All is well

23 Aug Sports Day

It’s a hot-ish Sunday afternoon.  I am tucked in the comfort of my room for one, my smallish “home” on campus, appreciating the golden silence.

Silence is not something that comes easily here, a bustling campus of 6000+ students from pre-kindergarden through high school, a campus often filled with after-school and weekend activities.  But today there is a distinguishable crispness to the silence that I can’t help but enjoy.

I think in part the silence is due to Friday’s festivities, Sports Day.  A much-loved day filled with cheering, cheerleading, and racing competitions, the entire school was peaked with excitement.  With so many students, they don’t all fit on campus for the event.  The younger students stayed here for their celebration, and the middle and high schools went separately to different stadiums located in Chiang Mai.

Sportsday

Sports day is quite a big deal and students spent weeks preparing their cheers and parade.  While the heat of the day was bit much for this teacher, it didn’t seem to damper the spirits and enthusiasm of the students.

And here I am just a few days later basking in the quiet.  Kind of like the weekend after Mardi Gras.  It seems folks are taking a break.

Being in Chiang Mai and teaching here brings out many of the joys and challenges of living and working in a foreign country.  Thailand is by far the most “different” culture I have lived in so far with its combination of flow and freedom partnered paradoxically with a flavor of obedience and tradition.  There is an unexpected combination of both disregard for law and the unpredictable fervent use of laws which it seems are always changing. That said… in many ways I like it here and… I am also challenged by it which is part of what keeps life interesting.

Life in the classroom is no different.  My classes are filled with bright, spirited enthusiastic students.  Of the more than 200 students I teach in total, I can hardly think of a one that I don’t like and appreciate in some way. There is a fun, joy and playfulness to school life here and a surprising amount of independence for the students throughout the course of the day.

The flip side of this that pushes and pulls at my more serious tendencies and my desire for more rule and order is the lighthearted approach to learning.  School it seems is more “fun” and learning perhaps is secondary.  With much of this I too can be lighthearted and go with the flow but have to admit it can be disheartening when time and time again I see an enthusiastic, bright-eyed student come to say hello.  When I ask them “How are you…” quite often I get a panicked look on their face and a response of… “my name is…..”  or  “I am … years old.”  And so it goes.

This enthusiasm also burns through classroom behavior.  The students in my classes are not “bad” in any way. They don’t have poor attitudes with me or consistently cause problems.  But they do get excited beyond decibels that I have ever experienced before and they do like to talk and this frequently freely flies throughout the class.  After being here for nearly four months, I have done some nips and tucks in my classroom management strategies and have experienced some success and improvement.  But there is an element of behavior that I believe is mostly cultural that runs free in the classroom.  At times the sheer level of noise is a challenge for me or speaking in a class where the students have a tendency to converse loudly and freely to one another while I am talking.  I am practicing giving up my “shoulds” about how things should be and doing my best to manage what I can in the classroom, tune into the way things are here and ride the wave.  And so the journey and the learning continues…

Thailand has received some international attention lately for the unexpected and devastating bombing in Bangkok.  I have kept an eye on the news of late paying attention for updates and new information that would offer a reliable hint to the motivation and perhaps larger climate here in Thailand.  As I am in the north of Thailand, I feel geographically removed from any imminent danger and can’t help but continue to feel safe in Chiang Mai.  As I learned from my time in South Korea, when unrest arises it is best to stay calm, pay attention, and keep an eye on the local response to the circumstances.  But for me at this time in Chiang Mai, all is well.

Thanks for reading!  It’s always great to hear from you!

 

 

Krabi Escape

12 Aug Boats of Krabi

It’s not everyday that your employer takes you on a luxury beach vacation.  For reasons not totally clear to me,  my modest yet generous school has a tradition of once a year taking their “foreign” (that’s me, the foreigner) staff on a great outing.  Typically it’s not just any outing, but to one of Thailand’s best locations. They put us up in an excellent hotel and feed us well.

This year’s destination was Krabi.  Located in the Southern part of Thailand not far from Phuket, we escaped the joys and pains of teaching life for a few days of beach bliss.

Beaches of Krabi

Our journey notably began around 5am.  A group of sleepy teachers collected for our ride to the airport.  Upon seeing our “coach” for the journey, we wondered in the dark morning hours… what is it? Is it a garbage truck?  It turns out our transportation was a vehicle typically used to transport prisoners.  And so …we loaded in back on the rows of benches and held on for our bumpy ride to the airport.

A quick 2+hours later, we arrived in Krabi.  I was impressed with how smoothly our staff managed to get a herd of sleepy travelers checked in, on and off of an airplane.  In Krabi, we were met by our tour guides, boarded our bus and were soon on our way.

The first stop was to nearby Talin Bay for a little flat water kayaking.  Raised a “Missouri girl” filled with summers of river canoe trips, I happily climbed aboard for a little kayaking adventure. My partner for the journey was Jess, a fellow teacher and “worthy” paddling companion.  We headed through the open waters and soon began the twisty journey through more intimate waterways.  It was fun to weave and bend through the turns, mostly avoiding invading trees and other obstacles.  As skilled as we were, we only wandered away from the group and got lost once… in turn leading a whole array of other kayaking teachers down a false path.  But in no time, we were turned around, rearranged and once again correctly on our way.

