• My Closet Looks Like A Mini REI Store

    I’ve taken so many trips and with so much variety, that I think I have everything any adventure traveller  could need. Cold weather? No problem. I have cold water boots for hopping out of a Zodiac at either pole, a red expedition jacket to protect me from the elements and make me stand out in case I get lost in a snow storm, inner and outer gloves, a balaclava hat, gaiters, and two weights of thermal underwear.  Desert? SPF 15 breathable shirts, sand-proof boots, a Tilley hat, SPF 100 sunscreen, and several water bottles.  Water sports? A SCUBA skin, fins, custom snorkel and prescription mask  board shorts, kayaking shirt, water sandals. I also have—trekking poles, day pack, head lamp, down booties, down jacket, down vest, and a wind/rain resistant outer coat. I even have a syringe/suture kit in case I am in a remote area where sterile syringes and needles are nonexistent and I am injured.

    I’ve used each of these items—except for the suture and syringe—a lot over the years. I’ve even replaced several things.  I am on my third set of hiking poles, fourth set of outer gloves, second Tilley hat, and second day pack. Some things wore out. Other items had such improvements in technology that I was compelled to upgrade. For example, the day pack. My latest one has a frame that is sized to my height and keeps the pack from resting entirely on my back, so it allows air to flow between me and it. The pack also has chest and hip straps to make the pack sit comfortably no matter how long the hike. 

    As I look at all this equipment, I wonder what to bring on my trip to the Atacama desert in a few days.  The average temperature should range between 33 °F and 79 °F, but it is possible for it to drop below zero and reach into the 80’s. There is no rain in sight for the parts of my trip in the Chilean and Bolivian desert, but I am making a two-day stop in Santiago first where the prediction is for rain. 

    I pull things off the shelf and out of the closet: Tilley hat, cold weather hat, thermal underwear, fleece jacket, Goretex jacket, down jacket, hiking shirts, hiking pants, liner gloves, socks, boots, daypack, head lamp, first aid kit, extra glasses, sunglasses, sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen, and a swim suit for the thermal hot springs. To this I add hiking boots, city shoes, something decent to wear in Santiago, jeans for horseback riding, and other assorted items.

    My goal is to fit all this in a roller bag—the same one I typically put in the overhead bin. I am dubious, but everything ends up fitting except for the hiking boots. The rollie is now too fat for the overhead, but I was planning to check it anyway. I’ll put the hiking boots in my day pack along with my camera and take the pack onboard with me. 

    Next stop, Santiago!

  • Greenwashing or a Commitment to Conservation?

    Greenwashing…is a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization's products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly.  Wikipedia

    Just about every hotel I’ve stayed in over the past several years has a visible statement in each room to tell their clients about the hotel’s commitment to conservation. This is a photo I took recently. I deleted the hotel’s name from the sign because I don’t want to single out any particular establishment. You can add any hotel’s logo and contact information to this sign.

    Each hotel's environmental statement is pretty much the same. They say:

    • We aren’t going to give you clean sheets every day.
    • We aren’t going to give you clean towels every day.
    • You can’t smoke in the room. But if you must, you can pay us a big fee for cleaning.
    • We are very committed to the environment.

    Then they promote bottled water, one of the most environmentally unfriendly consumer goods today. Take that Voss water in the photo. It’s $30.72 a gallon. The water is extracted from an Artesian spring in Norway and flown to, in this case, California. Think of the energy cost of making the bottle and the fuel necessary to fly it to locations around the world and then truck the water to a hotel. Environmental? No. 

    Most hotels have many other environmentally unfriendly practices, such as:

    • Supplying a refrigerator in every room. Contrary to what you’d think, mini-refrigerators can use as much or more energy than the large Energy-Star-efficient ones you use in your home. Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, hotel room refrigerators are keeping, in most cases, absolutely nothing cold. An alternative would be to provide a mini-refrigerator only on request, and if reserved at the time the room is reserved.
    • Providing ice machines on every floor. An alternative would be to have only one centrally located ice machine in the hotel. Or, hotels could follow the practice of Hotel 41 in London.  Each day around 4:00 PM someone shows up with a bucket up ice and a small bowl of olives.

    • Illuminating the outside of the building at night. I’ve been in hotels where the uplighting was so bright it leaked through the curtains and kept my room lit all night. An alternative is to modestly light only the hotel sign and provide shielded lights to illuminate pathways.

