I saw a tent with a TV and DVD player. Many tents have electricity; no doubt, the service has been hijacked. There are two communal pumps for water, a communal shower, and a nice set of toilets built on concrete foundations supplied, apparently, by generous western donors. Which is why I suspect my acquaintance was somewhat eager to let me know she lived in a tent. It might pique my interest – and my stimulate generosity, which is what the visit was all about.

After we left I offered her a tip for her “tour,” about US$3.00, pretty good when monthly rent on the tent is $10.00. She said she didn't want any money, she said - quite a change from her previous occupation - but if I liked I could buy her some food. So off we went, not to the local market, but to the supermarket where the tourists shop, where she asked me to buy her a large bag of imported Indian rice. Not only is this rice at least twice as costly as what you find in the local market, it was also more than I wanted to “tip” her. She said, ok, buy me this can of powdered milk, which was only slightly less expensive than the rice. I instead left the 200 rupees on the milk can, which in the end she was happy to take, despite her earlier protestation.

At the time I was too stunned with the poverty of my surroundings to take any photos, but I hope to pay visit again soon and do just that. Maybe I'll bring a little of the local rice with me.


Monday, September 10, 2007

No rain, no school

No rain for the last three days, which has been heavenly. Today we've even got quite a bit of sun and I'm again down to short pants and sleeves. The timing for the end of the rains couldn't have been better for the monks, who this weekend finished their rainy season retreat. Good for them, bad for those of us who want to study. This week school is on holiday while the monks get a chance to leave the monastery for the first time in 45 days. I'll be spending the week in my room and in the garden of the guesthouse with my nose pressed to paper. For those that might be interested, here's what I did this morning, another set of fish, though this one is on paper. I may even paint it this week.

It will be a change from fire, which is what I was doing last week in our afternoon painting classes.


First time in 15 years

It's now Sept 10 and while I'm on holiday this week it's about time for school to be starting in Japan. This will be the first time that I haven't been on hand for the start of a new semester since Mutsumi and I left Thailand to spend a couple of months traveling SE Asia. After ending that journey in Atlanta, I started teaching part-time at GSU and Dekalb Community College, I think in the fall of '94. By the fall of 95' I was teaching in Kuwait, and then spring of '97 I was staring classes in Fukuoka. I'm not unhappy to be here, just feeling a little nostalgic for classrooms and getting to know 400 new faces.


Produce at the neighborhood convenience store

Just up the dirt road that runs in front of my guesthouse is a small family-run shop selling everything you might need, from fresh veggies to packaged food to toiletries, a home grown convenience store. I usually walk past without taking too much note. This morning was no different, except that I returned home almost immediately after I found out the end-of-the-rainy-season holidays started today. So on the way back I stopped to look over the selection and was surprised to find goya, a veggie commonly found in Okinawa, a bitter gourd that I don't much care for but was surprised to find they have here. For those that don't know goya, it's the bumpy cucumber-like thing on the left, just next to the pink bag of I-don't-know-what. The bag on the ground forefront contains fresh milk, packaged in plastic bags.


Friday, September 7, 2007


Last night I was looking through some photos I had taken in Japan and found one, that with a little tweaking, turned out to produce a beautiful image.

Graduated to deities

Something of a small milestone in drawing class today. I finished the fish you see here (one of the eight auspicious symbols) and showed the teacher, who usually points out how this or that could be improved. But he just looked at it and said “good.” After I cleaned the slate and prepped it for my next assignment, I was surprised to be given a Buddha face, the first human figure I've been asked to draw!

Now if I could only do as well with painting.


Stick me again

I'm now nearly fully immunized. The day before yesterday I got Hepatitis B, and yesterday I went to the International Clinic for Hepatitis A, Meningitis, and Typhoid. The nurse suggested that if I'll be traveling to southern Nepal or northern India, which I may in December, that I also get Japanese Encephalitis. Since I won't be needing that last for a while, I decided to give my shoulders a rest. They're still a little tender today.


My first cell phone

Given that I'll be living here for the next seven months in guest houses or rented flats where there are no land-lines, it made sense to get one, if only so Mutsumi and my family can reach me right away. The hand set was approximately US$50.00 and the chip to enable it just a little less. If you'd like to talk, my number is 9841-xxx-689. Email me for the missing three digits.


