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Entries about postcards


We first flew back to Delhi, and then took a long, slow, and bumpy bus ride to get here. It is dirty and crowded closer the city, but up in High Bank, we were high above the Ganges in a very peaceful and quiet place. We had great views of the holy river and the very green hills all around. It was hot and humid, but with nice breezes and usually comfortable evenings, often with thunderstorms. We looked out from our terrace as lightening highlighted different parts of the foothills, accompanied each time by earth shaking booms. It was almost biblical, like a scene from The Ten Commandments. After one particularly violent storm the lights went out for 24 hours.

Rishikesh is known as the spiritual and yoga center of India, and for those of you who are old enough to remember, famous as the place the Beatles used to meet with Maharishi. There are still a number of Europeans and Americans, some from southern California, who have gone native and are more or less hanging out here in the various ashrams. Hard to tell who the real sadhus are. We were not been tempted to do the same, or even spend much time in the main part of Rishikesh. It is just too chaotic and overwhelming. Instead we preferred to catch up on reading and spend time on our balcony relaxing. We did manage to go for a walk to a waterfall in the woods for a refreshing dip, and have swum a few times in the Ganges, which is actually clean this far up. The floating bodies are down below, mostly in Hardiwar and Varanasi. We also went rafting on the river, which has just opened up for the season, post monsoon, more or less. This was exciting, and by shopping around we managed to find a competent outfitter, unlike many others. We had to rescue a few hapless victims of incompetent guides by hauling them into our raft when they capsized.

After our previous adventures, it seemed too much effort to go anywhere else prior to the long push home, and so we stayed for a week and then returned to Delhi by train. In a previous post I told the story of what happened when we arrived, though it was certainly nice to see Hitesh and Ruchi once again.

The trip home was convoluted, first to Columbo, Sri Lanka, site of a recent bombing, (at that time) and then to Bangkok, site of recent mass political demonstrations demanding the resignation of the government. The next day we flew to Maccau, and then took the ferry to Hong Kong where we spent another night. The finale was a 16 hour flight to Newark followed by our final flight to Albany. If this seems like an ordeal, it was, but with frequent flier miles covering our round trip to Hong Kong, who can complain.

Posted by jonshapiro 17:57 Archived in India Tagged postcards Comments (3)


The next day, the rain continued lightly, but we were able to walk to the bus station and got out of town without a problem At first when we arrived in Dali, we felt disappointed at seeing another large and rather ugly city, though the mountains and the lake were beautiful. But then after much negotiation, we got into a cab to take us to the old city, which we thought was right next to the new. Instead it was 14k higher and closer to the mountains. We have been here now for five days and it is quite beautiful, though touristy. Many old buildings, narrow streets, small shops and bars, old stone walls and beautiful gates surround the small city. It is a mix of foreign tourists and Chinese, though mercifully cars are banned on several of the main streets.


Pagodas Near Dali

Within the first couple of hours of arriving, we wandered into a small bar called Paramita, somehow drawn in by the energy of the place as well as the Billy Holiday music.

Paramita with Kankan in background, Joachim and Antonette Foreground

We spent several hours talking to Lia, the Chinese owner and her friend Kankan, also Chinese, who speaks English with A British accent, having learned it on her own by listening to BBC. They were incredibly welcoming and we felt very comfortable. They are both, at least to us, rather atypical Chinese in that making money is not so important. Both of them have been involved in several humanitarian projects with children in different parts of Yunnan. Within an hour we felt like good friends. They also offered us some pot to smoke, which came as a shock, given our understanding about Chinese drug laws

We said we'd return later, but got sidetracked by meeting a German couple back at our hostel, Joachim and Antonette. They are traveling here for another month, after having come overland from Germany through ]Russia and the trans-Siberian railroad, and then into Mongolia to ]China. Later they will go to Brazil, where they have purchased a catamaran and will sail the world for as long as they like, or until their money runs out. They have sold their businesses and decided to end their working careers, at least for now.
We spent a few highly enjoyable days hiking and biking with them. Yesterday we climbed part way up Mt Cangshen, just out of town, foregoing the cable car, and then did a long, but beautiful traverse on a well maintained stone path crossing many waterfalls. Luckily the weather held.

