Travel Letters

Phanna Dureyavijit (1946 - 2012)

Nang Rong




December 23, 2012 

My Dear Friends, 

I am sad to report that my friend Phanna Dureyavijit passed away on Thursday, December 20 at her son Kiew’s home in the Isan province of Buriram.  For the past few years, Phanna suffered from the painful and debilitating effects of diabetes.  Kiew told me his mother passed away peacefully in her sleep.  Phanna was 66.   She leaves behind her three sons, her mother, six sisters, and innumerable family members and countless friends.

Next Stop? The Horn of Africa!


March 29, 2011

Dear Family and Friends,

My upcoming departure for the Horn of Africa reminds me of  Haile Selassie and Abebe Bikile and the dramatic events and the enduring personalities of the 1960's.

Who among us can ever forget the sounds and images from late November, 1963: the gunshots in Dallas, the bloodied dress, Walter Cronkite's tears, the murder of the murderer (?), Chopin's music, a boy's salute to the flag covering the coffin of his father, the rider-less horse?
Do you remember the funeral procession of John Kennedy - heads of state in a solemn march? Le Président de la République française, Charles de Gaulle at 6'5" (1.96 m) walking beside and towering over the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie at 5'1¾" (1.58 m).

De Gaulle died in his bed in 1970. But Selassie?

The opening sequence of the film "Marathon Man" features the archive footage of a graceful young athlete, on a summer evening in 1960, effortlessly running the 42km (26 mi) Olympic marathon, gliding past the Coliseum and along the darkened, torch lit avenues of Rome, sprinting toward the finish line at the Arch of Constantine. Abebe Bikile became the first black African to win a gold medal at an Olympics event. 

Pamukkale: Travertines, Sculptures, Sarcophagi

6 November 2009

Dear Family and Friends,

I had a wonderful stay in Pamukkale.

The Travertines are unique.* And while I was climbing up the slightly treacherous hillside and wading through the pools, I met a young Japanese woman. She encouraged me to keep climbing and when we reached the top we strolled around the ruins of the Hierapolis together. ** Finally we visited the Hierapolis Archeological Museum. ***

On my own the next day, a rainy day, I traveled to Afrodisias.**** The site is splendid, but I spent much of the time juggling my umbrella and my camera while trying, sometimes unsuccessfully, to keep the lens dry.

Kıyıköy: The Black Sea


15 November 2009

Dear Family and Friends,

The Black Sea.  I have never been here before.  I’ve been to Romania three times but I never went to Constanţa, the popular beach resort.  I’ve been to Bulgaria but I avoided Varna.   I guess I avoid the noisy, popular beach resorts now.  Too much...I don’t know…too much of the stuff I don’t do anymore. 

Anyway, here I am in tiny Kıyıköy (pop 2500).  From my hotel balcony, the view is the wonderfully blue waters of the Black Sea.* 

Masada, Caesarea: "Sightseeing"


22 November 2009
Dear Family and Friends,

The town of Binyamina is the final destination of my trip to the Middle East.  After five weeks of intense travel in Egypt, Turkey, Rhodes and Turkey again, I am trying to relax with my cousins Miryam and Moshe Lauer.

Miryam is a marvelous cook.  Even after a minor surgery on her eyelids yesterday, she is back in the kitchen today preparing all my favorite German-Jewish dishes.  So I am relaxing and eating too much.  But Moshe!  No relaxing with Moshe.  Moshe, 81, is an energetic and irrepressible tour guide.

Nang Rong, Buriram: "The First Haircut"

10 February 2010

Dear Family and Friends,

Along with the photographs he neatly pasted into my Baby Album (photos, I may note, of a very cute infant boy) my father Otto also affixed a small white envelope. The envelope is clearly marked, "Jan's First Haircut." Inside the envelope to this very day is a shock of fine, light-brown baby hair. Cute?

Ten years ago in Miami I noticed that the hair of my neighbor's young son grew longer and longer, almost to his shoulders. My neighbor, Levi explained that his son Baruch-David will have his first haircut at three years of age - a Jewish tradition.

Three years ago my friends in Mumbai, Sushma and Paawan invited me to Mundan Sanskar, the traditional Hindu hair cutting ceremony for their one and a half year old son Agastya. *

Last year, our Rabbi here in Bangkok announced that his three year old son Ephraim would soon undergo the traditional haircut ceremony or Upsherin. Rabbi Kantor explained: "In Judaism we recognize three cuts. The first is the umbilical cut. The second is the circumcision. The third, the cutting of the hair, takes place at the moment the young son is ready to begin study of Torah, the sacred books of Jewish learning.

Most recently, my friends Mai and Mark invited me to the Buddhist haircut ceremony, Kornphomfai, for their daughter Molly, now about eight months old. Also participating were Molly's infant cousin, Prairwar, and her parents and grandparents and great-grandfather.