Inhaling colour, tasting light

Soundtrack: Beethoven: Piano Sonata#14 in C Sharp Minor Op. 27/2
Moonlight, First Movement

Tham Siew Inn

I have been so privileged this trip to stay with families, to be welcomed into people’s homes, invited to share food, to sit. One of the truly great privileges of this trip was being taken by a dear friend and her family to Melaka, and then invited into the home of artist Tham Siew Inn. Such an honour to quietly spend time inhaling the atmosphere of the artist’s residence, imbibing the green of their gardens. Drinking tea. Sitting us women, peeling pomelo. Talking with family members, two sons creative artists themselves and the oh so real, material, tangible woman-wife-foundation, herself a teacher and creative floral artist. There were times sitting with the art, wandering the rooms, up and down the stairs, when I caught myself almost wondering what we were doing next, but not following the thought as time had slowed, the lime infused walls cooled the heat of stress and haste, and I wanted to just be, to be breathing, to just be. The colour breathed calm into the empty places in my soul. And of course sharing together much much wonderful local food breathed companionship into the empty places in all our bellies.

When you look out from the first floor gallery through the open windows, the old green glass with its patina of the ripples of time, you see into Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, one of the oldest streets in UNESCO listed Melaka. That’s the street where you find the artist’s gallery, and it’s a street of contrasts. From the most hip art coffee house The Baboon House, to a museum with original shoes for Chinese women’s bound feet, to a UNESCO restored house showing original architecture and building styles. The atmosphere of creativity, grounded in history, twisting and tasting and reinventing identity and vision and place. Continue reading “Inhaling colour, tasting light”

To Hellfire Pass and Back, Hallelujah

Soundtrack, a very broken Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen,
performed by  Jeff Buckley

img_7472I’ve never been one for war memorials, I’ve been to one Dawn Service, never felt I wanted to go to Gallipoli. But something in me jumped at the chance to take a trip to the River Kwai, it just seemed right somehow. I didn’t really even think about what it would be, just knew I had to go. It seemed like a good reason for having found myself in Thailand.

You might question my soundtrack recommendation for this post, but it seems so right to me, the rough, broken emptiness of the empty Hallelujah of Cohen crying for meaning. And performed by Jeff Buckley, the spaces between the guitar strings become the spaces in a disillusioned heart full of longing. For me, the sun-baked jungle mountains reached out to sons of a sun-burnt country whose faith was formed in suffering in a sun-parched Judea, until it resonated with a very hot agonised human thirst for meaning. I hope you’ll come to agree that the Hallelujah respects the spirit of those men, who, although broken, dying, tortured in body, mind and soul, even in death, still remained human, remained Australian, and endured.

Now, I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing hallelujah

Our journey to Hellfire Pass started at the War Cemetery in Kanchanaburi where almost 7,000 graves attest to the 15,000 total POW deaths, and signal the some 100,000 Asian civilian deaths, lives that were lost building the infamous Thai-Burma railway between 1942 and 1943. Such a short time for so much death.

Standing among the graves of unknown soldiers I felt moved to sing Amazing Grace. Wandering I saw a crocheted poppy, symbol from last Remembrance Day. A friend of mine made several of those and here I was seeing one in Thailand. How far our simple acts of love and compassion can reach.

Hallelujah
Hallelujah

People from our group found the graves of some for whom they had come to pay respects. Already moved, we moved on to the site of the Bridge over the River Kwai. Bombed and destroyed and rebuilt it doesn’t seem to meet the size of David Niven, but the agony is bigger, somehow in every rail, in every sleeper, every rivet.

I had to go and look at the locomotives, two original rails re-laid, somehow they made it more real.

I love that in South East Asia there seems to be this habit of building temples near sites of suffering and death. As though prayer and stillness could ease the souls, the grief, the pain. I like it at the very least as a sign of respect and reverence.

Hallelujah
Hallelujah

I’m not even sure now how much I knew about Hellfire Pass before yesterday. We got to the museum, which is so fitting, and the thing that struck me most… a sign that said: there are no artefacts in this museum. The men who suffered and died here brought nothing with them to leave behind.

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the hallelujah

Warned about the number of stairs (121) and the “rough” track I headed off down the path to Hellfire Pass.

The rail bed is immediately impressive. Yes it’s been cleared and maintained as a memorial, but the engineer in me says this was a well built railway line. Cut into rock with blood. And the scenery is so gut-wrenchingly beautiful.

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

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I was walking along thinking how impressive it was, how incredible the feat of construction. The roughness of the cliff, cut back in to make the railway line level along the mountain side. It’s rough going even now but what stopped me, brought me up short, were the occasional sleepers still buried in the path. And I remembered again that this was built by men, POWs, by hand. Men brutalised. Feed starvation rations of plain rice, eating insects for protein. Digging through granite at the point of a gun.

And it is impressive. But then I came around a bend and saw the actual Hellfire Pass. And my immediate thought, “It’s an empty tomb.”

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It was called Hellfire Pass because the Japanese forced work 24 hours a day. And as the pass was dug, the conditions and the flames of the fires that lit their work by night, were as close to hell on earth as the men could imagine. And it wasn’t imagination, they were living and dying it.

