Happy Spicy New Year 2013 (pour une année “treize épicée”)

Those who know me know my taste for spices…photo

know it’s my favourite sight on a market, it’s the sign of the many flavours that cultures share sometimes, like herbs…so a spicy New Year Wish from Thailand, one of the world’s capitals of spicy food, its Mecca, sounds appropriate!

So much happened, is happening and will happen in my life that time to share with you is rather scarce as I give priority with trying to enjoy every minute of my exceptional stay in this wonderful country! It’s like being at a marvelous buffet, with so many choices and having to bring you back a sample on a small plate….Eyes get to eat here more than a stomach, even mine, can digest!!!!

Can you imagine a place where people literally smile at you constantly, bow respectfully to you without sounding servile, respect you for who you are…provided you act likewise? I’ve been here for now a month and a half and the only times I’ve seen someone in a bad mood were once a very nasty chauffeur (who got eventually fired for misbehavior  not with me but with another customer) and a shouting cab driver at the airport on Christmas eve who then apologized when I asked him why he was shouting….

Apart from that, I have only enjoyed wonderful interactions and had a lot of fun.

It’s true, you also need a lot of flexibility and understanding that you cannot expect the same degree of professionalism you’d get in Europe or the US, but the heart is there and this is what really counts!

As there’s never a dull moment in colourful Chiang Mai, the conference was hardly over that my daughter arrived just on time to fill the void and was a great company to discover further sights such as Chiang Mai old city templesSAM_9027

On December 23d, my former shadow and new friend Christie introduced me to Ben Bowler, a man with a mission and a dream: to unite all religions and celebrate our diversity. He asked me to come to speak at his UDay Unite Event. Since it’s totally in line with Académie Sans Frontières and IDDay, I was glad to give a short talk. Here’s what I meant to read:

Sawadee Kaa, Bonsoir, Buenas Noches, Erev Tov, Good Evening Chiang Mai,

Tonight, I want to quote one of my favourite songs, I think it has never been more appropriate and I’m just sorry that I sing so much out of tune that it’s preferable for me to abstain, no matter how tempted I am:

 “Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

You, you may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

John Lennon was a prophet and I live everyday as if this day we all dream of,  would be tomorrow.

So we have to start to act today to achieve it, all of us, together, across oceans, cultures, languages, religions, genders and social status because we are all human beings. As the great Shakespeare once wrote:

I am a Jew… Hath not a Jew eyes ?

Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions ?

Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is ?

If you prick us, do we not bleed ? If you tickle us, do we not laugh ? If you poison us, do we not die ?

If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that…”

You can replace Jew by who you are and you have the perfect definition of a human being. We are essentially identical beyond any boundaries created by history and prejudices.

I am humbled by Ben Bowler’s request to speak to you tonight. Chiang Mai has only been my home for a month but I owe all of you so much! I arrived here during the Loy Kratong festival and shortly after was able to participate to the Candle lightening of our Jewish Festival of Hanouka. The light is an important symbol for all of us, it prevents us from being kept in the dark and this is exactly how I view my mission,

as a teacher, an academic, taking my students from dark ignorance into some kind of light.

Tonight, sharing with you the spirit of this new beginning, you bring the light into my heart. Your warm smile, your kindness and respect makes me feel one of you that’s why I accepted to come speak to you.

Chiang Mai is the natural city for cosmopolitan people, people who come from other countries or who have mixed origins. I don’t want to bore you with my own itinerary but I was born in France from immigrant parents who were born in North Africa. I am a Sefaradic Jew, with mixed blood from all over the Mediterranean, and the feeling that I belong naturally to Asia. I feel at home in the whole world but here, with all of you, I feel in my own family.

I came here after a long career at the service of Civil Society that Ben was kind enough to recall, always calling for social justice in an interdependent world and for more respect for our environment and shared values. What is civil society? It’s all of us here tonight…actually it’s each and everyone of us…together! You probably know the proverb

          If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a moskito

So my message to all of you tonight is

Educate yourself by being open to others, no matter how different they may seem to you

If you are a teacher, remember that what is important is not what you teach, Thai, Maths, Drawing, Music, but how you make your student learn to learn and think by herself or himself. You are a good teacher if your students ask you questions and contradict you. If they politely nod to you with blank eyes and simply repeat what you just taught them, you failed in your mission.