Kayaking in Krabi

Next we collected in the waters for our “group crab release.”  In truth I am not totally clear about this part.  It seems there is a shortage of crabs in the area where we kayaked and our tour arranged for us to release crabs back into the water.  It looked like a bit of a bad deal for the crabs.  Each one was tied up individually for a dramatic flair.  We were each handed our individual crab and cut the string releasing it into the water.  That said, to say I didn’t enjoy it would… not be true.

Crab Release

When our winding rowing experience was coming to an end there was nothing to do but head through the open waters and return to land.  My competent companion and I confidently set out for the open waters only to be hit by a wall of wind.  We watched… perhaps one could say….younger, maybe… dare I say stronger… fellow teachers pass us by, digging through the water making their way to the shore.  We rowed with little impact against the more powerful wind and waves.  In our own good time, we made it back.

Soon we were on our way to our hotel.  We quickly arrived at our crisp, inviting destination right on the water. My roommate was former rowing companion, Jess.  In a sea of mostly “20-something” teachers, I was grateful to have a roommate who appreciated the quieter side of beach adventures. The room was welcoming and spacious with an affable balcony and the sea not far in the distance.

Room with a View

The next day I joined members of our Thai administration and the small crew of Chinese teachers from our school for an island adventure.  In the moderately early morning we boarded a speed boat that whisked us away through the collection of neighboring islands.  It was a fresh reminder how good it feels to be on a boat, in the water and feel the fresh sea air.  We arrived at our first island destination with a little time for swimming and sunbathing. It was so GREAT to be back in the ocean.  Ah so good.

The afternoon continued as we hopped from island to island.  We swam.  We snorkeled.  I saw a monkey (note… not very friendly.  Perhaps next time stay away from monkeys…). We ate lunch at a restaurant on a remote island location. And then perfectly delighted with proper exhaustion from a day of swimming, sun and sea air, we raced through the waves back to shore.

snorkeling

When we weren’t perusing the beach or swimming in the ocean, we were… eating.  We were hardly neglected as it seemed one meal had just ended when it was already time to depart to our next dining destination.  We dined on islands, on hilltops overlooking the ocean, in water-filled inlets, and beach-front spots. As most Thai food is filled with sugar, my employer was particularly generous to tend to my no-sugar needs, prearranging specially prepared meal for me in all locations.

One particularly fine meal was the buffet spread at our lovely hotel.  There was freshly barbecued meat of all kinds and vegetables a plenty.  As there was plenty in the buffet I could eat, I asked my employer if I should simply eat off the buffet. She generously replied that I should eat whatever I want.  So I joined my fellow teachers and dove into the lovely food.  One fairly full plate later, one of our wonderful tour guides mentioned that the chef had prepared something especially for me.  Oh dear… I thought and offered my “good trooper” smile.  I was soon served a beautiful dish of food with succulent garlic shrimp, beautiful ginger lemon fish and vegetable soup, and a stunning pad thai dish with a delicate egg served on top.

The food was superb and I did my best to enjoy it.  I shared it with other teachers.  Eventually, I went pleading to other tables in our group as I couldn’t stand to see the lovely food go to waste.  In the end when most of the other teachers had left, I was there… like a child left alone at the dinner table to finish her supper…. trying to make my way through the rest of the fish soup. Ultimately, I simply had to call it quits and gave up.

The next day we had one more luxurious morning at the beach before we packed up our bags and headed out. After we left the hotel, you guessed it… our first stop was lunch.  Soon after we made our way further inland for a quick stop at a tropical forest.  And then… surprise! Another meal.  After some extended bus traveling, we tumbled off the bus only to soon board our airplane for another two hours in flight.

Tropical Forest

It was good to arrive back in Chiang Mai.  I find it’s always good to go away but equally good to come home. We were deposited back to our school campus via our reliable prison transport vehicle.  A good night sleep and sleepy Sunday later, it was back to life as usual.  My unusual usual life that is … in the midst of about 6,000 bustling Thai students… nestled in the spirited city of Chiang Mai, Thailand.

 

 

762 Curves to Pai

25 Jul roadtopai

It was kind of a last-minute decision.  A little diversion.  A trip to the near-by mountain town of Pai, Thailand.  I had heard other teachers talk about it and a visiting friend had mentioned it.  So when the idea to go popped into my mind Friday night, it was easy to take a closer look and then hit the road.

After living internationally for four years now, it is still quite something to me to be able to get on a bus, van, train, airplane and discover someplace new.  This weekend it was Pai.

I started at the local bus station earlyish on Saturday morning.  I was told it was a simple thing.  There is a van that runs regularly every hour.  You simply show up and get a ticket.  I had read on a blog post a bit of a warning of the fast driving through the curvy mountain roads.  But you know… when in Thailand.  So I paid my 150 baht (about $5 USD) tossed my fears aside and began my journey.

I sat in the van surrounded by a sea of friendly Thai faces and comfortably began the way.  I felt that little rush of excitement in my stomach when heading out on my own to discover something new.  It was good to get out of Chiang Mai and see some of the surrounding area.  Soon we began to head into the mountains and the fun began.

The mountain roads were what one might expect… hilly and curvy.  Nothing new for mountains. What was a surprise is they kept coming and coming, seemingly endless curves, twists and turns through the hills.  The driver drove safely but also quickly and my innards swished from side to side continuously and repetitively.  Finally, we got a bathroom break mid way.  I got out of the van and tried to find my legs and calm my body a bit.  A fellow weary traveler warned that we had another 50 kilometers of this and so the twisty journey continued.

