Meg Noble Peterson

Author of Madam, Have You Ever Really Been Happy? An Intimate Journey through Africa and Asia

AND NOW WE RETURN TO THE HIMALAYAS FOR TEN DAYS OF GLORIOUS TREKKING!

December 4-14, 2018

As I look at the volume of journal pages I devoured with my scribbling during these intense few days, I am again reminded that my readers have a life of their own and do not wish to use it up accompanying me through each day’s travails and successes, regardless of how much I want to bring them with me. Now that I am at a venerable age, and getting more venerable by the minute, I have to remind myself that procrastination is no longer a viable alternative and the ever-present tomorrow may be more elusive than I care to admit. So here is a brief outline of my recent ups and downs in the Himalayas with as many photos as time affords.

Click on photos to enlarge and to see slide show.

On December 4th, Cary and I and our guide Buddhi, flew from Kathmandu to Pokara on Nepali time, i.e. four hours late.

We were met by our two guides-in-training, who also doubled as porters, Suni (left) and Kandu (right), both in their 20’s.   From there we drove to Kimche …three hours of the worst roads I have ever encountered, and that includes Mongolia! As in India, both men and women worked on road construction—widening, forming cement ditches, carrying crushed rock in large bowls on their head, and emptying the rock into the forms. An endless parade of tedious labor. At least that’s how it looked to me. Thank heaven we stopped in Birethanti for lunch, to rest our bones!  It was rural Nepal, almost unchanged since my first trip in 1988. Once in Kimche we hiked 1 1/2 hours to Ghandruk. Never have I seen so many stone steps, except in Sikkum.

 

During our journey we thought it would be fun to catalog the Best and the Worst of our adventure. We only wrote what stood out for us at the end of the day. Coming up are some of the highlights. You can check them out as we go along, and maybe it will help you if you ever wander into the Annapurna Sanctuary.

The first night we stayed in the pinkest building, and met the friendliest Malaysian couple.

The next day, Dec. 5th, we left Heaven View Lodge to embark on a very strenuous, but beautiful day.

After lunch we stopped in several small villages and bought knitted woolen hats for Hector and Theo, my two great grandsons. I also found a pair of handknit socks to replace the down slippers I left in Boudha.

Something I noticed on this trip was how many South Koreans we met, first on the trail and then in the guest houses. Thus began the taking of numerous selfies by those who were enthralled with my advanced age. At first it was irritating, but soon I realized that such adulation was meant as a compliment, so I smiled and learned to roll with the punches.

Mountain views were interspersed with woodland trails covered in leaves, and majestic gnarled rhododendron trees, not the usual bushes. These peaceful interludes between steep grades helped me strengthen my legs and increase my confidence. Cary, the perfect companion, stayed with me, singing her soothing Tara mantra Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha as we trudged along.

 

Just before reaching the Panorama Lodge in Tadapani, we encountered (surprise!) our most challenging climb of the day, up more steep stone steps. What a great guest house this was, complete with a western toilet (my litmus test) and a dog that guarded our door and nearly tripped me up every time I went in or out. It had the worst door jam and lock, however, and I was tempted to leave the room unlocked.

After dinner at a dining room in a separate building up another long flight of stairs with a panoramic view of the mountains, we were serenaded by the Koreans singing Roman Catholic hymns. It was really lovely. Evidently the Catholic church has made big inroads in South Korea and this was a parish hiking club. I have to admit that I was a bit taken aback when one of the men in the group took my hands in his and said, very seriously, “M’am, we are all praying for you.” Again, I had to hold my tongue and keep from laughing. They wanted to make sure I survived the trek.

As with everyone we met, he also wanted to talk about our present government. The questions always started with, ”What is going on in your country?” Needless to say, the discussions were long. We’ve also noticed whenever we meet Koreans, that they carry most of their food with them, as well as their cook, and much of their bedding. And, in this case, their priest. They were a happy, congenial group and I’m looking forward to visiting their country.

It was a very cold night and the Koreans were each given a hot water bottle. How about that? We just put on our down vests, snuggled under an extra comforter, and hoped for the best.

The next three days, before we reached our high point, Khopra Ridge, were the most challenging of the trip. Not just the uphills, but the downhills as well. In fact, I found them more dangerous with their many jagged rocks and gullys, and the knowledge that if I fell it could be catastrophic.

 

It took us almost four hours to our lunch stop but we were rewarded with the best garlic soup, dal bhat, and milk coffee (very similar to western latte if you look past it being made with nescafe instant coffee) we’d eaten so far. This was concocted by a 14-year-old boy in his simple kitchen at a guest house in Meshar Danda, a small village along the way. We have become experts in judging dal bhat. You may remember that our food of choice at altitude has been garlic soup ever since our trekking trip in Sikkim in 2010. His soup was incredible…nearly blew our heads off! We were also particularly intrigued by the log bee hive fastened on the side of the guest house.

