Tag Archives: nature

Sideman

I arrived at Denpasar just after midnight, tired but relaxed, knowing that someone would be there to pick me up. I went through the magic doors and there was a long line of little brown men holding pieces of paper with people’s names on them. Mine was not among them. I checked up and down the line a couple of times to make sure. The only contact information I had was the phone number of the hotel but I had no phone and no local currency. So I stopped walking and thought, “Well, this is a pickle.” But then friendly taxi man came over and asked where I was going. “Sideman, and someone is going to pick me up.” He said, “No, no. It’s much too late. They’re not coming.” I insisted that they would and got out my itinerary. Nice man that he was, he called the hotel, who said the driver would be right there. Turns out he had been driving all day and had fallen asleep in the van. No harm done, and I’m glad to know that I don’t panic easily.

After all of that, we rolled into the hotel around 3:00am and I was fairly bleary by then, but was greeted by a woman named Ayu who took my hand in both of hers and a wave of warmth and sincerity shot up my arm and directly into my heart. “Follow me,” she said. “I’ll show you to your room.” And this is where we went.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAAyu slipped off her sandals and padded across the terrace.
She pushed open a pair of ornately carved wooden doors and I saw this.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

And this.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAThe tiles were cool on my tired feet and there were flowers everywhere. I couldn’t find my towel for the longest time because it was disguised as a snail.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA The understated beauty, the simple elegance, the sense of fun all reached out to me. It’s hard to describe the way Bali fills up your senses. It’s not just the scents of lotus and jasmine flowers but also the constant burning of incense with an undertone of steamed rice. I see ranges of greens rising above the rice paddies, highlighted with bright flowers in tropical hues, and all the while there is the sound of running water.

In the morning, I sit on the terrace and soak up the atmosphere. The moss on the gently swaying trunks of coconut palms and papaya trees winks in the early morning sunshine under a clear blue sky adorned with the faintest brush strokes of wispy clouds. All around is an orchestra of crickets, birdsong, rooster crows, gekko chirps and flowing water, always the sound of flowing water. Just outside my room, a staircase of terraced rice paddies brimming with water and life makes its way down the slope. It begins to rain, the drops adding syncopation to the orchestra of sound, the concentric rings they make forming popcorn patterns on the surface of the water, always changing, each unique.

Despite the drought on other parts of the island, at that altitude the ever flowing water seeks lower climes, meandering from the heights through rice paddies, the myriad swimming pools and carved stone fountains, always flowing, always seeking, somehow seeming to know its destination.

The earth is sodden, so the many buildings that make up the hotel complex are connected by rutted stone and concrete walkways. One quickly learns to carry a flashlight and walk gingerly, especially in the dark. On the first night, I stumble on the way to dinner, scrape my elbow and bash my knee. The knee is all right, jut bruised, but for the rest of the trip I can’t put my weight on it. One of the women in my group notices me icing it down and asks what happened.

“I fell, that first night,” I said. “Didn’t you notice me doing very strange yoga?”

“Yes, I noticed,” she said. “I just thought you were doing really advanced poses.”

There is something almost mystical about doing yoga in those surroundings. I work my way into a pose then look up. The inrush of sights, sounds and scents fills me with both joy and a profound longing, as if I could somehow know everything that can be known, see the ageless connections among all living things and find peace, a peace that reaches from the bottoms of my feet through the top of my head and out into the infinite universe.

WIN_20150421_113148 (2)

Blown Away

Yesterday, we went to a shakuhachi concert held in a Catholic church during a typhoon.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAOur friend Alec, the one in the middle, invited us. The church was surreal, with a Japanese priest and a primarily Philippine congregation.  We arrived in time to catch the tail end of the afternoon mass and I realized I had never been inside a Catholic church before, except as a tourist, but we duly stood and sat as instructed and it was over soon enough.

I’ve always been fond of wind instruments in general, and the shakuhachi in specific. It’s just a bamboo tube with some holes drilled in it, and it’s played using only the five tone Chinese scale, yet by varying the angle they blow across the mouthpiece, wiggling their¬† heads around in weird ways and partially covering the finger holes, players can achieve variations of sound that are quite astonishing. A lot of it is based on sounds existing in nature, so if you close your eyes you can hear the wing flaps of soaring birds, the cajoling flow of water over rocks in a shallow river, the haunting, lilting cries of small animals in pain or fear, the wailing of high winds through mountaintop trees. The tones range from bottom-of-the-ocean deep to make-you-cringe shrill. Alec managed to create the sound of a nesting crane using the way you roll an R in Spanish.

They played a variety of songs. Some were traditional, although I wouldn’t be able to tell you if this is sheet music or a restaurant menu.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAThe tall guy, Chris, is a composer and arranged this somewhat less traditional piece.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAYup. Look closely. That’s I Feel Good by James Brown, highly stylized. I didn’t recognize it beyond “gosh, that sounds familiar”, until I saw the sheet music.

