Author

Margaret Elizabeth Johnston

Mountain

After discovering Thailand back in 2015, I have been enjoying learning about the surrounding countries; Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia (just Bali so far so saying Indonesia isn’t really fair…) and most recently Cambodia. Back in 2017/2018 I enjoyed a full 8 months in Nepal and India. I guess you could say I am searching for my future “retirement/expat” home but as I am only 50 this year, I feel pretty lax about it all and consider myself more of an expat nomad more than anything else! I know of the retirement visa one can get at age of 50 on for Thailand so that is always in the back of my mind if I begin to feel tired of getting visas all the time as I am on the road but also I have discovered a way to have a 6 month (social) visa for Bali and I do love it there! Needless to say, I am aware of where other expats retire in Europe and to refresh my memory of what it is like there now that I have been enjoying Asian cultures for years. I headed to the Pyrenees and the Med this summer for a change of pace. I am getting fairly well known in my blogging circles as the lady that travels with her art supplies, lugging them all over the world in a suitcase, backpack and or shipping them in and this summer wasn’t any different due to my preparation for an Art/Education Expo I am having in Bali this current month of Expat Life in Thailand, October/November 2019!

bridgeThere is a little country called Andorra up in the Pyrenees that I have known about from past times. It is a tax-free haven so the mix of people is quite interesting. One would think it would be a bit like Monaco and/or St. Moritz in luxury but actually, the Catalan people are very down-to-earth and the people that do live there due to tax reasons are more of a sophisticated older quiet crowd, not the “bling” of the Mediterranean free and single set! I had the opportunity to “condo-sit” for the month with free rein of a car and so took myself on little trips to both France and Spain, some of the more quiet villages, and popped down to Gibraltar too! I used the month to continue to work on my paintings and some writing and now I am back in London. I feel so very lucky and oh, la-di-dah! One of the fun things I did while in Andorra was the Tobotronc, the longest alpine toboggan run in the world! It is 5.3km long and a total drop of 400m lasting 10 minutes depending on how fast you go for you are in charge of the speed! It runs through La Rabassa forest and every one of the bends provides a unique view of the surroundings and the gorgeous mountains of Andorra. 

Margaret JohnstonOther than that, I joined a local resort pool/lounge scene to stay fit and cool off and wasn’t the only one worried about all the delicious foods to be had and my expanding waist! The vibrant young energy was a big surprise for me. There is quite a young crowd in La Vella, the highest capital city in Europe being at 1,023m. The Mountain Bike World Cup was taking place while I was enjoying the mountain air in the Pyrenees with young mountain bikers flying in from all over Europe to compete even though the closest airports are Toulouse and Barcelona, both just over 2 hours a way! I really enjoyed the combination of a young healthy vibe in combination with the elegant expats, especially since I had a preconceived idea of older fish ’n chip/beer drinking expats and young silly “bling”! In the French village of Tarascon-sur-Ariege, I came upon a beautiful section with a “pop-up” art display, which, being an artist myself, enthralled me. There were mostly oil and acrylic out for show and the setting was like out of a storybook! I was working on a painting of the Guavas teen (a South American fruit) and so my colour sense was heightened with this discovery. The sweet pastel French painted town of I’sle-sur-la-Sorge was divine also. I enjoyed nougat, café au lait and French chocolate unlike the raw cacao I have been accustomed to as of late in Bali!

pictures

I stopped into a few seaside towns on the way to Gibraltar, saw a classic car show, had some tapas, went for a seaside dip and practiced my Spanish. I think both France and Spain are the most popular expat European countries; I’ve lived in both back in 2005 – 2011. I hadn’t been to Gibraltar during this time so I enjoyed a few days there and took a tour of the place in a van that drove us up through the monkey colonies, through the trees and granted us a gorgeous view from on The Rock looking down to the coastal areas Spain. Gibraltar is a British overseas territory located at the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula. The Rock of Gibraltar is a densely populated town of over 30,000 people. Most of these are considered British citizens but I saw mostly tourists those few days enjoying ice creams in the hot weather that swept Europe this past summer, oh and lots of monkeys!!!

nice townBack in London now, I feel I had a good reminder of past times; the expense, parking issues, rules for everything under the sun and disharmony in politics right now made me appreciate, once again, the beautiful life I am carving out in SE Asia these days. Being born in England I have family here to stay with however the expenses of London are a killer for someone so used to a less-is-more lifestyle. I look forward to heading back to Bali this September and enjoying the month of October as I turn 51 years old. Then we will see where the winds take me, although, I have my eye on Vietnam next, particularly Sapa and Hoi An. It seems the mountains and the sea are always my go-to! With the summer behind us now as October has rolled in, I am happy to of allowed myself the Euro-flavour and to see family, it may be some years before I am back with more of my Asian discoveries on the horizon!

Miss Margaret Johnston continues to circle Thailand as she explores new countries as a potential future home, feeling that SE Asia has so much beauty to offer. As a holistic health educator, she is having an art expo in Bali this month of some of the medicinal plants she has come across as she portrays them into bright, bold botanical watercolours. One can admire her works and follow her travels on www.mejcreations.com.

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Margaret

Regulars to S.E. Asia always look forward to treating themselves to the wondrous mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) fruit, as to the lucky Expats that live in Thailand, well, we know the wonders!

It is a rare fruit indeed to find in your local grocery store back home if one comes from the western world. The first time I heard of it I thought it must be a fruit similar to one of my favourites, mango.  The name is deceiving for this fruit is quite unique in all aspects. It has the look of a very small purple pomegranate, the insides are like a white tangerine with segments and the flavour, to my mouth, is like litchi and/or rambutan! While investigating this fruit to write this article, I learned why it is such a rare fruit locally set to the tropics and why it is sometimes so expensive back “home”.

It is like a very elitist high maintenance person to say the least! With the combination of needing certain sun, moisture, soil and perfect time to ripen, it is also not an easily accommodated nor an easily transported fruit outside of its natural growing areas. It takes 10 days for a fruit to completely ripen to perfection (from green to red to purple), then after it is picked can begin to spoil within a few days if no refrigeration with no outside sign of spoilage. The rind does harden a bit more after picking with the insides reaching the exact perfection possible but it can be downhill from there, so eating within a few days of being picked is really the only reliable way to have this amazing fruit at its best!  
Mangosteen

The mangosteen, or mangkhut, has been cultivated in Thailand, Malaysia, Borneo, Indonesia and the Philippines since the 15th century with its delicate flavour widespread and known. The deep purple hard thick skin seems a bit daunting at first if one doesn’t know how to open it but with the score of a knife around the top half and thumbs pressing in afterwards, the top of the fruit can be lifted off quite easily. Trees can take up to 10 years to even begin to produce fruit. A grown tree in full maturity at 35 – 40 years can produce up to 3,000 fruits with trees growing as old as 100 years! Thailand is the country with the most planted acreage producing about 46,000 tons a year.

