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Bird's Blog

Poetry, musings, observations, commentary, rants, confessions...and who knows what else!

My Photo
Location: San Francisco Bay Area

Teacher, writer, poet, grandmother, lover, wine-drinker, chocolate eater, beach comber, hiker, traveler, Giants fan, San Franciscan. All work on this blog is copyrighted material.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Sinus Infections, The Empty Spaces in Our Heads, and A Strange-Looking Thai Kitty

While in Thailand, I came down with a sinus infection. I’ve been getting a lot of those in the past three years – about 2-4 a semester. I knew that was a lot, but today I learned from a throat, ear, and nose specialist that a normal, healthy person may get a sinus infection about once every 2 years at most. And did you know that your sinuses, like your appendix and wisdom teeth, are a throwback to an earlier time in our evolution? Yup long, long ago when we were amphibians playing in the water, our sinuses served us well – as cavities to store air. But we evolved and moved out of the water, onto the land, and no longer needed to store air. And so today we have these empty, useless cavities in our heads (no – not that spot where your brain is supposed to be!). Sometimes, these spaces become obstructed – and mucus hangs out that warm, damp, moist environment – perfect for developing an infection. (We can only hope to evolve a bit more and have these empty spaces eliminated from our heads!)

As the infection came on in Thailand, I felt a sense of dread – you know – there goes the vacation. But I knew if I could just get some antibiotics, I could lick the thing (at least enough to enjoy the vacation and not be a drag on my companions).

Antibiotics are over the counter in Thailand. You can walk into the pharmacy, ask for zithromax, or amoxicilian, and the pharmacist will dispense it for you.

Of course, as most women know, sometimes a treatment of antibiotics can disrupt the delicate ph balance of a woman’s body and she might develop a yeast infection (candida) in her vagina. The yeast infection can be worse than the sinus infection. It's one thing to walk around with the sniffles, a headache, a cough, a raspy voice, an achy body and a low-grade fever, but it’s quite another to walk about scratching your crotch all the time (unless you're a guy playing sports) – especially if the yeast infection runs untreated – then the desire to scratch becomes rather intense and the scratching rather violent. It ain’t pretty folks. (You men just don’t know – being a woman ain’t for sissies!)

I didn’t want to start any antibiotics during my travels until I secured something akin to Monistat (for you men – that’s an over-the-counter suppository that eradicates the yeast infection). But at the time, I wasn’t in a major city – I was out in the sticks so to speak and the pharmacists we talked with didn’t know what the heck I was talking about (could have been lost in translation you know).

Finally, I was referred to a clinic with an ob-gyn. My friend went into the examining room with me to translate. The doc spoke English, but the conversation was in both Thai and English.

Thirty minutes and 25 US dollars later (this doc spent more time with me than my own internist and I didn’t have to remove a speck of clothing and don some ridiculous paper gown either), I walked out of the doc’s office with a 10-day treatment of antibiotics, antihistamines, and meds for a yeast infection. I love the Thai medical system.

The doc was very thorough too. He screened me first for bird flu before he even considered my claim that it was a sinus infection. Thai docs are on the alert for bird flu. It is definitely a concern. Bird though I may be, I didn’t have the flu.

My sinus infection however was pretty severe and required me to take a little time off from sightseeing. While my friends did some local sight-seeing, I hung out at their farm, resting for a day. I spent most of my time sleeping on the front porch, and when awake watching the ducks and the geese. And I had company. Kitty. Kitty hung out with me. I fell in love with Kitty.

She's pretty funny looking for a cat, but she is

quite a lovely looking puppy - part rottie and

part german shepherd. (No that's not me

holding her -I don't have hair on my chin, nor

stubby fingers!)

Kitty (part rottie, part german shepherd) is

sweet-tempered, but playful. She loves people.

She loves to hang out with humans. She likes to

hang out with the ducks too - when they let her.

When she gets older, her job will be to keep the

ducks away from the big house.

She tried to do that when I was there, but the

ducks were bigger than her and didn't pay much


I would have liked to have smuggle
d her home

with me. I did manage to bring a jar of lichee nut

jam and a small bottle of Purell on the plane

with me (despite the heightened security –

armed soldiers and bomb- and

e-sniffing dogs); I’m sure the little Kitty

of four weeks ago would
have been no trouble at


But Kitty as she is now might be more

difficult to smuggle onto a plane:

I miss Kitty. Wish that strange Thai cat was here


me now.