It was then another strenuous stretch of hours of very steep climbing to arrive at Isharu, our destination for the night. Here we were promised amazing views, but all we got for our work was fog.

Still, it was beautiful and peaceful…and we could rest at last. The trail had been varied, starting in what seemed like a temperate rain forest, then moving into areas of long grasses and rolling hills, but always with those glorious mountains in the distance. We passed a few people on horseback, but were told that they had to walk downhill, since the horses were not surefooted enough to make the steep grade. I can relate to that!

 

We seemed to be the only customers at the Isharu Greenhill Guest House.

The weather had turned very cold, so you can imagine how glad I was to get to a warm dining room. But soon we had to leave, for somehow the pipe that came out of the large round metal stove had gotten clogged, and smoke filled the room. Thus, this became the smokiest guest house of the trek. However, the rooms were the brightest (more than one hanging bulb!), so we stayed there until the dining room aired out. The night was very cold, dipping below 37 degrees, only it seemed colder. For the first time, I used my sleeping bag liner.

The next day was beautiful, crisp, and sunny, but the largest mountains were still in the fog when we departed Isharu. I despaired of ever seeing Machapuchare, which I saw so frequently in 1999 on my Annapurna circuit trek. I also noticed for the first time that the menus at the guest houses were pretty standard…steamed veggies, veggie fried rice, veggie rolls, garlic soup, and dal bhat. Thank heaven there was plenty of hot water and lemon tea!

This was a day of walking through forests of bamboo and huge rhododendron trees.

 

In early afternoon we arrived in Dobato. While having a delicious lunch at Hotel Mt. Lucky, it started to snow. The flakes were more like tiny white beads, covering everything in a glistening film of white. We changed to our rain pants and loaded up on heavy clothes.

The going was slow and slippery, but thank goodness the snow abated and the trails dried out as we went up, up and up.

Many trekkers passed us that afternoon headed for the same guest house in Bayeli, the Annapurna Dhaulagiri Community Lodge. We met people from Holland, Germany, Belgium, and, of course, Nepal. One group of students from Kathmandu University, celebrating their graduation from engineering college, was especially cordial to me after finding out my age. It was a riot! Selfies everywhere. I was, frankly, embarrassed. Cary admonished me to enjoy it. “You’re a rock star in their eyes, Mom,” she said. Too bad I hadn’t brought my guitar.

Naturally, we were the last to reach Bayeli.

I hopped right into our cozy room and rested a bit before dinner!

The lodge was packed, and was the noisiest guest house so far, because of all the students. And it had the most door sills to trip me up. That is a story in itself. Nothing seems to be on one level in Nepali buildings. You never know…a step will appear when you least expect it. But what a great time we had! We participated in a gala birthday party and spent the evening with multiple groups of students, all of us gathered around the old metal stove to keep from freezing, and eager to talk about politics, travel, and what was going on in the United States. And they knew more about our government than many Americans. Believe me!

Some of the topics covered included: Arranged marriage as compared to love marriages, the complications of a joint family (multi-generational extended family), and how it differs from the nuclear family.

I asked a lot of questions about the caste system. We usually think of it as only operating in India, but it is also alive and well in Nepal and a few other Asian countries. There are four main castes as well as numerous other ethnic groups, such as Shresta, Gurung, and Sherpa. I have many friends with these surnames. There are rigid restrictions about intermarriage among these various groups, but a lot is now changing with modern times.

One student had just returned from a tour of the U.S., and he really liked it, especially New York City. Another student wanted to start a company and go to Silicon Valley, but was concerned about the treatment of people of color and the murdering of Blacks by the police. This was a common concern, along with gun violence, that I heard voiced many times during our trip. There was a universal disgust of Trump, but this is not a political blog so you will have to read it in the paper yourself. And, believe me, it’s there…in both India and Nepal.

It was approaching 11 by the time we said goodnight, hugged all around, and turned in. I hate to think of what the temperature was, but suffice it to say that we wore our down jackets to bed! Sleep was instantaneous. Tomorrow would be an early morning.

And in the morning, there was a view at last!

Next stop, Khopra Ridge (up up up on the right)! Thank you Suni and Kandu for carrying our gear!!!

I INTERRUPT THIS PROGRAM FOR A BRIEF ANNOUNCEMENT…

…in the midst of my extensive report from Nepal and South Korea, so I can share with you my recent trip to New York City and New Jersey. For those of you who may think there is no connection, or that trekking in the Himalayas cannot be compared to life in midtown Manhattan, you have obviously never been to Times Square at rush hour!

