Exploring Thailand

Exploring Thailand away from the tourist crowds


Thai Theater

To all theater lovers, I always recommend not to be missed  “real” performance when in Bangkok, and by real I mean those that are shown to non-tourists, outside of buses brining crowds for a mediocre dinner and Thai Dance-“light.” And for that, one should head to the National Theater http://www.finearts.go.th/  (very close to the National Museum) and see, preferably, the Siam Niramit performance, perhaps the most elaborate and “largest stage show in the world.” It is definitely one of the most amazing and intriguing. But any traditional Thai dance shows would do, though I always prefer Khon dancers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-OWBs48qUuA.

A Very Very Unusual Museum: Samut Prakan’s Erawan Museum

It is a bit outside the city but easy to get to by a cab. It is really worth the experience because you go inside that gigantic three-headed elephant. What you see defies any comprehension and collector’s logic: inside the elephant’s belly and beneath it there are levels that symbolize the Thai cosmos, filled with an amazing fusion of incredible Eastern antics collected by late business tycoon Lek Viriyapant. The  collection of ceramics is equally amazing. The gardens are great too. http://bangkokforvisitors.com/museums/erawan-museum/index.php

For those who LOVE airplanes…

We did not go there and I think Alex still regrets it: Thai Royal Airforce Museum http://www.bangkok.com/magazine/air-force-museum.htm

I do not remember the restaurants , but everything we ate was terrific. We had a friend who was at that time a head of the UN office stationed in Bangkok, and we followed her restaurant suggestions. My criteria always is to stay away from tourists places and eat where I can really understand or begin my journey to understanding local culture, because I do believe we are what we eat!

Chiang Mai

In the City of 300 Temples…one should meet with monks…

Silver Temple

For some reason, visitors get hooked on trekking through the jungle and going to markets and shopping (and I am all for that too! We did shop our way through Thailand and bought great artifacts and very nice clothes; we even did some trekking on elephants)   Many forget they are in the capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom.

In the silversmith district of the old town there is a remarkable architectural find: a temple made from silver! Called Wat Srisuphan, it is not visited by many outsiders. I hope that they still offer “Monk Chats.” In our time, the chats were on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You do need a translator (a guide) to go with you.  But this is a great way to learn about Theravada (“a way of the ancients”) Buddhism, the purest and the strictest form of Buddhism.

Beware of tourists visiting the Temples of Chiang Mai…

For there are sooo many of them, bus load after bus load and all of them want to do it fast and furious and go shopping right after: they climb the steps and take pictures and you feel like you are in a NYC subway during rush hour. Do not miss the highlights though that your guide undoubtedly will be showing you BUT ask him/her to bring you to Wat Umong which is a very quiet temple complex, located in the foothills of Suthep Mountain. Umong means tunnel in Thai; you walk through these tunnels, you discover shrines and hidden altars, and the shadows are cast not by crowds but by giant trees and moss-covered walls. The lake is nearby and you can feed the birds there if you brought some bread from your hotel.

Many recommended a restaurant called…

Dash Teak House http://dashteakhouse.com/

I heard about it from friends whose taste I trust! (and I wrote it down for future visits). They serve you a traditional Lanna-style meal. I think it is a modern take on tradition but should be great because the owner (a native from Chiang Mai)  worked many years (and studied) in the US and is a certified Le Cordon Bleu cook.

Visit a Hill Tribe village

But please do ask your guide to take you to an authentic experience. For example, the little town Baan Ton Lung will be charming and amazing at the same time: it is inhabited by the Lisu people who came from Tibet.

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Irene Shaland’s Cuba article published by Mosaic magazine

Irene Shaland’s Cuba article  The Island within an Island: The Cuban Jewish Story of Survival was published on August 22nd by the Sephardi Ideas Monthly, a magazine of the American Sephardic Federation and Center for Jewish History Research of New York. On August 23rd, the essay was also published by the Mosaic, a magazine dedicated to advancing philosophical discussions related to Jewish history and Judaism. See the excerpts below:


Read more Jewish history stories in Irene Shaland’s latest book:



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Upcoming Event: Lecture Jews and Aborigines at Maltz Museum

Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage presents Irene Shaland’s lecture: “Jews and Aborigines: Little-Known Stories from the Human Rights Struggle in Australia”

Wednesday              May 24th                        7:00 PM

Cost: $12 general; $6 Maltz Museum members. Limited seating. Call 216.593.0575 to register.

In early December 1938 a delegation of Aboriginal people walked from Footstray township to Melbourne in Australian state of Victoria. This was not a protest against a State or Federal government in defense of Aborigines. It was a brave action in defense of …the Jews of Europe. In front of the Germany Consulate in downtown Melbourne the delegation demanded the Nazis to stop cruel persecution of the Jewish people.” The leader was William Cooper, a founder of the Australian Aboriginal League and an unsung hero of the Aboriginal human rights struggle in his country, where he and his people had no legal rights and until 1967 were officially classified as an equivalent of flora and fauna.”  What inspired Cooper to speak in defense of the Jews from faraway Europe?

