Author

Margaret Elizabeth Johnston

It is easy to feel like you are at the Mediterranean or on some back small coastal road in Hawaii while cruising around Uluwatu, the southern surf town on Bali. These days, as we all make decisions where we want to be based if one cannot travel, I have decided to ease my small Ubud village life by integrating some “Uluwatu-vibes”. I am still here on Bali dear expats, missing Thailand here and there but have made a decent life here as I await where in the world can I go if I even want to go. I am pleased that Nick, our editor and publisher, has moved to the coast and that we can still share online our stories and interests. Living in SE Asia is a wonderful life as we all know but we are all being challenged for I am sure, like me, we all enjoy popping to Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines and Laos sometimes for a bit of a change, even Singapore! Finding one other place within Thailand could be an answer to keep travel in your life and some varied interests. Below I share some ideas and ways I have been managing.

Uluwatu holds interest for me even though I am not a surfer. There are upscale cafés and restaurants, small boutiques for a different style dress than the yoga wear life I lead upcountry in Ubud. Over the last 6 weeks I have found a 5 star hotel to stay at for $23 a night due to no tourists here (yes, we have a vaccine only entry from Jakarta and at present a 14 day quarantine). The hotel boasts two huge lap pools and a gym, a golf course and has easy “small road” access to the various beaches by scooter. (Le Grande, Uluwatu) From this space I can zip to my favourite coffee café, Drifter’s, a surf café with surfboards, barefoot kids and tussled blonde locks all over, coconut milk lattes and avocado on toast. The holistic health food still permeates Uluwatu as it does in Ubud so that is an easy transition as to not strain the diet!  Bingin and Uluwatu beaches are the best for sunning and being able to grab a cold drink. They have stunning rock formations in which one can enjoy some wonderful photography, mollusc admiring, sea urchin gazing and swimming through these tall structures to get to the wide open sea.

For early evening, I go to Ulu Cliffhouse. This is the friendliest high style place to see and be seen, which I like to do sometimes living on a small island and slightly missing the urban way. Most of the restaurants on the coast have a pool and lounge chairs, Mana is another of these with an open, friendly feeling. Ulu Cliffhouse put effort into a bit of a social scene however, with Monday night movie night. They bring out a huge screen for everyone to sit and watch as evening falls. The décor at Cliffhouse is also very modern and clean, reminds me of a Malibu home with all the white, blue and views! Management there is kind with no pretentious feel so even though the atmosphere is “expensive”, the kind of people it draws are very “chilled”, softly spoken, mature and easy on the eye too I must say! Because of the swimwear industry here on Bali, there are young Ukrainian and Russian models swanning around with their elegant style, tanned surfer’s and some posh Europeans in their white and cream linen. With the sun touching people’s complexions and a relaxed feel, one can forget the turmoil of the world we are all going through for the evening. I myself have started a swim/activewear  lifestyle items line (MEJSPIRIT) using my own designs from my paintings and taking in inspiration down here in Uluwatu to inspire me. 

Again, as to the feeling of the Med, while scooting around all the small roads to the beaches and such, bougainvillea pours over the walls, prickly pear cactus sprouts up into the air and hibiscus colours drench the hills. The police aren’t on the streets here checking people’s masks and driver’s licenses. In Ubud and elsewhere, they are on all the main corners to, what I feel, hassle us expats/tourists, to get their monthly quota, which is a real shame. There are very strict laws here repeated over and over that if a tourist is caught without a mask they will be deported. We also must buy a local driver’s license for $200 if we don’t want to be ticketed for not having a license, or make sure you get an international one based on your at home license before you come. This is the unpleasant side to living in paradise here on Bali. You would think they would cherish having us here and bringing in money but instead, I can rightly say, we are hassled a lot. To deal with this issue, a lot of people are actually leaving and not many are coming in. This is why, in order to ease the strain, I am commuting between the beaches and jungle a bit more often now. I won’t move to Uluwatu for I enjoy my Ubudian village life in general and have established quite a community of friends here and with the Covid prices, my rent is almost halved so going to the 5 star makes for a lovely 5 day break a few times a month that I can afford. 

If you’re feeling restless in the area you are living and want to travel some, this option to create a second home within the same country could be a great way to continue to live in joy during these times. A positive thing that has come out of the various lockdowns around the world could be that people are making home more, developing close friendships more and realising how important community is. I hope wherever you are these days you have support and good friendships around you. It is nice to have some change once a month or so to keep creativity and interest alive, get a feeling of some travel and perhaps make some new connections. 

Drifter’s Cafe surf boards with a collage of cute shops in Uluwatu

My creative side has been bursting with my new line of items; swimwear, active tops, flip-flops, water bottles, loads of different bags and a day backpack, notebooks, coffee mugs, throw pillows and yoga mats… all made from my watercolour paintings. The service is called “print-on-demand” (there are many print-on-demand companies to choose from). If there are any other artists/photographers out there that would like to try their hand at developing items on a website through Shopify or similar and connecting all the different print-on-demand companies to it, this is something you may want to experiment with. If someone goes to your website and clicks on and item and buys it, the print-on-demand company you’ve chosen will make the item and send it to the person and you get a direct deposit once a month. It is something to think about for passive income once you’ve created your chosen items with your designs and set up an Instagram and Facebook Business page too. It sounds complicated but all things can be done one small step at a time. Once your website is developed you then just do one Insta post a day and share it with your FB Business page and slowly can begin to get followers and surprisingly, buyers! If you would like to see my sight as an example, I will list it in my bio below. Anything, these days, to turn your creations into an income is welcome I am sure, across the board for everyone!

Manager Dedy at Ulu Cliffhouse.

Another way I am “staying sane” (I prefer this saying over “stay safe”) is by keeping my fitness up. If you have a gym open next to you, please join and go. If you can walk the cities or the beaches, please do. We all must stay healthy and vibrant as the world collective is learning how to cope individually and collectively as time moves into the end of 2021 and who knows what is in store for 2022. 

This “postcard” is meant to be a stimulator, a fresh idea zapper and maybe even a mover and a shaker if you’re an artist wondering what to do next! I hope you enjoy the pictures I’ve included with this message of love from Bali to you in Thailand. I’m eating dragonfruit like nobody’s business these days too, one of the best fruits for vitamins, minerals and lots of fibre. Enjoy the season as it comes in and let us stay positive and bright as we make decisions daily that can affect our futures. Perhaps you’ll pull out that map and choose another destination within Thailand you would like to begin to create a new community or home. Enjoy the process of discovery, exploration and seeing parts of Thailand you’ve been meaning to see. There are always different ways and styles to live and it can be fun having an urban and a country life or the country mixed with some beach life. You may even find a good hotel that you can leave a large suitcase with the concierge in their storeroom and stay one week a month and experience the “hotel lifestyle” for a while. Once you’ve gone a few times, they get to know you and you can develop a lovely rapport, a second home. Thailand has so much to offer and even though I am not there, I am making the most of my small island life here on Bali. Ciao for now!

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Margaret is enjoying Bali continuing with her painting and writing however is excited to share her new passion with us at www.mejspirit.com. If interested to know more about “print-on-demand” online income, she is more than happy to share what she knows with you, Expat Life in Thailand reader. She can be reached through her website. Meanwhile, surf vibes and jungle life fill her days as she stays sane!

