Enjoying Hong Kong

The paintings below are a creative interpretation of the crowded apartment living in Hong Kong:The photos below are of creative sweet Desserts in the shape of a Ramen bowl, a fish pond and Kimchi pickles:

Enjoying Hong Kong

It was a strange sight indeed.
Right outside of the huge steel and glass Apple Computer store in Kowloon, Hong Kong, we saw dozens of hawkers selling shrink-wrapped boxes with the new iPhone X for MORE money than it sells for inside the Apple store.

We did not want to buy the new iPhone X, but we were puzzled about why anyone in his right mind would buy the new iPhone from a kid with a suitcase on the pavement, when the Apple store was right there, and to add insult to injury, to pay MORE money for it from the hawkers with the open suitcases or coolers.

We decided to ask the hawkers with the suitcases.
A young woman with a boxed phone in each hand, told us that her iPhone X’s are indeed originals, not fakes.

She said that they charge about $65 MORE than the Apple store, because in order to get the new iPhone X at the Apple store, you needed to get to the store early in the morning, stand in a long line and make a reservation for the phone.
You will get it when the stock becomes available, which could be between a week to a month.

The sales person inside the Apple store confirmed that this is true.
And then he said that he could not guarantee that all the iPhones that the hawkers outside sell, are genuine.

“Maybe some of them are originals, maybe some are not, who can tell…”
He said with a smile and then added, “The people who sell the iPhones, and almost all of the people who buy them, are from Mainland China.
They come to Hong Kong for only a few days, and they cannot wait for our stock to arrive, so they buy them outside on the curb.”

When Jules spoke with the concierge in our hotel, she told him that many people from Mainland China come to Hong Kong to buy goods, but mostly they come to buy gold.

Along Nathan Road, the main shopping thoroughfare of Kowloon, there are many, many Rolex watch and jewelry shops.
They sell mainly big, gaudy gold jewelry.

Most of the buyers come from Mainland China and the jewelry is not bought for its unique design, but by the weight in grams of its gold.

We did not want to buy gold, we were just curious, so we stopped and asked at a big gold jewelry shop.

The thick bracelets contained around 49 grams of 24 karat gold.
According to today’s gold price, this was about $22,000 Hong Kong dollars, or roughly $3000 USD.

The people from Mainland China have different motives to buy gold.
Some are laundering their undeclared money, while for others, gold is the only way to invest their money in something that holds its value and that they can understand.

Still other Mainland Chinese face the problem of how to take their money out of China and gold, worn as jewelry, is one way.

It is easy to make money in China nowadays.
People have disposable income and if you have a product or a concept that people need or want and that works, it is easy to become wealthy.

The problem is investing, preserving and growing your money inside China or getting it out of the country.
And so these are some of the ways some people choose to circumvent the restrictions.

Hong Kong is an island of contrasts.
On the island of Hong Kong Central, you will see lavish opulence, commercial buildings with futuristic architecture and many high end shopping malls and global brand names.

On the Kowloon side, just north and across the bay from Hong Kong Central, you will see many more shabby residential high rise buildings, busy markets, small eateries and many kinds of malls, from simple neighborhood malls to fancy high end malls.

We divided our stay in Hong Kong into two parts.
For the first few days, we stayed on the island of Hong Kong Central, and then we moved to the Kowloon area to get a different taste of the place.

Walking the busy streets of Kowloon, you will be approached a dozen times by people selling copies of designer bags, fake Rolex watches, offers to tailor a suit for you or sell you something.

People will hand you dozens of brochures and pamphlets, discount coupons for restaurants, massages, foot reflexology and brochures explaining why the Falun Gong is an evil cult run by a power hungry self proclaimed master who manipulates his followers into self mutilation.

On another street there are the Falun Gong followers, practicing Chigong and claiming to be unjustly persecuted by the Chinese government.
In the streets of the more open minded Hong Kong, the Falun Gong is not banned from practicing.

The pulse of the city is rhythmic, efficient and fast.
Huge and frequent double decker buses take you to remote parts of the city in clean, air-conditioned comfort.
The subway is also efficient and the trains run across the harbor between Hong Kong and Kowloon through an underground tunnel.