    • Mounting televisions on every wall in every public space, and then keeping them on 24-7. Not only is this an energy waster, but it intrudes on the personal space of travelers. The alternative is to get rid of public televisions and assume hotel clients will watch television in their room. 

    By changing any one of the things I've mentioned, a hotel would not only save money, but help the environment.  If hotels also refused to carry bottled water, they would truly show a commitment to conservation. It's rare to find bad water in the USA. Hotels could filter their own local water and provide a centrally located bottling station for those who are convinced that water coming out of a tap is unpalatable. 

    Can you think of other ways that hotels can go beyond sheets, towels, and smoking?

  • The Three Faces of Everest

    For eons Mt. Everest presided over the landscape without humans setting foot on it. It was a sacred mountain, revered by those who lived in its shadow. All that changed when the British arrived in the area. With a penchant for measuring everything, the Great Trigonometrical Survey was the first to establish the height of Everest as 29,002 feet. That was in 1856, back when the mountain was referred to as Sagarmāthā by the Nepalese and Chomolungma by the Tibetans. Surveyor Andrew Waugh claimed there were even more local names than those two. Rather than choose one of the local names, which he reasoned might be confusing, he convinced the Royal Geographical Society to name the mountain after Sir George Everest. That gave the mountain yet another name, but it was one that the British could pronounce.

    When word got out of the magnificence of the mountain, a group of British—the Mount Everest Committee—hatched plans to climb the mountain. It would be the ultimate conquest. The committee formed in 1921 and the first attempt on Everest occurred in 1922. The climbing team approached from the north, through Tibet, starting at the Rongbuk Glacier. The 1922 attempt failed as did all other attempts prior to the time China invaded Tibet. When the Chinese took over Tibet in 1950, it closed foreign access to the mountain. It wouldn't be opened again until 1980.

    During the time Tibet was open to foreign climbers, Nepal was not. But when Tibet closed its borders in 1950, Nepal opened its borders. In 1953, the British team that included Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit. Thus began the popularity of the southeast route to Everest. (The upper southwest face. Image by Pavel Novak, CC BY-SA 2.5 from Wikimedia Commons.)

    In 1960, a Chinese team summited using the northern route.  (Routes up the north face. Image by Luca Galuzzi - www.galuzzi.itUser:Kassander der Minoer at de.wikipediam, CC BY-SA 2.5 from Wikimedia Commons.)

    Kangshung, the most secluded face of Everest, remained unclimbed. Explorers had seen this side of Everest prior to the time China closed the borders, but those who saw it concluded the route would be too difficult. And so it is. The route is insanely steep. It requires lots of vertical climbing, technical skill, and sheer tenacity. There are perilously large overhanging blocks of ice, some house-sized, that are prone to breaking off. Those who climb need to be self sufficient, and that includes climbing without the aid of sherpas and into the death zone without oxygen. 

    Who would do this?  In 1988, a team of four succeeded—Stephen Venables (UK), Robert Anderson (USA), Ed Webster (USA), and Paul Teare (Canada). Mr. Venables' account of the expedition is riveting. Everest, Kangsung Face not only recounts the perils and joys of this adventure, but his book is full of photos of the climb that will make your heart race. Ed Webster, the photographer, lost several toes and fingers in his pursuit of capturing the climb. (Kangshung face from space. Image by Dan Bursch, NASA Astronaut. NASA Earth Observatory, Public domain, through Wikimedia Commons.)

    Unlike the more than 4,000 people who have seen the world from Everest’s summit, I have no desire to climb it. I’m content to stand at the base of a mountain and appreciate its greatness. In my research to get to Everest's base, I learned that most trekkers, like climbers, choose the southern route to Everest. There are more than 35,000 trekkers per season to the southern face. Kangshung remains the route barely traveled. That’s the side of Everest I want to gaze at.

    September 23 was to be the day I’d arrive in China to start a trek to the Kangshung face. After completing the trek, the group was to drive to the north face, near the Rongbuk glacier. The trip was to conclude with a drive from China to Kathnamdu, Nepal. The recent earthquake in Nepal caused enough damage, including closing the road on the border, that many of the people who signed up for the trek cancelled. That, in turn, caused the trip to be cancelled. 

    I’m keeping Everest on my bucket list. Perhaps next year, or the year after.

    If you are interested in trekking to Kangshung, see Kangshung Face of Everest Trek.

    To get an idea of what the area around Kangshung looks like, see Best of Kangshung Face Expedition, by Cathy O’Dowd. Cathy is the first woman to successfully climb the northern and southern routes. Her team did not succeed in its 2003 attempt of the Kangshung Face. She did, however, take some great photos as well as write an account of her team’s attempt.