Negotiating the ticketing process from Christopher Street in the Village (my subway stop) through the noisy labyrinth of the underground that belches forth its over-abundance of humanity into the many-faceted subterranean canyon with its myriad stairs leading to Midtown, is every bit as strenuous as negotiating a rocky terrain at 12,000 ft. Trust me! The noise is at peak decibel, the possible pathways to subways are legion, every musical instrument known to mankind is playing, alone or in ensemble, and bodies are propelling themselves at record speeds, defying normal gravity. I pasted myself against a wall to watch the scene unfold. Could I have forgotten such insanity? Are there more people or am I just getting old (heaven forbid!). Dare I try for a video or will my arm be swept off? Lest you think I am exaggerating, try it, yourself. There ain’t nothing like it on the face of the earth…not even in India. There are places I’ve been where more people fill the streets, or crazies wander haphazardly looking for shelter, or there is more variety in architecture, or more color, or a gorgeous view. But in this one microcosm, you have it all at the same time. There is an excess of everything. I love it…the intensity and the energy…and I can find it terrifying.

But I digress. My two weeks in New York and New Jersey were full of joyous moments with old friends, a perusal of inimitable restaurants (yes, affordable), and an update on some of the gems that Broadway has to offer. This is no surprise to anyone who has followed my theater addiction over the years. There were times (when I lived in NJ) that I was able to taste dozens of shows a year, whether opera, symphony, musical theater, or plays, and all for reasonable prices (I belonged to a lot of cheap ticket venues, so $3.50 was a standard cost for shows in preview). Ah, but those days are gone forever! Today, even TDF barely dips below $32 for Off Broadway productions. That said, I leapt right in with a performance of a new play, Gary, the sequel to Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, starring Nathan Lane. This was in celebration of my friend, James Wilson’s, birthday. Here he is in front of his colorful Village apartment on 10th Street, where he generously invited me to stay for a week.

 

James’s apartment was not far from the historic Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, site of the 1969 riots that launched the gay rights movement.

 

 

During the week, when not at the theater, I roamed the streets of the Village, eating at various restaurants and meeting a plethora of people from all corners of the world. I returned to a favorite noodle restaurant several times and became acquainted with a charming Hungarian waiter, a Mexican busboy, and an Indian bartender, all recent immigrants. Hey, who needs to travel abroad when they have New York City?

 

The noodle shop is located near the clock tower and library, a rather peaceful area of small shops and eateries.

Here are several views of the neighborhood, including my favorite Deli.

Click on photos to see slideshow.

On Sunday afternoon, my old friend, Barry Hamilton, the General Manager of the New York City Children’s Theater, treated me to their new production, This is Sadie. I’ve never seen more energetic dancing! It was a charming show. I wish I had had such theater available at my fingertips when my children were growing up.

I think the most outstanding play of the year for me was The Ferryman, Jez Butterworth’s intricate drama of a family in Ireland during the IRA conflict. Brian D’Arcy James led an amazing cast of twenty-two superb actors, keeping me on tenterhooks for three fast-paced hours.

After a visit with my younger sister, Cary, in Harrison, NY, I began a week of intense theater of all kinds starting with the insightful one-woman show by Heidi Schreck, What the Constitution Means to Me, then adding two musicals, Merrily We Roll Along, vintage Sondheim, which I enjoyed with Paul Sharar, my long-time theater buddy, and The Prom, an hilarous new musical shared with Barry Hamilton, and Cheryl Galante, whose house I will enjoy for the next week when in Maplewood.

Cheryl, Barry, MP

A visit would not be complete without a rendezvous with Phyllis Bitow and Terri Pedone for dinner and a show at the Irish Repertory Theater. This year it was Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock. At this point my understanding of Irish dialect is nearing perfection! Our usual pick is the Metropolitan Opera, but no tickets were available at the last minute.

Together with Terri and Phyllis

 

In between shows I was able to renew ties with old friends Gary Shippy, Grace Polk, Luba Schnable & Skip Ungar, and Madison Scott, whom I had met last summer when she was acting in the Whidbey Island Shakespeare Festival. What fun to meet at a coffee shop in the Village.

 

The night before I left to visit my grandson, Adam Bixler, and his girlfriend, Allie Francis, in North Bergen, NJ, a close friend of James’s, Jim Guedry, treated me to a farewell party at his inviting home on Charles Street in the area of the Village known for its picturesque brownstone buildings. It was like walking into an art museum, only with more mirrors and better food! ’Twas a lovely evening of good conversation and fellowship with a stimulating group of friends.

I spent the weekend with Adam and Allie in their new apartment across the river from NYC.

The climax came on Sunday evening when we went to the ever-popular musical, Jersey Boys, in Manhattan. Ben Vitello, another close friend, shared the evening with us and returned me to Maplewood, where I stayed until take-off on Wednesday morning.