At this point really, I thought perhaps I could not take any more but I put on my headphones, did my best to breathe and relax the final stretch until finally…we arrived in Pai.  I got off the van and quickly made my way wanting to distance myself from the van and the wretched journey.

We arrived down a skinny dusty street scattered with happy backpackers, tourists and vagabonds making they way on foot and on scooters.  I was immediately enchanted and quickly forgot about the ride there. I talked with a few friendly English-speaking faces to discover that we had arrived in the heart of Pai.  I walked around a bit to get my bearings finding the river as well as the boundaries of the modest town and then quickly went about finding some lunch to settle my body after my twisty journey.

I stopped for lunch at a little place called “Top 5 Cafe“.  It was a modest but inviting place on the main road in the heart of town.  I took in the menu pleased to find a few items that met my needs for simple healthy food.  I ordered a spinach omelette and fresh mint tea to drink.  It arrived quickly and fresh.  I was not disappointed as I gobbled down the tasty, well prepared, simple meal. I took in a bit more of the town until the clouds started to come in which seemed like a good time to find my way to my hotel.

I found a Taxi to drive me about 5 kilometers to my nesting spot for the night, Pai Hot Springs Spa Resort Hotel.  Arriving in the rain I was greeted with typical Thai hospitality, the staff swiftly greeting me at the car door with umbrellas in tow.  As I was escorted to my room, I took in the quiet beauty of my surroundings and the well-manicured space in the midst of the neighboring hills.  My room was an inviting spot for a little R&R and I sunk into the joy of being in a new space and feeling a little spoiled.

As the rain tempered down, I made my way to the hot springs pool and melted into the steamy soothing waters.  Ah.  So good… and enjoyed the time there.  Soon the sun made its way out and I next found my way to the swimming pool and revelled in a little lounging and swimming in the beautiful, unassuming backdrop.

The hotel offered an evening shuttle to and from town so I hopped on board and headed in for dinner.  I dined at a recommended local Thai restaurant Na’s Kitchen.  The owner and chef Na was found busily cooking away in her sizzling kitchen.  Her friendly face and willingness to meet my healthy food requests were greatly appreciated.  In no time at all I dove into my dinner, Thai stir fry with fresh veggies and chicken and fresh ginger tea.

The main walking street transformed into a lively market at night and was filled with an easy number of attentive vendors and shoppers.  This quiet mountain town was the perfect size for a laid back evening stroll.  The market was filled with cute little things and hand-made crafts and clothes. I indulged just a bit in the amazing market prices feeling spoiled by a few simple purchases.  I soon met up with our hotel van and made my way “home” to enjoy the rest of the quiet evening.

The next day was filled with more of the same – appreciating my quiet escape with a hot springs soak and a dip in the pool.  I had purchased a few books at a used book shop in town and pulled them out by the pool like a kid in a candy store.

By early afternoon it was already time to check out.  I returned to the center of town and in the late afternoon began the trek back to Chiang Mai.  A guest I met at my hotel gave me a tip on a “gentler” drive back to Chiang Mai.  The connection led me to a local tour company called Terminal Green. For the same price they offered a van ride back to town with a reputation for taking it easy around the twists and turns.

While in town I discovered printed on a t-shirt “762 curves to Pai.”  And so it is true… there are in fact over 750 twists and turns in the drive from Pai to Chiang Mai.  This explains my feeling of relentless suffering around the never-ending twists and turns.

The ride back it was… better but still left me searching for my stomach and legs for hours after my return.  Pai is a beautiful, easy hippy-like town and a great quick escape. I’m glad that I went. But as for the ride there and back… perhaps next time I will take a plane!

 

 

Life in Chiang Mai

17 Jul elephants

It’s a quieter day than usual at the end of my teaching week. It is testing time for students so they are busily (or at least somewhat busily) spending today in a sea of tests. I will meet with my class later today for a 50 minute rendezvous with an end of the quarter English exam.

Life in Chiang Mai continues to be good. Often I enjoy simply being here in the cornucopia of sights, sounds and new experiences. Amidst the sometimes frenzy of activity at school and in Chiang Mai, I also do my best to find some quiet and slow time, a mainstay for me no matter where I am in the world.

Let me tell you a little bit more about the students I teach and my days teaching in Chiang Mai. Many of the classes I teach I assist Thai teachers with their regular English classes. Packed with 40 to 50 moderately interested students, I visit them twice a week to work with them on speaking and listening skills. With a slew of young students, I do my best to stay on my toes and keep them engaged, often turning the lesson of the week into a game or activity. While I have my rewarding days and moments in these classes, it can also be a challenge to teach a large group of students, some of whom would rather be talking with their friends and likely don’t understand what I am saying. But more often than not, the student’s sweet faces and enthusiastic screams of “Teacher Teresa” from across campus make up for the challenges of the day.

I also teach a more focused English class where I am the main teacher and we meet five days a week. These classes are smaller and, gratefully, air-conditioned.  This is my first experience being more of a traditional classroom teacher tending to things like homework, grades and exams. School life is different here in Thailand.  While my class is filled with good kids, it seems there is a more laid back and playful attitude towards school here. At the end of the day, I just to my best to be of service to them and also go with the flow of the priorities of local culture.

