Notes from Delphi

Notes from Delphi

Today my 23 year old self would like to say hello to you. I am directly dictating a few of my journal entries from 2004. This step back in time highlights when I traveled into Greece from Italy for the first (and so far, only) time.

July 8 2004 – en route to Delphi

The water is beautiful. It’s that turquoise blue right up to the shore like the water at a Caribbean island edge only creeping up to the mountains of the Sierras instead.

Stefiana has a hypnotic voice. In conjunction with the lullaby like rocking of the bus, I fall asleep. I try to listen and learn and keep my eyes open but I’m not even enjoying it because the whole time I’m trying to pry my eyes open.

I hear her, “Beware of the sea orchards!” As we pull up to the seaside restaurant, I realize she means, “Beware of the sea urchins!”

There’s all these pathways and trails in the water from the movement of the ships and boats. Watching the water mark their journey like footprints in sand.

The waiter reeks of B.O. We’re at a roadside family restaurant where we choose our food from a picture menu. We just dipped our feet in the Mediterranean Sea for the first time. Kim’s lotion slipped her feet out of her sandals and now her soles are the red of the earth. This place smells like some sort of pickled fish, like squid or something. It’s not salty and it’s not solely fishy or sweaty, but a little of all.

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To get to Delphi, we travel up a large winding road along the hillside. When we’re almost to the top we look down and there’s a huge valley stretching between the mountains. It’s a dark olive green floor. The valley is composed of a massive olive tree grove.

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Olives must be soaked in salt water for a week, changing the water every couple of days before eating. Too bitter off the tree.

July 9 2004 – Delphi

Delphi, oracle city of Apollo.

Orange dust of walls turns to gold from noon day sun shining on them. Stones falling sounds like laughter.

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View from our hotel room. New part of Delphi

Delphi pulled the city-states together by making them write history in the same language with same religion, becoming one nation, The Greeks. Speaking water of temple gave Castilian girl power to prophesize. When water stopped talking, Ancient Greece ended.

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Ancient Greeks had two sayings left on the door that held their prophecies: Nothing in Excess and Know Thyself. One for balance and the other knowledge. In a place dedicated to a God, they were telling people not to believe a God controls everything and to believe in rational thought. Apollo and Dionsysus. Two opposites. Two paths. Two ways to balance yourself.

Kim and I are given a choice. Walk up the hill to the theater and temple or down to the museum. We take separate paths. I go up and she goes down.

On the way to the temple, Joe says to me, “Don’t worry, there’s a bar at the top.” These jokes are getting old. *

I am sitting under a tree writing, listening to birds chirping and watching yellow butterflies flit among the greenery. Kim and I pass each other on the road. We both decide to choose each path.

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On the right…the omphalos, the navel of the world. 

These Cypress trees are so strange how they spike out of the vast landscape in no general design or order. Loping hills of olive trees and then a lance of a cypress pointing to the blue sky.

In the museum – Charioteer Bronze Statue from 478 BC of a young boy who just won a chariot race in the Pythian games.

He looks content.

From a little further away, he looks slightly sad. From down the ramp, he looks mad. “Don’t walk away,” he says. “Watch my final lap.”

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*Sidenote: Joe was not making an old man joke. He was a 12-14 year old boy who was making fun of how much Kim and I drank on that trip. We were 23 and everyone else were teachers chaperoning children. Cut us some slack.

The All Seeing Eye

The All Seeing Eye

“I’m Jimmy the Gypsy. I’m from Ireland,” a man with faded tattoos down his arms and a toothless grin tells me as I sit in the grass of Jubilee Gardens watching the London Eye during the 2015 Festival of Love in Southbank.

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“I’m a psychic,” he goes on. He and his friend had just finished smoking a joint. I was trying to enjoy my cider alone on this hot day in London. I knew it was risky sitting on this part of the grass so close to these two characters, but almost every inch of space was taken elsewhere by people lounging in the warm day out by the water.

“I’m not interested. I’d just like to be by myself right now,” I tell him.

A few minutes later, he turns around again, sprawled out in the grass under the shade of the tree. The London Eye moves in slow circles in front of us. The water of the Thames sparkles.

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“There’s a woman on your shoulder. She watches out for you.”

I try not to listen. Not to engage. I sip my cider.

