I’m here in Berkeley, California to get my Master of Divinity degree. A sweet irony for me is that I don’t have to be enrolled in any school to find divinity. It’s on stark display daily in this beautiful place.
Tonight as I walked west from campus toward home, I was watching this spectacular sunset unfold in front of me so instead of heading to the apartment, I headed straight to the rooftop deck area.
I can’t afford an apartment with a rooftop deck, but then again, plenty of shitty things have happened to me over the years that I also didn’t deserve, so yeah… I’ve got a rooftop deck…
This sunset even smelled good.
Check out these pictures and then turn off your computer and go hug someone or call someone and say “I love you.” or “I’m sorry.”
That, my friend, is the best advice a first-year divinity student can give you about how to find the Divine.
These photos are from a recent trip I took to an amazing conference. Rethinking Everything is equal parts Burning Man, SXSW, and TED – with the central theme being children (specifically, most attendees are Unschooling families).
Weird enough for you? It was freaking AWESOME.
Click on the photos to enjoy them full size.
This is the Ferncliff labyrinth at the CA Vines 4H Center near Little Rock. You can read the moving story behind its creation here. Suffice it to say that it’s nearly impossible to complete this journey without feeling something powerful.
This is one of my favorite pics–it captures well the reverent feeling that lives in the air here around the labyrinth. (click on it to view full size. Back arrow will bring you back here)
The original (temporary) labyrinth was part of a healing retreat for victims of the 1998 Jonesboro, Arkansas school shootings.
The Columbine H.S. shootings happened the following year.
Students from the first retreat asked Ferncliff if they could reach out to the victims at Columbine to help them heal.
The following summer, students and alumni came together to complete the permanent labyrinth.
Stones were brought from each school, as well as other sites affected by violence, including Bosnia.
The stones are still here. They remain – Physical symbols of the grief the victims left behind them.
Healing begun, the children laid their burdens down and left this place.
The stories, grief, and beautiful healing are still here too. Soft whispers and cool wafts of human spirit and emotion are actually alive in the labyrinth.
You can feel all of this in the air. All you have to do is walk this path…
Quiet. Calm. Serene.
What grief do you carry like a stone?
What difficult path do you walk?
What healing do you need?
This oasis of comfort in the Arkansas woods spoke to me. I left a stone too.
The CA Vines 4H Center waiting for you when you finish…
What I remember most about Hanoi was the green. It’s a busy city, but not busy like Saigon. Even in the most dense neighborhoods, there was always a park or a tree-lined boulevard. This city is full of interesting sights, sounds, and smells like the rest of the country, but Hanoi is somehow more personal, a half-step slower. More intentional, maybe.
Another theme was food. Of course everyone needs to eat, but here, food is such an integral part of daily life. It is prepared and enjoyed everywhere, unlike in other places where it is restricted to only restaurants and homes (though great and interesting restaurants abound here too)
I found myself catching glimpses of people that seemed familiar. Conversations that might have been between me and my friends or family.
I remember moments of personal connection, not quite intimacy. A hand on a shoulder, a half-second meeting of the eyes that made me feel I was somehow part of a family gathering of six million.
This bridge is actually in Da Nang. I took this on the way to the airport to fly to Hanoi
I just loved this…
Some Phò for breakfast
Bún Châ is a lunchtime dish of grilled pork over noodles…
The whole world has a smartphone…
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is divided up into sections that specialize in different trades or merchandise. Here we see the ancient craft of scooter repair. (seriously, there were probably a hundred shops repairing scooters on this street)
Phò is amazingly delicious stuff, and here it cost ~ $1 for more than you could possibly eat.
Everyone sits on these kindergarten-sized plastic stools. It makes the Phò taste better.
We went to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. Uncle Ho was in residence. He says hello.
We planned our travels around mostly local culture, flavor, and minor or less-well known sites. Angkor Wat is an exception. I couldn’t rightfully travel through Cambodia with 2 young kids and not take in this historic site. I’m glad I didn’t miss it.
Located about 2 miles north of the city where we were staying, Angkor Wat is only one of the many impressive temple ruins located around the area. Much like Mayan sites spread throughout the Yucatan, Guatemala, and Honduras, the Hindu-turned-Buddhist temples here are mostly undisturbed ruins. For every restored and tourist-overrun temple, there are who knows how many that are vegetation-covered mounds in the jungle, slowly being reclaimed by nature over a thousand years after they were built.
I went out to the site solo at around 5am to try and capture the sunrise over the main temple complex. Well, when I say “solo” – that is if you don’t count the few thousand other tourists who had the same idea. It was insanely crowded, and this was a quiet day – just after Khmer New Year – a major holiday here – saw the park full with 10 times the number of people. Wait – I wasn’t a tourist. I was a photographer. It’s different.
