The Office

Peace Corps 2014-2015 Mission: Develop teacher trainings to give teachers new techniques to teach English. To accomplish this mission, I have moved from the classroom environment to an office space at the local Education District Office.

Would you like some lychee?

Would you like some lychee?

Instead of a fan-cooled classroom, I have an A/C-cooled office space.  I have a large desk (actually two!) and sit with six other people who work in my room.  There are three rooms adjacent to each other with the other staff.  They are all supervisors or Sor Nors, of school districts of primary schools through Matayom 1-3, (grades 7-9) in Nan province.

Sor Nors Kookie and Kitty

Sor Nors Kookie and Kitty

I work here Monday – Wednesday. On Thursday and Friday, I work at the temple school.  The office perks are I usually go out to eat with Khae the administrative assistant, and one or two of the Sor Nors each day I work there. They pay for my lunch no matter how quick I am with the money.

Khun Khae

Khun Khae

I am starting a 10-week Speak English Everyday program on Mondays.   I will teach two different groups, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. I insisted on having no more than 24 supervisors in each group, to keep it small. But I will not take it too seriously. Thais often gage success based on whether an activity was fun or not.

Sor Nors Kookie and Yoyo

Sor Nors Kookie and Yoyo

As far as work goes, I have led sessions on communicative language techniques at a formal District-wide teacher trainings and have taught basic strategies for teaching English at a district in the mountains. In both situations, the planning was already in place and my sessions were added in.  I did the best I could to impart knowledge and skills in an interactive manner in situations that I did not fully understand, and where I had little influence in planning.  In one situation, the Sor Nor said she only had two days notice too.

Creating a relaxing environment

Creating a relaxing environment

I think it is a good use of my time to assist these smaller gatherings of teachers in a district. But I fail to see the follow up and the clear goals and objectives. Yet, I do not want to reinvent the wheel if these mechanisms are already in place.

A wish for success for students and teachers

A wish for success for students and teachers

The people I work closest with, three women, are smart, strategic-thinking, and kind. They also speak English very well.  The 4th, is an accomplished Sor Nor who will be retiring in four months.

Sor Nor Fah

Sor Nor Fah having fun on the road

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me too

The office is scarcely populated on many days because the district supervisors are out at trainings or observing their primary schools.  There are a lot of meetings. I started an informal English conversation lesson because the six people in my office started asking me questions in English.  There is a white board near my desk so it was easy to start a lesson. Our first lesson, was initiated by their question asking me if I would like some lychee. It remains informal and my plans to change the questions every week, have fallen through the cracks as I wait for the main class to start.

Sor Nors Pi Tony and Yoyo practice

Sor Nors Pi Tony and Yoyo practice

The 22 people I get to work with also have great nic names. There is Kitty, Fang, Dang, Picky, Suck, Yoyo, Kook, Fah, Nop, Su, and Chong Rak (which means you must love me). There is Lung Ung which means big frog, Mr. Ung sat for about an hour with me and played all these songs he downloaded from Youtube, which I was obliged to sing with him. It was fun and I am glad I was not busy. He liked CCR and Rod Stewart but songs he said were theirs were not really sung by them. There were also songs by Glen Campbell and John Denver. The Thai people in general, like American songs from the 60’s.

In the evenings, when I have a free half-hour, I have been enjoying watching,“The Office.”  I miss those weird characters, their emotional outbursts, and their absurd office situations. I wonder what “The Office” in Thailand would conjur through the passive, code-enabled culture of manner, do’s and don’ts. I will keep watching and let you know. I did observe that when Big Frog heard me call Somkit,”Kitty,” he burst out laughing.  Hummm, I thought, cat’s out of the bag. Kitty does have very effeminate qualities and can produce a very high laugh, which we both laugh at. He is married. The plot thickens.

Mr. Ung

Mr. Ung

Speaking of English lessons, yesterday, kids from Silalang School came over to my house as they saw me in my back yard, writing on my computer, so they walked to my window and asked what I was doing. We ended up doing an impromptu English lesson.

Aah Aah Buh Buh

Aah Aah Buh Buh

This morning, around 10am, I hadn’t eaten breakfast and just finished doing the wash, they were back again. However, I told them I hadn’t eaten and that today, I was busy with home work. This is one thing I have to set boundaries around. If I have the time, I am happy to spend an hour with them.  It is good for me to plan for it to happen and have a little English kit of sorts ready to teach them. But I also like my relaxing time.

