musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Archive for March, 2016

200 Reasons to be Happy!

There was a feature in Uncut magazine last month, listing the 200 Greatest Albums of All Time. Greatest, Best, Finest, Most Influential; no matter what how you want to define it, a selection like that is more than a bit subjective, isn’t it? Many of the Uncut selections were fairly predictable. Not that the albums themselves were boring —- most are pretty much classics that are guaranteed to please — it’s just that we’re all used to seeing familiar choices such as Pet Sounds, Blonde On Blonde, Astral Weeks, Forever Changes, Ziggy Stardust, Kind of Blue, Tapestry, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, A Love Supreme, Exile On Main Street, What’s Going On, Are You Experienced?, and After the Goldrush on these sorts of lists, so there weren’t many true surprises.

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But the Uncut list got me to thinking about my own Top 200. By no means would I dare to label my choices as a “Best” or “Greatest” list, rather these are simply my favorite albums, those proverbial Desert Island Discs that I’ve played endless times over the years and ones that I could never willingly part with. In the realm of list compilers, I suppose I cheated a bit, picking some hits/best of packages, various artist collections, live albums, and even a couple of boxed sets. But hey, they are my favorites, so I won’t apologize.

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Like most listeners, my taste in music was heavily influenced by the music that I heard when growing up, mostly songs on the radio. In my case, the “formative” years were in the 1960s when I started listening to the radio and in the early 1970s when I started buying music. But I’ve maintained a very heavy listening and buying habit in the ensuing decades, so you’ll see a smattering of more recent recordings on this list too. What can I say; I’m a music addict!

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I own thousands of albums and I agonized over whittling this list down to “only” 200. I’m sure that I’ll kick myself for missing a few, but looking over the choices, I’m pretty satisfied with them. But confining the list to 200 meant leaving off many great albums, including ones by some of my very favorite recording artists, such as the Temptations, Drive-By Truckers, George Jackson, Allen Toussaint, Otis Redding, Sly & the Family Stone, Joni Mitchell, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, the Go-Betweens, Booker T & the MGs, Glen Campbell, Isaac Hayes, Talking Heads, Lou Reed, the Byrds, and so many others.

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These albums are not ranked in order of most favorite, just alphabetically by album title. I’m certain that there are more than a few picks that will strike you as odd or perplexing. My choices could be as obscure as the great Tom Foolery album or the fantastic debut recording by Love Tractor, or something as mainstream as Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, or Agents of Fortune by Blue Oyster Cult, but these are the albums that remain the nearest and dearest to my heart.

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The first pick on my list is a good example of my loose criteria: the first two albums by Big Star. I had both albums as a 2-LP import record back in the early 1980s, and now I own the 2-CD package, so in my mind these two albums are inseparable, just one complete blissful listening experience that can’t be divided.

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Big Star #1 Record/Radio City
20/20 20/20
Magnetic Fields 69 Love Songs
Jimmy Buffett A-1-A
Blue Oyster Cult Agents of Fortune
Richard Lloyd Alchemy
 

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Crack the Sky                    Animal Notes

Marvin Gaye Anthology
Ramones Anthology
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark Architecture and Morality
Squeeze Argy Bargy
Van Morrison Astral Weeks
Cheap Trick At Budokan
Allman Brothers Band At the Fillmore East
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NRBQ           At Yankee Stadium

 

 

 

Daryl Hall & John Oates Atlantic Collection
B-52’s B-52’s, the
Warren Zevon Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School
Paul McCartney & Wings Band on the Run
Band, the Band, the
Bob Dylan & the Band Basement Tapes, the
 

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Various Artists                     Beat the Retreat: Songs By Richard Thompson

 

 

 

Hollies Best of the Hollies
Kimberley Rew Bible of Bop
XTC Black Sea
Bob Dylan Blood On the Tracks
Michael Murphey Blue Sky Night Thunder
 

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Swimming Pool Q’s       Blue Tomorrow

 

 

 

Ry Cooder Bop Till You Drop
Bruce Springsteen Born To Run
U2 Boy
John Hiatt Bring the Family
 

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John Prine       Bruised Orange

 

 

 

Style Council Café Bleu
Lucinda Williams Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
David Byrne Catherine Wheel
Creedence Clearwater Revival Chronicle
Neil Diamond Classics: The Early Years
Jean-Michel Jarre Concerts in China
 