The whole growth process of the mangosteen is a very delicate matter which is why production hasn’t been successful in other tropical places on the planet like Florida, California, South America, Hawaii, Caribbean Islands or any other continent other than Asia. Porto Rica has one grower/farm that has been steadfast in their production of saleable mangosteen since 2005 (Panoramic Fruit Company, full story extremely interesting) but these fruits are only sold to select expensive health food stores in the States. Once the fruit has ripened on the tree and is picked, it doesn’t ripen any more.Monkeys It is rather difficult to know when the fruit is ripe on the tree also so picking the fruit is a high skill! In S.E. Asia the mangosteens grow by the thousands and the local farmers know their crops! Lots of shade is needed as young trees grow, high humidity (80%) and sunshine/heat too (25 – 35 C.).  Durian and banana trees can provide shade also so the intercropping technique is a must. I don’t usually study the growing habits of plants as much as I have with the recent enlightenment of mangosteen growth for this article but the realization how we are so gifted in Asia with this rarity of fruit and fullness of flavour for our taste buds kept me reading. In Thailand, the growing season is May through August. One must try to find the fruits at the market with the green stem on it showing it has recently been picked, is deep purple and just a fair bit soft still, not quite the rock hard rind yet. Then you’ll be good to go knowing that you’ve got some mangosteen for the next 3-5 days in its prime.

Mangosteen QueenThe health benefits of the mangosteen have not go unnoticed. It is now touted as a superfood in western society. One can buy powder for smoothies along with using the rind as a medicinal tea. The fruit has Vit C, B9/1/2, Manganese, Copper and Magnesium but the high level of Xanthones is what is being studied for cancer prevention these days. The antioxidant activity of Xanthones are; anti-inflamatory, anticancer, anti-aging and have anti-diabetic effects. Xanthones come from the pericarp, whole fruit, heartwood and leaf of the mangosteen. The potential chemo preventive and chemo-therapeutic activity of Xanthones has been positively demonstrated in tests regarding cell division, inflammation and metastasis. Xanothones can inhibit the proliferation of human tumor cells, this is an amazing healing discovery in this day and age of cancer coming into most peoples lives in one form or another through family, friends or friends of friends. Heart, brain and digestive health from mangosteen is being studied now due to the effect on cholesterol, decreasing brain inflammation and high fibre content. 

Dream MangosteenIn indigenous traditional medicine, mangosteen has been used to treat skin infections, urinary tract infections, dysentery and gastrointestinal complaints. In Indonesia, in particular, the rind of the mangosteen is used to create a beautiful dye of browns, reds and purples for their traditional ikat and batik textiles. In Thailand, the mangosteen wood has been made to make spears and cabinetry. As I wander in and among the fruit stalls in various S.E. Asian countries, the mounds of mangosteen is incredible! Little did Queen Victoria know way back then, if the rumour is true, that when she offered 100 pounds to any explorer that could bring her her favourite fruit, the mangosteen, it would go down in history as The Queen of Fruits! During some recent time in Bali, I was working on a painting of the mangosteen that was going to be fairly large but as I painted both the fruit and flower, the painting began to take on its own mind. I ended up with two different paintings that went to a good home in California from a visiting lady friend from a facebook group! In this article I have both paintings shown, the flower; Dream Mangosteen, and the Fruit; Mangosteen Queen.

Auther and Team

Miss Margaret Johnston enjoys educating people about the wondrous qualities of the medicinal plants she encounters on her travels. Holistic Health Education through Art has been incubated in conjunction with writing for us here at Expat Life Thailand since 2015. One can follow her on www.mejcreations.com to see how her travels are progressing as she continues to enjoy discovering S.E. Asia. 

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Cacao tree

Cacao, Theobroma cacao, is a tropical tree of the Sterculiaceae family but we all know it as yes folks, you guessed it, chocolate! This wonder of a plant has given us generations of delight from the Aztecs to the early enamoured Europeans to us now, in this world, where we have created many indulgences. We must thank rats for the enlightening realisation that the cacao pods have something to offer! The Olmecs (1500 – 400 BC) were the first to discover that there was something of value in these cacao pods as they observed rats eating these pods with ravenous desire. The Olmecs soon learned to crush the cacao beans, mix with water and add their spices to the concoction. This occurred in equatorial Mexico. Soon, the Mayans (600) and Aztecs (400) got in on the party. The cacao bean was so valuable and loved it also became a form of monetary value using beans to purchase items with, yes, even back then, to pay taxes.

Abundance, strength and godlike qualities, this is what the cacao bean represented to these civilisations. Using the bean in religious rituals, the God responsible for bringing the cacao bean to man was honoured, Quetzalcoatl, as was the Mayan Patron Saint of cacao, Chak ek Chuah. As the cacao bean made its way through Meso-America, the much desired cacao drink was normally reserved for soldiers in battle, the nobility and wealthier classes. It wasn’t until the 16 th century when Hernando Cortez brought it back to the Spanish court after drinking it with the Aztec Emperor Montezuma. Christopher Columbus had seen the pod on a canoe in Nicaragua but didn’t realise the importance of the bean at that time. It was really Cortez we have to thank after the rats for after the fall of the Aztec Empire he cultivated the plant in Spain and the Spanish court became crazed over this wondrous new world drink. In 1585 chocolate shops opened in Spain and the wealthier public was able to get its hands on this elixir no longer reserved for just the nobility.

In the 17th century, King Louis XIII married the Spanish Princess Anne, this brought the cacao elixir to the French courts. When in 1650 there was an inundation of drinking possibilities in England due to the arrival of tea from China and coffee from the Middle East, the cacao drink entered the English palate also. The 1 st chocolate confection maker opened in Paris in 1659 and the Italians won prizes for their skills at chocolate creations in 1720. It wasn’t until 1765 North America learned about the cacao drink and over the next 100 years the cacao bean also became cacao powder, dark chocolate bars, milk chocolate and chocolate imbued with nuts. Pharmaceutical qualities were also explored which is not surprising knowing that in the beginning it was known for its restorative, strengthening and aphrodisiac effects.

Cacao seeds

To obtain the cacao, the harvested pods are fermented by naturally occurring bacteria and yeasts to eliminate the bitter and astringent quality. The seeds are then cured, roasted and the skin is taken off leaving, what is called, the nibs. It is the nibs that create the various products, the fat being extracted with pressure creating the cacao butter and the residual is ground to a fine powder, cacao. The cacao butter is what is in soaps, cosmetics and medicines like emollients and suppositories and the cacao powder is used for beverages and flavouring. Chocolate is when some of the cacao butter is retained. As of now there is just over 70,000 square kilometres worldwide of the cacao plant with 40% coming from Africa in Cote d’ivoire and Ghana and next is Indonesia where I am today (Bali).

Smaller amounts come from Nigeria, Brazil and Cameroon. About 20 pods come from one plant in one year and it takes 10 pods to make 1kg of cacao paste! There are 3 types of cacao pods, one being very precious, Criollo (the Mayan cacao) 10%, and Forastero which accounts for 80% of the chocolate and cacao we see today. The 3 rd cacao pod is a hybrid of the two called Trinitario, the remaining 10%.

There are many health benefits that can come from the consumption of pure raw cacao, this is why if you’re after the positive effects of chocolate rather than just indulgences, you are best to choose dark chocolate with a minimum of 70% cacao plus making sure by reading the label, usually on health food store chocolate bars labels only, the production of the bar you are eating comes from cacao that hasn’t been overheated while processing. In good quality chocolate there are polyphenols which are naturally occurring antioxidants and are also present in some fruits and vegetables, tea and wine.

The result of polyphenols can be reduced inflammation, improved circulation and lowered blood pressure. Flavanol- rich cacao can improve the level of nitric oxide in one’s blood which relaxes and dilates arteries and blood vessels. Cacao has also been found to have a blood thinning effect similar to aspirin. We are all familiar with the mood elevation chocolate can bring, this is due to the flavanols, one of which is tryptophan and this is changed to a mood stabiliser in the body called serotonin. There is also a small amount of caffeine in cacao.