Hmong kids from hill tribe school

Hmong kids from hill tribe school

My neighbor had a problem today as two bulls managed to get loose from where they were grazing and came to his garden. He was mad but in the Thai way that is not very direct. Weird, now I have no water.

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A sad development. Last week I wrote about the kitten, who I imagine has now since died. But a few days later, two puppies who had been well taken care of by their owners, my neighbors, have died.  We believe they have been poisoned. Unfortunately, they often chased and killed an adjacent neighbor’s chicks that got loose. But, instead of talking about the problem, neighbor to neighbor, they took measures into their own hands. Now Cookie and Candy (who had even been taken to the vet and were neutered, which is virtually unheard of in Thailand) are gone. The “neighbors” situation could be an indication of a larger problem between the parties, I will never know. What’s strange though, is the dog’s belonged to the new District political leader. No one has confessed to poisoning the dogs, we can only surmise.  I miss the sound of their yappy growls, and playing every morning as they ran up and down the grassy lane beside my house.

Cookie and Candy

Cookie and Candy

 

Tribute to Cookie and Candy and other doggie friends who have died under suspicious circumstances

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Shinto

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Shinto and Ocean

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Ocean

HALF

I am more aware today, in this moment than last week. I continue to open my heart.              I guess it never ends? I feel embarrassed because my feelings show through in a tear.

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with Sor Nor Fah at girls dorm Bokluea H.S.

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view from school

I met a principal of a mountain high school where over 500 students, mostly Lahu, study and live. The house of the principal surprised me. It was no more than a one room building. The teacher housing looked more inviting. It had a balcony into the treetops. But when you live in the mountains, they surround you. He said he didn’t need anything more.  I could so relate to that statement.  It resonated with how I feel about my life. But a tear still formed in each eye, giving away some unintentional emotional response. His wife lives mountaintops away in another town. This is common of Thai professionals. Spouses live separately for work.  That leaves weekend trips or meetings to bring them briefly together.

student cooperative projects

student cooperative projects

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little mouse

student cooperative competition

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The first time I saw the little kitten, he was so hungry he climbed the garbage bag only to tumble over.  He mews so loud and desperate they shook me. The mother in me responded instantly. I gave him a piece of pork, which he gratefully took then contentedly licked his tiny paws. I was eating lunch in the kitchen with the others teachers at my temple school.  The black kitten stood tall on his pencil thin legs, so fierce and insistent. He had such a strong will.  Not an easy life for kitten though, to be living on his own so early. Abandoned by its mother, living at the temple school lunch room. A safe place for now. Outside, lurking around the corner. Dogs.  Hungry dogs.

The second time I saw the little sprite he was half the size as he was the week before.  I was heartbroken. He lie listlessly on a piece of blanket the cooks had laid out for him. He was dying before my eyes and I was about to eat lunch. I could not eat but a few bites. How could I? No one noticed but me. A tear formed, then another, and another.  I wiped them way saying my cream was running into my eyes, burning my eyes and making them tear. I sat there embodied with sadness.  I could no longer hide.  Kru Khae asked what was wrong.  I said I was sad and turned away. Emotions like these are not commonly shown in Thailand. I told her that the kitten is dying before my eyes, our eyes. My teacher thought I had gotten a call that someone had died in my family. No, it is just the kitten. Only a kitten and a waterfall.

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They countered, not wanting to hear sad, bad news, or make me feel worse, that he was hot, spread out to cool himself, content. Plausible.  The sadness dissipated until the staff said that a dog had attacked him. No, it was three dogs. A kitten no bigger than the palm of my hand.

The next day, I saw his raw reality.  His life is so profoundly changed. My feelings, neutral. I had no emotion. The black kitten could no longer stand tall on his pencil thin legs, for they dangled lifeless behind him. He still had a fierce determination to live. He crawled between my legs to rub his head on my ankles. His two back legs, now two braids, hanging, paws turned up. His emotions also neutral.  He just had an instinct to keep going.  So he dragged his back half with his front half with his two, not quite strong enough, front legs. The half kitten. He paused at the large step into the kitchen.  His two front legs not quite strong enough to lift his back half. I lifted him onto the tile floor. Luckily for him, it is smooth and he can move fast. His front legs trotting quickly, unaware of the fishtail behind him. His legs, like an unwanted child, are just extra body weight serving no purpose. I don’t know if he will be there next week. If he is not, I know his spirit will be with me.

half

half

I have no control over so many things in my life.  No thing does. I thought the third year would be easier.  Am I making it harder than it should be?  Yes.  I was busy the first month I returned because there was a teacher training I was working on. Then, it was over and my “work” seemed to be in a void.  What am I doing here? I say this in Thai to my Thai friends with exaggerated emotion and they laugh. It is my 3rd year and I am here because I want to be not because I have to. I want more control.  I want to direct. I feel more assertive about what I am willing to do or not do. I like the people I work with.  They are kind, smart,  like to have fun, and are interested in me and like to speak English.