“She worries about you. She wants you to find love,” he goes on. I can’t help but be interested. Is he talking about my grandmother, Tutu, who passed away about five years before? A woman who I considered more like a mother than just a grandmother. I had also been dumped two days before and the message about finding love had me hooked.

He asks me to show him my hand. Well, if he wants to read my fortune for free, who am I to stop him, I naively think.

I show him my palm.

He tells me I shouldn’t look for love in empty wells and that there are too many people draining me emotionally in my life. That I am a moon child and I have five good moon child friends and don’t need more than that. I will come into some money in the next two years, big money. I will have many children, three girls and one boy. This makes me nervous, that’s two children too many,  an Indian palm reader told me something similar and I gulp. That’s another story.

He drops my hand. “What do I think that fortune was worth?” he asks.

I have absolutely no money. I only just arrived the day before and hadn’t visited an ATM yet. I tell him this but he doesn’t believe me. I start worrying about Irish gypsy curses. I hand him my cider. “I have this. You can have the rest.”

He pauses for a second, thinking about it. He takes the cider from my hand and gulps it down in one quick sip then throws the empty cup to the grass angrily.

I zip up my boots and jump up from the shade. I don’t want to stick around to see him give me the evil eye and I run away to meet my Afternoon Tea Tour bus.

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B Bakery Afternoon Tea Bus Tour

I try not to feel bad.

Two years later, I find some things interesting. I did lose some friendships in the last years. Friendships that I wish I hadn’t lost but that I needed to let go as they weren’t healthy for me. I did find love. I haven’t seen any of that big money yet or babies.

I also ponder how the fortune shapes the future by the choices you make knowing it. He had also told me I would be with a man with dark curly hair, and he made a gesture that the man would make of sweeping his hair out from his eyes. Jimmy specifically said he saw that man would do that gesture. I dated a man for three months who did just that. He did it early on and I sometimes wonder if I only dated him because of that, even when I knew it was wrong, even when I knew we weren’t right for each other. Would I have wasted that time if I didn’t think it was meant to be? I can’t say, I can’t see the future like that. But I can say, I’m much happier now without the dark haired man who tucked the hair out of his eyes with his left hand.

As we circle around the carousel of a new year with a lot of unknowns, what do we want the future to hold? What parts do we want to shape ourselves? What do we want revealed to us? What do we want to keep mystical and unknown? How can we change things in front of us that seem unchangeable? How can we shift the story the cards are laying out?

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My New Year’s wish for you all is to shape your own future, to do what you can to make this world a better place for all, to find your moon children friends and your place of love and happiness within the world.

Happy New Year and kind wishes for 2017!

Lost Luggage in London

Lost Luggage in London

Summer 2015, IcelandAir lost my luggage on my way to London. The city was in the middle of a record setting heatwave and the only clothes on my back were the ones I was wearing in frigid Iceland the day before, a coat, sweater, pants and heeled boots. My dresses and sandals for a Cambridge study summer were gone and London was sweltering.

I had a few options open to me. I could sit around the airport all day and hope my luggage showed up on a later flight (highly unlikely as it seemed it had been lost back on my first leg through Boston), I could go to my hotel and strip down to my underoos and lay around on the bed postponing the inevitable which was finding things to wear, or I could use the technology in my hand and find a cheap clothing store and get myself kitted out as the British say.

I pulled out my cell phone while I still had airport wifi. I used Google Maps to find London’s version of San Francisco’s Union Square, SOHO, the place where I knew most retail stores would be cobbled so close together that they amassed into a corporation’s wet dream, and I planned my route, taking screenshots for when I knew my data would disappear. I had just finished two days of travel, three plane flights, was looking down the barrel of an hour long train ride and all I wanted to do was sleep, but I knew I could do this, I would get myself clothes to wear. I was born to shop…as we Americans say.

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So tired on the train

Bleary-eyed, tired, literally carrying all I had on my back, I popped out of the Tube at Oxford Circus and followed the crowd of people into the packed intersection like a lemming. There in front of me was the big box glass H&M store, shining like the Eiffel Tower…oh wait, I’m getting my similes wrong. Well, anyway, it was there. I stocked up on a dress, shorts, a skirt, two tank tops. I was hopeful that my luggage would arrive in only a day and wanted to compliment what I already packed rather than doubling up. I opted out on getting a pair of sandals and got some dress flats instead, thinking they would go well with some things I already had to wear.