There are so many markets in Hong Kong.
The Gooseneck market is bustling with shops and eateries selling golden roasted ducks and long necked geese.

As you walk through the flower market, you are intoxicated by the wonderful perfume of the flowers.
They have miniature versions of all the flowers and stunning orchids.

At the bird market, you see colorful birds for sale.
There are clear plastic bags full of live worms or grasshoppers to feed your bird.
Vendors sell hand crafted wooden bird cages and the whole market sounds like the Amazon river, teeming with bird songs.

At the Ladies Market there are many stalls selling cheap clothing, phone covers, knickknacks, bags, and many family-run Middle Eastern eateries.

There are markets of dry foods and Chinese herbal medicines, selling mixtures of herbs, tree barks and roots, tree berries, red dates, snake skins or hearts, shark fins and dried seafood.

The fresh food markets and night markets are crowded with food stalls.
The night markets are not as wonderful as the ones in Taipei and in Seoul, but they are colorful and interesting.

If you ask me why we flew to Hong Kong, I will say I came here to eat.

Yes, there is good food everywhere, but in Hong Kong the quality of the food is elevated.
Be it Chinese or Middle Eastern, Moroccan or Indian, Organic Vegetarian or Yum Cha dim sum, chances are that if you look for it, you will find fabulous food in Hong Kong.

We ate not only Yum Cha and Dim Sum, we also had a very tasty South Indian Dosa and other delicious Indian food in a vegetarian restaurant called Saravana Bhavan in Kowloon.

We had flower flavored ice cream served in the shape of a rose flower in a cone in Central Hong Kong.

Many restaurants in Hong Kong are not on the street or on the ground level, but are located on different floors of shoddy buildings that look like they were once housing old factories.

In one such shabby building we had very good Moroccan food.

We had fabulous raw vegan cakes in the most unlikely place.
It was a tiny stall on the second floor of a dirty and rundown municipal market building.
Most of the stalls were closed due to hygiene problems, and a plastic banner from the city health department stretched across these stalls.

The vegan stall was so tiny, it only had room for a fridge and a tea kettle.
The friendly owner told us that she became a vegan three years ago after being diagnosed with a terminal illness.

She said that she had cured herself with wholesome food, and opened this tiny stall to share her revelations with others.

She told us that she only has a few raw cakes in the fridge and if we wanted to eat, she could make us a veggie burger, but we had to order it a day ahead.

I didn’t really want a dessert, but she was such a darling and so earnest and sincere, that we had to sit down.

Her tiny slices of raw cakes were sweetened with natural coconut, and they were very good.
They came with tiny cups of herbal tea.
She opened a tiny folding table and two chairs outside of her little nook and we sat down for our afternoon tea between the neighboring stalls and a storage area, filled with huge sacks of rice and dry Pu’er tea.

This is our second time in Hong Kong and I was surprised to see how much I still remembered from our first visit.
Some things have stayed exactly the same, like the flower market and the bird market, while the southern part of Kowloon, with its “Walk of Fame” and art museum, is now a major construction zone and closed to the public until sometime in 2018.

Despite the crowds and the noise, I love walking the streets for many hours and feel inspired by the Spirit of the place and of its people.

I get lots of inspiration from Nature, but I also LOVE people and enjoy observing their gentleness, their talents, their creativity, their devotion, hard work and daring and industrious vision.

When I am home, I listen to the bamboo, to the birds, to the waves of the sea and to and the mountains.

When I am walking the busy streets of a big city, I look up at huge and beautiful architecture and I soak in the grand spirit that inspired those who were involved in creating them.

It takes great talent and guts to take such risks, employ so many people, raise so much money and create such mammoth sized structures.

In the world we seem to live in, I see so many people who scrape or scam just to get by, so it is a nice contrast to see the Spirit of those who are unafraid and are willing to take chances.

We looked for the new contemporary art scene in Hong Kong.
There is a converted slaughter house which is now an art center, and another art center in the north part of Kowloon, in a large multi level building that once housed factories.
It is called the Jockey Club Contemporary Art Center (JCCAC) in the neighborhood of Shek Kip Mei.

