"Not all who wander are aimless. Especially not those who seek truth beyond tradition, beyond definition, beyond the image."

Thursday, July 31

Ever been caving...BAREFOOT?!

Greetings from Pai (pronounced 'bye'), a small, hippy-town west of Chaing Mai! :)

The abridged version for Jose---who, by the way, I have connected with via Skype and webcam. It's my new favorite toy and I love seeing his sexy face and bald head on my computer from across the globe. Everyone should get Skype.

Jose, shall I do bullets? Yeah? Here goes.
(Since the last time...)

  • Headed to Vang Vieng, Laos where we booked a caving, kayaking, trekking tour. They told us to wear flip-flops...they broke because the mudd (and cow shit) swallowed them so we were barefoot most the time. We slipped and slid our way through dark caves barefoot. We braved a few mini rapids in a kayak which was heaps of fun. The bars here played FRIENDS and Simpsons (yes, in English) non-stop. Also, their menu's were VERY interesting and hilarious--I'll post a picture soon.
  • Made our way to Vientiane, Laos--the capital. Learned all about UXO (unexploded ordinances) through a very eye-opening and moving exhibit/organization called C.O.P.E. The bombs that USA dropped during the Vietnam war still litter Laos and about 80 million are left unexploded and possibly armed--making many aspects of life very dangerous for these people. Enjoyed a few drinks along the Mekong river at sunset. Braved the local bus.
  • Back to Thailand (Chaing Mai) via an overnight (13 hour) bus. Ugh. Sucked. Hardly slept at all. But at least we had seats. Some people stood for hours on end. It was an experience.
  • After a few days in CM, we loaded another "regular"bus (we laugh in the face of regular buses) and took a 4 hour (Beautiful) drive to Pai (where I now sit). We rented a SCOOTER. A PINK scooter. AND we had SEXY helmets (no worries...pics in a few days! These are blackmail pics...and I will give them free). We are IN LOVE with this place. We spent a few hours zooming around on our scooter (yes, only 1. You don't actually think I would let Rach drive, do you?!) exploring...hills, mountains, rice fields, people offering us opium (we think), waterfalls, canyons. It was nothing short of amazing. Today, we rode an elephant (my moral explantion of this to follow below)! And, it was freaking AMAZING!! Her name is Padwade---we got to feed her and ride bareback on her...then she took us to the water and threw us off. She SHOOK us off like we were flys. We won't soon (or EVER) forget this experience!
  • Rach starts school on Monday---which means I need a job. Play time is almost over (well, kinda. I'm excited to teach in a foreign country!).

And my wordy version for anyone else that wishes to continue (mommy and daddy...?!) :)

