Thailand – Land of the Buddha

Back in October when I asked my friend Patricia Patton if I could join her on an excursion to Thailand, I really knew very little about Thailand, except that I’ve always enjoyed Thai massage and Thai food. This was going to be my gift to me for my 60th!  I had forgotten that the movie The King and I,  was based on a true story and in many ways influenced the future of Siam aka Thailand.  Nor did I realize that the food chain 7- Eleven was founded by a man from Thailand.  Those stores permeate the country, with over eight thousand 7-Elevens in Thailand, and over three thousand of those are located in Bangkok.

And I had no idea the level of devotion to the teachings of the Buddha, the Buddha consciousness that is palpable throughout Thailand. Despite the fact that most of the population are poor, people appear at peace and happy.  This may sound naive, but I do believe it’s the culture, tied in with the beliefs of the Buddha (regardless circumstances, happiness is available in every moment by controlling the mind) that makes for these easy going population. I’m not saying they’re happy to be poor, but the Thai people are just very pleasant to be around.

Patricia and I

I cannot deny what it requires of me mentally and physically to take these exceedingly long flights to far away lands. The whole mind game to endure an 18 hour flight to Thailand was substantial. There are some folks who travel around the globe on a regular basis and think nothing of the travel time. Many of them tell me they just sleep through it. I find it quite grueling and resort to all kinds of techniques, like talking to myself and practicing breathing exercises, watching lots of movies and reading. Still, I feel like a kid constantly trying not to ask myself “How much longer? Are we there yet?” And I was so thankful for the compression socks my sister loaned me. At the last minute I couldn’t find mine.  But won’t travel without them. What a life, legs, saver!!!

Typically, I was never one who could sleep on airplanes. But these days when I travel, I used my Spritzers and essential oil blends to calm and center myself. These Spritzers are my constant travel companions whether traveling locally in my car, on the subway or headed across the globe. Their botanical ingredients provide an easy access to natures healing powers.

Ancient ruins with countless statues like this of the Buddha – It was 105 degrees this day

It was incredibly hot when we arrived in Thailand.  We later found out that we arrived at the beginning of the Thai summer season. Ours would be the last tour of the season due to the extreme heat.  That first week the temperature ranged between 95-105 degrees. No wonder they have Night Markets, where mostly tourists shop at outdoor markets in the evenings when the temps have cooled down. One thing I did notice with all that heat, the little aches and pains I typically have were non-existent.  Now that I’m back home to cold, damp temps, those little annoyances have returned….We also happen to be in Thailand during the Thai New Year, April 13th-15th. Since it’s so hot during the New Year season, that it is celebrated with water.  And people literally douse each other with buckets of water, water guns, water hoses, it’s hilarious and fun.

In the big city of Bangkok, there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to how the city is laid out, if you can even call it that. It’s a mesh-mash of shanty type buildings thrown right in with 5 star hotels. Not my idea of beauty. Though there are many fabulous boutique hotels and other businesses that have all the bells and whistles. I found the city of Bangkok quite congested and unattractive along with the underlying smell of sewage; much like what I have experienced in Africa and the Caribbean.  These facts did not subtract from the overall experience of Thailand, which was just incredible. For my taste, the countryside is far more appealing with rice farms and lots of greenery, palm trees, coconut trees and all kinds of huge plants abound. We traveled to five cities but they were all up north, nowhere near the amazing beaches of the south in cities like Phuket, the place that introduced most of the world to the word tsunami.

Young novice monks on daily walk to receive offerings of food

What most amazed me was the devotion to the Buddha and his teachings. It’s in the air in the way that the people conduct themselves and interact with others. Imagine begin in a place where everyone who greets you brings their hands into prayer position and bows their head. This is everyone, from the children on up, the shop keepers, the concierge at the finest hotel restaurants, everyone greets you this way in Thailand. There’s something very sacred about that kind of interaction. It’s a cause for a mental pause, to really see the person you’re greeting and who is greeting you. People tend to be easy going and calm, gracious and patient, soft spoken and considerate. Drivers give each other the right of way, and there is no car horn blowing in Thailand. Drivers have the option to buy their cars with or without a horn, and most do not. Imagine that!