The nine floor building is now divided into many small studios with a small performing arts and music venue.

It is mostly active on the weekends and remains partly closed during weekdays.
We came on a weekday, but still had a great time seeing creative ceramics, sculptures, miniatures, photography, weaving and a puppet maker.

On the lower level we sat in a traditional tea house with many wonderful tea choices.

On another day, we took a long walk along the river in northern Kowloon, and visited some beautiful Taoist temples, an old village and the heritage museum.

In the heritage museum we saw a wonderful exhibition of animation from Pixar, and a whole floor dedicated to the life of Kung Fu legend Bruce Lee.

On another day, we visited two Chinese Taoist temples, Sik Sik Yuen Wong and Wan Tai Sin.
They had larger than life size bronze Chinese Zodiac Animals looking like half men half animals on two legs.
In the “Wishing Garden” we prayed and made our wishes.

The pagodas and temple buildings were beautiful, with their tiled curved roofs and colorful multi layered wooden beams.

On our walk back to the center of the city, we entered the walled garden of Kowloon.
It used to be a huge slum, filled with crowded multi level buildings that were built with no foundations at all.
For support, one building simply leaned on its neighbors.
If one collapsed, all the rest fell like dominos.

A big urban project begun in 1992 demolished those slums and created an amazing classical Chinese garden.
There were hills, large varieties of trees and bamboo, circular entryways and covered walkways.
You could not hear the city around it, only the sounds of water in the brooks and the songs of the birds.

The people we met were extremely friendly and talkative.
They gave us recommendations of places to see, where to dine and what not to miss.

Tomorrow we take the ferry to the nearby Portuguese enclave of Macau.

Wishing you a world of blessings,

Love The World That Is Not There…

Love The World That Is Not There…

Many times, I would like to share my thought process on this blog, but I am aware that the way I think is not one that is shared by many.

We are all trained to fit in with the prevailing cultural and social norms, and to use ‘politically correct’ words, behaviors, and beliefs.

But as a spiritual student, I am often torn between the way I still misperceive the world, and the eternal, calming, loving, unifying nature of the Truth.

So here is a description of my thought process, how I initially observe and judge situations and how I correct my thoughts and guide them to be more in alignment with Truth.

From Zagreb, Croatia, we flew back to Colorado.

It was the end of hunting season in the mountains of Colorado, and as always, I felt disheartened to be in the mountains at this time of the year.

In order to keep the mountains clean, the county had placed large empty barrels by the side of the roads, to allow hunters to deposit the fur and animal parts that they do not intend to take home.
The sight of these barrels made my stomach turn over.

We only stayed for a short three days in our mountain home in Colorado, before we returned to Denver Airport and flew to New Zealand.

At the airport, I saw a man wearing camouflage shorts, and on his bicep he had a huge tattoo of the National Rifle Association’s logo.
Below it he had tattooed the words: “We shall fight to the DEATH for our right to carry guns!”

I felt disheartened again.
There is a difference between holding the barbaric idea that liberty and freedom means that everyone has the right to carry deadly guns, and to actually tattoo it on his arm….

I had to remind myself that the world I was seeing was not loving and therefore not real.
I was judging the Son Of God with unloving eyes, seeing his errors in a world of dreams.

Whenever I see the ephemeral, I know that I am focusing on the world of appearances, and then I remind myself that everything I see is nothing but an illusion projected by my mind.

I reminded myself that when I am finally able to forgive it all, all this will disappear….

At the airport, we sat in the United Airlines club lounge.
In the seats across from us sat two men from New Jersey.
They looked like out of shape retired businessmen.
They talked on their phones with their friends or families, describing how much they enjoyed their hunting trip in Colorado.

I did not want to listen, but they did not speak In hushed tones or better yet, take the phone call outside where it would not disturb others. Instead, they spoke loudly, as if they felt they had to make themselves heard

One of the men said, “It was fabulous! I loved everything about this trip.
My only regret was that we were only allowed to shoot ONE elk each.
We wish we could have shot TEN elks each.”

