Have you noticed the quiet? I certainly have. Every morning, as the pale-peach tinge of dawn displaces the slate-blue night lying between dark silhouetted tree tops, I lie in bed and listen to birds calling. There are so many of them, and their calls are so varied, each distinct from the next.
I can’t remember many places with such bird-filled dawns. Papershali, Uttarakhand, where we lived too far from the road to hear any traffic. Vancouver Island, just a few minutes’ walk from the shoreline of Haro Strait. The Olympic National Forest, the summer my sister and I went backpacking together. There may be other places I’m not remembering just now, but one thing I do know: It’s rare to wake up to the complete absence of sound from cars, trucks or trains.
Like everyone else, I’ve been baking since we stopped being able to travel, meet with friends, go to coffee shops, go to bookstores or do much of anything else outside the home (other than taking long walks). I just invented a new muffin recipe (based on one I found online) that I think is absolutely delicious, so I’m sharing it here. It contains no eggs, because I can’t eat eggs, so I hope anyone else who avoids eggs will find and enjoy it. I’ll also provide some notes on how to make the recipe completely vegan.
I should start by saying the term “social distancing,” seems all wrong to me. A friend said the other day on Facebook that we really should call it “physical distancing,” because that’s what it needs to be: the keeping of a safe physical distance between us to avoid catching, or transmitting, the coronavirus.
But we shouldn’t be socially distant – not at all. In fact, we should make greater efforts to be socially close right now: smile at one other, say it’s a lovely day, stop for a friendly chat. You can do all of that at a distance of six, even eight feet – and it’s nourishing to exchange energy with our fellow humans.
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.