Part of nature…

During the last two days I have felt more like being part of nature than in a long time.

The constantly roaring ocean about an arms length away, the torrential rains sounding like a waterfall on the roof of our bungalow, gusts of wind that let the dim lamp swing in the room.

Protected only (but adequately) by paper-thin bamboo walls! And feeling strangely free and relaxed. Maybe also due to the temperatures that let you feel comfortable in your birthday suit.

In Bansko I am also surrounded by nature. But I am more at awe there. I enjoy it, I admire it – but I am not as much a part of it as here…more like an on-looker…

 

Enlightened and calm…

This morning I am in a rather contemplative mood. Maybe because the soaring rain leaves my thoughts free to roam…

The not only physical distance to Europe that I enjoy every year for a few months is a blessing. It helps you to see yourself and the Western society around you from a different, not so “urgent” perspective. Which, in contrast, in makes you quite stoic – or maybe that comes to the thinking man automatically with age and experience? The deep knowledge that there has been further evolution of mankind and that human violence will always prevail – only on a different scale, now that technical capabilities for it have increased x-fold.

Even (and especially) in my intellectual friends I notice a false sense that our “enlightened” Western societies have overcome this human tendency to violence. Sadly, the situation is as John Gray put it so appropriate in his recent publication “The Soul of the Marionette – a Short Inquiry into Human Freedom”

“By intervening in societies of which they know nothing, western elites are advancing a future they believe is prefigured in themselves—a new world based on freedom, democracy and human rights. The results are clear—failed states, zones of anarchy and new and worse tyrannies; but in order that they may see themselves as world-changing figures, our leaders have chosen not to see what they have done.”

This requires a break now – so I can have my coffee and omelette – and you to accept the truth of that statement…

 

European delusions…

As an afterthought to my previous post about the morbid charm of Asia:

In the West we have banned rotting/decay – the finality of everything material – from our lives. We worship the new, young and perfect. And we lose out on life through that!

In Asia they respect “age”, the experience and knowledge that comes with it. So, when you get older your body has deteriorated – but you are respected and an influential part of society. In the West being old means being in the way of younger people :) You bother them. So, “old” people go through great pains to be fit to stay part of the “young and respected”…

No sign of decay around us! Even the food we throw away shows no sign of rotting! Because we treat it with chemicals and store it in such a way as to keep its shape forever…

Here in Asia, in the densely populated areas, you smell decay everywhere. The air is full with the “scent” of decaying mango peels and other fruit and vegetable remains, depending on the season…it’s a morbid smell, yes – but also comparable to the morbid smell of a 1969 Chateau Leoville Las Cases from Bordeaux  (of which I had the great luck to acquire 5 cases at a wine auction in Zurich in 1991) – not to talk about the colour of the wine reminding you of the blood of an only slightly menstruating middle-aged woman…

The “queen of decay” in my every day Hanoi life is the wonderful Asian white lilly that I have in my apartment at all times and whose seed pots after a few days emanate that incomparable, attractive smell that arouses even the nearly dead!

Come and go…live with your senses “wide open” to new things – and if you are lucky enough to have the little extra brain it requires, learn who you are and what makes you happy :) Of course, in the end it does not matter if you ever find out – the only difference will be in the degree of enjoyment of your own life!

 

 

The morbid charm of Asia…

No other place on this planet reminds me more about the transience of life than this part of Asia!

Decay is everywhere. New buildings start rotting the moment they are finished. All is side by side. An endless and visible circle of coming and going.

This environment is good for you. It helps you accept the realities of life and to make the best out of them. Carpe diem! Live – and get joy out of it…

When we build in Europe we try to do so for eternity – and to maintain some status quo in our lives which most frequently is not much more than a hollow shell…we are held hostage by our status quo :)

Here I feel relaxed. An unnoticeable grain of sand on the endless beach…

 

The quest for spice!

Being with a true Hanoian lady is just like having been with a true “Sofianka” before :)

They are both difficult shoppers! They want to touch and chose every individual potato, grape, fruit, pepper – whatever – they buy on the market! Where I feel ashamed in front of the sales people they become like predators, furies – refusing anything the seller offers them without even looking at it because the are convinced that everyone’s goal is to cheat them…

So, my Vietnamese My wants to buy dried chillies for cooking. But she does not like to buy them in Hanoi because she thinks the people there mix them with low quality additives. But she believes in the local Thai vendors :) Therefore, we went to a local market this morning to find some dried chillies.

On the island they have different locations where they hold a weekly market on different days. Much like in my Bansko area. And depending on how close the markets are to the most densely populated areas the prices are different.

When we checked out the stalls I had my premonitions. This is Muslim county! Sugarland! My was ready to buy a package of 500g at 80 baht (4 leva). I asked the scarfed lady if the chillies were hot (“peth”). She nodded decisively. Me, being a smart cookie myself, strongly My to open the plastic bag and try the chillies before she bought them. We could not communicate this to the vendor, so we simple smiled at the lady and removed the rubber that held the bag tight. And- no big surprise to me- the chillies were boringly mild – and unusable for our type of cooking :)

So, maybe in the end I will have to ask my daughter to bring some hot Thai chillies from Germany when she comes visiting Hanoi in November :)

 

 

Dissident? What else!