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Sor Nor Kook and Yoyo bring me coffee and roasted banana in sticky rice! and lychee, corn and peanuts!

my two little house friends

my two little house friends candy and cookie

cooking room at ancient salt wells of Bokluea

cooking room at ancient salt wells of Bokluea

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it's hot in here

I have lost sight of how difficult it is in fact, to live here and be a Peace Corps volunteer. My mind, is a times, a displaced organism. I can be so far away from my truth, my body, my self. My emotions are at the tip of my eye lashes and I seem easily touched. I called another PCV and she reiterated some difficulties in her new work too. I expressed the sense of being at a cross roads, to fight for direction or go with the flow. Is it really hurting me to do what “they” want me to do, vs, my agenda? I take each day at a time.

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I am seeing where I can enjoy myself more. I am at another level of self understanding and acceptance.

visiting mountain school library Doi Dui

visiting mountain school library Doi Dui

hello how are you!

hello how are you!

I went through about a week of anxiety that felt permanent. I felt persecuted and had exaggerated thoughts of what was going on around me.  Everything seemed blown up. It didn’t help that I was reading, “The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst” about a man who faked a circumnavigation around the world in his sailboat, then went insane and jumped into the atlantic ocean, never to be heard from again. I could relate to some of his ‘meditations” he wrote over 200 days alone on a small boat in the middle of the ocean.

A couple of weeks ago, I had this idea my room was bugged, with a mini camera.  All because I heard a beeping sound at night. I heard it last year too. So I spent an hour on google reading about how to detect them. Then one night, I methodically checked for one.  I also called the safety and security administrator at PC.  He sanely surmised it was probably a fire alarm or something (which I don’t have). Today, I am not worried. It has passed.  What made me so insistent?  Lack of control over my life. Anxiety.  I could not stop my mind.

Relief.  I did yoga with a video the other day and felt such exaltation that I almost melted. To have felt so much release proves my stress level was high.

I enjoy listening to Deva Premal often.  She has long one-hour albums on youtube. Her voice is so sweet and her chanting relaxing and heart opening.  Thank you mom for introducing me to her!

I have access to internet at home now.  I can stream yoga, music, movies. I did not have internet for the first two years. Now that I found Yoga to be so good, I want to do it daily.  I cannot. My presence at aerobics is noticed and it is a good thing to save face, I have to go… most of the time.  Aerobics is fun and connects me to my Thai friends.  Running is also sometimes fun. Do it if I can enjoy it.  I am being driven by a need to improve myself.  I do not enjoy that.  Right now I am fatter than I was before.  I want to do things that remind me how strong and healthy I am and makes me feel good on the inside. Yoga does that. Thankfully, it is rainy season and I will be able to do more yoga indoors because aerobics will be cancelled due to rain.

shy but interested

shy but interested

I cannot forget that I am being taken care. I have everything I need. Letting go is always better.  I don’t want to forget me.  To enjoy me. Sometimes I forget me.  To reflect, be grateful for and to enjoy what I have brought to my life.  And to reflect and be grateful for those who have played a role in bringing me here. And that is all of you!  Thank you.

I love you!

I love you!

truffles

truffles

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many old ones- good ones are white!

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my nens

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Kru Khae and nens at cooperative competition

Back to the Land of Thai

24 hours wasn’t so bad on the plane. I slept.  I ate.  I watched movies. Then there was re-entry, as if I didn’t have time to plan for it.

Getting off the plane in BKK, I am soon hit with the need to speak Thai to the taxi people. I tell them the name of my guest house, the area and show them the google map directions in Thai and English but they do not want it. The want the phone number. The hotel receipt shows the address, but it does not show the phone number.  I waste precious minutes looking fruitlessly for the guest house business card I had somewhere, while the liquid heat slowly but persistently seeps into my jeans and sweater.