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Welcoming in April with both Thai Songkran and some of our own expat’s celebrating Easter, I thought the Starfruit, Carambola, with 91% water, would be a wonderful fruit to highlight! An Easter star and the hydrating needs we all crave during these hot days comes to us on a species of tree native to SE Asia, the Averrhoa carambola. Starfruit, Carambola or Ma-fuang in Thai, fuang meaning “gear”, grows all over SE Asia and in Thailand I have enjoyed the deep orange larger starfruits at any season. There are two main types of starfruit, the small/tart and the large/sweet. The skin is fairly waxy but the whole fruit can be eaten. The flavour is unique and can be similar to an apple, grape, pear and citrus. Some say they are best eaten yellow with a slight greenish tint, but I prefer them when they are more orangey-yellow, much sweeter and just a tad softer, not so crunchy!

These fruits have lots of vitamin C (52% of RDI), most B’s and A, are low in sugar (3%), high in minerals and fibre and has high amounts of antioxidants including some zinc. They can be up to 91% water so a great source of healthy hydration also. The ripe fruit and fruit juice has antidiarrheal effects and has been used in Ayurvedic medicines for thousands of years. In the culinary kitchen creativity reigns. In SE Asia, they are stewed in cloves, sugar and apples. China cooks them with fish and in Australia they may be cooked as a vegetable, made into jams or pickled. I discovered Jamaica dries them and uses them as snacks combined with peanuts. The sour variety makes a nice relish with chopped spices and can be combined with fish or shrimp. I use them as additions to my mangosteen, dragon fruit, mango and papaya tropical fruit platters when treating myself during hot days and look so pretty too with the star shape! Wishing on a star never tasted so good! I am lucky to of found a SE Asian man myself, Mr. Souphanya from Laos, that knows how to organically grow most of my favourite fruits here in Hawaii while I await SE Asia/Thailand to re-open. Shopping at local markets and supporting the local people during these times is a positive human interaction we can have during these times for all involved.

I must mention a slight risk for people with any hard kidney issues like kidney stones, kidney failure or are on kidney dialysis. Starfruit contains caramboxin and oxalic acid. Caramboxin can create adverse neurological effects and oxalic is in many fruits and vegetables but combined with caramboxin and predisposed kidney failure together, I must at least give a slight warning here to not indulge. Taking starfruit juice or even just the fruit on an empty stomach is also not advised for anyone but the normal ingestion of the tropical fruits during the day for most is fine. Please do not let this deter you unnecessarily. It is fine to do juice fasts and fruit fasts etc. as I have written about before, but this particular fruit isn’t one of them for that!

The true native range of this plant is pinpointed closer to Malaysia, Indonesia and S. China than Thailand and has never been located in the wild, like the guava and many other tropical plants. It seems it was domesticated through India and SE Asia in prehistoric times, but it was in the American tropics that it was established just over 150 years ago. Commercial production of starfruit takes places in most tropical places throughout the world now including Hawaii, however, Malaysia is the global leader in starfruit production. The Averrhoa carambola are also grown as ornamentals due to the easy pruning of the mini tree-shrubs which can lead to a decorative addition to any garden yet can be worrying for some as an invasive species since they are quick to spread. Carambola flowers throughout the year with beautiful dainty pink and light lavender flowers which against the background of the dark green leaves can be a gorgeous addition to any garden. The main fruiting season in Thailand is April through June and October through December, which again, for Christmas, is so nice to have the star shaped fruits for decorative fruit platters! One last idea for the kids is to slice the fruit thin and bake them with some sea salt supplying a cute version of snacking. Healthy snacks are always a plus!

I call the painting accompanying this article Blue Skies; Starfruit Surprise because it is in the tropical, glorious, sun filled skies these fruits grow and the element of surprise you enjoy when the fruits are cut in half can be a delight. Happy Spring! May this new season bring some respite to how things have been moving along during wintertime. I am anxious to get back to SE Asia and send you all blessings from across the Pacific headed West! Let us all stay healthy, vibrant, happy and sane!

Check out Margaret’s other article in this April edition all about Thai Massage! Keeping our minds and bodies active and healthy during these times is extra important. Treating food as medicine can be a way of eating and eventually, we are what we eat since we make new cells everyday with what we put in our mouths. Enjoy Thailand’s fruits and stay hydrated during these hot months! Margaret’s paintings can be seen on www.mejcreation.com and one can join her on her other healthy discoveries.

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As springtime comes upon Thailand, I have been reflecting on how Thailand was my “springboard” into this new world of Eastern life including Laos, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, my Bali life and then being brave enough to expand into Nepal and India. One of the many things I uniquely thank Thailand for, other than new cuisine and cooking classes, vibrant island tours, Northern Province indigenous peoples, my discovery of Matcha, Buddhist culture and art, local Batik textiles and Durian (my goodness what a list!) is the fabulous Thai massages and being trained in the art of this form of body work.

Being a massage therapist for many years at the time of my decision to train in the Thai way wasn’t too hard a decision to come to when on my first journey into Thailand. I first met my lovely trainer, Jidapa Norsai, on Phuket when I was first exploring some of the main tourist spots trying to decide where to settle for a bit to paint; Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pai, Koh Samui, Krabi and Phuket. After I had made the decision to settle in Phuket I soon re-contacted Miss Jidapa and enrolled in her school of Thai Massage that was licensed and certified through a proper government venue and was excited to begin this new journey. I am sharing this idea to those out there waiting for Thailand to re-open (hopefully come this April edition release that has changed) and feeling like they wish they had something to do or new to learn. If you can find someone in your area to experience this training with, now may be a good time. I do feel hands-on bodywork in these days of social isolation and a “no-touch” ruling in general can be damaging for human connection. Massage and bodywork of any kind can be so healing. Even just being available for your loved ones, family and friends, it is a gift to be shared.

There are many different schools all over Thailand to go to and various styles to take. I think the key, if you’re not a practitioner and just wanting to learn techniques to share, then the most important factor is the ease of which the course is structured and location. I organised my time to be able to take the course in Phuket Town at a time I had finished up with my 3 month “self-tour” of mainland Thailand and had decided to “hunker” in Phuket for another three. I organised to move into my new home in Kamala after my course so could stay in a small hotel across the street from the school. Phuket Town is so charming to spend some real time in, so it certainly wasn’t a trying situation.

I was impressed with the chiropractor that was also based at the school and it was a real treat to learn the Thai massage way. The main basis for most Thai massage I found in my training was with the way in which the practitioner moved and stretched the limbs of the person while doing some good deep pressure, sometimes with thumbs, sometimes with knees. It encourages the client to engage in “active relaxation” which can be easier said than done! I already knew some Shiatsu work from previous training however the “moving of other people’s limbs” while I stretched them and put pressure on various areas was new to me. If the client is very limber this can be a challenge. There are some very advanced Thai therapists that can lay on their backs while supporting you up in the air with their feet while you relax on top of their feet as they push into your back! This is not a level most attain to but being able to walk on the back, hang from a bar from the ceiling to massage the client with feet can be done. The normal basic way really is just like some of these pictures demonstrate, using thumbs for deep pressure and using one’s forearms and palms for some effleurage type massage, with or without oil. There is also a ‘tapping” method which uses the sides of the hands closest to the pinky to alternately tap rapidly on various areas of the body to loosen and heat up the muscles in that area.

