Happy Year of the Ox

Growing up in one of the most diverse areas of California, Santa Clara County (what we called it before it became “Silicon Valley”), I was privileged to have a large number of friends who are Chinese or of Chinese heritage.  Privileged because this afforded me a literal seat at the table for various cultural holidays and festivals, none of which was more enjoyed by me than the lunar new year!

Illustration courtesy of Singaporean cartoonist (and friend and all-around good guy) Otto Fong.

We are starting the year of the ox, specifically the year of the Yin earth ox.  Raymond Lo, a professional Feng Shui practitioner, advises:

The Year of the Ox, 2009, in the Hsia calendar, is symbolized by two elements – with earth sitting on top of earth. So is the same element on top of each other.  According to the cycle of birth and destruction, which governs the interrelationship between the elements, earth and earth are like brothers and sisters and so they do not have birth nor destructive relationship with each other.  They can be friends and they can be competitors. Therefore, earth sitting on earth does not give sign of conflict.

The Earth on top is Yin earth which symbolizes a garden, and garden gives sense of harmony and peace and relaxation. The Ox underneath is actually matching with the picture of a peaceful field with ox eating grass.  As such, I anticipate this elemental relationship will bring a year of more harmony and peace in international relationships and it is a year for healing and cure and relaxation from the turbulent time the world has experienced since 2001.  It is a time for rebuilding and reconstructions from the damage brought by war and natural disasters, and the financial tsunami of 2008, and also a time to seek peace settlement and to narrow the differences between different culture, religious believes and begin to care for one another, and make some achievement in solving the global warming issue.  It is a year of pure earth element and the theme for this year should be caring for our planet earth.

So to all of my friends who celebrate the lunar new year – and to everyone else as well – best wishes for good health, happiness, prosperity and peace in the coming year!



As a little aside, if you scroll down Mr. Lo’s predictions and overview of the year of the ox, there’s this random tidbit:

The Earth element is also associate with homosexuality. It so happens many famous homosexuals is born on the day of earth – this includes Leonardo Da Vinci, Michael Angelo, Tchaikovsky, George Michael, Boy George, Andy Warhol, Tracy Chapman, K.D. Lang. Rosie O’Donnell etc. As such, there could be more issues in this aspect in 2009. It is not really clear how earth element is linked with homosexuality. Perhaps earth is an element of more neutral nature, compare against the other four, water and fire, wood and metal.

Strange, strange, strange…


Day before Songkhran

P1050856 Back from our Songkhran getaway, I’ll give you the first of two entries, this one dating from last Friday. 

Roka’s best friend Stacy arrived on Thursday from Portland, Oregon.  About a month ago Roka asked if I’d take Stacy sightseeing, since Friday would be the one day when Roka was still working and would be unable to show Stacy around.  I agreed and met up with Stacy at lunchtime.

Also, in a bit of serendipity, I met up with another friend who is visiting from Phoenix, back after an eighteen month absence.  The three of us had lunch before Marc headed off to run errands and Stacy and I caught the canal taxi into the old city.

It was hot and sunny on Rattanakosin Island but with a stiff breeze.  The air was unusually clear, not only for this normally smog-choked city but also when considering that a landfill fire had been burning for five days in an adjacent province southeast of the city.

To take advantage of the clear air, we headed to Wat Saket, also known as “Golden Mount”.  This is the highest geographic point in the city, a man-made hill and the only hill in Khrungthep.  The current chedi dates to the reign of King Rama V, who enshrined a Buddha relic belonging to the royal family there in 1877.

Right: View of Wat Saket from San Saeb canal.

In the temple grounds at the base of the hill  there was a Songkhran festival underway, a display of traditional new year’s activities.  Students from a nearby school were wearing traditional outfits, pouring jasmine-scented water over the hands of their elders, washing Buddha images, and playing jump rope and other games.

P1060043 A reporter and cameraman from channel 7 news was on the scene, filming the water blessings.  As I stepped behind the cameraman to try and get the same shot, the reporter said to him, in Thai, “Why don’t you move for that farang behind you.”  To which I repled, “mai pben rai” – no worries!

As soon as she realized that I understood Thai, she decided that she would interview me.  Camera rolling, Stacy and I participated in the water blessing ceremony, pouring water on the hands of the seated elders and wai‘ing them.  Then the reporter asked me a series of questions about why I was interested in these traditional ceremonies and what I though about Thai culture.  I stumbled my way through the short interview, amusing everyone as I went along.  Tawn will be checking with his media clipping service to see if I made the evening news or not.


After making our media appearance, we climbed the double-helix staircases to take in the view.  The breezes were very cooling at the top of the 100-meter tall hill.  Standing in the shade, all of my sweat dried up.  While not nearly as impressive as the view from the top of the Banyan Tree or Baiyoke 2, there was still a nice view of the old city.  Below, my telephoto lens is maxed out to take this picture of the residence portion of the Grand Palace.