Recently a friend made his way through Chiang Mai and we had the opportunity to connect and explore a bit of the city. One of the highlights of the time was a visit to an elephant sanctuary. In theory an elephant sanctuary is a place where elephants who have been abandoned or abused can go as a place of refuge. I am told there is a history of elephants being given as gifts in Southeast Asia which has in part contributed to the neglected elephant population. While you can find many places to see elephants in Thailand, not all of them are created equal. We elected to go someplace that treated them a bit more humanely and let them, within the confines of captivity, mostly be themselves as elephants… no brutal training or special “tricks”. For the most part I found the park we visited to be a humane and descent establishment with just one or two things said that slightly raised my eyebrows.

And what an unexpected opportunity – to be close to, connect with and ride an elephant. It was a bit of a surreal experience… first seeing them and feeding them and then in no time at all being quickly shown and invited to hop on to give it a try.

We spent a modest day there and it was the perfect balance of relaxation and engagement with the elephants. After we fed and learned to ride we took a lunch break. Next, the highlight of the day, we were taken to “meet our elephants,” climb aboard and take a few spins around the grounds.

My friend and I “shared” an elephant, as did the other guests on our mini-elephant trek. We took turns with one person riding on the neck and the other on the back. Our elephant’s name was Mee-nah. She was a big beautiful elephant with a great temperament. Without hesitation, she steadfastly made way with her large body through the wooded terrain, up a few hills.

At the end of the trek the elephants were led by their keepers into the water for a little refreshment. And next we were invited to join them, given brushes and buckets to do a little bathing. My first thought, as any good American girl might think was “what is in that water… and is it safe to get in there?” But after a good minute or two of hesitation… I just got over it and jumped in the water to join in the fun.

At the end of our journey we enjoyed checking out the many pictures they took along the way plus a refreshing lounge in their “hammock garden.” Here are a few pics from the day.

And now, back to the land of teaching.  I am tucked away in my room on campus preparing for my early afternoon test.  I can hear the lunch time screams of the neighboring kindergarden building.  I am finding myself happy for a quieter Friday and the weekend ahead.

 

 

Vientiane Diversion

4 Jul Vientiane

Early Morning Tuk Tuk Ride

I began my journey before dawn. As I walked in the dark early morning sky to the entrance of campus, I was relieved to arrive at the gate and find my chariot awaiting. There she was, a local and reliable tuk tuk driver, ready and waiting to take me to the airport. Just a few days earlier I had scheduled my ride for the journey, not quite certain if the message was successfully received in the confusion of speaking English to a Thai ear. “Monday?”….. “No, SUNday….” But there she was.

I was heading to Vientiane, Laos to handle some visa business. It is funny how just a few months earlier from the more refined land of Vienna, Austria, a Thai visa run to a bordering town seemed like perhaps a shady endeavor. After simmering just a few months in the local culture, now more at ease in the land of tuk tuks and unexpected power outages, a visa run to Laos seems like a perfectly reasonable idea.

My route was the well-weathered path of countless travellers before me. I took a flight to the Thailand border town called Udon Thani. From there I took a van to the Thailand/Laos border. After $30 USD, a Laos Visa on arrival, and a quick bus ride across the “Friendship Bridge”, I found myself for the first time in Laos.

Upon arrival, I was greeted by a seasoned array of tuk tuk drivers waiting for their regular meal of travellers making their pilgrimage to the Thai Consulate in Vientiane, Laos. I was fortunate to meet a respectable and fair driver who took me and a fellow traveler from New Zealand to the center of town for a modest rate. His coach was like a miniature truck with passenger space in the back. We traveled down the right side of the road, a switch after the left-sided ways of Thailand. We drove exposed to the heat, the wind and dust whipping through my body.

River WalkIn no time, we were deposited along the riverside in Laos. It didn’t take long to get my bearings in this small unassuming little Laos town filled with fellow travellers passing time in town. I quickly drank up the feel of the city noticing it’s collection of French cafés and inviting assortment of local restaurants.

I made my way to my hotel, just a stones throw from the riverfront and in the heart of the tourist and “foreigner-friendly” part of town. I treated myself to a comfy stay at the Ibis hotel in Vientiane. I felt just a little spoiled in my easy modern room with its heavenly bed and pillows that melted away the tensions of traveling.

Basket Maker in VientianeWhile Vientiane is a sleepy little town, I was still charmed by it’s local people and red carpet of expat friendly eateries and restaurants. It was fun to spend a few days exploring the restaurant landscape and enjoying a few happy, healthy and affordable meals in town.

I first made my way to Jahmil’s Indian food for dinner. Tucked away down a little alley and modest and informal in it’s ways, I was a bit hesitant upon my arrival. I walked in feeling like I was walking into someone’s living room wondering if it was indeed okay to come in. My dining company for the evening was a fellow expat, from Canada, and in the early dining hours the only other only guest in the restaurant. We made our way through casual conversation and satisfying curry. A screamingly affordable bill later, I was full and happy and on my way into the steamy Loas evening.

The next morning was an early departure to the Thai consular’s office.  I arrived there joined by three of my fellow teachers also on the journey as well as a substantial collection of others waiting in line. Time passed quickly and soon we were happily receiving our numbers and successfully submitting our paperwork. We were outa there around 10am. Hooray!