My course was a month intensive training 5 days a week, 7.5 hours a day. It was a professionally certified and licensed massage course that I chose to do to add to my already massage therapist professional resume however, one might think about a weekend workshop or something similar to learn some of the basic moves to practice on family and friends. In this human contact touch, a little can go a long way.

I will always remember the first experiences of my Thai time back in 2015/16 and have been in and out of Thailand many times since. I’ve taken home with me many gifts of experiences from Thailand; tangible art, great new recipes, beautiful textiles and clothes but the best gift I received from Thailand, other than having the privilege of writing for Expat Life in Thailand and sharing my art and healthful ideas, has been the gift of giving a real proper Thai massage!

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As the month of February rolls in, we may be thinking of a few ways to lose some of the weight we may have put on with not only the lockdown issues and less freedom of movement in general, but also the holiday splurges we may of indulged in. Weight loss can be a lot easier to work towards if your diet is not only tasty but satisfying due to having a high fibre content and “good fats”. Minding sugar intake, even being careful of fruit sugars, can be hard if you are a fruit lover as I am, however, some of the fruits that are available to us in Thailand so readily have a remarkably high fibre content and very little sugar, one of them being the Guava, Psidium guajava. A few of these fruits, and you can feel very full. I will also include Avocado, Persea americana, because there is a misconception that “eating fat makes you fat” but it is eating the wrong kind of fat along with too much sugar that can make you fat. Avocados also have a high fibre content and are considered a “good fat”. (There are four types of fats: saturated, monounsaturated, trans and polyunsaturated. The complete understanding of these can be a whole article unto itself and I just want to suggest some ways to incorporate both the guava and the avocado in this article but please know that in general, fat from non-animal products like avocados, olives, nuts and seeds fall into the “good fat” category. Yes, eggs too, but this is why I say it is a whole article unto itself!) For now, let’s just move forward with these two fruits to incorporate into your lifestyle for weight loss and health.

Both the guava and the avocado, along with potential weight loss, can boost the system for some great health and fresh vitality as we come into 2021. I delight in being able to indulge in one of my favourite fruits, the pink guava, but I’ll speak of the Thai guava first which more of us may be familiar with. In Thailand, one often eats Thai guava’s sliced up raw and dipped in sugar with dried chilli, sliced up small and added to green papaya or green mango salads or even pickled. I prefer the sweet pink guava’s to have plain as a delicious snack or to use in smoothies for they have a lot of pectin in them and create a real rich creamy texture for this. But both types of guava are full of vitamins and minerals for supreme health!

Thai Guava’s are fairly easy to find year round and they are a bit harder, not as sweet, and more yellow inside than the pink. The Thai guava is known as Farang in Thailand. This is rather funny because it is the same name the Thai’s use to call foreigners. It refers to when this fruit was introduced by Europeans in the 17th century representing something foreign in any way being brought into the local community.

Pink guava is sweet and tangy! I have a smoothie idea here to share and did a painting of the pink guava I call “Gung-ho guava!” that I include in this article for your enjoyment. Some of you, my regular readers, may know I travel around with my suitcase full of art supplies and portray local fruits and flowers on my journeys and discuss medicinal ways to incorporate these “superfoods” into your lifestyle. Hopefully, I can satisfy some of your desires for healthy ways and cater to your art culture cravings! Choosing guava to paint was a challenging subject because in watercolour, the white of anything is supposed to be the paper and the delicate guava flowers are white in general. I am pleased with the results finding that white can include light lavenders, greens and yellows when observed closely. This species of guava that can be found growing profusely in Thailand is green even when ripened with a touch of rose and light yellows showing through. Knowing when the fruit is ripe to pick is a skill one must develop since the guava can drop off the stem and then the fruit flies will “have at it” laying their egg’s in the fruit which will be disappointing when maggots are infiltrated into your well expected treat! So, making sure to get the fruit right off the tree or from a trusted guava seller is always best!

Guava, having loads of fibre, being easy to digest, having a high vitamins A and C content along with lycopene, a strong antioxidant, I can easily say this fruit is well worth our respect. For gut health, there are antimicrobial properties and with the level of magnesium in this fruit, it can help to relax the body and contribute to great mental clarity. Vitamins B3 and B6 is present, B6 being proven to help with neurodegeneration. Ripe guava’s emanate a divine scent, like a sweet vanilla/strawberry. When I buy guava’s and they are sitting in my fridge, every time I open the fridge I get a waft of this sweet guava scent and I cannot help but to want to make a smoothie so my guava purchases run out quick! 

As I mentioned, guava’s have a high level of pectin so make very creamy and thick smoothies without the need to freeze the fruit. I added some papaya, also low in sugar/high in fibre, and some good seed fats (like Tahini/sesame seed butter) to my smoothie. Frozen banana is also a way to cream up your smoothie but if trying to stay low sugar, please use lightly or add some avocado! Both papaya and guava can go right though one’s digestive system so with these added fat suggestions, it will make this yummy breakfast last longer, and the nutty flavour goes with this concoction very well. 

Avocados are a staple in my diet when I can find them. They are considered a nutrient dense superfood due to being able to help increase the absorption of fat soluble nutrients such as vitamins A, D, K and E. Unbeknownst to some, an avocado is a fruit. Botanically, it is considered a large berry containing a single seed. This fruit matures on the tree but ripens off the tree and this is where I find my avocado selections stilted at times. Knowing when to pick is especially important, as with most fruits, otherwise you will have a hard avocado sitting around your kitchen for a week with no softening and then it just goes brown. Sometimes you can get lucky and by putting it in a brown paper bag with a ripe banana, you can speed up the process! Ripe bananas contain a natural plant hormone called ethylene, which can trigger ripening in mature fruit.  

Originally from Mexico, there also are separate domesticated beginning versions of this fruit coming from Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. It was in 1526 the avocado began infiltrating into Europe, Hawaii in 1833 and California 1856. In Thailand, avocado production seems to be increasing every year. In the provinces of Chanthaburi, Songkhla, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Rayong, Chaiyaphum, Nakhon Ratchasima, Tak and Nan, avocados are grown. 

It is in the Northeastern and Northern regions where the larger concentrations can be found. So, for just under 200 years this fruit has come a long way from a small variety of choice to the overwhelming 500 varieties! It can be a fussy subtropical species to grow needing lots of applied water, not just natural moisture from rain or run off. Low winds (so the flower does not get dehydrated) and well aerated soil is also needed plus this fruit is only partially self-pollinating so careful orchard space and care must be taken into consideration. I often can get discouraged trying to find avocados that ripen well and can be easily found but after knowing the care involved to delight in these fruits, I am pleased when I find my favourite market seller in my own neighbourhood.

Once I cut an avocado and have it on my plate or in a recipe, squeezing some lime/lemon on it can prevent it from browning. (I have discovered that if you only eat half of the avocado, keep the pit in the other half of the fruit you refrigerate, and it will stay fresher longer!) I just love eating them in so many ways from straight out of the skin with some salt using a spoon to putting in smoothies, mashed on rye-toast, with tomatoes in salads and it goes on and on.  One can even use it in stir fry’s, it is divine heated! Avocados can range from 200-350 calories each depending on size.

