Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Lone Ranger

Molly and I have gone our separate ways for a few weeks and so now I am a strong, independent woman, alone on the wild road. Do not fret; I assure you that I am okay.

The other day I went shopping at a huge mall and bought a real, expensive backpack, a latte, and a soft pretzel. Ahhh, the luxuries of western influence. Then I came back to town and went to the Sunday market where I did not buy anything! Yay! It was my first time. (Actually, I bought some pretty coasters, I forgot.) Then I got my legs waxed, got a pedicure, and a lovely thai massage down a crowded alleyway off the main market road. (There is wonderfully detailed short story in the making about these last few events. Maybe even a feature film! Stay tuned...)

Yesterday was a big waste of a day. I should've known better and not signed up for a trip called "Long Neck Tribe". I should've known that I would have serious moral problems with going and gawking at human beings. I snapped a few shots of the Padong people who live near Taton near the Myanmar border (that was for you, daddy) before I decided that I would exhibit a bit of will power and a bit of passive resistance and sit out the rest of the time. I have one particularly poignant picture of me smiling like a goofy, dumb tourist, sitting next to a girl with about 25 rings around her neck, who looks like she is about to cry.

The tigers in Burma used to attack these tribal people. The men were strong enough to fight back, but the women got mauled in the neck and died. So they wore these rings to protect themselves. THat is the story. Now it is a sign of beauty. Google for a picture of these people. I am going to delete the ones on my camera. I really could not support a tourist industry that makes people into zoo animals. These people sit up on their mountain and sell the same junky trinkets that are sold down on the streets, to the tons and tons of tourists who come to stare at them. Their English and the ENglish of the tour guides is not good enough to answer questions of any depth or interest. It is a big waste of time. Even if they really really need the money and tourism is their only way of getting it, it still seems exploitive (on all ends) and unnecessary. Next thing you know, they'll be traveling up the mountain to set up camp before the tourists get there and traveling home to their regular thai homes after the show is over. Now, there IS something to be said about money leading to education and better health....I am not sure how I feel about that yet.

There were some interesting stops along the way to the tribe, the most noteworthy one being an elephant-dung paper making factory. (By "factory" I mean a tent with a bunch of booths in it.) After they bleach and clean the elephant dung, it feels nice and soft and smells like pineapple and bananas! I bought a journal out of the paper. Cool, huh?

Last night I went out to eat all by myself to a lovely little all-vegan resturaunt which is lined with bookshelves (filled) and equipped with cushions on the floor and low tables. I was writing in my journal and feeling bad for myself that I was all alone and friendless, when I gained the courage to go join a table of people nearby. I ended up spending the rest of the evening with some really cool people, going out after dinner to the Rooftop Bar...you take off your shoes and go up to the roof of the building and sit on cushions on the floor and look up at the stars. It was magnificent. I talked the whole time with a very nice Jewish lad who knows of Bukowski! I told him I went to City Lights Bookstore in San Fran and that got us talking about Buk and he's read lots of Buk and even told me about his favorite Buk poem! But as the nature of these friendships go, I will never see him again.

I write this email with a heavy heart, for it may be my last for 2 full weeks. Today I pack my bags and leave the city for the country. I will retreat to a mountain top where I will live in a little village and learn the art of Thai Yoga Massage. There I will also learn about meditation and do some Tai Chi. And I will read and write. I even borrowed a holy sefer from the Chabad of Chiang Mai so i can round the whole thing out with some Torah.

Maybe there will be internet on the mountain and you will hear from me soon....otherwise, farewell, my dear friends!

Love, Sarah

Friday, January 14, 2005

Hello, Mr. Cow!


Have you ever felt like you were going to fall off the side of a mountain simply because the width of your elephant was wider than the width of the path you were on? I'm sure you all have, so you know how utterly scary it is. Good ol' Sapu, rebellious as he was, I guess didn't want his life to end, and so spared mine along the way.

I'm going to try and describe briefly my last couple days here. First, I'll start by saying this: I'm used to the sort of hikes that last an hour and have an ice cream truck waiting at the end for me, so when our pickup truck dropped us off in the middle of the jungle and said 'so long', I didn't realize that we wouldn't see it again for 3 days.