Nanette with Joachim and Antonette on Mt. Cangshen

Views of the Hike

Sunset Over Cangshen

Views of the Lake that we Biked1Yunnan_pictures_051.jpg1Yunnan_pictures_141.jpg

Today we took a minibus to an interesting market with Naxi and Bai women dressed in native costumes, a lot like South America.


We returned to show our friends from Paramita where the local weed grows wild in huge clumps, not far from the mountain. They've only been here two months and were unaware of this particular stash.

We have spent several nights hanging out at the bar, talking to Lia and Kankan, and later meeting Lia's Canadian husband, who returned from Kunming with Sid, an Indian-American artist friend from New York. An assortment of other interesting people wandered in, including a very bright young Aussie, studying traditional Chinese medicine, and a rather crazy Israeli, retired hematologist, looking to move to New York.

The first night Lia and her friend invited us to stay for dinner, In between chopsticks of their delicious food, we engaged in what were highly intellectual discussions about art, China, the Living Theater, Jerzy Grotowski, the Yin and Yang of Chinese medicine, world politics, etc. , enhanced no doubt, by the plentiful weed that was being passed around. Lia also told us that her 41 year old brother had more or less suicided of alcoholism three years ago and that this really screwed up her parents who blamed each other. Lia seems to have her own problems with drink, and now I fear, with pot as well. She really knows how to take care of others, though I'm not sure how well she cares for herself. Her friend Kankan seems much more grounded, and especially considering that she is a middle school drop out, is incredibly well informed and has a formidable intellect. The first night we spent in the bar felt a little like My Dinner with Andre, a long intellectual riff.

We also spent an afternoon or two making art to help decorate the bar.

Nanette with unfinished Buddha Pic and Lia

Last night we returned with our German friends, who don't smoke. Things got a little out of hand, with the laced brownies that everyone had consumed. The conversation though lively, was much less coherent and by the time we returned home at midnight, very late for us, it was a little difficult to walk a straight line and everything felt like it was moving at a rapid clip. We haven't partied like this in a very long time.

How Lia and her more business oriented Canadian husband, will ever make money out of the bar is difficult to say. People seem to hang out most of the night, drink a little, and smoke a lot. Perhaps there is a plan afoot to market the local stuff to foreigners? The scene here is shockingly unlike anything we have experienced thus far in China, more international and open. Clearly the authorities know what is going on, but at least for now, do nothing. Perhaps they are making money out of it; hard to know. It has been a very relaxing time, full of fascinating people. It will be hard to pull ourselves away.

Posted by jonshapiro 12:22 Archived in China Tagged people parties postcards Comments (2)

Angkor Wat

Siem Reap, home to Angkor Wat, is a boom town with new hotels springing up overnight, though one wonders if they will ever fill up all the rooms despite the two million farangs who come here each year. We have met people from China, Korea,Japan, South Africa, New Zealand, Britiain, Singapore, and a few from the States, some of whom are teaching in international schools in China.

The ruins are vast and we were lucky to have the services of Bon, our indefatigable tuk tuk driver who accompanied us everywhere, knew some of the history, and even told us where to eat lunch.


In the main temple area there are archways upon archways opening into each other, and creating a sense of perspective that suggests infinite space. We have been told that it symbolizes the beginning of the universe with Mt. Mera, a sacred peak, at the top. There is also a blending of Indian and Khmer influences, Hindu and Buddhist, that have been built up over successive generations. Unfortunately a number of old stone heads and other artifacts have been stolen by private thieves and museums, and of course, Pol Pot did his best to destroy the place. But no matter, Angkor has survived all of these things, and continues to impress with its sense of timelessness. I am bigger than all of those of have tried to destroy me, it seems to say, and I will be here long after you are gone




While the architecture is Khmer, some of the carvings are clearly Indian in origin.