The high level of diverse fats in an avocado is great for hair/skin/nails and for the whole body in general. The avocado is virtually the only fruit (also some nuts but we know they can be a fruit too) that contains heart healthy monounsaturated fat. Avocados are also a good source of vitamins A, B, C, E, K, copper and fibre, plus, the potassium content is high. Adding 1/2 of an avocado or more to your daily diet adds not only nutrition but helps to stay satiated throughout the day as mentioned above. Make some guacamole (avocado, lime, cilantro, then get creative with chillies and a bit of crushed salt) and enjoy using as a healthy dip for chips (blue corn), cream up your smoothies or toss into your salad today!

Before wrapping up these ways to use both the guava and the avocado I did want to mention that both these fruits can be used medicinally. Guava leaf extract is very potent as an antioxidant and is loaded with vitamins and minerals. The extract is antimicrobial and can help to relieve and neutralise harmful bacteria in your gut. Lowering blood sugar and cholesterol (as with the fruit also) is also noted, along with relieving menstrual cramps. A skin tonic can be made from the leaf extract to relieve facial irritation like acne or rashes.  It is found that using a combination of both water and alcohol for a solvent is best leaving the highest potency available for use.

Boil 1 cup of water along with 50 guava leaves, strain, cool. Soak 25 leaves in 1/2 cup Vodka 1 wk, strain cool. Mix both, keep in fridge in brown/green bottle. Apply to skin for outer issues (you can use just the water tincture if preferred) and/or take 1/2 tbls. a day under tongue when needed, regular smaller does if trying to relieve a chronic condition. This tincture has been created by me with much reading up on the subject and is safe for ordinary use, no alcohol for pregnant woman, just water tincture, same as for children. One can purchase the supplements in pill for also from local health food stores however fresh is best!

An extract of avocado leaves can be created similarly, using the tincture under the tongue. It has been shown to be of use to slow hyperactive activity for cancer, support liver function and can be used for dysentery. Even the bark of the avocado can be used for diarrhoea. For topical applications, the seeds are well known to produce an oil that is a healthy alternative to palm oil in cosmetics and can also be directly on the skin. In the past, the oil has been known to be used in dye for making clothes. 

It is so easy to think of mango’s, pineapples and bananas, all high in sugar, when we think of our local fruit markets along with some of the more exotic rambutan, dragonfruit and durian but let us not forget these two wonderful fruits and think of healthy ways to add them to our diets. I wrote this article in December 2020, after a long hard year for most, hoping that by the month of February 2021 we are all out and about getting our fresh air and exercise, having pushed through the harder times and reaping some clear visions for our future. May 2021 bring in some lighter days and easier ways. 

Margaret enjoys learning about local fruits and flowers she stumbles upon during her travels and portraying them in her bright and bold watercolours educating us along the way of how to use these divine gifts in our own lives as food and medicine. Food is medicine in her world. One can follow her on her journeys throughout SE Asia and some of the rest of the world via her website at www.mejcreations.com. Her art and health blogs are fun and informative and one can sign up for a bimonthly newsletter too!

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Pomegranates. They are a very sensual fruit, as I am in Thailand right now I see it selling on the streets for pennies compared to what I’m used to in exotic local Farmer’s Markets in both USA and the UK. I think people refrain from buying them as a normal consumption fruit because they plain ol’ forget about them! Unlike oranges, apples and bananas, it takes a bit of time to be able to enjoy these divine fruits. The seeds need to be plucked from the insides and they may stain your fingers but the result can be a delightful addition to salads, on top of yogurt or just as a fine summertime treat all alone. Pomegranate has many incredible health benefits for your body. It is called a divine fruit because it is the most mentioned fruit in theological books.

The pomegranate is native from Iran to the Himalayas in northern India and was cultivated and naturalised over the whole Mediterranean region since ancient times. It is widely cultivated throughout India and the drier parts of SE Asia, Malaysia, the East Indies and tropical Africa. Now I see it all over the world and I always get a thrill when I see them offered so abundantly here in Asia. As a child I used to sit on a neighbours fence and pick them with a friend and then eat them in my treehouse getting stained fingers and nails so the fun of the pom has been in my days growing up in California.  My mother planted a pom tree in our backyard for this reason but as I grew getting stained nails as a young adult was something I tried not to do… haha, now I just don’t care!

Pomegranate has anti-oxidant, anti-viral and anti-tumour properties and is said to be a good source of vitamins, especially vitamin A, C, and E, as well as folic acid. This amazing fruit consists of three times as many antioxidants as both wine or green tea.  Protection from free radicals and the thinning of blood can prevent the hardening of artery walls and also help pump the level of oxygen to our blood. This fruit also can help reduce inflammation, works with cardiovascular and cancer issues in the body and experiments have proven it helps improve memory! The high fibre due to the seeds helps with digestion and prevents plaque formation in the mouth. All the nutrients to be had in one delicious pomegranate are well worth the trouble picking out the seeds.

Here in Thailand there are small fruit stands on every corner and one can order plain sweet unadulterated pomegranate juice. I usually have mine with some carrot and orange for a very wonderful midday treat! At home I spend 3 minutes putting the seeds in a glass jar and then sprinkling a few tablespoons full on top of my yogurt and/or chia seed puddings I’ve been making lately with coconut milk and seeds. Colour is the name of the game when wanting to get all the nutrients into your body and with that delicious bright red colour you cant go wrong!

I thought this information on the fabulous pomegranate fits in well with this edition’s discussions about woman’s issues and also goes along with my article Hormone’s in Balance; A Woman’s Way. The pom is a leathery skinned berry containing many seeds, each surrounded by a juicy, fleshy aril. It is one of the recommended fruits to incorporate into your diet to help stabilise hormones naturally. Read more about hormone support through food in this edition!

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Time for the master cleanse 

I do the master cleanse about twice a year, once before summer and once after the holidays. It is based on Stanley Burroughs, author of Master Cleanse, recipe and conscious programme to detoxify the body with lemons, cayenne and water along with real maple syrup for nutrients (along with the nutrients from the lemons and cayenne of course). So, It is usually a 10 day process but I go for about 3-7 days. It isn’t my first time so I don’t feel I have so much toxic build-up in the first place but usually first timers should do the full 10 days.

I usually fill a 6 cup jug with pure water, use 3/4cp fresh lemon juice just pressed and then 3/4 cp maple syrup. Grade B is recommended but it is expensive and just because it is darker does not mean it had more nutrients. All maple syrup that is real is made the same way and the colour is based on the time of year the tree was tapped. Pure maple syrup contains many beneficial nutrients including potassium, magnesium and iron. Cayenne soothes digestion, reduces inflammation and is a stimulant and an all over body tonic. There is more vitamin C than in oranges, there is iron, calcium, phosphorus and B complex vitamins. It relieves stiffness and pain in the body also. Lemons raise the level of citrate in the body which help to fight kidney stones, they are a great source of vitamin C and have positive effects on the liver, bile and digestion.

I add about 1 heaped tsp to the concoction and make two of these jugs a day. There is about 700 calories in this concoction so that’s about 1,400 a day which is normal caloric intake for me. It isn’t about losing weight but I do have a nice flat stomach and feel full of energy after even just 2 days! When our bodies aren’t spending so much time constantly digesting and dealing with what we put into it, our body naturally starts to cleanse itself and go into “energy” mode. Skin becomes more clear, eyes more bright, less sleep is needed and we feel good about life!

Use organic ingredients if possible and go for some nice yoga or swimming, very good for the mind, body and soul! Early to bed, early to rise! 