Ben, Allie & Adam after the show

Spring was just getting started in the old home town. The magnolias were magnificent at Martha’s former homestead but the buds were just peeking through the branches at Cheryl and Steve’s house.

Cheryl’s home was, as always, warm and inviting. And, despite all the companies and projects she manages, she always takes time to serve me a splendid breakfast!

You may remember that for the last two years my sojourn “back home” was met with a violent snowstorm. So this year I pushed the trip back a week and missed the white stuff, but managed to hit rain and fierce winds in Manhattan…enough to turn two strong umbrellas inside out while walking in Midtown. Them’s fierce winds, my friend. Make no mistake about it. Maybe next year I’ll go in May. But with climate change you never know.

I spent my last afternoon enjoying a festive reunion with two of my symphony buddies, Mike Schneider, his wife, Tami, and Andy Nagy. For years Mike, Andy, and I held up the second violin section of the Plainfield Symphony. Hah hah. Now they are on their own! We met at an Israeli pizzeria, Pita on Essex, in Millburn. Go figure…But it was terrific!

 

I was overjoyed when another friend, Jackie Herships, whom I met when she was running the organization, Professionals in Media, offered to take me to the airport. She, like Cheryl, go above and beyond the call of duty!

 

Returning to Whidbey Island was like entering Nepal in November, although spring was still ahead of the East Coast. It’s all that rain we entertain every winter. The forsythia had come and gone, but flowering trees, rhododendron, and daffodils abounded. Thank heaven for the return of the sun! But isn’t it about time to move above 60?

I took long walks by the Sound and meandered on the beach at low tide. It was heavenly….

For a week, daughter, Cary, has entertained a cycling friend of hers from Holland, Ian Borwell, whom she met in 1982 through their common interest in the WindCheetah, a human-powered vehicle made in Norwich, England. Cary was living in Holland at the time. This resulted in her buying a WindCheetah and traversing the United States for 10,000 miles in 1985. Another bicycling friend and artist, Stephen McMillan, joined them before returning home to Bellingham.

But the highlight of my return was a sunset dinner at Maxwelton Beach with my friends Don and Anne Zontine, Jerene, and Zangmo, welcoming me back. Naturally, we came equipped with down jackets and heavy blankets!

 

 

FAREWELL TO SOUTH KOREA

December 28-29, 2018

We arose early on our final day in Gyeongju, eager to visit the famous Bulguksa Temple. A World Heritage site, it is located out of town on the slopes of Mt. Toham, and is the head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. Off we went on a modern bus, which wound through country roads, past numerous resort hotels, hills reminiscent of the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and a large lake. What a beautiful place for a vacation…in the summer!

Like most of the places we’ve visited, the temple grounds were reached by a bank of steep stone steps. Once we had climbed up, we walked, leisurely, through a massive park adorned with artistic walls and beautifully sculpted trees. The temple seemed to me a bit sparse in contrast to the lush countryside, but it dated from around 751 AD, a sturdy structure from a simpler time. Walks and lattice work showed where the monks had lived. There are very few monks still in South Korea these days, according to Shawo. He said that atheism is on the rise, except for several Christian groups, mainly the Roman Catholics, known to be aggressive in their proselytizing.

Click on photos for slide show.

You will notice in these next three photos that numerous small lanterns hang on many of the ceilings of the temple. Written on the little cards attached to the lanterns are the names of donors (benefactors) who support the temple. It’s quite colorful and decorative.

I am always entranced by the meticulous carvings throughout Buddhist temples, especially on the roofs and around the windows. Here are a few samples.

And now it was time to retrace our steps and head for the bus for our return to town.

At eight the next morning we boarded the bullet train for Seoul-Incheon airport. Once again, I was blown away by the cleanliness and artistic design of the buildings, especially the airport. I took too many pictures, a sign of gratitude for the beauty and freshness of a country that has moved to First World status in a relatively short time. American subways and buses could take a lesson from South Korea. There is no litter and people are constantly cleaning, whether sidewalks or rolling walkways in airports. The contrast between the dust and dirt of Nepal and India is striking. After my recent mishap on a speed bump in Boudha, I sure loved the even streets and orderly infrastructure.

Don’t ask me how many escalators we negotiated on our pilgrimage through the airport. Cary and Shawo did the heavy lifting, so I was free to video various cultural events and folk dances seen along the way. Here is a sample of our farewell meanderings. And you will be glad to know that I finally got my ice cream cone…at Baskin-Robbins, no less. It was Shawo’s treat.

And now, the long walk to our gate.

I wrote down some interesting statistics about our trip back to Seattle. We traveled 8 hours and 35 minutes at 780 mph. Korea is 17 hours behind us, but with a tail wind, we arrived shortly after 8 AM Seattle time…before we had even left…according to the calendar. Boggles the mind!

