The Power of Water

Halong Bay is three hours from Hanoi. Once we get out of the city see rice fields and Buffalo grazing. We stop at a rest stop which really is a shopping trap for tourists.  You need to spend half an hour there in the hope that you’ll buy an embroidered picture or a semi precious gem. One can define it as “Capitalism” at it’s best..
Halong translates as ‘where the dragon descends into the sea’, and legend claims the islands of Halong Bay were created by a great dragon from the mountains. As the dragon charged towards the coast, its flailing tail gouged out valleys and crevasses. When it finally plunged into the sea, the area filled with water, leaving only the pinnacles visible.

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We boarded a “junk” sailing boat for the overnight exploration.
There is a mystical atmosphere as you look at the islands that pop out from the water at different perspectives. For a close look at the limestone rocks we take a kayak. It was a lesson in coordinating strokes as no one wanted to fall into the bay. We saw a floating fishing village although some boats were stuck on shore..

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The next morning we went back to Hanoi and flew south to Da-Nang. Da-Nang is the third biggest city. We did not stay there but arrived at the most amazing resort – The Nam Hai. There are three infinity pools ending at the beach… breath-taking.

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These are the best beaches in Vietnam by the China sea. Hoi-An is a historical village 15 minutes away which is another shopping mecca.  You can get a suit or shoes made in 24 hours . We took a tour of some old houses. It seems that the architecture of the house did not change there is a long room which is divided between living/bedroom and kitchen in the back.

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Half an hour bike ride took us through palm tree field, rice fields and into a farming village. The farmers grow rice for their own consumption, raise chickens, pigs , banana trees, papaya trees, lemon grass, basically anything they eat they grow.

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We were treated to a home-cooked meal of spring rice rolls and learned how to make rice by separating the husk till the white kernel emerges.
We then continued biking to a vegetable garden village where they grow vegetables to sell at the local market.

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we could see how the Viet-Cong were able to hide in between the palms or rice fields and come out at night.
Most days we woke up to a gray sea but on our last day the sun came out so we indulged in a day of rest, it is a vacation after all.

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The Kingdom of Wonder

Cambodia is a country located in the southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia.
Officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia and once known as the Khmer Empire. We flew to Siem Reap which mean Defeat of Siam. Images of Yul Brenner in The King and I came to my mind, even though Siam is in Thailand but as we learned, this country has a long history of changing rulers and the neighboring countries. Vietnam and Thailand, took constant bites of this land.
More about it you can find it here.

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The main attraction are the temples and the main one is called Angkor Wat.

The temples were build in the 7 -10 century A.D. They were build for one religion, Hinduism but then a new ruler came who believed in Buddhism, thus he destroyed the  images of the exciting religion and new ones were carved. Nature also took it’s toll but an extensive restoration work was done on most of them so we had  a full “plate” on our hands.  We started with Angkor Thom and the Bayon Temple then on to Preah Khan then Ta Prohm and Angkor Wat. Each one was unique. The biggest is Angkor Wat. The temples have the same basic architecture. They were  build with 4 corner prayer/meditation rooms, courtyard in the middle and three towers each symbolize a different god. It seems that the numbers 3 and 4 are important, which sums to 7. Nothing is random and you can find meaning in everything.  I find that I tend to compare it to Judaism. There is so much in common even though these believes developed in different parts of the world.

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I marveled at each one but I got restless in Angkor Wat. I found out later that its the only one that served as a burial place for the kings. This reminded me of the Taj-Mahal which is another wonder but also is a mausoleum and let’s not forget the Pyramids… what is it with the obsession with death?

The Next morning I woke up at 4am, took  a Tuk-tuk which is a motorcycle attached to a carriage, to the town of Phnom Krom. Took a steep hike and arrived at a pagoda on the top of a mountain. It’s a monastery and the monks were getting up for their morning chanting. After the chanting I joined a purification ceremony which included chanting, prayers, meditation and final blessing with holy water by the abbot. I was also given a red string on my right hand. I joined an Indian family who cam for the blessing, for breakfast and watched the sunrise.