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I took myself, backpack, shopping bag, camera bag and all to a restaurant for lunch down the street. The waitress sounded familiar, close to home. I told her about my harrowing travels and lost baggage and she brought me a free glass of wine. We got to talking. She was from the San Francisco Bay Area and had moved to London about a year ago to pursue acting. She gave me information for a performance she would be going to later that evening if I wanted to join. The travel writer in me, wished that I had for the story, but the exhausted traveler in me made myself find my hostel so that I could successfully navigate to Cambridge the next day.

I hopped back on the Tube, having gotten the appropriate pass back at the train station, and found my hostel, Clink78, an old courthouse converted into a shared dormitory. In the ten minutes that it took me to walk from the station to the hostel, my new flats opened a large hole in the back of my heel and blood dripped into the sole of my shoe.

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I couldn’t let this get me down though. I was about to shower, change and go to sleep at 7 pm as I always do when I’m jetlagged. I was proud of myself, happy that I wasn’t scared off by an unfamiliar city or lack of sleep or proper clothing to get myself what I needed. I was even more proud of myself, retrospectively, when it turned out that my luggage, that I was told would arrive at Gonville and Caius College the next day, didn’t arrive for another five, leaving me without my belongings for a full week.

I also think my shopping navigation bolstered my solo travel skills that whole trip, causing me to travel to more little pockets of London on my own, then I would have ever considered trying to find by myself before. I went shopping in Notting Hill, wandering down Portobello Rd and brunching at Farm Girl Cafe.  I ventured out to pick up iced cookies (or biscuits) from The Biscuiteers. I walked through Hyde Park, meandering by the Serpentine Gallery and the latest outdoor art pavilion. I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum at 9 in the morning and waited in an hour long line to get tickets to the acclaimed Alexander McQueen exhibit that was hands down one of the best curated museum experiences I have ever had.

 

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Inside the entrance to the V&A

I’ll be leaving for my first winter in Europe in less than a week, heading back to London, but this time with a very private tour guide, my boyfriend, where he will show me all his childhood haunts. In that spirit, I want to look back at some of my favorite memories of trips to England. This one will be my third.

Here are some things I remember and/or look forward to experiencing again:

Men roasting chestnuts outside the Tower of London.

Eating scones and clotted cream in a cozy tea shop.

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Not a scone but a Fitzbillies’ Chelsea bun is a good substitute

Sitting amongst the pink velvet cushions of sketch for afternoon tea and being dazzled by its opulence.

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Punting down the river in Cambridge accidentally feeding ducks and drinking wine.

Traveling on a coach with my fellow high school students visiting historic landmarks like Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the place where King Arthur might be buried if he’s a real person, as well as Stratford-upon-Avon and more.

Being wary of fish pie in a pub when I was fifteen and then later drinking a pint in a pub when I was thirty-three.

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Mayflower Pub in Cambridge

And in that spirit, here’s to all the pints that will be had very shortly. Cheers and Happy Holidays!

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Obligatory telephone booth shot
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One of my happiest moments on the trip…being reunited with my luggage in time for my hiking trip through Iceland.

*Sidenote: The posts have been few and far between as I am on a deadline to finish writing my novel by the end of the year. I hope to start posting more frequently once that is complete. Wish me luck!

Travel in Trump Era

Travel in Trump Era

I’m going to apologize right now. Things are about to get political, real political. And if you don’t like it or you don’t want to hear it, then I advise you stop reading right now…It’s your choice. I’m sorry that it’s come to this.

Things in America have been a little rocky these past few weeks, to say the least. I have been slowly moving through all stages of grief in the decision (that in my mind) is still pending for President (Electoral College doesn’t actually vote until Dec. 19th — he won’t be my president until after that is finally tallied and counted). While I am extremely worried for my home front, I also worry about what this means on an international scale. England tried to warn us with the last dying chirps of the canary during their Brexit vote, but we didn’t hear those furtive peeps, instead we kept marching, right into the heart of the coal mine just before all the air went out. More backlash populist movements could be rising up in countries all over the world. The refugee crisis is not abating, more acts of terrorism are happening around the globe, violent protests are targeting tourists. The world doesn’t feel safe right now. So what does this mean for world travelers?