Margaret has been travelling around SE Asia since 2015 beginning with Thailand and pops into Bangkok for visa runs from Bali which she has made it her main base. She has been a health educator for 23 years on holistic health and achieved her Doctor of Naturopathy in 2010, sharing with us with her decade of experience. Portraying medicinal plants with watercolours is a way she spends her time while travelling. Her stories come from far and wide, and quite unique. One can follow her on her website blogs and/or sign up for her monthly newsletter. During lockdown she put her health blogs into a complimentary e-book Health, Happiness and Harmony you can download from her website under e-books. https://www.mejcreations.com/page/23380/e-books-art-health-and-travel

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Ashram. That word can bring a centered calmness or an aversion feeling depending on perception/experience of one you may of heard of or encountered. I’m here in S. India where there is a very well known ashram called Sri Aurobindo Ashram. From this Ashram, a community called Auroville, meaning City of the Dawn, was started back in 1968, a universal township of over 50,000 people from around the world. In the main village of Auroville the residents call themselves Aurovillians! I stayed there a week back in 2018 and enjoyed playing a role of being part of the town however I’ve come to understand the deeper meaning of how the concepts of the center were created by studying some of Sri Aurobino’s plentiful and outstanding clear and beautiful writings, some of which is in no doubt spiritual poetry for the soul. To understand how Auroville came about, one must go back to the history of Sri Aurobindo just a bit.

From all the reading I’ve gathered from research, without minimizing his lengthy education, I find that, in a nutshell, he was a well educated Indian man originally from Calcutta that was sent to the UK for studies from 7 years up through Cambridge Collage years and then went back to India as a professor and was also in service of the Majaraja of the time in the Princely State of Baroda. Eventually he quit these positions and went back to Calcutta to be in politics, becoming one of the leaders of the Nationalist movement. In conjunction with being an educator and political leader, he was a yoga devotee and eventually withdrew from politics after, what I think, was a heroic attempt at helping to create an independent India.

It was while devoting himself in Pondicherry that his concept of yoga developed into what he termed Integral Yoga and that is how the ashram evolved over time. This yoga was in variance with older ways of yoga because the follower would not give up the outer life to live in a monastery, but would be present in regular life and practice spirituality in all parts of life. The aim is not only for spiritual realization but it is also on transforming one’s nature. Realizing it is through one’s own being that The Divine can be expressed.  

textile & jewelry shop

One cannot talk about Sri Aurobindo without speaking of The Mother. Mirra Alfassa was an accomplished artist and pianist from Paris. She was interested in the occult and spiritual development, founded a group of spiritual seekers in Paris then went to Pondicherry to meet Sri Aurobindo. She immediately recognized him as the one who had been guiding her spiritual development inwardly and eventually Sri Aurobindo entrusted the material and spiritual charge to Mirra, who was now named The Mother. The Sri Aurobindo Ashram had its real beginnings then, back in 1926. The full stories of both these people and the development of their creation can be read on their website sritaurobindoashram.org. I only summarized the history however it is the ideology and/or philosophy emanating from the foundations of the ashram that I enjoyed learning about.

The ashram itself is located right in the heart of urban White Town tourist area of Pondicherry with its own vibrant working departments including the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education. There are over 80 departments including farms, gardens, guesthouses and engineering units. There is an art gallery and studio, a library, paper making and traditional textile shops. These departments are run by the spiritual disciples depending on what they have discovered as their calling. A lot of the departments were created as more disciples arrived to be of service, nothing was demanded or created with the idea of making money from others working for anyone. The focus is on a harmonious way to be of service expressing The Divine doing what you feel will help to find your inner peace and expression, studying the ashram writings and live in harmony with one’s neighbor. When coming to be an ashram resident, one is housed, fed and clothed as a disciple and allowed to come into their own natures as to how to be of service to “The Mother”. “Know that the Mother’s light and force are the light and force of the Truth; remain always in contact with the Mother’s light and force, then only can you grow into the divine Truth.” –  Sri Aurobindo.  Using The Mother as a focus allows the disciples to have a direction as they study and eventually grow into the divine Truth which is that you yourself can bring down The Divine as an expression of your own being in the world ascending your own humanity.

I am not 100% sure about financial issues regarding individual’s own sources of income but the businesses surrounding the ashram do allow the ashram teachings to continue. No one that I can see is living in neither poverty nor luxury. It feels like a lovely way to live with others on a similar path. The place is in lockdown at the moment so I can’t go in and nose around but I have been to quite a few of the shops and food markets where I took the photos in this article.

As an artist and philosopher myself, I relate to finding one’s calling and the acceptance of being of service to allow The Divine to work through you, to express itself. This respects each individual to have contact with and experience a higher power, acknowledging that we, as common people, can bring The Divine into ourselves and then shine forth to allow the full expression of Divinity out into the world. This is the reason for the urban, working ashram, people integrating their Divine Beings into their work for the common good of the people and for a harmonious lifestyle which later became the basis for the City of the Dawn, Auroville. “For the Leader of the Way in a work like ours has not only to bring down and represent and embody The Divine, but to represent too the ascending element in humanity.” – Sri Aurobindo. This is the role that both Sri Aurobindo and The Mother took on, inspiring their devotees.

The town of Auroville, which as I mentioned before, is 15 minutes north of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry including all of the departments associated with it, is now a large experiment in human unity. The residents, and visitors, study and research ways for the human transformation of consciousness (from being of service to self to being of service for all) which include cultural issues, environmental studies and the social and spiritual needs of humankind. The people come from about 59 nations, from all age groups (from infancy to over eighty, averaging around 30), from all social classes, backgrounds and cultures, representing humanity as a whole. The population of the township is constantly growing, but currently stands at around 2,500 people, of whom approx one-third are Indian. If interested in learning more about Auroville I recommend checking out their website at auroville.org. It is very thorough and interesting!

ditto

Thanks for reading dear reader, learning about yet another religious spiritual study at the moment may not be highest on the scale of fun and exciting articles I’ve written however being in Pondicherry lockdown I am finding some uplifting moments in the local teachings of this world famous ashram I just happen to have at my disposal! When I go for my 5am jogs around Pondicherry White Town area due to being woken at 4:30 with the Muslim chanting speaker outside my window, I thrill to the fact that I get to wave to Sri Aurobindo devotees, Muslims, Hindus, some straggler tourists, street sadhus and random Indian friends I’ve made. Yes, I am not the only one out there at that time, with the sun comes the heat and I hope to be out of India in June headed to S.E. Asia once again if and when flights start up. I’ve included in this article a poem by Sri Aurobindo that really spoke to me after understanding his ideology of embracing The Divine within ourselves and then being of service for humanity. I try to express my own divinity through my watercolour painting; here I’ve included a rose with some vermillion and sapphire of my own!

 ROSE OF GOD

Rose of God, vermilion stain on the sapphires of heaven,

Rose of Bliss, fire-sweet, seven-tinged with the ecstasies seven!

Leap up in our heart of humanhood, O miracle, O flame,

Passion-flower of the Nameless, bud of the mystical Name.

Rose of God, great wisdom-bloom on the summits of being,

Rose of Light, immaculate core of the ultimate seeing!

Live in the mind of our earthhood; O golden Mystery, flower,

Sun on the head of the Timeless, guest of the marvellous Hour.

Rose of God, damask force of Infinity, red icon of might,

Rose of Power with thy diamond halo piercing the night!