I am lucky to have been born into a democracy. Even a shaky one.

Because all my thinking life I have been a dissident. I have never agreed with the mainstream. That started with becoming a youthful activist for the (legally forbidden) Marxist-Leninist Party in Western Germany at the onset of the Vietnam War :)

And it included even my professional career as a stock market investor, where my success was based on being a contrarian.

How could I survive in a totalitarian system? Unless I would have been born as its ruler?

So, considering all the evils that are inherent in any political system (including churches) democracy is the most tolerable form of living together with other people. Churches are bad by definition as they are always totalitarian (with the exception of Buddhism).

But that, of course, is valid for me, not necessarily for the majority of other people :) The masses prefer to be told what to think and what to do. It makes their life so much easier…

 

 

Thailand = “sanuk”

Until I “got stuck” in Vietnam a few years ago, Thailand was my base in Asia. The place to start my trips to various countries.  The resting place in between two trips – and the base to charge my spirits and my taste buds.

Thailand (“The land of the free”) has never been a colony to anyone and the Thai are a unique and special people. “Sanuk” is their basis for living! “Sanuk” is often misleadingly translated as “having fun”! What it really means, however, is getting joy and satisfaction out of everything you are doing! Working, playing, everything! Which means: living consciously and involved in what you are doing.

This is difficult to grasp for Western people who are not used to (what in German we all) “Leichtigkeit des Seins” (the lightness of being) and tend to take everything very seriously. They would consider Thais rather lazy and irresponsible :)

Buddhism fits in naturally here – because it emphasizes the unimportance of your own being.

This attitude is also reflected in the joyful passionate Thai cooking. If I had to name one cuisine as my favourite it would have to be Thai! No other cuisine gives you such a scale of taste emotions that leave you happy and exhausted like good sex…

Sanuk – MY way of life!

Koh Lanta Info

The Koh Lanta Yai archipelago was first inhabited only 500 years ago. By the “sea gypsies”, a tribe that supposedly came from Malaysia. 200 years later came the Muslims from Malaysia. They were the first ones to settle permanently. And so the island is still predominantly Muslim. No wonder as we are South of Southern Myanmar and North of Malaysia, with Muslims on both sides.

This makes for a slightly more colourful street picture. The main difference, however, is in the food. I underestimated the Malayan Muslim influence in the cuisine. They use sugar everywhere! Massively. Today I had a Paenang fish curry for lunch. Paenang curry in other parts of Thailand is a rather hot red curry. Here it is also red – but not hot at all and the main taste is that of sugar!

Yesterday I had “fish fried with chilli” for dinner. The fish came with a sweet chilli and in a sugary sauce…

 

One of the reasons why I came to Thailand for a holiday was to continue my diet – only now with seafood. The high sugar content of every meal here, however, will certainly make me gain weight! So, I am disappointed of the food. Not what I had expected.

The rest of the holiday is good. Now there is no season. So there are very few tourists and nearly all beaches are empty. As are the restaurants.

Only today tourists started arriving at our resort. The last two days there were only three other couples/families. The main season starts end of October, beginning of November. We will be back in Hanoi since long then :)

 

Tonight I will be heading for the local taxi drivers’ favourite hangout for dinner :)

 

Koh Lantra Yai

On Thursday we ventured to “Lanta” as most people call this island in Thailand. It was quite a trip. More than eleven hours from door to door. It takes you nearly an hour to get to the Hanoi airport from downtown by taxi. Then from Hanoi to Don Mueang airport in Bangkok, three hours later to Krabi and then another 2-1/2 hours to the island (including two ferry crossings).

We did not have luck with the weather so far. When we arrived it just had stopped raining and yesterday it was cloudy and very hazy. This morning it looks like it is improving. While I am having my coffee on the beach-front terrace of our resort restaurant the sky looks better (too early still to be blue) and the sea is much smoother.

It should become a nice day.

Yesterday we explored the island from north to south and east to west – and we had lunch and dinner in the two most recommended sea food restaurants of Koh Lanta. And were disappointed two times. Too sweet. They use sugar everywhere here! Very bad for my diet! But that’s a different story.

I have set up an online album with Canon of my pictures . But I have no clue yet how I can share them here. So, I will have to experiment a little before you can see the beauty of this place…bear with me :)

http://s1100.photobucket.com/user/Pirinlodge/library/Koh%20Lanta%20Yai

Market Shopping

Prices at the local markets vary from day to day, sometimes drastically. Supply and demand at its best. This is especially the case for non-farmed products like crab, squid, sea fish.

And, of course, here you ALWAYS haggle, whether you buy two bananas or 10kg of shrimps. :) Sometimes this gets tiresome.

Today we bought 3kg of clams for me (1-1/2kg for lunch, the other half for dinner). 55,000 Dong – about 2.25€ – 0.75€ per kg. That would be a good price :)