One of my favorite places was the temple of Bayon, with its enormous 30+ feet high Buddhist heads. It is part of Angkor Thom, which is even older than Angkor Wat, dating back to 800-900 AD.



In Ta Prahm, the jungle is taking over.


Even in three very full days we did not see it all.

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We continue to be amazed by the Cambodian people. Yesterday while we were at the ruins, we were approached by a ten year old girl trying to sell us postcards and water. Nothing unusual about that. Then she asked" Where you from?"

" New York", I said.
"Where in New York?"
"Near New York City," my standard response.
Then she said, "Capital of New York not New York City. Capital Albany."
"That's where we live." I said.

This of course, was quite impressive, but she then proceeded to rattle off the names and capitals of all 50 states, something not many ten year olds could do in the states.

"How did you learn all that"?
" Oh, she says, "Just talking to tourists like you."

Just to give the full picture, this was not a well off educated kid, but basically a street kid living by selling things at Angkor. Whereever we went, just about everyone spoke some English, essential I guess to trying to get ahead. Even the tuk tuk drivers, are studying English dictionaries when they are waiting for their customers. What spirit.


Of course, there are always two sides to getting ahead. Yesterday we got into a long conversation with the cook at our hostel, who happens to be the niece of the owner. She told us all about her uncle, Kim, who runs the Okay guest house in Pnom Penh. As the oldest brother, he is the family patriarch and determined to become wealthy and help out his extended family. Based on what we saw, he seems well on the way to doing this. Kim has already helped a different brother buy a guest in another part of Siem Reap. This makes three owned by the same family. Mostly they are modest places, but as business picks up I'm sure they will go on to purchase more upscale hotels. At the same time, our tuk tuk driver Bon, who we pay $15 a day, hardly sees any of this. He works for the the guest house, and they only pay him about $20 a month, plus he has to help out in 'the restaurant after driving all day. We have grown quite fond of him and tried to help out as best we could by giving him a big tip, and also showing him how to use the internet to create an email address. He got a big kick out of this, but unfortunately we never heard back from him.

We fly to Luang Prabang tomorrow afternoon.

What they say around here is that the Cambodians plant the rice, Thais sell the rice, and the Laotians listen to the sound of it growing.

Posted by jonshapiro 10:55 Archived in Cambodia Tagged postcards tourist_sites Comments (4)

Don Dhet and the Four Thousand Islands

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It took Elona, my Israeli traveling companion and I, about three hours on the bus/boat ride to get to Don Khong, the biggest of the Four Thousand Islands. We stayed there one night, but when it became apparent that there was nowhere to swim and little to do, we moved to the southern and less crowded part of Don Dhet, another nearby island. We had our boatman take us to the River Garden , in what turned out to be a basic guest house close to the Mekong.


It was highly touted by the Lonely Planet, undeservedly so, as the rooms were not particularly clean and I spent most of the night dodging the spiky bed springs. Even more disappointing, we found that there really weren't good places to swim here either. We were were told that the river was very low this year, which might help to explain the many places where garbage was visible at the waterline.


The heat was OVERPOWERING, as it was the hottest time of year, close to or over 100F on most afternoons. For most of the day it was impossible to do much of anything except stay in the shade and sweat. Walking and biking were next to impossible, and even when I got into the water, the bathtub-like temperature and the burning sun made it less than refreshing.


We did manage to walk across the old French bridge connecting Don Dhet to ]Don Khon, , to see the water falls, half an hour away, by leaving at 7 AM before the sun was too high.


The falls, a series of them, are carved out of black volcanic rock and even at low water levels they are impressive. There is a small beach, blissfully clean, and I went for a quick dip.


Alas, no shade, so we didn't linger. The falls are already being developed as a tourist attraction, and normally admission is charged to see them, but because of the hour no one was there to collect.

At our guest house there was a lot of hype about the river dolphins at the end of [Don Khong, but when we spoke to someone who had taken the expensive boat ride to see them, he said they were few in number and too far away to really get a good look. We passed.