Maybe she is missing me too.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Mekong River Reverie

Usually, when I think of the Mekong River, I don't imagine roosters, strutting along the river promenade in Luang Prabang. No, I think of the Vietnam War – of the images I saw on TV growing up: a river rife with destruction and brutality, fear, dread. Of course it wasn’t the river per se, it was the Mekong delta. But such distinctions mean nothing to a child.

When I think of the Mekong River, I think of my father too, and of the summer of ’66: my brother had just graduated high school, and itching to get out from under our father’s control, he wanted to join the Marines. He wasn’t yet 18 and needed my father’s signature, which was not, at first, forthcoming. My father and brother argued, yelled. My mother wrung her hands together; her face etched with tears, my father’s with grim worry. My father, a WWII vet, saw the futility of the Vietnam War, disagreed with our government's reasons for being there and wanted his son to go to college, not to war. But my father did sign the papers; my brother joined not the Marines, but the Navy and went into the sub-service, stationed on the East Coast, out of Norfolk, Virginia. My parents exhaled a collective sigh of relief – their son was not off to Vietnam. All I understood was that my brother was not in Vietnam, but underneath the Atlantic in nuclear subs –whatever the heck those were.

But the image of the Mekong as a nightmarish hell (furthered amplified years later of course by the movie, Apocalypse Now) stuck with me, until two years ago, when I first beheld the river with my own eyes. I was traveling in the Golden Triangle region, where the Mekong River connects three countries and not so long ago, fostered a thriving drug trade. But the river I saw was not the river of American TV and movies; it was a broad, peaceful, beautiful river. Of course I hadn’t expected to see Willard on a makeshift PT boat, nor guns, nor furtive VC; nonetheless those were the images stuck in my head.

On this recent trip, I ate breakfast alongside the Mekong River in Luang Prabang, watching longboats with tourists, barges with equipment, and smaller skiffs with local fishermen make their way up and down the river, which ran brown and fast and full (as it is wont to do in the rainy season) . One evening we dined alongside the river and watched the lightning beyond the mountains on the west bank of the Mekong. The lightning was vivid, and yet so far away, we never heard the thunder. Like my childhood memories – I can still see those images, but the sound of their fury no longer shakes me.

Like any river, ithe Mekong shapes the lives of those who live alongside it. The Mekong brings fresh silt and water for agriculture – and floods and pestilence. The villagers and townspeople that live along its banks draw fish from its depths to serve for dinner. Boys play in it; teenagers steal furtive kisses from each other in the lush growth along its banks. It is a major road for commerce. And a major source of political and national wrangling as the countries through which the Mekong flows wrestle with
one another over damming and the blasting of

But the river itsel
f is unconcerned by the needs and desires of countries, of people, and pays no heed to the metaphors we create about it, the stories we tell about it. It begins its journey in the highland of Tibet, and runs 2,600 miles long, from those Tibetan highlands, through China, along the Myanmar-Laos border, along the Laos-Thailand border, into Cambodia and Vietnam, rolling toward the South China Sea and creating a vast delta region in Cambodia and Vietnam. I wonder how that delta compares

with the delta in California, where my brother's
family plays in the summer: boating, skiing, fishing.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A Momentary Departure: Two Poems of China

Chen Wen Yi

I have seen pictures
of Kunming
cone-shaped hills
gentle green
shrouded in mist

Beijing is dusty
a different China
not the one of postcards
or art prints

The landscape of Kunming
rests in my husband's face
beats in the pulse
of my daughter's wrist

A plane bears me
to the land
of my daughter's ancestors
to the funeral
of an old man I never met
but whom I know
by the shape of my husband's jaw

Chen Wen Yi
my daughter's name lies in China
carved on a box
bearing the ashes of her great-grandfather
Miao Yun Tai
connecting her
to a land she has never seen

Holding Up The Sky

(Women in China hold up half the sky. - - Mao Zedong)

In China
the women hold up half the sky.
I have seen them.
Arms stretched from the reaching.
Backs bent from the weight.
Young women with lines on
their faces
will their first-born
be a daughter.

In China
the women hold up half the sky.
I have seen them.
Squat on the street to nurse their babies.
Tend their parents, old and worn.
Serve food and tea.
Wait tables, scour floors.
Sweep the streets with strawbrooms,
white turbans around their heads,
white cloths across their mouths.
Take the place of oxen, yoked to a plow.

In China
the women hold up the sky.
I have seen them do this.