One of the travel magazines that I subscribe to had a message to travelers telling them not to worry, to not fear travel or let that fear stop you from going to that destination you’ve always wanted to see. Having been in Thailand during the bombings this past August, I would say letting that fear go is easier said than done.  But I will admit, I didn’t go home even when my family was pleading for me to do so. Perhaps that’s because I wasn’t actually ever at a bombing sight. Would I still have had that strength and resolve to finish my trip if I had been standing near one of the flower boxes that exploded in a number of tourist locations across the country? Probably not. How do you come back from being targeted just for being an outsider?

And that brings me back to my own country. How do we come back from making our own citizens feel like outsiders? How do we make them feel comfortable walking through their own neighborhoods? They don’t have a home to go back to, they’re already there. The pain and fear they’re receiving is right in their backyards. Women, people of color, Muslims. To pretend that there isn’t a backlash of hate and racism clenching it’s dirty fist around our country right now is akin to staying in our bubbles with our hands pressed over our ears and our eyes closed tight, pretending that if we can’t see the bad man than the bad man can’t see us. How do we remove ourselves from our privilege to help those who are feeling disenfranchised, wondering if they’re going to be safe in their own home or rounded up and put in internment camps like the Japanese were during World War II? And if you don’t know anything about that, then you need to ask yourself what history you’ve been learning (or more appropriately not learning) in school.

During the Bush era, it was hard being an American in a foreign country. Your plans were to say you were from Canada if push came to shove or to pretend San Francisco was a country unto itself. “Don’t worry, I’m from San Francisco, I’m not like the rest of the country, I promise.”  But what does that say about you as a person, as an ambassador representing your home, that you’re so willing to rebuke it, rebuff it, throw away all that you are and all that you could stand for as a proud American because you’re afraid of what someone, whom you’ve just met, might think of you. I proudly tell people that I’m fifth generation West Coast, fourth generation Californian. I think of being from California as a demarcation of my heritage. I’m not of native descent, but I’m more closely tied to the culture and ideals of a liberal, free-wheeling California than I am the smattering of European countries that run through my blood. I have no connection to those places in body or spirit. I don’t know any Hungarian, I can’t make a homemade Italian pasta, the closest I come to being Portuguese is the time I visited, but put me on a snowboard and send me down a mountain in Tahoe, give me some flip flops and a pair of jeans and I’ll happily stick my feet up on any open chair to lay back and relax on, California is in the heart of me. And do I want to renounce that? Pick up my Italian passport (yes, I will have one soon) and leave? Do I want to travel around the world with Trump as our leader, proudly shouting that I come from America and gosh darn it aren’t we the Greatest (Again?).

No. I don’t want any of those things. I don’t want to leave. I want to see us moving progressive social ideals forward like women’s rights and gay marriage. I want to see this country bring our education standards back up. I want to see us explore a single-payer health care system and get people to understand that taxes are important but that reforming what they go to (education rather than the military for instance) would work better for us than cutting them. If that’s what people mean by making our country great, I’m all for it. If that can happen in my lifetime, I will be proud to travel the world waving my American flag and waxing on about how great the California Bay Area is (minus the rental costs).

But I fear these things won’t happen under a Trump presidency. I fear that I will have to explain to everyone I meet that I’m not one of those Americans…I’m the one who voted for the lady. I was with her. I will have to try to explain why we thought this was a good choice for our nation. I will have to be an ambassador for all the poor decisions we’ve made leading up to this one, terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, choice of a “leader,” and I will do this because I won’t renounce my country. I won’t pretend to be Canadian…but I will, probably, continue to point out at that I’m from California, as if we were our own country, because that’s who I am.

And I do worry. I worry that Americans will be targeted in foreign countries. I worry that kidnappings will increase (to pretend that these things don’t happen is another way that we lie to ourselves but I will admit that the numbers have gone down from 12 to 0 in the last 3 years). I worry that I could get into confrontations that could be violent. I worry that I will leave, that I’ll have to leave because all my worst fears of who Trump could be as a president will come true and this will lead to a mass exodus and more refugees for the world to deal with.

I hope that I’m wrong. I hope that this is all hyperbole. I hope for the best in us. I hope that the electoral vote will be the biggest surprise in American history. I hope that I will move from denial into action. I hope that my brothers and sisters in world travel will support America and Americans when we most need it. I hope for us all to become a safer and more loving world to all its citizens in the future. I hope for hope. And with that…I will sign off, hoping that this article made you think, made you curious, made you mindful or made you care about what is going on in the world as well as what is going on in your own backyards.