    Her team might not have been successful, but they had solitude, which is something no longer possible when climbing from the south. Maxed Out on Everest describes the what it's like to climb "bumper to bumper at 27,000 feet." The photos show why it's possible to freeze to death waiting in line at the Hillary Step. 

    Everest's height? The Great Trigonometrical Survey value is a bit off. The current height is  29,029 feet (8,848 meters).

  • Trying to Get a Cup of Coffee in San Francisco

    I had been warned that a cup of siphon coffee would set me back seven dollars or so. If the line into Blue Bottle Coffee weren't so long, I don't think having a cup of siphon would have intrigued me. It's true that most people in the line weren't getting siphon. Blue Bottle is also famous for all the other kinds of coffee they serve—lattes, espresso, cold brewed coffee, and more.

    What’s a siphon? A true siphon causes liquid to move from one location to another using gravitational force. Let’s say you have a 5,000 gallon tank of water and you want to move it to a tank that’s located downhill. You can place one end of a tube in the top tank and the other in the bottom tank. The water will first go upwards through the tube to get over the edge of the upper tank, then travel down to lower tank. All due to gravity

    Siphon coffee doesn’t work that way, so it is not really a siphon. The water for siphon coffee starts in a lower chamber of a two-chamber device. When heated, the water flows upwards through a tube to the upper chamber. It’s not gravity that’s responsible. It’s vapor pressure. When the water in the lower chamber (which is closed) is heated, the vapor pressure increases. The upper chamber is open, so it’s at normal atmospheric pressure. When the difference is big enough, the water gets sucked to the upper chamber. That’s when you add coffee grounds, wait precisely one minute and ten seconds, remove from the heat, and then watch the coffee drain to the lower chamber as the vapor pressure decreases.

    Siphon coffee operates on the same principle of the percolated coffee of the past. Percolated coffee recirculates over the grounds while siphon soaks the grounds.

    Now that you know the science, here’s the ordeal of getting a cup of siphon joe.

    Day 1. I decide I’ll walk over to Blue Bottle, grab a siphon to go, and get back to hear a talk at a conference that I’m attending. I allot a half hour. After 20 minutes of waiting I haven't quite reached the front door so I bail in time to get back to the conference.

    Day 2. I realize I need to allot more time to stand in line. I figure I'll pop in early in the morning on the way to the conference, grab a siphon to go, and get to the conference on time. I leave 45 minutes. Within 20 minutes I get to the cash register, but I notice that the menu mentions that customers are expected to drink the siphon on the premises. It’s part of the ritual. 

    I was prepared to break protocol and ask for a siphon to go. When I arrived at the counter and requested a siphon, I was told it would be at least 20 minutes before the Siphonista would be able to start making the siphon. It was too long so I ordered a latte. It was the most beautiful latte I've ever had, and tasty too. The latte was worth the 10 minute wait. The artful design on the frothed milk was so beautiful I couldn’t bring myself to use a to-go lid. The design persisted even as I drank, a testament to the thick, foamy milk  Best ever! Now I really wanted to try the siphon.

    Day 3. I allocated 90 minutes in my schedule to wait in line, wait for the Siphonista to catch up with the orders, and to enjoy the complete ritual on the Blue Bottle premises. The line was not quite as long, so I was very hopeful. I reached the counter within 15 minutes. I had my siphon flavor picked out—the special Panama with hints of chocolate and berries. My mouth was watering. I ordered. The hostess said "I'm sorry but the Siphonista is not here now.” “Could anyone else make it?” I asked. Of course not. This method of boiling water is so special that it requires a barista with a specialization in siphon, hence the occupation of Siphonista. Disappointed, I settled for a latte to accompany a breakfast of eggs and cauliflower.

    Perhaps on my next trip to San Francisco.

    If you want to try making siphon coffee at home, Blue Bottle Coffee provides complete instructions.

  • Disrupting a School Day in Cambodia

    I just finished a picnic lunch in the countryside outside Siem Reap. I am sitting under a tree next to a Buddhist temple. Two sad, dirt covered dogs gaze at me while a puppy jumps playfully at the table hoping for some scraps. He gets them. My guide says, “There’s a school a short walk away. Let’s visit the classroom.”

    If I tried to pop into a classroom in the USA unannounced, I’d likely be arrested. So I am a little concerned. I say, “Are you sure we can just walk into a classroom?” He says, “Yes. They will love it.” So we walk on.