Cooper’s own country maintained the “White Australia Polices” and considered Jews, though not classified as colored,” to be others” who should not be allowed entrance visas. How did Australia become the country that opened its doors to numerous refugees from Europe, second only to Israel by the ratio of the Holocaust survivors to its population? Was it a coincidence that the Australian Jews stepped into the forefront of the struggle for Aboriginal rights in defense of the indigenous Australians?

Travel with Irene Shaland to Australia to understand the land and its people and to learn about human rights history in this country.

Maltz Museum 2929 Richmond Road, Beachwood Ohio

Download lecture flyer: May 24_2017_Australia_HumanRights

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Free Lecture May 7 New City Library

New City Library Presents Irene Shaland’s Lecture Stones Fill the Void: Visiting the Murdered Jews of Vienna

Sunday   May 7th  2:00 PM.  Advance registrations required. Call 845.634.4997 to register.

We will journey through 2,000 years of Jewish history in Austria and Vienna, from the Roman times and Middle Ages, to the Enlightenment and Fin de siècle. We discuss distinguished contributions the Jews of Vienna made to the creation of that city’s great culture: from music to medicine, from arts to philosophy. Then we travel from Vienna of the Waltzes to Vienna of the Dead: from Habsburg palaces to Leopoldstadt, a former neighborhood of vibrant Jewish life turned into a ghetto after the Anschluss. We will follow the “Stepping Stones,” the brass plates with names of the victims and learn their stories along with a peculiar Austrian response to the Holocaust. 

Irene will introduce her latest book “The Dao of Being Jewish and Other Stories: Seeking Jewish Narrative All Over the World.” The book signing follows the presentation.

New City Library 220 N. Main Street, New City, New York

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Book Event at Appletree Books

flyer for book event at Appletree Books store

Book Event Date and Time:  Thursday March 30th 7:00 PM

Book Event Location: Appletree Books 12419 Cedar at Fairmount Cleveland Hts. OH 44106 216.791.2665

Limited seating. Advance registrations strongly suggested. Call 216.791.2665 to register.

An internationally-published Cleveland-based writer, Irene Shaland introduces her latest, recently-released book The Dao of Being Jewish. She shares her “Stories Behind the Stories” inviting you to embark on a fascinating journey, both familiar and unknown. While traveling from Europe to Asia and Africa, from Vienna to Delhi and Nairobi, you are immersed into a collective Jewish narrative from all parts of the globe. Whether you hear Irene’s Polish family Holocaust narrative or discover two-millennium old tales of little-known Jewish communities of India and China, who never knew religious persecution – these stories are us, our way of preserving our heritage, identity, memory, and history. Because we are the stories we tell to ourselves, to others, and to the world.

About the Book:

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Lecture: Jewish Renaissance in Sicily and Sardinia

The infamous 1492 Edict of Expulsion of the Jews forced close to 500,000 people into exile from Sicily. Many had to leave their home country where they lived for centuries, but still many, with nowhere to go, were pressured into conversion and into what became their “internal immigration.”

Travel with Irene Shaland to the islands of Sicily and Sardinia that present a fascinating chapter in both, the history of immigration and the history of Jewish Diaspora. Discover a world of little-known Jewish narrative: centuries marked by fear and secrets, decades filled with the search for one’s identity, and courage to defy conventions by reinventing oneself. These are the stories of B’nei Anousim, or “children of the forced ones” from the South of Italy. The elimination of institutional Judaism by the Edict and the Inquisition did not mean the end of Judaism itself. The destruction of synagogues and the burning of “Judaizes” five centuries ago forced the Jews of Sicily and Sardinia to “immigrate internally”: take their traditions into the cellars of their homes where the memories and stories were kept alive, even when descendants forgot their exact meaning. And now, the number of those with a “call of blood,” who think they have Jewish ancestry and want to learn more about it, or even embrace their newly-discovered heritage, is on the rise throughout these islands. Let the story of the Anousim lead you into the world of hope: the cultural and spiritual reawakening-and-return.

Irene will also introduce her latest book The Dao of being Jewish and Other Stories: Seeking Jewish Narrative all Over the World. Book signing follows the presentation.

Limited seating. Advance registrations strongly suggested. Call 216.368.2242 to register.

Download Lecture Flyer: CWRU_CHF_Sicily_March_28_2017

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New Ad for The Dao of Being Jewish Book

New ad of the book

Our new ad for Irene Shaland’s book “The Dao of Being Jewish and Other Stories”

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Free Photography Exhibit at Appletree Books

Internationally-published photographer Alex Shaland has a life-long passion for travel. Together with his wife, travel writer Irene Shaland, they have explored close to 70 countries. His photographs have appeared in more than twenty magazines published in the USA, Canada, UK, France, Kenya, and South Korea. This wildlife photography exhibit takes you to South Africa, Kenya, and Tanzania.

