Kuching, Lundu, Sarawak

Exploring West Sarawak

When we do not work…

or play beach-volleyball…

or enjoy the view…

or chillout at the campfire…

    

   

… we use our time to explore the surroundings.

   
One fine day a carpenter from Scotland named Dave who volunteers at Matang Wildlife Centre (22km west of Kuching) comes to finish work on some doors, handles, locks etc. Konrad, Karla, Leon, Joy and me borrow his car and decide to hike for an hour to the most beautiful waterfall in this region. What is shown on the photos is a mere fraction of what there is to see; there are trails following the river up up up to more than ten waterfalls, each more beautiful than the previous, providing spectacular views over the entire rainforest with semingly endless variations of green. Indescribable.

   

Refreshing pool at the end of the hike

   

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Nan, Thailand

Living & Dying In Nan

After some days in Sukhothai and surroundings I call a friend’s friend named Tao.

ขอบคุณครับ แอนนา ผมไม่คิดถึงคุณหรอก 😉

Dhamma bro Tao lives in Nan.

On the phone he says I can stay as long as i like. Sounds good.

When I arrive at the bus station he and his two sisters Tim and Tom are already waiting for me. We go to have something to eat. Then, sleep.

Tao likes to take it easy, nice and slow. เนิบเนิบ. He is interested and skilled in the art of natural and holistic healing. Concocting his own herbal cough medicine and stuff. He wants to be an organic farmer. Free. Independent. Grow his own vegetables. Build a nice little clay house. He keeps his eyes open for a piece of land near river Nan to realise his dream. His heart หัวใจ bleeds whenever he sees some man-made structure in a remote area of natural beauty. ‘Why do they build that here?’ he whispers to himself.

Friday we prepare the blue Honda Wave for the trip north of Nan. We also visit the ที่งานน่านเนิบเนิบ.That is the Trade Fair ‘Nan, slowly slowly’. Good food there. Really everything is provided for. I am not allowed to pay.

I write this in retrospect with the help of my calendar cuz as a traveller I keep on forgetting what day it is… i know it’s February, though. So, Saturday we start early in the morning. We share the driving up north to the Laos border. Short stop at the Riverside Art Gallery for a coffee.

Driving is fun. After a while it hurts. Roads are in good condition. Sometimes not. Sometimes construction sites slow down our trip. Sometimes no matter what the road is like, carelessness leads to disaster and sudden death.

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We sleep somewhere in a Bungalow near Thai-Laos border and get up early the next day it’s foggy so much morning mist but after a 20-minute drive the sight is clear. Sun comes up behind a hill. Iz not getting noticeably warmer but at least less chilly.

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Sunday. Our first resting place is at a restaurant named Lamchanat (meaning ‘very delicious’ in northern dialect) at Bo Kluea (meaning ‘Salt Well’). We have breakfast and hear the story of the former restaurant owners. There used to be a bigger restaurant until for some unknown reason the man – who was also a police officer – killed his wife and was arrested.

We check out the stream and the salt well and the production site – several huts in which the salt water is boiling, leaving the crystallised salt on the ground of a big kettle. Outside the sun is smouldering and yet, after a while sitting inside one of the huts the open air feels quite fresh. We are back in Nan at sunset.

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Next day. Sunny Monday afternoon. We drive to the suburbs. My dear driver points out crops of sesame growing on the fields we pass by. The next minute we spot what looks like a crime scene. Tao stops the motorsai at the side of the road. We soon find out that a woman was found dead in her nightgown. Police are investigating. Scouring the terrain to find evidence, traces, indices. It all seems incredibly near and clear. Exodus as a fact of life. Nothing to be particularly surprised about. Happens to everyone. Tao asks someone if she was killed. A man answers ‘Something like this…’

Then my dear guide brings us to a friend’s house. First thing to do after entering the room is to down a glass of high spirit in a plastic stamperl. Like an inverted entrance fee, hihi. Next thing I do is sit down and get beard trimmed and hair cut. 10 minutes. 30 baht. We leave. Tao is an efficient teacher when it comes to avoid wasting precious time. We have a good meal with Tao’s sisters and take a stroll through the wat. Sit and bow down in front of the golden statue. Go outside. Watch and listen to percussionists preparing their drums with sticky rice for a competition. The player of the instrument with the most balanced sound wins. The jury looks critically wise with their sleek uniforms and ready whistles round their necks. After that there is a beneficial dance operation going on – it’s too automatic to call it a gig really. It’s just noise. Too loud to go near the stage. Too sober to dance to these tunes. I am grateful when Tao says he wants to leave. Great idea. I get up to join him. Get rest.

Silence enwraps me.

