Chiang Mai is a flourishing city in the north of Thailand, up in the mountains. It is touristic, yet still has a rustic, traditional feel. The hilly mountain landscape is dotted with shining golden temples, and there are many more in the center of the city, and wherever you are, there is sure to be a monk or two nearby. Dressed in there bright orange robes, and shaved heads, My brothers and I were fascinated by monks, their traditions and way of life, so naturally when I found out that some of the nearby temples held monk chats, I was eager to go. To say we spent an entire day touring temples searching for these supposed 'chats', would barely be an overstatement. We went to at least five different, beautiful temples, in the heart of Chiang Mai. These temples were like glorious crystals embedded in rock, tucked away behind a myriad of buildings. They would have been hard to find on any day. Funnily enough, the day we decided to go to the monk chat was not 'any day'. We decided to go on a Sunday, and every week on Sunday, there is a big art market. Hundreds of vendors come to sell paintings, sculptures, handmade clothing and more. Of course that means that thousands of tourists streamed through downtown to marvel the plethora of souvenirs, and then empty there pockets in a meager attempt to commemorate there trip to Thailand once they return home. So we had to weave, (and by weave I mean push and use our elbows a but too much), through the masses of people to get from one destination to the next. It was nearly impossible to spot the temples even when they were five feet away from us, tourists, vendors, and monks blocked our view. But once we forced our way through the crowd, it was like we had entered a different world... Unlike the hubub outside the gates, the temple was quiet and blissful. Monks ambled across the sunlit pathways from temple building to building. Birds could be heard chirping from the trees, and a meditative aura surrounded us. I felt I might even lift of the ground and float into the every growing sunset. But as we went from temple to temple, and evening grew nearer, we still hadn't found a monk chat... It was at the last temple on our list that we saw, in the flickering light of a street lamp, a small table with three foreigners and the unmistakable orange cloak of a monk. We approached slowly, and sat down on the bench next to the table. British lady, who I immediately suspected was a journalist, rattled of questions with great speed to the young monk next to her. I could see the monk struggling to understand what she was saying. To my surprise, the monk wasn't the one that answered her questions. It was a big, burly, Scottish man, bald and with many tattoos, and a petite British lady with a fanny pack, that answered. That is when our chat with an 'aspiring' monk began. Our questions ranged from: 'Why is your robe orange?' to 'Can monks float?" and each one was answered by the aging Scottish man. After he finished answering a question, he would tell a 'short' story about his spiritual journey. After what seemed like hours, we finally bid adieu to the monk and the aspiring monks. Our heads filled with thoughts of anything related to a monks lifestyle, and many more questions we never got to ask. I can tell you from experience that contemplating the do's and don'ts of a monks lifestyle can be VERY time consuming... I learned so much at the monk chat, and if anyone wants to know what I learned, feel free to email me some questions!
Sorry I haven't blogged much lately, I am getting back into the rhythm though, so I hope to post a few more blogs soon!
Liv the Explorer
Koh Lanta was by far the most controversial place I visited. Meaning, I both loved it and disliked it at the same time. Koh Lanta is a little of the coast of Thailand. It is a beautiful little island, with warm waters and soft sand on every coast. As much as I would have liked to stay in a little beachside resort, we didn’t. My mom decided to stay at a little jungle farm, called AsaLanta. AsaLanta stands for Asian Sustainability Academy. AsaLanta is run by a Dutch lady and her Thai husband, they have a baby daughter, who they joke is the real boss. They aspire to one day have a sustainability academy that runs all the way through college. Right now they run volunteer programs for foreigners and free, after-school programs for local kids.
