Nirvana Tonic: A Cruise on the River Kwai (Video)

I am a river rat. Not a rafter, but a lollygaging Huck Finn kinda swamp rodent who likes to flow with the current and poke around the slough. Lord Buddha describes The Dharma as a raft that floats one to Nirvana. A few days on a river and I find myself paddling pretty close to a perfect state of bliss.

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Return to Sarawak


“A terribly jungly place.”
Maugham
“They don’t call it a rainforest for nuthin.”
Johnson

I am back in Borneo. I first visited Sarawak in my childhood imagination. It was giant lillypad floating on the map of Oceania with a reputation earned from Victorian tales of headhunters, missionaries, orangutans, tic-toc crocs and cuddly pythons. When I saw Sarawak for myself, in the 1980s, it lived up to my dreams. Sure, penis piercing and the flattening of women’s heads in vices (a beauty treatment) were history as were the headhunters (even though ceremonial skulls still hung from the rafters), but the jungles still steamed, the macaques still screeched, the hornbills still displayed their magnificent schnozzolas, and Sarawak still had a faint aura of danger. Going there gave one bragging rights as an adventurer. So what if you stayed at the Holiday Inn, chicken feet were on the menu.

Today, Sarawak is still “terribly jungly” and exotic and inscrutable enough to evoke Walter Mittyish dreams of being one of the Rajahs who one ruled the place. There is a big difference, however.

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Fowl Play in the Jungle: Nepal’s Royal Chitwan Park

Nepalis call it the “brain fever” bird. It starts with a middle-C whoop and, like a diva gone mad, sails up the scale in a frenetic arpeggio. This morning, jungle sounds are tame. No wall of cicada or cricket racket and except for an occasional monkey screech or “brain fever “aria, nothing stands in the way of subtle sounds: the rumble of an elephant purr, the rustle of brush. A tiger, perhaps? Or a rhino? Or maybe it is the elusive jungle fowl, a wildly colorful bird that is said to be the ancestor of the modern-day domestic chicken.

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Fragrant Harbor: Hong Kong Translated: Audio

Photo: Hong Kong Limos Russell Johnson

I first caught a glimpse of it in the lower left quadrant of my eye. Way below me, in the canyon, I saw a faint, blue flutter. I focused on it, not quite making it out until it got caught in an updraft and soared.like an angel.hundreds of feet above me before gently drifting back down to eye level. I followed it for about 10 minutes, sailing across my field of vision with flimsy fairy
wings. repeatedly drifting downward leveling off, then rocketing back into the heavens.

Where did it come from?


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Gourmet Magazine’s Private Dining Room

Eat Those Words!

It was a day that marks a life passage in a boy’s adolescence. It was spring and I was helping my father remove storm windows and replace them with screens. Robins mined for worms, Dizzy Dean or some other drawling baseball once-great honked from a radio, power lawnmowers chorused. We stopped and refreshed with a lemonade and he — haltingly — told me: “Son, you are reaching the age when I think it is time that you know some of the facts about being a man.”

I laughed. “Oh, I already know all of that, Dad.”

Are you sure, he replied. “Barbecue is really an art.”

I confess that I have always been more of a food voyeur than a chef, barbecue being the exception. As a child, while other kids stuffed Playboys under their mattress, I pored over Good Housekeeping, leering at juicy cuts of tender meat that looked decidedly different from the gray slabs of roast beef my mother scorched as if she were performing exorcisms.

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