We were full of mixed feelings as the plane ascended and we prepared for the long night ahead. Our minds were swirling with images of happy people, holiday celebrations, unique restaurants, temples and monuments, long meandering walks through pristine parks, and, most of all, the renewed connection with our dear friend, Shawo. There was sadness at leaving, but also excitement at the promise of future trips to whatever Asian country his career led him. The connection would not be broken.

TOMBS, TEMPLES, GROTTOS & PAGODAS…

December 27, 2018

For the next two whirlwind days we hit as many historical sites as our energy—and the cold—allowed.

We were eager to visit the famous burial mounds of Gyeongju and explore the extensive tomb complex that included the Royal Tomb of King Naemul, the 17th ruler of the Silla Kingdom, from 356-402, and King Michu (262-284), the first king of the Kim clan and the 13th king in the Silla period. There is fabulous jewelry in the Cheonmachong Tomb, including a spectacular gold crown. The grounds were lovely as were the small ponds that graced the them.

Click on photo to see slide show.

Many of the national treasures we visited were built during the reign of Silla Queen Seondeok, 632-647 AD. Next on our excursion through the bitter wintry weather was the Gyeongju National Museum. On our long walk there we passed the Cheomseongdae Observatory.

The Gyeongju National Museum is a marvel! There are three main buildings, each one with its own character. It would be impossible to show you all the photos I took of statues and artifacts, but here are a few to whet your appetite.

Pagodas, often found in famous grottoes like the Seokguram Grotto, fascinated me. Among several I saw was the stunning Dabotap Pagoda, which stood in a vast courtyard of the museum.

The Dabotap Pagoda

Click on photo to see slide show.

Doing all this we really worked up an appetite! Gyeongju has many intriguing restaurants with, for us, unusual forms of service. One of our favorites was a type of buffet where you could pick anything and cook it yourself. However, there was a rule that if you took the food and didn’t eat it there would be a charge.

I finally found what I thought was going to be ice cream, only to discover that it was snow with two scoops of green tea ice cream, a little chocolate sauce dribbled on it, and a couple of chunks of chocolate at the bottom. Cary and Shawo loved it, but it tasted to me like a chunk of new-fallen snow! You can see that Cary and Shawo made quick work of it.

The last meal of our stay was at an Italian-Korean restaurant where we delighted in a veggie meal of arugula and mushroom salad, a cheese and cashew pizza, and another pizza, this time with more arugula. We were so hungry for veggies after our meat-filled cuisine.

Our days were filled with discussions about international politics, social structure, and the Korean society as Shawo was experiencing it. I hesitate to make generalizations after such a short time, but here are some observations, nonetheless.

Of course, the Korean family is front and center of a rather structured social system. There are what we call lots of “shoulds” and “oughts” in the society. Expectations are high and pressure on the children to succeed and make the family proud is also very high. It all sounds oppressive to me. So much has to do with status. In fact, many families will fund their children after college until they get the “right” job with the right amount of prestige and income.

As I mentioned, previously, the extent to which the younger women pay attention to their appearance and fashion is quite evident. They use many whitening products for their skin and their make-up is exquisite. It’s almost as if they are walking manikins. It must take hours of preparation each day! I was also told that plastic surgery is prevalent throughout the country.

Observing all this, I realized what a happy go-lucky life I had had growing up, although, like so many people, the pressure we put on ourselves can be just as bad as that forced on us from without. So in the long run, it’s best not to judge.

In the evenings after dinner, we enjoyed wandering through the brightly-lit streets before going to our comfy room with the warm floors. How we savored these last two nights in this interesting country!

A SOJOURN TO DONGGUK UNIVERSITY FOLLOWED BY SHAWO’S DELICIOUS TIBETAN MOMOS!

December 26, 2018

We headed for Dongguk University, through beautiful parks and burial mounds, and a bustling Christmas Market. And, of course, we had to grab at least one cappuccino for the road! The sun was shining, but I still thought I would freeze. I bet we clocked six miles for the day.

Click on photo to start slideshow.

The university was as impressive as it was extensive. It was rather quiet with all students and professors gone for the winter holiday. Dongguk University was founded in 1906 by Buddhist leaders based on the idea of saving the country through education. The Gyeongju campus was established in 1978 with the “purpose of creating a strong national culture through combining the spiritual with the scientific, cultivating people who are leading Korea unification, supporting the community, and bolstering academic development.” Each year there is a competitive process to select a Tibetan student to be awarded a full scholarship to study at Dongguk. How wonderful that Shawo received the scholarship and has had a chance to learn, grow, and develop in ways not possible at an Indian university.