Cows, Tigers and Boars! Oh My!

Cows, Tigers and Boars! Oh My!

Getting to the Ranthambore National Park felt like entering a ticket line at an amusement park. There was one road that lead through the city and lining the streets were trucks painted in a plethora of colors, bright and festive like carnival stands. Boars wandered through the gutters and cows were parked in front of buildings with yellow bindi marks on their foreheads. The animals served the role of the actors dressed as cartoon characters, wandering through the manufactured streets, waiting for their photo op. 

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We had been picked up in topless jeeps from our hotel and from curving roads, to stops and starts in traffic, I couldn’t help but feel like I was on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. I was only waiting for the giant cobra to rear its head and dive for us on a shaky bridge road. Instead I was headed towards the next best thing: Tiger spotting in the jungle.

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Concession Stands

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As the city passed behind us, the one road turned into a landscape of large boulders, sparse green plains and cracked earth. What kind of jungle was this? We lurched up the hill than dropped down the other side of the mountain, emptying at the entrance to Ranthambore where we paid our entrance fees through our driver and continued to sidle in our jeeps on through to the real show, the jungle itself.

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Entering the park

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Finally the landscape was changing. There was tall green grass, more trees, thickets and bushes. Wild animals started to be spotted. A peacock unfurled it’s tail like a giant blue fan. Spotted deer gamboled through the trees nibbling on grass. Birds flitted in and out of mud puddles. Was this Bambi or the Jungle Book? Where were the tigers we paid to see?

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Our guide, Raj, warned us that on some trips there wasn’t a single tiger spotted. We were in the wild after all. It might feel like an amusement park but amusements were not guaranteed. There was no way that they could ensure that a tiger would be seen, we could only follow drivers hunches and where other guests had spotted something a day or two before. Unlike the Serengeti, this jungle ride was not as sprawling. There wasn’t a large savannah reaching in all directions around us. We had only so many roads to follow.

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We ended up in a line of jeeps, trailing along a river on a dirt road. There was only one path to follow, a track so to speak, and there were signs that this track was the right one.

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Tiger footprint spotted

Suddenly the jeeps ahead started to slow. We stood up and peered over the top of the metal bars, whispering between our two jeeps. What was it? Why are we stopping?

“Tiger,” someone spoke from up front.

The jeeps fanned out in a line so that everyone could get a view. Directly in the middle of the dirt road, a large tiger lounged, taking a nap and stopping all vehicles.

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Any position to get the perfect photo, even straddling between two cars.

We got our cameras out and shot like it was nobodies business. This was big game hunting, the catch of a lifetime. A real Bengal tiger in the wild. The drivers refused to get any closer. This tiger was the biggest one in the park and his name was the Cruel One. Rumors said that he got this name because he was the only tiger to have ever attacked anyone in the park.

Was this story true or just something the drivers told us to make the trip feel dangerous, making our visit special in some way? Was every tiger the Cruel One? I don’t know, but it worked. We gaped at the large beast as it suddenly rolled upwards, yawning in a large circle and stretching its limbs like a lazy house cat.

The Cruel One lumbered up and began to walk down the road. The engines of the jeeps roared to life and slowly we inched closer, keeping the same distance between car and tiger but following him down the path nonetheless.

The tiger moved to the side of the road. He stopped, he turned slightly and squatted over a mound of dirt on the side of the road. The tiger took a dump right in front of us as if saying, this is what I think of you and your jeeps and cameras.

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After a sufficient amount of picture time, the drivers decided that it was time to go. We wouldn’t be able to make our way past the Cruel One so each jeep had to do an intricate reversal and head back out the road we came on. As we made our way out of the jungle, a pilgrim walked through the woods with his belongings balanced on his head. Apparently there was a pilgrimage site dead in the jungle and for religious reasons, those who sought it were allowed to travel freely through the park. The drivers warned the man that a tiger was just down the road but he didn’t seem to care or hesitate. Barefoot, he continued on down the road, making his way to make his blessings.

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On our way out, we made our own blessings. As we idled in the jeep waiting for a herd of spotted deer to move across the road, we reflected on seeing an actual wild tiger. Had this just happened? Was this a hologram? No, this wasn’t an amusement park after all. This was the real thing. A buck with giant horns stared us down. It was time to move on, we were beginning to overstay our welcome.

