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.”

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

 

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.

 

 

 

Old Town in the New City

*This post was originally published on October 25th, 2011 on amywarcup.com

After two days of being in Thailand’s second largest city, Chiang Mai, I am experiencing a true taste of the authentic culture and history of this lovely country. Chiang Mai means “New City,” and it is located in the foothills of northern Thailand. The feeling of this city is a drastic contrast to Thailand’s most populous Bangkok. Chiang Mai’s current population lingers around 174,000 people (unlike the near 12 million in Bangkok). Of course, this number does not take into account the estimated two million tourists that meander around the city each year. Even the tourists seem different here, though, giving off a much more “earthy” and laid-back vibe. Overall, my observation during my two days here is that Chiang Mai is a slower-paced city in general. People take their time walking, eating, bringing the bill to the table at the end of a meal, etc. This was definitely not my experience in Bangkok, although I’ve developed a certain fondness for the raw brazenness and energy of Bangkok.

If Bangkok is the most exciting place I’ve visited on this journey so far, and Koh Samui the most scenically beautiful, then Chiang Mai wins for being the most culturally enriching. There is a tremendously broad array of activities one can partake in while visiting this relatively small city. For a spiritual journey, one can spend days visiting Buddhist Wats (temples.) There are 300 temples in Chiang Mai. For the food lover, there are literally dozens of cooking schools one may attend, ranging from one-day courses to week long intensives and more. Elephant and Tiger sanctuaries exist both within the city limits and in the surrounding areas, and luxurious spas, wellness centers and Thai massage abound here. Markets are scattered in every corner for shopping, and the textiles and artwork here is the best I’ve seen since my arrival. Experienced Thailand tourists that I’ve met in Bangkok and Samui cautioned me to wait until visiting Chiang Mai before buying too many gifts, and I’m glad I listened. Hillside tribe handicrafts, bead work, soap carvings, and celadon ceramics are everywhere, and I’ve only begun to explore the city.

 

My stay in Chiang Mai will span a month. My primary goal is to attend the Shivagakormapaj School of Traditional Thai Massage, known as the “Old Medicine Hospital.” I will start classes this Saturday, and will continue with classes daily for the following two and a half weeks. Thai Foot Massage will be my first course, followed by classes in traditional Thai massage techniques. I will also be meeting with administrators at the school to organize the student Thai massage travel course, which is being planned for next summer.

I must admit that it was challenging to pull away from the breathtakingly magnificent beaches and inspiring conversations at Samahita Yoga Thailand in south Samui. People from around the globe seek refuge in this glorious gem. One of my favorite aspects, as I’ve mentioned previously, was talking to the people there. We had an opportunity to break away from the retreat center grounds on our final night to converse informally.

I am making good use of my time this week in Chiang Mai. Choosing the right guesthouse for the student trip next summer is a priority to me, and I’ve spent the past few days visiting a total of 16 guesthouses to date. I am currently staying in the simple but quaint Mountain View Guesthouse, which is located in the north end of “old town.” Though it is lovely here, it is far away from the Old Medicine Hospital, so I am exploring options. Far is relative, however. It only takes about a half hour to reach the south end of town on foot, and tuk-tuks and taxis are everywhere. The task of looking at guest houses has been more difficult than expected, though. Finding that perfect balance between economical and comfortable is a challenge.  Four and five star hotels here can be just as expensive as fancy hotels in the states cost, and offer more amenities than necessary. One could easily stay in Chiang Mai on 10 dollars a night, too, but this will likely mean staying in a next-to-bare un-air-conditioned room without hot water, that may not lock well and possibly even have dirty sheets, as I’ve seen in some. As the cliché states, sometimes you do get what you pay for. The search will likely continue for the duration of my stay.

Tomorrow, however, I shall break from my search to attend an all-day cooking course at the Thai Farm Cooking School. This school is located on a farm in Chiang Mai’s countryside, and includes a tour of their garden to pick the herbal ingredients for the dishes.  So, food shall be the topic of my next post. I recommend ordering take-out from your favorite local Thai restaurant to enjoy while reading. Otherwise, expect to be ravenous afterward.