Friday, November 26, 2010

comfortably fearful

(This picture was taken in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia back in 2008. We had started our journey from Kuala Lumpur; toured the city and I gave a lecture at an arts space on Contemporary Alaskan Artists. It was a good turn out and I met some lovely people and students.)

Some time upon leaving on our treks I seem to absorb fear; I get this nervous anxiety before our departure. In fact, I hear these random horror stories from people here and there and of course my ears are wide open for the media coverage in the part of the world I will be visiting. Accidents can happen anywhere. In fact, coming back from a tedious trip to Bali and Java in 2006, at home in Anchorage, the week later I slipped on ice and broke my wrist. Things happen! Things can happen in your home. You can even trip over your dog and break a leg. What about car accidents? Of course, I don't want to amp up the hysteria, but I do believe that a little fear is good to have. My father told me to always fear the ocean. He taught me how to swim in the Atlantic current and I practiced doing my crawl in the bouncing surf. Fear teaches you to be respectful. It teaches you to do a head's up, to pay attention and listen. However.......

Years ago, before venturing on my first major jaunt to Egypt in 1989, I had a girlfriend tell me how the men over there pull out your hair. My trip was astonishing fabulous; the people kind and welcoming. In fact, whenever we visit places, we are greeted with openness. Of course, there were places that are edgy too, but most of our travels have been successful and timeless. My travel agent, who is Cambodian, told me not to travel to Laos. She exclaimed that they will kill you! Maybe there was a little prejudice happening with this comment, but Ken and I seriously look into the travel warnings, alerts and read up from other people's comments who know of this area and have traveled in those parts. There is also the Thorn Tree Website that lists areas of the world; people can ask questions, leave comments, most everyone gives recommendations and wonderful, helpful advice.

I do think the older you get, you are more hesitant to travel. Why wait until you retire? You need to be in excellent shape to walk, experience challenging places, must transition and adapt easily. I have noticed a grand malaise over the years from the American people about traveling though and maybe this has happened since the 9/11 incident. We have become a nation of fear. In fact, we see more Australians and Brits on our trips, along with Italians, French and many German, not to mention Koreans, Japanese, Israeli and Russian. However, Americans seem to be seen the least on our journeys.

Once over in the country, I seem to forgot all these fears and settle on the adventure. The anticipation before going is always the worse part of the escapade and so this will be my last posting in my blog until I RETURN home! Adieu America!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sapa, a preview

We take off the early morning of December 4. Our route starts at Anchorage with China Airlines and we fly directly to Tapei. It is about a ten hour flight (the way coming home is almost three hours shorter.) This flight is usually coming from New York, so we enter a crowded airplane with lots of tired groggy folk ready to get on with the rest of their journey. When in Tapei, we have a short layover and then take a plane to Hanoi, Vietnam, for another three or four hours of additional flying. We will be staying for four days in Hanoi; taking care of our jet lag and perusing the city sights. Hanoi boasts some world class art institutions and there is a combination of old and new colonial architecture. But, the creme de la creme will be the venture to the northwwest to the local villages of Sapa, taking the soft sleeper train; an eight hour journey close to the border of China which boasts of cascading rice terraces with mountains towering above the town on all sides. It will be chilly with some fog and drizzle. The H'mong people, once the poorest of the local tribes will be all over town selling their handicrafts and trinkets. Most have had little formal education and are illiterate. Other minorities like the Red Dzao are visible in town with their billowing red headdresses that send a surreal sight. I understand that there is a crowded market that is held each Saturday and lots of interesting villages are within walking distance of the centre. This is what I love; the color and these authentic lands of people of cultural differences that will immerse me into the grand wonder of this planet, the world and the exultation of experience.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

getting ready

Traveling for distances can take careful planning. Usually before we do our five and a half long week treks, there is much reading to be done. Ken does a great job scrutinizing the places we travel to, while I read contemporary authors that talk about the places we will visit. Once over there we both use our intuitive reasoning to either break the plans we sketchily thought about or devise another route.

We will be going to Vietnam and Laos in three weeks. We applied for our visas which takes some paper work and cost. Sometimes, there are mistakes on the dates of departure and you need to call the embassy to straighten out these mishaps. If you don't pay close attention, these small details can cost your some money you hadn't anticipated. Our visas had expired two days before our departure while exiting Bali a few years ago. It caused quite the stir at the airport, some jangled nerves and a couple of hundred of dollars from our pockets.

There are always travel precautions about certain diseases that the country might carry. Almost always we take malaria medication with us because we visit rural areas. Last year, we were given oral typhoid which is good for five years. A combination of hepatitis A and B usually comes in the form of a booster shot good for ten years and Japanese Encephalitis was a concern in 2004. This time our Lonely Planet Travel Guide strongly recommended to invest in extra travel insurance because both countries do not host the excellent facilities as Thailand and India have for instance.

These are just a few things to gather before taking off, not to mention getting time to do this venture, a house sitter for the dog and to take care of the house in case a pipe breaks. I get anxious too before departing about our safety. Once over there however, you see everyone traveling from the old to the single wanderer to families with small children seeing the outside wonders of the world. There is this general excitement that you glean from fellow travelers; a camaraderie of togetherness of adventure. All in all, the work (and some worries) is worth it; the travel fantastic and edgy and the journey always indescribable.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

dia de Meurtos

The Day of the Dead is a prehispanic tradition linked to the agriculture calendar celebrated at the beginning of harvest. For the prehispanic people "death is not the the end of our existence, it is only the path of transition to something better."

Following the Mexican tradition, November 1st is for the children that passed away and November 2nd for the adults. In that day people who died come back to their former home to enjoy earthly delights if only for a few hours. Their relatives light up a copal or incense to "cleanse their home of bad spirits, so that the soul of their deceased can come in without any difficulty." The offering ritual allows us to be close to the people who have departed and commune with their memory with their life.

I was asked to do an altar at Out North Exhibitions curated by Indra Arriaga. While setting up my design in the exhibition space, I felt the tenderness of the moment and being surrounded by other altars that people devoted to their loved ones, I worked very intuitively. It was a deep meditation; afterwards finding out the meaning of what I showed and the objects that I chose for this piece came out automatically. You can see a glimpse of my altar in this video. Mine has a dark cloth draped on the wall with stars, suns and crescent moons(owned by a young man who died at 21 years old), a chair covered with a goat skin, a moose skull, dried straw flowers, leaves, significant stones and several pictures of friends that I had lost over the years. I was moved setting up the altar and felt a benevolence completing this piece. This was the first altar that I had intentionally completed (although my studio wall hosts numerous recollections from both the living and the dead.) A local Mexican singer can be heard in the background of the tape and I don't understand all of his lyrics but the song bellows a sweet sorrow of tune. During the festivities, Mexican bread and hot chocolate were eaten. It was a nice evening and well attended by the locals; in the future one I would encourage everyone to see and experience. It is open for everyone to participate and do their own homage to their ancestors. You can discover these small gems in Anchorage; this one in particular left me with a profound recognition of my temporariness, my community, the closeness of the living and the now, and most importantly, how to cherish the people around you.