An artisan making a Buddha

There are incredible images of the Buddha, everywhere. There are 14 million people in the city of Bangkok alone and our tour guide said that there are least 3 Buddha statues to every one person. Thailand is an ancient country with statues of the Buddha that date back 700 years. There are ancient temples and ruins to the Buddha that both local people and travelers pay homage to daily. They bring offerings of money, bouquets of fresh cut flowers, garlands of flowers, jewelry, incense, they burn candles, genuflect and pray. The monks are given food daily by the people as a way of honoring those who take very seriously the teachings of the Buddha. All this to say, I was happily in a kind of, Buddha heaven until that last day. The many innumerable temples of all varying sizes, ages, details, are too many to list here.

The King graciously accepting a flower from an elder

Another point that stood out in a major way is the love that the Thai people have for their deceased king; this is evident everywhere. Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, was the world’s longest-reigning monarch; he died on October 13th 2016, after 70 years as head of state.  All over the city, the country, in the homes and businesses are huge photos, posters, and elaborate water resistant framed images of this king, the late Rama the 9th.  Yet, he was hardly ever in the headlines.  Why, because he was a great man, an upright leader who cared.  Had he been a tyrant we would have heard much about him.

Seemingly he was a king of and for the people. Our guide told us of the many ways he regularly went into the proverbial trenches to support and empower the people, to be with them through natural disasters, to uplift the farmers, to teach the Cambodians other skills so that they gladly left the lucrative business of opium behind. His Highness passed last October, but if you were there now, you’d think he just died the other day as buildings, businesses and homes are draped in black and white mourning cloth. He loved his people and their love for him is still quite apparent.

Sitting here with young girls from the Karen Long Neck Tribe

Last but not least, this time around on Thailand, are of the beautiful indigenous people who live in the hills of Chiang Mai. There are 10 Hill Tribes and the one that is most well known are the Karen Long Neck Tribe. They are located up the hill from the elephant reserve in Chiang Mai.  Unfortunately, these tribes are becoming like most indigenous people around the planet, scarce. Their numbers are declining as the elders pass on and the young people succumb to the influence of western civilization via satellite television and tourists. There are seemingly more people who live in the 75 brownstones on my block, than who reside in those 10 tribes, put together. There didn’t appear to be even 100 people in those hills.

Up in the hills where nature and beauty prevails

I was heartbroken that this was not a part of our scheduled tour. And since our tour was so jammed packed, it was just a few of us who decided that on the last day in Thailand (when I was out of steam, time and money) we would get up early to make the journey to see the people of the Hill Tribes. They were the real deal, the ones with the ancient artistry, living the way of the ancient customs and traditions. This was for me the soul of Thailand. I would have gladly skipped spending one more day seeing yet three to five more temples and dozens more Buddha images to spend a whole day and even several days in the hills with the Hill Tribes.

A young Kayaw girl weaving on loom

These people of art and the land make their living selling their amazing artistry to tourist. I found myself feeling guilty for being there as a tourist, taking photos of them and with them. I felt like I needed to be doing more, giving more than just an exchange of money for their goods.   I’m still grappling with this and wondering what more can I do? But needless to say, despite all the many Buddhist temples and incredible statues of the Buddha, this 45 minute visit to see the people in the hills, was the highlight of my trip to Thailand. If I ever make it back to Thailand, this is where I will be spending my time and money.

This wonderful Akha elder had us all smiling

There’s so much more that we experienced and learned, like ride on the elephants (images of elephants are also quite prevalent in Thailand) learning how to cook Thai food, we learned how to make paper with botanical designs in the paper, and the list goes on and on. If you haven’t already visited, consider going to Thailand for a most unique and fortifying experience.

It Hurt So Good – Thai Massage

After 17 hours of  flying time to arrive in Bangkok, Thailand today, I couldn’t wait to have one of those amazing Thai massages.  It hurt so good, I felt I had to share this incredible treat with you.  Thailand is called the land of the Buddha. But another thing that Thailand is quite famous for is, Thai Massage. Thai Massage has a profound healing affect on the body, due to the many levels of the body that this massage technique is able to access.