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We exited the park and on our way out of town, we spotted children on rooftops flying kites. It was like the end of the day at Disneyland where children queue up to watch the fireworks at the end of the night and the characters parade down the road. Only we were the characters, we were the ones being watched as we drove out through the city. We, too, were part of the show. 

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Dances with Spirits

Dances with Spirits

“First you dig,” Noa motioned driving a shovel into the dirt. “Then you wipe your sweat.” His little hand reached up to mock wiping sweat from his brow. My dance instructor was a five year old. He knew every step to the dance that symbolized working the harvest (or mining coal-I’m not sure which) but he refused to join the circle. He preferred watching the Bon Dance from the sidelines.

 

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Noa watching from the sidelines with his mom

This Japanese festival was my first. The Bon Festival, or Bon Odori, is a Buddhist festival that honors the deceased ancestors of one’s family. The event takes place in the summer and varies by different regions, but one thing that remains the same is the dancing. I got to experience my first Obon season in O’ahu where Hawaiians take the event very seriously.

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Celebrants wear summer kimonos, yukatas, and move in a type of line dance formation, shuffling in one large circle around the yagura, or tower, in the center of the circle.

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Getting ready for the festival to begin

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Some dances use sticks, fans or clappers, and everyone seems to have their favorite, jumping from their seats and joining the ladies who demonstrate each dance in their beautiful kimonos.

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Young or old, everyone gets into the spirit of the dance.

The event is like a summer fair replete with fried food, more sweets than you can shake a tenugui at and plenty of kids and old folks mingling together. Rather than games (though some Bon Dances have them) the main event is the dancing itself. The dances are slow, long and repeat twice, but it doesn’t stop anyone from participating. In fact, the simplicity of them is what keeps everyone on the dance floor, young and old. A newbie like myself could pick up the movements by the second time the song started up and feel like a rockstar when the electric slide comes on.

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Some homemade goods for sale
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Food stands stay busy all night

The whole evening is kicked off by a monk making offerings to the deceased. 

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Our Bon Dance was capped off by a performance of Japanese drum players, or a taiko group, which seems to be more a mixture of dance and music than pure instrument recital.

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As the three day festival comes to an end, the spirits are guided back home with a fire ceremony, putting them to rest until we welcome them back with a dance the next year. As summer comes to it’s own end and autumn falls around us, Halloween nipping at it’s heels and Dia de los Muertos not far behind, ponder the Bon Dance and its festive celebration of the living honoring the dead through song, dance and food. Think about how you honor your ancestors and consider participating in another cultural event to bring mirth and merry into your ancestral remembrances. Try something new or light a candle. Visit a church or pray with a monk. Join a parade or decorate with marigolds. Find a way to enjoy life while you are part of the living.

Sleep with the Fishes

Sleep with the Fishes

It was about the size of a golf ball, translucent, purple rings concentrated in the center, like small little tussock bellflowers. The water was a bit murky, clouded with sand, but there was no denying that the thing bobbing at the surface was not trash, it was a jellyfish.

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Moon Jellies. Photo by ArielleJay on MorgueFiles

We were staying in a resort at the docking point of Ao Muong Bay in Ko Tao, a world famous snorkeling site and the beach was all ours. It was before 9 a.m., the tourist boats started arriving each day around 11, unloading hundreds of people onto a beach that was only about 100 feet long. Mornings were our time to try to beat the crowd, be the only people in the water swimming with the wildlife.

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Before 11 a.m. © James 
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After 11…view from our balcony

Only the full moon and the tide had different plans for us.

“James, there’s jellyfish.”

“I think we’ll be fine. We’ll just go this way,” he said walking around the other side of the pier, snorkel in hand.

Hmmm…curious. But I let fear stop me in the past, many times over and I thought why not let his confidence buoy me up. We would be fine. And I wanted to see those fishes. After all, aren’t some jellyfish fine to swim with. Maybe these little guys would be of that variety. Ignorance is bliss right?

I stepped in. So far so good. No jellies. The water was clear. The sun was coming out from behind the morning rain clouds. This was going to be okay. My goggles were on, snorkel in mouth and I was off.

There were little electric blue fish that popped against the brown and green rocks. Bright orange fish that looked like plastic toys that could be found in a child’s bathtub. Large parrotfish  nibbled the rocks below us, the crunching sound echoing through the water. Skinny angelfish cruised between rocks and coral. There were flat, skinny fish, translucent with only a thin line of neon yellow racing along their side. They were almost invisible and it felt like a treat when they came into focus along the bottom of the ocean floor.

