Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Sonabai, self-taught artist and inspiration

On a rainy day in San Diego, this dragon blew into the Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park on free museum day. (There was actually a tornado watch going on outside! I love to fly in a storm but tornados really tear up my wings!)

Inside I found an amazing exhibit called Sonabai, Another Way of Seeing. For a decade and a half, Sonabai Rajawar’s only contact was with her husband and child! In response to this isolation, she created an entirely new artistic expression of color, light, and fun.

How amazing that she had no instruction or guidance, but was able to create such joyous art! Years later, quite by chance, the Indian art world discovered her and later gave her India’s highest honor, the prestigious President’s Award.

sonabaibookSonabai’s story clearly expresses the capacity of human beings (including dragons) everywhere to meet their challenges head on and to draw from within themselves the strength and insight to change their lives.  Sonabai found ways to transform her oppression into expressions of courage, beauty, and joy in living. What an inspiration!

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Buddha’s Birthday on a Full Moon

The flags hung in honor of Buddha's Birthday in Patan, Kathmandu

The Buddhist flags hung in honor of Buddha's birthday in Patan, Kathmandu

Buddhism is everywhere here in Nepal and it’s intermingled with Hinduism. It seems though that most people I come across are Buddhist. I have always had an interest in Buddhism; they say it’s a philosophy and not a religion. That may be true but here in Nepal it comes across as very religious to me.  The temples alone yell religion and then all the people performing different rituals also smacks of it. Religion isn’t so bad; it brings comforts to millions. Ritual is amazing; it creates energy like nothing else I’ve ever seen. And yet, I find myself resistant to it.  Here in Nepal though I feel slightly less resistant. When I am asked if I am a Buddhist the next question is usually if I am a Christian. When I tell them I’m nothing they don’t try and convert me, they just listen.

So Lord Buddha’s (as they call him) birthday is May 27th and I happened to be in Nepal for it. It’s actually a national holiday here as you can expect. Being next to the gumpa that contains all the mini monks Buddha’s  birthday was an interesting experience for me. All the trumpet playing and horn blowing they have been practicing seemed to be for this day. It was a full moon and I went onto the roof to watch the boys playing their trumpets out towards the city.

I couldn’t get any good pictures from our roof so I decided to go up on theirs. I had my camera with me and as I went to go up on the roof many of the monks were outside the gumpa. They beckoned me and asked that I please, please come in.IMG_0868

Up to this point I had been afraid to go in. I can’t really tell you why. I guess I didn’t want to be disrespectful, this lame tourist poking around inside a religious structure. I think I was also waiting for an invitation. So I finally had it and I removed my shoes and followed the monks in.

It’s so beautiful inside with large statues of Buddha and some other folks. I learned that you always walk clockwise around any religious site here and so I followed the path around inside. The energy inside the gumpa was astounding; I could feel it circulating clockwise through the building. I could feel the energy of everyone that had come that day to pray. It was positively vibrating. As I walked around I saw mini monks stashed away in corners repeating mantras out loud, sometimes in pairs, sometimes alone.

The gumpa next door

The gumpa next door

Doorway to the gumpa

Doorway to the gumpa

As I came to the end again there was a local prostrating himself. It’s quite something to see someone doing this. It’s so humble, almost apologetic. He was doing this movement over and over across the floor as if to say “forgive me, I am so worthless, make me better.” It wasn’t in the direction of Buddha’s statue and I wasn’t about to interrupt him to ask him to who or what he was doing this to. Perhaps it was just himself.

The mini monks asked if I wanted to learn how it was done and I hesitantly said yes. I have this fear of looking like an idiot because I don’t get something right the first time, but I know that it’s better to say yes and have a new experience.

One young monk showed me first. You stand up straight and put your hands in prayer position, then you bring them to your head, your heart, and then you get down on the ground and bow your head all the way down. Then you push yourself up without using your hands more than once for the push.IMG_0865

The first time I tried this I had to use my hands twice, I didn’t really trust my own strength on the hard marble floor and I was being watched. I could see on their faces that I had done it wrong even though they were obviously trying to hide it. I tried again and this time got smiles from the two monks. This is the kind of magical thing I hoped for, the sort of romantic idea that got into my head when I first heard the name Nepal. After this I felt uneasy, wondering what I should do now that I had made my rounds so I made my way out into the entranceway and watched all the young monks gathering at the lit candles. They were picking them up and bringing them inside for some purpose that I couldn’t gather, mostly because I didn’t ask. I kept having this sense like I was interrupting something, that I was an outsider. I felt myself shrinking back. I wanted to take a picture badly but was afraid to ask. I didn’t want to make a wrong impression or say something wrong but the photo opportunity was too good to let go.

I haven’t prostrated myself since then but I have this feeling like it would do me some good. I think it would do a lot of people some good. Do I have to prostrate myself to some religious god? Shouldn’t I prostrate myself in front of my own self judgment instead. I could learn to be easier and more care free…

Woman celebrating in the Laghenkel area of Kathmandu

Woman performing a ritual in honor of Buddha's birthday

 

Teaching Massage in Nepal

Nepal clinic

This is my second blog on being in Nepal as a volunteer for Mindful Medicine. (See my earlier blog for more details on how I ended up in Nepal.)

What I like about Mindful Medicine is that they want their work to be sustainable, to make a lasting difference. Instead of just bringing acupuncturists in for 2 to 4 month periods to treat, they have them teach as well. The Vajra Varahi clinic-paid interpreters have been learning basic acupuncture treatments so that they can help the acupuncturists that come here as well as treat in their absence.

