Wednesday, October 31, 2012

light the boat


Most people look forward to Buddhist Lent because of the boat racing festivals, which start about a month before the full moon of the 11th lunar calendar, and end with the boat racing in Vientiane, the day after the full moon. When I first saw 'boun suun heua', boat racing, I was still working in Thailand in the 80's. I had visited friends in Nong Khai and saw the first boat racing between Lao and Thai since 1975. It was a very laid back affair, and I sat at a river side restaurant with the few other spectators. Now, the affair is much bigger and companies sponsor the boat racing teams.

I took a walk down by the riverside for a while, but it was too crowded. Today was the women's events; tomorrow is the main event, the men's teams. I know a lot of people who will be having parties at their houses along the levee, so I decided to return home.

kathin at Wat M Wa

Buddhist Lent is the three month rainy season retreat, where monks and civilians alike stay at home, work in their rice fields, think inwardly to gain wisdom. No alcohol or violating any of the 9 main precepts - no sexual fooling around, no killing, no gambling, no intoxicants, no lying; for the truly religious, no sexual relations at all, no eating meat, no sleeping on a 'high bed' and another one. Oh well, the additional four are for the real hard core.

The evening starts off with offerings to the monks and listening to a sermon. Then there is the vong vieng, circling the temple building, holding incense and flowers, while the monks chant.

monks leading the procession

vong vieng

Then comes the time to release the fire boats - little circular floating boats, looking like a lotus pond, made of a road cut from a banana tree trunk with petals made of banana leaves with flowers arranged inside, with candles and incense.

setting off the boats

Then the people go to the river, and release boats containing offering to the spirits of the water, the naga spirits living under the Mekong river and in all places where water lives, like the rice fields and the lakes too.

lighting candles

People also make images of boats in homage for the life along the river. As the full moon rises, they light the candles in these boats.

village boat and krathong


Buddha image in moonlight

People leave offerings in front of the Buddha images. This is the image under the Boddhi tree at Wat Meaung Wa, the village where I live.



Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Reading for the remainder of February

I've read a total of 11 books this year. At the moment, I'm moving through the River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh. While I enjoy the historical detail about the time leading up to the Opium Wars, his narrative often bogs down the action. But then, who needs action? The lush descriptions of the wild of Hong Kong in the 1800's, the riot of Canton street life, the politics of the commercial organizations are drawn very precisely. So I enjoy that.

The other books I've read:
9. Zoo City by Lauren Beukes - I guess this would be an urban fantasy, a near future parallel universe where criminals magically become paired with animals which reveal something of their personality. The main character, Zinzi December, is a petty criminal but when she becomes 'animalled' with a sloth during her prison sentence, she develops the ability to find lost things. She can look at a person and know what they have lost, which is still connected through a network in unseen reality. She is hired to find a lost pop star, and moves through a world of shifting alliances. I gave it five stars.

10. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, And Hope In A Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo. A remarkable work of creative non-fiction. I'm not sure how she was able to get so close to the undercurrent of Mumbai marginal life, but it's an amazing accomplishment. She follows the lives of people who live in the Annawadi slum, within sight of the International Airport and bounded by a lake full of trash. The book follows their petty jealousies, their kindnesses to each other, living day by day through seeking and selling recyclable trash, their hopes for the future. Then a misunderstanding, starting from a minor quarrel, leads to the death/ suicide of one of the people in the slum and the false accusations of one of their neighbors. More than five stars, great book.

11. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor - A fantasy set in Africa set far in the future, where the Nuru are waging a war against the Okeke. The main character, Onyesonwu, has to come to term with her violent origins and stop a genocide by re-writing the book of rules. It's an intriguing book, especially that the characters and culture are African. I'd give it four stars - it was a bit long in terms of action, but the narrative and descriptions of life in this desert world were wonderful.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Books report

TBR progress:

So far, I've read 8 books this year. Unfortunately, I went to a bookshop this past week, got new books and started on those.
Up till now, I've read 8 books:
1. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - Fantasy about a magical bet between two master magicians to answer the question - does one become a stronger magician by developing skills or is this a natural power? I liked this book a lot - when I was reading it, I fell into the text and the beautiful descriptions.

2. Finally finished Shadows on the Hudson by Isaac Bashevis Singer - a masterpiece about Jews who survived the Holocaust, living in New York City in the late 1940's. There is so much about daily life, both profound and trivial; questions about God, the nature of good and evil; the sense of a destiny - but what is it. I was born in the City (don't need to ask which one) and I remember some of the relatives on my father's side. I remember the smell of the apartment buildings and the hot overstuffed apartments. This book conjured up a lot of those memories.