I am directed behind me to a band of people at an information desk. I ask if the area has wifi. They start to look up the phone number of the guest house, another example of things happening for the better that I did not know where transpiring. The Thai’s have a way of helping you without telling you directly.  I thought I was going to look the number up. You have to trust them. They give me the number and I dial the guest house. By now it is 1am. A groggy voice answers the phone, I explain my situation in Thai, not good enough perhaps, because the next minute the phone is disconnected.  I call back and the person says they do not speak English.  I speak my simple Thai words slowly, “Chan mi hong leao.”  I already have a room. “Chan chu Susan ka.” My name is Susan. I hear “krap,” which is the polite ending for men, spoken after each sentence, and often used as a word itself … an affirmation, like okay. Good news. I know this is going to work. I hand the phone over to my taxi driver and he seems to know exactly where the guesthouse is.  I am amazed he can keep all the lefts and rights in his head. Soon, we are off.  He says I have to pay the tolls. I know they will be 50 or 75 baht.  I end up paying 120 baht in tolls.  I am not sure if my taxi driver pocketed 25 baht as he handled the change for a few moments out of my view.  He pays the second 50 baht toll and then adds it to the 283 baht total. Next time I will give exact baht for tolls. 30 minutes, 330 baht later, I arrive.

The nice man at the guest house has waited for me but he is sleepy but kind.  It is quiet and no one is around except for a few women on the street “working.” I grab some snacks at 7,  get my room and sink into bed. I have a double but only asked for a single. I am grateful.  The air conditioning is too cold and I have to turn it off in the middle of the night. The fan on low is enough.  I wake several times in the night and through the next day.  My bed is so comfortable. It is not a chair with arms. The morning sounds of birds and a single gekco bring delight to my ears.  I had forgotten the somewhat comical sound. It begins like a parrot’s caw and then ends in a cats purr. I chuckle out loud.  Then I hear something like wind but it gets louder and then I know it’s raining.  I am confused because it is hot season and I never saw rain in hot season before.  Lighting too. I continue to sleep off and on for another hour.  After a shower, I clean my water with a steri-pen and drink. I feel myself coming back to a form I can walk out the door in. Workers are planting dozens of new plants in the garden that meanders around the guest house.  The air is coolish and the sky threatens to rain again.  I enter the open air restaurant that looks out onto the busy small soi, street.  There is a market across the street, a 7 (seven 11), and a temple. It starts to pour, and it pours and pours.  With efficiency, the guest house lowers clear plastic blinds around the exposed areas. I sit and watch the rain and figure out where to go to buy a bus ticket for my next day’s ride back to site. I could have never have done this on my own.  One of the guest house workers, his name is Earth, helped me. First, we contacted Sombat Tour and Earth spoke with them to reserve a ticket for me. I have to go to a bank a few miles away to pay for it.  Earth happens to be going the same way after work, so we go together. Sometimes you can pay for your bus ticket at a 7 but not this time. It all works out. I pay and get a receipt for my ticket. I am so glad I brought 100 dollars with me and exchanged it into Thai baht at the airport. I do not remember my Thai bank card PIN number and have exhausted all the attempts at the ATM. I am locked out.

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On Monday, I decide to go to the Dusit Zoo, as I am not leaving until evening.  It is nothing like the Seattle zoo but it is quite beautiful.  They have used a lot of local plants and herbs and the landscaping is like a jungle.

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I get sad looking at some of the small enclosures.  During the thunderstorm I think some of the reptiles felt it because they seemed quite active.

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Siam Crocodile

Siam Crocodile

Monitor lizard

Monitor lizard

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Mr. Giraffe

 

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Squirrel monkey

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Large-billed crow

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Malaysian black bear

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Silly monkey wearing a furry white pantsuit

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Pink Flamingoes

I arrive home at my Thai house after a 10 hour bus ride on the most comfortable seat ever. It was not VIP but first class.  I have never slept comfortably on a bus before. This time I was laid out almost flat.  I think it was my seat 10D.  The very last one in the back.  I must remember! My neighbor picked me up from the bus stop at 5:30am and we stopped at the morning market for food. It was pouring. I just ate my favorite breakfast, called jok. Jok is a rice porridge made from rice, pork, ginger, onion, cilantro, dried shrimp, roasted garlic and a poached egg.