    As I approach the school yard, I notice that some children are outside, some inside. I hear excited murmurs. When we get to the classroom I don’t see a teacher anywhere. To my surprise, there are children seated at the desks.


    We enter and most of the children jump up and run towards us. They see cameras and want photos taken. Many keep flashing peace signs, so much so that it makes it difficult to get a good shot without having fingers in front of someone’s face. There is so much movement, it’s also difficult to focus. Clearly this is the highlight of their day.

    A few children sit at their place, looking shy and reserved. I take one of the shy girl’s photos. She smiles when I show her image to her. Other children surround me so they too can see her image. Now everyone wants to see their image in my camera.

    This goes on for at least ten minutes before the teacher arrives. We wish her a good day and leave, the children waving at us as we make a quiet getaway.

    There are schools all over the countryside. Most, but not all, children attend. It’s easy to see who attends by the fact the children wear uniforms. As I walk through other parts of this rural area, I see children who appear to be school age, but are helping tend livestock or work in the fields. The literacy rate in rural areas is about 74% compared to urban areas, which is about 90%.

  • Cao Dài Temple: The Great Religion of the Third Period of Revelation and Salvation

    I am in front of a magnificent building in the town of Tây Ninh in southern Vietnam. It is the Holy See of the Cao Dài religion—a relatively new religion that started in 1926 right where I am standing. Like all religions, it began with a hallucination. Its disciples received instructions directly from God to establish Cao Dài.

    I see a mixture of symbols on the outside of the temple—figures representative of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity. I see dragons, a flying goose, and even Joan of Arc. There is a giant eye on the outer wall. It reminds me of the one on the US dollar, only colorful.

    The front door is reserved for entry by the religion’s followers. It’s not quite noon; many disciples have already arrived. I walk to the side of the temple, leave my shoes on the street, and enter through the visitor’s door.

    The disciples, all clothed in pure white robes, are seated in the back vestibule—the women on one side and the men on the other. They must wait there until the monks arrive. Then they can enter the main hall and sit in the area reserved for them.

    As a visitor I am allowed to roam the outer aisles of the temple until it’s time to start the service. I am not allowed to walk into the center, nor am I allowed to take photos that include non disciples. Oddly enough, it is perfectly okay to take photos of the disciples and monks both before and during the service.

    The place is colorful. Really colorful. The style of the carvings and the bright colors remind me of a carousel. I see eyes all over—they are the windows to the temple. I see dragons and stars and planets. The altar is so far back in the temple that it’s difficult to make out what it is when I first enter. When I walk closer, I see there a gigantic round planet with an eye painted on it. It is the eye that oversees the universe.

    My guide says it is time for me to go upstairs to view the ceremony. The white-clad disciples file in and sit on the sides. The monks, dressed in primary colors, walk in next. Only a few walk past the midpoint of the temple. No one gets close to the altar. Where you sit is determined by the your level of mastery of the principles. All disciples must adopt ethical principles that include nonviolence, vegetarianism, prayer, and veneration of ancestors. But there are also many scriptures for them to study and learn.

    In the back is a musicians’ loft. Five or six young women (all supposedly virgins) sing while a group of men sit and play traditional instruments. Then it’s silent and everyone sits, adopting a posture of meditation. It’s now very quiet in the temple. My guide says “They are going to stay that way for hours.” I still watch. Once in awhile a gong sounds, the musicians start up, then there is silence again. Sometimes the gong sounds once, sometimes several times in a row. Not knowing the religion, I don’t understand the ritual, but it is beautiful and restful.

    After awhile I leave the disciples to their meditation.

    The Cao Dài followers believe there are 72 planets that have intelligent life. Planet number 1 is closest to heaven and planet 72 is closest to Hell. Earth is number 68. I am thankful that Earth is considered one of the planets with intelligent life, because at times I wonder how intelligent we really are.

    For more information on the practice of Cao Dài, see Its full name is Dai Dao Tam Ky Pho Do, the Great Religion of the Third Period of Revelation and Salvation.

  • The Killing Fields of Cambodia

    "In 1978, the Khmer Rouge killed my father and uncles. Five men in my family, all killed," my guide explains before we set off in his tuk tuk to the Killing Fields just outside of Phnom Penh. It is just one site of many all over Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge rounded up people in a truck, telling them they were taking them to a better place to live and work. On arrival, they imprisoned them, but not for long.