We were taking in the sights. Enjoying the calm of the water, still the only two people to be floating around this patch of paradise. Maybe we had been in the water for twenty minutes, no more, when I heard a popping sound in the water. It got louder and started to fill my ears, like Rice Krispies when milk enters the bowl. Then suddenly I felt a searing pain on my arm. I shot up, treading water to stay afloat. My neck hurt, my arm. The jellies!

James popped up at the same time.

“I’ve been stung!” I yelled then magically propelled myself back down into the water and took off like a torpedo from a submarine. I could have probably matched Mike Phelps with the speed at which I swam to get back to the shore. I saw little white spots of light start to form in my eyes and I started to worry that I might pass out in the water. James wasn’t far behind and we both made it to shore, no fainting. It seems he had been stung as well.

I had a giant white welt slashed across my upper left arm like a whip lash. My neck was covered with small red dots. A similar rash was spread across James’ torso at various locations. The jellyfish had attacked after all.

An attendant of the hotel came over to fix our umbrella and James motioned to our stings trying to ask the man if they’re the type of jellies that kill you. The man looked confused. James made the motion of slicing through his throat, you know, the universal sign of being killed, whacked, put to death, sleep with the fishes, then pointed to my arm. The man shook his head and said no and kind of laughed, walking away, leaving us with our self-inflicted injuries. He was probably thinking, “If you chose to go swimming with jellyfish, you deserve to die. Darwin Award.” But you know, in Thai.

We laid on our beach chairs admiring the view and licking our wounds, so to speak, when we began to notice that no scuba boats showed up that day, no water taxis full of tourists looking to snorkel. Apparently we didn’t get the memo that today was not the day to go in the water.

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Later that night, I woke up with a start, convinced that I had been stung by an eel, as well as a jelly. It didn’t make sense that I heard electric popping. The sting on my arm was much larger, one solid oblong shape and white while all the other stings were small red dots spread out like a rash. I had to have been stung by something else. I searched and searched on the web but could find nothing about what an electric eel sting looked like. They didn’t even seem to live in Thailand so that removed them from the location altogether. It was just one mean jellyfish. I later learned that it was a moon jellyfish, one of the most common jellyfish to be stung by. 

The next day the jellyfish seemed to be gone. We took the early morning boat over to to Koh Nang Yuan. The water was the temperature and color of a bathtub. We paddled about, took pictures, laid in beach chairs for 75 baht a piece (you can’t use towels as it will take the sand away from the beach–or so they say) and decided to go snorkeling. The coral was mulch, just shredded under people’s feet in one long gray coral boneyard, but somehow there were still fish swimming about and munching on the leftovers.

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Koh Nang Yuan devoid of people. So lovely before the onslaught of bodies.

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We cruised out towards the scuba divers and suddenly (irrationally) I heard the popping sound again. I was traumatized, hearing things that probably weren’t there and freaking out. Later that afternoon, I was determined to brave my fears. Our “private” beach was full of tourists again, everyone splashing about in the water. Everywhere I turned I saw jellyfish, or what I thought was jellyfish. It was just the detritus of a busy tourist day, plastic trash bags or plastic food coverings of one sort or another were bobbing in the water. On previous days I had tried to scoop anything out that I had found, but this was too much and it was making my heart race every time I spied one. I went to the shore. I would be safe at the shore.

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And the shore gave me a treat. A school of small silver fish were swimming in circles right between the water taxis. I could sit in the water and they literally did circles around me, every time I reached a hand out, the school would conform and push it’s collective body out and away and then come back again like there was a magical barrier that protected the fish from me. Sparkles of yellow, green and blue would glint off their silver scales. The circles they did made me feel like a Disney princess in an underwater tale, like they were going to spin so hard that I would rise from the water and flick my hair back while being held aloft by their sheer numbers. It was beautiful and mysterious and magical all at the same time.

I’ll never know where that popping came from, and I’ll try to remind myself that jellyfish come in at the full moon in the future, but I’ll forever be thankful for the little glimpses I got of ocean life before I was stung. I will also be extremely grateful for the fact that it wasn’t the type of jellyfish that makes you sleep with the fishes…permanently.

Featured Image by Agarianna on MorgueFiles