There are five mud huts on the property. The largest one housed a common kitchen, volunteer room, and an open-air tea house. The walls were mud, and the floors were bamboo. Everything was open to the outside. I loved that the walls had colored, glass bottles built into them. We were staying in ‘Dad’s house’. It had two floors, on the first floor there were two single beds, and there was a big king sized bed on the second floor. You could tell that the small, thin structure was hastily thrown together, and there were many cracks between were the walls and the floor should meet, etc. That made the house open to the outside, which meant all kinds of bugs could easily creep in, as they could in all the other huts on the property. We saw hundreds of spiders, millipedes, and other bugs on our first day alone. This didn’t bode well with me. That is one of the main reasons I didn’t like Koh Lanta so much. Which you might think is a bit shallow, but spiders and the rest of their bug crew really creep me out. Plus, would you like it, if ants bite your rear when you go to the toilet in the outhouse, and then creep into your pants. Then you literally have ants in your pants for the rest of the day. In addition to the wildlife, when you stay on the farm, you must help with the garden and construction work. Which in the beginning I didn’t like so much, my family and I were assigned to clear out a patch of jungle, while the three other volunteers rebuilt the tree house. I am a city slicker, and I had no intention of going out into the jungle, with a machete and clearing out a patch of jungle. In the beginning, I went along, but early on I picked up a small stick, which turned out to be a huge stick bug. After that, I decided it would be better if I took care of Asa, the baby, instead.
Every day after work, we would go to a little restaurant/bar called Jai Dee home, that was recommended to us. This was definitely the highlight of my trip in Ko Lanta, maybe even all of Thailand! Other than the delicious mango lassies, and the beckoning ocean, we also met a family with a girl about my age and a boy about my brothers age. They were staying at Jai Dee home, along with their crew, (to be explained later), in the spare rooms. They actually had a quite interesting story. They were English, but lived in Portugal, and the father works for the band Prodigy, fixing their instruments. (Hence the crew). The girl and I shared interests in reading, mango lassies, and generally being lazy on the beach. So we naturally became good friends. Aside from volunteering, and sitting at Jai Dee home. My mom brothers and I also visited the animal welfare center, where they rescue street cats and dogs. Which, I forgot to mention there are many. The island of Koh Lanta is a mostly Muslim island. Muslims generally don’t keep pets. But when Koh Lanta became a more touristic location, builders were sent over from the mainland, to build hotels and restaurants. These builders and their families brought pets over, and then left the pet's offspring on the island when they went back. That left the streets littered with unwanted pets. The welfare center is trying to rescue, heal, and send the animals out for adoption. We spent an hour there and got to play with all the puppies. Including an adorable three-legged one.
I will write more later!
Liv the Explorer
The week we were traveling in Bangkok just happened to be the week of Hanukkah, but none of us were getting in the holiday spirit. We had no candles to light, and no one to celebrate with. We also didn’t have a kitchen to prepare latkes in. So, my Mom searched online to see if there was any Jewish community having a Chanukah party nearby. It just so happened that there was a Chanukah Party hosted by the Chabad community in Bangkok. So we went, all dressed up in our nice clothes, and were warmly greeted by many Israeli expats. The party certainly got us in the holiday mood. We feasted on Israeli and Thai food, and chatted away with the friendly people that surrounded us. It was a great night and we got a free Menorah and enough candles to last us the week. Starting then I would go up to the balcony every day and light the candles.
On our, (I think), third day in Bangkok, it was bike for dad day. Everybody wore lemon yellow and light blue shirts, that said ‘Bike for Dad’ on them, and lot’s of roads were closed of to let the myriad of bikers pass through in the evening. Now you might think that bike for Dad is a sort of fathers day celebration, that’s what we thought. But it’s not. People weren’t biking for there actual fathers, they were biking for the King, whom they call ‘Dad’. I laughed a bit when I wondered what it would be like to call our President dad. Thai people love their King. At shows and movie theaters, you have to stand and listen to a song about the king before the show starts, and my dad said that someone is facing a jail sentence for disrespecting the King’s dog! Freedom of speech sure doesn’t exist in Thailand! A quick fun fact about the King of Thailand: He is the longest reigning monarch, having ruled since June 9,1946.