The only negative was the two little girls sitting two pews ahead of us stuffing their faces with potato chips and shrimp crackers all the way through the concert. They should consider themselves lucky that there was an old lady in the intervening pew, because otherwise we might have clunked their skulls together. Their mother was too busy playing with her phone to notice so we probably could have gotten away with it.

Otherwise, it was a pretty groovy way to spend a blustery Sunday afternoon. And when was the last time anyone got to use the words “shakuhachi”, “Catholic church” and “typhoon” all in one sentence?

Fukuppy

I just finished one of those weeks-from-hell, the type that you don’t think you’ll be able to survive but do anyway. I woke up this morning feeling almost euphoric, having managed to weasel out of the job I was supposed to do today. Then I came across this little guy on Facebook:

Fukuppy
Nice to meet you! I’m Fukuppy.

He’s the new corporate character for a refrigerator manufacturer in Fukushima. To be fair, the pronunciation is probably meant to be Foo-coo-py because there’s no short “u” sound in Japanese, but I doubt anyone unfamiliar with Japanese pronunciation will see it that way. I’ve been grinning all day because of him.

Wednesday was thirteen hours of filming at a movie studio, which sounds way more exciting than it is, but the elephant trunks hanging from the ceiling made it less painful; I spent the day musing about why there would be elephants sleeping up there.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAAnd there was a real, live circus clown in the video. He had graduated from Ringling Brothers Clown College and was a down home Alabama gentleman to boot. When was the last time you met a genuine qualified circus clown? And we had the kind of sunset that takes your breath away and leaves you dwarfed and standing in awe of nature.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAThe second day of filming was only eleven hours. (Sigh.) Since our intended audience is one and two year olds, there wasn’t much English in the video, so there was a lot of waiting time. Filming is always tedious because everything has to be futzed until it’s all futzed out–camera angle, sound quality, lighting, costumes, hair and make-up, etc., etc. ad nauseum. Add to that inedible bentos, potty breaks and emotional meltdowns and time seems to wrap itself around your head and squeeze until your eyeballs pop out Roger Rabbit style.

One of the tech guys said that my job is perhaps the hardest because I work for two minutes and then wait for two hours. He may have something there. I guess if work ever gets to be too much, I can call in sick, saying, “Sorry. I woke up this morning feeling fukuppy.”

And on that note, I also give you this, which is pretty fukuppy, too.

Ping

I got my first pingback today, and while I’m not completely clear on what that is, I thought, “How nice. I’ll just pop over to Mack Quigley’s blog and see what he’s all about.”

It seems that Mr. Quigley had taken the time to collect links to what looked like 100 posts about sakura, including mine. According to Mr. Quigley, we are all wrong to appreciate the ethereal gift of nature that is sakura and should instead be thanking God for providing it.

Setagaya Kannon, a Buddhist Temple
Setagaya Kannon, a Buddhist Temple

Mr. Quigley, thanks but no thanks. You have every right to believe whatever you want to believe, but you do not have the right to tell me what to believe. If you don’t like my blog, don’t read it. Japan is a Buddhist country, and you are a narrow-minded, self-righteous toad, so take your bible and stick it in your ear.

Dust Storm

It was unseasonably warm and sunny today and so a nice trip to the chiropractor to deal with my ankle and have a massage seemed in order. (Tell me, is there anything in the world that feels as good as a butt massage? It didn’t hurt that the guy who did mine was a cutie. I know, I know. Inappropriate thoughts from a middle aged woman, but looky no touchy is allowed, right?) That was followed by Thai fried rice for lunch, some shopping, and I came home feeling pretty much like all was well with the world.

A little while later I glanced out the window and saw a huge brownish grey cloud looming on the horizon. “What the heck is that?” I wondered. “Did the Powers That Be lie about the situation at the nuclear power plant up north? Are we going to have an unpredicted storm? Did a flour factory explode?”

With the theme of Something Wicked This Way Comes dancing in my head, I dashed upstairs to rescue the laundry and close the windows.

Within minutes, our lovely blue sky looked like this:

Courtesy of Gerri Sorrels. Thanks, doll.
Photo by Gerri Sorrels. Thanks, doll.

Every year, when the first spring winds start to blow, we get an icky covering of fine, grey dust courtesy of the Gobi Desert, but I had never seen anything like this. Within minutes I could no longer see the tall building just down the street. I’m not terribly allergic, but my face is burning and my eyes are crunchy. By the time I got to my computer, the keyboard was gritty. There are footprints in the dust in the upstairs hall.

It only lasted about an hour. The sky has returned to its usual grey self and it’s clearing up to the west. According to the evening news, the cloud was not A Gift of the Gobi but rather a rare but natural domestic occurrence having something to do with rice paddies and deforestation.

I like violent weather. Give me a good thunderstorm or blizzard anytime (when I don’t have to go out in it). I like listening to the shutters bang and watching tree branches and wicked witches go sailing past the windows, but this was downright creepy.

We’ll have no more of that, Mother Nature, if you please.