Our tour guide informed us that there is no hip or knee replacement surgery in Thailand due to great affect Thai massage has on the body. She mentioned that Thai massage is also the reason why senior citizens of Thailand have no problem squatting to use their traditional, hole in the ground kind of toilet. BTW, squatting is the natural position to relieve one’s bowels. It is a toddler’s tendency to assume the squat position before they are taught to sit on a potty. Indigenous people around the planet, squat to relieve themselves. Squatting prevents straining, undue pressure on the legs and thereby prevents hemorrhoids.

Thai massage addresses meridians also known as channels along the body. When having Thai massage some of the points along the channels are extremely tender when pressed by the therapist, due to blockages. It’s the kind of tenderness that can cause you to groan in pain. Yet, by the second, or third round of adding pressure to that same area, the tenderness subsides, indicating the blockage has been cleared and you don’t have to consider knocking out the therapist for causing you such discomfort.

The massage therapist uses fingers and thumbs for small areas, forearms and elbows for medium size muscles and the foot and knee for larger areas of the body like hamstrings and gluteus maximus. Actually, they use their whole bodies to massage you. They pull and stretch you like you’re a rubber doll. It’s quite incredible. It’s the one massage modality that doesn’t require you to remove your clothes.

One of the ladies I’m traveling with has been to Thailand so many times, the only thing she’s interested in buying this time around are massage therapy sessions. On our first day here she had a four-hour massage. Another friend of mine who lived in other parts of Asia and the Emirates, used to also travel to Thailand just for the massages. Not only are the massages great, they cost under $10.00 US dollars per hour. Often those in the know travel to Thailand just have massages all day long and or for days in a row.

These massage parlors are ubiquitous in Thailand as everyone here receives these services.  I was the only foreigner in the little spot I went to today.  The parlor I visited had approximately 7 “stations” in one large room.  All of the massages are done on a mat, on the floor and it was very clean.  I had to chuckle when near the end of my session one elder therapist asked where I was from.  I said, New York.  She couldn’t understand me even after I repeated it, so my therapist whispered to her, “New York, she Negro American.”  I never felt so good to be referred to as a Negro before in my life.  Somehow the way she shared my heritage, touched my heart and caused a sweet internal laugh.

You don’t have to travel all the way to Thailand for Thai massage, especially if you live in New York or California, but if you can, it will be worth the trip, because you will get the real deal, at a price that will make you feel guilty. It’s the best guilty pleasure of them all.

 

St. Croix and Incredible Connections

I hadn’t really plan to go to St. Croix for my 60th birthday, but as fate would have it, I found myself on a flight headed there. My good buddy Edward Jones aka EC, was in town to photograph my 60th birthday photo shoot, and insisted that I go.  EC, had lived in the Virgin Islands for a number of years and still has many friends there. He assured me that if I were to go, his friends would take good care of me. He then introduced me to his friend Robin via text.

I arrived in St. Croix and there was Robin excited about making my 60th all it could be. At first I was a bit disappointed because when I arrived it was overcast and raining and this had been going on all week with the prediction that it would continue.  Robin reminded me that they capture rain for water. If a home runs out of rain water, then they’re forced to purchase water for bathing, flushing, cooking, for living and it’s not cheap. I was reminded of my first brush with this way of life from my days spent in Bermuda many moons ago. This reminder put the Weather Sister in check.  Connecting with nature and her gifts, yes indeed, let’s Give Thanks for rain.