Cacao painting

I am still circling the SE Asian areas around our wondrous Thailand settling in Bali for a bit as I have found a lovely villa in which to paint my watercolours. In this article is my version of the Cacao flower, they are normally quite small but I blew them up large so one can see what they look like and I feel mine have taken on some of the effects of the raw cacao ceremonies I have been going to as of late! I call it Cacao Flower Fantasy! Ceremonial raw cacao circles take place here in my little town of Ubud almost daily although the new or full moon is the best time to take part in these circles.

The idea is to hold up a small cup of cacao elixir to the sky and say what you want to release in your life and take a sip, then say what you want in your life and take a sip. Then everyone finishes what they have and dance to some nice tunes. Whether these ideas are fact or fantasy, the cacao plant has given us magic in one form or another through many decades. Most everyone has their favourite way to have chocolate; dark, milk, hot cacao or plain raw cacao powder blended up in a nice smoothie. I love to mix cacao powder with coconut cream in a small blender with chai spices!

Theobroma cacao can be found in Thailand, it was imported from Malaysia just over 100 years ago. Just last year during the 2018 Academy of Chocolate Awards, Thai cacao was among the awardees. Lemuel Dark Chocolate Bars are made from Thai cacao and the bars received a bronze star. The beans used in its award-winning chocolate come from Kad Kakao farm in Chiang Mai, which plans to launch its own chocolate brand and cafe in Bangkok later this year. We can look forward to our own Thai chocolate delights, from bean to bar, experiences soon!

Margaret Elizabeth Johnson

Miss Margaret is enjoying travelling around SE Asia lugging around a suitcase full of watercolour supplies and a laptop, learning about the various medicinal plants surrounding our country of Thailand and then portraying them onto paper for others to appreciate in a unique way. Writing for Expat Life allows her to learn more about the plant than she might normally feel compelled to do! One can follow her health and travel blogs on her website www.mejcreations.com and appreciate other works of art she has created on this long journey of discovery.

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Elephants in Cambodia

Getting around Thailand’s outskirts, and by that I mean Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia and now Cambodia, I found myself in a jungle on the North East parts of this country walking and swimming with of all things… elephants! My journey started January 2015 and is still going strong, falling in love with and now aiming on settling at some point, in SE Asia. Thailand has my heart along with Bali in Indonesia but I am not done trying out new places and spaces. I am here in Cambodia for one month, on to some of the islands in Thailand for the holidays and Jan/Feb, then Vietnam and then Papua New Guinea before regaining my sanity and going back to Bali to explore more of Indonesia. Back to the elephants in the jungle now…

Sen Monorom and Banglung are two places a bit less explored on the backpack/expat trail in Cambodia but still esternised enough for me to be able to have my cafe lattes and WiFi. In Sen Monorom in the Mondulkiri Province, there is an elephant sanctuary called The Elephant Valley Project. There the locals, with some outside academic help, have put together a wonderful haven for the elephants and for people to interact with them without riding them. Elephants are rescued from being captive working Asian elephants and rehabilitated back to their natural habitat on a 650 hectare ground space with jungle and rivers. I spent 3 nights in the province and enjoyed a full day of hiking into the valley, feeding some sugar cane to them to get the elephants used to us (there were only about 5 of us “tourists”).

Heading back to a small camp/village of indigenous tribal folk that don’t speak Cambodian but have their own language for a locally sourced meal, resting along the river in a hammock after lunch and then heading back into the valley crossing bamboo bridges to wade into the water with the elephants as they took their afternoon swim. We scrubbed them with mud and washed off the dirt so that they can enjoy some loving touch from us humans and we got to experience something that most people aren’t privy to, especially if all they know is to take the normal “ride the elephant” treks when on holiday.

Since this article is for Expat Life in Thailand, I won’t bore the readers with too much info on why we shouldn’t ride elephants however for those of you who read this that do not know, here are some simple facts:
1. Elephants live in herds and are social animals, they play and forage and swim naturally with each other, being held in captivity deprives them of their most natural existence.
2. When they aren’t working they are often times kept on concrete floors and chained so hard they can’t move, not to mention the pain of standing on concrete floors all night.
3. Arthritis, foot and back injuries are common among captive elephants and they die decades short of their normal lifespan.
4. Elephants never forget and the sad truth that we subject them to this humiliating torture can only be left up to us as caring humans to refuse to ride them.

rubber tree

OK, enough of that, but please remember to not ride them. Watching the elephants from afar is one thing, but being able to be right up close and personal was thrilling, a bit scary but also so touching as they let you wash them and feed them without robes or chains on them roaming free in their jungle. After my incredible elephant experience, I was ready to head north a bit closer to the Laos border to a place where they are mining for zircon called Banlung in the Ratanakiri Province. Banlung’s coffee is also a plus as it grows in local coffee farms along with cashews. Taking a day tour to see the fields of beautiful agriculture is rewarding when feasting on cashews, coffee and dragonfruit! Another bonus to the Banlung area is getting to see the rubber tree plantations however there are problems with the rubber trees taking over the zircon mining due to the former being more profitable. The lifespan of the rubber tree is only 20 years so must be cut down and this depletes the soil after too many generations, but as in all things, a balance must be struck. Even with the elephant excitement I was aware that the only reason I was getting to experience swimming with the elephants was
because they were captured in the first place.

Cambodian miners

The miners have hard lives, going down into holes deep in the ground to chisel out stones that you hope are flawless to sell to the random tourist that comes by, of course there are companies that buy up the best of the best but the miners try to make some ends meet here and there. I took a tuk tuk about an hour out of town to get to some of the more “secret” mines to see if I could score some nice stones, help the locals financially and learn about the rubber tree plantations. I ended up having an indigenous woman present a grubby bag of some rocks to me that I dug through eventually purchasing a nice brown/amber coloured zircon that I’ll enjoy making a pendant out of with silver when back in Bali later this year in the spring. The rubber trees are beautiful with the inside of the bark having all sorts of colours; orange, green, browns, sienna, yellow and purples. What an interesting first week for me back in SE Asia after spending the summer back in the states re-organising my life to live overseas permanently for the next decade or so!

I am still lugging around a suitcase with my paints/paper and brushes doing the odd painting when I have time and a space to set up a mini art studio. While in the forest I came upon a frog on a waterlily that I took a picture of and couldn’t resist doing a fun painting of it! One day I simply must put together some of these paintings into a book for people to be inspired to take along a craft/hobby as they travel… it keeps one inspired with one’s own creativity and also is healthier than a common expat hobby, pubs!

Lotus painting

I am writing this article on the balcony of a guesthouse on Koh Rong, an island off the west coast of Cambodia and am enjoying some lazy beach time before heading to Kampot, supposedly a sweet old 19 th century colonised French town with cafes and some artsy shops. I’ll know more about that after being there however there are bike rides through salt, rice and pepper farms, bat caves and rides along the Praek Tuek Chhu river. I’m excited to have durian there too being well known for that famous “some loathe it some hate it” fruit… me being part of the latter group! Kampot used to be one of Cambodia’s most important seaports before Sihanoukville on the west coast where I took off on a speedboat to come here to Koh Rong.

