Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponShare on LinkedIn

“This is the only stoplight on the island,” announced Yodying, my guide for the day.

“Where?” I asked, not seeing the normal pole topped with red, yellow and green lights.

He pointed to a three-foot high metal tripod with a red light mounted on top, shoved under a tree between intersecting sand roads. “We use it once a year during the Songkran holiday,” he explained with a mischievous grin. That was the moment I knew I had discovered paradise.

The only streetlight on Koh Mak, used once a year during the Songkran holiday

The only streetlight on Koh Mak, used once a year during the Songkran holiday

This virtually unknown Eden where I unexpectedly found myself was Koh Mak, a small island on the far eastern side of the Gulf of Thailand. Of the few tourists who visit each year, most arrive on day trips from Koh Chang, its better-known and very touristy neighbor located a mere 12 miles to the north. Determined to change that, Yodying had invited me to be a guest of his Good Time Resort, located atop a high ridge of land overlooking exquisite white sand beaches on either side of the narrow isle.

A month earlier I had visited Bangkok for the first time in ten years and came away saddened by the changes I witnessed. The famous Thai smiles seemed to have been replaced by stressed-out shoppers and the crowds, though always immense in Bangkok, seemed more overwhelming than ever before. I wrote it off as another country rushing headlong toward Western ways and checked Thailand off my list of favorites. However, after touring the sights and several of the 20 resorts on Koh Mak, I was ready to recant.

Beautiful, uncrowded beaches of Koh Mak, Thailand

Beautiful, uncrowded beaches of Koh Mak, Thailand

There are no high rises here, no jet skis, no quads, no banana boats. And there never will be. Ninety-five percent of the 9.6 square mile island is still owned by a single extended family whose members are committed that it will never become another Pattaya, filled with beer bars, sex trade, nightclubs and souvenir shops. According to Yodying, their resolve withstood a test recently when a Frenchman began building on one of the few parcels owned by an outsider. Read More

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponShare on LinkedIn

They told me it couldn’t be done. They said, at age 54, with no portfolio or clips of previously published work, I couldn’t possibly break into travel writing. Fortunately, I am not the kind of person to whom you can say “can’t,” because I will do it just to prove you wrong. It’s been five long, glorious years getting here but today I proved them all wrong. Today, I realized just how much of a favor all those naysayers did for me. Because today I was featured on ABC News.

When I was in Washington, DC last week covering the Dalai Lama during his Kalachakra for World Peace, I met a producer from ABC. He loved my personal story and had me into the studio for an on-camera interview. He thought it would probably only go on their website, but apparently it was on the morning news today, as well as being plastered all over the ABC and Washington News Network websites. Read the story here: Living the Dream and Filling the ‘Hole in the Donut’

Or view the video here (there’s a brief commercial at the beginning):
 

Thank you, Tom Giusto and ABC. For helping to make my dream come true.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponShare on LinkedIn

Many of you have asked me to display my photos in larger format and I am happy to report that I have finally found a way to do so. On the right-hand sidebar, at the very top, click on the new “Daily Photo” bar to see large format photos from my travels. Since this is a new feature, there may be some bugs to work out. For example, anyone who has signed up to receive an email each time I publish a new post may now begin receiving emails each time I upload a new daily photo – I am testing over the next few days to determine what will actually happen and hope I won’t scare off subscribers by inundating you with emails. Bear with me; the blog is always evolving. Please feel free to send me your thoughts and comments.

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Kalachakra for World Peace Event
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponShare on LinkedIn

On the final day of the Kalachakra for World Peace 2011 I drove to Yard Park in Washington, DC and waited for the Dalai Lama to arrive. Earlier that day the mandala, a beautiful circular sand painting that monks had been building and praying over for the past 10 days, was dissolved and swept up into a silver urn, bound for the Anacostia River, where His Holiness would pour it into the water as a blessing for aquatic life and the greater environment.

Unlike other events I had attended as a member of the press contingent, this special ceremony was not open to Kalachakra attendees or the general public and I realized this would be my one and only opportunity to get close enough to the Dalai Lama to receive his personal blessing. When we were advised that the he was ten minutes out I claimed my spot at the curb, checked my telephoto lens, pulled a kata – silk scarf – out of my backpack and wrapped it around my neck. Moments later, a caravan of black SUV’s rolled up and jerked to a stop. State Department agents jumped out to help the Dalai Lama out of a long, sleek black sedan and surrounded him as he walked toward the crowd.