Mayden's Voyage sent me an email regarding the Kunming area of China and that in turn, prompted me to momentarily deviate from my current Thailand and Laos reflections and post the above two poems, written in 1988, shortly after returning from a visit to Beijing, China, to attend the funeral services of my former husband's father, Maio Yun Tai. During WWII, Maio had helped build the Burma Road, and after, had helped administer the Marshall Plan in China. Maio left China shortly before the Cultural Revolution but returned later and became a member of the government. I was the only Westerner and Caucasian present at the state funeral service, which were attended by China's then Premier Li and Madame Jou En Lai (sp?), the widow of Chairman Mao, as well as the current Chairman of the Communist Party (whose name escapes me right now). The services were held in Beijing, where Miao lived at the time - but his family (and my former in-laws) originally came from Kunming. In addition to the funeral service, the family attended a state dinner in the Hall of the People and a full mass was conducted in a Catholic Church - which was quite surprising to me. I listened to the mass, trying to figure out the language - and then it dawned on me - I was listening to Latin with a Chinese accent.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Luang Prabang, Laos

A note on the pictures: My traveling companions and I do not appear in any of these – a desire for anonymity and privacy prevent me from posting our images. Of course, I feel no compulsion to protect the identities and privacy of the Laotians, Thais and other Westerners I took pictures of… double-standard in full operation here. Whenever possible, however, I did ask and receive permission before taking pictures.

And my apologies for the writing – not my best – but I am just eager to get this post up!

I am not starting at the beginning, but rather near the end of the beginning, before the middle, with my side trip into Laos. A short trip – two or three nights I think. To put things into order – my flight path took me from San Francisco to Taipei (for a 4-hour layover) then to Thailand’s capital, Bangkok (an hour’s layover) and then north to Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand and where my friends have a townhouse. Spent a few days in Chiang Mai and at my friends' farm (about a two hour drive from Chiang Mai and outside the village Fong). We returned to Chiang Mai to catch a propeller plane northwest to Luang Prabang. The plane was filled with an array of Western, Chinese, and Thai tourists.

Although Vientiane (south of Luang Prabang) is the capital of Laos, we chose Luang Prabang because it is as of yet less-developed than Vientiane and happens to be a UN World Heritage site. Laos, a third-world (the layers of meaning for that word are patently absurd), developing nation (another term that implies other nations are already developed - but does that mean we can stop developing?) is actively establishing an eco or green tourist industry, and Luang Prabang is a big piece of that effort.

But what the heck does that really mean? It means the natural environment as well as the traditional lifestyles of the people are the tourist attraction. That’s why tourists come. Theoretically, green tourism will help local people keep their way of life, yet prosper. And it will help preserve the natural beauty and resources of the land. I should add that some of the local activities (weaving, making saa paper, etc.) have been developed into a cottage industry not just to support green tourism, but as an alternative to the poppy-growing business. Laos has worked aggressively to reduce the number of hectares of opium fields. They claim to have eliminated all the fields.

Some concerns arise with green or eco tourism - one of which is planned development and Luang Prabang may well struggle with that. There is no parking available in the town – not really. Tourists can take vans and other conveyances from the airport into the main part of town. I prefer this – it would be great to keep traffic to a minimum in this town. But at some point, as one of my traveling companions remarked, the local merchants, hotel owners and managers, and restaurateurs will begin to prosper and purchase cars – and there is no place for them in the town. What will be removed to make way for parking lots and how will that affect the local community? Or will the town develop an efficient and green-friendly public transportation system for the locals? And how will that system affect the town and its tourist industry?

Our guesthouse in Luang Prabang was lovely. No phone in the room and a short walk from the main hotel lobby; it offered an enticing view of the Mekong River (more on the Mekong later). The French once colonized Laos, so the architecture is somewhat French Provencal, or to me, a bit reminiscent of the French Quarter in New Orleans (though I’ve not yet been to “Nawlins” – seen pics though).

Above is our guesthouse - my room is the window above the door. And to the left, is the window as it appears from inside the room.

On the left, is the view from my room looking north; on the right, looking south. The Mekong River is just on the other side of the trees.

After we arrived, checked-in, and freshened up, we strolled about the town. I snapped pictures of the local children and various street scenes.

Boys planning som
e mischief.

Brother, sister, and dog playing on the stairs leading to the wat (temple).

Same stairs, different view, different little

girl. Note the monk climbing the stairs.

We came across racks of sticky rice cakes drizzled with honey, drying in the sun, and shortly after the racks, the “factory” where these women were making the cakes and cooking

them in a huge pot over an open fire. The cakes are dried out before boiling. They smelled quite delicious.

The next morning, we rose early to witness oneof the traditional activities in the town, and a major tourist attraction, the procession of the monks shortly after sunrise to receive their daily foodfrom the good people of Luang Prabang. I admit it felt very odd photographing this event – the monks were the tourist attraction – but as you can see – this is what all the tourists do – this is our part.