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We heard there was a place called a Thousand Lingas.  Yes…  it’s a phallic symbol but again it symbolize beginnings. We drove an hour and half out of the city. The landscape consists mainly of rice fields. The farmers live in huts on stilts, they don’t have any electricity or running water.
We learned from our guide that it is the government’s interest to keep the people poor and uneducated.
We climbed for an hour and arrived at the famous Thousand Lingas river. Back to Siem Reap we stopped at the ” pink temple” Banteay Prei which is big but has no ornamentation.

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The next stop was the Landmine museum. This was a reminder that Cambodia was under the Khmer Rouge dictatorship regime that killed over 2 million Cambodians.

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There are few staple Cambodian foods. I took a cooking class which started with a trip to the market to get the fish or rather make sure it’s the fish I can eat … then to the kitchen to make banana flower salad with smoked fish, coconut soup with tofu and fish amok.
We leave Cambodia to go North to Hanoi. We leave a country with a rich history that is filled with wars and pain and hope for a brighter future.

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Love -Art

Last week I travelled to Miami, away from the cold. Not because I wanted to get away from the first taste of winter and get some sun … but for art. Art fairs are abundant these days and for the last ten years I find myself on a plane heading South to see what “Art Basel” has to offer. It’s not all about art.  Yes, there are parties, previews and many other fairs. And, yes it seems that every year another art fair pops up, just like mushrooms!  There are collections to see and  this year, even a new museum. If it sounds confusing, it is. After all,  isn’t contemporary art supposed to make us wonder? Some of the art can be explained, some works I like and some I just don’t get, but overall Art Basel is a quick view of what’s happening in the artistic world today. I am not an expert, but I like to see how people relate to what they see. I ask myself: Is it the object that catches our eye? Is it the color that ignites the imagination? What makes us stop and think.

Here are some images I captured. It’s a journey for the mind.

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Walking the main fair I came across beds, people were lying with headphones , covered with a blanket . It is a project by the artist Marina Abramovitz. At a talk with the artist, she explained her method, she tried to give us the opportunity to claim time for oneself during the art fair.  She created four projects, beds for rest-time, counting the rice tables, and a portal long chair. These projects were a collaborations with the architect Daniel Libeskind and designer Patricia Urquiola. She believes that Technology is good and bad. Technology takes all our time and doesn’t give us time to ourself.

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I spend three days running around trying to see it all but off course that is not possible.

Marina had another project in Sean Kelly gallery. It was the last day so you would think I had had enough but NOOO, I had to see what else she created. The project is called “Generator”, there is a quote form Alexander Dorner (art historian 1893-1957) ” The new type of art will be more like a power station, a producer of new energy”. You are blindfolded and your ears are covered with earphones and then one is led into a room. The idea is to walk slowly around or just stand. It focuses on “Nothingness”. But is there really nothing? Once some of the senses are blocked, you are aware of the space in a different way. You are entering a meditative state but yet you are part of the community of others. You are part of the exhibition and therefore creating art on your own. It is radical.

I wanted to see another exhibit of the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami which is called In the land of Dead, stepping on the tail of a Rainbow. The sculptures of mythological creatures and painting of smily faces are painted on skulls. Murakami explored natural catastrophes, things that are caused by nature. He said that to make sense of it we invent stories.

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I can never have enough of seeing art, of creating art and even without paint brush or clay we create and that’s what makes me happy.

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What does it mean? Democracy

For the last two weeks I’ve been in Israel to celebrate my mom’s birthday. The weather is warm; sitting in the garden at The Norman Hotel is magical. Israeli breakfast which includes fresh tomatoes, salad, fresh eggs, cheeses and great bread is a must. The cafés are full of people, all day long and breakfast is served anytime of the day.