Ablaze in the will of the mortal, design the wonder of thy plan,

Image of Immortality, outbreak of the Godhead in man.

Rose of God, smitten purple with the incarnate divine Desire,

Rose of Life, crowded with petals, colour’s lyre!

Transform the body of the mortal like a sweet and magical rhyme;

Bridge our earthhood and heavenhood, make deathless the children of Time.

Rose of God, like a blush of rapture on Eternity’s face,

Rose of Love, ruby depth of all being, fire-passion of Grace!

Arise from the heart of the yearning that sobs in Nature’s abyss:

Make earth the home of the Wonderful and life beatitude’s kiss.

Margaret has been in S. India lockdown for over 2 months and the monsoon season will be upon her. She hopes to join us here in Bangkok as soon as flights resume. Her recent article about Pondicherry tells more about this amazing little village on the S. East coast of India, Pondicherry; Cultivated Elegance in S. India, released online May 27, 2020. Continuing some painting and writing exploring S.E. Asia is still a passion of hers.

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Pondicherry, even the name sounds “upscale boutique” for India, and it is! Last I wrote I was in Old Saigon (Ho Chi Miehn), another one of these “cultivated, sophisticated” gems, I see a pattern here! This is the 2nd time I’ve been to Pondicherry, the first time was to go to nearby Auroville, a collective conscious community from around the world that started in the 1950’s and has since become an ashram of sorts attracting the new age community. There is so much to say about this place I have just inserted to website here if one is interested to learn about this fascinating place! https://www.auroville.org/ I have been there for a few weeks before and I’ll leave that for another time. Pondicherry has enough wonderful things to say about it alone!

Pondicherry is a pleasant bubble of existance in India and I was fortunate enough to of been here when the intence 6 week lockdown started. Being of a gentile nature, there was no violence on the street or police brutality as in some other areas of India, and the world for that matter. Granted, I was asked to leave 3 guesthouses when the lockdown got more intence with police checking hotels, guesthouse and homestays but fate was on my side and I landed in a beautiful guesthouse right next to White Town, the main “center” of the tourist area of Pondi.

Previously, I had been here for 3 weeks enjoying the coffee & café culture. I had spent 6 weeks in Goa on the beach and was well and truly ready for some lazy boutique shopping, pretty coffee-café time, going to a few museums, learning about the Tamil culture here and enjoying the elegant traditional clothing the Indian women here wear. Such a lovely change from bikini cald bodies with nothing but flip-flops for evening wear! There is a beachfront promanade that every sunrise is the exercise fanatics stomping ground and the evening sunset time becomes the place to stroll, see and be seen. Coromandel Café was a place I discover 2 years ago when I was here before and befriended the head chef, Jay Adams from the UK. She has made that restaurant tops and it rates number 35 in all of India which is some feat! I have enclosed some pics of this café in collage style, I hope you can get the idea of the elegance this place displays! Palm fronds among pink walls, white wicker patio tables and chairs, inner old-style French elegance and the food is absolutly top-of-the-line divine! 

Being an Old French Colonial Town, the architecture here has many a photographer roaming around, up and down the quiet White Town streets among the bouganvillia and drifting pan-au-chocolat croissant scents. The terrain is flat so renting one of those Amsterdam-style beach cruisers is the thing to do with basket and bell. One can easily spend the days bicycling around stopping here and there for pics, coffee & cake, roaming the shops and meeting fresh faces that are interested in art and culture. There is a marvelous theatre here, Indianostrum Theatre, I went to twice. I was so impressed with the quality and learned that it is a well know French Theatre that accomodates various visiting theatre tours from around Europe and some of the “Fringe” establishments in the Older French Colonies of Asia. 

Pondicherry was, in a nutshell, invaded by the Dutch, French, destroyed by the British, the French took over, now it is back in the hands of the Indians. When I went to The French Institute of Pondicherry I thought the architectural drawings for proposed city planning after the British destroyed it were very creative. I have them placed in the article here for interest. The bottom right is the plan that was approved. They also had one of the oldest Vedic Scriptures encased in the Institute along with a fabulous geology dept full of gems, rocks and sandstone artifacts. There is also a Museum of Pondicherry, this is a treasure trove. It houses some excellent Chola sculptures. The Emperial Cholas in the South of India was an age of constant improvement of art and architecture. Stone temples and bronze sculptures were dedicated to an extensive Hindu culture. It also has a French section on the first floor which has a push-push, a carriage where the “natives” would push the French Colonials. The rooms have French furniture, a typically set dining room, a typical bedroom and a section of French food products with their names. It was quite fascinating to see the French speaking Tamilians soaking it in. 

If you don’t feel like going the 15 minute drive to Auroville, you can visit the Sri Aurobino Ashram in the town itself. There is also a papermaking industry that is sponcerd by this ashram. I went there and was entranced with the paper made with all kinds of flowers, leave, confetti and tree bark! How wonderful it would be for me to paint some of my botanical watercolours on some of this paper. 

I was able to stock up on wonderful books at some of the many used bookstores that cater to the European mind. I do travel with a Kindle which I never use and still lug books around! I guess a paper book, sticking to old school, is something I just enjoy more with my afternoon tea at one of the many tea houses here. There are quite a few old heritage furniture shops that have dazzling carved wooden swings that I was drawn to. Pondicherry has a unique blend of not two but three cultures: the native Tamil style, the Muslim influence and later the French Colonial touch. Many of the restored houses in and around Pondicherry are great examples of this blend of cultures. Tasmai; A Center for Art & Culture, was a place that I definitely did not want to miss. On display are various potteries, jewelry, handmade arts, paintings and various handycrafts within the local Tamil Folk Traditions. There are also some art workshops going on if one feels inspired to have some “hands-on” experience.

All in all, I feel along with Goa, Rajasthan, Dharamshala (Mc Leon Ganj/Little Lhasa) and Rishikesh, Pondicherry will always be a place I come to visit on my indian rounds I tend to do once every few years. India is such a large and diverse country, I thoroughly enjoy visiting different States here feeling the significant difference of the places India has to offer. From the dress, food to the arctitecture, the hill folk farming techniques and the variety of transportation, India vitalizes me in every way. I’m not sure what the restrictions will be after this lockdown time in the world loosens up, but it was only a few months ago I got my multiple entry 5 year Indian Visa online for a mer $80, longest allowed time 6 months a stint. If India is somewhere you’d like to visit or be able to continue to visit in later years, I recommend keeping your eye on getting this visa in your passport so that youre set to come here as a nice trip anytime in the next 5 years worry free. It took 3 days from time of application to receiving the visa online. Enjoy India, enjoy life!

Margaret provides us with a variety of articles covering medicinal plants, healthy ways to eat, artistic articles featuring some of her watercolours and travel logs. Last we heard she was coming to Bangkok in May to enjoy some city time and refresh her ties with some Bangkok connections. “I love Bangkok as my go-to city in Asia. It is a place I can really feed my soul with museums, galleries, food, refresh my clothing options, renew my art supplies and reconnect with some good friends I’ve made there over the years. I am happy to know Thailand will be re-opened in May so that the economy can recover as soon as possible!” One can follow Margaret on her website blogs at www.mejcreations.com

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Old Saigon, Ho Chi Minh, the name itself makes me feel like a romance novel from Humphrey Bogart days in The Quiet American.  As a reminder, if you haven’t seen it in a while:

“In Saigon in 1952, as Vietnamese insurgents are delivering major strikes against the French colonial rulers, an innocent and enigmatic young American economist (Audie Murphy), who is working for an international aid organisation, gets caught between the Communists and the colonialists as he tries to win the “hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese people. By promising marriage, he steals away a young Vietnamese woman (Giorgia Moll) from an embittered and cynical English newspaperman (Michael Redgrave), who retaliates by spreading the word that the American is actually covertly selling arms to the anti-Communists.”

