Welcome to my re-built blog: amy-warcup.com

Welcome to my blog, amy-warcup.com.

During the autumn and winter of 2011, I had the great pleasure of spending ten weeks in lovely Thailand as part of a sabbatical from my position as Assistant Professor at Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua, NY. I also returned to Thailand for a second trip during May and June of 2012, this time accompanied by a group of my former students. During this time, I was actively blogging on a site with the domain amywarcup.com. It is with great misfortune that the site was unexpectedly terminated after eleven months.  Here, I have rebuilt my blog to my new domain, and I am re-posting most of my previous writings and photos.

During this transition, however, I have discovered a couple of my posts, as well as some of my photos have been lost. One is my departure writing before my first flight to Thailand, and the other is my first post upon arrival to the fascinating and chaotic capital city, Bangkok. Despite my lost work, however, it is my hope that my journey still narrates a tale of my adventures to this captivating, beautiful, and unique country.

In the near future, I will be exploring the affects of sleep on memory and the aging process, after attending a recent seminar in Rochester, New York. Please come back and visit often!

Namaste,

Amy

In Their Own Words: Chelsey, Kate, and Emily

*This post was originally published on August 4th, 2012

Upon our return home, I asked the travelers if they would like to share some of their reflections of their experiences in Thailand. The following are commentaries from Chelsey, Kate, and Emily.

Chelsey:

My fondest memories are hard to say. Honestly, every moment of the trip was so positive and memorable. I’ll fondly remember the sense of adventure and lack of planning required of me to have an amazing day there.

The biggest challenge was saying good-bye! I thought it was rather easy to be there. Also, finding that there is a limitation to the degree of spicy-ness I can handle.

I will remember most the power of a smile, putting others first and not sweating the small stuff.

There didn’t seem to be a whole slew of rules and regulations there, but the Thai people didn’t live in chaotic, crime ridden streets from what I could see. The perfect metaphor of their culture is the traffic and driving there! There seemed to not be any rules or heavy law enforcement, and yet there were few accidents. They always seemed to be conscious of others, regardless of the seemingly dangerous traffic, from a New Yorker’s view.  It had reiterated my belief that in order to have a safer, more orderly culture we as people must take it upon ourselves to be law abiding citizens and respect others out of principal instead of force. We should not expect the government, religions and laws to force us to be good people.

Kate:

My fondest memories of visiting Thailand were eating the delicious food we made under the supervision of our wonderful teacher, Thurian, dancing until 3am in Bangkok, and  enjoying days spent with our teachers, Rose and Paul, during our Thai Massage classes. I also remember fondly spending time with the gentle and beautiful rescued elephants at the Elephant Nature Park, having the honor of experiencing a day with Mr. PP and Nuy at the magnificent Panviman Resort Spa, and looking out at the Bangkok city lights on top of a 7 floor building with my friend Tay.

 

My Biggest challenges were traveling for 26 hours, and working hard for my two Thai Massage exams after being sick and missing two full days of classes.

 

I remember most the watermelon and cantaloupe smoothies, which were so delicious! I recall the peacefulness, friendliness and positive attitudes of the Thai people, and the amazing markets every night, …the hot weather!

How did Thailand changed me/my worldview?

I appreciate other cultures and what they have to offer even more so than before. Overall I have returned feeling centered and balanced. I am more patient with myself, others and my thoughts. I am humbled, while caring less for material objects and more for the relationships I share.

 

Emily:

Humans, on an individual level, have always captured my interests… from the science and mysteries behind every little cell and how they all function, to the personalities, the mind, the soul, the emotions, the energy vibrations and the “I” of each human being. Now, placing all of these important yet complex parts that create a single individual alongside of other human individuals overwhelms me with interest. This interest, with the beautiful individuals and absolutely amazing relationships between them, is where my fondest memories have stemmed from while living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Before this trip, I really had not known any of my companions very well. But as one of my professors,  Dr. Miller, once told me, “The best way to get to know someone is by traveling across the country with them.” Being that this trip was not just across the country but on the other side of the world, I made some of the strongest connections that I have ever made throughout my life thus far. I got to know so much more about the group, which instantly created a bond. For example, I found out that the avid baseball player, Adam, loves orchestral performances and theatre. Although, being across the world and rooming with someone brings even closer bonds, to the point when walking in on my roommate dancing to Latino music in just her Sublime t-shirt and underwear didn’t take me by surprise.

We were a diverse group, all having different backgrounds, some of us raised in the city and others in the smallest of towns. We all had different expectations, goals and reasons for why we were really attending this trip. But all of us, aside from Amy, shared one common situation: traveling to Thailand for the very first time. This is where I not only experienced great memories, but also my biggest challenges.

At the beginning of the trip we attempted to stay together as a group while we roamed the streets and markets of Bangkok and took luxury Mercedes vans to tourist attractions outside of the city of Chiang Mai. As the days were sluggishly sinking into memories, we slowly began to distinguish interests and what we each wanted to do while we were not in class. While shopping at the markets, I would become antsy if I was with another person. I could not seem to stick with a person or group because I always had my mind set on two things, finding the stand with the freshest fruit shakes and a stand that sold ukuleles. I always told whomever I was with that I was going to run ahead to explore the stands and that they could find me when they heard the sweet sounds of a ukulele. But the markets were busy and in the back of my mind I knew that I wasn’t going to see my partner(s) for the rest of the night. Though not admitting it, I was excited by this.

Soon, there came a point in the trip when I was very frustrated with others and their interests or lack of interests. I was becoming uneasy with the fact that I hadn’t felt like I was really experiencing the culture of the Land of Smiles. I realized that I was creating a scapegoat on the others for my uneasiness. I knew this was wrong. I stepped back and just realized again why I love humans; because of our individualities and how we all are complex, different and wonderful in our own ways. I knew I could not hold in such frustration nor can I put it on anyone else. So one night, I left the hotel by myself and just walked, without a map, without a plan, without many baht and with an empty stomach. This night, this walk away from the frustrations and fears that were holding me back, turned into the most significant night I experienced on this trip.

