Wednesday, November 13, 2013


When I told my friend Peety I was going to Thailand, he looked at me, and said with an intense earnestness, “Stay as long as you can!!” While I had been excited to go before, I became intrigued as to what would make him, a man who has travelled A LOT, make such a statement, but now, as I write this, soaring in the air away from the “Land of Smiles”, I can truly say that I get it. How do I sum up my two and half weeks in this place of tuk-tuks (little motorized rickshaw-like taxis), wats (temples), night markets, and long boats? Do I tell of the humility and devotion that permeate this land that is so largely Buddhist, that every home, business, even taxi stand has a shrine, and where the sight of orange clad monks is as commonplace as the sight of people with their hands in a position of prayer. Every hello – sawadee – is said with palms touching in front of the heart, and with a bowed head, almost always with that sweet, sweet smile, that the Thai people are so well known for; instantly putting one physically in the beautiful position of being not above anyone, but of saying, “I wish you well, I wish you happiness, how can I help you??” Do I try to describe the serenity in each and every wat, which (along with 7-11s and, funnily enough donut shops in Bangkok) are EVERYWHERE! Glittering with gold, mosaics, and statues of the Buddha, Garuda - the king of the birds, and the elephant head god Ganesh pulling one’s mind towards the great stories behind these devotional works of art, and lifting ones heart to something greater than oneself? And then there are the children I performed for!!! In schools that have the buzz of learning emanating so powerfully from them that I felt inspired from the second I walked on the grounds. Children who are so kind, and, well “good” –and I don’t mean their behavior – which was VERY good – but I mean a deep kindness and sweetness, that all kids have, but sometimes gets lost at about age 10 or so. These students, from the two year olds I sang and was silly for, to the teenagers I worked with on their school play – were so willing to embrace what this lady with the short hair, and the fast talk from the USA had to offer. They let me into their world – and, heck, disrupt their world, as I asked them to get loud in their vocal and bodily responses (not something commonly done in the East, I quickly learned). Being someone who spends 90% of her time with kids, I am ALWAYS awed by the lessons they teach me – and once again, this group of young people taught me about humanity – that we are all more alike than different – the stories that hit home in NYC, hit home in Thailand, in Argentina, and in India – what makes us laugh is the same in Haiti, as it is in China. If only we could all remember that little fun fact. And, because this was “work” (and how freakin’ lucky am I that this is my job!!!) there was that lovely, intense what I call “cheese cake” feeling – when you are deeply immersed, and things are full and rich like even a small bite of cheese cake – for I was asked to perform my stories, multiple times a day to groups as young as three years old, and as old as eighteen year olds, give workshops in storytelling, creating character and setting, and in one instance giving an impromptu yoga class to a group of 11 year olds!! And as a bonus to this storytelling tour – I also got to do my other job – I got to clown without language (my favorite way to clown!!) for hospitalized children, adults, and for a group of preschoolers – some of which come from VERY impoverish communities. Oh the joy of doing a show with the beautiful imaginary of the language of folktales, and then switching to the chaotic playfulness of physical comedy – but the basis of these two art forms I love is the same – human contact and presence in the moment. Only with those two skills can I connect with an audience with words, or without. But, if I had to choose just one thing to say about my time in Thailand, it would be the people that I met along the way. There was Ellie and Dick – a couple from Kanas City, who, after spending three weeks doing work with an elephant conservation group north of Bangkok, were now taking some time to sight see. Then there is Edward, a clown from Liverpool, who has found a passion helping refugee children in Thailand by bringing them supplies regularly, and, making them laugh with his shows. (check out his foundation – – you will be moved). There was Hal and Sue, who my husband and I met while at the Bangkok Doll Museum searching for my “gift doll” for my mom (can’t come back into the country without adding to her collection!), Hal, a long time doctor for the CDC, retired, but now back at work helping fight dengue fever, and Sue, a long time nurse. Angela, a full time volunteer for a group called icare Thailand ( – who set up my clowning visits to pediatric and cancer hospitals, and then flew off to help flood victims. Grant, a young man from Australia, who, with his wife – who’s name I am ashamed I can’t remember, has worked for aids organizations throughout his college years. Joe, the manager of the hotel restaurant where we stayed a few nights – who just about cried when talking about his deep love for his country. Eric and Kevin, a deaf couple, who every single year make the time to travel for a month or more, finding ways to afford to feed their wanderlust, and use technology to help them communicate with a largely hearing world – and who this year, were happily celebrating their recent marriage, after being together for years!! And, then there’s the people of the Mercy Center ( – an organization that has projects helping everyone from AIDS/HIV patients, to homeless kids, to the elderly, to giving scholarships to promising university students (one now works for them, and was my guide to their FABULOUS pre-school program!) I have been so inspired by the goodness, and commitment that I have seen in the people that I have met here, that I just want to run and give of myself as much as I possibly can! The two most special people that I encountered on this voyage were people who I already knew – one is my life partner, my best friend, my support system, my husband – who braved the heat and humidity he DETESTS, to join me from day one on this tour. He did my laundry, organized our sightseeing, strived to make sure I ate something other than my protein bars at meals, told me time and time again, “You’ll be great!” when I was nervous about any of the performances or workshops. I am always a little too proud of my independence, and on this tour, I was, once again, reminded I live my life with A LOT of help from the man, who for some odd reason, not only puts up with me, but loves me. I have saved my last comments for the woman who made all this possible – Sonia Zivkovic, who chose me to be the very first storyteller of her brand new company Pana Wakke (it means brother-sister). To create a company at all is a daunting task, much less one that deals with different countries, languages, schools, charities, and those weird beings called storytellers, and so what she has pulled off in a mere matter of months, is truly astonishing. The fact that she also wanted to include, not just performances for pay, but charity shows (the ones I did in the hospitals and the pre-school) speaks to who she is as a human being – she wishes to leave a positive impact everywhere she goes. She was constantly asking me if I was happy, and what she could do for me and my husband – when I am the one who should have been saying that to her! In asking me to be the first, in what I hope will be many artists to bring their tales to Asia, I was honored that she was entrusting her “baby” to me, and so I tried with all my might to give the best that I had to offer – they all truly deserve that, and much more. I will see my friend, Peety in a few days, and I will tell him he was very, very right, and to all of you reading this, if you ever go to Thailand, take it from Peety and me – STAY AS LONG AS YOU CAN!!!

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