    At night, the Khmer Rouge would play revolutionary songs loudly, over speakers. The screeching songs, mixed with the sound of the diesel generator, drowned out the screams of the prisoners as they were bludgeoned to death. The bodies were then thrown into a mass grave and sprinkled with DDT. Those who weren't dead by the bludgeoning were finished off with the DDT, which also helped to control the stench of the decaying bodies.

    I arrive at the site. It looks peaceful, surrounded by rice paddies. Then I see the craters, each one indicative of a mass grave. Bones protrude from the ground, as do pieces of clothing. The rainy season uncovers these artifacts. Each month volunteers collect what gets unearthed. In the center of the site is a towering stupa. I must tip my head back to see to the top because it is so tall. It's filled with skulls and large bones. There are so many bones that the small ones could not be placed inside this memorial.

    I see the Killing Tree. When first discovered after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, there were bits of brain and skin embedded in the blood stained bark. This tree was where the Khmer Rouge smashed the heads of babies and small children.

    There are small plots of dirt cordoned off and shaded by a roof at which my audio tour tells stories of what happened. It's a somber place. Everyone wants to turn back time and bring these people back. The posts around these plots are filled with peace bracelets. People have also thrown bracelets and money on the dirt itself. I can tell these plots are treated with respect because the money I see is deteriorating in place. No one dares to remove it. I recognize some of the money. I am surprised to see Ben Franklin's face on a rotting $100 bill. That's a month's wage here, yet no one will remove that bill.

    The Khmer Rouge took advantage of a cruel and corrupt government to put in place an even crueler government. Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader, although educated, sought out and tortured or killed every person with an education. He killed all the doctors he could find, the teachers, anyone who wore glasses, anyone who read, who owned books. He broke families apart, taking the children and turning them into soldiers for the cause, soldiers who were then willing to kill their own family if necessary. He forced everyone living in Phnom Penh to leave the city and move into the countryside to farm the land. Those who didn't die of starvation and disease were tortured, many killed.

    One out of four Cambodians died at the hand of the Khmer Rouge. Bullets were precious, which is why bludgeoning was preferred. I saw the cracked skulls and the smashed jaws. Pregnant women were not immune. Fetuses were cut from their bellies and hung up on tree branches.

    It's gruesome. It's an unbelievably cruel story, one that the world watched from the outside. And a story that continues to this day. There are still Khmer Rouge awaiting trial for war crimes. The trials get delayed, which is no relief to the victims' families.

    Hun Sen, the current Prime Minister of Cambodia, was a Battalion Commander for the Khmer Rouge. When he saw their fall coming, he fled to Vietnam and led the rebel army that was sponsored by the Vietnamese to take down the Khmer Rouge. Hun has been Primer Minister for decades, and refuses to give up the position. He appointed many Khmer Rouge to government posts.

    Hun Sen never had to answer for his actions as Battalion Commander for the Khmer Rouge. Would the world have turned Germany over to one of Hitler's commanders to rule? I think not. I understand why the Cambodians are dismayed at having this dictator in power.

    Many in the world support Hun Sen because they think he is a better alternative than anyone the opposition can put forward. The Hun Sen supporters are not the people who lost family under the Khmer Rouge.

  • Sunrise at Angkor Wat

    I am wearing a light jacket. I wish it was made of fleece. Chugging along at 30 mph in a tuk tuk makes 15 degrees C seem much colder, The "RealFeel", as perceived temperature is referred to around here, seems to be around 11 C. It's dark. I'm in one of a long line of tuk tuks and buses making a predawn trek to Angkor Wat.

    I follow my photography guide—Eric de Vries—through the main gate. We fall in with the crowd for only a short while when he steps off the main path onto one lit only by moonlight. I follow him closely to avoid making a misstep. We are in stealth mode. We don't have a light, so the masses aren't likely to follow us to this off-the-beaten-path location.

    We are the first to arrive at a small pond on the right side of the Angkor complex. The complex is far enough away that I should be able to fit it all into one frame along with its reflection in the pond. I look at my camera's LCD. It is still too dark for an image to form.

    A few small groups join us at our site, but from the glow of flashlights I can see that the left side of Angkor has the large masses. I hear murmurs as we await the sunrise.

    The first bit of light starts to show. Eric instructs me not to use my tripod and instead use an ASA of 2500. While the sun is rising in the sky, he tells me I should decrease the ASA each minute to compensate for the increasing light. I'm skeptical about the no-tripod instruction. I hauled this thing more than 7,800 miles and now I'm not going to use it. But he's correct. The first image forms and looks great. I keep decreasing the ASA, and the images get even better.

