My spring break was full of yoga, temples, inspiring individuals and FOOD! I visited Bayon temple, Banteay Srei (Lady Temple), Ta Prohm (Tomb Raider Temple) and of course Angkor Wat. My crew was completely multinational with Australian, South African, Hong Konger, Swiss, and me, ‘merican. I rode a bicycle around the city, got a local massage, ate the local food and did lots of yoga at the center where I stayed. Their language caught me by surprise. I’ve never heard it before but it was reminiscent of Vietnamese and Thai with rolled tongue sounds. At the end of my trip I visited a museum dedicated to the land mines in Cambodia. I read that there are estimated 4 to 6 million land mines still active in Cambodia and that they have one of the highest rates of amputees in the world. The temples are known for having Apsaras–the most beautiful of women–greeting you at the door, but before you reach the entrance you pass some of the victims of these land mines sitting together with instruments, selling their albums for change in order to survive. As of 2014 the USA declared it would no longer produce land mines. Yet they still reserve the right to use the 3 million stockpiled in their closet of tricks. Ah…’merica.
People and the Critters
I loose my keys a lot. I loose a lot of things and then I make a joke about it saying, “Well, you know the good thing about loosing things is that you’re always finding things!” But loosing things is just symptom of a bigger problem. I’ve concluded that I’m unconsciously wandering about, mind detached from body, as if I were an automaton. I started thinking more about this as I planned my detox retreat to Bahay Kalipay in Puerto Princesa, Philippines. As I researched, I learned of a nascent movement called “inner dance” started by Pi Villaraza in order to help people live a more awakened existence. He was inspired by George Gurdjieff, a Russian mystic philosopher who found most people live in a state of “waking-sleep” and founded methods for awakening the consciousness.
I spent 5 days and 5 nights at the retreat. I met beautiful people from all over the world, did yoga twice a day, ate raw vegan food, experimented with meditation, inner-dance, and coconut fasting, got my first colonic, and spent a lot of time in silent reflection. I’m not even close to awakening my consciousness, but the pervasive energy I encountered at the retreat galvanized me to begin a journey towards a more awakened existence. Working in the corporate world, it’s not as easy to begin such a lifestyle as it would be working at a retreat or not working at all, which makes me question a lot of my life’s decisions. But I will continue to try, and see what organically unfolds as I journey forth.
I’ve been back from the retreat for about 3 weeks now, and how quickly I got swept back into my automaton ways with just micro-moments of awareness. Nonetheless, these micro-moments are more than I had before my holiday. Julie bought me a coloring book for my 31st birthday after we returned from our respective holidays. It’s highly detailed and requires a lot of concentration and repetition, which helps to put me in a state of mindfulness. I bought myself a book written by a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, that I recently started to read as well as a juicer and blender that I have already used countless times. I’m currently obsessed with juicing ginger, carrot and adding a teaspoon of spirulina.
Phi and her sister bought me 2 shirts for my birthday.
In Vietnam, you are considered 1 year old when you are born
Phi’s sister and Phi surprised me for my birthday with cake and potato pie
“Today is an ephemeral ghost…
A strange amazing day that comes only once every four years. For the rest of the time it does not “exist.”
In mundane terms, it marks a “leap” in time, when the calendar is adjusted to make up for extra seconds accumulated over the preceding three years due to the rotation of the earth. A day of temporal tune up!
But this day holds another secret—it contains one of those truly rare moments of delightful transience and light uncertainty that only exist on the razor edge of things, along a buzzing plane of quantum probability…
A day of unlocked potential.
Will you or won’t you? Should you or shouldn’t you?
Use this day to do something daring, extraordinary and unlike yourself. Take a chance and shape a different pattern in your personal cloud of probability!”
― Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration
Tết is Vietnamese New Year, which is a variation of the Chinese New Year and it celebrates the arrival of spring. In February! Usually, for me, February is spent fighting off the freezing cold and seasonal depression, but here I am celebrating the arrival of spring in what feels like summer! We have 1 week off school; although, many students in the Vietnamese schools get two weeks since this is the biggest holiday of the year. Today was the last day for the students and we celebrated with food, performances, and food. Students were allowed to wear their uniforms or the traditional ao dai (pronounced OW-YAI). Another tradition is to give little, red, decorated envelopes filled with some “lucky money” to friends and family. I gave one to my Vietnamese teacher, the teachers and admin contributed to the envelope for the cleaning staff and I will give a good chunk of money to my cleaning lady/Vietnamese mama before heading off to the Philippines.