You’ll note that there is a design garden in front of one of the buildings with what might look to a Westerner likes a swastika. Actually, this is an Aryan symbol, which I first saw in northern India—an ancient religious icon—a sign of peace and divinity, eternity and spirituality. It is geometrical, and when it was preempted by the Nazis as their symbol of world domination, it was written backwards.

That evening was really special for us. Shawo picked up a myriad of ingredients and took us to his apartment for the treat of the week…homemade momos! This is a specialty of Tibet, which has gained popularity in all of Asia. To us they are dumplings.

The evening was spent in lively conversation as Shawo expertly fashioned the small treats, after which he made our favorite veggie noodle soup, thenthuk (pronounced ten-tuk). What was so much fun for all of us was Shawo’s eagerness to learn American slang and all kinds of colorful colloquialisms that you’d never learn in an English class. He made a long list in his notebook and seemed positively gleeful at each new expression. And what was so great was that he used them readily. My language is rather colorful, and Cary admonished me that teaching Shawo “cold as a witches tit” might not be socially acceptable. “Crazy as a loon” was another favorite.

After Shawo’s delicious dinner we grabbed one of those fancy cabs and went through the brightly-lit streets to our guesthouse. As a point of interest I feel compelled to mention that the traffic lights in South Korea are the longest lights on the face of the earth. I surely thought I’d fall asleep before we made it through the fifth one. It was worse than waiting for Verizon to go through the prompts and connect me to an actual human being. This trip has convinced me that I need to work on my patience!

I’M KEEPING HUMMINGBIRDS ALIVE IN THE SNOW!


A little shout of glee from this North Easterner who has missed old man winter for five years. I don’t know whether it’s climate change or the desire to get in step with the crazy weather visiting the Midwest this month, but for the past week Langley has been all but paralyzed by several snowstorms in a row. And it’s still coming down! Schools had two full snow days and two half days last week, and even our trusty movie theater closed its doors.

Like many of my friends, my neighbor was tired of Whidbey’s cold, wet winters and took a few days in Hawaii to recover. Good timing! In her absence I have been putting out her hummingbird feeders during the day and bringing them in at night so the sugar water doesn’t freeze. Can you believe that the hummingbirds are here in this snow? Check out the video that I took of my new little friend.

I am carried back to my childhood in Syracuse, New York, where walking to school on the high drifts that lined the roads went on for weeks. And I loved it! Since snowplows do not abound in our community, I enjoyed the same feeling as I shuffled through six to eight inches of the fluffy stuff with nary a car nor person in sight. And guess what? It looks as if this coming week will be the same.

My dear friend, Anne Ferry-Brennan, and her friend take a daily swim in Puget Sound. Nothing can deter them!

Here are a few more shots of what I call our winter wonderland. Click on photos to enlarge.

My friend Heidi’s home at the Maxwelton Creek Cohousing- can you believe she was born in Switzerland?

 

SOUTH KOREA…WHAT A WONDERFUL WAY TO END A TRIP!

December 24 – 25, 2018

Just for fun I’m starting at the end of our five-week journey to Nepal and Korea in November and December. The luxury of South Korea provided a perfect transition from our more rugged stay in Nepal and the reality of a cold, rain-soaked welcome on Whidbey Island.

We left Kathmandu on Christmas Eve and arrived in Seoul-Incheon airport at 2:30 AM Christmas morning (5:30 AM Korean time). There was Shawo waiting for us. We have known him since he first came across the border from Tibet to India as a teenager, and became a student at the Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV) School in Suja. In 2015, Shawo graduated top of the class, a huge accomplishment. He is now in his third year at Dongguk University in Gyeongju, South Korea, on a full scholarship. He is majoring in Global Economics and Korean Literature. Even more impressive, in one year of intensive study he learned Korean well enough to take university level courses!

Together we navigated the pristine modern airport, making our way through a labyrinth of escalators and subways before reaching the bullet train that would take us to Gyeongju.

Our eyes were popping as we entered this First World country and sped on the bullet train for two hours through scenic lands dotted with modern cities surrounded by mountains and farmlands. After arriving at the Singyeongju train station we grabbed a taxi – a fancy Korean sedan.

The driver, an elegant older man, put our address into his GPS, and with no bargaining—our well-honed habit in Nepal—we cruised through clean, paved streets to our guest house. Upon arrival, we nodded farewell to the driver, being told by Shawo that tipping was NOT DONE. For the next four days we discovered that these brand new cabs were easily located on every street and taken with no fuss or aggravation.

Hurray! Heat in our room…and under the floor! A hot shower, bright lights, automatic electric door locks, modern sink and toilet. We had died and gone to heaven! The entrance and hallways were plain cement, but the room made up for it. It’s amazing how comforts that we take for granted are such fun when you’ve been without them for a month. There was a large kitchen near the downstairs entrance, where each person made his or her own breakfast, something I had never seen in my travels. It was a jolly affair with everyone seated at long tables. A variety of food, coffee, stove tops, and sinks were readily available.