After my early morning sortie, I returned to the hotel for breakfast with the girls, and then headed back out with them to actually tour the temples and ruins.
What follows is only the briefest sampling of the hundreds of photos I took.
First, the sunrise trip:
The walk to the gatehouse…
Now beyond the gatehouse looking at the temples of Angkor Wat. These photos are taken over about a 40 minute timespan as the wolf-dawn light transitions into full-on sunrise.
Believe it or not, just out of frame to the left were about three thousand people all doing the same thing I was doing.
Even with all these people, the atmosphere was every bit as reverent and quiet as it seems as you look at these. You could almost hear a pin drop. In the grass.
And then we went back. We spent another nearly 4 hours touring all the other temples – believe me, this is only a taste. You could easily spend a week here exploring, wandering, reflecting…
It’s been a bit since I posted. Turns out that travel is a couple of things that I forgot:
Fascinating. In fact, I’ve been so busy immersing myself in all the richness and wonder that is Southeast Asia that I’ve done very little in the way of writing about it.
It’s now the end of April, 2014 and we’ve been on the road since April 1. We’ve been to Kuala Lumpur and Penang in Malaysia, Siem Reap, Cambodia, and Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An, Vietnam.
A couple of observations: It’s hot here – but not unbearably so. Temps range anywhere from 80’s to upper 90’s F. We love the omnipresent sunshine and the warmth that soaks into bones long-used to being cold. The sun brightens our spirits more than I thought it would and the lush greenery everywhere has a similar effect.
In general, people are friendlier than I expected. Some countries or cities more than others, but we found that, just like everywhere else we’ve been, if you are genuine, sincere, and willing to try something, people want to help you. (We found it also helps to learn ‘please’, ‘thank you’, and maybe a few other words (beer, and bathroom are my other go-to’s).
As we have moved from southwest (Malaysia) to northeast (Vietnam), signs of Western influence have been everywhere. In Malaysia they were British. Cars drive on the left side of the road, English words have British spellings (like “colour” instead of “color” for example). The farther east you go, the more French influence there is. Many of the mid – to large cities were laid out by French planners. Phnom Penh and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) feel distinctly like Washington DC or Paris in places (yes, D.C. was designed by a Frenchman)- with those broad tree-lined boulevards connected in a latticework joined by large traffic circles with monuments or fountains in the center.
The cuisine gets increasingly French-influenced as you head east as well. Headed east from Bangkok, starting in Cambodia, the ever-present street cart vendors switched were selling Banh mi – a delicious sandwich, often with pâté, head cheese, or chicken on honest-to-god white baguettes (and damn good ones too). The coffee also gets more French in look and taste. Tiny cups of darkly roasted stuff. The local twist is unfortunately instant and is combined with syrupy sweetened condensed milk. After a few weeks without 16 ounce mugs of the great stuff from Coffee Emporium in Cincinnati, though, I’ve become somewhat of a convert.
Scooters are everywhere – thousands millions of them. Bicycles too, but not so much as 30 years ago, I’m told. As in many developing countries, people learn to make do with very little – hence the common sight of families of 4, 5, or even 6 on a tiny scooter. Saigon has been the most hectic city so far, with the scooter traffic so thick, it almost had a pulse of its own. Learning to cross the street was intimidating, but once we got the hang of it, was akin to snorkeling through a school of fish. As long as you set a straight and predictable course – and didn’t make any sudden changes (meaning once you start, for god’s sake DON’T STOP!) – they literally schooled around you and you weren’t given a second thought.
Enough babbling, here are some pictures I’ve taken. Cheers!
The night market in Penang, Malaysia…
Bangkok train station…
Taken from the Thai train: Running out to wave hello
Some things that happen in Cambodia on scooters…
From the beautiful Royal gardens in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Our workspace in Siem Reap at the lovely Rosy Guesthouse.
Vietnam. It just doesn’t get any greener. This is what rice paddies look like. I’ve heard about them since I was a kid. For some reason, seeing them in person was captivating.
Ho Chi Minh City is an odd mixture of hectic and go-go-go, along with being loaded with lovely green park space like this. We were unexpectedly fans of this town.
More pics later…. Until then, do something that makes you uncomfortable. It’s a good thing.
I took a shower this morning in the hotel in Kuala Lumpur. A pretty long one with lots of steam and sudsy bubbles everywhere. If you read my post over on BlueSkyAcademy, you know that we started off in a rented local apartment this week. It had a more typical setup for plumbing.
