Saturday, July 08, 2006

Thailand: Musings, Moaning &Music- March 12-April 9

Musings, Moaning and Music from Thailand

The Klongs of Bangkok
We arrive in Bangkok, Thailand at midnight on the 12th of March. It’s hot and muggy, like a sauna even in the middle of the night. We get a taxi to our motel and the next morning we hook up with our friend from Santa Cruz Michael Honack. He has waited in Bangkok to meet us here and has planned something special for us. He has rented a long boat for us to travel along the klongs (the canal-waterways) of Bangkok. Historically, commerce and travel in Bangkok was done on these klongs. In recent years most of them have been paved over and have become roads. There are still some left and that’s where we are this day. We go to a zoo and see an amazing show with poisonous snakes, meet some very friendly monkeys, and I am entranced by the sight of a rare Bengalese tiger. We also visit a Buddhist temple this day. This day is our highlight in Thailand as Michael graciously hosted us through the waterways of Bangkok. The next 2 days we would be recovering from fever and diarrhea before we could finally get out of Bangkok and go to Chiang Mai.

Bitter Medicine
Sometimes you get bruised and battered. In Thailand we’ve been bruised and battered – all for the greater good of course. When you’re in the middle of it, we forget sometimes how it might be serving a greater purpose.

After both Icasiana and I got fevers in Bangkok and then diarrhea followed, we went to Chiang Mai and dealt with sickness again. This is so unexpected because Icasiana hardly ever gets sick. She’s been expressing symptoms more in this last month than in her last 20 years.

We were helped in Chiang Mai by Natan Siegel. He is the rabbi that helped to marry us at our wedding in Aptos. He spends part of the year in Chiang Mai, and lucky for us he was here now. He took us to a local hot springs place on our first day and that was a nice respite from the heat and traveling. We also met his daughter Zoe and her friend Liz, and Natan’s brother Joseph. Natan exuberantly moves through this world with amazing passion and playfulness. He has a unique perspective of life and we feel grateful to be so welcomed into his exciting world. We are touched also by his brother Joseph
who has been confined to a wheelchair for the last 18 years after a car accident. He lost nerve connections on one side of his body and he is presently working toward being able to walk again. Icasiana and I were able to do some healing work with him, releasing some of the tension and stiffness in his body. He was so grateful and we were both overjoyed to help him in this small way. In the meantime, during these years, he learned to draw with his non-dominant hand and does beautiful artwork which he shared with all of us. What made such a lasting impression for Icasiana and I is his love of life and his appreciation of his life as it is. He sees God’s gifts everywhere and he has transformed his hardship and into a sweet appreciation for life’s riches of the spirit.

Cookin’ it Up
Icasiana and I did get to take a class in Thai cooking while in Chiang Mai that was so good. Thai food is my favorite cuisine, and the class was so well organized that we were able to learn how to make nearly 10 dishes in one day. Now after all these years of enjoying Thai food but having no idea how it was made, I understand it a little bit now and will be able to prepare some when we return home. Speaking of Thai food, the normal way of cooking in this area is so spicy and hot it is hard to take. I actually enjoy the Americanized versions more I sheepishly have to admit.

Kids Visit Chiang Mai Orphanage
We met Dahlia, a friend of Rabbi Natan who is from the UK and saves her money up for a few months and then travels to Thailand to volunteer in different areas of the country. One of her works of kindness is visiting the children in the local orphanage. When we met her, Icasiana asked her if Kate and Matt could go to the orphanage with her. The kids went the following day and it was a profound experience for both of them. Kate and Matt have both written about their experience in their journal. They couldn’t believe how appreciative and loving these kids were who were either abandoned by their parents or they lost both their parents. These kids had so little and so little attachment to what they had. The clothes and shoes they wore were not theirs, rather they picked what they would wear each day from the community bin. This was a revelation for both of them. They spoke about how these kids had so little in material goods, yet they experienced such joy in just being held. They found that just by sitting and holding these kids, it fed them more than any thing they could buy or get. They knew that just being with these kids had made such a difference for them, and they felt really good about themselves. For many days afterwards they talked about the different children that they had met there, played with, and held.