I flew into Chiang Mai, Thailand. I rode a sad elephant, saw the sad long-neck tribe, and rode on a bamboo boat down a sad river. I also won money on a couple muay thai fights on Christmas Eve, met Andrej–a fellow lone-traveller from Slovakia with interesting stories of a Soviet childhood without bikes and bananas–and ate flavourful, spicy northern Thai food.
I was there for 5 days and then took a bus with Andrej to the sleepy city of Sukhothai about 3 hours south and spent the day their with him taking pictures of each other in front of the divine ruins then took our separate routes to Kanchanaburi. It was all happenstance that we had already planned to visit the same places. I took a van to a technicolor school bus to another technicolor school bus and rode with the locals for about 11 hours. It was long, hot, at times stinky and confusing, but a nice change of pace from being surrounded by fellow tourists and our sad entertainment.
In Kanchanaburi I rode a bike around the town, saw the death railway that linked Thailand with Burma. I rode on the train, went to the museums and paid my respects at the graveyard. I also hiked around Erawan National Park and their 7 tiers of waterfalls with monkeys hanging out in trees waiting for the locals to illegally bring in food and bottom-feeding fish waiting to eat all the dead skin off your feet with people whooping and giggling at the sensation of their hungry little mouths. It was beautiful. I shared pictures and stories with Andrej over dinner our last night and we parted ways for New Years–me to Bangkok and him to the coast and beyond.
I was planning to avoid Bangkok but decided against it. I spent 2 days there overwhelmed by all of the people at the attractions and in the streets. It was there, after people watching as much as I did, that I decided to take a break from alcohol. It’s been a month since I made that decision and am feeling pretty good about it still.
After Bangkok, I flew into Phuket to end my holiday at the beach. I met Pili at the airport as I was stubbornly waiting for a cheaper alternative to get to the docks going towards the different islands. She stood next to me and introduced herself as a solo-traveler looking for a person with whom she could ride down to the docks. Perfect. The hour in the taxi and additional hour in the boat to Koh Phi Phi island, where she was staying, didn’t last long enough. We had each other laughing so hard our faces hurt. Where have you been! We’d exclaim at various points throughout our laughter. I was one more stop going to Koh Lanta but I got off with her so we could enjoy lunch together while I waited for the next boat. Koh Phi Phi was immediately repulsive to both of us, so I reported back via email that she should go to Koh Lanta after experiencing the tranquil Long Beach and the hippie Khong Khong beach. I rented a motorbike and fumbled through the island trying to remember the side of the road they drive on (they drive on the left) and read a lot of Kafka for the 1st time. It was a relaxing way to end my holiday. I met up with Pili and talked about visiting her in Spain. We shared stories of being raised in a small town and found many similarities despite our geographic and cultural differences. Now she lives in Madrid and I can’t wait to visit her. Maybe, this summer on my way back to the west?
I flew out of Phuket after staying 1 day there and made it back home with a few days to spare before work. 15 days in Thailand was plenty for me. I met interesting people, ate exquisite food and gained some insights on what I want going forward.
I am spending 15 days of my holiday in Thailand. Pictures and details are to come, but in the mean time let’s listen to a song that is resonating SO HARD with me right now. Enjoy.
It just ain’t Christmas people
I repress my memories from middle school. They were probably the most awkward years of my life. I had 1 front tooth missing from a softball accident and they were buck teeth to boot from years of sucking my thumb. Tons of curly hair and not cute, little curly-sue curly, but frizzy, triangle-shaped wish-it-was-straight-hair-bob curly. Not to mention I was scrawny, brown and always trying to be funny which is easily misconstrued as being obnoxious–at least by teachers. I get it now that I am that teacher. I chaperoned a field trip trip to Dalat, Vietnam with the 8th grade students and was reminded of the pangs of puberty. Ouch.
We started by camping and the kids played lots of games with the field guides. We went to a coffee farm/village, hiked, watched the local Dalat people do traditional dances and danced along, and did a scavenger hunt around the city getting locals to help. They seemed to have a great time and I was happy to explore a different part of Vietnam.
Life is different. I’ve exchanged ferry, dolmuş, and tram rides for a motorbike. I miss Turkey and the comfortable lifestyle I grew into. Change ain’t easy but it ain’t an option. Not for me. So now I’m in Saigon. I am finding my way around on a scooter and trying to find my new niche. I went on holiday to Hoi An. It was beautiful. It was smaller, calmer, easier.