The rest of Laos was great. We spent 2 days in Vang Vieng which has a reputation for being a "party place"--drugs, alcohol and young people being crazy. We wanted to check it out anyways. It was a cute enough place--gorgeous scenary right on the river. The bars that lined the main strip all played FRIENDS and Simpsons which we found hilarious (ok, ok...so we gave in and lounged to FREINDS a few times). The first night, we walked into a deserted looking bar a bit away from the rest---mainly (okay, ONLY) b/c as we were walking by, 2 ADORABLE twin thai boys literally grabbed on to us and started swinging on us. Must have known I had SUCKER written on me. We went in and were just gonna lounge and share a drink. We ordered a "mixed rum bucket" because it was cheap and sounded good. Perhaps your seasoned drinker would know this drink would come in a (very large) bucket...but we were none the wiser. DUH!! Oops. Good thing we like to share! There were a few locals next to us who we started to mingle with---and through them got to try a few shots of their locally made rice whiskey. Good, strong stuff! We got to know the owner of the place a bit, Addy--he beat me in a game of pool and practiced his English on us for a bit. We wound up making him some CD's (music can make or break these places!) the next day---he thanked us with...another bucket. Thanks Addy. We headed out (ánother bucket' came AFTER this) for our kayaking, caving, trekking trip expecting a nice little day adventure. Boy were we right! The woman assured us that wearing sandals (reefs) was the way to go. Okay. It took us about 2 minutes into the trek (guides dictionary: TREK--walking and/or wading through deep, slippery mud and cow poo so we can laugh at people who were stupid enough to wear sandals) to realize this was NOT the way to go! We "trekked"over/around rice fields which was actually kind of great...especially after Rach totally slipped and covered herself in mud (haha...cow poo). By this point, we were both barefoot walking through who-knows-what trying not to fall into the Rice. Every now and then we looked up at the scenary, but for the most part, the scenary consisted of where our next step would be. BUT, we were cracking up the whole time. When we got to the other side, we were relieved. Stupid us. Next? CAVES!! The only light we had was the one attatched to our heads---and, as we would discover, these don't do much good if your ass down most the time. The caves were crazy. And, we were BAREFOOT. Our guide says "isokayisokay" as we looked questionably at our barefeet, at him, at the makeshift ladder (with exposed nailes) in front of us, at the mudd and slippery rocks ahead. Well, if isokay, then isokay. Off we go. Rach, me and 2 irish girls (also with sandal issues) took up the rear. We had our own laughing party, taking turns laughing at who ever fell next. Every now and then, it was a really good fall---you know, one that causes you to slide down a few feet, get completely COVERED in mudd, and make a loud "thud/slpash" when you land in the muddy puddle at the bottom--thus resulting in the applause of fellow (clean) cavers. Hey, at least we got a good lunch and would get to clean off while kayaking! Ry, you would be proud of my kayaking! So the rapids weren't big (grade 1) but they were still RAPIDS!!! And I did it :)! We didn't even fall!! The tour wasn't everything that we hoped it would be (I hate organized tours!) but we definitely got a good laugh...or 1000 good laughs. If you are wondering where the "party" reputation comes in, it has to do with all the make-shift bars that line the river. Foreigners go tubing down river, stopping at the bars along the way. And, when you see a picture of the menu from a regular bar in this place, you'll understand more (but think drugs...on the menu)! Our next stop was Vientiane (the capital). We went to a place called Buddha Park which was full of larger-than-life Buddha (and other) statues. It was beautiful! Also visited the oldest wat, the main stupa (representing Buddhism and Lao soverginity), and a Revolutinary War monument (known as the vertical runway b/c it was made with cement dontated from the US for a new airport). Had some good food and enjoyed the views/sunset from the Mekong river. This is where we visited COPE and learned all about UXO. (If you want to learn more about this, email me---I'm very moved by it all and would love to talk about it!). Our trip to Laos came to a close and we took a 2.5 hour bus across the boarder to Thailand (stopping by the bus-load to sort out passport/visa stuff which, other than the heat, was easy as). There is a bridge contecting the 2 countries (the Friendship Bridge built recently) and as we crossed it, our driver had to change the side he was driving on. In Laos, they drive on the right (like us) and in Thailand, on the left. It was crazy thinking how much concentration that must take to switch back and forth like that! In order to get back to Chaing Mai, we had to take a 13 hour over-night bus. This was quite the experience! We decided to go for the cheaper option (we didn't need VIP!). Opps. The bus stopped what felt like every 10 mintues to pick people up or drop them off. And there were people standing in the isles nearly the whole journey (mind you, not the SAME people the entire time!)