Over cast and drizzling

First stop on our trek, a baobab tree. I was so amazed to see this ancient, West African specimen standing majestically on the island of St. Croix. Baobabs are one of the oldest forms of plant life on the planet. This one is a mere 250 years old. I hadn’t been near a baobab since being in Senegal some 30 years ago. So it was quite a treat to connect with this grand being again.

baobab tree

It wasn’t too long in Robin’s presence before I learned of her incredible project. Robin is in the throws of building a gorgeous house up on a hill.  Let me say, they are hills and then there’s this hill over looking what I can only describe as God’s land. The view is just breathtaking!  I was so inspired to see this insightful, brave woman take on being project manager for the house that she is having built; and she assured me that it’s quite a feat, time consuming, at times tedious and exhausting, but at the same time very rewarding.  Robin had the foresight and insight to purchase this land 28 years ago for a fraction of what it’s worth today. To say I was inspired would be an understatement. I was deeply reminded of the long standing vision I have long had for my own life, to be surrounded by nature. Robin’s husband and three children support and inspire her quest to build this family compound on the land of her ancestors.

Robin caught in web of her vision

When it was time to eat, Robin and I got together to have a little nosh with another of Edward’s friends, a fiber and jewelry artist named, Kim Lyons. Then one of my neighbors, the famed Malene Barnett mentions to me on Instagram that she was just talking to Kim Lyons who told her she had met me that evening.  This world is so small. Serendipity and more connections.

Robin Barlow Jones, Anu Prestonia and Kim Lyons

In the late 80s I became the client of manicurist Olivine Calvin, better known as Ollie. Ollie was a very talented nail artist who hailed from St. Croix and carried that cool, Caribbean vibe wherever she went. Loving, nurturing with an easy laugh, Ollie was loved by many.  Never one to rush, if she was running behind and you were in a rush, Ollie would not change her pace.  And when it was your turn, she gave you that same time and special attention she gave the person before you. Ollie later became a Loctician at Khamit Kinks, and her Loc clients fell in love with her.  It’s nearly five years now since Ollie made her transition.  But since I was going to her homeland, I had to meet up with her vivacious sister Millie.  Millie is like the mayor of St. Croix, she knows everybody and everybody knows her.  Exuberant, positive, always smiling and full of laughter, she is still celebrating her own birthday which was on March 5th, a Pisces. Millie turned 70 and is still as fabulous as ever, as she sashays in her high heels and her great smile. And I forgot to mention, the week prior had been Robin’s birthday.  We were all in celebration mode.

Millie Calvin

Wouldn’t you know it, though my first two days on St. Croix were overcast, on my birthday the sun shown brilliantly!  I felt it was a sign of a bright future. I had already decided, come rain or come shine, on my birthday I was going to the beach and getting in the ocean. At that point I was down with the clouds and rain, so the sun was like icing on the cake.  Leave it to Robin to not take me to just any beach, we traveled to the gorgeous Sandy Point National Wildlife Reserve.  That day Sandy Point was closing at 4:00 in the afternoon and would be closed for the next six months, for the turtle nesting season. This signaled sacred ground to me and I felt so blessed to be at this place on this special day. I recalled my visit to Tulum, Mexico, when one night on the beach we watched as a great turtle’s eggs hatched and the little hatchlings made their way to the ocean. Talking about the wonders of the world!!! Turtles also signify long life as they are able to live well past 100 years old barring predators and polluted environments.

Sandy Point – Wildlife Reserve

The sweetest and wildest connection of them all was when Robin kept talking about her 28 years in Oakland and Richmond California. So I just blurted out, you wouldn’t happen to know my sister-in-law Fanta Lawrence? After I mentioned Fanta, all Robin kept saying, was “get the hell outta here.”  LOL!  Not only did she know Fanta, but Robin has another friend Amena.  For years, these two friends of Robin’s,  Fanta and Amena had been talking about their incredible granddaughter and Robin just realized a few months ago, that they had been talking about the same child, my great niece, Amenta.  So it was such a delight for me to go visit my great niece whose been spending time in St. Croix with her dad and paternal grandmother.

I connected with my great niece, what a treat!

In addition, I now have not one, not two, but three dear sister friends who have purchased property in St. Croix.  Retired educators, they are having fun with life. One after the other they have put down stakes in the Virgin Islands  and now I know why. I want to drink that Kool-aid too!  I had planned to spend my whole time in St. Croix sequestered, at my sister’s beach side condo, contemplating this next leg of my journey.  But the Universe had other plans.  Robin gathered me from the airport and we had one amazing moment after another and it was until my last evening there that I spent time on the other end of the island at my sister’s condo. This property is beautifully landscaped with a pool, just before reaching the ocean’s water which is quite wild, with big crashing waves. Like Robin’s property, my friend’s properties double as vacation rentals.