I only am spending one month in Cambodia, heading to Siem Reap, Ankor Wat, near the end of my time and then bussing it to Bangkok end of the year. I am pleasantly surprised how congenial the people here are towards me, an American spoken lady even though I’m travelling on my UK passport. There is no animosity, that is as far as I can tell, being projected on me. The kids are all using their smartphones and wearing the latest trainers, albeit, fake ones, but, who cares, they are enjoying the next generation of thinkers, how to prosper and make money for their families and increase their understanding of the western world. I look forward to being able to feel like I’ve gotten a taste of this part of SE Asia after my month is up. I know there are business visas available for a few hundred dollars and retirement visas for no particular age range, it is an easy place to be an expat. Personally, I enjoy a fairly “new-age” community and I’m not finding that in Cambodia as in Thailand and Bali, but the living is cheap, the people are friendly, the food is good and there is plenty to enjoy in this beautiful country!

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Orchid

I love orchids! I was never raised in the world of orchid appreciation, but over the years I have come to understand how amazing they are, the many varieties, colours and the push/pull of wild orchids vs the extreme hybrids. As this is an April/May edition of Expat Life Thailand and as the theme of “culture” swarms us throughout many of the various festivals of spring on the way, I am sure there will be plenty of orchids decorating floats, cakes, parties and tables. The official botanical name of the National Flower of Thailand is the Cassia fistula and is known as Ratchaphruek, which means royal tree, a gorgeous array of bright yellow orchids hanging from the stem. 

orchid fever

As I am still carousing Asia and in and out of Thailand, I had the pleasure of renewing my visa in Singapore, however after once you’ve exhausted the few tourist attractions like Gardens on the Bay and the Light and Sound Show in the same area, done your specialty shopping of items one might only be able to get in London or high priced cities like Singapore, then the Botanical Gardens is the place I usually end up. This time I took specific care to peruse the National Orchid Garden to get some great shots to share with you and to save for future painting possibilities. Since the time I painted the botanical painting in this article, the Paphiopedilum, I have learned how to spell it right, with an M at the end, not an N! But, that was back in 2009, like I said, I was not raised with orchids in my life but now that I live in Asia, a decade on, they are much more in my daily eyesight! What a faux pas for me after all that work! Hence, now I have some beautiful pictures to stimulate me again. Now for some enlightening orchid information!

One can find wild orchids in the jungles of Thailand still clinging to old growth in places like Khao Sok National Park, but the vast majority of orchids are to be found in flower markets and specialty farms in the countryside. Thailand is known as the “Land of the orchids” or, “Gluay Mhai”. There are over 25,000 species of orchid flowers known to exist thriving in a number of environments. Some grow underground, in the soil and on rocks but the majority grow on other plants and trees. Some orchids are parasitic obtaining food from fungi that lives inside its roots. Asia has the largest and widest variety of orchids in the world so has the greatest potential for creating modern hybrids.

Ratchaphruek

Some orchid flowers survive only a few hours while others can survive up to 6 months. The world’s largest orchid is the Grammatophyllum speciosum and can grow to be 2.5m in length and weight up to one ton. The world’s smallest orchid is the Platystele genus and is just over 2 millimetres and was found hiding amongst the roots of another flower in Ecuador in 2009. More and more hybrids are being created all the time and sometimes up to 5 different parents are used to create a new designer orchid! It is an incredible process of hand pollination, and one to be admired with the consistency and dedication of orchid lovers (and botanical institution employees), however with this hybridisation, the insects that used to be needed for the wild orchids have less use with all the hand pollination occurring in which case, insect extinction can occur. Many insects and birds have evolved for specific pollination purposes, both the pollinator and the pollinated evolving together over time. This is why at the beginning of this article I mention my push/pull of admiration between both the wild and the hybrid orchid. 

Orchids are known to represent friendship, elegance and nobility. The earliest documented time of orchid acknowledgement is traced back to the 28th century BC. The term, ‘orchid’ comes from a Greek word that means testicle, due to the way in which the roots can hang. Orchids come in all colours of the rainbow, mostly in whites, purples and hot pinks but yellows and creams, golds, maroons and even blues and greens can be found. There are also spotted and mixed coloured orchids and too huge an array of various shapes and sizes to even calculate. I saw all these colours at the National Orchid Garden in Singapore, the displays were out of this world, impressing my mind even as now, these days, I am an avid orchid seeker. I’ve seen orchids in the UK, USA, Cape Town, Hawaii and all over Asia, but, as a restless tourist awaiting my visa, these colourful orchids at the gardens brightened my time! The Singapore Botanical Gardens are free and there is a SGD5 cover charge for the orchid area, it is well worth it!

Other than just suffusing our surroundings with gorgeous flowers and vibrancy, there are also a few traditional medicinal ways orchids have been used over the centuries throughout the world. Since the stems and bulbs are designed to keep the plant alive during dry season, this is the part of the plant rich in nutritive substances. Local indigenous and ethnic communities around the world have used these parts to speed recovery after an illness and immune system buildup, gastro-intestinal issues, sexual improvement for men’s stamina and recovery after sex. Aphrodisiacs and love potions have been created with the dried flowers although I don’t know what kind of real research is done within this type of assumptions, but there are some orchids that produce a divine scent when fresh. There is a science in the fact that scent can stimulate memory, attraction and disgust! In the past, eyesight and bowel issues were attended to with boiled and mashed roots as in a poultice.


Recent research is discovering ways to help a patient with cancer recovery after chemotherapy use the roots of an orchid as a medicinal tea. As a Thai tradition and custom, the locals dip the Dendrobium flowers in batter and deep fry them adding that to their delicious creations and in India, some orchids are added to curries. It does seem that indigenous knowledge keeps coming to the forefront even as we progress with science. This is perhaps once again, a reason to recognise the importance of not only appreciating the intense beauty and fabulous creations of hybrids, but to keep the wild orchids alive and safe also. Over collecting them out of the wild forests and deforestation in general, as we know, is something to be concerned about these days.

I was reminded of one of my favourite orchids while strolling through the gardens, vanilla! Many people don’t know vanilla, V. planifolia, is an orchid. The Aztecs discovered the plant in Mexico in the early 16th century and used the seed pods (vanilla beans) to aid digestion, counteract poisons and as an aromatic exotic flavouring. Of course we know they also used chocolate, Theobroma cacao, and mixing these two, vanilla and cacao, was believed to give power and strength. Both chocolate and vanilla is a large industry in consumerism (and yumminess!) yet the original indigenous ways of cacao and pure vanilla pod stems from a medicinal value. My next painting is of the Cacao plant and I am working on it in Bali, Indonesia, as I write this.

Margaret Elizabeth Johnston

A few words about the orchid cultivation in Thailand, it is confined mostly to the central plain, mainly in Bangkok and the nearby provinces. There are 3 main farms scattered about including Bangkok, Samut Sakhon and Nakhon Pathom. In the north closer to Chaing Mai, I can recommend Sainamphung Orchid Farm. All orchid species are protected by CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which requires certification of plants crossing international borders. If you would like a fun read about the hilarity of orchid growers around the world and their mindset, please find yourself a copy of Orchid Fever by Eric Hansen. I hope you enjoy the coming season in our SE Asian lifestyle and that Thailand brings you much colour, scent and variation as the beautiful orchids of our world do!

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As expats in Thailand, you know the value of having a good quality life with little expense. What does health, happiness and harmony in your life look like? Sure, we can put all the right foods in our bodies and make sure to get our exercise, but I feel it is more than this, especially if we have come into the time of our lives when we feel we can enjoy our mid to older years. Having a good community to thrive in, be inspired and inspire others, be of service and appreciate what we have also comes into play. I have been fortunate enough these past years to travel around the outer edges of Thailand discovering
Laos, Malaysia, Bali and even a bit further to Nepal and India.