VientieneThe rest of the day included restaurants to explore and some heat to escape. Vientiane was holding strong with it’s hot season temperatures, even more so than Chiang Mai. I appreciated the cool respite of my hotel and the occasional HBO film, a decadent “western” treat.
That night I made my way to a great little eatery called Lao Kitchen. Its open-air eating space welcomed me in, but offered no protection from the heat of the day. I was grateful for the competent English of my waitress as I did my best to explain that I cannot eat refined sugar. This request is a bit daunting in Asia.  I am asking that not only sugar is left out, but also fish sauce, soy sauce and any other places where sugar can sneakily hide. As I placed my order she looked at me a bit peculiarly, but did an outstanding job of passing my request along to the kitchen. Amazingly, after I asked to leave pretty much everything out of the red curry stir fry I ordered, what I received was a fresh flavorful dish all for the equivalent of less than $4 USD.

That night I visited the nightly outdoor market gathering along the curve of the mighty Mekong river. Surrounded by a sea of motorbikes and locals shopping for goods and having fun, I appreciated taking in the wide array of clothes, paintings, and local knickknacks. Shortly after I arrived so did the rain. Slowly at first. I took the lead of the locals who literally fled the outdoor market scene with the arrival of the first raindrops. I followed the crowd and literally ran out of there not making it to my hotel before the downpour came.

What a joy it was to appreciate the simple culinary pleasures while handling a little business along the way. Breakfast was next …… I arrived an early bird at Noy’s Fruit Heaven and had my selection of tables as I sat and took in the quiet Vientiane morning. I had to smile when a young Loas boy adjusted the fan near-by so that it would blow in my direction while shooting a smile my way. I appreciated his sweet sensibilities to tend to my needs.

Breakfast was simple but great. A vegetable omelette with a generous portion of watermelon on the side. I took in the morning and the meal appreciating my modest feast. I was surrounded by the daily business of the local family owning and running the business. The grandmother, sneaking in a nap before tending to business and practicing her English. The young boy sheepishly offering me a hello and a few practiced words in English.

Early that afternoon I connected with my fellow teachers and we made our way for the last legs of our journey. We found easy success at the consulate’s office. Within the hour we picked up our passports newly decorated and ready to go. Afterwards, we used our developing negotiating skills to secure a decent rate for the journey across the border. For the first leg of our way, we found room for all four of us in a nice Honda sedan, a real luxury and unexpected coach. Once we arrived at the border we were connected with a mini-van driver who took us the rest of the way to the airport. We sat in the mini-van for ten filled with expats of all shapes and sizes telling their stories and making their complaints along the way.

And in no time at all I was home… or in Chiang Mai… or perhaps a little bit one and the same. I was grateful to return to my comfy little room on the quiet grounds of the school campus. After a somewhat descent night sleep, I awoke on Wednesday morning birthed back into the world of teaching and classrooms bursting with students, a bit of a shock after my brief Vientiane diversion.

And so life continues. A little more settled. A little more adjusted to the somewhat wacky ways of teaching and life in Chiang Mai. Still easing into the heat. Grateful for the relief of intermittent air-conditioning and brief Vientiane diversions.

Giving Up the Fever

20 Jun

givingupthefever2When I do things in life, I tend to do them in a frenzy. At times an urgency overcomes me and I can get lost in it.  The fever.  You know what I’m talking about. That feeling of “got to do it right, got to do it now” that shifts you from a basically happy centered person to something… less than that. Often, it’s not pretty. There is a lot of talk these days about following your passion. But recently I heard some advice that is worth reminding myself of… the importance of being dispassionate.

Shortly before coming to Thailand I headed to the hills of the Black Forest in Germany to attend the Art of Silence Retreat, one of the foundational courses of the Art of Living organization founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.  One of the many gems of the retreat was the presence of Sri Sri for one day at the Ashram.  The evening he was there all of us in the course and others at the Ashram gathered in song and celebration and then afterwards, as it seems is typical in his presence, he gave advice and answered questions.  One golden morsel he offered was “be dispassionate” and don’t be “feverish”.

I can think of things daily that fall into the feverish category for me.  Whether I’m feverishly rushing to prepare the next section of class in the midst of teaching, feverishly heading out the door in the morning, or feverishly writing my latest blog post.  Fever it seems is a regular visitor in my life. I am reminded to revisit my feverish ways and explore instead being dispassionate.

Being dispassionate isn’t about not caring or being lazy.  But it does allow for a certain healthy detachment and relinquishing the urgency and fever around the task or issue at hand.  It also supports giving up self-importance and creating a greater space of peace where “whatever” may be is okay.

Being dispassionate and giving up the fever isn’t like going on a diet or going Christmas shopping. You can’t check it off your “to do” list.  It does require paying more attention and bringing some mindfulness or awareness to our daily lives and beginning to notice when we are caught in the fever’s spell.

For me, bringing mindfulness to the fever looks something like this:  I happen to notice that I am feverishly in the midst of something.  I don’t try to change it or correct it. It is more like I simply observe it, notice it. “Hmmm… fever.  Yep, I’m being feverish.  That’s interesting.”  In my experience, simply bringing mindful attention to something dismantles its lock or hold in the moment.  Through persistent practice this pattern and behavior slowly begins to change its shape, like the earth slowly changing shape with the tide.

I will take this dispassionate crusade into my work this week.  Shine a little mindfulness on the frenzy and fever of the day and make way for some healthy dispassion. Dispassion gives us freedom to simply be with whatever we might encounter in the moment and indeed creates space to act in a more relaxed and conscious way.  Dispassion may even bring a little more fun into the situation (for those of us who tend to take things a little too seriously).