 

I walked on main streets and side streets and streets that weren’t streets to find some food. I found plenty of food but I kept searching for something more. I finally encountered a fruit shake stand and a charcoal grill with meat cooking. It was late, there were a handful of people that looked my age, and without hesitation I stopped I smiled and said, “tao rai kaa” and pointed to the grill. They didn’t understand. I wasn’t speaking confidently because I couldn’t remember if what I said meant, “How much?” After some more gesticulating and vocal attempts, another man my age came out, got by with some English and I finally understood that the meat being grilled wasn’t for sale, but I was more than welcome to sit down and eat with them. The moment I sat down and purchased a shake and took a bite of the unknown slab of meat, from these unknown people, sitting on the side of an unknown street, allowed me to digest the fact that I had overcome my personal fear of the unknown. From then on the night became a charade of getting to know each other, with cheers and extreme enthusiasm about taking turns on Youtube playing an array of music. This is the night I have remembered the most.

 

I made a handful of friends and memories that night and we continued to make plans to spend more time together during the weekend. The person explaining these plans is named Faq. “Like frequently asked questions,” he would say. Faq spoke English better than I did. He is majoring in tourism and hotel management at Chiang Mai University and has started his own school for teaching English to the Thai people. Faq told me that we would meet in the same spot on Friday night at 9pm. This moment became the first of the few precious moments I received from Faq. I asked him how we will get there, by taxi or by motorbike, and if there would be extra room if I wanted to bring a friend from my group? Faq simply responded along the lines of not to worry, Friday is when we will know. What he said was so simplistic and profound to me. It made me aware of the fact that the smallest things in the future that I am concerned about do not really matter. At this point, I realized that in my life I have a conditioned response to make sure everything is to be understood or clear. I realized that my western ways kept me from feeling the now… be-ing in the now. It happened two more times where I have shown concern or held on and both times, while talking to Faq, he would casually speak words that really helped me experience how wonderful it is to be aware yet detached and truly live in the moment. During these moments I felt like the crown of my head opened and all of the distractions, thoughts, worries and fears from anything and everything in my mind floated away, and everything that I perceived became vivid and outstanding. From then on, my view of the world has changed.

 

“So when you want to become something more than you are, different from what you are, or higher than where you think you are, all that means is that you haven’t discovered where you are, and you are under the illusion that there is somewhere else that you ought to be besides here.”

In Light of Coming Home: Post-Thailand Blues and my Remedies

*This post was originally published on July 16th, 2012 on amywarcup.com

After twenty-six nights, 55 hours of flights and layovers (collectively), about twenty Thai foot massages, and at least fifteen Khao Sois, it hit me….a condition rarely spoken about in depth, but one that is very real: Post-Travel Depression (PTD). Yes, it really does have a formal medical name. I’ve traveled many times in my life to dozens of cities and towns (although I have so many more to explore), but none have left me feeling quite the nostalgia that Chiang Mai has.  Perhaps I should call my condition Post-Thailand Depression.  I could even still call it PTD, although I must admit that this abbreviation insinuates, when spoken aloud, a far more morbid image of disease than simply feeling the blues after an exhilarating world travel experience.

As I awoke my first morning in my bed at home, I wondered for a moment where my mango, dragon fruit and papaya fruit bowl was, realizing that the best solution in that moment was to drive to my local Wegman’s grocery store to make this tropical breakfast myself.  As each piece of mango lavishly delighted my palate, I thought in my self-pity how I was just sitting at my simple glass kitchen table in my relatively uneventful hometown of Rochester, New York.  Gone were the twenty blocks of market stands selling jasmine flowers for offerings, or  hill tribe purses, or obscene t-shirts diagraming Bangkok’s “Ping-Pong show” with the grossly misspelled word “poossee” written beneath it.  All of those fleeting conversations with bizarre strangers, such as the woman from Castile who replaced her hair with peacock feathers, or the ragged charlatan who “owns ten successful software businesses worldwide,” but needed  thirty baht for a taxi because  he forgot his wallet in his guest house…all of those encounters were gone. No more were the dozens of smiling Thai eyes that greeted me daily with an exuberant “tuk-tuk, madame?” …And where were the street vendors selling Pad Thai and fruit shakes? Why couldn’t I walk out my door and walk up the street for a six-dollar massage and pedicure? Why, when I went to the grocery store, wasn’t everyone smiling back at me and saying hello when I looked into their eyes, smiled, and nodded? Rather, people either looked away, or glared briefly with a look that may have said “I don’t know you, you freak.”

Well, perhaps my interpretation was in part because of my 102 (F) degree fever, my jet-lag, and the aggravating charley-horse I had in my left leg. These conditions do not typically invite the most optimistic view of understanding human behavior. Another realization I came upon was that although old friends provide the comforts of familiarity, they did not experience the metamorphosis that had recently occurred in my life. “You’ve just had this amazing life opportunity,” they may say. “What do you have to be depressed about?”  Well, what some may not understand is that the sadness that follows such an amazing life happening does not translate to a lack of gratefulness. Certainly, I have felt gratitude beyond measure after visiting Thailand. Never before have I been so aware of the favorable circumstances in my life that have allowed me such freedom to take this journey.  Nonetheless, the feelings of letting go, of even some mind remorse, remained. So, to cope, I experimented with techniques in my life that helped relieve my post-travel melancholy, and these were some things that helped me move through my blues:

  1. Write it down:  One of the assignments I required of my students during our recent travels was to keep a dated daily journal. My limitations in the assignment were few. I did not care so much how long each entry was written, or how personal they chose to be in sharing; only that they took time to ponder on what they were absorbing in their experiences and that they write it down. The primary purpose of the assignment was not for me or their grades, but rather, for them, so that they have a documentation of their memoirs that they may refer to in the future, or perhaps stumble upon twenty years from now to re-live their experiences. What I realized, however, was that I forgot to do the same for myself. Oh, sure…I often took notes for blog post ideas, or wrote down details of the history of certain temples so I could share this knowledge with the college administration upon my return, but I was not writing my personal experiences. I did not give myself a place to reflect on how I felt as I lived these moments from day to day. – But, writing after returning, I decided, was still not too late. So, I pulled out a blank journal my sister had given me as a gift a couple of years ago, and started writing. Taking what I was feeling out of my mind and onto paper created a tremendous feeling of relief within me. It was almost as if I had taken my heavy backpack off forever to run free of the burden. I could see my experiences from a third-person perspective without fear of judgments or over-analyzing my emotions. They were just there, and nobody else needed to see them but me.  – But, they were mine…my life and reality; something I may choose to reflect upon one day as I reminisce of my past. Thoughts and emotions are powerful, but they are also fleeting from moment to moment. Writing them down is like taking a photograph of a personal experience that is harbored in the mind.