Soundless sound sleep.

Next day we take a tour through the city on the motorcycle. Tao suggests we visit his cousin Pik (Thai for ‘tiny’) in the neighbourhood. When we arrive no one is at the house but we find some groceries in a bag. She might be back in a jiffy?! Tao has a look around while I stay at the house in case she comes back. Some minutes later he returns and tells me a woman he knows has been found dead this morning. Pik is there. It’s round the corner. We go there and meet up with his cousin and many other locals. Within ten minutes of our arrival the pickup truck with the coffin on it and a monk on the passenger seat passes us by to drive off to the nearby temple for ceremonial business.

Later I relax in the afternoon sun reading Recollections of Ajahn Chah and enjoying doing nothing. At the river I feed some fish. At a food stall (‘Lupin Kanom-Waan’) Tao and I eat some sticky rice with coconut milk and mango (kao niao mamuang). In the evening we visit the sisters Tom & Tim to have dinner with them. Some students also come by and interview me: Where do you come from? How old are you? What are you doing in the city? Do you like Nan? I ask them to write down the translations in Thai in my notebook.

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Days go by.

Days go by.

One day we have breakfast at Ban J veggie rahn-arhaan after doing some gardening in the morning hours. Another we visit the sisters’ house and everything is prepared for us. We only have to set up a table, sit down, and feast.

At noon we get picked up by brother Sotep and his wife and go to Santisuk – Pua – Bo Klua to revisit some places and also see some new,e.g. the queen’s residence at Phufa Development Centre in the national park. Suai suai! Beautiful!

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We see the salt well again and listen to traditional music played by a group beside the river. I buy some sausages to feed begging dogs on the street.

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At 8 p.m. we are back in Nan and meet the sisters. Together the six of us enjoy a delicious Thai dinner. Many plates on the table and we all share what’s there. I look at the bottom of my nam-gæo (water glass). It tells me I am lucky in Thailand.

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As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being. (C.G.Jung, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”)

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Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok revisited

Three days in Bangkok. Exhaust fumes and engine noise. Restless traffic and trafficking. Travel agencies, temples, flower markets. Smells of waste, of poo and of goo, too. Street food stalls, simple frying stations with a bicycle/motorcycle attached to it. Pad thai, instant coffee, the notorious chang-leo-singha connection. Countless offers of massage, manicure, pedicure. And of course, the ubiquitous gold framed flower ornamented images of King Bhumipol and Queen Sirikit to round up the picture of this megacity, providing it with a sense of dignity.
  
… Being here after three months of travelling comes as a surprise. It was not planned at all. Given that this is Thailand, the no-plan mind-set probably counts as a valid reason for me to be here… exactly three months after I left Bangkok due south.
  
What I have in mind now is to fly to Myanmar. But as I am soon to find out, kamma kismet has something else in store for me.

1st day I go to the Myanmar embassy. It is in the south of the city (Pan Road) for a visa. Next day I go there again to get the passport back. I try to book a flight to Yangon but it’s not possible to go there without paying a lot of money and accepting an overstay in Thailand. So when I go to the Myanmar embassy I go there early in order to collect my passport. Once I get the passport, I reckon, I need to extend my Thai visa for 30 more days. This means going distances.

You already smell it’s not gonna be a piece of cake, right? When I go to pick up my passport they don’t want to give it to me because i am too early. They tell me to come back at 3.30p.m. cuz that’s the set ‘collection hour’. I insist and tell them I have to go to the Thai immigration office until 4 p.m. at the latest. Now you gotta know the Thai immigration office is located far north near the airport. It takes about 2 hours to go there from the centre. And I find myself south of the centre. Therefore, I insist. The clerk talks about embassy regulations. Still, I need my passport now. (You have to ask 3 times, right?!) Finally, he says OK and asks me to wait until he is finished with all the others. At 12.30 p.m. he gives me the stamped passport. Having left the Myanmar embassy, I take skytrain&bus&scooter taxi to get to the immigration office in the north. Three hours after I got my passport back I get that other stamp.

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An afternoon at Thai Immigration Office to extend my stay

I take a local bus back to Chatuchak Park to relax, work out, and run.

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Chatuchak Park right after that

Then I take the sky train and bus back to the guesthouse ‘Flapping duck’ near Phra Sumen Fort. Same place I stayed three months ago. I also meet a Viennese couple living in my neighbourhood. I meet Mark there, the Irish friend I had met in Khao Sok. A couple of new faces. Everyone with his/her own story.

We check Khao San Road, grab some food, dodge shady characters who want to play pingpong. Eventually we head back to the guesthouse. Playing pool and having phun on the roof top til staff member Eskimo kindly asks us to be quiet. His room is located right under the roof. It’s 3 or 4 a.m. when I finally find my way to bed.