3. The Long Song by Andrea Levy - Plantation life in Jamaica, just before and after emancipation. When we think of slavery, we think of the American South, but Levy's book opens up an entire different historical fact. Well-researched, some great characters - people both to love and hate.

4. Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller - This book is quite a wild ride - the author's childhood, following her parents' migrations through several troubled African countries, on the edge of civil war, landmines, and poisonous animals. And always, the dogs, more loyal than the kids.

5. Microcosm by Carl Zimmer - all I ever wanted to know about E. coli, and so many things I didn't even think to ask. An epic sweep through the scientists researching the organism and its uses. Zimmer writes with a clear hand and detail - just enough and not too much.

6. More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon - I read this when I was a child, so pieces came back to me as I was reading it. Story of the new type of superhuman, the fusion of psychic powers across several new people - and the danger posed by the new species towards the old.

7. Room by Emma Donoghue - This book scared me when I started to read it, as it is about the recent cases of kidnapping and imprisonment of young women by strangers. However, the book, narrated by the five year old child, is not that scary. Room is what he knows, there's stability in it, even when his mother is dealing with adult problems. The second half was the most interesting to me, but I won't give that away.

8. The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama - in my own writing, I try to present the hearts and souls of people I live with now, the people who had been on the other side. Tsukiyama starts with a section of Tokyo before the work, with two orphaned children growing up with their grandparents. One is drawn towards the internal journey of art, the other towards the nationalist sport of Sumo wrestling. The book explores the life during the war - informers, food shortages, the air raids and the fire-bombing of Toykyo. Then, the aftermath of the war; people who had moved to Hiroshima for safety and never returned while the survivors pull their lives together. Again, I love the richness of description and the plot line which showed me another side of the Japanese culture in wartime and in transition.

So, I had to come back to this list to remind myself what I really have wanted to read, long-term:

1. Post-War Laos by Vatthana Pholsena
2. To What End by War Just
3. A Brief History of the Human Race by Michael Cook
4. The Worst Thing I've Done by Ursula Hegi
5. Life and Death are Wearing Me Out by Mo Yan
6. Invisible Nation by Quil Lawrence
7. A War of Nerves by Ben Shephard
8. Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen (slow reading but good for the soul)
9. Vision by Michio Kaku
10.The Long Song by Andrea Levy
11. Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry
12. A Grand Delusion by Robert Mann

Alternate List
1. The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene
2. The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama
3. I am a Cat by Soseki Natsume
4. Slan by A.E. Van Vogt
5. Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder
6. Oyster by Janette Turner Hospital
7. In Xanadu by William Dalrymple
8. Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
9. Fruit of the Lemon by Andrea Levy
10. The Concert by Ismail Kadare
11. Nine Lives by William Dalrymple
12. A Problem from Hell by Samatha Power

Audio / Kindle Books:
1. Bleak House by Charles Dickens - started, still working on it
2. The World without Us by Alan Weisman - started and above half way through
3. 2666: A Novel by Roberto Bolano
4. Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
5. Some Sing, Some Cry by Ntozake Shanga, Ifa Bayez
6. Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow
7. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
8. Microcosm by Carl Zimmer
9. The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger - read a selection for a class and wanted to read the rest.
10. Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights by Ryu Mitsuse
11. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
12. Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

Sunday, January 01, 2012

My favorite books for 2011

Altogether I read 63 books this year. My favorite books were:
1. The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
2. Among Others by Jo Walton
3. IQ84 by Haruki Murakami
4. The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes
5. Old Filth by Jane Gardam
6. The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
7. How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu
8. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson
9. Buddha by Karen Armstrong
10. The Boy in the Moon: A Father's Journey to Understand His Extraordinary Son by Ian Brown

Friday, December 30, 2011

TBR for 2012

My TBR List for 2012
Well, bringing some books forward, which I didn't get around to reading in 2011 and adding some new books, I come up with this list. This is linked 2012 TBR Reading Pile. May all 300+ of us get through our books this year!