One discovery we made when climbing the stairs rather than taking the elevator. There was no fourth floor. It was like the thirteenth floor in many U. S. hotels. It was thought to be unlucky. But we WERE on the fourth floor, even though it was called the fifth. Go figure….

The weather was bitter cold, so we curtailed our walking for the day and grabbed a quick afternoon meal at an excellent Japanese Restaurant. We were slated for a Christmas celebration in the evening at a traditional Korean restaurant, generously hosted by one of Shawo’s friends, Professor Hye Soon Kim, Chair of the Department of Early Childhood Education at Dongguk University. She was a gracious woman and genuinely delighted to welcome Shawo’s friends from the West. Three Tibetan students and one Mongolian student completed the party. Tenzin, getting her Ph,D in Business, celebrated her 29th birthday with a cake and the usual Happy Birthday song. This was the second time I had heard it on our trip. Once on the trek in Nepal and, again, in Korea. I love the way every country sings the same lyrics rather than a translation. What a universal song that is! In her thank you remarks, Tenzin paid Cary a much-deserved and eloquent tribute for her work with TCV students and her support of the program over the years.

Professor Kim, our hostess, is on the far left. Tenzin, whose birthday it was, is third from left.

The meal was typically Korean with a plethora of small dishes coming thick and fast. There are no courses. As I’ve written earlier, eating is almost a spiritual experience for many people in Korea. Soup, unlike in many other cultures, is part of the main course rather than at the beginning or end of the meal. I wish I had felt comfortable enough to take pictures of the spread (we were sitting on pads at a low, rectangular table) and the charming women who served us, dressed in what looked to me like Puritan attire from 1620 Plymouth, MA. Except the bonnets and skirts, which were of a red motif, not black and white. But this was a time to experience, not record. Luckily one of the servers took our photo! A beautiful setting and lively conversation.

For the next three days we took in the sights and sounds of the bustling city and the historic temples and burial mounds. We started at the bank, where we given a ticket and sat on leather sofas waiting our turn, after which we roamed up and down the streets, popping into quaint stationery stores and others that seemed like miniature art galleries. It seemed to me that every establishment had a special artistic quality. Even the coffee shops were designed with a theme, like a swanky cafe or a living room with easy chairs. There seemed to be no rush. Elegance and tranquility was the order of the day.

Gyeongju is a World Heritage Site famous for the tombs of the rulers of the Silla era. These enormous burial mounds can be seen throughout the city, as well as visited. The amazing intricate jewelry and artifacts are part of the proud historical heritage of South Korea. One of the most interesting sights during our walk around town was the massive bronze Silla bell, called the Bell of King Seongdeok, the largest extant bell in South Korea. It was cast in 771 A.D.

Now it’s off to Shawo’s college, as we continue to explore sunny, frosty South Korea.

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM KHOPRA RIDGE!

Cary and I, halfway through our 10-day trek in the Himalayas, standing at 12,000 ft with Dhaulagiri in the background, the 7th highest mountain in the world. We were too tired to climb it that day, Ha Ha!

After our month in Nepal, we leave on Christmas Eve for South Korea, and a visit with our friend of 10 years, Shawo Choeten, at his university in Gyeongju on the east coast.

Stay tuned for more details about our journey.

Best wishes for a terrific 2019 for all of us!

COMING HOME TO KATHMANDU….

What a marvelous journey to Kathmandu this year! Cary and I are singing the praises of Korean Air, having traveled the ten plus hours to Seoul on two ample coach seats with extra space. Because of a long layover, we were comped an overnight at the Grand Hyatt in Incheon (5 stars!), complete with sumptuous dinner and breakfast buffets, before continuing our flight to Kathmandu.

The Shechen Guest House in Boudhanath greeted us like family and we settled in for a week of kora around the stupa, shopping in our favorite shops, visiting old friends, and enjoying new acquaintances who flow through the gardens and restaurant from a plethora of countries.

The Boudha Stupa never fails to thrill, especially at night with a full moon, and the lights shimmering on the prayer flags.

Navigating the narrow alleys with motorcycles speeding by in all directions is no worse than other years, but takes getting used to each visit. One new experience for Cary and me, however, was the three cows coming our way on the sidewalk. Just as they were approaching, oops! one was a bull that decided to mount one of the cows, resulting in her suddenly running toward us at a great speed. Luckily no vehicles were on the road when we jumped into it, just in time to avoid the stampede. I’ll save sharing about other mishaps for a more detailed post when I return!