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999      Concrete

 

 

 

Steely Dan Countdown To Ecstasy
Feelies Crazy Rhythms
Echo & the Bunnymen Crocodiles
Tom Petty Damn the Torpedoes
Bruce Springsteen Darkness on the Edge of Town
Dream Syndicate Days of Wine and Roses
R.E.M. Dead Letter Office
Neil Young Decade
 

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Utopia       Deface the Music

 

 

 

Sade Diamond Life
King Crimson Discipline
Atlanta Rhythm Section Dog Days
Elton John Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player
 

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Brother Jack McDuff        Down Home Style

 

 

 

Nektar Down To Earth
Waylon Jennings Dreaming My Dreams
Josh Rouse Dressed Up Like Nebraska
Bongos Drums Across the Hudson
Squeeze East Side Story
Wally Badarou Echoes
 

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Glenn Phillips       Echoes: 1975-85

 

 

 

Everything But the Girl Eden
Jimi Hendrix Electric Ladyland
Pete Townshend Empty Glass
Gang of Four Entertainment
 

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Garland Jeffreys       Escape Artist

 

 

 

Isley Brothers Essential
Rod Stewart Every Picture Tells a Story
Yo La Tengo Fakebook
Little Feat Feats Don’t Fail Me Now
Snow Patrol Final Straw
 

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Heartsfield        Foolish Pleasures

 

 

 

Jackie Leven Forbidden Songs of the Dying West
Crosby Stills Nash & Young Four Way Street
Devo Freedom of Choice
New Musik From A to B
Nick Drake Fruit Tree (Boxed Set)
 

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Elvis Costello       Get Happy

 

 

 

Gil Scott-Heron Glory: The Gil Scott-Heron Collection
Randy Newman Good Old Boys
World Party Goodbye Jumbo
Elton John Goodbye Yellowbrick Road
Gordon Lightfoot Gord’s Gold
Paul Simon Graceland
Green On Red Gravity Talks
Al Green Greatest Hits
Chi-Lites Greatest Hits
 

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Wreckless Eric       Greatest Stiffs

 

 

 

Doll By Doll Gypsy Blood
Pylon Gyrate
Jimmy Cliff Harder They Come, the
Smiths Hatful of Hollow
Poco Head Over Heels
 

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Fleetwood Mac       Heroes Are Hard To Find

 

 

 

Rolling Stones Hot Rocks
Stevie Wonder Hotter Than July
Richard & Linda Thompson I Want To See the Bright Lights Tonight
Nada Surf If I Had a Hi-Fi
Eurythmics In the Garden
Velvet Crush In the Presence of Greatness
Van Morrison Inarticulate Speech of the Heart
Various Artists Indestructible Beat of Soweto, the
Stevie Wonder Innervisions
 

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Ozark Mountain Daredevils

It’ll Shine When It Shines

 

 

 

Jonathan Richman Jonathan Goes Country
Steely Dan Katy Lied
Mink DeVille Le Chat Bleu
Wet Willie Left Coast Live
Replacements Let It Be
Elvin Bishop Let It Flow
Railway Children Listen On: The Best Of
 

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Grover Washington, Jr.       Live At the Bijou

 

 

 

Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band Live Bullet
Bob Marley & the Wailers Live!
Clash, the London Calling
 

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Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen

Lost in the Ozone

 

 

 

Kitchens of Distinction Love is Hell
Love Tractor Love Tractor
Horslips Man Who Built America, the
Television Marquee Moon
James Taylor Mudslide Slim and the Blue Horizon
R.E.M. Murmur
 

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Long Ryders          Native Sons

 

 

 

Red Rider Neruda
Rod Stewart Never A Dull Moment
Gin Blossoms New Miserable Experience
Charlie Daniels Band Nightrider
Nils Lofgren Nils Lofgren
Ronnie Wood Now Look
 

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Guy Clark        Old #1/Texas Cookin’

 

 

 

Peter Gabriel Peter Gabriel (3rd Album)
Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti
Knitters, the Poor Little Critter on the Road
Emmylou Harris Portraits (Boxed Set)
New Order Power Corruption & Lies
Shoes Present Tense/Tongue Twister
Pretenders Pretenders
Who, the Quadrophenia
 

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Jacobites (Nikki Sudden & Dave Kusworth)