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Tel Aviv changing skyline

Tel Aviv changing skyline

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We heard about a rally for democracy that will take place in Rabin square. Upon arriving at the square I was struck by the number of young high school kids, most of them in scout uniform. The signs read “enough to racism, yes to peace” another smaller one said ” Bib will bring us to the next war”. There were no political speeches only a call for peace, accepting the other, being united. Naftali’s mother ( one of the boys who were kidnapped and killed during the summer) spoke in a passionate way about being tolerant and hoping for peace. Later I found out that the rally was primarily meant for the youth. To empower the next generation and give them hope.

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I met with a young comedy writer who is planning a conference called “Comedy for a Change“,  what a great idea. Israelis like to make fun of themselves and of everyday events. I guess comic relief is part of life. Friday night there is a new comedy show called ” The Jews are Coming” which mocks biblical and Jewish historical events. Maybe we could bring it to the American TV …. Israel is more than “Homeland” war shows..

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Saturday morning we joined a group called ” Machsom Watch” which mean “gate keepers”.  It was started by women whose mission is to make sure that human rights issues are kept at the checkpoints. We wanted to see what happens on the other side. How does the West Bank look from a different point of view. Olive trees fill the scenery.  Arabs are waiting at a crossing . They are resigned to the situation, there is not much they can do. In another town there is a demonstration every Friday morning demanding to open a road that is too close to the settlement nearby and is closed to the villagers for “security reasons”. That means that the farmer has to go around to get to his grove. We stop for falafel and sweet cheese desert. On the way to Tel Aviv we stop at ELhanan; a Jewish settlement and see another crossing where the fence surrounds an Arab house; ” Hani’s” home.  Mr. Hani was given a key to the gate so he can enter his home. The settlement houses are a stone throw away. When you look at the map there is area C where Israelis can travel and the settlements are near each other with some arab villages in between, then there is area A which occupy the middle of the West Bank where it is  ruled by Palestinians. We could draw a border line which will include all these settlements but it includes the green line. Unfortunately no one agrees on the placement and the conflict, the arguments, the disappointment, the fighting and the demonstrations continue.

On the way home we hear of clashes near the Calandia crossing in east Jerusalem, Some Palestinians tried to climb over the fence. In the north Israeli Arabs and Druze were fighting over wearing a cafia.

A few days later we are shocked by the killing of five rabbis in a synagogue in Har Nof. I cannot erase the images of the bloody talit and prayer book from my mind.

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I visit the Israel Museum and climb on the Big Bamboo , the biggest installation by the artists Mike and Doug Starn. From the top you get a 360 degree view of Jerusalem. I sit on  top and meditate. My country is full of beauty, the population is diverse, there are so many faces, there are so many smart people, lots of inventions. You need to use all five senses to really appreciate it all.

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The Knesset is trying to pass a new law, Nationality Law,the right wing emphasize that Israel is ” a national home for the Jewish people in which he fulfills his desire for self-determination in accordance with historical and cultural heritage: a right that is unique to the Jewish people but Prime Minister Netanyahu suggests a compromise “Israel as a Jewish and democratic state “ . The debate can topple the goverment but it could alienate the Jews who live outside of Israel. It all sound like political games to me.

Kadishman, an artist I like wear a kippa that says “Mashich is not coming, he is not even calling” the words are from a song by Shalom Chanoch about a buisnessman who is not fullfiling his obligations ( www.youtube.com/watch?v=ucWs-5xprD8), but did we loose hope for a brighter future.

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Shabbath is coming, My mom lights the shabbath candles and says a special prayer for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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I am on my way home, I have been away for two an half weeks but lots happened, I pray for peace, I pray for finding a way to bridge the gaps.

Although sometimes it seems that there is no end to the conflict …. when you hope for a break you get hit by a terror attack .

Today, it’s the deadline for the talks with Iran. There are so many unsettling situations, so many unknowns. I feel that there is turmoil, the earth is bubbling.

I don’t have answers but I know we all need to be together and help spread the creativity, the tastes, the smells, the beauty that is my country-Israel.