We hiked uphill for hours with heavy bags on our backs. Tung, our guide, carried mine for a bit cuz I thought I would die (do you see a theme?). I don't know how the others did it so nonchalantly. We hiked to the Lahu village where we put our bags in the bamboo hut (fully equipped with...a floor and a ceiling) and began running around with the children, chickens, dogs, and pigs. No electricity on this one particular hill, so when the sun went down, our day was over. THe kids came in for a while and put on a little show, and then we sang back to them, Row Row Row your Boat and I'm a Little Teapot. (My choices, of course.) (Oh, btw, we=me, molly, 2 brits, 4 kiwis (new zealanders), and Tung, our THai guide.) We played cards all night around the candles and drank lots of beers (but not me cuz I decided I don't like beer anymore). The next day we were on our feet all day walking from village to village and waterfall to waterfall. Skinny cows grazing around us. Jungle trees, bamboo, intense beauty all over the place. We drank the next village out of beers the next night, the kiwis doing weird things like downing hot chilis and taking off their clothing. Day three was like camp. Elephant riding and bamboo rafting. What? You didn't do those things at your camp? We also went white water rafting which was fun. By the end of the day we were covered with so much dirt, sweat, contaminated water, and elephant snot, even I was ready to shower. (So of course I came back to my bug infested guest house and took an ice cold shower. Yum.)

The Lahu are interesting people. THey get about 40 tourists a day, sleeping in their huts, playing with their children, eating their food, and get paid for their hospitality. In the last 10 years or so they have been exposed to more western culture (and more thai city culture) than ever before, yet we remain their only exposure. They still have no TV or even any newspapers. THey go to school until they are 11 and get married shortly thereafter. What must they think of us overgrown white people still carrying on like children, toting around expensive technology? The children are all familiar with digital cameras and camcorders, but have probably never seen a light switch. They've probably never seen a proper bed or couch, for that matter. Over the course of 10 years they get a road down the mountain? Then in one year, things go digital. Who know what they will get over the next 10 years? And do they want it? Do we care if they want it?

The whole experience got me very excited, though a bit nervous, for the Africa part of my trip, where I will not be a tourist in a village like this, but will be a resident for 3 months. How much progress is good progress?

I think I'm going to the zoo today. I will rent a bike there for 1 bhat. (100 bhat= $2.50)

Shabbat Shalom to everyone!

Love, Sarah

P.S. Do you want to know the most amazing thing about THailand? For those of your who know me very well, you will appreciate this: I have not weighed myself in 2 weeks! I have not weighed myself in 2 weeks and I have not looked in a mirror in a week. And I feel great!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

seeing the world

It's me!

"Where have you been and where are you going?" The backpacker's greeting to his fellow traveler; we are all brothers on this very strange and very exotic elephant trunk shaped piece of land. (That's what they say anyways. I still haven't looked at a map.) You meet people, like them or don't like them, and then bid your farewell and good lucks, never to see them again. There are throbs of them. This country survives on the 30 bhat an hour for internet and 100 bhat pair of pants that I, and people like me, buy lots of. (That's about $0.80 and $2.25) respectively. Compare that to San Francisco's $3 / 15-minutes of internet!) I have gotten rid of all my clothing to make room for the new. I traded some, sold some, and stored some. Though, I must admit, the Thais do not want my clothing because I am a big, fat American. Damn skinny Asians.

Today was Thai cooking day! I think I became a love-hate case for them. I do not eat: meat, chicken, fish, shrimp, prawns, egg, tomatoes, oyster juice, and elephant ear mushrooms. And I cannot hold a knife correctly. ("No, no, no, Salah! That is not how to cut the callot. We must supelglue you callot back in one," Meow says during vegaetable carving time.) So why do they love me? Because I am charming. Next.

Yesterday we went to a Buddhism meditation information session at a beautiful temple on an island that we blindly got to and I fell in love with my first monk. Actually, my first 2 monks. Do ot fret; I told them I was not yet ready to marry.

Tonight we go to night market (oh, articles of speech! come back!) and then to sleep early. Last night was spent on 12 hour bus to Chiang Mai (Northern Thailand) and tomorrow we begin our 3 day trek, filled with hiking, bamboo rafting, elephant riding and hill tribe invasions, i mean visitations.

Oh, in Bangkok, we also went to the Grand Palace and have been to a number of wats (temples)---another great place to take off your shoes!