Ragged School

 

 

 

Tom Waits Rain Dogs
Deacon Blue Raintown
Jayhawks, the Rainy Day Music
R.E.M. Reckoning
Willie Nelson Red Headed Stranger
Mekons Rock ‘n Roll
 

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Various Reggae Artists

Rockers: Original Soundtrack

 

 

 

Ben Folds Rockin’ the Suburbs
Tarney-Spencer Band Run For Your Life
Jackson Browne Running On Empty
Neil Young Rust Never Sleeps
Clash, the Sandinista!
David Bowie Scary Monsters
Marshall Tucker Band Searchin’ For a Rainbow
 

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Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Searching for the Young Soul Rebels

 

 

 

Lynyrd Skynyrd Second Helping
Rosanne Cash Seven Year Ache
O’Jays Ship Ahoy
Ry Cooder Show Time
UB40 Signing Off
 

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Linn Linn       Sin Za Ba

 

 

 

Buzzcocks Singles Going Steady
Records, the Smashes, Crashes, and Near Misses
Interview Snakes & Lovers
Robert Palmer Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley
Todd Rundgren Something Anything
Jam, the Sound Effects
Dan Fogelberg Souvenirs
 

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Spinners       Spinners

 

 

 

Graham Parker Squeezing Out Sparks
Grant Green Steet Funk & Jazz Groove
Talking Heads Stop Making Sense
Lynyrd Skynyrd Street Survivors
Curtis Mayfield Superfly Soundtrack
Camper Van Beethoven Telephone Free Landslide Victory
 

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Atlanta Rhythm Section

Third Annual Pipe Dream

 

 

 

Moody Blues This is the Moody Blues
Replacements Tim
Tom Foolery Tom Foolery
Neil Young Tonight’s the Night
 

araces_toostuffed

Amazing Rhythm Aces    Too Stuffed To Jump

 

 

 

Reivers, the Translate Slowly
Elvis Costello Trust
Fleetwood Mac Tusk
Pure Prairie League Two Lane Highway
U2 Unforgettable Fire
 

pongsitunplugged

Pongsit Kampee & Lek Carabao

Unplugged (Plug Loot)

 

 

 

Fountains of Wayne Utopia Parkway
Durutti Column Valuable Passages
Ultravox Vienna
Jerry Jeff Walker Viva Terlingua
Joan Armatrading Walk Under Ladders
 

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Joe Strummer       Walker Soundtrack

 

 

 

Guadalcanal Diary Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man
Ian Hunter Welcome To the Club
Doobie Brothers What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits
 

herbalpert_wc

Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass

Whipped Cream & Other Delights

 

 

 

X Wild Gift
Emmylou Harris Wrecking Ball
Vulgar Boatmen You and Your Sister
Tom Petty You’re Gonna Get It

 

Eating in Cambodia

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When it comes to cuisine in Southeast Asia, Thai food is probably the best known and favored, although Vietnamese food can make an equally strong case for being the favorite. I’m biased, but I also think that the food from Myanmar, or Burmese cuisine, is very underrated, not to mention very tasty. Malaysia and Indonesia also boast some great dishes, and we can’t forget Thailand’s neighbor to the north; Laos. I used to take trips to Vientiane just for the restaurants! Each of the cuisine in these countries is fairly distinctive, although they do share some common threads, not to mention the influence of Chinese and Indian cuisine.

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Perhaps the least known cuisine in the region is that found in Cambodia. We can perhaps blame the horrific reign of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s for stifling the growth and popularity, but now that the country is at peach and growing again, the kitchens of the country are busy preparing some very tasty dishes. Cambodian food may not have the “wow factor” or culinary hipness of its neighbors, but if you dig deeper through their edible offerings, you will discover some real unique treats — and I won’t even broach the subject of the edible insects that are served in some places!

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In Cambodia you will find fairly simple noodle and rice dishes everywhere, but don’t ignore the savory soups (some of the “samlor” varieties are very good, and just a plain bowl of pumpkin soup with a crunchy baguette will make my day) and spicy salads. For the carnivores, there are plenty of grilled fish, chicken, and beef dishes, including the famous amok fish curry, and my favorite, the beef lork lak. Add some of the tasty sauce (a simple but delightful mixture of lime juice, salt, and pepper) and get ready to polish off your plate!