The next day, a day of repose. Thai massage. Sightseeing. A lot of walking around. Cruising with the tourist boat. Indian food in the late evening.

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Cruising on Chao Phraya River

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Temple and spaceship (I am told it is a school but i don’t believe everything people say)

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This could be any place…but it’s bangkok.

Next day, get up early. Pack the bags. Checkout. Catch a bus to Chatuchak park. A spicy breakfast bowl. And a short walk to Buddhadāsa Indapañño Archives. Later I have lunch with some of the people working there. The simple food – rice with onions, guava and tamarind -, the metal bowl and metal spoon I am using remind me of Suan Mokh.

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… round and around and around and around we go…

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You get the picture…

I walk to the nearby northern bus terminal (Mo Chit 2) and catch a bus north to Phitsanulok -a city southwest of Sukhothai. Diamond, a chef de cuisine staying in Bangkok recommended a guesthouse to me. She wrote down the name in Thai script and said she is going to announce my arrival. When I arrive at the bus station at 10 p.m. the taxi drivers are baffled by this guy holding a piece of paper with some Thai script in his hand. They don’t know that place. No reason not to overcharge me and bring me someplace else. Thai tourist service. I understand. In the end, I check in at Lithai guesthouse. But not before having searched the streets for that place that was recommended to me. Here I am, in the middle of a city I don’t know. It’s midnight. And I am sitting at a bar with a Chang in my hand and some pak kao on my plate near the dirty Nan River. Fat backpack next to the table. Could be worse. I could be in that river. I am offered to sleep in the river hut for 300 baht. I agree. But no, there’s no key. I have to wait for the ‘other guy’. He is drinking his way out of this world on the other shore. I smile, wait til 1 a.m. and then all too willingly accept the scooter ride back to the guesthouse I was brought to in the first place, three hours ago.

A long day.

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Sharing, Surat Thani, Thailand

Ey teachaaa!

Ms. Clarke-McManamon and Mr. McNally, the lovely Irish couple I first met a couple days ago…at dinner they invite me to come to the birthday party at Brandy’s house. I leave Khao Sok at 1 p.m. I arrive at Surat Thani about two hours later.

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Wandering the streets of Surat Thani… Look at the bridge and… lo and behold! if that isn’t old buddy Bhikkhu Buddhadāsa

It’s about 6 p.m. when Dave picks me up from BJ hotel and gives me a ride to the party location. It’s across the Tapi river in the northern part of Surat. I meet many many English teachers there. During the party there is also talk of going to Khanom the next day. A fellow yogi at SuanMokh had recommended that place to me before as an enjoyable and laid-back not-too-touristy community joint. Sarah&Mark provide me with a mattress to sleep on.

And so the next day, Saturday at 3 p.m. I take a bus from Talad Kaset (Bus station at Surat) to Khanom. It takes less than an hour. First things first. Get a Thai curry. Meet old and new friends. The party in the evening is the bomb. Live music performed by a raggae band, then by a wonderful sanuk Scottish man called Chuck. Good vibes all around.

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Der Morgen danach

Live and let live. Enjoy great food and drink. Dance and laugh and love. Ocean’s about 100 feet from the bar JamBay. Party til 3 or 4 or so. Sleep right there. Hammocks, blankets, right there.

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Khanom Khanom

So I spend some time with the English teaching community at Surat Thani and I like it. They really are a friendly bunch! Thoughts come and go. Some are more persistent or recurrent than others, of course. The one telling me it’s a fine idea to teach myself at Surat Tahini is quite a tenacious one, indeed. I counsel myself. Next time around, dear friend. Keep on moving. Keep travelling. Explore.

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I also meet a wonderfully caring young mom from Austria at Khanom beach. She and her son stay there at Khanom, for a month … at least. It was crystal clear that they are completely happy here. The only occasional cloud darkening the sky of the mind is made up thoughts about the uncertain future. Joe, the Thai bar owner, is gratefully graciously taking over the role of father/uncle/friend.

Sunday is chill out day deluxe. A dip into the salty wet. A walk on the sandy strip. A read in a good book. A talk with a friend. A plate of delicious food. What more do you want? (What do you mean? ‘More…’) Time passes quickly when you’re happy. Did I mention that before?

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Sun shining on green bottle with shells of all colours resting on a tree stump table

In the evening, Song gives me ride back to Surat Thani with his red car. Before going back, though, we eat a proper meal and play pool. I learn some more essential Thai phrases. The ride is nice, electronic music on the highway and Frank Sinatra on entering the city again at dusk.