We spent a lovely day with Jwalant Guring of Crystal Mountain Treks, who has planned many of our recent adventures. It also gave us a chance to visit his parents in their newly built home, and Cary a chance to talk gardening with his mother, Anita. The next Friday we attended a lecture given by his sister, Jenny Gurung, with whom we had circumambulated Mt. Kailash in Tibet in 2004, going to the top of Drolma La (18,000 ft.). Jenny, who works for the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), spoke about “Reviving Cultural Links across the Mt. Kailash Sacred Region.” It was great to see her again and hear about the important work she is doing.

Here we also meet people who are giving their time unselfishly as volunteers, a welcome antidote to the negativity we are bombarded with these days. For example, we met a firefighter from Denver, CO, who is making his third trip to Sermathang to help rebuild a school after the earthquake. We visited Sermathang in 2015 and saw the devastation first hand. The non-profit he volunteers for is Team Rubicon, an organization that works with veterans and disaster relief.

One of my favorite visits of the past week was with B. P. Shrestha in Dhulikhel, an hour east of Kathmandu. I first met BP in 1987 when he ran a small guest house in the old city center. Since then he has been mayor, and initiated tremendous growth and change, including the addition of a regional hospital, university, and water treatment plant, all of which have greatly helped the health and prosperity of the community. BP also built a beautiful hotel with a view of the mountains, The Himalayan Horizon, where we stayed overnight. His grandson, Chhitiz, was a wonderful host, and it was great to all spend time together, as well as see some of BP’s new projects.

I will spare you photos of the unbelievable traffic, which I have written about ad nauseum before. It is amazing to me, as an impatient American, to see how calm and philosophical the Nepalese people are in traffic jams. There is no shouting, no gesturing, no honking. Just quiet acceptance of the situation, and waiting patiently for their time to move forward.

I can’t resist one photo of the power and telephone wires that line the road. How they figure out which wire goes where, I don’t know! One big improvement is that there is no longer “load-shedding”, the rationing of the hours of power each day. Kathmandu now has electricity 24/7, and there are also a lot of solar panels for power and hot water. Plus the wifi is terrific at the guest house and little cafes, making previously difficult endeavors, like this blog post, much easier.

Two days ago, as we were returning from the stupa, a young man followed us into a store where we were buying incense, and said “Cary, Meg!” Cary exclaimed, “Tenzin!” How marvelous to reconnect with this young man, whom we had met years ago when he was a student at the TCV (Tibetan Children’s Village) school is Suja, India, and had been sponsored by Adam Bixler, my youngest grandson. We had lunch at his mother’s small Tibetan restaurant… delicious momos. We look forward to returning after our trek for her thukpa.

Buddhi, our guide, came by this morning, full of his usual enthusiasm and buoyancy. We head out early in the morning for Pokhara and our trek in the Annapurna region.

Stay tuned!

 

GUESS WHAT? IT’S BACK TO NEPAL WE GO!

I’m sure this comes as no surprise that Cary and I are resuming our yearly sojourn to Nepal, adding a week in South Korea at the end of December. There we will visit Shawo, a Tibetan student we first met ten years ago at the TCV (Tibetan Children’s Village) school in Suja, India, and have been in touch with ever since. He is studying at Dongguk University in Gyeongju, and has planned an exciting few days to acquaint us with this country, its culture, and terrain.

Our time in Nepal is more unstructured than usual, by choice. We may visit Lumbini, where the Buddha was born, and we certainly will visit Dhulikhel and our old friend, B.P. Shresta. We have a ten-day trek in the Annapurna region, but it will be much shorter than the full circuit I took in 1999 when I met my friend, Jon Pollack. We decided not to go the usual route by Poon Hill, but head over the Khopra Ridge. Our guide tells us that it’s not so crowded and more laid back. We’ll fly to Pokhara, drive to Kimche and hike to Ghandruk. From there we go by way of Isharu, Bayeli, and Christibung up to the ridge. I have a new Sony camera, so I expect to dazzle you with my creations. That is, once I learn how to use it! Cameras are better and better these days, as well as more and more complicated. But I’m told it’s good for the brain, so I soldier on!

As we reach the end of the growing season and wrap up the farm activities until early spring, I’d like to share with you the end of the year festivities at the fabulous school farm that Cary started here on the island. For me the ending is always a bit poignant, since I will have to forego fresh produce for these upcoming winter months. But, selfishness aside, the season went out with a bang—the school Harvest Feast. Friends and family enjoyed a sumptuous repast of kale salad, mashed potatoes, carrot sticks, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream, all made by the students from veggies grown at the farm. You can read the school farm blog HERE, with new end-of-the-year and Harvest Feast posts coming soon.

And now it’s off to Asia, wishing you a wonderful holiday season and glorious New Year.

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© 2019 Meg Noble Peterson & Site by Matt McDowell