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Dry Season Blues: the Water is NOT Rising in Kampong Pluk

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The big news this year in Thailand — and in most countries in Southeast Asia — is the current drought. It’s dry out there, the worse in decades, and there are severe water shortages in many areas. Pray for rain? Whatever it takes, but in the meantime thoughts turn to conserving the water that is on hand and in the depleted reservoirs.

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When I was in Cambodia last month some friends and I visited the floating village of Kampong Pluk. It’s one of several such villages on the Tonle Sap Lake that attract tourists who are visiting Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor. This year, however, the water level has dropped to dangerously low levels and the boats that ferry tourists to the village and back don’t have as much water to navigate.

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Despite the low water level, our trip to Kampong Pluk was still very pleasant. Walking around the very dry village, we passed a wedding reception that was about to start, dropped by the village monastery (where a sign is posted, requesting that tourists “don’t drum” the big old drum on display), and then paid a short visit to the primary school where classes were in session.

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A woman was outside the school selling pencils and notebooks, supposedly for the students to use. The idea was basic; donate money and give the school supplies to the kids. You will be doing a good deed! Yes, that seemed obvious, but I also was wary of a scam. Would the students actually get the stuff that I donated, and if they did, would they really use the stuff?

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My friend Chamrong assured me that the woman’s sales pitch was legit and that the kids could indeed put this stuff to good use. So I ended up buying a few packs of pencils and notebooks, and then we walked up (and up it was: you needed to hike up some steep wooden steps!) to the classroom and asked a teacher for permission to distribute the bounty. She approved the operation, but halfway through the task of dispensing the supplies to the students it became apparent that I hadn’t bought enough for everyone. Luckily, the woman selling the notebooks was perched outside a window and promptly sold me some more! Hmm … that was almost too convenient. Nevertheless, the kids seemed happy with their new notebooks and pencils and I left feeling like my donation wasn’t a total waste of money.

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On the boat trip back, we stopped at an overpriced floating restaurant and had a good meal, although I passed on the crocodile steaks that were on the menu. And yes, that was legit too; they actually had some of the small critters in a cage for diners to ogle. Fine dining in Kampong Pluk!

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Twenty Years Gone: Finding a New Life in Thailand

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This month marks a big anniversary for me: it was exactly twenty years ago, in March of 1996, that I left my home in Orlando, Florida and moved to Bangkok, Thailand. Starting a new life in a new country, surrounded by new sights, sounds, and smells. I’d gone from the plastic environs of Disney World and neighborhoods infested by mosquitoes and churches, to a chaotic but vibrant city packed with Buddhist temples, go-go bars, mangy soi dogs, and 7-Eleven branches on every street (actually, it’s sometimes now three or four of those convenience stores per block in Bangkok). Some people might think that moving halfway around the world to a foreign country where English is not the native language, and where the culture is very different, would be intimidating or uncomfortable, but I’ve found that hasn’t been the case for me at all. I’ve adapted, I’ve learned, and I’ve thrived.

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I was getting my hair cut today by a vivacious Thai woman named Pin. She wasn’t the very first person to cut my hair when I moved to Bangkok, but she was probably the second one, and for nearly the entire twenty years that I’ve lived here I’ve let nobody else cut my receding hairline. Happy Anniversary Pin … and Happy Anniversary Thailand! I have never regretted my decision to leave the relative comforts — not to mention the spiraling crime — of the USA and settle in a so-called “backwards” third world country. Hell, if Thailand is considered backwards, let it drop further! Moving to Thailand has given me a new perspective on life, new inspiration, and additional energy. If I was back in the states, I’d be edging towards retirement age and wondering how I was going to survive for the next decade or two, but over here it feels like I’m just getting started and have a lot of life to look forward to living.

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For most of these past twenty years I’ve lived in Bangkok, subtracting only the two years that I moved to Cambodia and ran a bookshop in Siem Reap. It’s not like I’m wearing rose-colored glasses. Thailand is far from a perfect place and I see things on a daily basis that drive me crazy, but when I think about the prospect of moving back to the United States I break out into a cold sweat … nd that’s not a funky James Brown sort of groove filled with positive vibes, but a most definite fear of being thrust back into an increasingly disturbing, dysfunctional, and dangerous society. I just sit back and watch the current political soap opera that is unfolding (imploding?) in the USA and thank my lucky San Miguel bottles that I don’t have to be surrounded by all that American nonsense.

