Happy Anniversary — Birthday Poem !!!

This poem first made its appearance one year ago — and because it is indeed that time of year again...

We interrupt this esoteric and suddenly serious nature of this blog for a (40th) birthday tribute to my sister…ahem…

An orbital rotation marks a shift into bliss
A spectacular of dreams, sure not to be missed

For those with an eye on my beautiful sis
It’s indeed that time — to Plant a BIG Birthday Kiss

Mother India’s been restlessly chanting her name
Where are you dear child? Why aren’t you in the game?

Gear up. Get ready. Get set. And Go!
There is no escaping your roll in this show

The players are here; the pieces in place
It’s you we’re waiting on; your turn in the race

Yoga & mantras & kirtan & such
Her head may pop off; it’s all just too much!

Agores & Monks, High Priests & the like
They all will line up to bask in her light

A magmatic glow, iridescent as stars
Sparks will soar, colliding with Mars

Planets will sing; Galaxies will hum
Moons will shine on, engaged in the fun

What a time we’ll all have, zinging around
Who’s time for liberation when such fun is abound!

Break for the party; celebration for all
When lil’ sis arrives she’ll be queen of the ball

So make up your mind. Set your resolve.
Your big sis is waiting, controlling the mob

It can be intense and at times kind of scary
The monsters look fierce, all bloodshot and hairy

Sometimes they smell and play nasty tricks
It’s all in good fun — how they get monster kicks

But I’ve got some pranks of my own up my sleeve
I know some things you just wouldn’t believe

We’ll dazzle, disarm, confuse & distract
Little do they know it’s only an act

While clown-puppets dance on a stage with a script
The element of surprise only shoots from the hip

For real freedom lies in no agenda nor plan
The Universe alone holds the true fate of man

But until such a time sis hears the great
Mother’s call Its nose to the grindstone and balls to the wall

There is work to be done but a break in sight
Until she arrives I’ll continue with might

For years sis has nurtured a much softer side
No alter ego to disguise, maneuver or hide

For her liberation will be but a breeze
With a little encouragement she’ll find it with ease

My goals are for naught but when shared with another
She’ll serve as my muse. My sister. My brother.

She’ll inspire with grace, with joy and with love
To see her freed on the wings of a dove

With this last thought I will bid you adieu
Until we lock eyes sis…Happy Birthday to you.

All of my love.

~  by Christine Fowle
~  Photo Credit: Paideia: Songs of the Celestial Beings

Kolkata-Bodh Gaya

The yellow and black taxi sputters and chokes, pulling in front of the entrance. Several members of the hotel staff collect on the front drive to see me off. The smartly dressed doorman wearing his crisp whites and red turban waits, holding open the car door; his eyes reach me with a sparkle of amusement and warm dose of something that feels like approval, likely for my transportation choice. Before stepping inside I press both hands together in front of my chest and slightly bow my head in respect and make no attempt to suppress the smirk on my face.

The cab spurts and grumbles to a start and sets out through the metal security gates. My driver appears well stocked with pan masala (chew tobacco) and his navigational acumen also looks to be in check. The tide on this ride turns as the honkers become the honkees. Once hammering on his horn and happily yelling in Hindi at the cha-cha (uncle) stopped in front of us, our momentum stalls and in a matter of seconds the vehicle grinds to a crawl. The driver begins shifting the gears in mad intervals, to no avail. Cars are quickly waved past to accommodate the increasing volume of beeping.

It was strongly suggested by the hotel to leave two or three hours prior to the train’s departure. Because of this I have plenty of time to sit back and enjoy the show; within minutes a new taxi is hailed. Words are exchanged. Money moves hands. The backpack is lifted from trunk to trunk. Off again.

Travel through India requires acclimation. Last year’s trip included thousands of kilometers clocked by bus. It was fascinating, and quickly became my favorite mode of transport. Inside each coach a different world of changing passengers performed in a private show. Outside, the scents of masala spices lifted from simmering street food. People. Heat. Cows. Buying. Selling. Noise. Windows opened to the streaming passage of time, portals of saturated living canvases.