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wet-haired Susan eating Jok

It feels cool. It is so green here. All the plants are bigger. The thunder is booming in the mountains and I wonder what the hill tribe people are doing.  I see lightening flashing.  By the calendar, it is not supposed to be rainy season yet. But it is. For one, I would rather be cool that hot.  In April, the temperatures soared to a searing 104 degrees fahrenheit 40 celsius. Glad I was not here.

looking out my back door

looking out my back door

My bike is not here.  Further indication I am to do nothing today. Settle in, relax. I can feel my arms, sore from lifting a 52 pound piece of luggage. I toss an ant outside.

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The birds are loud and awesome.  My house is spic and span as my neighbor/landlord cleaned it!  I think she also appreciated that I paid for the month I was gone.

I can hear the piggies squealing and the music playing from the school I taught at last year. School started a week early compared to last year. I wonder how my former co-teacher is doing.

Green mangoes wrapped in wet newspaper are hanging from the trees.  I just want to watch it rain and feel the cool. Since I have been siting here it has rained off and on about three times.

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The rain has stopped for now and the hissing of cicadas is getting louder.

Re- Entry is Possibility

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getting some Alpaca love

Hey all- it has taken me a while to get this post up as my internet connection in America is not as convenient as it is in Thailand. I find this embarrassing and hard to believe, but true. If you do not have a package, or aren’t bundled, you sit in the public library or in Starbucks…which is where I am now. Thank you Starbucks.

frances

Frances and me

Re-entry into the United States of America has been really weird and awesome.  In many ways I feel a stranger in my own country.  Some of my first thoughts: Why does “she” look like me?  Or, why does he or she look familiar?  The women, they all look like me!  That’s neat, and weird.

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Mini neighborhood library grand opening

I do not wear shoes in the house it feels rough and dirty. I do not feel comfortable crossing my legs= it feels so big and noticeable when feet are out in front.

The first few weeks, I was still washing clothes by hand before I remembered I could put them in my washer and dryer.

I have been pinching myself. I see everything through new eyes – it’s fun. I keep saying, what would my Thai friends’ think about this? The dog park.

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What a strange concept, right?  Or, the illegal plastic bag. In Seattle, when you buy groceries, you have to pay 5 cents for a paper bag (plastic bags is illegal) – so, you have to bring your own shopping bag, luckily I have several. The skate park, which is cool too.

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I am embarrassed about the wealth evident everywhere. The stores are amazing. I can browse entire stores full of healthy organic food and beauty and health products! They are so expensive. I took pictures- I literally walked the isles with my mouth open.

raw foods

raw foods

I want to stand in amazement instead of discouragement. However, I vowed never to go back to the Puget Sound Consumer Co-op (PCC).  It is an organic food store which I have belonged to for decades. But, it has changed.  The first three isles are full of wine. The health and beauty department has grown. It is all so expensive.  I still think in Thai baht.  I could spend my entire monthly Peace Corps salary in Thailand in just one day in America, and have.

bulk food

bulk food

Americans are BIG people -everything is big in America. I miss the smallness of people and small spaces of Thailand. The Ballard community in Seattle, (where my house is) has changed so much. The bars are huge, beautiful, very attractive works of visual pleasure … great for selfies I am sure. So much of the land and old buildings (loved them) and old family-owned retailers (love them too) are gone. Now there are so many big boxes masquerading as apartments.  Many buildings have come down to make way for five story rental, retail buildings. The urban village concept has gotten out of control and the race to build the biggest and tallest apartments is facing new challenge. People are voicing the need for a human scale to encourage connection.  Change is coming. But, I can still drive to Ballard and find free parking!

a totally "green" building-  well done

a totally “green” apartments- well done

I have not seen a movie in English on the big screen in two years! The two movies I have seen so far are Divergent and Noah.  I highly recommend both.

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Haley poses near Ballard public library

Last night I went to my favorite park one mile from my house and ate takeout Mexican food and watched the sunset, with a friend.  I was so excited to see sea lions lumbering in the salt-water bay by I “barked” at them, only to notice others “barking” at the giant fish eaters too. I am blessed to live in one of the most beautiful areas in Seattle. Close to water, parks, movie theatre, shopping, (six miles from the heart of downtown Seattle) and the nation’s largest marine community.

Golden Gardens Park

Golden Gardens Park

My sadness of missing Thai friends and the country’s laid back culture, turns to joy when I think about the honor it is to live in two worlds. I am happy to belong to two cultures and see the richness of the world more now.