Pool side at my sister MK’s rental property

Sometimes you can’t plan for the good that the Universe has in store for you, you just have to allow yourself to be guided.  I was certainly in one of my favorite element for my 60th birthday, surrounded by nature and loving people.  I was  treated by a most gracious and generous host, the incredible Robin Barlow-Jones.  And the connections were made of the stuff you can’t even make up, just simply magical.  Yes indeed!  Let me give Thanks for my years on this planet and for incredible connections.

In my element

Many Thanks to Robin for a wonderful 60th.  Thank you to my dear sister Linda, for this such a memorable and generous birthday gift.  Thank you EC for a long time friendship and for being the incredible connector.

Me and EC circa 1993 in St. Thomas

Having a friend like EC is like the gift that keeps on giving.  Thank you EC for being such a dear friend and for making my 60th a memory of a lifetime.  From now on I’ll just refer to you as “The Connector”.

If you’re longing to connect with the sea, try our Sea Scape!

 

Clearing, Cleaning and Cleansing

Spring is on the horizon, the perfect season for clearing, cleaning, cleansing and throwing it away. Giving us a jump-start in this direction was the full moon in Virgo this past Sunday.  This is the planet in charge of structure and putting things in order, including ourselves. It’s not just cluttered drawers and closets that need clearing out, there’s a whole cadre of categories that are in need of “throwing it away.”

The Home ~ Though we may ignore it, we know when things need to be cleared out of closets, drawers, basements, attics, etc.  Perhaps it’s our office or the car that’s sorted with grime and or clutter. When we clear our physical spaces, it allows more mental space, for a clearer mind. Spring is the perfect season to throw it away or give it away, all those things that are taking up space in our physical world that we no longer use, want, or that no longer addresses who and where we are today. If you’re ready to seriously de-clutter, be careful to not go overboard. If you share a space with others, don’t assume it’s okay to thin their herd.  What may mean nothing to you could have great value to them. It’s wise to be both considerate and strategic on how you de-clutter. It will offer an opportunity to refresh and realign the energy in your space and within you.

The Body ~ Spring is the perfect season for internal cleansing. We are soon approaching the Spring Equinox, a time of the year for renewal, for clearing out the accumulation in our bodies from the winter season.  We can assist this process by including bitters into our diet, eating dandelion, chicory, plenty of fruits and increasing the intake of fresh, green juices into our diet.  The seasonal remedies of our grandparents, castor oil, cod liver oil, Swedish bitters and other home remedies worked back then and they are valuable now.  Cleansing the body is an uplifting and proactive way of welcoming spring and rejuvenating ourselves.

Many will “catch” a cold, in other words, will begin an internal cleansing. The mucous coming out of the body is the body’s natural way of cleaning out.  Instead of trying to suppress this cleansing with medications, assist this natural process by drinking plenty of fresh green juices, citrus juices and water to help flush out all the gook that has been storing up. Yes, it can be a bit snotty, but in the end your body will thank you.

The outer body needs clearing to. Exfoliating is a rejuvenating way to clear and reveal the silky, smooth skin under all the accumulated, dead skin cells. Exfoliation also stimulates the lymphatic system. Follow up exfoliation with smooth, hydrating moisturizers.

The Mind ~ During winter we may not be aware of the many subtle ways in which we hibernate. Winter is a time for resting, ruminating and planning, but we may gather a bit of mind clutter during that time with thoughts, ideas and perceptions that don’t serve us. Spring is a great time to let go of the mind clutter weighing us down. We may seek the help of a support group or therapist to guide us with freeing and clearing our minds and finding peace. Exercising can also help with mind clutter – aerobics, yoga, tai-chi, bicycling etc. and connecting with a spiritual practice can help release mind clutter.