This is, year of the locomotive.

The taxi arrives at the Kolkata train station; heaps of people cover every square meter. Men look dirty, ragged, hot and tired, having spent the night where they now sit. No one asks for money as I approach. Rickshaws, askew on the rocks, drivers sprawled over the back seats still asleep. A break in the human blanket out front leads inside where a softer version of the same scene is throbbing. Women and children are spread under the station roof. They sleep on thin sheets of cardboard. Dozens of women and young girls are lined head to toe, awake, staring at the ceiling.

There is a ladies waiting room to pass the time until the train arrives. Once aboard, the scene changes and all one requires will arrive in due time: Newspaper, chai, dosa, water. The key is in the observation and seizing the opportunity when it strikes. First and second-class cars are air-cooled with tiered benches to sleep on; fresh sheets, pillow and blanket are also provided. Families spreading out homemade travel feasts is regular occurrence.

I am seated in a first class car with three businessmen. After climbing onto the top platform, I remove the sheets from the brown wrapper, spread them onto the bench and close my eyes. Upon waking I swing my legs over the side and quietly lower my feet to the floor. Two men have left the car and so I take a seat to watch the country pass through the water stained window.

Country roads meandering with nothing in sight but farmland. A couple riding a motorbike. He’s straddling the machine and she, she is seated to the side riding English, bright orange and green pillows flap long willowy waves behind. Water buffalo, sturdy and massive, succumbing to the heat in deep baths of thick mud. Villages. Homes made of soil, palms, grass and bamboo. Towns. Wooden structures. Crossing barriers. People waiting. Everyone stops for the train.

The man across from me wakes up. He wants to know if I’m travelling on business.

“No.”

Thus begins a discussion that passes the hours so quickly I wished to ride all the way to Delhi with him. We speak about business, economics, and politics, then move onto more intriguing topics; love, marriage, religion, faith, Spirituality and India.

He tells me of the men his father has met, living high in the Himalayas, more than two hundred years old, living off nothing but air. He shares his sad belief that his children’s generation is devoid of spiritual faith. He divulges the metaphysics of Indian heritage; faith and family, both planted by the seeds of God, infinitely intertwined. For in India, the path forward and the path behind, lead to one and the same destination.

~ by Christine Fowle

Destiny Calling

Destiny is calling and once again, it is time to move on. Cambodia has proven to be a remarkable country in which to spread my wings. Each of the destinations inside this destination played a worthy hand in a highly spirited game of discover the hidden mojo. But beyond the emotive temples and past the scenic serenity, the poignant charm of Cambodia is carefully concealed within the subtle grace of her people.

Born post Khemer Rouge, the fantastic glow emanating from the young adults with whom I interacted radiates hopes and dreams. Perhaps it is borne from the repression their parents endured. Out of the darkness and into a life, ever-marked by the unspeakable acts of which man is capable. Does the balance grow under the light of freedom found on the other side? I don’t know. What I am certain of is that there is tangible purity in these children.

The surge in tourism is viewed as a blessing, creating jobs, enhancing the standard of living and bringing to their doorstep, vicarious journeys as experienced through the eyes of visiting guests. The concept of traveling themselves as foreign as the thousands pouring through temple gates, for now, they still find it exciting to be a part a different world, if just for a moment

As a personal practice, optimism generally prevails over pessimism. But with one foot firmly rooted in reality, I have no choice but to add a large dose of pragmatism here. I wish to wrap my arms around these kids as to perpetually protect their innocence.  In addition to catalyzing economic development, rapid growth can also pave the way for an influx of interested visitors that do not always have the best interest of a country, it’s people or the environment, at heart.

From Ubud to Uluwatu, I imagine Indonesians originally shared such positive notions about the impact of tourism. If you asked now, I wonder if the Balinese would tell a different story. The island, is at this moment, surging to capacity yet the building continues. Expansion more profitable than zoning, hotels, resorts, restaurants and shops are rapidly replacing what is left of the rice terraces and farmland. Retail space is becoming too expensive for locals to rent; more and more Western shops are moving in. Much of the remaining agricultural parcels are being sold off as the quality of life becomes less valuable than the property. The prohibitive cost of living pushes families further and further from the tourist hubs, all but evicting sacred vibes of the island. Bliss is now pedaled as the hot commodity. What has it cost?