Pai - Elijah Builds his Immunity
Elijah also had his first experience of a health challenge in Chiang Mai. Elijah developed a very nasty cough in his chest. We were quite concerned. He would wake up in the middle of the night coughing, and stay up coughing. We believe it was caused by the toxic air of Chiang Mai. The city is surrounded by mountains and a combination of this topography, the intense heat, the industrial waste, the automobiles, and the burning of rice fields all contributed to an air quality that was by far the worst I have ever experienced.
We soon went to the town of Pai to escape the polluted air. Pai is up in the foothills of the mountains, and has become a town that many westerners visit and spend time in. There are lots of classes, live music, health food restaurants, and trekking opportunities. Some of the trekking opportunities include trips to visit the indigenous villages in the local area that consist of tribes that are maintaining their native lifestyles. We were unable to visit them in their environments unfortunately because we weren’t well enough. We ended up staying in the town of Pai for 10 days. It was a time for healing, especially for Elijah. It took time but little by little he got better until his cough sounded worse and worse, meaning that the congestion was finally breaking up and coming out. Then he would expel the mucous and debris. We were so happy to see him with the strength to defend himself in this way and develop his immunity. As I said, we were concerned, but through all this, he was very strong and alert and in very good spirits. He had the strength and capacity to recover and responded to his first challenge. May he continue to develop his immunity.

Hot Springs and Elephants

We had a couple of wonderful experiences in Pai. The place we stayed at had natural hot springs so we did get to soak in the waters every day, and Elijah loved that too. He really has grown to be totally comfortable in water and continues to learn to swim.

We also got to take a ride with the elephants. That was a great experience. Icasiana and I rode on one elephant and the kids rode on the other. Icasiana had a comfortable seat on the neck and I rode on the back with Elijah and was very uncomfortable. It was a bit comical because our elephant was quite a bit smaller than the other one and seemed to strain to carry the two of us, especially up the hills where she would stop frequently and not want to go further. I solved the problem by getting off and walking most of the way which was a lot more comfortable for me. I just loved being around them anyway. When we got to the river the kids had a great time with the elephants throwing them in the water and spraying them with water. Matt said it was one of the most fun things he’s ever done. Oh did I forget to mention how the elephant threw me into the water also. I guess I forgot to mention that. We have a video of it and I do look ridiculous. As the kids say, “Gabriel didn’t even try to hang on to the elephant, and he actually just slid off the elephant.” I told them that I was just following “the energy of the elephant,” and the rest of the family thought that was just so silly!
The place we stayed at – Thapai was just a short stroll from a number of elephant camps nearby. Almost every day we would walk over and spend time with them feeding them bananas and stroking their trunks. They are the kindest and gentlest creatures, and there is such a soul presence that comes through their eyes.

Koh Samui – The Sanctuary
Before we left Thailand to go to the Philippines, we went to the south of Thailand, to the island of Samui. We get on a ferry from Samui and visited our friend Robert Farland at a place called “The Sanctuary” on a nearby island. The place is very unique in that the bungalows are built around the stones and trees; there are many kinds of classes: yoga, meditation, chakra healing – new age kind of stuff. Anyway, after being kept up all night with biting mosquitoes and heat the first night, Icasiana comes down with a horrific heat/allergic reaction. There are huge welts all over her body and she is suffering terribly from the itching and later the swelling and pain. As this is happening to her I come down with a stomach virus with diarrhea and spend the day horizontal in bed. As soon as we are able to, after a second intensely uncomfortable night for Icasiana, we leave the island on the ferry and head to an air conditioned place on the beach in Mae Nam, in Samui. She makes a stunning recuperation after 1 day. All in all, she is healthier in certain ways after this very difficult month of many symptoms than she has been in many many years. Call it bitter medicine. It’s part of our life philosophy of letting the body express the symptoms it needs to and allow healing to occur. When symptoms are suppressed, the body cannot generate the momentum to organize at a higher level of health, and will keep cycling through similar symptoms or drive the imbalance deeper.

This Baby Likes to Sing
One other very special thing happened at The Sanctuary. They had an open mic the first night we were there. I got up and played a couple of my songs on Robert’s keyboard. I also played a song written by Kenny Loggins called, “Danny’s Song”. It’s a song about his joy in having a new son and family. Robert and Kate are up with me on stage, and Kate has brought Elijah in her arms. So I’m singing the song and Elijah is singing along with us, and he doesn’t need a microphone. All right he wasn’t really on key, but he was definitely singing along with us, and he seemed to know what he was doing. I’m laughing as I’m playing, it is so hilarious. People in the audience were quite amazed by his performance. I definitely think it’s the beginning of something special, he’s just a natural.

Matt and Kate can bring it on too
Soon after that song, Kate gets up and sings “Hey Jude” with Robert and I accompanying her. I was so proud of her to stretch herself like that. Matt even got up later and told a joke on stage which was a big stretch for him too. He said later that he was so nervous his legs were shaking vigorously. They’re both learning about going through fear. Big steps on this big journey.

Traveling as a Family
We’ve realized our travel is more about finding a few nice places and staying there and getting to know the people and the place a bit, instead of traveling to many places. With 2 kids and a baby, it’s very different than my days as a single traveling with a backpack covering a lot of ground on a shoestring budget.
We’re in the Philippines now. We’ll post our experiences at Angkor Wat in Cambodia in a week. Thanks for joining with us.

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