---and just like that my leg room was gone! Not to mention that the roads were incredibly windey and bumpy...so even if we wanted to sleep, there was something about being THROWN back and forth that kinda of prevented the zzzz from taking over. But another Thai experience that we won't soon forget! A few relaxng days in Chaing Mai before heading here, to Pai. The bus journey here was great! The scenary was amazing and though it's only 122 km from CM, it took over 4 hours (that should tell you a little about the landscape). It didn't take long for us to fall in love. Everything is beautiful around here---and the town is so layed back (if not very hippy-ish). We are staying in a "bungalow" :). Yesterday, we rented a scooter so we could explore the surrounding areas (Pai is very small). They gave us a PINK scooter!!! How'd they know that was my favorite color?!!! And to go with it, we got sexy green helmets. I'm sorry, I don't care who you are, there ain't NO way to make this look hot!! haha. I wasn't sure what to expect when renting this here scooter---I don't have an ïnternational drving license" and have never driven one of these things (or it's been a LONG time). Well. Apparently, they just wanted to see my passport. Didn't even make us wear helmets (no, that was the mom in me that decided we would look better with these goofy helmets then with smashed heads!). Didn't even give us a lesson (nope, my pride took a break and allowed me to ask some girly tourist for a lesson). Didn't even require insurance (nope, for ONCE in my life I was ALL OVER buying that optional insurance). Just passport, keys, off you go. Haha. They looked easy. haha. But they really looked easy. haha. HOW THE HELL DO PEOPLE RIDE THESE THINGS WITH BABIES ON THEIR HIPS?! Okay, so I got the hang of it...and by today, I was all over the scooter driving---but I wish I had a video of us riding our hot pink scooter down the left side of the road for the first few mintues. Please jsut picture it. Then multiple whatever you pictured by about 10. That was me and rach on this scooter for the first few mintues!! Once we got comfy though, it was AMAZING!! We explored everything around here and I felt like I was in a movie (so what if the movie was Dumb and Dumber). The scenary was amazing and we were so...free! We loved every mintue. While exploring, we passed a place that came recommened by a friend--"Joy's elephant riding". Elephant riding is a big thing here---from day 1 I would have loved to do one of those elephant riding tours---but morally, I couldn't bring myself to fall into the tourist trap. Most places treat the elephants like crap and over work them...just so they can make a buck. As much as I thought it would be an awesome experience, I didn't want to support it. So when I heard about this place...and then we passed it, I had to check it out. This woman, Joy, has 1 elephant that she rescued. She keeps her during the day and brings her to the jungle at night (not sure how she gets her back...!). It's so obvious how much she loves this thing. She only allows her to do 2 rides per day---enough to pay to feed her. When we stopped by, Joy introduced us to Padwade (the elephant that we are now in love with) and gave us a huge bag of fruit (from her garden and trees) to feed her. We loved it and made a reservation for today. Not sure of our Mahoot's name (the guy in command of this massive creature) but he was awesome! It was just me, him and Rach right on the back (not on one of those seats they use at zoos) of Padwade. Then, mahoot got off and led her from the floor--it was CRAZY! You could feel the strength of this thing--and swaying back and forth was a bit more scary then I had imagined! He led us right down to the water...where Padwade would get to "play"! haha. SANUK!!!! (Thai for Fun). The whole while, Mahoot was standing back laughing and taking pics. We were so unsuspecting (I was thinking a little spray of water from the trunk)...a few grumbles/grunts from mahoot, and padwade was sitting in the river. Still unsuspecting but holding on a little tighter. Smiling away (the pictures outline this fabulously...I'll post them ASAP). A few more grunts and BAM....Padwade is LAYING sideways in the water and we are soaked!!! All good times. We got situatied back on Padwade (which was A LOT of work!) just in time for more grunts (not to mention curious grins from mahoot). This time?! Padwade is SHAKING us off her as if we were flys!!! We did our best to hang on for a bit...but trying to hang on to a 2 ton animal who has nothing to hold on to...while she is shaking like crazy...is near impossible! We went FLYING into the water!!! We were LOVING it!! We continued to play in the water for a bit longer before making our way back---got to feed her some more and fell in love even more. More in love with her, more in love with Pai. A perfect end to a perfect trip (of a trip that has really just begun...!).