So my books for 2012 will (hopefully) be:
1. Post-War Laos by Vatthana Pholsena
2. To What End by War Just
3. A Brief History of the Human Race by Michael Cook
4. The Worst Thing I've Done by Ursula Hegi
5. Life and Death are Wearing Me Out by Mo Yan
6. Invisible Nation by Quil Lawrence
7. A War of Nerves by Ben Shephard
8. Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen (slow reading but good for the soul)
9. Vision by Michio Kaku
10.The Long Song by Andrea Levy
11. Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry
12. A Grand Delusion by Robert Mann

Alternate List
1. The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene
2. The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama
3. I am a Cat by Soseki Natsume
4. Slan by A.E. Van Vogt
5. Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder
6. Oyster by Janette Turner Hospital
7. In Xanadu by William Dalrymple
8. Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
9. Fruit of the Lemon by Andrea Levy
10. The Concert by Ismail Kadare
11. Nine Lives by William Dalrymple
12. A Problem from Hell by Samatha Power

Audio / Kindle Books:
1. Bleak House by Charles Dickens - started, still working on it
2. The World without Us by Alan Weisman
3. 2666: A Novel by Roberto Bolano
4. Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
5. Some Sing, Some Cry by Ntozake Shanga, Ifa Bayez
6. Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow
7. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
8. Microcosm by Carl Zimmer
9. The Perfect Story by Sebastian Junger - read a selection for a class and wanted to read the rest.
10. Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights by Ryu Mitsuse
11. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
12. Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

Other resolutions for the year? Have more fun, work less. Finish the online courses that I sign up for. Travel more. Exercise every day and write every day.



End of Year TBR progress

Here's my final list for the year. I would probably read more books if I went for the shorter and lighter books. But what's the value of that? The books I did read this year were great, and gave me a lot of food for thought. Somehow, I've read more books on my alternate and audio lists than I have on my primary list.

I'm going from Left to Right for my Primary List:
1. Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks
2. Post-War Laos by Vatthana Pholsena
3. To What End by War Just
4. Buddha by Karen Armstrong
5. A Brief History of the Human Race by Michael Cook
6. To Live Again by Robert Silverberg
7. The Granta Book of India
8. Shadows on the Hudson by Isaac Bashevis Singer
9. Spook Country by William Gibson
10. Life and Death are Wearing Me Out by Mo Yan
11. Hotel of the Saints by Ursula Hegi
I'll skip the Thai-English dictionary which is next along the line 12. Invisible Nation by Quil Lawrence My Alternative List (continued from 2010) 1. A War of Nerves by Ben Shephard
2. Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen (slow reading but good for the soul)
3. What I talk about When I talk about running by Murakami
4. Bleak House by Charles Dickens - started, still working on it
5. The World without Us by Alan Weisman
6. 2666: A Novel by Roberto Bolano
7. A Grand Delusion by Robert Mann
8. BuddhaDa by Anne Donovan
9. The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene
10. The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama
11. I am a Cat by Soseki Natsume
12. Slan by A.E. Van Vogt
Audiobooks:
1. Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder
2. Await your Reply by Dan Chaon
3. Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
4. Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee - started but I just couldn't finish
5. Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem
6. Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow
7. Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco
8. The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
9. Some Sing, Some Cry by Ntozake Shanga, Ifa Bayeza
10. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
11. Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey
12. The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee

It's good to have this list available, to remind myself that I really wanted to dust off these books and move them from the piles on my floor to my hands. Thanks to the TBR challenge! Here's the link!
As for my other resolutions this year?
Try to enjoy working part time and not take on extra work (even though what I do for my consulting is only what interests me) - that hasn't worked out too well so far. Took on several consulting jobs this year, but even though I saw some interesting work for June &July, I decided not to send my CV in

Try to get back into my writing habit - wrote 7 out of a possible 31 stories for FW Story a Day Challenge. Unfortunately, I had some road trips and meetings which drained my creative mind. However, in the past two months, I've been on vacation and have been able to do quite a lot of writing. My mind feels more relaxed; however, I'm not sure if, with the demands of work, whether I'll be able to keep it up.

Exercise every day and take care of my health - I've been taking my fold-up bike when I got out to the field. That has been fun - I've been able to do more exploring, which I couldn't do if I was only limited to my feet. Some other days, when we get in late or set off early, have not been too successful. We're in rainy season now, and it seems to start raining around 4 a.m. and not stop until mid-morning and then it picks up again in the afternoon. At least when I'm in Vte, I have access to a gym. Now that it's the cold season and has stopped raining, I've been able to bicycle and plan to try bicycling to work when I'm in Vientiane.

Don't procrastinate (ha! see how long that lasts...) - I've been getting a bit better, particularly at writing up field notes on the days that things happen.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Snow designs

I usually say this several times/ year - wow, it's been a long time since I posted something. I also decided to try these new designs. I kinda like this mountain design right now. While I was back in the US over the past two months, I kept reflecting - I haven't seen snow for ages (The last time was on the train in Oregon in 2003), and the last time I was out in it was in 1995.