At that point I started to understand how it was that the war in the Pacific came to a place where it could only end in the otherwise unthinkable use of nuclear bombs.

You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken hallelujah

It seemed kind of kitsch, but I felt I had no option but to take my hat off in awe, in horror, and in wonder. Awe and wonder, at the brokenness of hell, at the empty tomb filled with gut wrenching despair and loss and suffering.

And Mary stood alone outside the empty tomb and wept

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the lord of song
With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah

I was humbled in the presence of such great spirit.

img_7619Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

After the mist this morning we went to Saiyoknoi Waterfall, where there is no water. But the fallen leaves were being burned and created an eerie, supernatural sense of not being alone in these mountains even today. The tree roots, reaching out like some kind of skeletal being, one still shackled. Still reaching for god and home and meaning. Poppies and flower offerings for peace, on a Japanese loco, in the smoke and the sun and the drought.

Hallelujah

But I was still despairing about humanity. How can people have a future in a world of so much reckless hate? How can we have a future if it’s all happening again? Do we even deserve a future? I wandered off alone, unable to cope with other people.

But inevitably it was back in the van and we were off again to another rock cut railway with wooden trestles and I despaired.

The POWs working this section were herded each night into a cave so they couldn’t escape. And in that cave today: Buddha, incense, prayers for peace. I don’t know why, but it made me pause and wonder, maybe, maybe, maybe, is there some hope for humanity?

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

Shiva – Lord of the Dance – Nataraj

Close your eyes and imagine you’re having a dream… you can see a fire in front of you, a big vertical circle of fire that’s pulsing with energy so it’s as though it’s alive.  It’s burning in the air like a slow turning annulus.  And in the middle of that circle of flame you can see the silhouette of a figure dancing.

You move closer and realise the dancer is the most beautiful man you have ever seen.  Muscles so defined they’re almost sculpted, wild dreadlocks flying, dark skin glowing, sweat droplets flying and glistening like prisms of molten gold in the flickering firelight.  Dancing, a balance of perfection in motion, and always, permeating your very being, there is a thrusting pulse and drumbeat.

The energy of the fire, the energy of the dance and the pulsing drumbeat draw you closer.

You approach and see that this magnificent man is dancing one leg raised in the air, foot pointing toward release and salvation, inviting you to take the first step to walk the dance of your salvation.  Somehow in the frenzy of constant movement, his other leg is fixed on the ground.  Except it’s not on the ground, as you get closer you see he is standing on the back of a dwarf.  The dwarf is ego; he has risen above everything the dwarf represents and selfless he’s dancing in the centre of the energy of the universe.

You move closer again, drawn by this thrumming beat that seems to be coming from inside you, deeper inside you than your own heartbeat, from the very pulsing life of your cells.  You see that the drum is in his hand.  He has four hands swirling round his body in this magnificent untameable dance.

One hand beats the drum, the pulse of life.

One hand is the pedestal for the dance of a cobra, swaying languidly, thrusting provocatively, head raised, hood flared, tongue darting, eyes like diamonds this symbol of renewal, fertility and the sexuality of sustaining life.

One hand is empty, pointing at his raised foot.  The empty space between hand and foot forces you to acknowledge the agony of the apparent absence of god, times of absence of meaning, to confront the empty vacant voids in your soul, times when you’ve had no choice but to gaze into yourself and weep tears into the darkest abyss.

His fourth hand holds fire.  Fire that is the end of all things, fire that is destruction, because in this dancing beautiful man you encounter all the elements of life; creation, salvation, renewal and destruction.

His third eye pierces your very soul.  You gasp at that naked knowing.

Flying around his head are matted wild dreadlocks, cascading and crashing together like rapids and logs on a ragging roaring river.  In his dreads, like jewels in the celestial sky, are both the sun and the moon, for this is the bringer of light to the world.  Drawing closer still you see in the dreadlocks a small boat.  The dreads flow like water, like the mother river Ganga the source of all life and fertility flowing out from this man’s head.  And in the boat you see a skull, for death holds no fear in the realm of such magnificence.

Water coming from the river Ganga, his mistress, his lover, flows into you through the pores of your skin, all life comes from Mother Ganga.

And still this man dances, this god, this human perfection, this primal beauty…  sculpted muscles, genitals raised, dreads flying, arms twirling wildly, drum pulsing, pulsing inside your body as the flames burn.  Look into the beauty of the divine and meet the eye of the god.

You feel utter peace at the centre of all things.  The fires burn, burn with the energy of life and the universe…  everything is complete in the dance, nothing can be added by strivings or destroyed in tragedies.  The rapture and freedom are intoxicating, it moves you to another place.  A place where you are above ego, and where your true self is safe to let go and your soul can dance with the god…

Dance

Namaste – the god in me acknowledges the god in you, and in all things

Prince Edward Island ~ Paradise really is beautiful

I really struggled with which picture to put at the top of this post, there are so many that I totally love… this was the runner up. It’s actually from the end of Tuesday, hence the atmospheric mist.

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Did I make the right choice?

Late that afternoon, right before my lobster supper, the weather was so intense it was just perfect. Continue reading “Prince Edward Island ~ Paradise really is beautiful”