Since I am a body worker and only halfway through my training as an acupuncturist I came to work here in a slightly different capacity. I was able to bring a massage table that was donated from Earthlight to do the work (30 pounds, by the way!). My job here is to teach the staff the basics of massage and anatomy so that they can continue to help the local population. A lot of people here have low-back, neck, and shoulder pain, often accompanied with arthritis. See the picture below (enough said).

Nepal bushels

nepal_women

I’ve started teaching. The students are Satyamohan, Sonya, and Prajwal who are all 25 years old and Ramita who is 33 and the only one with a child. They all have other jobs in the clinic, such as interpreting and reception work. I designed my classes based on my 6 years of experience, what Jessica and Grainne of Mindful Medicine had talked to me about, and what I went over with the clinic director when I got here. The students are picking it up fast and I’m actually envious of the way they get to learn massage, with one-on-one attention and none of the bullshit classes I had to take to satisfy state requirements. I’m working really hard to make sure that they can apply what I am teaching them once I am gone. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Volunteering in Nepal, A Personal Story

Amy in NepalThis metal monkey just turned 30 and is a body worker. I have been a body worker and holistic health practitioner for 6 years. It’s my life, it’s who I am, it’s what I do and the motivation for most of my endeavors. I am also currently working on a master’s degree in traditional Chinese medicine so that I can become an acupuncturist and herbalist. I’ve made it halfway through the 4 years it takes to accomplish this, that is, 4 years if you don’t care about having a life.

I want to have a life! I want to experience things, people, and places as well as be in love with Chinese medicine. To become an acupuncturist you have to be passionate about it, you have to love people, and you have to be driven. It’s not an easy path but it’s very rewarding. To be a Chinese medicine practitioner is to give your life to it, to live it, and to be an example. At least that’s what they tell you. To become a traditional healer, you have to do hours of rote memorization, you have to study relentlessly, and you have to get to a point where you just don’t give a shit any more and then try to remember why you’re there. You have to half ass your way sometimes and choose your battles.

So, I needed a break. A good break, a real break—not just the measly two to three weeks you usually get in between trimesters. (Yes, school is year round.)

I’ve never been to Asia before and here I am studying Chinese medicine. So much is lost on me because I don’t innately know the culture. Asia is huge; it encompasses places like Nepal, China, Tibet, both Koreas, and Japan. I’m not a very experienced traveler; I’ve been to some of the standard locations in the U.S. , as well as to Spain, Mexico, Jamaica, and Costa Rica. None of this could really prepare me for what it’s like to come to Nepal. I knew I had to get the hell out of dodge and take a break from school before I went crazy, stopped giving a shit, and stopped learning. Read the rest of this entry »

 

The Bund 2.0: Rebirth of a Shanghai Icon

Bund Ah, spring is now upon us, and this rabbit enjoys the greenery all around; it is a time for rebirth! In Shanghai, one of the most iconic symbols of the city—The Bund—experienced a rebirth of its own. On March 28th, after nearly three years of renovations, the Bund reopened to the public. On that Sunday, scores of locals and tourists alike took their first stroll along the renovated 2,000-meter riverside promenade.

The project wrapped up just in time for the 2010 Shanghai Expo. Visitors will surely experience a more functional Bund as they marvel at the aesthetic buildings built in the early 20th century. This certainly is not a cheap venture either; the restoration is part of Shanghai’s overall RMB 300 billion World Expo investment.

Han Zheng, the mayor of Shanghai, pointed out some of the more notable changes to the riverfront:

  • Area for public activities increased by roughly 40 percent; the Bund can now accommodate up to 800,000 visitors on peak days.
  • Six-lane tunnel built beneath the Bund to mitigate traffic congestion on surface streets.
  • Improvements to the public transport network and the flood-control infrastructure.
  • Tree plantings along the banks of the river and installation of 2,000 park benches.

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Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival – brrr

Harbin_Ice_FestivalThis dragon recently flew over to frigid northeastern China to visit the Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. Didn’t enjoy the chilly Siberian winds but the amazing art made it well worth the journey! (Even a cold-blooded creature like me gets cold when icicles start forming on my scales!)

This festival,  one of the world’s four largest ice and snow festivals, includes humongous ice buildings built from the frozen waters of the Songhua River, gigantic snow sculptures, and ice slides. (Kind of an icy version of Burning Man at night!)

I loved the multi-colored night lights that illuminated the sculptures from both inside and outside. Really cool to see the brilliant and dazzling lights against the dark night sky.

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Red Paper Feng Shui Success in Cancun

Sun Palace Beach Fire Show

After placing a horse in my travel position, this dragon was blessed with a trip to Cancun. Though I took my Blackberry phone with the red paper behind it and never turned it on, the red paper and phone still performed its magic! (See my earlier article on the wonders of red paper behind your business phone.)

Red Paper and Blackberry in CancunWith Blackberry in claw, I started out in a rustic, mosquito-ridden hotel room on the island of Isla Mujeres and soon manifested a major “free” upgrade by moving to Sun Palace, an all-inclusive resort on the hotel zone.

I ended up in a suite big enough for this dragon, including a huge in-room jacuzzi, ocean view, and awesome fire show on the beach! I got massaged, “facialed,” seaweed wrapped, and manicured as part of the package deal! (My scales have never felt or looked better!)

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