Early on in our week in Bangkok, we went to visit the Jaded Buddha at a big temple. It was breathtaking, intricate glass mosaic covered almost every surface of the buildings, and everything else was painted gold. I was almost blinded by the brilliant light reflecting off the buildings. Yanai and I entered the main praying building, and tried to meditate next to the Jaded Buddha. When you go to pray next to the Buddha, you have to point your toes away from the statue, because the toes are considered the lowliest part of the body, and should not be pointed towards the Buddha. Statues of different gods were everywhere, which is a big difference from Judaism, where your not aloud to make a statue of god. We very ‘smartly’ decided to go to the temple in the heat of the day, and after an hour of admiring the buildings we were all drenched with sweat. So we exited the temple, and headed to Kawassan. A haven for Israeli travelers and expats. I felt like I had been teleported to Israel as soon as we arrived. A majority of the signs were in hebrew, and Mediterranean restaurants surrounded us on every side of the street. We sat down in a nice cafe for a good Israeli launch, before my Mom, and brothers left to Kidzania. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but it is basically a utopia for kids, where you can get fake money, fake jobs, and so forth. While my dad and I toured the rest of Kawassan. Food and merchandise stalls littered the streets, and there were so many massage shops it was overwhelming. But the mood was happy and cheerful, and everyone there had a smile on there face. I highly recommend visiting Kawassan, it is a great place to visit in the afternoon. But it becomes a party central at night… It is also a great place to by cheap backpackers gear!
We left Bangkok, and flew into Phuket. A beautiful vacation island. We were immediately taken back by the calmness of the island. After just becoming accustomed to the chaotic city. We spent a week lounging on the beach, and next to the pool with our friends, the Cohen's, who are also traveling the world. The luxurious ended as quickly as a summer breeze, and we were soon whisked of again of Krabi. Krabi is a much more lively place than Phuket and is one of my favorite places in Thailand. We stayed just outside the town, in Aonang, in a lovely little hotel. It had a multitude of cottages and a big pool to swim in. We met two different lovely families there, one from the Netherlands visiting Thailand on winter break, and another family from California, who also happened to be traveling for the year. It was lot’s of fun playing with them, and I was glad to put my social skills to work. Our favorite spot in Krabi was Railley beach. This beach had white sands and clear water. We spent two whole days there, and never got bored. One side of the beach is beautiful, and perfect for swimming. The other side is not so good for swimming, the water is muddy and dirty. But the rocks there are perfect for rock climbing! Which we did on our second visit to the beach. We came just at the ended of the day, so we only had time for 3-4 climbs before the tide came up too high. But I don’t think we would have managed more anyway. After my fourth climb my fingers were twitching and my muscles were cramped. Climbing on real rocks is a lot harder than climbing on man made climbing walls! We also went fishing of the coast of Railley, my brothers caught three huge fish. The were long like spears, with strong jaws and teeth like daggers. I was a bit more hesitant to go swimming after that, knowing those fish were lurking somewhere nearby. These activities were all fun, but the icing on the cake was definitely scuba diving. On one of our last days in Krabi, we all piled into a boat, with a group of other people and went to two different doing spots. My dad and I, and all the other people on the boat were going diving, while my mom and brothers were gong to snorkel. I was scared to go diving, because I had done it before in a swimming pool and I remembered the experience as uncomfortable and extremely frightening. But I was pleasantly surprised. Diving wasn’t at all as I remembered it, half the time I even forgot I was underwater. Only to be reminded by the stinging of floating plankton. I marveled the wonderful sights under water. Huge schools of fish, coral in every color of the rainbow and Nemo (clown fish) swimming in the sea anemone. The only thing I saw that really frightened me was a huge moray eel with an angry look on his face. I swam in the opposite direction, pulling my instructor with me. Diving was a very enjoyable experience, and I am excited to go diving again sometime soon, maybe even get a license!
The night we arrived in Bangkok, I realized that the heat we experienced in Australia, would be nothing compared to what we were about to face. Immediately my shirt began to stick to my body and the humid air made it difficult to breath. As I soon found out, this temperature was considered cold, and I should have appreciated the nice break from the heat. The hostel we were staying in was in the heart of China town, and it sure reminded us of China. The bad traffic, cracked roads, and littered sidewalks, were unmistakable even in the dimming light. Later that week, we tasted a delicious Chinese bun, which once again sent us back to China. Despite our first impressions, we had a blast during our stay in Bangkok. The hostel had shared dorm rooms which I slept in for a few nights, and a coffee shop down stairs. As well as a beautiful balcony that gave us a view of the city, it also happened to be a great place to lounge while we were doing school.