Finding out as much as I can about the places I visit as I live my life of holistic health education, medicinal plant painting and having small expos along the way. It has taken me years to be able to feel like I have created a wholesome, all encompassing life for myself, and I am happy to have reached a point where I feel I am getting to live my passions and inspire others. This is not an article to go on about how great my life is of course, for I certainly have my own trials and tribulations. But it is more an article dedicated to thoughts of fulfilment of who we are in this world that we have created around us.

The life of an expat within a community, and a way in which we can feel like we are honouring our whole selves, having that golden life away from where we have come from. Finding your niche among friends and family, finding your value and sharing it, as a solo traveller in the middle of her life, I have found this to be of the most value along with maintaining my health and learning to accept my own downfalls and grow from them. Being able to live in a less expensive manner than back home is of great benefit also.

For I feel I can dedicate more time to feeling like part of a community and being able to give and share of myself rather than always focusing on the money making aspect of life. I am writing you from Hawaii of all places, having come here for a visit after a brief sojourn home to Texas to reorganise my USA home for a semi-permanent rental. I’ve been on the road around Thailand for 1 year and 8 months and so the shock of expenses here has made me a rather boring dinner date with my “chin on the floor” at the cost of things all the time.

I won’t even begin to tell you how tired my family got of me when in the UK briefly for the Chelsea Flower Show last May going on about the cost of Prêt A Manger coffee shop. I am happily continuing on my journey around Thailand beginning October 1st to fly to Cambodia and Vietnam before finally returning to Thailand. This is my fluffy quest of looking all around various semi-retirement living possibilities, but really just a reason to keep on moving, discovering myself and enjoying life! (So far the competition is between Thailand and Bali.) I managed to get the Texas house finished before the October date so I flew to Hawaii to check out the latest scene, being 6 years ago the last time I swam in the Pacific Ocean here. I’m quite familiar with Hawaii as I lived here in my mid 20’s and know all the islands pretty well, this time I choose Maui as my 5 week getaway.

Let me tell you Thailand Expats! The cost of one dragon fruit is $5, one latte is $7 and gas for the car is almost $5 a gallon… like wow. Minimum wage is $10-$15hr depending on tips though so if one lives here it can be easier than coming from less expensive countries however I feel the pinch around me. A normal 3 bedroom house is $3000 a month. Even though this is a small island, people don’t drive around much and tend to stay in their area a lot. There are definite new-age spots vs conservative spots like most places and folks tend to stick to their comfort zones. Even though the cost of life here is high, the mood is still very “Ohanastyle” meaning, relaxed vibe, mainly due to the fact that one can “beach-it” daily with little clothes and flip flops aren’t like boots, coats and hats in London, nor is heating needed and living on fruit and fish is an easy option.

The painting in this article is called Paradise Fire; The Gold Inside. I painted it when on the Big Island of Hawaii representing the life in the fire of the volcano combined with the bursting vibrancy of the flowers. Years later, it represents what I am living now, my golden life, “Where do I live it out and how can I do it to the best of my ability?”

The artistic touch permeates everything and is very good, with bright bold colours and flowers galore, so I am very inspired. Like Thailand, florals, fruits, song and culture floats through the daily breeze. Here in Hawaii, being aware of “Mama Maui” and “Pele, the Fire Goddess”, the ancient hula dance and thanking the natural healing energies of the planet is immersed in conscious thought. The painting in this article is called Paradise Fire; The Gold Inside. I painted it when on the Big Island of Hawaii representing the life in the fire of the volcano combined with the bursting vibrancy of the flowers.

Years later, it represents what I am living now, my golden life, “Where do I live it out and how can I do it to the best of my ability?” We all know, or I should hope we do, that the gold is in our hearts, what we do and say every day, what we put in our bodies, not just in food, but in thought and the personal connections we create along the way. Whether we are in Asia, Europe, UK or in the USA, finding that “sweet spot” we can call home is worth cultivating.

I have found that being able to create our life in a way that isn’t so focused on money making and more about being of service can be more fulfilling, indulging in creative skills (even while travelling), has its healing benefits and being able to share those skills while learning from others can create a divine balance in our life. Living somewhere less expensive than our home town has it’s challenges if we leave loved ones behind, however, the benefit of being able to focus on our own immediate life will eventually outweigh the loss.

It takes time and consistent perseverance to pay attention to what we create everyday in our own personal here and now. In this article I’ve included a collage of some of the beautiful golden fruits here in Maui Hawaii, some of them similar to our luscious Thailand fruits like the dragon fruit. Aren’t we so lucky to be able to purchase them at less than $1 each! I have been indulging in the Maui pineapple, star fruits and mangoes as well as the golden sunrises, sunsets and golden sands.

The picture of the beach here is of Big Beach on Maui, my favourite beach so far. Aloha to everyone in SE Asia Thailand, I will be in Cambodia when I will be writing my article, never knowing if it will be about a place, a way of health or something fabulous I’ve discovered! I’m still painting and writing for my website and small expos, my small bio is next, Mahalo! (Hawaiian for thank you!)

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Nepal Falls

“Combining travel with my medicinal plant studies has been a different journey than planned and now even my way of depicting and area has differed.”

 

Laos, Malaysia, Bali (I can’t really say Indonesia since I just stayed on Bali!) and now Nepal, is where I find myself today!

Combining travel with my medicinal plant studies has been a different journey than planned and now even my way of depicting and area has differed. A very personalised painting with lots of symbolism isn’t what I normally paint, however, perhaps being in the land of dreams, fantasy and heights has inspired something inside me to do something a bit different.

Nepal is a beautiful country to visit and as I find myself here, as my SE Asian journey has continued, I enjoyed creating apainting that I felt encompassed quite a few interests of mine; the lotus flower, Tibetan prayer flags, water and dreams! I included dreams here because sometimes when one is in a magical place, magical dreams may come.

There is a system called “honouring your dreams”, which means if you awake with a strong dream, you write it down, as much as you can remember, and by virtue of this action you have a tenden￾cy to remember more of your dreams. The psyche realises you are “honouring” them and even more meaningful and stronger dreams will come to guide you. Being in Nepal is giving me space to do just this!

Not coming for trekking brings its own gifts. Katmandu is a lively city to say the least, however, I have based myself in Pokhara, where a lot of trekkers come to do the Annapurna circuit or parts of it.

There are a few lakes in the area, the main one called Phewa, where you can rent a boat and paddle out for the day, crossing the lake to the base of the World Peace Pagoda way up high on the mountain, do a small hike to it, and have an all-encompassing view of the city Pokhara. One can also rent a scooter or bicycle and cruise around, eat at the local restaurants on the lake and enjoy light nightlife as the sun sets.

There are a few day hikes, loads of good bookstores and coffee shops and a general relaxed wellbeing permeates this town. I joined a yoga centre/spa called Holy Garden that not only has traditional style yoga available, but 2 sound healings a day with Tibetan bowls and a lot of personalised spa treatments by a local group of Nepalese which keeps prices low but quality high. It is a nice change to the westernised expat coming in and creating something that you have had before.

You get the “real-deal” with these folks. Check out Denny Lama if you have a chance! The bliss I receive after a yoga and sound session is divine, then a “spa” treatment with local herbs with steam and afterwards having medicinal herbal tea feels so authentic and natural that I use the centre a few times a week. Denny is also a good contact to learn about local day hikes and villages to visit and combines some yoga and herbal knowledge along the way.