If you like, join me this week for a little dispassion exploration.  When you find yourself in a frenzy, bring some awareness to it and simply notice… “huh, frenzy.  Yes, there I go again” and see if you can laugh and smile at yourself a bit.

I imagine practiced dispassion can make for an easier week.  Simply adding a dash of attention in the spirit of giving up the fever.

Getting Around Chiang Mai

14 Jun gettingaround

The conversation often starts something like this… as I approach the red truck, window rolling down and driver, still surprisingly to me, sitting on the right side of the truck… I offer my destination. “Dara” I say. I get a look of uncertainty. I try again, this time adjusting my pronunciation. “Da-RA?” Still a blank look. One more time, this time the “r” I say more like an “l”. “Dala” I offer. Hmmm… getting closer. The driver then says with a local accent the name of my destination… which to me doesn’t sound much different from what I attempted to say. With a still a hint of confusion but some confirmation I hop in the back of the truck to (hopefully) make my way home.

Dara is the name of the school where I teach, named after a Chiang Mai princess. When I leave the red gates of the Dara campus, I typically turn to the red trucks called songtao’s for my transportation. I am not yet ready to get on a scooter, the transportation of choice in Chiang Mai. So for now for me to get around town I rely on songtao’s and tuk-tuks. A tuk-tuk is essentially a motorbike with an open-air carriage for passengers and functions more like a taxi.  A songtao is less expensive than a tuk-tuk and may shuttle a handful of people typically taking you to your general destination if he is going your way.

Riding in a songtao is not your typical taxi ride. The journey often begins with a negotiation… how much? I am developing a sense of the ins and outs of the price of a songtao ride which in part seems to be determined by: How hot it is outside? Is it raining? Do you have groceries in your hand? Is it nighttime? And also quite simply does the driver feel like taking you?  All of which can increase the cost of the ride. But more often then not it is a simple 20 baht from my school to the center of town, less than a US dollar. After successful communication and negotiation, you hop in the covered back of the truck, typically with a bench on each side for seating, and relax and enjoy the diesel fumes. The other day I hopped in the back of the truck and met a friendly Thai woman transporting among other things her bird in a cage. And so is the colorful world of Chiang Mai.

scooterboyChiang Mai isn’t much of a walking town. Where I live just a few kilometers outside of the heart of the city, sidewalks are typically lined with food stands and goods for sale edging out any hope for pedestrians. I am frequently the lone walker navigating the wrinkled sidewalks. Other teachers tell me that people don’t like to walk in Chiang Mai and that they would take their scooters to go literally to the place next door. I have learned in the current heat of the day, on the edge of the hot season coming into the wet season, it is just a ridiculous idea to walk someplace. I mean it is just crazy hot. I have learned this from experience. Ugh.

Not long ago I was out and about on the opposite side of town on a weekday evening. It wasn’t too late, but after a busy day of teaching it was time to head home. Then it started to rain. We caught a tuk-tuk for an easy ride home. After a bit of negotiation, we hopped in and our tuk-tuk driver put it into high gear and headed for the superhighway. I was in a bit of a shock to be thrust into high speed riding in the rain on this main thorough-way home. After I got over my initial shock and felt confident that I wasn’t going to fall out of the vehicle, I have to admit, it was a bit of a thrill.

chiangmaiToday I joined a “meet-up” group in a walking tour of the old town of Chiang Mai.  It was great to connect with new faces and get more familiar with the city. Afterwards, we had a little lunch at a local Thai eatery called Cooking Love.  Known for their healthy, clean food and recipes, it was a true delight when I mentioned I couldn’t have sugar and what could I eat on the menu his response was “anything.”  They would just leave it out.  Ah, happy Thai food eating for me!!

It is Sunday evening here and I am in the downstairs common area swatting away mosquitos and trying to suck up a little wifi that does not yet make it to my room. The daytime heat is fading away and it seems some rain is blowing in. The evening assortment of cackling insects and creatures have started their nightly serenade. I am here, still getting to know but enjoying the hot mess of Chiang Mai and her world of crazy contradictions.

Traveling the World with Anxiety

1 Jun Chiang Mai

No, Anxiety is not the name of my spouse, best friend or significant other.  This is not the story of how Anxiety and I quit our corporate jobs and headed off happily into the sunset to see the world together.  But, in its own way, Anxiety has been a faithful companion.  When I first shared the idea of traveling the world, Anxiety was… well…hesitant to say the least.  Nevertheless, I put a few belonging in storage, packed up my bags, and Anxiety and I began an adventure together.

“Free spirits” come in all shapes, sizes and colors.  For me, my desire to have adventures and see the world is saddled with my own challenges with anxiety.  At its worst it’s been paralyzing, but in the daily rhythm and play of life it typically ranges from light to moderate.  Frequently present.  Notably there.  Anxiety.

The point is Anxiety (or fill in the blank with your personal flavor of challenge) doesn’t have to be the death sentence or curtain call on a life of travel and adventure.  I am not your typical traveler and I have learned to more peacefully make my way as I weave my life with new experiences, cultures, people, surroundings.  I take things more slowly, I plan things more carefully, and I allow plenty of time to be on my own.  I also make things like spiritual practice and healthy eating a priority no matter where I am in the world.