If you are a student, always remember that your teacher or professor is just the same person as you, made of flesh and blood, who was just lucky enough to be able to attend university, night classes or internet courses making her or him a professor today. You can be in his or her position tomorrow if you keep questioning him or her, if you doubt what he says and if you think by yourself instead of accepting all what is taught to you.

I created an informal movement in the Year 2000 called Academie Sans Frontières, the Borderless Academy and you can find us on Facebook. I don’t want to have a president, a board, because this movement belongs to all teachers, academics, researchers, students  at any school or university level who share the view that University should reflect Universality .

We are all borderless academicians if we accept that each of us knows something he can teach to the other and if we also admit that everyone can teach us something. You can teach me Thai for example, and I can teach you English or French…I will go to teach English in the Issan Province in a few days for this very reason and I’m sure I will learn more from my students than them from me!

You can all do the same, you all have a talent, singing like the wonderful people on stage tonight, dancing, cooking…a talent you can share with others and makes you a teacher as well. But remember teachers are good teachers when they teach their students to think for themselves, that’s what really count!

And  let me finish by one of my favorite french poems by Jacques Prevert:

he says “no” with the head
but he says “yes” with the heart
he says “yes” for what he likes
he says “no” to the teacher
he’s standing on his feet
he’s tested
and all the issues are listed
suddenly, he has a fit of laughter
and erases everything
the figures and the words
the dates and the names
the sentences and the tricks
and despite the threatenings of the teacher
under the curses of the young prodigies
with chalk sticks of every colors
on the gloomy blackboard of unhappiness
he draws the face of bliss

This my friends is my ideal students, using my chalks to paint a new world.

I thank you for your patience and attention, Merci, Thank you, Toda, Gracias, Kapunkha!

Since my speech took place at 10 instead of 7 pm and after Minister Pato Banton, pretty much a brother of my dear friend Rev Osagyefo Uhuru Sekoupato banton

a wonderful rastaman, I shortened my message accordingly. I suppose it will be visible somewhere on the web since it was lifestreamed but in Thailand you never really know! What counts was that I spoke with my heart and was cheered by the young people who so warmly contributed to making Ben’s dream a reality. Ben will hold a similar event next year in Melbourne, so all my fellow Borderless Academicians are eagerly invited to contribute to the Educational side of this event.

And the cherry on that pie was that the next day, Ben had representatives of all religions lined up for his event…except Jews! So as much as I’m usually the Shabbess Goy, I was the Shema Jew for once, although I stressed that this was what my forefathers had been praying since 2000 years and in this only put myself in their footsteps, making it short and sweet!

photo (1)

Since my daughter Clélia is with me, I’ve done a lot of touring with her, to the Doi Suthep, for my second visit to this breathtaking temple in the mountains,SAM_9256

a national park , an elephant camp, in the Golden Triangle, where in one day we visited Burma, Laos  and yet had breakfast lunch and dinner in Thailand! See the diaporama at the end for more on these and please remember they are all subject to copyright and acknowledgement!

I am extremely glad to have had an opportunity to visit the extremely interesting Opium Hall Museum, both for its content and its architecture which reminded me a lot of the Liebeskind Jewish Museum…Especially when I had the delightful surprise to read the following on their columns of meditation…in case you can’t read it, the Talmud Shabbat quotation (31 a) reads as follows:

what is hateful to you,
do not to your fellowmen.

That is the entire Law,
all the rest is commentary


Here are some wonderful sights we caught on our way back from Maesai to Chiang Mai (white and black temple pixes) as well as a diaporama of our top 10…a hard choice, really!

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Finding an adequate place for the New Year wasn’t an easy choice but having visited and enjoyed the Ratchamanka Hotel on a couple of wonderful occasions (a marvelous concert and a romantic dinner), I selected this venue and didn’t regret it. We had a lot of fun and…believe it or not, ended up teaming up with a table of Californian Jews…Small World? YESSSSS!!! Here’s a Burmese Temple to close temporarily this long series of pixes. as a symbol of our shared humanity and cosmopolitanity (yes, I coin this today, 1.2.2013)


Tomorrow evening, I’ll be heading to the Issan Province, after attending a wedding in Laos upon an invitation from Michel, the journalist friend I met in Luang Prabang a month ago. Life is so full of surprises and opportunity if you know how to say yes….!