The monks

walk through the town, the people feed the monks,

and the tourists snap pictures. It’s quite strange.

But that is part of
a green or eco tourism proposition. The worry of course is that other aspects of the local tourist industry

(the restaurants, guesthouses, treks, etc.) will overwhelm the traditional lifestyles and crowd the local townspeople out (or they will prosper so that they will develop suburbs and leave) – and then there will be no one left to feed the monks and of course, they will have to relocate their temple. And then one of the main attractions that draw tourists to the area will be gone.

I have mixed feelings about the monks and this ritual. At first, watching them as they walked through town, I thought – and what do they give back to this community which provides them with food? My traveling companion asked me to look closely at the monks and take note: most of them are very young. They become “monks” to receive education at the temple (and that doesn't mean they stay with the temple as adults - they are not, in that sense, beholden to the temple and their teachers. So in some ways, the community is feeding their young and their teachers – that’s the arrangement. But there is someone, a particular group of young people, missing in these pictures of young monks who are being educated and feed by their community: there are no girls. There are no young women or girls fostered by their community and educated in the temple. I grapple with this. I resent this. And I resent that I am considered, in this Buddhist tradition, as unclean and unchaste – and thus, I am admonished not to touch a monk – nor can any woman – yet the monk can receive his daily ration of food from such an unclean, unchaste hand. It’s a conundrum for me. For I wish to understand and respect this point of view, but I detest it as well.

Don’t be misled – I was not an ugly American. I respected the local traditions, refrained from touching monks, and made my critical comments only to my traveling companions.

While staying in Luang Prabang we took what in Thai is called a song dtang, which is essentially a small Izuzu pickup truck with two (song) benches in the back covered by a canopy, to a village outside the town. The village has a thriving silk dying and weaving industry.

We drove down a rutty, dirt road (along the way waving at a boy and his buffalo) to the village.

We explored the village a bit, asking

permission to take


We came across a pavillion of looms

and a young woman hard at work.

And this woman is rinsing the dyed silk. This, to me, was one of the best parts of the trip - being able to go into the villages and see how these green, cottage industries operate. The women were friendly (though you can see the weaver above is concentrating quite a bit).

More to post later… this is just the tip of the iceberg.

A Boy and His Water Buffalo

Houston - we have a go! Ok - so I did some troubleshooting - and here's my test run. Do you see a picture? I see a picture!

This is a boy with his buffalo - on the dirt road to a village outside Luang Prabang, Laos.

Now that I've solved the problem - I'll post again shortly with pics!

Bird is singing now!

A Big Stream of Birdshit to Blogger

Dear Bloggers!

Trying to solve the mystery of the nonuploadable, postable photos, I just flew over to one of my favorite blogs and ripped off (sampled?) one the blogger's photos. Saved it to my own file. And then posted it to this blog. It's a beautiful photo. I posted some other photos as well today - for your enjoyment.

Do you see any photos?

Probably not, so let me explicate:

Here is a photo of an absolute, pristine, white snow storm:

Here is a photo of the middle inch on a just freshly bleached, white sheet:

Here is a photo of a closeup of a perfectly white egg:

Here is a photo - a zoom in - of the whites of my eye:

There will no picture of the red in my eyes. Nor of the blue I feel.

Bird is on her way to Blogger headquarters - they'd best watch out for a steamin' streamin' ugly green bird shit (of which I will post no pictures).



So, ok, like pretend the background of my blog is white, not this weird, pale sepia color, ok?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Blogger Photo Uploading Hell

Curses upon curses on blogger!

After painstakingly reducing the jpeg size of photos (there's got to be an easier, more efficient way to do this, right?) so I could upload pics to my blog - the dang thing still won't let me do it!!!!!

Maybe it's just one of those days on blogger, or maybe I am a technological dunce - or perhaps both!

But hey - I'm TRYING.

At any rate, it's time to prepare for the upcoming Giants game - Giants vs. those wretched, blue-clad boys from LA - I will not say their name , but it begins with a D! We beat those blue boys last night (some fabulous moments in the game - Omar our catcher hit a homerun - beautiful - and I believe it was our beloved Moises Alou (my daughter's favorite player) who stole home when the D's catcher blew it - allowing a pitch to tip off the top of his mitt - quite a scramble for that ball as our man made it home to score - hahahahahaha!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Home Again Home Again, Jiggity Jig (Not A Cinqain)


clock hands move
back and forth and every which way

bird in her roost
sings an incomplete song
emits the occasional squawk
babbles nonsensically

for how else can one babble?

traveler's tales coming soon…