Love and kisses....

Friday, July 25

A few visuals....descriptions at the end

1) An example of what I see EVERYWHERE. Rice-paddy fields galore.
2) Kuang Si falls--pictures don't come close to doing it justice. We got to climb right into it. Amazing.
3) Tat Sae falls--reminded us of Dunn's River in Jamaica
4) An example of the scenary on our 2 day boat journey. Think those huts stand a chance in a storm?
5) Hmmm...one of the many "bridges" we walked across at the falls. Bridges here have put "swing bridges" to shame....
6) Our crowded boat--the one we were on for 14+ hours. We were a big happy family!
7)These are the boats that take people up and down the Mekong for hours on end...haha...LOVE IT
8) Crossing in the "ferry" from Thailand to Laos

Monday, July 21

Just Rolling Down the (Mekong) River

Greetings! :) First, to the mother--I didn't inform you of this trip BEFORE becuase I wanted to save you the worry...so now that I'm safe n sound, here goes!

(As I type this, I'm sitting in a cafe with a mosquito the size of my hand hanging out behind me. Remembering I was just living by 8 precepts that told me NOT to kill, I'm leaving the dang thing alone...)

So, 2 bus rides, a 2-day boat trip, and a handful of anti-malarial pills later, Rachel and I find ourselves in Luang Probang, Laos. We decided to hop the boarder a few days ago and make the most of the 2-3 weeks we have. So, we boarded a fancy-dancy bus (I only call it that b/c of what follows...) in Chiang Mai and took a 5 hour bus ride to Chaing Rai. It was an easy ride with beautiful scenary to keep our attention. There were more rolling green hills and mountains then I expected and more rice-paddy fields then I knew existed! Once we got to Chaing Rai, we boarded a "regular" bus for the 3 hour journey to the boarder of Thailand and Laos. THIS bus ride was all about the...uh...experience! Think school bus...maybe from like the 70's or 80's. Then, pile WAY too many people on it (rach and I were sharing a regular size seat with another) and then drive it over some awesomingly bumpy and unsealed (only at times..!!) roads...and THEN, continually stop to pick up MORE people....and there you have it. Instant Thai experience! Once we got to the boarder, we sorted our visas (easy as!) and boarded a "ferry" to cross the Mekong River (thus going from Chiang Khong, Thailand to Huay Xui, Laos). Now...this "ferry"...hmmm...how does one describe a few pieces of wood?? Pictures will follow when the internet is faster! We crashed at a guest house in Huay Xui for the night and got our first taste of "Laos time" and the the pace of life in these parts. We stayed here before boarding a "slow boat"...which we knew would be a 2 day adventure. About 7 hours, a night stay in a village, and another 7ish hours the next day. From what we had read, we knew the boat would be a bit uncomfortable...but we also knew that it was meant to be great views....and really, how many people can say they've floated down the Mekong River?! A bit about the boat. Mmmm, well...pictures would prolly do best to describe it. But erase any image you may have about a boat that was taking us down a river for 14 hours. It was small...well, maybe even tiny considering the number of people on it. There were hard, wooden benches big enough for 1...for 2 (on day 2 we scored some car seats that were put in the back...you may never know the full benefit and awesomeness of this!). The boat iteself was probably made by the young village kids...and the motor...well, the motor....was prolly made by them too. It was a pretty easy decision for us, but due to the rains (oh yeah..it's been raining off and on since we left Thailand), many other backpackers who were meant to get on the boat with us, opted to go by bus. I decided that I like my odds of having a chance to swim if we flipped...over the alternative in a bus (since when do heavy rains mean driving is a better idea?! Put me in the river!). The boat trip was...well, pretty great. The views were beautiful, the rains stayed pretty well away, and the time flew by. Not to mention that the stay over in the village was far from the scary thing we were expecting! We loved it there! Anyhoo, we have since run into those people that opted for the bus ride...and we made the right decision..the bus turned out to be a 15 hour nightmare.

So, here we are in Luang Probang--an adorable, quaint little city that lays on the Mekong River. We are staying in an amazing guesthouse and eating amazing food! We decided to SPLURGE on our guesthouse...a whooping $7.50...AND on a delicious and huge French-ish dinner (this part of the country is known to have a "french ghost" and, for instance, baguettes line every street) for a crazy 10 bucks. We went to a waterfall today and will be going to another tomorrow. Our plan so far is to head south to Vang Vieng and then to Vientiene before making our way back to Chaing Mai.

Not to alarm the parentals but I figured it's better if you know that I'm aware. If you have been hearing about the Mekong River floods in the news know that we are fine (and have yet to see the effects)....there was some talk of things south of here getting pretty flooded...so, we are doing all necessary research and taking necessary precautions before moving forward. I'll keep you guys posted but Internet in Laos (along with everything else) is SLOW! So don't be alarmed if you don't hear from me for a bit. Hope all is well on the home front!!

PS. Did I mention that I LOVE Laos so far?! So much so that I think I'll be job searching when we get to the bigger city!!

Saturday, July 12

10 days with me, myself and...Johnathon

1) Meditation grounds (and my home) by night 2) Yep, I'm as exhausted as I look

3) Aw, she IS that cute!!

4) everytime I looked down, someone was there (I think it was the white!)

Hello!! I just spent 10 days living at a wat with the monks n nuns...doing an intensive meditation retreat. I apologize for the length of this....but a girl hasn't spoken in 10 days...so let me blab....

