The World is an amazing place .... go and be in it

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

I'm on the move... off to a new blogging patch, a whole new adventure

Hello wonderful readers, travellers and site watchers,  I have a lovely new website that's just been unfurled,  I hope you'll pop over and check it out,  let me know what you think and even follow me.

Here's the new link

Looking forward to seeing you over there.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Book Review : The Dragon's Voice - How Modern Media found Bhutan. by Bunty Avieson

Bhutan is a country that is covered in mystery; barely raising its 'head' from under its cloak. It is an isolated and expensive country for the average person to visit and unless you hold an Indian, Bangladeshi or Maldivian passport, the only way to visit Bhutan is to go on a booked tour, to have a guide and driver, who will escort you to every sight/activity and town. Bhutan does not issue its visas to 'independent' travellers to wander at will around its stunningly beautiful, intriguing, mystical country, that is unless you garner a personal invitation from a Bhutanese person (or company) you have known for a length of time. Because of this, a visit to Bhutan does not enable the average tourist to see the 'real' Bhutan. What is so wonderful about Bunty Avieson's "The Dragon's Voice" is that she quietly and gently lifts the hem of Bhutan's cloak and allows the reader a more in-depth insight of this isolated country.

I devoured this book just prior to my own recent trip to Bhutan and found it fascinating and informative, and I must say delightfully humorous in parts. I loved learning about Bhutan's strong belief in the "Gross National Happiness" doctrine and how it is implemented (and is at times floored) into the country's lifestyle as well as its staunch environmental values, I was intrigued and curious about the strange dating techniques of night hunting and impressed by the clarity and compassion Bunty Avieson showed when describing her observance, understanding and personal experience in challenging the myth that Bhutan is the perfect utopia many in the west believe it to be.

This is a fabulous book, highly recommended to anyone who is thinking of visiting this incredibly stunning country, it will give an invaluable insight to the culture, beliefs and the hidden reality of Bhutan. But even if one is not planning a visit to Bhutan, this book is still a delight to read.">View

Paperback, 240 pages
Published May 1st 2015 by University of Queensland Press

Monday, 11 January 2016

Drink more coffee and catch lots of butterfly kisses - great ideas for a life renovation

Today I resumed a project that I'd started back in 2012 - renovating my office. I decided we needed to get stuck into it when I read an article in The Guardian about 'False Hope Syndrome' and I began to wonder if I was suffering from it - when one makes a new year’s resolution to better themselves and then gives up a week later.   Yes, this was definitely me.  I'd made a NY’s resolution to renovate my office back in 2012, when I was watching fireworks explode over the yatch club at Hamilton Island. The moment I stepped back into my house less than a week later, I had started stripping the paint off the banisters leading up to my office. And that's as far as I got. Four years down the track we're still living with half stripped railings and banisters and carpet ripped up off the stairs exposing bare, unpolished steps covered in paint splotches.

It not even that much of a major job, it’s not like we're going to move walls... well ok we've got a small wall to change so that a pair of 100year old French doors can go in ... or do any major building works, though there are plans for a wall-to-wall-floor-to-ceiling bookcase to be installed. No it'll be pretty easy stuff to do such as ripping up the carpet and laying floorboards that we got for free - compliments of a lovely young couple who were modernising a 1890's workers cottage and were skip-binning those dented old bits of wood - and finally putting up the lights we brought and carted all over Turkey, paid a small fortune in excess luggage to bring back and then to have rewired and have ever since sat reboxed in the linen cupboard taking up room while the towels sit in the corner of our bedroom on one of the dining chairs.

So as I cajoled Mal into swinging the hammer and supervised the installation of sliding tracks for the storage door.... did I mention that I wanted to move the inbuilt cupboard from one end of the room to the other...?  and I set up a temporary office on my verandah, I thought about how I would renovate my life for the better.  I'm not normally one for making new year’s resolutions - I couldn't think of anything more boring than giving up wine or dieting - bugger that! there's no way I'm giving up croissants or New Zealand South Island sauv blanc for anyone...not even me.   so this is the list I came up with

Give up ironing underpants
If this was a gold medal sport, I'd be a serious contender - as a writer, I'm a world class procrastinator. Even writing this  has seen me doing lots of everything else except write – I’ve pulled staples out of boards, cleaned the bathroom plug and walked up to the shop to buy an onion and lettuce, even though I don’t need either for dinner tonight and I’ve been for two walks already today  But this year I’m going to try my hardest to wring out 1000 words every day.  It’s not that I don’t know what to write about, I've still got to finish the blogposts for the Bhutan trip, then Nepal and Singapore, and I’m 20,000words into a new manuscript on traipsing through Bali and  toying with the idea of a historical memoir - the stories are there,  I just need to 'get out of my way' and tap them out.