I felt my heart clutch in anger and sadness.
Does he knows that an elk gives birth to only one baby per year?….
Does he know that an elk carries the pregnancy for 240- 260 days, which is almost like a human being?….
Does he know how graceful and beautiful this living creature is?…
Does he realize that it has a right to live its life in peace in the mountains, just like we all do?…..

Behind their heads, I could see a shelf with magazines, and one of them had an article about the recent shooting massacre in Las Vegas, and the irony of the situation made me sad again.

I found myself lamenting how foolish it is that the American people fight for their “right” to own guns and turn a blind eye to the fact that it leads to mass shootings and countless murders.

Recently a toddler found a gun and shot three other toddlers in a private kindergarten.

By the time I had finished writing this post, another shooting occurred in Texas, killing 26 people.
When will they realize it is a barbaric law, and amend the constitution?….

I felt angry and frustrated and then hopeless.
I quickly reminded myself that all of this spin of sad thoughts and emotions was generated by my ego, that is always trying to make this world of illusions appear REAL to me.

My ego is heavily invested in constantly doing this, because my awakening from this dream signals the death of the ego.

The ego is trying to stay in control of my thoughts, always trying to “fix” the world or point out all the injustices, the errors, the cruelty, everything that makes no sense and needs correcting.

The attempt to fix the world or wish that the people in it would become more enlightened, more compassionate, more considerate, more sensitive to others, more kind, more honest, more loving, is useless, since it is a world of dreams or illusions, which cannot really be “fixed.”
I simply need to wake up from the dream.

Attempting to fix the dream is much like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic – no matter how nicely you are able to rearrange them, the ship is still going to go down…

I turned my attention to a great book I was reading by Gary Renard, that says:

“From the moment you appear to be born to the moment you appear to die, you will be confronted by an endless series of problems.

These problems are designed to distract your attention to the illusory screen you are viewing, hopefully forever, and keep your attention away from the place where the answer to life lies: in the mind that projected the false universe in the first place, and then convinced you it was all true.

It will take vigilance for you to change your mind, but that vigilance is the only thing that will lead you to happiness.

There’s nothing in this world that will do it.
Does that mean you can’t have the world?
Ironically, you can have it.
You just can’t believe in it.
That’s how you give up the world, and you do have to give it up.
But you give it up mentally, not physically,

Extend your love into the world that isn’t there.
It doesn’t matter that it’s an illusion.
What matters is the love.”

Back in New Zealand, we have a new government with a bright, idealistic and beautiful new prime minister.

For years New Zealand has enjoyed a reputation of being a green and clean country, while everyone who lives here knows that some of our shores and rivers are so polluted by farm pesticide runoffs, that they are toxic to swim in.

The new government is promising to correct all this.
They are promising to plant new trees to replace those cut by the logging industry.

On the sad side, they plan to impose heavy restrictions on foreigners buying houses in NZ, in an attempt to make housing more affordable for local kiwis.
It is a practice that Australia has already imposed, and it has done nothing to stop the prices of houses in Sydney and Melbourne from doubling in a short time.

But NZ is not Australia, which is a larger and much more self sufficient country.
By not allowing foreigners to buy houses and apartments in NZ, they are cutting off a rich vein of money flowing into the country through real estate.

It is short sighted and will not even stop prices of real estate in Auckland from rising, because most Chinese (whom this law is really trying to stop,) will simply form corporations in joint name with family members who are already NZ residents or citizens, and buy what they wish to buy anyway.

On the other hand, they are promising to build 100,000 affordable houses over the next ten years, which WILL WORK to solve the problem, assuming they design them as fun, livable spaces and not create ugly matchbox ghettos like they did many years ago in New York City.

Driving around the Far North, I felt overwhelmed by sadness.
Some of the smaller towns, and even the bigger town of Kaikohe, felt like ghost towns with many empty stores and businesses that have closed down.

Here was my ego again, feeling sad and hopeless, trying to make this world appear real to me again….

The path to enlightenment requires a moment by moment examination of my thoughts, in order to correct the ones that come from the ego, and replace them with thoughts of trust and Light.