We also spent an Israeli shabbat at Chabad of Bangkok (one of Thailand's 3 chabads). I stuck with some English speakers and actually went to shul Friday night and Shabbos day! (Go Chabad and late starting times!) We went to a massive Friday night dinner. There were probably 300 people there. And then, if you're in the know, you go to the private dinner afterwards. I was in the know.

Tonight we are staying in an Israeli guest house. It is one of many. The thai agents are speaking to me in Hebrew. I keep having to say, "Please speak in Thai. Me no speak Hebrew."

Meanwhile, I have gotten through lesson 3 or 4 of my Luganda tape series. Soon I will be able to say (the very complicated), "Hello, my name is Sarah." successfully.

And how are all of you?


Saturday, January 08, 2005

We are Siamese if you please…

Ok...I KNOW I'm supposed to be roughing it, but do you know how cheap massages are? I've been in Thailand for just a couple hours and I'm already feeling quite relaxed from the Thai massage I've already had. (Think of it as a cultural experience.) In fact, up north in Chaing Mai is a 10 day massage class. When in Thailand do like the Thais, right?

But wait, Sarah, you must be asking....What about Hong Kong?? I will tell you. If I had stayed at the Hong Kong airport, I would've gotten my money's worth. Hong Kong is seriously on the cutting edge of airport design. After nearly dying on the flight (there was about 3 hours of intense, prayer-provoking turbulence) and after nearly losing my bag forever (they finally found it), landing in this gorgeous airport was like ascending into heaven. And then we went to town....

Going to China after seeing so many Chinatowns is like watching Star Wars after seeing Spaceballs a million times....that is, it's kinda funny. You think that people are dressed a certain way and talk a certain way and eat a certain way just cuz they're trying to maintain their culture amidst their overpowering neighbors, but Hong Kong (which, apparently is SORT OF part of China--i learned all about it; will tell you about it when I have more time) is for real. People eat Chinese food because they actually are Chinese! (Do I sound ignorant and ethnocentric?)

We went on this tour called "The Land Between" which brought us all over the new territories. Like all of Hong Kong, the new territories are struggling between the old and the new. The entire city is filled with massive high rise apartment building, McDonalds and 7-11s, Prada, Chanel, pollution, and business(wo)men (ha, that's for you, parents), juxtaposed with rural fishing villages, hill clans, and 20th century technology (that's a long time ago already!). People seem confused as to whether or not they want to embrace progress.

At night we took a tram up Victoria peak and saw the whole city which really was beautiful. We were on Hong Kong Island at that point, which is the business center of it all, and the building there are all lit up and each has a different geometric shape. And they all seem to fit together perfectly. I've gotten to like the cityscape very very much lately. (But nothing, of course, compares to Boston.)

And now I'm in Thailand. There are more Israelis here than there are Thais and of course at this point I probably speak better Thai than Hebrew, so that's an unfortunate irony. Went to Chabad and gave him all the donations that some of you gave me; Rabbi Kantor sends his thanks. We are staying at a very fancy hotel across the street from Chabad, the Viengtai, at a roaring $22 a night each. We're splurging cuz we just got here and it'll be shabbos.

Speaking of which, it is almost time to welcome in the Sabbath queen and I am sitting in this cafe, very dirty and barefoot. (haha, and loving every moment of it!)

Keep your emails coming...I'll respond when I can!



Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The San Francisco Treat

It's Sarah's first email from her incredible journey! Aren't you excited?

Today I biked about 4000 miles from downtown San Fran to quaint Sausilito. There I was, zooming across the Golden Gate Bridge, wind in my helmet, singing the theme song from Full House, thinking about Party of Five, and all the other wonderful things I know about this beautiful city.

I love the world already! We saw the entire city, met really nice people, ate sourdough bread, and had Ghiradelli hot chocolate from the famous Ghir. square. We went to Haight-Ashbury and saw the burnt out hippies and walked along the sketchy Mission area. We saw Alcatraz from afar, fisherman's wharf from anear. But seriously, we biked all day (2 hours!) and i'm exhausted. I'm still in America but kinda feel like I'm on another planet. I have no cell phone, no clothing, no cosmetics, no anything! (Did I mention that the airline forgot my bag?)

Tonight we depart for Hong Kong, and if SF seems like another planet, HK will seem like an alternate universe. I'm looking forward to it.

Stay tuned for more from Sarah's excellent adventure!

Love, Sarah


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