Drink More Coffee.
... that is, drink more HOT coffee with OTHER people. I spend a lot of time spitting out cold coffee as I tap away in my little writing cave (or ironing undies) or when I'm at my business' office shuffling through invoices I'd like to set fire to. As both activities are best done in solitude - especially when mumbling expletives over the bills - I don't catch up with my wonderful friends as often as I'd like.  I'm so blessed to have such forgiving friends who understand I'm not really an anti-social hermit, just a self-absorbed dreamer - these are the same beautiful people who read and re-read  and then will re-read again my manuscript and smile supportively as I babble on about my anaphora infliction or bore them to near death with my travel pics.  They are always there for me, rain hail and shine with a happy smile and joyful hug. Making sure I keep to this 'resolution’ I pick up the phone and organise a coffee date for this week with the fabulous Jan Pearson - fellow writer and author of Red Bird Summer and Tiger Autumn. 

Read more books
like all writers, I'm a reader, and like most writers, I struggle to find the time to read and the book pile keeps growing and growing.  Last week I took a peek at the titles sitting on the table waiting for me to crack the spine of and decided to sign up for the Goodreads 2016 reading challenge. My goal for this year is - 30 books.  I have to admit, I’m wondering if I should have picked a smaller number like 10, but when I think that I easily read 15 books last year, I thought why not double it.  It’s a diverse list, with a mixture of fiction and non, many are authors I saw at last year’s Byron Bay Writers Festival and whose books I brought and stacked on the floor waiting - beside my overstuffed bookcases - while I read through the previous year’s festival buys.   First book off the pile is Di Morrissey's – Tears of the Moon.  The size of a cheese platter, it's light and fluffy, but absolutely perfect as the years starter as it combines my side interest of digging around the family tree with travel, more importantly, this year’s travel destination for me – Broome.  After that I'll pop on my green boots and go find some ‘Optimism’ with Bob Brown.

Write more thank you notes.
A few years back I read a wonderful little book called '365 Thank yous' by John Kralik – at the risk of sounding so clich├ęd – this was a book that literally changed my life, it made me reassess how I felt gratitude and what made me feel blessed.  I’ve always written thank you cards when I’ve received a gift or someone has done something nice for me, but it wasn’t until I read this book that I realised why I felt such gratitude.  Thanking others makes me feel blessed to have such lovely people in my life and how appreciative I am because of what others might have done for me.  These days’ hand written thank yous are becoming scarce as email and texting is more the norm, then last week I received a beautiful handwritten letter from a person I didn’t know but felt very grateful to have made happy.  She had read my book and it reminded her of her own trip to Nepal.  After receiving this letter, I floated on a cloud of warm-fuzzys for the next couple of days – not because she had read MY book, but because I’d brought back to her some wonderful memories of a trip she had done with family – incredibly precious memories. 

Catch lots more  butterfly kisses.

This won’t be such a hard goal at all to keep - this year…or any other year.  Those soft little hugs and butterfly kisses from my little grandbabies lighten my day and paint joy in my heart, and will make this year an incredible delight.

Ah yes,  I think these ‘resolutions’ will be achievable and if not, well I’m not going to stress too much about sinking into the depths of ‘false hope syndrome’, just as long as my office is ready in the next couple of weeks …..

Friday, 8 January 2016

Flying monks and naughty clowns - the swirl of the Jampalhakhang Drub

We're up early for day two of the oldest festival in Bhutan, the Jampalhakhang Drub - the consecration of Jampa Temple.  The night before we'd  attended the Mewang (Fire Offering) and Naked Man dance and became mesmerised by the trance-like dancing, while our necks crinked trying to find a vantage point to see the dancers and our butts froze on the ice-cold flagstone pavement of the temple courtyard when we did eventually find a front row squat spot.  I'm determine to get a front row seat first thing in the morning for day two and encourage our guide to collect us from our hotel at seven-thirty am....even though the day's swirls, twirls and trance dances are due to start at nine.  

