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Well known as one of Asia’s most fascinating spectacles, Songkran, the official Thai New Year festival in April has come to be seen by many foreign visitors as the world’s biggest water fight. Yet despite the famous wet revelry, Songkran is still a deeply spiritual celebration for most Thai people and the ceremonies and rituals that surround the festival offer a fascinating insight into one of the world’s most unique cultures.
Visitors travelling to Thailand between April 10 – 18 can experience these time-honoured Buddhist customs and ancient merit-making traditions in Bangkok at the ‘Splendours of Songkran’ Festival, held at nine royal Buddhist temples dotted around the capital. Even if the main reason to visit Thailand is to enjoy one of the kingdom’s famous beach destinations, a day of culture in the capital is time well spent and the photographs will certainly inspire amazement when you get back home.
Wat Phra Si Rattanasasadaram (Wat Phra Kaeow)
Known in English as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, this ancient royal building was constructed as a representation of endless wealth and prosperity. For the Thai New Year, activities at the temple centre around paying homage to famous Emerald Buddha statue, which according to legend was created in India in 43 BC. Pilgrims sprinkle or pour floral-scented lustral water onto Buddha images and receive blessings from the temple’s many monks.
Wat Phrachetuphon Wimonmangkhalaram (Wat Pho)
The Temple of the Reclining Buddha is better known to visitors as Wat Pho. The festival’s opening ceremony at Wat Pho is an invocation ritual performed in the area surrounding The Giant Swing monument on 10 April. Following the opening ceremony, cultural activities for Thai New Year centre around the theme of “Songkran in the Four Regions of the Kingdom�. The events offer an opportunity for visitors to witness Songkran festivities staged in each of the main areas of the country, highlighting their differences and similarities.
Wat Suthat Thepwararam (Wat Suthat)
Wat Suthat is a well known Buddhist centre dedicated to enlarging personal vision and building character of the Thai people. Special activities at the temple include merit-making by paying homage to the various Buddha images in the grounds, as well as the ritual bathing of Buddha images and building sand stupas. The temple also hosts a Southern Thailand cultural showcase with performances, artistic presentations, and culinary delights from the Southern Region.
Wat Arunratchawararam Ratchaworamahawihan (The Temple of Dawn)
One of the best known landmarks and most photographed sights in Bangkok, the Temple of the Dawn is decorated with pieces of porcelain once used as ballast by Chinese boats trading with Bangkok during the reign of King Rama III. Activities during Songkran include merit-making and paying homage to the various Buddha images in the temple. This is also the best place to witness the ‘rot nam dum hua’ ceremony, a demonstration of respect for Thai elders. Young people show their respect by pouring water over older people’s hands and asking for forgiveness for bad deeds in the past. Cultural presentations and performances take place at the temple during Thai New Year, offering a unique photo opportunity with the Temple of Dawn overlooking the Chao Phraya River in the background.
This temple was renovated during the reign of King Rama I as a shrine to honour the Mon soldiers in Prince Surasinghanart’s troop who helped win 3 important battles. Activities at the temple are presented in two zones with live demonstrations of arts and crafts relating to the Thai New Year. A traditional Thai temple fair features food stalls with cultural performances and fairground games adding to the spectacle.
For true culture vultures, a ‘passport’ to all the temples in the Songkran Festival can be requested at the information desks in each one. Visitors who have their passport stamped at all of the 9 featured temples receive a coupon for a lucky draw. If visiting all the temples seems a challenge, then experiencing just one of the events offers an intriguing and enjoyable insight into the history and traditions of the Thai New Year.
BUS TO KHAO SANH
The Airport Express bus, including backpacker favourite AE2 to Khao San Road, stopped running in June 2011. Another, even cheaper (although more fiddly) option is to use a local bus to get to Khao San Road. From the airport, catch the shuttle bus for free outside door 5 (on both the upper and lower floors) to the Public Transport Interchange. From there, catch bus 556 (33 baht) which will drop you off about halfway between Khao San Road and the Democracy Monument. To get to the airport, catch bus 556 (again 33 baht), which departs from Ratchadamnoen Klang Road, about halfway between Khao San Road and the Democracy Monument (look for the half-torn airplane sign on the bus stop sign). It will drop you off at the Public Transport Interchange, where you can catch a free shuttle bus to the terminal. This bus may be local, but often it is just as fast as the tourist bus used to be. Of late, bus 556 no longer operate from the public transport interchange.The only option now is to take bus 551(actually a white van)from the public transport interchange to the victory monument. It cost 40 bahts. Arriving at victory monument,take public bus number 59 and drop off mid-way between democracy monument and khaosan road.From there, it is only a short walk to khaosan road.
Bangkok Airport Public Taxi Service
Public taxi stand is located on Level 1 (Ground Level).
> Contact Taxi counter, Level 1 – Ground Level, near entrances 3, 4, 7 and 8.
> Pick up area: taxi stand Level 1 – Ground Level
> Taxi fare: metered taxi fare plus 50 Baht airport surcharge, and expressway fees.