  1. Find the Culture at Home:  This option may vary depending on where one lives, of course. Discovering aspect of Thai culture may be easier to discover in New York City or San Francisco than in Lost Creek, West Virginia. Still, even in my relatively smaller city of Rochester, New York, there are some Thai restaurants, places that practice Buddhism (although not Theravada, typically), and there is a little shop up the street from me that is owned by a Thai woman who sells imported goods and jewelry from Thailand. There was great comfort in knowing that I could drive less than ten miles to eat a spicy green curry, or order mango with coconut milk and sticky rice to bring home. Sure, it isn’t the same as walking out the door and finding a mango fruit stand outside of my guesthouse. I knew eventually I’d need to curtail this addiction if I wanted to save money for future travels, but the comfort of eating Thai food those first few days made my cultural transition much smoother. A nice, chilled bottle of Singha didn’t hurt, either. So…what to do if you live in a town that is even smaller and may not have Thai restaurants? I suggest taking a recipe book and trying your hand at making some of these delicious meals yourself. It may be time consuming at first, but once you know a recipe, it will be significantly faster and easier.  This needn’t be just for Thailand withdrawal, either. Every culture has something unique that may be recreated at home.

Talk to Strangers: Of course, some discretion should always be used with this suggestion. After all, Mom and Rick Springfield didn’t grill this advice into our heads without reason. One aspect of traveling that really has struck me, however, is the realization of just how many more strangers I do talk to when I’m not at home. This is especially true when I’ve traveled solo. There is often less fear, somehow. Nobody knows me, the chances of us having some awkward mutual acquaintance, or the risk that the person may have heard of some unsubstantiated gossip about me is almost non-existent. Still, I thought, why is it that we don’t take risks and talk to new people more often? This is especially true for those who live in northeastern United States, like I do. In light of this thought, I strolled up a quaint city street in Rochester one balmy summer afternoon, intending to take food “to go” from one of my favorite sushi restaurants. Instead, however, I decided to dine at a table alone, as I unabashedly did so many times in Chiang Mai.  A nearby woman and I struck up a most engaging conversation about cultural differences, spiritual perspectives, and career changes. On the day that followed, I visited a local gardening shop to purchase day lilies, and talked to a woman about the therapeutic aspects of planting and working with the earth. Perhaps these conversations weren’t quite the same as the ones I had with the fifty year old New Zealander who once lived with aborigine tribes and motor biked across Europe and Asia, but they were still meaningful. They were also conversations I may have never had on an ordinary day if I had not been in my post-Thailand state of withdrawal.

 

  1. Talk to New People About the Experience:  This coincides well with the previous suggestion. I am not insinuating that we shouldn’t talk to our friends about our travels. It is a given that we will share with them, especially the more personal stories. Giving presentations, however, and engaging in discussions with new people that are interested in world travel and culture may give way for a more captive and engaged audience, because they are there to learn about your experience. It also allows you, as the traveler, the opportunity to re-live the journey. When I returned from Thailand last fall, I gave a presentation at FLCC, the community college where I teach. The event was open to the community as well as the college body. A group of retired women came together for a “ladies afternoon” to hear my presentation, since they all shared an interest in travel and culture. They were attentive during the presentation, and afterward asked me several intelligent and thoughtful questions about cultural barriers and differences in world perspectives as a result of varying belief systems. There are only a miniscule number of things that engage my intellect more than these discussions. I realized that sharing with others about our travels is not really just about telling others of our personal experiences. It is an opportunity to seek connection with others and understand the world beyond the confines of our cultural limitations.
  2. Break Away From a Routine..Even Just a Little: When I was in Thailand, I experienced something new daily, even when I had a full-day scheduled of Thai massage training. It may have just been walking down a new Soi (small road) in the morning, or eating a strange piece of cake that looked like a dish sponge and tasted like roses, or trying on a pair of Thai style pants that tie differently than anything I’ve ever worn in America. All of these little novelties stimulate the mind and the senses with the excitement of newness. Coming home to a mundane and familiar routine can be difficult afterward. Even tiny changes, however, can bring back just a trace moving away from feeling as if in a rut. Typically, most mornings, I immediately pour myself a cup of coffee and take a shower. Some mornings, I may do a short yoga practice. I decided to change this routine one morning by taking a walk instead (well…I did still drink my coffee first), and then drove to a local park to meditate in nature for a short bit. Instead of going to my usual yoga classes, I decided to try a few new ones with unfamiliar teachers. I’ve been exploring the possibilities of starting a new hobby. One that has particularly piqued my interest recently is learning how to do Ariel silk dancing. Perhaps one of the Cirque de So Leil dancers can teach me this art.

Ask almost anybody who has traveled extensively. In most cases, unless it was a particularly unpleasant experience, they will tell you that coming home was a bit challenging. Many may speak of having had some degree of PTD. In time, however, we assimilate to our homes again. Humans have an amazing ability of resiliency and adaptability if we are open to change, but bringing back pieces of the culture with us, and integrating it into our lives, make the transitions much easier. It can also create positive changes in who we are and how we choose to lives our daily lives, forever.