After suffering in the heat for two days we opted for a more expensive bungalow, Pan's, across the bridge on Don Khon. Nothing fancy, but the AC did work. The downside is that there were many squawking roosters. We managed to avoid the big parties for Lao New Year, though nearby there were booming speakers grinding out bad Lao pop music more or less constantly. Luckily they stopped fairly early at night.

Main Street on Don Khon

Before I came here. I pictured a collection of small islands with bungalows on stilts in a wide and pristine estuary, good swimming and fishing everywhere. Instead there are a few islands with a variety of bungalows, mostly overpriced, some on the river but many not, and there is already ramshackle over- development in several places. The pictures you see here do not show most of that.

There are other islands, but most are tiny and inhospitable, and in the main, uninhabited. Development of both cheap and more upscale accommodations is proceeding at a furious rate. Though the locals are still friendly, the days when Four Thousand Islands was a collection of simple fishing huts are long gone. It is hard to see what the fuss is all about. Granted, this was not the time of year to come here. November through February is much better, but with the poor swimming and the generally unexceptional landscape, I can't understand the rave reviews.

After a night at Pan's, I was more than ready to leave and return to Pakse

Posted by jonshapiro 11:41 Archived in Laos Tagged postcards Comments (2)

Tette Batu, Lombok

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Lombok is a short boat ride from Gilliair, and is the closest major island to Bali. As such a fair number of tourists come here, but nowhere near the numbers that Bali sees. It is Muslim, as opposed to Hindu, like most of Indonesia, and has a very different feel. We made our way to Tette Batu by hiring a car with our young American friends, Cassie and Ryan. It is somewhat cooler especially at night, because of the altitude, 600 meters. Tette is a small village, poor and ramshackle with concrete and brick buildings, overlooking the twin summits of Rinjani, 3750M. The narrow roads are full of potholes with motor scooters buzzing to and fro. The surrounding countryside is lush and beautiful, as are the children.



Our small guesthouse is a simple place, with a raised bamboo thatched patio/cum restaurant overlooking the nearby rice fields.


Right now there are no other guests. It is run by Hon, a most interesting man, who was one of 15 people chosen by the government to study tourism abroad. He went to Germany for five years where he married a German woman and had two children, 15 and 13, who still reside in Germany with their mother, who is a therapist. He is remarried now, to a more traditional Indonesian woman with whom he has one child with another on the way. Hon has long hair, plays guitar, smokes dope, and looks rather like Bob Marley, hat and all. Not exactly your typical Muslim man, his father in fact was Catholic from Flores, the Portuguese island. Both of his parents died when he was young, and he was more or less raised by his older brother who stressed the importance of education. Very open minded in his thinking, Hon no longer really fits into his own culture. His friends are most often Europeans, or else Indonesians who have lived abroad. Clearly in this small village, he is anomaly. We very much enjoyed chatting with him as we reclined on large pillows on the floor of the round restaurant.


Rinjani From the Guest House Restaurant

The sound of the water running down the irrigation ditches from one field to the next is very present, as are the croaking frogs and crickets, as day moves into night.


In the morning, 4:30 AM to be precise, we are awakened, as we were on every morning, by the loud and insistent Muslim call to prayer. One call would have been okay, but it goes on for an hour. Why is it that the electricity never fails during this time? Perhaps each mosque has its own generator.

Among the things we discussed with Hon was the current political climate in Indonesia He thinks that the Muslim extremists are not popular in most of the country. On the other hand, there are some areas where they have a following and the government is afraid to touch them.

Today we went on a hike through villages and rice fields up the slopes of Rinjani. Our guide was a cousin of Han's, who plans to go to Malaysia to pick coconuts as there is no work for him in Tette Batu.




Our destination was a high waterfall in the national park. The water was cold and delicious after a few hours of sweating in the sun.



Posted by jonshapiro 12:50 Archived in Indonesia Tagged postcards Comments (3)

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