अलविदा alavidā -Good bye in hindi

It is our last day, again we start with a 6 am drive from Jaisalmer to Jodphur, board a plane to Mumbai then a flight to Israel.

It is a bitter-sweet goodbye, two weeks adventure. India is a complex place, there are lots of contradictions, lots of mysteries, lots to learn. It is so different but yet familiar. Hinduism starts with one g-o-d and there is all the deities each one with it’s own face, like “elilim”,is that what Abraham broke when he affirms the belief in one god.

Mindfulness tours was the name of our tour and indeed in each city, each temple, one cannot escape the notion that there are layers upon layers of meanings. We were 21 strangers that became friends, cared for each other and learned to accept the differences.

The literature festivals in Jaipur, we saw the future, the generation that tries to break from old traditions. At the women’s gno we saw how hard it is to elevate the woman’s place in the society, education is a key to advancement.

The palaces and forts are a symbol of the rich past but not all of them are well kept, some are dilapidated structures and then we see the Taj which is a magnificent building that draws lots of visitors. Some are keeping with the arranged marriage tradition and some are trying to break away from the caste system.

As I am sitting on the plane to Tel Aviv, full of Israelis, some who finished a three month’s vacation through the south beaches and some who were on a tour of the country. India is a big country and we only covered the Rajasthan area. Will I come back to explore more? Maybe the north where the Dali Lama sits or visit the golden temple where they serve 100,000 people food with no charge.

I can’t say yes or no but one thing I know that the effect of this trip will continue to make me think and be puzzled.

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Thar Desert

Six hour bus ride; through the desert pass different towns. This time we watched an Indian movie – Taare Zameen Par, every child is special produced and directed by Aamir Khan, An Indian actor who cares about social justice causes.  The film is about a child with dyslexia.  His parents cannot accept the fact that he has a problem nor does his teacher, but there is an art teacher who recognize it and helps. And as in every Bollywood movie there is a happy ending and the kid wins the school art competition and recognition by his father.

We arrived at Mama’s resort, an oasis in the desert with fancy tents.
We went on a camel ride to the dunes. The scenery reminded me of bible times. I saw women at a well and could imagine Eliezer meeting Rebecca there.
We tried to meditate on the dunes waiting for the sunset but for some reason it was a popular place, jeeps came by, children looking to sell chips and drinks, who knew..finally it was quiet . The sun went down.

So what do we do for dinner? Outdoors it is with a bonfire and dancing. A mix of belly dancing and Bollywood kept us warm. Again chai amsala, paneer and a new dish mini eggplant in masala sauce.

How romantic it sounds to sleep in a tent , not on a floor but on a bed , but it’s desert and it gets cold at night so I went to sleep with all my cloths.

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Fort and more- Shabbath in Jodphur

This is the third post in the past 24 hours. I have so much to share so forgive me if it is too much and I hope you will enjoy the ride.
Being on a bus for 7 hours for the ride from Udaphur to Jodphur was not too bad, we watched a great movie called “outsourced”, stopped for Chai at a nice spa and soon after arrived at the blue city.

There are almost 2 million people living in this city. The Mehrangarth is a fort that towers over the city. From one side one can see the old city with it’s blue color buildings, they say its the color of kings, on the other side the new city spreads.
The fort was build form stone and the intricate work is unbelivable. The carving are made in stone but it gives the illusion of carving in wood. Once entering there are displays of miniature paintings, textiles and wall painting which are unbelievable in their intricacy.

I treated myself to an ayurvedic massage that started with half an hour oil pored over my head and ended with a 10 minutes steam. I came out rejuvenated and ready for Shabbath.

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Shabbath at the Ranbanka Palace hotel started with mindfulness two and half hour meditation lead by Dina. We meditated to the מודה אני ושמע ישראל , we practice walking meditation and did an exercise with a partner asking each other- what do you really think multiple times, we continues after lunch and rest into a two hour yoga.
The combination of meditation-yoga-india worked after a week of intensive travel we all needed to recharge.

Namaste

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