Wednesday, September 5, 2007

If all else fails . . .

Airline sacrifices goats to appease sky god
Wednesday, 5 September, 2007

KATHMANDU: Officials at Nepal's state-run airline have sacrificed two goats to appease Akash Bhairab, the Hindu sky god, following technical problems with one of its Boeing 757 aircraft, the carrier said yesterday. Nepal Airlines, which has two Boeing aircraft, has had to suspend some services in recent weeks due the problem. The goats were sacrificed in front of the troublesome aircraft on Sunday at Nepal's only international airport in Kathmandu in accordance with Hindu traditions, an official said. "The snag in the plane has now been fixed and the aircraft has resumed its flights," said Raju K C, a senior airline official, without explaining what the problem had been. Local media last week blamed the company's woes on an electrical fault. The carrier runs international flights to five cities in Asia. It is common in Nepal to sacrifice animals like goats and buffaloes to appease different Hindu deities. – Reuters


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The green, green stupa of home

I got back to Kathmandu yesterday afternoon and as soon as I dropped off my bags at the guesthouse, I went over to school to say hello to my teachers and classmates. Being called by name and greeted with surprised smiles was an experience gratifying beyond words. It was like being welcomed home. Then I went for a walk around the stupa, the plaza-like area of Boudha where people meet every morning and evening for a social circumambulation. And again there were many smiles of surprise and welcome as I stopped by many of the shops I frequented when I was here last.

I feel now like I have two homes, one in Fukuoka, the other here in Boudha.

Previously I visited Nepal as winter faded into spring. Now I am here at summer's end and the raining season. Besides furry patches of green grass and fully leaved trees, there is on much of the city's concrete a thin layer of mold, as you can see in the picture of the stupa.

This is just now the end of the rainy season, which is quite fortunate, as I won't have to wade through rivers of mud or wear damp clothes that never quite dry out.

I took the precaution of visiting the clinic this morning to confer with a local doctor about inoculations or health concerns I might need to be aware of, and for which I received an inoculation for Hepatitis B. He also suggested ones for Hepatitis A and for Meningitis, but as they didn't have these in stock, I'll be visiting the International Clinic in the city tomorrow.

I also saw a few rooms for rent, but nothing yet that seems more attractive than where I already am. I've been told there's a very nice place opening up soon, a fully furnished flat for sublease from a western woman leaving the country for several months.

Tomorrow I plan to join my class, at least for the morning session. I'm looking forward to long hours on the floor, hunched over my drawing slate.


Monday, September 3, 2007

Bye Bye Bangkok

It was far too short a stay.

After I was able to escape the guest house yesterday morning, I did a small tour of some of the temples in the area. I was able to find to a tuk-tuk driver at 6:30am and he was happy to find a customer to hire him for a couple of hours.

In the afternoon I had lunch with Peung and another of her friends, Pam, a lovely lady who runs her own travel agency. We dined at one of Bangkok's best restaurants, the Celadon. Like many of these award winning eateries, what makes the difference is not the food, but the service and presentation, and the Celadon does a great job at all three. We did two lunch sets, which netted us about 20 dishes and the restaurant about US$120. Pretty pricey for Bangkok, but would probably be twice as expensive in Japan, Europe or NA.

After filling up I spent the next three hours being kneaded and stretched by a traditional Thai masseuse, after which I went back to my room, showered, and slept.

And just as soon as I finish this, I'll be off to breakfast and then to the airport and to Kathmandu, where just in time for my arrival I see they've had a couple of bombings.


Sunday, September 2, 2007

Bangkok 1

Waiting to board my airplane to Bangkok yesterday I met a former student off to Cambodia to do some volunteer work at an elementary school. We didn't sit together on the plane, but we did share a taxi in to the city.

Mekong river

Took about an hour to reach my hotel, a lovely place I'd recommend to anyone making the trip here. Only problem I've had thus far is that I'm now locked in the hotel (not my room, but the hotel itself) and can't find anyone to let me out.

After checking in and leaving my bags, I went to meet Peung for dinner. She brought along her old school chum, Dah, and we had a lovely dinner riverside just south of the Rama VII Bridge, followed by live jazz at a small club nearby run by another of Peung's friends.

This morning, as soon as I can get out, I'm hoping to do a few temples in the area.