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Okay, it’s not perfect over here either, and I admit that there are things that annoy me greatly about Thailand (don’t get me started about the current political situation!), but putting it all into perspective I’d still MUCH rather be living here in the kooky kingdom than back in the United States of Amnesia. Admittedly, there ARE some things that I miss about the United States and my hometown. I miss seeing some of my friends and I miss certain restaurants (oh, that amazing Cuban food in Florida!), but I don’t miss the family dramas, the high cost of living, or the cruelty ingrained in the culture. And I certainly don’t miss all the creepy Christians or the conservative rednecks who think the Civil War is still being fought and that racist jokes are funny. Uh, no thanks. And yet another thing: since I left Florida I haven’t owned or driven a car (or any motorized vehicle) for the past twenty years. I don’t miss the driving, the parking, the car maintenance, or all those insurance payments either. Honestly, it’s a relief to be free from all of that crap.

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Living in Thailand is only part of the equation. Using Bangkok as the hub, it makes for relatively quick flights (one to two hours) to neighboring countries such as Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, and Myanmar. I continued tt be dazzled, and comforted, by these amazing places and the kind people who live there. And I still haven’t visited other nearby countries in the regions such as Vietnam, Indonesia (and Bali), Nepal, and the Philippines. Maybe I’ll go to these places someday. In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy the fascinating culture and friendly hospitality of Thailand and the other countries in the region. I’m here to stay!

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Return To Cambodia: At Long Last … Wat Bo

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It had been over a year — fifteen months to be exact — since I’d last visited Cambodia, the longest stretch I’d ever stayed away from the country since my first visit in 1999. I subsequently moved there in 2002 to open a bookshop in Siem Reap, but returned to Bangkok again in 2004 to — yes, once again — open another bookshop. I still keep telling friends in Mandalay: Watch out, you never what I’ll do next!

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In any case, I still go back once or twice a year, but my main focus in recent years has been visiting Myanmar, so I felt that a return trip to Cambodia — in this case, four days in Siem Reap — was long overdue. Long story short; it was great to see my friends again, but that joy was mixed with depressing sights. Look around Siem Reap and you can’t help but be appalled by the ingrained poverty juxtaposed by the rampant growth (some might call it development, but all I see is more people being forced to move from their comfortable old homes and neighborhoods) — and greed — that you can see around Siem Reap. My head was spinning by the sight of more ugly cookie-cutter hotels, the new-rich driving gaudy SUVs, people of all ages begging, and amputees hobbling down the street. Frankly, I couldn’t wait to leave town.

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I didn’t go to Angkor this trip — too many busloads of tourists to contend with, so no thanks! —- but one thing I did do was visit Wat Bo, an old temple in the middle of town. Surprisingly, this was the very first time that I’d visited Wat Bo. I’ve eaten countless meals at restaurants on Wat Bo Road, and stayed at hotels and guesthouses in the vicinity, but for some odd reason I’d never taken the time to visit the temple that the road was named after.

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So, late one afternoon, I snuck away from my hotel and walked alone to Wat Bo, taking a back road that ran parallel with Wat Bo Road. The temple is like most of the active ones you’ll find in Cambodia and nearby Buddhist countries such as Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand. There is main shrine, plenty of Buddha figures, some smaller buildings and stupas, plus living quarters for the monks. Like most temples and monasteries, I found the atmosphere at Wat Bo very peaceful and relaxing. There’s just something about these old Buddhist buildings — or complexes, in this case — that is so blissfully tranquil. In the midst of all this so-called progress, it was comforting to spend time at a peaceful old temple.

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Monks in the Wind

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In Western Shan State, not far from the shores of famous Inle Lake and the thriving town of Nyaungshwe, you will find the hilly village of Tat Ein. Perched on the top of one of the windy hills is a tiny monastery, home to about forty or so novice monks, the numbers rising and falling like the water level in the nearby lake.
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When I am in Nyaungshwe I pedal my bicycle over to the village and visit the monastery almost every day. The young monks are a cheerful, curious bunch, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know them over the years. But they are never around for too long. After two or three years in residence they either move on to another monastery or shed their red robes for regular clothing and resume the life of a student or young field worker. In these parts, you never roam too far from your native village.

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