One Western toilet flushes more water than the average Indonesian consumes in one day. Yet the building continues. Heavy smog permeates the cities, road congestion clogs the streets and water pollution is killing the fish. The building continues. Deforestation and habitat destruction is devastating the wildlife on the island. When is enough, enough?

There is a window of opportunity after which everything changes. Cambodia is now in that window. Consider this my written plea to the almighty gods of tourism: Please, please, please, let’s not make the same mistakes again. Cambodians are proud of their land and of their perseverance. They still care about the happiness of visitors and possess a desire for us to find their home worthy. They possess an innocence I no longer do.

Live. Learn. Lend your voice.

~ by Christine Fowle

Alice, is that you?

One change in Phnom Penh and bussing it to the Southern coast takes twelve hours. This and a twenty-minute bumpity, bumpity, tukity, tukity ride in the dark; finally I reach the out of the way retreat. Exhausted, I walk across the tiled floor of a guestroom resembling a Q-Bert video game. Yes, I realize this dates me considerably but regardless, I open the wooden shutters to let in a night breeze and suddenly step on something. That something turns out to be a six-inch caterpillar. Seemingly unimpaired the furry creature regains consciousness and slowly and extremely tentatively, creeps away.

Plopping back-first onto the bed I close my eyes and inhale the soft scent of jasmine. Upon the exhale, I release the tensions of a long day into the gecko-chirping symphony surrounding me. A muffled plunk drops into the concerto prompting my eyelids to spring open. I peer up to meet the gaze of a small tan cat perched high atop the armoire. Staring down at me and then back again at the floor, she is sporting an expression that would indicate there are some descending issues underfoot. Following one of my few travel rules, this one regarding manhandling foreign felines, instead of assisting I open the door and watch as she carefully works her own way down and out.

Tired, frustrated and apprehensive about what other curious creatures may sneak, slither or crawl into my room to introduce themselves, I quickly close the shutters. One backward glance at the dizzying floor sparks a brief analysis of the situation:

It has finally happened — I have morphed into Alice. And this is Wonderland. If I open the door to the armoire odds are grand that I will discover a full tea party brewing inside, along with a stunning, albeit tiny, hat. Of course — this must be what Kitty was searching for — how silly of me not to see! It’s all so obvious!

Or perhaps I just need some sleep.

Upon waking the following morning I am greeted not by the Queen of Hearts, but by fields bursting of lush green vegetation. Having chosen a cozy area within the region, I’m finishing out my Cambodian adventure at a small retreat boasting an organic garden and gorgeous eco-philosophy. A gorgeously contemplative backdrop to bask in the glow of the last two weeks.

Gone Fishing...

Twenty-five years of working in the hospitality industry has firmly planted its roots in the very essence of my being. Service excellence renders me giddy and authenticity is perched high on a pedestal and vehemently exalted. My current home, Le Meridien Angkor, feeds into this passion, making both coming and going a supreme delight.

It is only in the staff that the gift lies to transform a hotel from a pretty box housing a lot of nice stuff into an exquisite locale in which you feel recognized and cared for. And this pretty box is filled with young men and women that exude genuine kindness and graciously bestow it upon each and every guest that passes through their doors. It’s during one such interaction that a lovely girl in the restaurant shares a bit of information with me. She is a student at Sala Baï and with a little research I discover a very special school with an extraordinary mission.

What I love about Sala Baï is not only the school’s tourism based educational focus; it is the methodology behind their execution. The program is exclusively designed to provide hotel and restaurant skills to youths from underprivileged families within Cambodia with a household income of less than $300 USD per year. One hundred students are accepted annually to participate in the eleven-month curriculum, with majors including Housekeeping, Front Office, Restaurant Service and Cooking. The scholarships include supplies, accommodation, food, bicycles, uniforms and medical coverage with absolutely no cost incurred by the students or their families. Because of this, the competition for admission is steep and involves a meticulous selection process including family visits, examinations and personal interviews.