Meet the Travelers Part VI: Kate Star

*This post was originally published on June 23rd, 2012 on amywarcup.com

“I didn’t have any expectations in my mind. I just knew, when I decided to sign up for the trip to Thailand that I was just going. It couldn’t have been any better.”

These reflective words were spoken by Kate Star, a precocious twenty-three year old graduate from FLCC’s 2010 class in the Therapeutic Massage and Integrated Health Care Program.

We have just landed in the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City for a six hour layover before departing for Rochester. Sights, sounds, and smells of Thailand still linger inside of our minds and senses as we slowly assimilate back to American culture.  It was then that Kate Star and I finally had a chance to converse about the trip, and why she decided to join our group to visit the Land of Smiles.

Kate was not a complete novice to Thai massage before studying the healing art in Thailand. Back in 2009, Kate participated in a Thai massage workshop that was offered at an American Massage Therapy Association conference. “I love the connection that a practitioner has with a client during a Shiatsu or Thai massage session better than most Western massage. I feel the flow of the work. It’s not like the client is just lying there. I feel like I’m working on the person and the client’s body in an entirely different way.”

While in the massage program, Shiatsu was Kate’s favorite subject because she enjoyed the eastern theory that the modality is based upon, feeling that the theory is more than just a concept, but something she and others can incorporate into their entire lives.  Her passion for Daoism and Chinese Medicine theory was key in her decision to advance her studies in Chinese Medicine. After graduating from the massage program, Kate continued her education for four trimesters at the Finger Lakes School of Acupuncture in pursuit of a Master’s of Science degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Kate is currently taking time off from her studies, but she plans to finish her degree to become a holistic practitioner of Chinese medicine that includes Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture, Daoist and eastern theory, and takes into account the health of the entire person.  She also intends to incorporate Thai massage and eastern bodywork into her practice.

Kate is not a stranger to foreign travel. During her young 23 years, she has visited Germany, Holland, France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Peurto Rico, and Jamaica. “I’ve always liked traveling, and I am fascinated with learning about different cultures,” Kate shared. Thailand was Kate’s first visit to Asia, however, and her impression of the Thai culture left her excited to return to the Southeast Asian haven soon. “I had to experience Thailand to realize that this is something I want to do. I plan to practice Thai massage a lot when I go home, and eventually go back to the SVG Training center to take levels III and IV in the program.”

In addition to her interest in the bodywork, Kate also a great passion for learning foreign languages.  She is currently interested in studying Thai and Chinese languages. In fact, Kate is seriously considering living in Thailand for a year to teach English at the Chiang Mai University.

Perhaps Kate’s greatest reason for feeling so inspired to return to Thailand is because of the Thai people themselves. When I asked Kate what her favorite aspect of visiting Thailand was, she stated “being part of the SVG family was really special. As I went through the program, I felt really at peace and at home. It was very comforting there.” She was also struck by the respectfulness of the Thai people, and how safe she felt during her stay in general. “The culture is very considerate of others. Also, if things go wrong, the Thai people just have a way with dealing with it, knowing that it will all turn out okay. They also devote themselves to their accomplishments one hundred percent, but without the pressure of “expectations” from anyone.” Kate made several new Thai friends during her three and a half week visit, even including during her short stay in Bangkok. That, from Kate’s perspective, was the best part of the trip – experiencing the Thai people for who they truly are.

Aside from her love for health, eastern theory, and foreign langauges, Kate also enjoys spending time with her family where she grew up in Prattsburg, New York, a town located right outside of Naples in the Finger Lakes region. During her family time, she may be found sitting around a campfire with her parents and siblings singing, camping, and experiencing nature. She has also been a dancer for several years, and has performed several styles of dance including modern, jazz, African, hip-hop, and tap. Her parents are also skilled swing dancers, and this talent is prevalent in Kate’s family. Kate and her sister both love to swing dance. She herself used to be in a swing dance troupe.

Kate describes herself as being a go-getter. When she sets out to accomplish a goal, she is unafraid to pursue it, and will usually not allow any barriers to stand in her way. After spending almost a month traveling with the multi-talented Ms. Star, I agree whole-heartedly with this description. Considering this, it is only a matter of time before Kate is back on that twenty-six hour flight to return to her beloved Land of Smiles to share her own smile and talents with the Thai people who have brought her so much joy on this journey.

Our Final Day at SVG Training Center

*This post was originally published on June 15th, 2012 on amywarcup.com

It has been nearly twenty days since we have arrived in Thailand, and today we have approached the final day of Thai massage training at the SVG Shivagakormarpaj Thai Massage Training Center. The students have completed about one hundred eighty minutes worth of Thai massage training. The written and practical examination will occur in less than three hours. Everyone has worked so diligently…studying late into the evening hours last night and quizzing one another this morning. I haven’t any doubts that each of them will go home as skilled and compassionate Thai massage practitioners. Training at the school has been intense. I surmise that some are starting to feel prepared to go home soon.

Despite the depth and commitment required in the training, however, I also gather that many aspects of being at the school will be missed….our morning Wai Khru (Buddhist chant and prayer), the delicious home-cooked vegetarian meals, teacher Rose’s wit and detail in her meticulous Thai massage instruction, and the unabridged kindness of the school owner, Mr. PP, his administrative assistant Nuy, his wife who made or meals each day, our charming teaching assistant, Paul, and the resident dogs, Bambi and Brownie, who make the school feel like a home. It is my hope that these will be the parts of being here that each of us, in some variation, take home. Although we may not always have Thailand accessible to us, the memories we carry from our experiences become such a momentous part of who we are. They have the influence to shape and contribute to our sense of self, our worldview, and to our interaction and treatment of others. Someone can rob us of our material possessions, people, animals, and inanimate objects may come and go from our lives, but nobody can take away our knowledge, our memories, and our life experiences.

*For more information about the SVG Thai Massage Training Center, visit theeir website at www.thaimassagetrainingcenter.com

 

Elephant Nature Park

*This post was originally published on June 13th on amywarcup.com

There are certain activities one must never miss out on when visiting Thailand. These include shopping at the night markets, getting inexpensive and skilled Thai massages and spa treatments, visiting the ornate and exotic Buddhist temples, and of course, seeing elephants.