This film has stuck in my head, I think I saw it in my early teens way before I could ever of imagined I would be living in this part of the world. Going on a 5 day visa run to continue a few more months in Bali allowed me time to run around like a heroine “back in the day” enjoying a theatrical musical in the Opera House, learning about the lacquer painting techniques that the Vietnamese specialise in at the Museum of Fine Arts, seeing a beautiful array of Buddha’s at the History Museum in the Botanical Gardens from all the various Asian countries, sipping the delicious green tea frappuccino’s with cubes of green jelly at the local chain Highlands, having an elegant lunch in the lobby of the 5 star Majestic Saigon Hotel and enjoying a riverboat ride down the Saigon River, not to mention the elegant shopping street Dong Khoi. I enjoyed a pop-up live fashion show at the Ho Chi Minh City Museum and one day I walked a street that was nothing but bookshops, new and used and coffee cafes. 

Later that day I enjoyed a peach tea in a gorgeous boutique shop with home furnishings to die for just before a rooftop sunset swim at Liberty Central City Point on the 19th floor of this luxurious hotel for the evening Saigon nightlight views. All the beautiful French colonial architecture was so photogenic and I also enjoyed lots of divine sushi every night in the old Chinese quarter that seemed more like a small intimate Japan town. Whew, it was a marvellous 5 days and most people warned me how crazy Ho Chi Minh is but I feel since I went with the attitude of “I’m going to Old Saigon in a romance novel” it made me approach the city in a different way; just doing the best of the best, elegant things, sophisticated things, things that make me feel like buying silk pyjamas! My goodness, there is even a very pink church, inside and out, Tan Dinh Church, seeing is believing! The best I can do to show all the wondrous things and places I saw was to put some of them in collage form.

Being an artist myself, the first port of call on day one was the Saigon Museum of Fine Arts. There are two buildings next to each other; sculpture, oil and silk works are shown along with a specialised kind of art that was new to me, lacquer art. The main building was constructed by French architect Rivera between 1929 and 1934 as a villa for the Hua family. Hui Bon Hoa, a Chinese immigrant, moved to Saigon in the late 19th century. A penny-less man when he arrived, he went on to become one of the city’s wealthiest men. He discovered precious antiques and traded them and there are some controversial stories surrounding this. However he accumulated his wealth, he became Saigon’s “king of real estate” and his business boomed in the early 20th century. By 1975, the entire Hui Bon Hoa family had left Saigon. Following the end of the war, the newly installed government took over the Hui Bon Hoa complex, turning it into an information and cultural centre at first before opening the Fine Arts Museum in 1987 and permitting visitors inside in 1992. Under the 1996 Vietnam War Convention, French citizens who owned property in Saigon prior to 1975 were eligible for some compensation, so the family also received some money from the French government for the Hui Bon Hoa complex.

I got lucky because the group Son Mai Bac (Northern Lacquer Art) was having an exhibition and most of the artists were “in house”! The groups focus was on “a clear spirit of creation” based on traditional materials and techniques of Son Ta (traditional lacquer art of Vietnam) in the Northern Delta. Since the establishment of the Indochina Fine Art Collage, the Son Mai technique has changed a lot in the direction of diversity and closer to painting. The technology which Son Mai painting as well as Vietnamese art has found is a very unique voice but challenging in the flow of world art and globalisation. There were 8 Son Mai artists that came from different directions. The artist’s ideal was to bring light stories portrayed through art as a gift for a friend, colleagues and art lovers in Saigon. When I first looked at the pieces on display I thought they had used petrified wood and abalone sea shells somehow but after speaking with the artists at hand, I learned it was crushed eggshells! The intricacy and beauty was astounding. There are many thick layers of lacquer combined with colour and eggshells. 

After the art indulgence, which lasted for hours, I decided to make it a point to check out some more of the French architecture that abounds in the city. Two of the main buildings are close to each other, one is the Saigon Central Post Office which offers visitors a chance to imagine life in Vietnam during the times of the Indo-Chinese Empire. The building was designed by Alfred Foulhoux and features arched windows and wooden shutters, just as it would have in its heyday in the late 19th century. Notre Dame is nearby as is the Saigon Opera House. The Opera House was custom built in 1897 by French architect Eugene Ferret. I ended up buying a ticket at the box office for that evening’s performance, the A O Show; a unique blend of bamboo cirque, acrobatic acts, and theatrical visual drama, which depicts the beauty of Vietnam lives in villages and cities. My Highland green tea frappuccino coffee chain is right behind it also so I was able to enjoy a delectable treat before the show without the stress of trying to find where to go. The show was incredible, the performers full of vitality and joy. After the show they all come together on steps and allow people to take photos with them. They came out of the woodwork from various corners of the theatre during the show surprising us as an audience. I found it to be a top-notch experience, well worth the $30.

On another day I decided to have a riverboat ride down the Saigon River, it cost about $2 and one can catch the boat from Bach Danh Water station. I only went a few stops, got off, walked around, had a coconut then came back. It is enough to get the feeling of being back in Bangkok with the high rises all around. Right across the street is the 5 star Majestic Saigon Hotel with their gorgeous lobby and salads available. There is also a rooftop café however the lobby was full of Art Deco windows and ceiling lights that I decided to enjoy as I had my fresh greens for the day.

After lunch I sought out The Hidden Elephant book shop and came upon a street, Duong  Nguyen Van Binh Street, full of new and used books along with all kinds of bookshop style coffee cafes. There are plenty of English books to be had and some interesting history sections along with professional photographic displays of the city. I was able to walk the city the whole time, even heading to the Botanical Gardens and the History Museum. The gardens have a small zoo with some elephants and other animals however that is never a happy story in my book. We can only hope they are leading a life better than being abused. I did however find the gardens full of lovely orchids blooming in various stages and the museum intrigued me with the large display of Buddha’s and the way they are depicted closer to the race in which country they are found. There are two main areas in the museum. Section 1: A display of Vietnamese history from the prehistoric period to the Nguyen dynasty which includes 8 rooms and section 2: a display of cultures from the Southern provinces and various Asian countries including 10 rooms.

There is a small city park with a musical light and water fountain show every evening near the French Colonial City Hall building built in the early 1900s, now the headquarters of the People’s Committee running parallel to the elegant shopping street Dong Khoi chalk full of the top of the line Westernised shops; Prada, Louis Vuitton etc. There is a large air-conditioned Starbucks if you just need a normal tuna wholewheat sandwich which is positioned next to the Rex Hotel if you fancy a cool break. Saigon Square and Saigon Centre are the two main large glitzy shopping malls which are nearby. Frankly, I found Saigon to be a very easy walk-able city. I just threw on my trainers every day and along with Google Maps toured myself around. I have learned to look at the Google Maps on my phone in a quiet shaded area and say the instructions to myself (turn right at 2nd corner, 1st left, 2 blocks, 3rd light right) and then put phone in bag so as to not be walking around holding a phone out in front of my face, not only being too focused on the screen and not taking in my surroundings, but also to deter possible theft right out of my hand as a scooter goes by, and this can happen.