Phort, one of Sala Baï’s young scholars provides me with a tour of the facility and also lives in the dormitory with Ek, the sweet girl that sparked my initial interest. The hotel consists of three deluxe rooms and a suite; the restaurant, open for breakfast and lunch, is run entirely by the students, who also receive instruction in both French and English. Phort seems impressed with my limited French vocabulary and neglect to tell her that after living in the country nearly three years I’ve only achieved the narrow linguistic accomplishment of interpreting restaurant menus.

In passing I’m introduced to Emmanuelle Dethomas, the school’s Communication Officer who has signed on for two years with the project. Emmanuelle describes the background the students and explains that a portion of the integration process often involves an introduction to electricity and running water before training even begins. She also shares that the school boasts a job placement rate of 100% and that along with several other hotels, Le Meridien Angkor provides internships to approximately five students per semester and in many cases continues the relationship after graduation.

In addition to local hotels and restaurants, the school is also supported by international partnerships, private donations, as well as, hotel room and restaurant sales; they even have a cookbook! My guide was superb and I absolutely LOVE what they are doing here. Not only are these young ladies and gentlemen being taught how to fish, they are learning how to prepare and then serve it up in grand style. Nicely done Sala Baï!

Rave 101

Unbelievable. I’ve been bouncing around this island for almost two weeks and have yet to attend one of its infamous raves. Chasing the inland beach trails and zinging to the beat of my own inner trance-dance, has instead kept me quite distracted. But determined to appease the cosmic overlords of all things techno, I set out last night with the sole intent of tripping the lights fantastic and showing the kids how this is really done.

While there is certainly something to be said for being treated like family, my new brothers and sisters around where I’m staying are not only abundant, they are also curious. Where you been? Where you going?Why you not eat breakfast? Having spent most of my days South of the harbor, my habits have taken on the scrutiny of a culture observed under a microscope. And last night — this amoeba crawled out of the petri dish and made a break for it.

I took my pre-rave activities North of the harbor in search of something a little different. After passing dive shops, restaurants and ATMs that didn’t exist one year ago, a colorful chalkboard sign leaning against a post caught my attention. Very much like getting my temple-groove on, it was no sooner that I finished reading the colorful print and looked up than I knew; instinct had led me to the right spot.

The four pavilions are a miniature version of the beachside spot I’ve passed many an hour on the last fourteen days. Located on the opposite side of the street, it’s got the perfect distractive combination of streaming street parade and soothing backdrop of rolling waves. And this isn’t even the best part.

The spot is not only cozy and propels sweet vibes in every direction; it’s also where I meet my favorite person on the island. His name is D; like the letter D. Like the other young men on the island he’s in his twenties. But unlike the other boys, he sports a full head of dreadlocks. He possesses a gorgeous outlook with the disposition of an angel and his virtue-based beliefs were, in part, the inspiration for my last post.

The night I find D is also the night I discover the best live show in town, directly across the path from my newfound friend! The six musicians play everything from Santana to Sade, and the best bit — they perform every night of the week. Experimental, soulful and from the sounds of it, having a blast!

Thrilled at the prospect of a new friend, comfortable hangout and rockin’ entertainment, I take my leave of D with every intention of continuing my mischief into the wee hours. Reaching the outdoor party club I survey the crowd of twenty-somethings spilling over the path and crammed into the large sections of bar, dance floor and pavilions on either side. The beat pumps auditory jams, every cell in my body is thumping to. Circumnavigating the sweaty, gyrating bodies, avoiding lit cigarettes and ducking swinging drinks, I finally succeed in making it to the other side of mayhem street.

Heaving a sigh of relief I follow the beacon back to my bungalow-boys and finished my night in the comfort of my favorite beachfront perch. When I finally do retire, the party is still in full swing and I smile an enormous grin as I climb into bed; it only took forty years, but perhaps I’ve finally reached adulthood. My mother will be so pleased.

~ by Christine Fowle