Several options are offered in Chiang Mai to spend time with these magnificent creatures, which have long been considered a symbol for good fortune in Thailand, dating back many years to ancient Siam. Dramatic shows of elephants drawing art with their trunks, performing circus tricks, and throwing and catching balls exist. Hundreds of organizations offer elephant rides through the jungle or even in the cities. There are secrets, however, to the traditions that are performed by villagers and mahouts (meaning elephant owners/trainers) that are not made public to most tourists, or even to many Thai people.

It has been a long tradition in many villages for mahouts and elephant trainers to partake in an elephant torture tradition called “The Breaking of the Spirit.”   True to its name, this “ritual” is usually inflicted on baby and young elephants, where they are tortured for days and sometimes even weeks as a means to domesticate these naturally wild animals. Young elephants are commonly forced in confined pens made of wood that are too small for the animal to fit. Once locked in the pen, the elephant is chained and beaten for several consecutive days with large objects and sharp instruments that often stab and severely wound them. Sometimes their feet, eyes and ears are violently punctured, while several of the villagers gang up at once to scream at and beat the helpless baby elephants. Young boys in the villages are often initiated to participate as well, being raised in an environment where this is a regular occurrence. Historically, most of these elephants were later either used as logging workers or for entertainment for tourists. Since logging has been banned in Thailand in 1989, however, most are used in tourism. This brutal ritual of beatings is very common amongst many rural villages in all geographic locations Thailand. Many domesticated elephants that were once used for logging have also been abandoned, leaving them starving, homeless, and unable to adjust to surviving in nature.

There is an option to visiting elephant circus shows and taking rides, however that does not support elephant abuse; the Elephant Nature Park. The Elephant Nature Park (ENP) is a rescue and rehabilitation center for abused, abandoned, and rescued elephants. The park is located about forty-two miles north of Chiang Mai, providing a scenic, natural, and safe environment for the elephants.  Each elephant at the park has its own personal mahout that is trained to love and care for it humanely.

ENP was established in 1990 by a woman named Sangduen Chailert, nicknamed “Lek.” Lek was born in a remote hill tribe community in the mountains of Northern Thailand. Her grandfather, who was a tribal man, taught her much about the wonders of nature, including elephants. While growing up, her family cared for an elephant and she developed a close bond with the animal. Living in the tribal north of Thailand, she was also exposed to some of the harsh realities of how some other people mistreated their elephants. Lek Chailert made it her life’s mission to care for abused and abandoned elephants.

Most of the elephants at ENP were rescued from areas deep in the jungle. At the park, each elephant’s story is offered so visitors can learn about the elephants who reside there…stories of forced drug addiction by owners to make elephants work around the clock, or some who has survived weeks of starvation alone in the jungle, or of baby elephants that were forcibly separated from their mothers too early. Seeing these elephants roam freely in this northern river valley, however, and appearing so vibrant and healthy, is profoundly uplifting.

Visitors can come to the park for a full day, a week, or several weeks to volunteer at the park and contribute to the elephant’s caretaking. Longer-term volunteers can also learn about elephant conservation projects, herbal medicine, and become a full-time caretaker for an elephant.

Our group came to the park for a day. Our guide, Andy, introduced us to several elephants, and we had the opportunity to feed them, hug them, and later in the afternoon, cool off in the river to bathe them. Currently, the park has 35 elephants that dwell in it as their residence. We also viewed a documentary about the park’s history and some of the realities that many of the elephants survived prior to living at ENP.

Additionally, the ENP also serves as a rescue site for stray dogs and other animals, such as goats. Dozens of friendly rescued dogs meander around the park in search of a starch on the head or table scraps after lunch. For animal lovers, visiting the ENP is a must while visiting Chiang Mai. Clearly, as you can see, we are a group of fervent animal lovers.

 

Thai Massage Training at SGV Training Center

*This post was originally published on June 11th, 2012 on amywarcup.com

As of last Friday, the students are fifty percent through completing their Thai massage training. Time is passing so quickly during our three and a half weeks here in Thailand, and last week, this time was well spent. In just three days they were taught fifty-two step to comprise a 90-minute routine in traditional Thai massage. These steps they learned consist of pressure point and energy line work, deep stretching, and massage, all in the supine or face-up position.

In my very first post on this blog, I included a brief description of Traditional Thai massage. To revisit this topic, in short, Thai massage (or nuad paan boran) is a traditional healing modality that has origins dating back more than 900 years ago, although the modality as it is practiced today is fairly new. Its roots stem from Theravada Buddhism, and the art was originally practiced by monks in Buddhist temples. A session typically will consist of acupressure, energy line (sen) work along the arms, legs, back, chest, and head, and deep, yoga asana type stretches.  The client remains fully clothed, and sessions are given on a futon mat on the floor. Affects from a session may include a greater sense of balance and body awareness, increased flexibility, openness, and deep relaxation. Some techniques, when applied, may energize the receiver as well.

The energetic effect of a session, however, is the primary benefit of a Thai massage session. Theoretically, Thai massage is based on a belief system that the body consists of a network of 72,000 energy channels that connect to every part of the body, including the internal organs as well as the more superficial parts of the body, such as the skin and muscles. When there is pain, discomfort, or weakness in the body, it is viewed as being an imbalance in this intricate network of energy lines. Thais refer to these energy lines as Sen lines. When a therapist is giving a session to a client, the focus should be guided by the connection the giver feels to this energetic network in the body, rather than just on the physiological aspects of the person. By working energetically with the client, the physical issues in the body will naturally become more balanced and resolved, since from this viewpoint, the body is not separate from the energetic aspects of the person.

Another key principle of Thai massage, and perhaps the most important one, is the concept of Metta.  Metta is a term that derived from the Pali-canon texts, meaning loving-kindness, friendliness, and benevolence for others. In the Thai tradition, a session cannot be truly considered meaningful and healing without this intention. A session should always begin with either a prayer or intention prior to beginning the body work, and at the end, a giver should give also thank the client for allowing the therapist to have the honor to work with him or her.