We arrive early, along with a lot of other tourists, and peg out our perfect vantage spot. As the courtyard fills up I find myself feeling a little disappointed - most of the spectators are  tourists - western tourists - there's barely a Bhutanese person among us. We all sit there with our tri-pods, fancy SLR cameras and for many, whopping great lenses. Lens envy starts to creep up on me when I see some of these expensive fancy-pants toys.  The chanting soon starts and the festival comes to life and all thoughts of Ooh-la-la techno are soon gone as I am transported into an ancient time.

The second day of the festival is called the Tsukton (beginning) and is the 'proper' start of the festival - the dance circle has been purified by the Black Hat Dance and so now the mask dances can be preformed. 

These dances have wonderful sounding names like Yamantaka Yab-Yum Dance and the Three Wrathful Dance.  The Yamantaka Yab-Yum which is also called the Shinje Yab-Yum Cham,  is performed first  to expel evil spirits lurking about in the area. The bull-like mask is bright red with sharp horns which represent compassion.  We're told that if the dance is viewed with faith and devotion, then we will receive powerful blessings.   I would love to say that I viewed the dance with intense devotion, but the cheeky clowns wandering around the dance circle kept taking our attention and had us in fits of well as trying to catch them in photos. 

Dressed in a lairy version of what looks like mens hospital PJ's, the puce-faced masked clowns (Atsaras) wave with gay abandonment oversize bright red phalluses, teasing and gesticulating at everyone and their cameras. The lewd gestures become more and more cheeky as the clowns sing ribald songs with very eyebrow raising racy motions. Part way through the day, one of the clowns discovers we are filming the spectacular and decides to give his own dance - 'bonking' our camera.
The chief Atsara however is more than just a clown,  he is also the manager of the festival from beginning to end, making sure the dancers motions are in sequence or, if the performer makes a mistake - helps them get back on track.  If a dancers mask falls off or there's a problem with the fabulous costumes then the Atsara is there to immediately assist.

The Stag Dance (Shazam Cham) is performed next, nimble and strong, taming the earth spirits and bringing blessings for all beings.  It is a magnificent display of trance like movements and seems to go on and on.

The dances blend into one another and soon the arena is filled with mask dancers swirling and jumping, a flourish of colour and vitality.  We have no idea what the story lines are or why so many incredible dancers fill the circle but we take delight in the spectacular.
As the morning turns to afternoon we are transposed to another realm and become lost in the Lord of the Cremation Ground Dance (Durdag Cham) when  masks of white skeletons dance in slow ethereal movements.  At times they carry a large black cloth which holds a linga representing an evil spirit. The evil spirit is dissolved and sent to the pure land thus giving us, the spectators a mind free from obstructions and open to enlightenment. It's a beautiful dance and I am held spellbound.

It is getting late and we are still to visit another festival, the Prakhar Tsechu which is held at the tiny Prakhar Goemba, a good half hour drive from Jakar.  Our guide tells us that today is a practise day and that not much will be happening, there'll be no masks or costumes...all very quiet he says.  

The Goemba is perched on a tiny hillock across from a river and it is a lovely ten minute walk from the road to it, across a swing bridge. 

When we enter the courtyard of the Goemba, we are immediately held transfixed.  There are only two other tourist and a handful of local Bhutanese - some children and elderly women - watching the trance like-dance being performed by magenta robed monks.  Each of the monks hold a large drum in their hands.  They appear to all be in meditative focus, their eyes closed tight, their mouths twisted as if in pain and peace at the very same time.  

Mal and I take a seat on the grassy courtyard and watch.  They are performing the Drametse Ngacham - the Drum Dance from Drametse.  This dance was designated by UNESCO in 2005 as an 'Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity" - described as a tradition/living expression inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants.   An incredible dance it is considered to be sacred, symbolizing attainment and generating 'good karma to be reborn in paradise' and goes through a process of twenty-one sessions all performed in  in a meditated state, focusing on the power of compassion and visualizing the nine stages of becoming enlightened.  It is said that watching this dance in all its glory removes obstacles and brings peaceful activity to the spectators - and one's wishes will be fulfilled.   I feel an incredible sense of peace as I am pulled into the beat of the drums and watch the monks spin and fly as if in another world, a world where peace is attained.