Through his photographs, Alex shares his excitement and love for our beautiful world.

Apple Tree Books
12419 Cedar at Fairmount
Cleveland Hts. OH 44106,     216.791.2665

See more photos in Alex’s photo gallery: Photo Gallery

See full schedule of our lectures and photography exhibits: Schedule

Read our travel blogs: blogs

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The “Jewish Question” in Vienna (excerpt from The Dao of Being Jewish and Other Stories)


Don’t look for the Steinedererinnerung in your guidebook: the murdered Jews of Austria have neither a Rick Steves nor a Frommer. And Vienna, basking in its Baroque and Art Nouveau splendor, would rather have you waltzing from Schonbrunn palace to Sachertorte’s shops instead of searching out the synagogues and homes of long-gone Jews. An Austrian sarcastic proverb, as noted by Magrit Reiter in her conference presentation “Antisemitism in Austria after the Shoa,” declares that Germans were the “better Nazis,” while Austrians were definitely the “better anti-Semites.”

The Holocaust victims’ destiny was, for the most part, determined by three key factors: the degree of control the Nazis had in the region, the history of Jews there, and the actions of the locals. The latter is where the Viennese truly excelled. Austrian inventiveness and viciousness quickly turned the city of Mahler and Freud into the city of “Hitler’s willing executioners,” using the title of the famous book written by Daniel Goldhagen. In this controversial study, Goldhagen argued that virulent “eliminationist antisemitism” was the cornerstone of German national identity. Austrians, in their zeal to eliminate their Jewish countrymen, managed to surprise even the Germans.
Vienna was by no means the only European city where the “final solution” had been successfully carried out. However, the delight the Viennese took in humiliating, torturing, and killing their Jewish neighbors was truly extraordinary. In that 1938 photograph I mentioned, the people in the laughing crowd taking such a delight in humiliating a Jew, were the very ones (or their parents) who elected the rabidly anti-Semitic Karl Lueger as a mayor of Vienna five times between 1897 and 1910. Hitler adored Lueger and considered the Viennese mayor to be a major influence on shaping his views on race.

According to the Austrian Jewish Community statistics, in 1938, 206,000 persons of Jewish decent had been living in the Austrian capital; one out of ten Viennese residents was Jewish. Less than 2,000 survived the camps. Practically no one returned. The flourishing Jewish community of Austria was all but obliterated during World War II. At first, Austrian Jews were lucky: unlike Germany, Austria had exit avenues open for a while and almost two thirds of the country’s Jews left. Those who stayed died wretched deaths at places like Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. One Vienna resident, Sigmund Freud, went to London with his family; his two elderly sisters stayed and perished.
After the war, Austria’s official position was that the country had been the very first victim of the Nazis’ aggression. Austria had no Nuremberg-like trials for crimes against humanity, and this fictional claim went unchallenged for many decades.

Continue reading “The Dao of Being Jewish and Other Stories” currently available on Amazon:

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Lecture Erika Bourguignon at Artists Archives

lecture about Erica BourguignonThe Artists Archives of the Western Reserve is proud to announce its program: The Woman Behind the Artist- The Many Lives of Erika Bourguignon a presentation by Irene Shaland.

Wednesday, August 17 at 6:30 PM

Address:  Artists Archives of the Western Reserve, 1834 East 123rd St., Cleveland, Ohio 44106
Internationally-published art and travel writer Irene Shaland invites you to voyage with her through time to uncover the different lives of an extraordinary woman, Erika Bourguignon, the life-long companion of the talented visual artist Paul-Henri Bourguignon. The journey will take us first to Vienna at the beginning of the 20th century where Erika Eichhorn was born to a prosperous Jewish family. In the Vienna of Erika’s childhood, music and arts were paramount and Viennese Jews played a crucial role in creating and supporting modernism. This was also the world of escalating anti-Semitism from which Erika’s family was lucky to escape to America in 1938 right after the Anschluss.
In the second part of the presentation, we will travel back in history to realms inhabited by ghosts and phantoms, where intense spirituality and shamanistic dance created altered states of consciousness. These worlds were the scientific focus of Erika Bourguignon, a US-educated cultural anthropologist, famous for her studies of “possession of trance” and its role in pre-historic and modern cultures. When considered in conjunction with his work, Erika’s various lives offer a unique perspective on her artist-husband as well as the famed intellectual atmosphere within their family.
Irene Shaland’s books, including “The Dao of Being Jewish and Other Stories” published in January 2016, will be available for sale before and after the program and the author is willing to sign purchased work following the presentation.
The Woman Behind the Artist is FREE and open to the public, however, please register: click here to register
The address is:
Artists Archives of the Western Reserve
1834 East 123rd St.
Cleveland, Ohio 44106
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