After the first three days of training in the 90-minute supine Thai massage routine, the students had a practice day, followed by the testing day on Friday. The exam included both a written and a hands-on component. During the hands-on exam, everyone was required to give the full 90-minute session without using their notes. They also each gave sessions to Thai people who worked at the school, including teachers and administrators. Bree gave her session to the school owner, Mr. PP (Parowat), and Adam gave his session to a real Leusi, which is is a Thai spiritual person who often lives as a hermit in nature. Although most of them seemed nervous, everyone passed their exams…with straight A’s. Memorizing so many steps in such a short period of time may sound intensive, and it is. I’ve completed this task to learn Thai massage myself more than once, but the end result is that I came home afterward knowing how to give a 90-minute Thai massage in my massage practice. The same will be the case for the six who came to Thailand with me to study this affective and relaxing healing art. Perhaps you may consider booking your sessions with them now. They will undoubtedly have full schedules.

 

Chiang Mai – Home in Thailand

*This post was originally published on June 8th, 2012 on amywarcup.com

Three nights in Bangkok passes quickly, but for some, it is just about enough before the crowded streets, sewage odor, and constant, around-the-clock sounds of traffic and club music wears thin. That is when it is time to venture north, where the pace of living is slow and easy, the people are friendly, and faces on the street become familiar after just a few days.

After traveling more than half way around earth just a few days ago, our one-hour flight to the northwest Thai city of Chiang Mai felt like a walk up the street. Everything is different about Chiang Mai, in my opinion, compared to Bangkok. Oh…don’t get me wrong. I have a certain fondness and appreciation for the bizarreness of Thailand’s capital, but Chiang Mai, well…it feels like home to me. It was only six months ago that I left Thailand’s second-largest city, when I staying there for more than five weeks. Bringing six students to this place brought on a mix of elation and anxiety for me. I couldn’t wait to return to these familiar streets where I could eat some Kao Soi, see the smiling faces at the Thai massage school, and have the opportunity to bring people I know with me to experience these, too. On the other hand, I had moments of concern…Would they like it? Would they feel at home here, as I did? After all, this will be our residence for most of our stay on the trip. We will be here for eighteen days. For someone who has never been to Asia before, this may be a long time.

If the greeting at the airport sets the feeling for everyone’s stay, though, I feel quite confident that even the most homesick of the group grow to enjoy Chiang Mai. Typically, our group would be picked up by a driver sent by the hotel. When we arrived in the Chiang Mai airport, however (which is about a thirtieth of the size of Suvarnabhumi airport), we were greeted by the owner of the Thai Massage School Shivagakomarpaj, Mr. Parawat Poungpiam (nicknamed “Mr. PP”), his wife, his administrative assistant, Nuy, and teacher Rose. All of them smiled, took our luggage from our hands, and introduced themselves. I was struck with awe and amazement, as I was not expecting to be greeted by everyone at the school –especially the owner! In his hands, Mr. PP held of bundle of strings of jasmine flowers.  He placed one around my neck, saying “welcome to Chiang Mai,” as his wife took a photo. He proceeded to place flowers around each traveler –Emily, Chelsey, Bree, Katelyn, Adam, and Kate, and welcomed them as well. After this benevolent introduction, I feel confident everyone will be comfortable here.

Our two and a half week place of residence is at the Baan Thai Resort, just a few miles from the airport, and directly across the street from the Thai massage training center. What sets this hotel apart from so many others is the beauty of the building itself, which is made of 100% pure teakwood, with intricately hand-crafted doors and chairs. From the outside, the place looks quite stunning. Thai gardens and a delightfully inviting pool (especially in the 96 degree weather) surround the traditional Lanna-style northern Thai building. The rooms, however, are a bit simple, with plain wooden walls, a simple thin mattress on the bed, and a shower head and toilet in the bathroom. Once settled in the room, though, I find it has everything I need for a comfortable stay, including plenty of company if I get lonely. Ants greet me at the bathroom sink every morning, geckos look down from the ceiling with wondering eyes, and a bat, which I haven’t quite seen yet, sings me a screechy soprano lullaby at night. Although I was a bit leery of this company at first, we seem to be sharing the space in harmony just fine so far. As for the rest of the group – some have air-conditioners that work better, some have windows and some don’t, but everyone has a bed, toilet, and hot (or at least luke-warm) water. Swimming at the pool is a treat for most of us, too. Everyone took a break that first day to indulge in the pool.

That evening, we all ate together at one of my Chiang Mai favorites, the Blue Diamond, and devoured Thai fruit, noodles, spring rolls, and shots of wheat grass.

I ordered my favorite, of course – Kao Soi. We’ve been separated for six months, after all.

Tomorrow evening we will attend a Buddhist ceremony at Srisupan temple, and Sunday we will partake in an all-day cooking class. Until then, I will be sleeping next to my gecko pals and dreaming of fruit shakes, mangoes and sticky rice in my teakwood little room.

 

 

 

Three Nights in Bangkok

*This post was originally published on June 6th, 2012 on amywarcup.com

Twenty-six hours in flight, three planes, two different airlines, a few brief panicked moments of getting separated and fumbling for boarding passes, and we have arrived in Bangkok.

Most will agree that getting there is the most aggravating and cumbersome part of overseas travel in general. I felt fortunate to have received about six solid hours of sleep on the plane. Anyone who knows me well can attest that I do not often fall into slumber with ease. As for the others, well, our rookie flyer Katelyn slept for over nine hours. I believe our adventurous Katelyn is a natural traveler! Still, others in the group agreed that sleeping only half horizontal with another passenger’s reclined seat nearly touching one’s chest while small children scream up and down the aisles is not an ideal environment for blissful sleep for most.

After deplaning, going through immigration, customs, baggage claim, and getting our money exchanged, we were quite excited to see our guide ready to pick us up in the airport. In his hand he held a sign for professors “Warcup and Szczupakowski.” Well, Adam received the most rapid academic promotion I’ve ever witnessed, I must say!