Back in our house, the green garden in front of the blue harbor, you wouldn’t know that the world even exists.
It feels like true Paradise.

The birds are singing, the wind chimes play music in the wind, the pheasants are beautiful and their babies grow up, the flowers bloom and spring has brought new buds and leaves to all the trees.

The house was closed for five months, but you wouldn’t know it.
It remained in great shape and it took us only one day to clean the inside.

Taking care of the lush gardens took a little longer.
I strapped on the weed-eater and Jules started the mower, and in a day and a half, we had cleared three months worth of grass growth, since our gardener had moved away.
I was surprised and delighted to see how strong we are.

We quickly fell under the magic spell of this place.
Our days became quiet, almost dreamy and very lovely.

We meditate, study, write sutras, cook, read, watch movies, talk, clean and eat delicious fresh food.

We have sections of our garden that are neatly manicured, but it is the wild parts of the garden that capture my curiosity.

We have an area where we throw grass clippings and broken branches.
Vines and all sorts of climbers grow over the clippings, and even avocado trees, loquats and bamboo grow there as well.

Logic says I should clear the vines and climbers, but I do not.
Instead, I allow nature to do its thing and I go in there to explore and enjoy it.

I gather edible flowers from this section of the garden, as well as wild herbs, watercress, wild mint, lemon verbena, wild basil, chive, honeysuckle flowers and more.

In the evenings, I integrate them into our food.
It tastes delicious and I feel happy to hear Jules say that he never eaten food that tastes so good….

It is easy to forget that the world even exists, when we are here in our heavenly retreat…

Being home also gives us an opportunity to catch up on our planning.
We are putting together our schedule for next year.
After ski season in Colorado, we will return to NZ and then fly to Japan.

We plan to stay in Japan for three months and walk two pilgrimages, the Kumano Kodo and the Nakasendo.

In between walking pilgrimages, we will enroll in two Japanese language schools and enjoy living in two Japanese cities.

Before I say goodbye, I am adding photos of some edible flowers from our garden to this post.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for our upcoming culinary “city break” to Hong Kong.
I will try to share as much as I can from this “foodie” city….

Take good care and remember NOT to take this world of illusions too seriously.
Remember to laugh as often as you can….
Always with love,

Plitvice Lakes National Park, A Fairytale Land in Croatia


Plitvice Lakes National Park, A Fairytale Land in Croatia

From Sarajevo, we drove north into Croatia.
The farther we got from Sarajevo, the more beautiful the Bosnian countryside became.

It was a lovely drive on a narrow road that meandered through hills and mountains, rivers and small villages.
We saw people chopping wood in preparation for the winter, shepherds herding sheep and busy local markets with colorful fresh produce.

We stopped in the scenic medieval town of Jajce.
At the entrance to the town we saw a beautiful waterfalls, and then we walked into the walled fortress of the city to have a snack.

After enjoying a delicious burek, we then continued our drive.
We arrived at Plitvice Lakes late in the afternoon and checked into our hotel, which is about five kilometers from the park entrance.
The next day we had a good breakfast and headed for the park.

When I looked on the internet for ideas about how to visit the park, there were many suggestions.
The worst suggestion was that you can actually see the park in a 2-3 hour visit.

Initially, I thought that we could stay the night, get up early and walk throughout the park, and then at the end of the day, drive to Zagreb, which is about two hours away.

I am SO happy that we did not follow that plan.
Instead, we took two nights at a hotel near the park, and allowed one whole day for walking in the park.

it took us a total of 25 kilometers to walk the park, which is about eight hours including lunch and 34,000 steps.

It was a magical day.
We were surrounded by natural beauty that is healing and breathtakingly beautiful.

I woke up that morning sneezy and a bit sick, but determined to see this beautiful park.
We walked all day and the more we hiked, the better I felt.

Plitvice Lakes National Park has a chain of 16 terraced lakes.
These azure blue and turquoise lakes overflow into each other by means of hundreds of waterfalls.

At the lower elevations, they extend into a huge limestone canyon.
The Croatian government has created a series of wooden walkways and hiking trails which wind around and across the ponds, creeks, brooks, rivers and forests surrounding the lakes.