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I am blessed to be in America to say what I wish and dress and dance anyway I wish. I can’t wait to have a dance party so I can shake free- but inside I am shaking and love my home.  I have renewed gratitude for everything America has to offer and feel so lucky to live here. I have more appreciation too, just sitting on my front porch looking at the cherry blossoms.  Still the same quiet neighborhood.

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my dad, step- mom, brother and his family

I have renewed relationships with friends and find in many ways we share similar thoughts on family and work challenges.

my mom and step dad

my mom and step-dad

homeless man on pink couch

homeless man on pink couch

I am surprised to have taken to the joy of driving so quickly.  At first I had to think, what side? Then, the amazing feeling of freedom!

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It reminded me of when I turned 18 and graduated from high school. I feel utter freedom.

Barbie

Barbie freedom

I did some commercial work for a lawyer friend recently, and earned some money.  Here is a pic with his new toy.  Talk about culture shock.

Allen's corvette

Allen’s corvette

It was not disgusting to me though – but just reminded me of what money does… you can buy things.  Material things.  I don’t have attachment to them, so what?  My Peace Corps experience has reinforced the idea that I want to simplify my life and not accumulate more. Living away from my house and all my “belongings” proved that I don’t need much. I didn’t miss anything until I started opening boxes and memories came flooding in. The memories had a sadness to them as the impermanence and fragility of life hit me.  None of this is “mine.”  I am only here for a short time.  The recent tragedy in Oso, a community about one hour from Seattle, reminded me, our lives can end at any time, and that many things in our lives are filled with, the material and immaterial (what our mind thinks) are really just distractions… distractions from connecting with the moment, connecting with people, life.  That’s where I feel alive.

snow geese

snow geese

I feel more grounded and confident. I have greater acceptance and ease about myself, and in accepting others, and the conditions of the world. I am less reactive. I am able to feel a connection with almost everyone – they are part of my extended family. Serving in the Peace Corps helped me to grow from the inside out.

man walking his dog

man walking his dog near leek field

Now, in America, I find everyone (most everyone) is friendlier and kinder than I remember. What has changed? Is it because my heart has grown? Am I giving more people a chance, a break, acceptance, am I seeking to connect?

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What is it about Thailand that has opened me? It is a gentler, kinder and more relaxed culture.  People smile more there, look in your eyes and connect. We take time to take time.  There is time for talk, tea, sitting. For all these reasons, I am being fed.

a recent scouting adventure

a recent scouting adventure

Life in Thailand continues to be an expansion of my Dharma practice. There is more life to live there.  That is why I am going back for a year and maybe more beyond. That is why I rented my house for two years.

my great new renters, Dan and Rachel

my great new renters, Dan and Rachel

I am not sure where the years ahead will take me. Teaching English?  Living the Dharma practice at a monastery? Travel?  I do know what I want my life to be about  – awakening, connecting and not turning away from what is now- reinforcing the reality we are all connected with everything.

my neighbor, Christina

my beautiful neighbor, Christina

 

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And, now, at this time, this particular time in history, the planet and every living thing – needs us to live the truth of connection. I would like to have a planet for future children to live and thrive in, don’t you? I want to live with the intention of trusting and turning toward connecting rather than what fear creates: ignoring, turning away, isolating, separation. I believe we can save the plant and all life, don’t you?

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So, thank you! You have all played a part and continue to be part of my life. For that, I am very grateful! Life is not to fear but to jump into.  So, today I am jumping!  So, go ahead and jump. Jump. Jump jump jump.

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Is This Thailand?

Ahh Thailand, 

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I remember taking my favorite black jacket out of my suitcase, before leaving for my flight to Thailand two years ago, thinking, come on, I don’t need a heavy jacket. I am going to Thailand. Was I wrong!  We are in the third month of unprecedented cold in the North and Northeast. I wish I had that jacket. Mom, if you are reading this… can find it?

cold in the kitchen

dazed and cold with red nose and wet hair

Apparently it started the same time people began to protest in Bangkok. I am not superstitious, just sayin’. My community sees night time lows of 6 degrees Celsius, or 40.  Thais don’t heat their homes and inside is colder than outside. I know what you are saying the United States is seeing storms and snow, along with minus double digit temperatures. I feel for ya, don’t get me wrong.  Burr, that’s cold.

sunrise

sunrise

But this is THAILAND.  There are three seasons here: hot, hotter and hottest.

waiting for the snack shop to open after lunch

We still need our popsicles after lunch (waiting for snack shop to open)

My routine has been to close all the shutters in my house at night. I close the door between the living room and kitchen bathroom area. It is open to the air. I wear my long johns to bed.  Sometimes I wear a hat. I am comfortable with two blankets now and sleep well, having just been given the second from the principal at my school. One cotton quilt was just taking the edge off.  Unfortunately, I have to get up about three times in the night to go to the bathroom.  I make my way through the blast of cold air with a flash light.