A word about vipassana: introspective meditation that offers insight to the 4 aspects of human life--mind, body, feelings, and mind objects (much like feelings). It is the realization (or belief...) that everything mental and physical is Anicca, (meaning impermanent), Dukkha (suffering), and Anatta (non-self). Basically, everything has a cause and effect...and unless we learn to understand that, and cut the cause (when needed), it all ends in suffering. (i.e. if we have a happy feeling, we like it, we want more, we become attatched...which eventually leads to our suffering when we can no longer have that). It puts a focus on the present moment...encouraging learners to identify (or name) everything that comes up during meditation, and then release it out and return to the present moment. And, of course, it focuses on the idea of kamma (which is the Pali word for Karma).
---there is a crap load of info on this...so if you are truly interested, look it up. This is a tiny little chunk.

A word about my day to day:
For 10 days, I didn't speak, didn't eat solid foods after noon, spent a ridiculous amount of time in a meditative walk or sit, didn't listen to music, didn't read, and lived by 8 "precepts".

Now, when I say I didn't speak, that's not entirely true. Everyday, I would report to my teacher (enter, Johnathon) and we would talk for 10-15 minutes about how it was going. I imagine him to be something like a psychologist. I would report all my feelings, how my "practice" was going... and had he not been accustomed to this, he would have thought I was bipolar. On day 5, I had a 2 minute conversation (I know this because I had a timer attached to me at all times) with another international student. So, I can't say that I didn't speak....but lets just say that this puts the "day of silence" (a gay-awareness thing we used to do at Rice) to shame.

When I say a "ridiculous amount of time", I mean that. We woke at 4am, ate breakfast at 6am, lunch at 11am, had a 15 minute meeting with Johnathon somewhere in between, and went to bed at 10pm. The rest of the time was dedicated to us...being with us...and meditating. On day 1, I started with a 5 minute walk and a 5 minute sit. By day 10, I was walking for 60 minutes and sitting for 60 minutes (multiple times a day....20 minute break between 'sets'). The walk is done incredibly slowly...think 20 yards in 20 minutes. Also, we name EVERYTHING we do or feel. (for the walk...."heel up, lifting, moving, putting"). In between meditations..."walking, opening, closing, brushing, angry, frustrated, laying, eating, tasting, seeing"....etc, etc.

A word about my living situation:
Accommodation was basic...and really, I can't complain too much. But lets just say that the 'bed' brought the meaning of uncomfortable to entirely different level. On day 1, I hated my cold shower. By day 3, it was my best friend. By day 6, I discovered there actually was a bit of hot water if you waited long enough (I hope that you can see me laughing out loud when I discovered this). One of the 8 precepts was "kill no living being" (these 8 precepts....no killing, no wrong speech, no laying on high bed, no sexual activity, no wrong eating, no stealing, no alcohol/drugs, no dancing, music, singing or beautifying self) were in place to avoid bad kamma (karma)....therefore, I simple had to say "goodnight" to the little (no...not little) spider that lived above my bed...and hope that when I stumbled to the bathroom in the middle of the night that the little (nope...not little) spider that lived there was tucked away happily under the shelf. Now, I'm not usually one to kill living things anyway...but sometimes with spiders, I could make an exception. Not this time. I haven't discovered any spider bites yet...cheers to that good karma.