If you wish to stay in a traditional Buddhist Monastery for donation please contact him also, it is on the hill in Pokhara and has rooms and surveys the littlelakeside town. (I receive nothing in return for discussing people or companies, I honestly just have real authentic information on what is true and good vs just another promotion. I have travelled enough to know surface commodities vs deep traditional healing techniques and been in the holistic health business over 25 years myself so please accept my suggestions freely and joyfully!)

There is a system called “honouring your dreams”, which means if you awake with a strong dream, you write it down, as much as you can remember, and by virtue of this action you have a tendency to remember more of your dreams.

Tibetan Prayer Flags represent the spreading of goodwill and compas￾sion by the Tibetan monks into the “all-pervading space” of the world. The colours of the flags represent the five elements; blue symbolises the sky and space, white the air and wind, red fire, green water, and yellow earth. Lotus flowers are forever a symbol of strength and endurance, beauty and divine inspiration as they push up through the mud and blossom into a beautiful flower.

Both in Nepal and Thailand the lotus flower is used in many designs and symbols. I have found it to be one of the most popular flower’s used in SE Asia and have had fun painting them a few times. This one example was inspired by a friend that actually goes into his swimming pool with his underwater camera, having someone throw flowers into his pool as he snaps away.

Nepal Banner

I saw the pics on Facebook and thought what a fun idea and view of flowers… I just had to try a painting with some of his images! As I write this I feel a bit confused as to if this is an art article, travel article or personal journal entry! Something I have realised is not all trips have to be one thing, i.e., a trek, a scholastic study, a working holiday, a beach read, etc.

We are a bitof this and a bit of that all the time, combining your joys and passions into a journey is always a fulfilling way to see the world. Knowing what you like and don’t like yet perhaps challenging yourself to something new, is a good way forward. After hanging out in Pokhara, I have learned that if you do want to go trekking, it is easy to change your trip to suit yourself.

I have found that on some of the intense hikes, you may want to stop and stay in a village longer than the average stay and that is OK as long as you know you may have to be patient with your guide or Sherpa when they want to carry on. Just make sure they know ahead of time that you may want to take your time. For those that don’t need a guide or Sherpa, you can consider the idea that you’re not necessarily trekking, you’re just taking a walkabout… granted, a high and steep one, but a walkabout no less!

Viewing it this way, you’re just having a lovely time along the way without the main goal to go up and down. I recommend if one comes here for a trek and puts all that effort into bringing or buying the right gear, deciding the trail, picking a company or on your own, you allow yourself time to not only enjoy the trek at your leisure, but make sure to stay in the town of Pokhara on either end. Tea houses along the way are a pleasure to stay in and getting to meet local mountain people is part of the experience!

For anyone wanting to experience the great Himalayas by not just trekking but actually living, Pokhara is the place to be for any creative writing, thinking, personal explorationsand fresh insights. There are inexpensive lovely hotels on the lake and AirB&B is the way to go for longer than 2-3 week stays.

One of the refreshing things I enjoy here is also the relaxed clothing options. Since there are a lot of trekking type folk passing through, I feel more relaxed wearing shorts and t shirts than I normally would around town. Make sure to pop into some of the art galleries that have incredible hand painted Thangka’s, a Tibetan form of art that is painted mandala style.

Something I have realised is not all trips have to be one thing, i.e. a trek, a scholastic study, a working holiday, a beach read, etc. We are a bit of this and a bit of that all the time, combining your joys and passions into a journey is always a fulfilling way to see the world.

The imagery up close is so detailed, and it is wonderful to speak with the actual artists that paint them. Local food is very inexpensive and healthy, local people smile at you and are very pleased to have you enjoy their village. I feel no pressure here to buy as I have other places in SE Asia and recommend a Himalayan trip for your itinerary soon! May you cultivate love in your home and family life this season!
Namaste!

Mountain in Nepal

Margaret has been on the road for 14 months and has been circling around Thailand getting to know other SE Asian countries as she studies medicinal plants and local indigenous ways.

Painting watercolours that represent her experiences has been a creative process along with learning new forms of bodywork, yoga and healing techniques. She is now in India and can be followed on her website through most forms of social media, enjoy!
www.mejcreations.com

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nepal land of dreams

Laos, Malaysia, Bali (I can’t really say Indonesia since I just stayed on Bali!) and now Nepal, where I find myself today! Combining travel with my medicinal plant studies has been a different journey than planned and now even my way of depicting and area has differed. A very personalised painting with lots of symbolism isn’t what I normally paint, however, perhaps being in the land of dreams, fantasy and heights has inspired something inside me to do something a bit different.

Nepal is a beautiful country to visit and as I find myself here, as my SE Asian journey has continued, I enjoyed creating a painting that I felt encompassed quite a few interests of mine; the lotus flower, Tibetan prayer flags, water and dreams! I included dreams here because sometime when one is in a magical place, magical dreams may come. There is a system called “honouring your dreams”, which means if you wake with a strong dream, you write it down, as much as you can remember, and by virtue of this action you have a tendency to remember more of your dreams. The psyche realises you are “honouring” them and even more meaningful and stronger dreams will come to guide you. Being in Nepal is giving me space to do just this!

Not coming for trekking brings its own gifts. Katmandu is a lively city to say the least, however, I have based myself in Pokhara, where a lot of trekkers come to do the Annapurna circuit or parts of it. There are a few lakes in the area, the main one called Phewa, where you can rent a boat and paddle out for the day, crossing the lake to the base of the World Peace Pagoda way up high on the mountain, do a small hike to it, and have an all encompassing view of the city of Pokhara. You can also rent a scooter or bicycle and cruise around, eat at the local restaurants on the lake and enjoy light nightlife as the sun sets.

Nepal mountain

There are a few day hikes, loads of good bookstores and coffee cafes and a general relaxed wellbeing permeates this town. I joined a yoga centre/spa called Holy Garden that not only has traditional style yoga available, but 2 sound healing’s a day with Tibetan bowls and a lot of personalised spa treatments by a local group of Nepalese which keeps prices low but quality high. It is a nice change to the westernised expat coming in and creating something that you have had before.

You get the “real deal” with these folks. Check out Denny Lama if you have a chance! The bliss I receive after a yoga and sound session is divine, then a “spa” treatment with local herbs with steam and afterwards having medicinal herbal tea feels so authentic and natural that I use the centre a few times a week. Denny is also a good contact to learn about local day hikes and villages to visit and combines some yoga and herbal knowledge along the way.

If you wish to stay in a traditional Buddhist Monastery for a small donation please contact him also, it is on the hill in Pokhara and has rooms and surveys the little lakeside town. (I receive nothing in return for discussing people or companies, I honestly just have real authentic information on what is true and good vs just another promotion. I have travelled enough to know surface commodities vs deep traditional healing techniques and been in the holistic health business over 25 years myself so please accept my suggestions freely and joyfully!)

Tibetan prayer flags represent the spreading of goodwill and compassion by the Tibetan monks into the “all-pervading space” of the world. The colours of the flags represent the five elements; blue symbolises the sky and space, white symbolises the air and wind, red symbolises fire, green symbolises water, and yellow symbolises earth. Lotus flowers are forever a symbol of strength and endurance, beauty and divine inspiration as they push up through the mud and blossom into a beautiful flower.