The government turns the water supply on and off depending on how much there is to go around. Right now is the dry season, so the supply is unpredictable. The way people cope with this insecurity is by hoarding… you have a tank located up as high in your house or apartment as you can get, then you run your water supply from the city to that tank and leave the tap open. When the water is turned on by the city, the tank fills nonstop, even overflowing down the drain when overfull. When the supply gets cutoff, you have a certain amount of water to draw from for cleaning, toilet flushing (if you have a toilet), cooking, etc.
You would be shocked if you knew how much water you use in a day’s time. One easy way to find this out is by pouring it out and dispensing manually every time you use it.
The previous apartment we were in had a tiny (TINY) wall-mounted water heater in the bathroom. It had a handheld shower head on it. To bathe, you turned the switch on the heater and waited while it made a blender-like noise and began to dispense water feebly. Wet yourself down, turn it off. Lather up, wash yourself, then turn it back on and wait for the warm trickle to commence and rinse off.
If you want to learn why we left, head over to the post I mentioned above. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t because of the water.
I am thinking about how much water I use, though – both here while traveling and back at home in the US. That shower I took probably used 25 gallons of water.
This pool is less than 200 yards from the apartment building pictured above.
Because of the dodgy quality of the water supply here, it isn’t safe to drink. Enter the plastic water bottle. As a family, we are buying drinking water in 1.5 liter bottles of water each day. At 3 per day, we’ll use 90 of these bottles in a month. They are recyclable, but there isn’t any infrastructure here to recycle them, so they get thrown away.
I’m struck by the waste of this whole setup and by the challenges facing us. Not to be overly doom-and-gloom here, but it takes a lot of oil to make and ship these bottles of water around. Millions of them get used each day and discarded. Seems like there should be a better way to do this.
For now, we have one Katadyn refillable bottle that filters out filthy bits and other contaminants, but it isn’t a viable long term solution. The cartridges it uses are themselves made from plastic and nasty chemicals (and they’re expensive). I’m considering getting a UV filter called a Steri Pen so we can use local water, but if you’re a parent, do you take the chance and give your kids water that you think you filtered well enough? Maybe.
At any rate, don’t think the hypocrisy escaped me that I thought about all of this while taking my hot, steamy 10 minute shower.
I’m wasting water right alongside you, my friend. I’m thinking about it all though.
What might we do?
Click on the graphic below for a link to some info by the Natural Resources Defense Council about the effects of using bottled water.
by heck14. Explore more visuals like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.
I completely lost track of time and space on the way here. Cincinnati to LA, LA to Shanghai, Shanghai to Kuala Lumpur.
On the airline website it looked simple enough. A couple of transfers, some airplane food, a bus ride to central KL, and we’d be there.
In reality, 4 dusty, tired, and disoriented travelers stumbled up to meet the owner of the apartment we found on Airbnb.
By American standards, the apartment is very basic. It’s clean, and has wifi, hot water, AC, and cable television. Sounds just fine – and it is – but I think most Americans would turn around when they saw it. Located on a hodgepodge street full of luxury hotels and businesses, I’d bet the building this apartment is in has been here longer than nearly all its neighbors. It’s the kind of concrete block apartment building you see in Jackie Chan movies… jammed with lots of little (~500 square feet for the biggest) apartments. This one has a main area, 2 bedrooms, and a bathroom. It’s basic, but functional. You can hear lots of very detailed sounds coming from the neighbors all around you – but you aren’t really able to directionally locate them. Very much “big city” sounds. Rarely have I been in this close proximity to this many people.
Our choice to relocate from the suburbs of Cincinnati Ohio to downtown Cincinnati seems a good one in retrospect. Though Cincinnati isn’t nearly as dense as KL, the family is accustomed to the sights and sounds of urban life. Here it is just turned up in intensity.
We arrived at ~7am local time after 30 hours of travel. It was daylight when we left Ohio, and it was still daylight when we landed in Shanghai…. only getting dark when we landed in KL (roughly 2am local time). We basically flew west with the sun, so it never set.
Once we got to the apartment, the 2 hour nap we had planned to rejuvenate ourselves turned into 9 hours of dead-to-the-world. We roused ourselves around 4pm to get ready to go find food & a travel adapter only to catch the rain as it started. It’s now 8pm and the rain hasn’t stopped yet. Subsisting on a big bag of homemade trail mix Meredith made (good call, by the way), we’ve given up on today.
I’m good. I’m clean, freshly shaved, and scrounged a cup of coffee. I’m just starting a journey I’ve dreamed about for years, and I’m on it with people I love. Oh, and the delicious smell of garlic cooking is coming from somewhere nearby now.
Hopefully the morning brings some sun.
Tomorrow we try again.
p.s. pictures soon – when I can find an internet connection fast enough.