Serendipity. It’s one of the wonderful things about travel.
You’re walking back to your room after dinner, when the sound of clashing cymbals
and high-pitched singing draws you to the end of your street.
We crossed the the busy road separating us from the riverside park that borders the Mekong River in Vientiane, Laos, to discover a full-blown Chinese opera in progress. At first, it was nearly a sensory overload: extremely loud music, bright costumes, lively movement, lots of glittering gold, wafts of incense. And an audience that came and went at will – rearranging the plastic chairs as they wished, leaving to chase small children or buy snacks, holding up their mobile phones to capture video – yet despite all this activity, raptly following every line and movement.
When I first saw the brightly-colored statue of a flower child with five eyes and four ears, little did I know that my curiosity about this figure would lead to a monster who eats red-hot coals and poops gold nuggets, a poor boy who marries a princess and a king whose dying desire is to see his seven wives’ genitalia – all in service of teaching Buddhist dharma.
I began searching and reading around on the internet, and soon discovered that the five-eyed, four-eared figure is Sihuhata, a northern Thai deity worshipped for his ability to bring wealth. Sihuhata translates to “four ears five eyes,” with “sii hoo” meaning “four ears” in Thai, and “ha dtaa” meaning “five eyes.” I’ve also seen the name in reverse – “Ha Ta See Hoo” – in my online wanderings.
We have started to teach ourselves Thai. As usual, Alan is way ahead of me in our book, Thai for Beginners by Benjawan Poomsan Becker. He tends to focus for longer periods and study more often than I do. The good thing about this is that I can ask him about things that are confusing me.
A few days ago, Alan told me, “You know, Chapter 2 doesn’t teach you any more consonants, only vowels. And sometimes the vowels can actually be consonants.”
“No!” I said. “Don’t tell me this. I don’t want to know yet.”
“Want to hear something else? There are live and dead syllables, too.”
One thing we’ve just loved here in Thailand is the ease of obtaining clean drinking water. We’ve been staying in a very nice condominium here in Chiang Rai, and around the corner from us is a water dispensing machine. We discovered that for 5 baht – about 16 US cents – we can get about 13 liters of filtered drinking water.
He was in his accustomed place every morning: sitting on a stool just inside the kitchen door, cutting up onions or boiled potatoes and dropping them into a huge steel bowl.
Though we usually arrived early at Kirpal Singh’s, it was already hot in this pre-monsoon season, the air in the restaurant thick and close with humidity. As soon as we entered, sweat would begin to bead up on my face. The kitchen must have been even hotter.
Most cities we’ve visited in India have street art. Sometimes it’s informal – people just grab some space and paint it – while other times it’s clear that an artist, or group of artists, has been hired to beautify a wall.
The wall paintings are not just decorative – they have a practical function, too. Continue reading →
We first discovered the pull of the Narmada during our two weeks in Maheshwar last December. It was during our time there that we first met parikramavasis: the devotees of the holy river who make a 2,600-kilometer pilgrimage to circle her entire length. Some start at the river’s mouth on the Indian Ocean, walk along her northern bank, circle her source at Amarkantak and return to the mouth. Others start at Amarkantak and complete their journey there. Wherever they start, all the parikramavasis perform their journey in a clockwise direction, keeping the Narmada on their right.
They’re building a Jain temple on the higher land above the little town of Amarkantak. Saying “a temple” is really a little misleading – it’s a huge, impressive structure, with an even taller tower close by. And these buildings are just part of a larger planned complex.