In Issan, I’ll be helping the Hopehouse foundation by teaching English to young adults, some English teachers and a school director…I assume I’m going to learn much more than I’m going to teach, but I’ll try to give them a fair deal.

I would have liked to conclude on a note of humour but can’t help having to mention how sad I’ve felt over reading what happened at the very end of 2012, hoping we never witness such horrors, namely the killing in a primary school in the US, the death of a female student in India and the escalade in Thailand…yes, the country of smile (dixit Fernand de Varennes who made me aware of this) of teachers killed in the south over culture feuds….Three types of horrors perpetrated in connection to education. Please join our informal group of borderless academicians and do contribute to raising our voice as a very vocal majority of people REFUSING VIOLENCE IN EDUCATION! Look at our circle of prayer at UDay, where all religions (and atheists) can give hands to each other and simply respect our differences in the name of OUR COMMON HUMANITY:

prayer circle

Now my dear friends reading me in larger and larger numbers…you probably have some questions as I only described the upper layer of my very full spicy meal, so it’s your turn to ask and I’ll try to be exhaustive in my replies, but you tend to get lazy when life is that pleasant and easy…for the fortunate ones …! Just remember to give a little of what you receive, that’s all! I had given up hope of ever seeing anything back in return for what I gave with pleasure…and am overwhelmed at how much I’m getting, not from people I’ve helped, but from people I’ve simply loved…you!!!


  1. merci ma chérie de m’avoir fait voyager en ce début d’année depuis ma montagne enneigée et d’avoir touché mon coeur grâce à ta façon si généreuse de partager tes convictions, tes expériences, tes pensées. tu es ma magnifique amie que j’aime infiniment. tu es vraiment une belle personne.


    • Merci à toi, ma très grande amie! J’en profite lâchement pour poster ici les adorables commentaires de notre ami commun et dévoué président de JCall Switzerland…notre Marko Weinberger international :

      Thanks, Daphné, for this lovely piece… and words such as “share, smile, heart” and others, all leading to one message and dream: a new world of respect (not tolerance) for the difference of religion, culture, country, color, gender, thus, peace and enrichissement mutuel.

      You are a dreamer too, my dear, but it’s worth it, isn’t it ?

      I loved the John Lennon’s verses. In a way, that is why I embarked – with juvenile enthusiasm – on the JCall adventure……

      As I lay at La Tour last week, fed intraveinously and watching Xmas dinner opulence on TV, I wrote to myself a note about countries as per John Lennon:

      “J’ai un pays natal, parce que tout le monde naît quelque part. Je connais très mal mon pays natal. C’est pour cela que je n’ai pas de patrie.

      Je pense que ma patrie est le monde, parce que je le connais mieux que mon pays natal. Je suis très heureux de n’avoir pas de patrie”.

      That is why your question about the civil society felt like home, une vraie patrie.

      The bit about teaching, reminded me of my old professor of French, Greek and Latin. Francis Roulin. He thought me to love reading and talking about what I read. The greatest gift I received in the last 72 years !!!

      Finally, a comment on the tragic events in Connecticut. 300 million arms in the US. The head of the NRA on CNN responded to Brian Pearson that cars kill more than guns. Why not forbid cars before guns ? Pearson was remarkable. He said: “this is stupid”. Well done, Brian. But it was terrifying to watch the names of these kids with their ages: 5, 7, 5, 6 and so on. Obama surprise us, please. I think he might, on this and other issues, including our brethren in Eretz Israel and Palestine.

      You know the american expression: “I met the enemy. It was me!” It is us. Silent, indifferent, not happening here, etc. So, let’s speak out not why peace and respect are not possible or too difficult, but rather, how do we find a way to make it possible.”


  2. Happy New Year to you, dear Daphne!
    Thanks very much for your excellent article. As usual I enjoy reading it: “the best message that teachers, students and all people that love the mankind’s diversity be able to read, to open -with wisdom- a new year of hopes and dreams”.
    I wish you and your daughter a happy and successful time in the South-Est Asian region.


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