Bangkok is a huge, sprawling and congested city. To travel by car, or Tuk Tuks, (motorcycles with a carriage connected to the back) took often over 40 minutes, due to traffic and distance. So, we took a bus boat. (The bus boat works exactly like a bus, holding many passengers and stopping at different stops, only its a boat.) These boats were often crammed with 100+ people. Mostly locals, with a smattering of tourist, like us. On our second day in Bangkok, we boarded a bus boat and sailed across the river to the meeting point of our foodie tour. Yes, another foodie tour. People who have read my blog before know that this isn't our first foodie tour, and it won’t be our last. But we feel the need to get to know the food in the countries we are visiting, because it helps us better understand the culture. We were joined in our tour, by a retired English couple, an older man from the US, two young men from Sweden, and a young couple who now live in Kenya. On our first stop, we headed off to a local favorite restaurant on the outskirts of the Chinese quarter. There we sampled some duck breast on rice, with a secret sauce. The sauce was delicious, and I have to say the duck breast was too. Though I couldn’t eat more than one bite of the meat, because I think ducks are just too cute to be eaten. I’m glad I didn’t because there was no way I would have been able to taste all the food that was to come. Our group boarded another bus boat and headed of to the outskirts of Bangkok. There in another local favorite restaurant, we had a family stye meal to share between all of us. This meal consisted of 3 dishes. Spicy papaya salad, fried lemongrass on fried chicken, and waterfall beef. I didn’t try the lemongrass chicken, but I did try the waterfall beef. It was delicious. The flavor melted in my mouth and it was one of my favorite dishes. The papaya salad was a mild sweet taste in the beginning, but then I accidentally ate a full chilly pepper. I couldn’t feel my mouth yet it burned at the same time. (I’m pretty sure anyone else who has ever eaten a whole chilly pepper can relate to that feeling.) The cook saw me running around the table with my tongue hanging out of my mouth so she handed me a bowl of what looked like brown mush. Telling me it would help. I didn’t question her, and immediately spooned some of the mush into my mouth. It was raw palm sugar. The sticky sweetness melted on my tounge, and though it didn’t help with the burning sensations that still coursed through my mouth, it still tasted delicious. From that restaurant we went to a soup restaurant. The soup we were served was sweet sour and spicy at the same time. Then we ambled to a muslim restaurant learning a bit about Bangkok’s history. At the muslim restaurant we were served the well known dish Massaman curry. For our last dish and for dessert we went to a fancier restaurant, that was founded by the royal family. There we tasted a delicious green curry, with a variation of naan bread on the side. Last but not least, for desert we had a scoop of heavenly homemade coconut sorbet. It was a delicious day, I learned a lot about Bangkok’s history and culture, and it was a great introduction to Thailand.
Japan is a country of uniform. All schools have school uniforms, and when you get a job, you have to wear a work uniform. Yet on weekends and evenings, Japanese people have the freedom to express themselves with what they wear. Because Japanese usually have to dress very strictly, they come up with some wild street fashion. Most of these fashion styles first emerged in Harajuku, an area of Tokyo, and most of Japanese street fashion is under the general category of Harajuku. Now as this blog is titled
‘A Tweens Guide To Japanese Street Fashion’, It is my job to educate you in the basic types of Harajuku Fashion. So, here we go!
Lolita: Lolita is a very feminine, modest style inspired by aristocratic European fashions in the Victorian, Edwardian and Rococo eras. Lolita often involves lots of lace and frills.
Punk: The punk style was inspired by the punk movement that began in London in the 70s, Punks are rebellious, and they wear black, torn, clothes, scary accessories, dark makeup, and a myriad of piercings.
Cosplay: Cosplay is when you dress up as you favorite cartoon/anime/manga character.
Decora: Decora style favors bright colors, flamboyance, plastic trinkets and accessories from head to toe. You decorate yourself with plastic toys and jewelry, most Decora girls and boys where so many plastic trinkets, toys and accessories that you can hear them clink when they move.