We enjoyed the view for a while, took some pictures, and watched as the temple assistants strung strings around the chedi so people could attach bills as part of a special collection for charity.  Temple bells, prayers written on the copper clappers, chimed in the wind with a hundred different voices.


Staying in the shade as much as possible, we walked down Ratchadamnoen Avenue (the Champs Elysees of Khrungthep) past the Iron Pagoda, Democracy Monument, and October 1973 memorial, before catching a taxi to Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.

P1060080 Since it was already late in the afternoon, the crowds of tourists had gone and monks and laypeople were busy setting up the temple grounds for the Songkhran festivities. 

A pair of novices, aged about eighteen and ten, took a break from shoveling sand to shore up the poles holding the fluttering flags and were making sand sculptures. 

“What are you making?” I asked.  The older one traced a pair of eyes and patted a nose, answering, “The Lord Buddha”.  The younger one smiled as he worked on his mis-shappen hill.  “A chedi!” he responded, confident that his claim could not be disproven.

We continued on, visting the main statue hall where the 46-meter long Buddha in repose never fails to amaze, his serene expression inducing a similar response in most visitors. 

Dwarfed at his side, an artisan made repairs, carefully adding leaves of gold.  Working at no particular hurry, he added one small square after another to the Buddha’s right thigh.

Ignoring the touts and vendors outside the temple, we walked to the nearby pier and jumped aboard the next river taxi.  Dozens of tourists, afraid of missing their stop, stayed crowded at the rear of the boat.  We pushed forward towards the bow, where the crowds were thinner and the breeze more enjoyable.

We eventually made our way back to my condo for a quick chance to freshen up, and to give Stacy an opportunity to meet Tawn.  Then we were on our way via motorcycle taxi to meet Roka, Ken, Markus and Vic at a nearby Thai restaurant.  The motorcycle taxi was a bit of a cheap thrill for Stacy.

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It made for a very pleasant end to the afternoon.  Unfortunately, Tawn did not join because he had dinner with his school friends.  After I finished dinner with my friends, I walked 100 meters down the street to the Chinese restaurant where Tawn was eating.  Their food was just arriving so I stayed and visited, although did not eat.  Pim had brought her daughter Tara with her, who was enjoying playing with her Uncle Tawn, below.



Fireworks galore as we stay home

SukhothaiNew Year’s Eve was thankfully quiet.  It is a public holiday here in Thailand, essentially giving people a four-day weekend.  Roads were quieter than normal, car parks and malls emptier.

In the morning I drove to the Sukhothai Hotel on Sathorn Road, right.  The sister of a friend was in town from Hong Kong and had a package to give me.  I met her and her husband pool-side and visited for a few minutes.

Such an attentive staff and so gorgeous a hotel!  When I arrived, I didn’t see Julie.  Turns out that she had gone up to her room to get the package and since I hadn’t met her husband, I didn’t know what he looked like.  The staff made a great effort to locate her and fortunately she showed up a few minutes later.

In the afternoon, Tawn decided it was time for him to do some cooking.  Craving linguini with pesto sauce, he pulled out the blender and made some fresh pesto.  We enjoyed a light lunch before he headed to his parents’ house.



I worked throughout the afternoon and then started preparing dinner as we had decided to spend our New Year’s Eve at home.  The menu was a bit of a reprise from Saturday.  I had leftover mozzarella cheese and ricotta and spinach mixture, so I bought some more mushrooms and made another vegetarian lasagna. 

There was still some broiled zucchini and eggplant mixture, so that became a gratin.  The flavors of the cucumber-mango salad were nicely melded by now, so that rounded out the trio nicely.

P1030567  P1030569

For dessert, the final two individual chocolate souffles were unwrapped from the freezer, puffing up nicely in the oven as if the batter had been prepared just minutes beforehand.  All in all, a simple menu, but a delightful one and spent with the best of company: Tawn.

Shortly before we moved into the condo, I bought a bottle of Möet & Chandon Brut Imperial Champagne to celebrate.  It has been waiting patiently and last night seemed to be the best time to open it.


To kill time waiting for the clock to strike midnight, we watched an episode from season two of “The West Wing” on DVD.  I don’t watch TV and hadn’t really seen this show when it was on the air.  Vic loaned me the discs and the series is really good.  If all TV were like this, I’d be watching all the time.  Heck, I’d even go out and buy a TV.

About three minutes before midnight some over-eager locals began setting off the fireworks.  Limited in the US to only “safe and sane” fireworks or official public displays, it seems everyone in Khrungthep gets their hands on some pretty serious munitions.  There was an excellent view from our balcony of a large display just up Thong Lo from us, complemented by a half-dozen adjacent properties setting off their own Roman candles and other more spectacular fireworks.  For a quarter-hour there were bams and booms and howling soi dogs.

And thus we start 2008 (2551 in the Buddhist calendar).