It is autumn in October in Croatia, and the park was ablaze with bright reds, oranges, yellows and greens.

There are electric boats that link the 12 upper lakes and 4 lower lakes.
The tallest waterfall is about 78 meters high, but there are literally hundreds of waterfalls, and as you turn a corner in the path, you stand in awe at the sheer beauty of the earth.

Now, after visiting the park, I will share with you what we did, and my recommendations about how to visit the park.

First I’d like to say that this magical place only reveals itself if you have the time to walk all of it, a journey of at least six to eight hours.

Now, everyone will tell you that the biggest hurdle is the massive amount of tourists in the park.
Busloads of people come and most walk the lower lakes by entrance number one.

This is why some hikers start at Station three, on the upper Lakes.
But the lower lakes are gorgeous and you must see them, so walking around large groups blocking the walkways in that small area, is unavoidable.

We even saw a Korean man in a tour group who backed up to make room on the walkway, and ended up falling into the cold lake.
He was unharmed but his expensive camera was soaking wet.

At autumn time, many people avoid the crowds by showing up at four in the afternoon, when the high entrance fees are waived, and the crowds are gone.

The problem with this is that you then only have about two hours of sunlight to enjoy the park, and in many places the light is low and not as magical.

At the entrance of the park, buy a map at the information center.
The map will give you walking route options.

Most tourists walk from entrance one to the boat ramp on the nice wooden boardwalk.
Then they take the electric boat to the other side of the large lake and walk on one of the trails.

Our hotel receptionist recommended that we walk “Route C,” which takes about six hours and includes taking the boat to the other side, walking the trails and taking the shuttle bus at Station 3 back to entrance 1, where we parked our car.

We decided to walk “Route K,” which almost no one chose, so we had the park to ourselves for most of the day.

We started by following the busy line of tourists through the lower waterfalls until the boat ramp.
There we started walking the K route.
At this point, no other tourists took this path.
All the tourists took the boat and we crossed paths with only one couple on this route the whole way.

It was a lovely forest hike with some ups and downs over tree roots, and on narrow paths that overlooked the lakes below.

We walked for hours through the autumn colors, gushing waterfalls and lakes until we reached Station 3.
We stopped at Station 3 with the hope of getting lunch.
We knew that there were a few restaurants in the park, so we brought no lunch and had only one big bottle of water with us for the day.

The restaurant at Station 3 was closed for renovations, so we continued walking towards P2.
It was beautiful and awe inspiring landscape.
I have never walked through a landscape that was so full of waterfalls and lakes.

My mother who visited the lakes many years ago, still raves about how fantastic this park is.
She spoke about pistachio trees overflowing with nuts and beautiful trees against blue lakes.
She was so right… this place is heavenly….

At P2, we took a few minutes’ ride on the ferry across a narrow point in the lake, to P1.
At P1, we ate at their fast food restaurant a cheese sandwich with French fries and an apple strudel.

It was not at all my preferred healthy lunch, but we were quite hungry and we had brought no food with us.
We also replenished our water supply by buying a large bottle of water.
Please remember to bring your own good lunch and water, as well as good walking shoes.

We saw people who did not come with trail shoes who had a hard time or even broke their shoes.
We did not bring hiking poles as we prefer to hike without them, but we did see people who brought hiking poles. It is important NOT to use the hiking poles on the wooden walkways, as they can get stuck between the wood boards.

From P2 we continued on the K route all the way to Entrance 1, where we had parked.

Beyond describing the route we walked, words fail me to describe the magic of this place….

Instead of words, I am adding many more than the usual amount of photos to this post. (My apologies to my email subscribers for the many photos.)

I tried with my tiny camera to capture all the colors, the breathtaking light, the colorful birds, the mushrooms growing on the trees, the chirping insects as they rose into the air against the spray from the waterfalls….

I wish I could record the sound of the leaves under our feet as we walked, the gushing streams, the roaring waterfalls crashing down, the soft hum of the lake’s wave, the wind in the trees, the wetland grass as it swayed in the wind….. it was all so enriching, touching, beautiful, moving…..

Wishing you were here to feel this beauty….