Kawaii: Kawaii, (which means cute in Japanese,) my personal favorite, emphasizes on childlike playfulness--anime characters, ruffles, pastel colors, toys, and so on.
Wamono: Wamono mixes traditional Japanese styles with western styles.
I hope you enjoyed learning about a few of the basic Harajuku Fashion styles. There are so many more out in the streets of Tokyo, but we would be here all year trying to work our way through each style. Maybe you want to try out one of these styles for a day are two, they sure are fun! I have been dressing Kawaii for the past few days, at least I am trying to. Please comment you favorite style below, and if you are a boy, all of these styles are also worn by boys, (even Lolita)!
Goodbye my Harajuku Friends!
Liv Kawaii, Harajuku Expert
P.S. Don't forget to comment you favorite Harajuku style!
Japan! We are in Japan! The country that my parents met in, home of arcades, robots, anything high tech and much more! Japan is so different from most of China, and the change was a bit overwhelming at first. Clean sidewalks and high end fashion stores fill the streets of Tokyo. As well as arcade, after arcade, after arcade. To get my brothers more excited about the trip, my mom gave all the countries little nicknames. China was the country were we would be famous, (because the locals wanted to take pictures with us,) and Japan is Arcade country! My brothers
listened in awe as my parents recounted their memories of the arcades. So after hearing so many stories about the arcades my brothers wanted to go first thing the day we arrived, we pushed it of until the next morning. My brothers sped through their school work, and at 10 am we were standing inside an arcade in Shibuya, Tokyo. Our eyes were the size of saucers when we saw how many games there were. The noise coming from all the machines was overwhelming, and we stumbled our way through the the games till we each found one we wanted to play. I settled on a music game. I can't really explain exactly what it was, there was a circular touch screen in the center with a ring of buttons surrounding it. And you had to tap the buttons or the screen to get the right combination of notes. I played three times, it was so much fun! We left the arcade eyes glazed to tour more if Shibuya and go Halloween shopping. That was our first experience in a Japanese arcade, but it definitely won't be our last.
For my friends who have seen the Katy Perry movie, you might now that she visited a cat cafe in Tokyo, well so did we. The first cafe we want to only had two cats, one of which wasn't very friendly. But the second cat cafe we went to had 18 cats! When we arrived at the door of the cat cafe, we were greeted by a lovely Japanese lady. She let us I'm and introduced us to all the cats. White, black, orange, grey, and brown cats lunged around the room. We pet them all, and played with a particularly playful kitten. Almost all the cats at the cat cafe are rescues for adoption. My favorite cat not including the kitten, was an orange cat with brown speckles. If you started to pet it, s/he would stay on your lap and not try to run away, like the other cats. In that way s/he reminded me of my cat, Cookie. Cookie could stay on your lap for hours and not budge, and I am sure this cat could to. Thinking of Cookie I felt a pang of homesickness, but it was soon soothed by the soft purring of the orange cat. I showed the Cat Lady a picture of Cookie.
"You're leaving your cute cat for a whole year!" She exclaimed surprised. "How you can you do that?"
"I don't know, I miss him so much," I admitted.
After an hour or so of petting, and occasionally playing, with the cats, it was time to go. We said goodbye to all the cats, and the
Cat Lady, and began to roll some cat hairs of our clothing. We were just about to leave when a grey cat jumped up onto the Cat Lady and held onto her chest like a baby. We looked at the lady and the cat, astonished.
"Did you teach him to do that?" My brother asked her.
"No," She replied. "S/he started doing that on he/r own when she was about 3 years old."
Then she added a bit defensively, "I love this cat. S/he is mine, s/he is not for adoption."
We chuckled and said goodbye one more time to the Cat Lady and her Jumping Cat.
"Japan is FULL of quirky things like Cat Cafes." My mom told me on our way out.
If any of you ever find yourselves in the Tokyo area, I highly suggest you visit Asakusa Nekoen Cat Cafe.
Here is there website: http://asakusanekoen.com
So far, I love Japan and all its quirkiness, and I am excited to see more.
Liv the Explorer