When I was in Bangkok last fall I stayed at the Rose Hotel in Silom. This time, we stayed in the Glow Trinity Silom Hotel. Having never been to this hotel before, I was just slightly uneasy about what we would find. I’ve learned all too well that the glamorous photos that are often put on hotel websites do not depict reality. The Glow, however, exceeded our expectations. It is a modern and very new building with large, spacious, almost futuristically cosmic rooms with purple sleeper-sofas and modern, decorative lights on the walls and ceilings. The air-conditioning also worked very well (almost too well). This was important, being that it was already 95 degrees Fahrenheit when we arrived at 10:00am.

Our first day was designated for settling in, sleeping, getting massages, and shopping at the lively and uniquely Bangkok-style Pat pong market. One will truly get a quick taste of Bangkok by visiting this market, with its aggressive bargainers, miles of open stalls selling everything from knock-off Prada purses to hand-made tribal village garments, and rows of girly bars and tourist venues.

Day two, however, was anything but a day of relaxation, but it was exciting. Upon being picked up at our hotel at 8:30am, we spent a day of touring the Chao Praya River, Wat Arun, the Wat Pho, Wat Phra Kaew, Grand Palace, and visiting a local fruit market.  We all agreed that we were in desperate need of foot massages by the end of the day. However, visiting Thailand would most certainly not feel complete without visiting these sacred and historical sites in the country’s capital.

The day began with a river cruise down the Chao Phraya River to view the life of the river people. Small little bamboo structures erected on high stilts lined both sides of the river. Many of these homes lack electricity and hot water. Some areas were quite polluted as well. Most of the Thai people we passed, however, greeted us with a smile and a wave, perhaps laying back to relax in the sunshine. There is a marked contrast to the Thai river way of life and the typical western lifestyle. There is a certain charm and appeal I find that lies in the simplicity of this life style, even if it lacks the amenities I am accustomed to having available to me.

There were areas along the river where several fish dwelled. Our guide, Utai, asked our driver to stop our little boat to feed the fish. Chelsey even held one in her hand for a moment.

Later, we stopped at the grand and picturesque Wat Arun, otherwise known as the Temple of the Dawn (Wat = temple; Arun = morning). This temple was built between 1809-1851, and is intended to represent Mount Meru, which the Thai people historically have considered to be the center of the universe.  The temple has several Buddhist stupas, also called chedis, which represent the “eight directions of the world.” Our group was able to see a broad view of the river and the Grand Palace by climbing the very narrow and steep stairway of the temple, called the central prang. Although the climb up seemed a bit intimidating, it was the decent of the stairs that made my heart beat more rapidly. Could it be possible that there were more steps to leave this majestic temple? Kate and Emily walked down backward so as to not look down. The rest of us decided to descend facing out, however. Chelsey, Katelyn, Bree, and Adam fearlessly strolled down the stairs as if it was a daily occurrence for them. It was me, I admittedly share,  who descended last, hanging on with both hands as my knuckles (and face) temporarily turned porcelain white.

Our next stop was to Bangkok’s oldest and largest Buddhist temple in Bangkok, the Wat Pho. It is here that Thailand’s first public university was founded, and it is also where the original school for traditional Thai massage and Thai medicine was built. The temple was built in the 16th century, and within its walls are contained numerous inscriptions, paintings, and sculptures depicting various historical Thai events, as well as Thai cosmology and literature. The most famous structure in the temple is the 150-foot long gold plated Reclining Buddha, with mother-of pearl motifs on the statue’s feet. Lining the side wall of the temple are 108 bowls, which represent good fortune when one drops coins into each, perhaps reciting a prayer or good wishes while making the offering. Kate, Emily, and I partook in this ritual.

While at the Wat Pho we also gave offerings of lotus flowers, incense, and little gold pieces of paper, called “gold leaf,” which we placed on to the Buddha statue as a representation of good will and fortune. Utai thought this was one of many great opportunities for a group photo. Here is our group after making our offering (and a close-up of Adam).

After leaving the Wat Pho it was nearing about 2:00pm, and most of us concurred that we were quite hungry at this point. However, when partaking in a group tour that has been packaged by tourist companies (this has been my experience in Asia, anyhow), one must be flexible and go with the flow of what the guides and tourist organizations have planned. For example, Utai took us to a local fruit market instead of lunch at that point. We were able to eat something, at least, and many of us agreed that the exotic Thai fruits are incredibly tasty and sweet. Some varieties we sampled included lychee (my favorite), rambutan, mangosteen, dragon fruit, and the famously stinky Durian, which actually tasted much better than I anticipated.

After our lunch, which consisted of mainly deep-fried varieties of Thai food samplings, we were transported to the famous Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. We arrived just fifteen minutes before the ticket office closed, and we were the final group to enter the Wat Phra Kaew that day. I was struck by how there were considerably fewer tourists at the temple compared to my mid-October visit of last year. Visitors must be very aware of dress attire upon entering the grounds of the Wat Phra Kaew.  Shoulders, upper arms, and knees must all be covered. Although we all adhered to this dress code, a couple of those in our party were stopped and asked to pull their pants down further so they came closer to the ankles. Personally, I thought pulling the pants down so low would expose much more than bare ankles, but everyone was agreeable and followed what the guards at the gate asked of us.

The most famous structure in the Wat Phra Kaew is the Emerald Buddha, which is actually made of jade. This statue is considered to me a most holy and exalted figure to the Thai people.  Three times a year, the statue is adorned in different variations of pure gold clothing, representing the three seasons of Thailand: hot, rainy, and cool (cool being relative to Thailand’s climate, of course). As the staff at the temple began to close down for the day, the female members of our party were given beautiful flower wreaths of jasmine. They smelled quite lovely.

Well, all seven of us agreed that we needed  massages after our long day of Bangkok sightseeing adventures. I believe everyone in the group did get massages that night, too.