When we get to Sarah&Mark’s place the door is locked. So we head towards the pier. Maybe they are already there, having a come-together before Mark’s going to leave Surat the morrow. They are not there. I gotta piss… hong nam ju ti nai?… Song points out ‘Toilet over there.’ Some minutes later we spot the lovely Irish couple sitting in a restaurant across the street. We join them. Later more people come, Jaxx and Sophie and Daniel… also a shy Thai girl. She gets the candy I just got at the restaurant.

Monday morning. We get the scooter and drive to the city centre. Mark and I book a night train ticket to Bangkok at Puntip (Thai State Railway). After that we meet some English teachers for lunch – 35 baht for a proper meal. The immigration office happens to be just around the corner. We go there cuz I’d like to check the current procedures of visa extensions. I am told that I can extend my 14 days (stamp on arrival) for another 30 days. It’s 1900 baht.

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Dhamma investigation, Malaysia

Dhammavicaya Days

This morning I go to the market on Waterfall Road. It’s a short walk from Bodhi Heart. Jordan joins me. We share breakfast. On our way back we see a monitor lizard.

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Pineapple-banana-celery juice

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Roti canai with egg and daal

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Dhamma-vicaya means dhamma investigation. It is one of the bojjhangas, i.e. factors of enlightenment, i.e. faculties one develops on the spiritual path. I choose this title partly because yesterday I meditated at Mahindarama Temple.

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Mahindarama Temple

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Funny monk Ajahn Brahm guides a retreat there. As for meditation, no instruction is given. Only dhamma talks at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. So I guess it is assumed that everyone knows how to meditate and people are simply provided with a proper place and food to do so. When asked for a method in the evening, Ajahn Brahm says: ‘Breathe in and breathe out, hihihi.’

I also choose this title because today I read Venerable Ācāra Suvanno’s commentary on the 16 Dreams of King Pasenadi.

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Sitting in the tea house for hours. Leafing through the book. King Pasenadi is married with Queen Mallikā. It is the very queen who asks the Buddha why there are beautiful women and plain ones, why some are rich and others poor. It is also Mallikā who responds to her royal spouse: ‘No, there is no-one I love more dearly than myself.’ King Pasenadi is perplexed as he admits it is like that for him, too. He goes to the Chief Brahmin who answers in verse:

Having traversed all quarters with the mind,
1 finds none anywhere dearer than oneself.
Likewise, each person holds himself most dear;
Hence 1 who loves himself should not harm others.

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Beautiful illustrations by KT Yeoh

Buddha knew exactly what to say to whom. He mastered the art of listening empathetically and meeting the person where she is. He spoke differently to different people. With ignorant people, he remained silent. No waste of energy on closed ears not ready to listen. Better wait patiently for a door to open. Time will come. With blind people he didn’t speak of colours but sensations. With artists he did. With merchants he didn’t speak of weather, season, harvest. With peasants he did. With householders he spoke as to householders. With monks as to monks.

In the case of King Pasenadi he gave an interpretation that soothed his anxiety of losing his kingdom, his riches, or his life because that was what the other brahmins had prophesied. Their suggestion was to sacrifice thousands of biped and quadruped animals to avert the danger. King Pasenadi was readily persuaded and the sacrifice prepared… when his wife Mallikā enters the scene. She suggests talking to the Chief Brahmin before committing such an ignoble deed.

So he goes to the Buddha. And all his explanations end with the assuring phrase: ‘Howbeit, you have nothing to fear therefrom.’ Because every dream refers to what is yet to come in times when the accumulated collective kamma of centuries and the governance of feeble-minded and ill-advised kings results in a gruesome world full of despair and destruction. As if to say: ‘But you, O great Pasenadi, you are truly a wise and righteous king! You will do what’s right, right?! No need to sacrifice living beings. You are safe.’

It is a fine line between flattering somebody in order to benefit in one way or another and praising somebody in order to boost the self-confidence of that person. Sometimes they go together, being merely two subjective perspectives of the same action performed. One person praises and gains some influence by that. One is praised and becomes more confident in the process.

In the exploration of King Pasenadi’s dreams there is neither flattering nor praising going on. Buddha knows why he says what he says. His prime intention is to remind people of their own goodness. By nurturing their goodwill he helps them recognise their duty in life. By reminding them of what really counts he helps them realise the proper way to fulfill their duty.

My ruminations are accompanied by the sounds of birds chirping in the trees and the palm leaves rustling in the wind. From time to time monkeys pass by. A blue-black butterfly settles down on my left index finger and explores my hand. And stays with me until the last page.

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I call her blackberry because we communicate so well…

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