In truth takings risks and having experiences in new cultures is in itself an antidote for anxiety.  There is something healing about getting out of familiar waters and swimming in a world with a different syncopation from your own.  New and more liberating patterns begin to develop. The more I stretch myself, the more healthy risks I take and new successful experiences I have, the more peaceful this life with Anxiety becomes.

I can still remember my first major breakthrough I had traveling with Anxiety.  I was working and living at a seminar house in Germany.  Every weekend the house was filled with participants attending the workshop of the week.  Being surrounded by so many people on a daily basis sent Anxiety shooting through my spine.  Just the sound of their voices in the morning typically sent my body into intense nervous positioning.  Until one day.  One day I was lying in bed and when I heard the voices of the participants coming down the stairs, rather than be tangled with Anxiety I found I was… excited to hear them.  Glad they were there.  And so began the unfolding of transforming my life traveling with Anxiety.

Still today, four years later, Anxiety and I haven’t yet parted ways.  Anxiety hasn’t willfully gone its own way, packing its bags and going off to India or perhaps returning to the States. It’s still there, sharing my morning cup of tea, questioning my decision-making, planning the events for the week.  Undoubtedly our relationship has softened.  Life with Anxiety is easier, way easier than when we first left the States together four years ago.

There are some things I have learned to count on to soften the daily cry of Anxiety while I am roaming the world.  They are the first things that I pack and have become some of my new companions, ushering in more peace and comfort no matter where I am in the world.

1.  Reiki.  Reiki is one of my daily spiritual practices.  It is something I first discovered over ten years ago on a flier at a yoga studio in New Orleans.  Reiki is a very simple practice of connecting with a healing energy that is deeply relaxing and healing.  I am so grateful that after a nervous or challenging day or moment, I can simply lay my hands on myself and receive Reiki and much of that nervousness is just washed away.  If you’d like to know more about Reiki, you can visit my Reiki page or feel free to contact me.

2.  Art of Living Practices.  Ten years ago in New Orleans I took a class from an organization called the Art of Living founded by Indian Guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.  The organization came to New Orleans to assist the people with getting back to life after the impact of Hurricane Katrina.  I learned their foundational spiritual tool, the Sudarshan Kriya.  This is now a daily practice and how I nearly always start my day.  It melts away pain, discomfort and anxiety and puts me in a softer, better place.  Recently I attended their second course, The Art of Silence.  The course deepened my understanding and appreciation of their practices and also deepened my own spiritual reservoir creating a space for greater inner, unshakable peace.

3.  Healthy Eating.  It is a priority for me to eat healthy and balanced meals no matter where I am in the world.  I have learned that for me life with Anxiety is exponentially better WITHOUT SUGAR AND CAFFEINE.  Additionally, I find I feel better without eating any added preservatives or chemicals.  I also eat Gluten Free.  This is not easy on the international road, but it makes a big difference and truly is part of what makes this international life “doable” for me.  When arriving to a new country, I do my best to get the lowdown on the food contents there, to sniff out a few healthy restaurants and groceries where I can shop, and then begin to build a healthy food base for myself.

4.  Taking time for myself.  There is so much pressure in life to go, go, go.  But the truth is I feel so much better when I have time for myself.  So I do my best to create and allow for generous portions of time on my own without much on the agenda.

5. Yoga.  I first began practicing yoga in New Orleans almost 15 years ago.  It was my first step in using spiritual practices to soften and heal my personal and physical challenges.  It is something I have taken on the road and try to work into my daily life.  Even just ten or 15 minutes on the mat makes a difference.  Whether I am doing yoga in the fields of France, or in my room in Thailand, yoga is a constant companion and a place I can always come home to. Yoga classes have not always been available on my journey, so I have relied on my own personal yoga practice.  I check out local studios when available.  From time to time, I have also done a yoga class on the web from sites like doyogawithme.com.  My friend Miss Amanda at Inner Lift Yoga also has a great online video.

6.  Chanting with SGI Buddhism.  I began chanting with SGI Buddhism about four years ago.  I was invited to a meeting and couldn’t help but notice the powerful current generated from their chanting.  I was encouraged to try chanting for myself and chant for things I wanted in my life.  Surprisingly they easily flowed into being.  I began a regular chanting practice and it’s as if the current of my life is flowing more abundantly and heartily.  My daily chanting practice brings positive attention to those thing that are on my mind or that I am concerned about.  It softens the edges of my fears and anxiety.  And often it connects me with powerful community as SGI Buddhism meets all over the world.  Whether I am living in Vienna, Austria or visiting family in small town Missouri, I have access to the much appreciated community and support of SGI Buddhism.

7.  Supporting Others.  Finally, I have learned that it’s healthy to take time daily to focus my attention on others.  I mostly do this through my spiritual practices including sending Reiki to others needs or chanting for others.  I also enjoy taking action to support friends and acquaintances on their own personal journeys and adventures in ways that work in my life.  Supporting others rounds out the well-being of my life.

Anxiety and I, we’re not perfect.  We still have our challenges and ups and downs.  But I am so grateful that I “took the leap” and was willing to say “yes” to my sense of adventure rather than just “yes” to Anxiety.  With the support of family, friends and mentors, I followed my delight and inspiration.  It’s not always the easy road.  Often the challenging road.  But traveling the world with Anxiety…well… it has made all the difference.

 

 

Classes Begin!

24 May

Well, it happened.  The first week of classes has come… and gone.  While many teachers around the world are getting ready for their summer break, here in Thailand we are just getting started.