> Public taxis serving Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport must be less than 5 years old.
> Public taxi drives must be certified by Airports of Thailand.
> Passenger drop off at Departures (level 4 – outer curb).
Proven Strategies to Help You Regain Control of Your LifeTamara Penix Sbraga, Ph.D., and William O’Donohue, Ph.D.
New Harbinger Publications 2003
It’s a hunger never satisfied for some of us: the allure of singles’ bars and strip clubs, party lines and X-rated internet sites that can show us whatever we want to see. An uncontrollable need for sexual gratification, just like an addiction to alcohol or drugs, can cause serious problems for anyone. If you believe you’re struggling with a serious sexual disorder or just wish you could more easily manage sexual behaviors that interfere with your life, you’ve found, in this book, a real chance to radically transform your life.
This is not a book that makes a lot of black and white, right and wrong judgments about sexual behavior. Despite what you might have heard – or even believe – it is possible to have problems with sexual self-control and still be a good person and a valuable member of your family and community. Without taking a strong moral position on all sexual behaviors, the scientifically based techniques in this book guide you to making better sexual choices that are in line with your own values. Using the book’s evaluation worksheets, assess the level of your sexual self-control problem. Utilize its exercises to modify the thoughts and behaviors associated with sexual patterns you want to change. Support your goals with relapse prevention techniques that stress self-acceptance. By following the program in this book, privately and whenever you choose, you will learn how to lead a sexually fulfilling life that still promises you security, stability, and peace of mind.
I’d like to share this wonderful story from the web:
“To search for solutions to hunger means to act within the principle that the status of a citizen surpasses that of a mere consumer.”
CITY OF BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL
In writing Diet for a Small Planet, I learned one simple truth: Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food but a scarcity of democracy. But that realization was only the beginning, for then I had to ask: What does a democracy look like that enables citizens to have a real voice in securing life’s essentials? Does it exist anywhere? Is it possible or a pipe dream? With hunger on the rise here in the United States—one in 10 of us is now turning to food stamps—these questions take on new urgency.
To begin to conceive of the possibility of a culture of empowered citizens making democracy work for them, real-life stories help—not models to adopt wholesale, but examples that capture key lessons. For me, the story of Brazil’s fourth largest city, Belo Horizonte, is a rich trove of such lessons. Belo, a city of 2.5 million people, once had 11 percent of its population living in absolute poverty, and almost 20 percent of its children going hungry. Then in 1993, a newly elected administration declared food a right of citizenship. The officials said, in effect: If you are too poor to buy food in the market—you are no less a citizen. I am still accountable to you.
The new mayor, Patrus Ananias—now leader of the federal anti-hunger effort—began by creating a city agency, which included assembling a 20-member council of citizen, labor, business, and church representatives to advise in the design and implementation of a new food system. The city already involved regular citizens directly in allocating municipal resources—the “participatory budgeting” that started in the 1970s and has since spread across Brazil. During the first six years of Belo’s food-as-a-right policy, perhaps in response to the new emphasis on food security, the number of citizens engaging in the city’s participatory budgeting process doubled to more than 31,000.
The city agency developed dozens of innovations to assure everyone the right to food, especially by weaving together the interests of farmers and consumers. It offered local family farmers dozens of choice spots of public space on which to sell to urban consumers, essentially redistributing retailer mark-ups on produce—which often reached 100 percent—to consumers and the farmers. Farmers’ profits grew, since there was no wholesaler taking a cut. And poor people got access to fresh, healthy food.
When my daughter Anna and I visited Belo Horizonte to write Hope’s Edge we approached one of these stands. A farmer in a cheerful green smock, emblazoned with “Direct from the Countryside,” grinned as she told us, “I am able to support three children from my five acres now. Since I got this contract with the city, I’ve even been able to buy a truck.”
The improved prospects of these Belo farmers were remarkable considering that, as these programs were getting underway, farmers in the country as a whole saw their incomes drop by almost half.
In addition to the farmer-run stands, the city makes good food available by offering entrepreneurs the opportunity to bid on the right to use well-trafficked plots of city land for “ABC” markets, from the Portuguese acronym for “food at low prices.” Today there are 34 such markets where the city determines a set price—about two-thirds of the market price—of about twenty healthy items, mostly from in-state farmers and chosen by store-owners. Everything else they can sell at the market price.
“For ABC sellers with the best spots, there’s another obligation attached to being able to use the city land,” a former manager within this city agency, Adriana Aranha, explained. “Every weekend they have to drive produce-laden trucks to the poor neighborhoods outside of the city center, so everyone can get good produce.”
Another product of food-as-a-right thinking is three large, airy “People’s Restaurants” (Restaurante Popular), plus a few smaller venues, that daily serve 12,000 or more people using mostly locally grown food for the equivalent of less than 50 cents a meal. When Anna and I ate in one, we saw hundreds of diners—grandparents and newborns, young couples, clusters of men, mothers with toddlers. Some were in well-worn street clothes, others in uniform, still others in business suits.