A word about my experience:
I can't really get into details...anyone who has done anything like this, (or who wants to do something like this) knows (or will discover) that everyone has their own experiences. It effects everyone differently....and I don't want my experiences to shape your ideas of vipassana in any way. I will, however, give you this:
On the best day (there was only 1 of these), I felt as if I weighed 5 pounds...I was skipping, smiling ear to ear, meditating painlessly for hours (when I say hours...I mean 40 walking, 40 sitting....20 minute break....40/40, etc.). On the worst days (yes, there were many of these...but particularly day 5 and day 10), I could have screamed, could have left, could have broken something....it was excruciating...and I don't hesitate AT ALL to use that word. Along with any internal feelings (not that I have some hidden, deep anger issues...mostly it's the effects of the course...being alone 24 hours a day, etc), I had an onslaught of physical stuff. I became a bit intestinally challenged...and I believe something like this crossed my mind "no way I've been in Thailand for 2 months and NOW...NOW I'm gonna get a spurt of TD? When I'm supposed to be sitting on my ass for 12 hours a day? COME ON!". Also, I became so insanely itchy that I was sure the damn cat that I stupidly (yes, I'm angry at myself and speaking to myself this way...oh, and of course naming...."angry, angry, angry") let jump on my "bed" gave me fleas. My skin broke out and felt disgusting...and before I went to sleep on day 5, I believe I said something like this "AHHHHH. I HATE THIS PLACE. WHAT THE F***. THIS STUPID BED. IT'S NOT EVEN A BED. STUPID SPIDER...I HOPE YOU DIE. STUPID CAT....YOU'RE NOT EVEN THAT CUTE. I THOUGHT THIS MEDITATION S*** WAS MEANT TO BE GOOD FOR ME!!!!" (oh..."angry, angry, angry"...."suppressing, suppressing, suppressing", "irate, irate, irate".....). Haha. My next day with Johnathon, I explained my anger...my frustration...my wanting to leave...my thinking this was stupid....it wasn't working...and, to my surprise, Mr. freakin Johnathon came alive. Clapped his hands, smiled ear to ear, and said YES!!! YES!!! NOW you are seeing it. Mmmm...ok. If you say so dude. Then he asks...."how have you been feeling physically? Do you feel itchy? Does your skin feel greasy? Any nausea or diarrhea? Uhhhh....ok, creep ass. Yes, yes and yes. Can you explain now? Apparently....the meditation does this. It "wrings the body out"...if you will. Now, if he would have told me this AFTER I explained my 'conditions', I would have been like "yah...ok...whatever"....I didn't say a word. I felt better that all that was normal...and I believe it was day 6 that was my "best" day. Overall, it was up and down. With the ups averaging somewhere around neutral and the downs averaging somewhere around...well, hell. I didn't enjoy it...but I wasn't really expecting to. I learned stuff, but am not some "enlightened" being after 10 days. I haven't been brain-washed or mentally/physically scarred. The people closest to me may notice a slight difference...but other than that, it was more so just an eye-opening experience. Not something that I can change from just yet....just something I can choose to be more aware of. Obviously, it all goes much deeper than this...they couldn't have possibly taught me all there is to know in 10 days...and I can't possibly tell you in a blog everything I learned in 10 days....the meaning and reasoning behind everything. Why we "name" everything...why Johnathon said that I was "seeing it" after day 5...why I would possible do this to myself...why it's so important to be alone and not talk (and the true effect that has on you)...the intense feelings of "boredom" and what that can do to you....the understanding of the present moment...and how it allows you to let a lot of things go while also understanding they may come back (that idea of annica....imperamance)...the idea of accepting the fear, anger, worry and appreciating the good moments without getting caught on them....

I will give you my first experience being back in the "real world". When I got home (Spicy Thai...), I was SO excited to be here (or to be OUT of there). I talked to Saaw (1 of the chicas that works here) forever, sat on the computer forever, and decided I wanted a PIZZA...a whole one just for ME (you see...all these things I couldn't have before...). So, I had one of the girls order me one...I just pointed to a pretty picture...it looked good and I was sure I could eat the whole dang thing (come on...you have all seen me eat pizza before. And I had it from this place before...the large is quite small...and it's good). Even as I was doing this, I was saying BAD you!! Wanting, wanting, wanting....not a good path Janelle....cut the cause, cut the cause. I didn't. The pizza got here. He handed it to me and I nearly dropped it...it must have weighed 5 pounds. That's just gotta be gross. Then, the bill. It was 500 baht...which is officially, the single biggest transaction I've made since I've been in Thailand. I ate 2 slices. I feel ill. This, according to vipassana would be named "suffering, suffering, suffering"....my happy feeling of being here, led to wanting pizza, led to wanting a WHOLE pizza, led to a huge bill (13 dollars) and a stomach ache....I thus, created my own suffering. And the karma I let out by wanting, wanting, wanting came right back to me...! Now, this may seem like common sense, but you don't really realize how much it truly effects our lives, our relationships, our thoughts....and how hard it is to change...until you sit with it it....and sit with it....and walk with it....and sit with it......

Rachel will be here in 2 days....and, even through my exhaustion that makes me jump up and down!!