Students

A Sea of New Faces Preparing for School

I am teaching English at a LARGE (6,000 plus students) elementary, middle and high school in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  As part of their Native English teaching program, I teach an assortment of classes, primarily 4th grade with some 6th, to a mostly attentive group of 30 – 40+ students per class.  While many of the classrooms where I teach have no air conditioning and the weather here is a bit… warm… just the same I am doing alright!

I am surprised here in a sea of Thai faces how smooth everything seems to run.  The students, for the most part, seem to know what they need to do and do their own thing.  And while kids will be kids anywhere in the world, generally there seems to be a good bunch here.

shoppingchiangmai

A snapshot of the scene while doing a little shopping in busy Chiang Mai.

I am learning a bit more about the ins and outs of Thai culture as I continue to weave my way into life and work.  I have learned for example that hardly anything is “set in stone”.  What may cost one person 200 baht can cost the next person 300, or even 150 if you are willing to negotiate.  While there is a conservative bend in Northern Thailand, there is still an inescapable sense of something like freedom that permeates the scene.  Even here at school, I was surprised to see when class is out, there is no teacher who stays and monitors the students.  They are left there on their own.  When the teacher leaves, they do go a little bit wild in an innocent childlike sort of way but also make their way to lunch and recess so far without little to no drama.  One class I peeked in on at the end of the day was like a busy group of elves, sweeping the floors and putting away desks.

You can’t escape the incredible sense of service that is here in Chiang Mai and I imagine throughout Thailand.  At first it was a little off-putting when I went to the store to see a friendly Thai face standing right there ready to be of assistance.  I have to admit I tried once or twice to throw them off my trail, hiding below the shelves in my independent American way.  But in the end, I surrendered. I let them carry my purchase. I let them show me the matching sheet set.  Once there was even a second sales assistant who showed up bright-eyed and smiling with a cart for the convenient carrying of my possible purchase.

This same sense of service can be seen here in the classroom.  I have one class where at the end the boys race to the desk to see who gets to carry my things back to the classroom.  It is really adorable. I walk back to the office sometimes with as many as three loyal helpers dutifully carrying my excess things.

My adaptation is not without frustrations of course, the challenge sometimes found in doing the simplest of things in a foreign land.  But overall this transition is ushered in with a good feeling.

I am at home now for the evening after a productive but sweaty afternoon.  It is nearly 6:30pm and the outdoor orchestra has begun with the wide assortment of crazy noise-making insects and birds. Soon, week two of teaching will commence.

Good-bye for now from Chiang Mai, a place so far of new beginnings, mild adventures and entertaining adjustments.

 

Wild World

14 May

Well, it’s been quite a transformation…. switching from the cooler temperatures and refined structures of Vienna to the infernal heat and wild, wild world of Chiang Mai.   The land of goulash and mass public transportation has given way to the world of fresh mangos and scooter rides for three. Scooters

I am slowly and happily assimilating here to my teaching job and tiny budding life in Chiang Mai. I am starting to grow accustomed to the wild nature of this city affectionately called by my new boss “a hot mess.” My new and developing cultural affinity did not come without a few bucks and snarls. But after a few days my mind, body and being started to settle down and began to be with that which I am coming to know… is Thailand.

In Thailand, I have a resident gecko in my room. I think he lives in my air conditioning. He mostly shows his face when I have just arrived home… startled by the unexpected visitor. Geckos are my friend I am told because they eat many of the other creatures that you really don’t want in your room. After just over a week I am starting to relax as they scamper the walls and hallways of the residence where I live.

I have heard stories of folks living in areas surrounding Chiang Mai encountering an 8 foot long snake and getting bit by a scorpion. I have been told of the village cobra catcher and couldn’t help but notice the snake repellant for sale at my local grocer. I have always considered myself a nature girl, but alas, I am reconsidering my claim.

RimpingGroceryAmidst the wildness of Chiang Mai, I am comforted by the civility of its “western” creature comforts like Rimping, a quality grocery store chain where I have found organic products, unsweetened peanut butter and familiar brands including Amy’s and Bragg’s. After a successful shop, I was innocently exhilarated by my ride home through the narrow back streets of the city courtesy of a local tuk tuk driver.

At work we are preparing for our students who will arrive next week. Our “modest” campus of 8,000 students will soon be flooded with new faces and energy. In Thailand the school year begins in May, and so as many teachers, parents and students around the world are coasting into summer we are just beginning.

So far I am content in my new “home” on campus, a mostly quiet haven so far aside from the symphony of squawking birds and assorted insects that crescendos at sunrise and sunset as well as the neighboring band (I think perhaps church related…) that likes to start their celebration at 8:30am on Sundays.CampusView

For tonight all is well. My eyes still grow sleepy a bit early as the adjustment, heat and work week are still making a claim on my energy. Friday has come with the blink of an eye and soon it will be the weekend and then the first day of school. While I feel good about being here and the job ahead, I must admit I still have the first day of school jitters.

As night comes fully here, the only sound I hear is the quiet purring of my air conditioner, a much appreciated companion as it whirrs in a gentle 28 degrees C (82 degrees F)… a notable break from the balmy 35 degrees C (95 degrees F) outside my window. Even so, my body has a natural bend for the heat and heaves a sigh of relief being greeted by its thick tropical ways.

Good night for now as I find myself amazingly and surprisingly beginning yet another international chapter… in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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