Both in Nepal and Thailand the lotus flower is used in many designs and symbols. I have found it to be one of the most popular flower’s used in SE Asia and have had fun painting them a few times. This one example was inspired by a friend that actually goes into his swimming pool with his underwater camera, having someone throw flowers into his pool as he snaps away. I saw the pics on Facebook and thought what a fun idea and view of flowers … I just had to try a painting with some of his images!

flower on the wall Nepal

As I write this I feel a bit confused as to if this is an art article, travel article or personal journal entry! Something I have realised is not all trips have to be one thing, i.e., a trek, a scholastic study, a working holiday, a beach read, etc. We are a bit of this and a bit of that all the time, combining your joys and passions into a journey is always a fulfilling way to see the world. Knowing what you like and don’t like yet perhaps challenging yourself to something new, is a good way forward. After hanging out in Pokhara, I have learned that if you do want to go trekking, it is easy to change your trip to suit yourself.

I have found that on some of the intense hikes, you may want to stop and stay in a village longer than the average stay and that is OK as long as you know you may have to be patient with your guide or Sherpa when they want to carry on. Just make sure they know ahead of time that you may want to take your time. For those that don’t need a guide or Sherpa, you can consider the idea that you’re not necessarily trekking, you’re just taking a walk-a-bout … granted, a high and steep one, but a walk-a-bout no less! Viewing it this way, you’re just having a lovely time along the way without the main goal to go up and down.

I recommend if one comes here for a trek and puts all that effort into bringing or buying the right gear, deciding the trail, picking a company or on your own, you allow yourself time to not only enjoy the trek at your leisure, but make sure to stay in the town of Pokhara on either end. Tea houses along the way are a pleasure to stay in and getting to meet local mountain people is part of the experience!

For anyone wanting to experience the great Himalayas by not just trekking but actually living, Pokhara is the place to be for any creative writing, thinking, personal explorations and fresh insights. There are inexpensive lovely hotels on the lake and airbnb is the way to go for longer than 2-3 week stays.

One of the refreshing things I enjoy here is also the relaxed clothing options. Since there are a lot of trekking type folk passing through, I feel more relaxed wearing shorts and t shirts than I normally would around town. Make sure to pop into some of the art galleries that have incredible hand painted Thangka’s, a Tibetan form of art that is painted mandala style. The imagery up close is so detailed, and it is wonderful to speak with the actual artists that paint them.

Local food is very inexpensive and healthy, local people smile at you and are very pleased to have you enjoy their village. I feel no pressure here to buy as I have other places in SE Asia and recommend a Himalayan trip for your itinerary soon! Happy holidays and celebrations of life everyone!

Namaste!

Nepal paintings and culture

 

Margaret adventure to Nepal

Margaret has been on the road for 14 months and has been circling around Thailand getting to know other SE Asian countries as she studies medicinal plants and local indigenous ways. Painting watercolours that represent her experiences has been a creative process along with learning new forms of bodywork, yoga and healing techniques. She is now in India and can be followed on her website through most forms of social media, enjoy! www.mejcreations.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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bali ft

Staying healthy as one travels is always a challenge. Whether it is healthy food choices or trying to work out in your hotel room, making sure you walk enough and drink enough water without your kitchen at hand can make or break a holiday. I have been having a roaming “holiday” and more like a sabbatical as of late with living in different SE Asian countries.

I am leaving Bali Indonesia in a few weeks after spending 3 full months in Ubud, the world yoga capitol and vegan/vegetarian centre at same time, they seem to go hand in hand. I was vegetarian for 15 years “back in the day” but since have slipped back into average ways with eating, yes, still healthy, but having dairy and meat too. I now have been back on the meat and dairy free programme and the lightness of being and pure energy I have been feeling is certain. Of course, since I am doing yoga everyday too, it is a bonus!

Ubud is a place where one can come to rejuvenate, go for yoga, spa treatments, eat healthy easily and enjoy the cool of the mountain air here on Bali. It is a centre for healing; mental, physical, emotional and even spiritual. Hinduism is what prevails and the Balinese families live their spirituality, in every moment of their waking time they are aware of the deities and the desire to appease them, thank them, pay homage and respect.

The amount of temples and incense burning surpasses anywhere else I have seen so far in SE Asia. One can find accommodation in beautiful hotels with a pool for $15 a night (I was in Pande Permai Bungalows off Agoda and had the Superior Delux air con room for $15 night and it was absolutely fabulous) or rent through airb&b for about $450 a month and have a decent place to call home for a time.

bali flower

I have met a lot of health leaders that charge a fair amount for a health programme, package deals to come and just indulge in all Ubud has to offer. However if you want to go it alone it is easy to do. I came here and joined the unlimited pass at Yoga Barn for a month for $200, there are over 13 classes a day including all different types of yoga for the beginner to the advanced, sound medicine healing’s with indigenous instruments, a selection of guided meditation classes to choose from and even some Thai Yoga Massage and Acro yoga to learn! Kundalini and Pranayama breathe work classes, ecstatic dance evenings and Sunday free form dance were the highlights for me! There is a holistic health café with wheatgrass shots, jamu (a turmeric/ginger/lime/honey drink famous in Bali), smoothies of all sorts, brown/red rice dishes with tofu/tempeh and veggies. Fruit bowls, vegan and raw food choices, teas and coffees, elixirs for health and snacks made with fresh ingredients.

Yoga Barn truly is an “all-in-one” experience. One can come to Ubud and give themselves their own mini retreat just buy putting themselves up in a nice hotel/homestay for the month and buying the YB unlimited class card. If you go 2 times a day that is just over $3 a class, it is well worth it! There are 10-20 class cards available too but this isn’t a sales pitch for YB, this is just one of the many ideas that I am suggesting for a healthy easy retreat that doesn’t cost a lot. There are a few other centres too, Radiantly Alive and Intuitive Flow are the other two well known yoga/meditation centres.

I am offering a list of some of the better restaurants for vegan/raw food or vegetarians: Seeds of Life, Soma, Moksa, Alchemy, Clear, Atman, Bali Buda, Mudra and Sayuri. There are many others but these cater for the extremely advanced health conscious person and you can refill your water bottles at these places also. Bali Buda has a healthfood store around the corner from the restaurant and there is a used bookstore of good value called Ganesh next door. If yoga isn’t your thing, there is a good gym called Ubud Fitness Centre and one can buy a week or month pass. It has all the normal cardio equipment and air con/café/changing rooms. There is also aerobics and some dance.

The main attractions, or shall I say “experience’s” the health and spiritual seekers seem to flock to is the Tempak Siring Temple, the Pyrmids of Chi, Akasha and a few Ashrams in Ubud. The little village is no longer little anymore and has grown over the years with galleries, massage centres, little local yoga centres, clothes and jewellery for the yogi and/or metaphysical person. Crystal shops, tarot cards, sacred geometry designs on T shirts and made out of metal to hang in your windows. The whole Ubud vibration is about raising your mindset to another level of awareness and I feel that even though it may be a bit overkill, it is a fabulous place for likeminded souls in the health and spiritual family to come together and for the novice to explore new ways of living and thinking without feeling threatened.

dance of shivas

As usual, I have been carrying around my suitcase with my art portfolio and paints ready to get to work when inspired. The last painting I did in Ubud is this magnolia painting called Blooming Radiance. “The Dance of Shiva is a well-recognised symbol/deity in Hindu mythology; it is the continual dance of creation and destruction involving the whole cosmos; the basis of all existence and of all natural phenomena. I represented this is my own way by incorporating the Ring of Fire that surrounds Shiva in combination with rays of sun shooting from the centre through the darkness.