Old Saigon is a fabulous city I will go to again and again over the years now that I feel I know it. It is a good option for me other than Singapore and Kuala Lumpur for the invariably much needed visa runs if I don’t have the time or pleasure to go to Bangkok for my ever needed city fixes. I’d recommend a decent hotel with soundproofing though, there are lots of karaoke bars that go on into the night, however, being in a SE Asian country already, I am sure most are aware of that. Please go and enjoy a “Back in the Day Romantic Old Saigon” experience and remember to bring your silk pyjamas!

Margaret Elizabeth Johnston

Margaret is an avid traveller of SE Asia, India and Nepal, usually bringing her watercolour supplies and camera with her. Studying medicinal plants is part of her naturopathic profession and portraying them in an educational way to reach people about holistic health is the norm, creating elegance in her life is always a plus. “I’m thrilled to of found another city that I feel has that sophistication I love. Bangkok has so much to offer also, as does both Luang Prabang and Vientiane in Laos. I’m always on the lookout for a potential city I can call home along with a combination of island life. Bali for me is that island at the moment; the city remains to be seen.”

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Bali Bamboo

Blessed bamboo! It is a staple of life in many ways here in SE Asia. As I have been travelling around Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, I see everyone from locals to tourists using it in many ways everyday. Bamboo is regarded as sacred; it is full of grace and represents strength, endurance, flexibility and longevity. I have seen it in reds, purples, yellows, many shades of green and even deep purple. It is the fastest growing plant on our earth and can grow 2 inches in one hour! The amount of oxygen it releases is 35% more than the equivalent stand of trees and sequesters 12 tons of carbon dioxide from the air from one hectare. Bamboo is truly an amazing plant and I believe it has some kind of connective consciousness for when one grouping of bamboo of a certain species “decides” to flower, which it does every 65 to 200 years, then wherever the other species are on the planet it will all flower at the same time! Amazing!

In Thailand, bamboo is used in an incredible amount of ways from cooking the shoots and roots to eat to creating baskets and mats to use by weaving its strips. It is resistant to termites and is a hardwood to be used in construction materials for homes and furniture making, home utensils, musical instruments and even being able to cook over the fire with it. The pipe is the strongest design for building and with the joints of the bamboo combined with the lightweight flexibility, there is nothing one could want more for easily created fabulous constructions! Everyday items that we don’t even notice we are using here in Thailand are also being imported; incense sticks from Vietnam, chopsticks from Cambodia but in Thailand we have over several hundred thousand farms.

One of my favourite bamboos is the Lipstick Bamboo, I first came upon it in Laos up in Luang Prabang when I was helping out with some of the panels for the Pha Tad Ke Botanical Gardens there for education panels around the gardens. I had never seen red bamboo! The purple bamboo is usually a larger pipe and I’ve seen it cut in half to use in gardens to keep soil in beds. It can be such a beautiful decorative sight. Walking through tunnels of bamboo in various botanical gardens around the world is a magical experience. I am not surprised there are many myths in many countries including bamboo in their fables and esoteric beliefs and how man came to be.

BambooIn the Philippines the first man, Malakas (strong), and the first woman, Maganda (beautiful), emerged from a split bamboo stem on an island that was formed after there had been a battle between ocean and sky. There is a similar myth in Malaysia where there is a man that dreams of a beautiful woman while he was sleeping under a bamboo plant and decides to split open one of the bamboo stems when he wakes to discover a beautiful woman inside. A Vietnamese legendary hero, Thanh Giong, used a bamboo cane as his weapon to liberate his land from an invader and in another myth called “The hundred-knot Bamboo tree” we learn of a poor young farmer that fell in love with the daughter of his landlord. The landlord tried to foil the marriage by demanding a bamboo tree with 100 nodes. Gautama Buddha came to the farmer and told him that such a tree could be made from many different trees and gave him a magic spell to combine the many nodes of the bamboo. The happy farmer returned with his magical bamboo tree and demanded to have the daughter’s hand in marriage. The farmer was so excited to see this tree that when he touched it he became attached to it. The farmer would only allow the landlord to be released from the bamboo tree if he could sweep his daughter away for marriage. In Thailand, there is a very persistent belief in ghosts and malevolent spirits. Even recently, in 2017, in a case in Ban Na Bong, Nong Kung Si District, Kalasin province, there was 2 mysterious deaths involving two men and several animals. This prompted villagers to ascribe the deaths to malicious phi pop, a cannibalistic female spirit that likes to devour humans. The villagers from over 370 households paid 124 Thai Baht per house to hire an exorcist from the Chaing Yuen District and a well known monk to accompany him from Wat Chaiwan to eliminate these bad spirits. There was a “ghost busting” ceremony that took more than 2 hours. Both the exorcist and the monk were aided by 20 assistants to catch at least 30 phi pop. They then forced them into bamboo tubes which were then incinerated. (After the fact, professional medical specialists later identified the cause of death as leptospirosis combined with high blood pressure).

BambooIndonesia is one of the largest exporters of bamboo worldwide. I am living in Bali at the moment and the Balinese use bamboo in similar ways as the rest of SE Asia however one of the musical instruments here that is created from bamboo is the Suling/flute. It comes in a variety of sizes from very small to very large. The smaller Suling will have a higher pitch. There are normally 6 holes and a cyclic pattern can be made to generate a sustained breathing pattern for an uninterrupted tone. It is achieved through breathing in through the nose while breathing out the mouth using air stored in the cheeks. The holes are evenly spaced and different noted can be created by covering different holes, like a normal flute in Western society but with the added complication of the breathing pattern. I am reminded of a didgeridoo when I learned of this!

BambooThe painting shown here is called Bali Bamboo Supermoon. I painted it for an art expo I had here and there is a large community in Bali, both locals and new agers, that honour the full moon cycles as in many parts of SE Asia. The moon is a feminine symbol that universally represents the rhythm of time. The phases of the moon symbolise immortality, eternity, enlightenment and the darker side of Nature herself.  During a Supermoon, in scientific communities, a perigee moon, the moon is 50,000km closer to the earth and will look 20% larger and has a stronger affect on the tides and ourselves. This is a good time to meditate, recharge the human energy field and align the chakras as these traditions are time honoured tracing back to many ancient cultures, being used in many rituals and ceremonies. The Supermoon can light up corners of the subconscious giving one insights to their emotions and help to guide one along their soul path.

I cannot wrap up this eclectic mix of bamboo facts and myths without mentioning a wonderful dessert we use in Thailand called Khao lam. There are two main versions of this treat, one is made with normal white sticky rice and the other with sticky black rice. The rice is mixed with sugar, sweet red beans and coconut cream, then stuffed into cylinders of hollow bamboo. The tubes are slow roasted over coals as the ingredients mingle together. From many corners of SE Asia, including our own Thailand, bamboo is a wondrous gift for us to use and appreciate in so many different ways. Just make sure to always carry a tube of bamboo with you while walking through the Thai forests so that if any phi pop are around, you can stuff them into the bamboo tube!

The sound of breezes through bamboo leaves can touch the soul and calm the heart. Let us take care of our bamboo forests and regard them in awe.

Miss Magaret

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