“I’ve been coming here every day for five years and have gained six kilos,” beamed one elderly, energetic man in faded khakis.
“It’s silly to pay more somewhere else for lower quality food,” an athletic-looking young man in a military police uniform told us. “I’ve been eating here every day for two years. It’s a good way to save money to buy a house so I can get married,” he said with a smile.
No one has to prove they’re poor to eat in a People’s Restaurant, although about 85 percent of the diners are. The mixed clientele erases stigma and allows “food with dignity,” say those involved.
Belo’s food security initiatives also include extensive community and school gardens as well as nutrition classes. Plus, money the federal government contributes toward school lunches, once spent on processed, corporate food, now buys whole food mostly from local growers.
“We’re fighting the concept that the state is a terrible, incompetent administrator,” Adriana explained. “We’re showing that the state doesn’t have to provide everything, it can facilitate. It can create channels for people to find solutions themselves.”
For instance, the city, in partnership with a local university, is working to “keep the market honest in part simply by providing information,” Adriana told us. They survey the price of 45 basic foods and household items at dozens of supermarkets, then post the results at bus stops, online, on television and radio, and in newspapers so people know where the cheapest prices are.
The shift in frame to food as a right also led the Belo hunger-fighters to look for novel solutions. In one successful experiment, egg shells, manioc leaves, and other material normally thrown away were ground and mixed into flour for school kids’ daily bread. This enriched food also goes to nursery school children, who receive three meals a day courtesy of the city.
“I knew we had so much hunger in the world. But what is so upsetting, what I didn’t know when I started this, is it’s so easy. It’s so easy to end it.”
The result of these and other related innovations?
In just a decade Belo Horizonte cut its infant death rate—widely used as evidence of hunger—by more than half, and today these initiatives benefit almost 40 percent of the city’s 2.5 million population. One six-month period in 1999 saw infant malnutrition in a sample group reduced by 50 percent. And between 1993 and 2002 Belo Horizonte was the only locality in which consumption of fruits and vegetables went up.
The cost of these efforts?
Around $10 million annually, or less than 2 percent of the city budget. That’s about a penny a day per Belo resident.
Behind this dramatic, life-saving change is what Adriana calls a “new social mentality”—the realization that “everyone in our city benefits if all of us have access to good food, so—like health care or education—quality food for all is a public good.”
The Belo experience shows that a right to food does not necessarily mean more public handouts (although in emergencies, of course, it does.) It can mean redefining the “free” in “free market” as the freedom of all to participate. It can mean, as in Belo, building citizen-government partnerships driven by values of inclusion and mutual respect.
And when imagining food as a right of citizenship, please note: No change in human nature is required! Through most of human evolution—except for the last few thousand of roughly 200,000 years—Homo sapiens lived in societies where pervasive sharing of food was the norm. As food sharers, “especially among unrelated individuals,” humans are unique, writes Michael Gurven, an authority on hunter-gatherer food transfers. Except in times of extreme privation, when some eat, all eat.
Before leaving Belo, Anna and I had time to reflect a bit with Adriana. We wondered whether she realized that her city may be one of the few in the world taking this approach—food as a right of membership in the human family. So I asked, “When you began, did you realize how important what you are doing was? How much difference it might make? How rare it is in the entire world?”
Listening to her long response in Portuguese without understanding, I tried to be patient. But when her eyes moistened, I nudged our interpreter. I wanted to know what had touched her emotions.
“I knew we had so much hunger in the world,” Adriana said. “But what is so upsetting, what I didn’t know when I started this, is it’s so easy. It’s so easy to end it.”
Adriana’s words have stayed with me. They will forever. They hold perhaps Belo’s greatest lesson: that it is easy to end hunger if we are willing to break free of limiting frames and to see with new eyes—if we trust our hard-wired fellow feeling and act, no longer as mere voters or protesters, for or against government, but as problem-solving partners with government accountable to us.
We are now in the Joy of the Resurrection of Jesus, but as we look at the disciples of Jesus in the Gospel reading today (Luke 24:35-48), there is anything but Joy.
Some disciples, who scattered after the death of our Lord, returned to the upper room with some astonishing news! The lord appeared to them on the road to Emmaus, explained scriptures to them and was revealed, alive, in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:13-35)
He then appeared to all in the upper room. He asked: “Why are you troubled?” Who wouldn’t be?
The Lord is speaking to them and to us! “Peace be with you.” “Look at me . . . you are witnesses of these things. . . .”
With these things said, we are given proof that Jesus is truly risen. It is our duty to spread the Joy of the Easter Mystery!
Let me never be troubled,
You have truly risen,
Guide my heart and mind,
That my lips may proclaim your words.
- Deacon James W. Chaufty
Gender Identity Disorder in Childhood
Want more sensible advice about raising a child with Gender Identity Disorder. The recent controversy about advice given by one female TV personality deserves better alternative reading, here it is: http://bioethics.northwestern.edu/faculty/work/dreger/dreger_hcr_gidc.pdf