The following day, we ventured to the monstrous MBK Center, known as Mahboonkrang to the Thai people. This super-mall is eight stories high and contains over 2,500 stores. Since many in our group needed to purchase cheap Thai cell phones to call home (far less expensive than using international minutes on an I-phone , which can be about $50 per minutes), I thought this would most certainly be a place where there would be options to purchase them. Perhaps saying options is largely understating, in fact. There was an entire floor that sold cameras and cell phones alone. Booth after booth of Bangkok sales people had their display of phones spread across counters, ready to bargain, or in some cases, oversell knock-offs to the young farang (foreigners). After some bargaining, everyone did purchase phones, although numerous problems followed, such as poor batteries, dysfunctional chargers, and some phones that did not stay on for more than three minutes. Eventually, most of these issues were resolved.

The group split off at some point – there were just too many directions to take. Bree and I thought it would be fun to try on some funky eight-inch Bangkok heels (Bangkok women love their heels). I thought these glittery blue pumps were too zany to resist. I even walked about five steps in these snazzy pumps.

Bree, on the other hand, preferred these beautiful hot pink, feathered pumps.

The mannequins, however, were the most beautiful fixtures in the mall, however…yes?

That evening, we were picked up at our hotel to be driven to the famous Siam Niramit, a show of spectacular scenery and costumes, portraying Thailand’s rich history and culture. Here is the group on the way to the show.

Three nights in Bangkok will certainly give one a taste for this unique metropolis, known as “the city of angels” by the Thai people. Hmmm….angels? In Bangkok? Well, perhaps we need to spend a little more time in this crazy city of twelve million to see those. – And we shall return for two days at the end of our trip. I’ll be sure to alert the group to keep their eyes open for winds and halos next time. But for now, we are off to spend seventeen days in Thailand’s second oldest city up north in Chiang Mai.

 

 

Meet the Travelers, Part V: Katelyn

*This post was originally published on May 27th, 2012 om amywarcup.com

Last weekend, 23-year old Katelyn Osburn took her first airline flight of her life; a 45-minute flight from Binghamton, New York to Virginia. Tomorrow, she will embark on her second flight – a 26 hour journey in the air to Bangkok, Thailand.

So, who would choose to take such a long, grueling flight after flying only once before, and for less than an hour? Well, perhaps an adventurous, outgoing, 4-wheel racing construction worker from a small town who has “always wanted to do something completely different.”… Katelyn Osburn, that is.

Every morning, the assiduous Ms. Osburn awakens at 3am to work in construction as a flagger and traffic/safety worker at designated constructions sites all over New York State for Vestal Asphalt, Inc. She lives in a town named Greene, New York, where she grew up with her parents, three sisters, and uncle.  Some days, she contributes over 12-hours of work per day on her feet at her job. Katelyn describes herself as someone who is “not afraid to sweat” and is willing to work hard to get where she wants in life.

When Katelyn is not on the construction site, she may be seen carrying her massage table to a local client’s home. She has been a Licensed Massage Therapist for almost two years now, adding that she loves doing this work the most. “I am more of a hands-on type of person, so a career in massage therapy is perfect for me.” Katelyn graduated in FLCC’s Therapeutic Massage and Integrated Health Care Program in the Spring 2010 semester. When she first graduated from high school, she was unsure if she even wanted to go to college, but then thought she may want to learn something new and broaden her horizons. Choosing massage therapy in the beginning was “really random” for Katelyn, as she was intrigued by the kinesthetic component of massage therapy, but did not know much about it at the time. “Once I started the program, though, I really loved it, and wanted to keep learning. I like that FLCC’s curriculum is spread out over two years, also, to give students time to really learn and practice the work.”

Another one of Katelyn’s great passions is yoga, which is what originally enticed her to sign up for the Thailand travel course to learn Thai massage. Thai massage incorporates many stretches and movements that reflect yoga asanas (postures). She also enjoyed practicing shiatsu while she was in the massage program, and although shiatsu (a Japanese healing art based on Chinese Medicine) and Thai massage are very different in several aspects, they share the similarity in that they are both practiced on a futon mat on the floor, with the client remaining fully clothed. “I want to learn different bodywork, and get a chance to do more mat work. Where I’m from, most people have never even heard about Thai massage. I want to expose people in my home town to something new.” Eventually, Katelyn also strives to have her own massage business and practice full-time. She briefly worked for a spa after receiving her license two years ago, but decided that being an entrepreneur suits her interests and personality more. Adding Thai massage to her list of therapeutic massage skills will increase her business marketability, as well as give her a variety of skills to practice.

After working a similar routine every day at her full-time job as a construction worker for four years, Katelyn is excited to go to Thailand and do something completely different. When asked what other activities besides learning Thai massage she is looking forward to on the trip, Katelyn answered “I’m really excited to go to the Elephant Nature Park. I want to learn about how they are part of the culture, and see how they live.” She also anticipates that it will be fun to take classes learning from the Thai people, since all of her teachers throughout her life have always been American.

Although Katelyn is from a small town and she is a novice at taking airline flights, adventure is not a new concept for her. One of her fondest hobbies, aside from practicing power vinyasa style yoga, is to race 4-wheelers. Currently, she is undefeated in the women’s class in the sport this year. She accredits her exposure to 4-wheeling to her boyfriend and high school sweetheart of the past seven years. “My boyfriend has been racing his entire life. He taught me how to race almost seven years ago.”  This often entails taking hour and half rides through a wooded area to race in as many laps as possible. In addition, she also enjoys hiking and being in nature, and calls herself a “feminine tomboy.”  While she was at FLCC, Katelyn played on the women’s lacrosse teams and was also on the Woodsman Team along with her close friend and former classmate, Chelsey Black.

So…how was Katelyn on her first flight last week, you may ask? “It was pretty cool.” Said Katelyn. “I loved looking out the window. My eyes were glued  to it the entire time.” Well, in that case, I think we should make sure she gets a window seat for our 14-hour flight from New York City to Doha, Qatar, tomorrow on our way to Bangkok. We’re counting down the hours!