    In my photos Angkor Wat is silhouetted against the sky. The technique Eric shared with me hides the large section of scaffolding that covers part of the temple. I look around and see that people using point-and-shoots or who are not adjusting their fancy cameras are getting ever brighter photos that show ugly tarps and the metal of the scaffold.

    We move to the crowded side. The temple is also lovely from this view, with the orange ball of the sun just now visible over the temple wall. There are so many people that it is almost impossible to get a shot of Angkor without also including part of the crowd. I stand on my tiptoes, hold my camera high over my head, aim as best I can, and click. After five or six tries, I succeed.

    I walk to one of the many outdoor restaurants next to the crowd. I warm my hands on a cup of hot, sweet coffee. It's an amazing start to the day.

  • Eating My Way Through Vietnam and Cambodia

    My mouth waters when the waiter sets down a steaming bowl of noodle soup. Bits of fresh vegetables and chicken float in the broth, The wide rice noodles are the perfect texture. I squeeze fresh lime over the soup. The broth is one of the most flavorful I've ever tasted. Tiny red chiles add enough of a bite that my nose runs and eyes water. The chiles are spicy but they don't mask the other flavors.

    It's breakfast. I love that I can eat pho or dim sum or fried rice or some other Asian food early in the morning. Both here and in Vietnam, the breakfast buffets are amazing—cooked-to-order pancakes, waffles, eggs Benedict, omelets, and pho; homemade jams, jellies, nut butters, and pastries; tropical fruits; freshly pressed watermelon, guava, orange, carrot, and green monster juices; smoked mackerel and salmon. Vietnam had a bit more variety and included such things as stir-fried beef, sautéed frogs legs, and sushi.

    One of the best meals I've had so far was close to the Mekong River in Vietnam. I hopped off a boat and took a short walk through the vegetation that ended in a French colonial style house. After a tasty five-vegetable soup, a fried elephant-eared fish arrived at the table. It was propped upright, still smiling, as it if never left the ocean. The server then proceeded to pick off pieces which she added to lettuce and herbs, rolling the whole concoction into a fresh rice roll wrapper.

    When the fish was nothing but a skeleton, a clay pot of Vietnamese pork arrived with a side of rice. I managed to consume most of it before fresh, full cream yogurt and tropical fruits appeared.

    In the USA I eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast, a bowl of soup or a salad for lunch and, on most days, a modest dinner of vegetables and fish or meat. Here I eat only two meals a day, but I'll still probably come home with a few more pounds than I left with. There are so many things to try.

  • A Lesson in Meditation: Vipassana Dhurak Buddhist Centre of Cambodia

    My quadriceps protest the position I put them in. I am seated on the floor, legs crossed yogi style, attempting to sit up straight. I imagine a string that's attached at one end to the temple ceiling and the other end to the top of my head. I pretend it is straightening my spine, but I still feel as if I am going to fall over backwards. Breathe slowly, I tell myself. Relax the knees. Don't think about the tight muscles. Clear my mind. Listen to the wind through the temple doors, Think of the calm of the surrounding hills. After about ten minutes, I open my eyes. This isn't working.

    The monk smiles as I get up. I walk quietly around this new temple so I don't disturb my guide and Glen. Neither one of them is grimacing in pain. I am impressed they took to meditating so easily.

    The colorful panels that tell of Buddha's life cover the walls and ceiling. It's a tall building. I bend back as far as I can so I can see everything above me. The temple is so new that there are a few details left to finish it. Two empty niches in the back might be for lighting or speakers. i'm not sure. A pile of marble tiles wait to be installed on the terrace.

    The Buddha is made of many polished stones pieced together. It's unusual because all other Buddha's I've seen have been solid—gold or jade or concrete. These stones are from Cambodia, all cut and polished by Cambodian women. The wall behind the Buddha is painted with a gigantic bodhi tree whose crown reaches the ceiling. The leaves continue on the ceiling, over the Buddha.

    The temple is elevated. It's doors open to show many other buildings at the complex—some house the monks, some are used for study. There is a another temple for a reclining Buddha, another for a set of figures I'm unfamiliar with. There is a reservoir. In the center is a huge figure of a woman standing on a crocodile. The grounds are impeccably manicured with flowering trees and bushes. The two flag poles near the entrance are each easily 100 feet tall. It is an impressive complex.

    As large as this Buddhist center is, I see no one except the monk in the temple. He is pleased that we all sat and meditated (or attempted to). He now gives me pointers in breathing and sitting so that I can continue the practice of meditation on my own.