Social Media ~ I recently took just two days off from social media and I can’t begin to tell you the level relief I felt, and the space in my head (peace) from not habitually checking my digital devices to see, to respond, assess and process image after image and idea after idea. For someone who is “required” to be on social media for work and who is in the habit of being there, taking that little break was a welcome reminder of the good old days of living only in the real world, leaving the virtual world behind. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with mind clutter, clocking out from social media for a spell can be very helpful with becoming centered again, of checking in and being present with the real you and your ‘real’ world. Perhaps you’re not on social media but there’s some other activity that you habitually partake in that’s draining you. Consider taking a break from it and experience the peace of mind.

Spirit ~ Last but not least, spiritual clutter. If your heart is not centered at this time, “spring can really hang you up the most”. It’s more difficult to hide inside the home or inside of ourselves once spring arrives. But nature knows best. Spring may just be the ticket we need to free ourselves from spiritual stagnation.

Consider spending time in nature. Go to the park or botanic gardens. Or if you’re able, take a trip to a place where nature abounds. It could be just an hour’s drive outside the city or hop on a plane to someplace that inspires. Just don’t forget, your spirit needs space too. Perhaps you already live around nature and instead you need a cultural excursion. Do that! Take some time alone away from all the many things, people and ways we distract ourselves from checking in with what’s really going on with us. Tap in and address what you’re truly feeling in a meaningful way, follow your soul’s call and give it what it needs.

Clear, clean, cleanse and throw it away ~ all that does not serve your highest good. In-joy spring!

Come Bathe With Me

Speaking with a friend, I was surprised when she shared that she couldn’t remember the last time she’d taken a bath. She said that it had been years, that she only takes showers. I couldn’t imagine that. As a child living in the south, we didn’t have showers, we only had bathtubs. And when we moved to NY, I never wanted to take a bath again. I thought baths were passé and showers were cool and hip. But my mom would insist we take baths too. Perhaps that’s why as an adult I returned to the pleasure of bathing.

These days, showering seems to have replaced the bathing experience in most people’s lives. I wonder if it’s just a city thing? Urban dwellers tend to live more hectic lives and people believe they are too busy for baths. Lost is the concept that bathing is a very ancient remedy that would mitigate the stress of our modern lifestyles.  It’s a magically therapeutic experience. Many ancient cultures took bathing to its heights with luxurious public bath houses.

My friend admitted that one reason she didn’t take baths is that she didn’t like her tub. That certainly could be a deterrent, just as a beautiful tub beacons. Your average hotels will have tubs that are just meant to stand in for showering. But the hotel that it is encouraging its guests to bathe, to relax will typically have a stand-alone tub that is not connected with a shower; and I take full advantage of such a design.

I once stayed at the Hotel Nikko, a Japanese owned hotel. In addition to everything else that was absolutely exceptional and exquisite, they had a soaking tub, an ofuro. For those who are unfamiliar, a soaking tub is shorter and deeper than American made tubs. The impact is that the depth of the water slows down your heartbeat causing a deeper form of relaxation. It was a very special experience.

There have been many a moment when I’ve found myself standing in the shower, warm water spraying down on my body, and I realize how very  tired I am.  I then wonder why am I standing there, when I could be laying down, in a tub of warm, fragrant water?  And in some instances, I have just stopped and turned off the shower and ran a bath instead. I never regret doing that, switching gears for my well being. Laying down in warm to hot water is a far more relaxing experience than standing up in a shower. It naturally slows you down and gives you permission to lay back and unwind. Yet, many forgo this rejuvenating treat.  Water is healing, water renews, it is the elixir of life and it is my firm belief that every woman should sit in water and soak from time to time. The same goes for men. Everyone in the family can benefit from a bath, from babies to elders.

I am curious to know why aren’t people taking more baths? It seems with the level of stress that many are experiencing this would be a very accessible remedy. Please share with me your preference, shower or bath and why.  And of course I encourage to naturally enhance your bathing experience using Anu Essentials botanically based Body Care.  I do!

Anu Essentials Botanical Soaps