Completed Kalachakra mandala, a sacred sand painting

Completed Kalachakra mandala, a sacred sand painting

I snapped a single shot of His Holiness as he walked slowly past journalists to my left, then dropped my camera and grabbed the scarf from around my neck. Draping it over my hands, I held it out and bowed my head, hoping that he would place it around my neck in a traditional blessing. Suddenly, my right hand was firmly grasped and a warmth coursed through my body. Startled, I looked up into the smiling countenance of His Holiness, who was holding my hand. I opened my mouth but nothing came out; for the first time in my life I was completely speechless. His clear liquid eyes looked directly into mine and that famous little boy grin spread across his face; he knew I was incapable of speech and seemed inordinately amused by it. He finally let go and continued toward the tent where the ceremony would begin. In ninety degree temperatures I shivered, feeling his magnetic energy withdraw.

Dalai Lama arrives at Yard Park in Washington DC to pour blessed sands from dissoved Kalachakra mandala into Anacostia River

Dalai Lama arrives at Yard Park in Washington DC to pour blessed sands from dissoved Kalachakra mandala into Anacostia River

Being singled out by the Dalai Lama for personal attention was an indescribable joy, especially since I am fairly new to Tibetan Buddhism. My path to Buddhism began many years ago when I read a book about Eastern religions, but it wasn’t until I visited Thailand some ten years go that I truly committed to the philosophy of enlightenment espoused by Buddha. Over the ensuing years I struggled to achieve a deeper understanding, learning bits and pieces from the occasional monk who spoke English and attending teachings when my hectic work schedule allowed. Read More

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Kalachakra for World Peace Event
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponShare on LinkedIn

I cover my head with a towel to get some small relief from the scorching sun. Cameras strung around my neck and lenses stuffed in pockets, I jockey for position at the front rail in an area that has been set aside for members of the media covering the Dalai Lama’s Kalachakra for World Peace event in Washington, DC. Today will be His Holiness’ only public appearance and the crowds have arrived early, filling the west lawn of the Capitol building to capacity. No bags are searched and no metal detectors have been set up and the lack of security is somewhat alarming, considering that the media has been subject to an hour-long security screening including metal detectors, bag searches and bomb-sniffing dogs on each of the previous days of the event before being allowed into the Verizon Center. I wondered how members of the press could pose more of a threat to the Dalai Lama than thousands of people arriving with backpacks and suitcases.

By the time the sun rises, huge crowds have already gathered on the Capitol west lawn to hear the Dalai Lama speak

By the time the sun rises, huge crowds have already gathered on the Capitol west lawn to hear the Dalai Lama speak

Our nation’s capital is a strange choice for a conference on world peace. In one restaurant, I grabbed the only available seat at a table where diners were comparing generals who insist on salutes and ‘sirs’ to those who are more casual. Snatches of political conversations fade in and out as I walk the streets. One whole afternoon was wasted trying to gain entrance to a press conference where the Dalai Lama explained his decision to step down as the political leader of Tibet to Nancy Pelosi and Speaker John Boehner.

Consecration of mandala platform at Earth Ritual Dance during Kalachakra for World Peace, 2011

Consecration of mandala platform at Earth Ritual Dance during Kalachakra for World Peace, 2011

In between, I take refuge in the Verizon Center, attending prayers and the elaborate Earth Ritual Dance, where Tibetan monks in exquisitely ornamented silk robes consecrate the venue and prepare the platform upon which the Kalachakra mandala will be painted in sand. The stadium overflows with love and compassion. I want to carry this inner peace with me but within minutes of leaving I am thrust back into the real world, once again dealing with traffic, crowds, angry people, unhappy people, power struggles. Monks have it easy, I think. Read More

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Kalachakra for World Peace Event
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponShare on LinkedIn

 

The first day of the Kalachakra for World peace event that began yesterday in Washington, DC fell on the 76th birthday of the Dalai Lama. After opening ceremonies, thousands of supporters streamed from the Verizon Center and paraded through the streets to the National Mall, where dances and celebrations were held to honor His Holiness. The Kalachakra, which the most important event of the year for Tibetans, is held in a different location around the world each year and this is the first time it has ever been held in Washington, DC. The event will last for eleven days, from July 6-16, and will feature teachings by the Dalai Lama, as well as a building of a magnificent sand mandala.