The magnolia is a symbol of strength and endurance yet with a gentle unfolding. We are all capable of connecting with the One, reminding us of our own inner light that can shine forth through any turmoil, being receptive to uplifting and healing qualities that flow through the universe to guide our way on. Sometimes we may get lost in the darkness and then from somewhere within we can remember and bloom again. There will always be death and rebirth, dark and light, self-doubt and amazement. Being in Ubud has set me on a rather “esoteric” path. It is exciting to see what happens when I allow myself to “step out of the box” on paper with my art and a way for me to express what I am going through visually. I will be “off the beaten track” with my artwork for a while but something else may develop as I go. I highly recommend Ubud in Bali for a place to recharge, recreate or discover new ways to be healthy, happy and harmonious in your life!

Journey’s are gifts to ourselves, the ups and the downs, the all of it. Our inner journey is also worth taking.

margaret

Margaret Elizabeth Johnston ND enjoys travelling through different countries to explore new ways of living that may inspire her paintings, writings and teachings. Holistic health is a way of life for Margaret as she hopes to ignite in others some fresh ideas and paths that can be taken. You can follow her journey through her website or Facebook: www.mejcreations.com

 

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hibiscus-flower

Last edition of Expat Life I was in Malaysia on my way to Tioman Island where I enjoyed a good few weeks diving and relaxing on the beaches. I had left my large suitcase with large portfolios and paper with a friend in KL so I could island hop so here are a few of the watercolour pencil “paintings” I did “on the road” that depict 2 fruits and one flower I feel we see and have most every day that have medicinal qualities; hibiscus, pineapple and durian.

Sitting on the beach with my portable coloured pencil set allowed me to be a bit more “free” than in the studio. My hibiscus drawing is full of the bright sun and flow I felt from the sea breezes. The hibiscus flower has been used as a healing and cleansing tea for centuries. It is also the state plant of Hawaii, represents Haiti and it’s the national plant of South Korea and Malaysia. In the Hindu religion, it is often depicted as the flower merging into the Goddess Kali and is offered as a symbol of love to Kali and Ganesh. I am seeing so many different species here in Malaysia, more than I knew existed even while living in Hawaii and California, where this plant grows prolifically. The tea is made mostly from the flowers, the scientific name being Hibiscus Sabdariffa. It may be recognised as being called Rosella in other parts of the world also.

hibiscus-flower

The many ailments hibiscus tea can help with can be from common ailments to more serious issues. The tea can help with digestion and inflammation; it is a diuretic so can help to flush the body. The immune system gets a boost with the vitamin C content, there are also flavonoids which act as an antidepressant. The flower contains an acid called protocatecheuic acid that creates in the body apoptosis, programmed cell death, which helps to slow the growth of tumour and cancerous cells. It is a bitter taste and similar to cranberry so you may want to add a sweetener and some spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg or ginger root slices! It is delicious hot or cold and can bring down the temperature of someone with a high fever or even after exercise. Some research studies have concluded that hibiscus tea can lower cholesterol which helps to keep type 2 diabetes under control. It is a wonder flower of beauty and elegance, found in many countries around the world. From ancient days to modern ways, hibiscus tea can find a place in our tea cupboards and drinking mugs with low cost, easy preparation and enjoyable tea drinking days in the heat or cold. Be vibrant, be alive and be floral! If the colour alone doesn’t make you feel good, the product from the flower certainly will!

hibiscus-colorful flower

I did a few practice drawings of close up tree bark, sea shells and some fruit rinds, the pineapple skin made for a fun drawing! To take the time to “see” the variety of colour in nature you “think” you’ve seen before can reward you with a contemplative afternoon that can spread into a lifetime. The blues of the skies, the greens of the gardens. Paying attention to the details in nature can help to ignite your awe and wonder at life, or renew it. The name “pineapple” is believed to of been given in the 17th century due to the likeness of pine cones. The diamond pattern and colours on the outside of the pineapple are intriguing. I love all the varieties of greens, yellows, browns, purples and oranges! The fruit is a composite of coalesced berries that grow at the top of a fruiting tree and is a member of the Bromeliaceae family. A native to Paraguay and Brazil, it is now known throughout the world. Not only yummy to eat, there is a high level of vitamins and minerals including potassium, copper,manganese, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, beta carotene, thiamine, B6, and folate, as well as soluble and insoluble fibre and bromeliad.

The pineapple is often depicted as a message of welcome and hospitality, hence carved pineapples on table legs in the kitchen or above doorways. The fruit is often carved creatively at receptions or in welcoming buffets when visiting foreign lands. During the colonisation periods pineapple became like sugar because of the cost of importing it, a commodity of privilege. In this day and age, we can all experience the privilege of having pineapple in our diets, even in canned forms! Of course, I would always recommend fresh fruit and living in SE Asia certainly makes that easy! Contemplation of the details around you can be a lesson in paying attention, being aware. Noticing things with fresh eyes and recognising the beauty all around us seen in the minutest items can be awe inspiring!

Durian … the name can send shudders down some people’s spine and sheer joy to others. You either love it or hate it … I for one, am in the middle. I feel it has a cinnamon/ butterscotch/vanilla/caramel flavour with a sticky sweet texture and smell, but as I said, some people are actually repulsed by it, especially the smell. Nonetheless, it is a very popular fruit in SE Asia as you all know. It is known for many health benefits; boosting the immune system, improving digestion, lowering blood pressure, strengthening bones, reducing inflammation and reducing anxiety and stress. It is often called the “king of fruits” and is native to Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Brunei.

I have come across durian in the form of the pure fruit, dehydrated snacks, chocolate covered, milky sweets, added to tea and really any form of confection one can think of. There are also many grades of durian depending on the water in the flesh, the different creamy textures, light or strong flavour, heavy or gentle smell, bitter, dry, gooey and the size of the seeds. There are some people that get hot after eating durian, it seems to raise heat levels in the body and it is not recommended to take alcohol with this fruit. To decrease

the heat in the body after durian I have heard of people swearing to drinking fresh water out of the shell of the durian and that helps to reduce the heat more so than just a glass of water. There may be some chemical in the shell that prevents the heat from rising which would not surprise me. Most plants that have any kind of “bad” effect have within it a cure or there grows a plant next to it that does in the wild. Nature has a way of staying balanced, it is our job to learn from that … I did a watercolour pencil of the durian for fun as I have been tasting lots of different durian products these past few weeks and made the background a strong “heat” colour coming out. Sunglasses may be needed!!Since this is an issue geared for school and home, I wanted to recommend trying out some coloured pencil sets for fun. Adult colouring has become a meditation tool for some and kids also love to play around with pencil sets. The kind I used are watercolour pencils and so one can draw something with them and take a tiny brush, dip it in water, then spread the pencil a bit to create some fun and easy “paintings”. It’s a very good way to add a bit of personal creativity to stationary, journals, schoolwork for kids and/or if you have some time in a coffeeshop and can sketch what you see out the window, then water it when home.

hibiscus-flower

Margaret Elizabeth Johnston ND enjoys travelling around SE Asia learning about the various medicinal fruits, flowers, spices and herbs. Depicting them in works of art is her way of educating the public about holistic health. Blending her passions of art, writing, health and travel, she has carved out a fun life that she enjoys sharing with others. You can follow her and her travels, check out her health and art blogs or just browse through her paintings at www.mejcreations.com. “Incorporating health and happiness in little ways every day is worth cultivating.”

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