I was standing at REI in Seattle, after having bought socks (strange thing to buy since I don't wear socks very often in Lao, but the cold season is approaching) and saw people with their purchases of snow gear and cross-country skis. I suddenly got a great yearning for staying in the US and engaging in snow sports.

The feeling didn't last long - and I'm back here in Lao. In spite of the end of the rainy season (and when the air should turn cold for several months), the temperatures were sweltering yesterday.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Plane Old Shadow


plane shadow

Plane and shadow racing to land first.

Taken for Shadow Shot Sunday

Camera Critters: A Xieng Khouang Lizard

lizard


Just happened to be walking by this house and looked up - and saw this lizard eying me, wondering if I was good to eat, or just too large to be worth the trouble.

This is my contribution to "Camera Critters", creatures from around the world.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Road

Photohunter #261 is "Road."

This used to be the main road between Xieng Khouang and Paksan. Over the past few years, they have built a new highway, which is still a dirt road but a bit wider. Vehicles can go faster, leaving huge clouds of dust behind them. But this road, which meanders through small towns and through the rice fields is from a different time, and a slower mind-set.

mainhighway once

My contribution to  Photo Hunter

Lao New Year in Kham District

swf.jpg

This past week has been devoted to Lao New Year. I've been up in Xieng Khouang Province, where most of my Lao friends live. I enjoy making the rounds of relatives, parties at the offices of Lao development partners, attending very ceremonies, etc. This often involves eating a lot and drinking BeerLao.

The skies threaten rain, a bit early and a bit heavy for this time of the year. The mornings start off very foggy, followed by clear skies in the late morning/ early afternoon. In the late afternoons, the thunderclouds roll in, followed by a storm for several hours.

Kham sky1

Thunderclouds moving in.

Kham sky2

We climbed partway up the mountain to make offerings to Am's parents and clear the area around their monuments (which contain the ashes). We hurried back across the fields as the sky started to get darker.

khamsky4

We stopped at the Buddhist temple in Mun Village, where Am was born. During the war, the B52s made daily bombing raids. Am remembers running across the field to take refuge in this temple. One day, a plane dropped a 250 lb. bomb, which landed next to the temple - but did not explode. The villagers revere the Buddha image in this temple for its ability to protect people.

khamsky3

View from the back of the temple, past a prayer flag.

kham sky5

The roof and monument were replaced on the temple six years ago.

We returned to Phonsavanh, meeting the thunderstorm along the way

That's my contribution for Skywatch Friday - other pictures from around the world can be found at Skywatch Friday.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Temple guardian



Chinese Dragon, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.
Two lions guard the entrance to the Chinese Temple in Pakse. It's a beautiful place and follows the Feng Shui rules, with river and mountains in their correct places. A statue of Kuan Yin, the Boddhisattva of Compassion, looks out over the Mekong.

I hope this qualifies as a critter! In any case, this is my contribution to "Camera Critters", creatures from around the world.

Camera Critters

Shadows

Shadows

Carved wooden panels and their shadows

Taken for Shadow Shot Sunday, #151

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Dok Khun and tree


Dok Khun and tree, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.

This time of the year, the 'Golden Showers' trees are displaying the thick ropes of hanging yellow flowers. When I see the flowers, I know that it is really hot season - then I feel the heat and feel lazy.

Posted for Photohunt #260.

Friday, April 08, 2011

A few skies from Laos

swf.jpg

It's been a while since I've posted. I've been on the road, doing work for various projects. Just returned to Vientiane today after three weeks of travel. The weather has also been uninspiring sky-wise - constant rain and extremely cold temperatures for most of March, which is really unusual for the hot season.

sunset palm small

One of the few evenings when the sun was out.

Sunset

Sunset in Vientiane. The government has been renovating the whole waterfront area by the Mekong, part as flood prevention, part for beautification. Many people are drawn to the river, to walk out on the sandbars during the dry season.

water buffaloes

Just the past few days, the weather has returned to normal, reaching 100 F during the day. The water buffaloes only venture out in the late afternoons.

That's my contribution for Skywatch Friday - other pictures from around the world can be found at Skywatch Friday.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

snails for sale


snails for sale, originally uploaded by c_p_lew.
A split second in time. Someone caught her attention, lighting up her face at the end of a long day.
This photo was entered into the I Heart Faces photo challenge – http://iheartfaces.com

I-Heart-Faces-button

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Last Look at Earth in 2010

It's hard to imagine that we all live on this planet, floating in space. The ground may feel hard under our feet but when we step back, so many miles into space, we see the reality of our existence.

I hope that in 2011, people will wake up and take care of our home. It really is all we have right now.