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In the mornings, I wear my puff jacket and long stretchy pants my neighbors gave me. I have been avoiding bathing. I wash my hair every 3 days. This morning though was day 3 and I was loathing the thought.  I had a new idea. I filled a pot of water and put it on the stove.  My shower heater only heats the water to lukewarm.  I needed something else. Today I planned to only wash body parts and hair. Now I know why many Asian people squat.  They learned to when taking a bath as little ones. So, I squatted and squirted luke warm water on my hair and washed my parts.  Then, I mixed that water with the hot water I had heated and poured into a small bucket.  When I was done washing I poured the hot water over my head.  It was the most satisfying feeling ever.  I took a hot water bucket bath!  Now, I am in the Peace Corps!DSCN0787

Most Thais are pretty religious about their taking a daily shower regardless of the temperature. I don’t dare tell them I don’t do this everyday. They would surely think I was an infidel. I spot wash and toilets come with a butt sprayer, so I feel fresh. My skin is very dry however and I could complain. I apply Vasoline and then wear gloves, to ease the cracking.

feed a cold

feed a cold

The Thai people seem not to be bothered.  They just layer up, put on their cute animal hats and they’re out the door. You know it is cold season here when teachers start to wear socks under their dress shoes.  People wouldn’t be caught dead doing this in America.  We have to match.  I love that about Thailand.  It doesn’t matter.

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bear hat

I see people at the store or in the street wearing their pajamas, too.  It is just so cute. I am so amazed with their resiliency and stalwartness. My neighbors still get up at 4:30 each morning to go for their 2-3 kilometer walk. I have not joined them but I will one day soon before cold season ends, to show them I can do it.

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The cold is a novelty. Everyday we tell each other, “It’s so cold!” We ask each other if we are okay.  Six people have died in our district due to cold. Babies and the elderly are most likely to die.  It is heartbreaking. Poor people cannot afford the warm but expensive jackets and blankets. Some people only own flip flops.  People go barefoot. I am sure many people do not own shoes.

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Silalang School band performs

At my hill tribe school, children get up at 5:30am and exercise at 6am.  I know this heats the body and raises the temperature but, it is SO cold.  Like me, they are cold at night and like me they don’t like to take a bath everyday. But unlike me, they can’t heat their water in a pot. If and when they bathe, it is with cold water. Most classes have been moved outdoors because inside the classrooms it’s cold all day.

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My co-teacher asks 7th graders a question

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What is your favorite food?

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What is your favorite fruit?

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How old are you?

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3rd graders

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Students wai their teacher, Kru Pim, to show respect.

DSCN0840 At the other school, the kindergarten children do morning exercises to get warm.

We can jump!

We can jump!

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We smile.  We don’t swear or think its terrible. It is just cold. No drama. I still go to aerobics in the evening and bicycle back in the cold, wrapped like a mummy. It does not stop Thais from having fun.  I still hear some karaoke parties at night. There is time for pictures too.

glowing after aerobics

glowing after aerobics

Dr. Mos and Ann.  My meditation friends.

Dr. Mos and Ann. My meditation friends.

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I popped into say hello after aerobics. The office is open at night.

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Don’t you love them?

One of the tourist draws to my town is the Puka flower which blooms only in cold season, usually in February.  I saw on the news it is already in bloom.

Chompoo Puka Flower

Chompoo Puka Flower

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In Between

In between.  In between Peace Corps Close of Service program and the holidays, lay an island hopping beach vacation with fellow Peace Corps volunteers. In between a field trip with one of my schools, to even more first time sights, and Children’s Day, There was the unusual case of the disappearance of my luggage for 24 days.  With it, my computer and many other “things” I had come to depend on. Without these “things” I learned gratitude and happiness in living with less. I wrote by hand again. I journaled. Then, there was the surprise reunion, of my luggage…

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My initial reaction, honestly was fear. Did I want those “things” back?  I had begun to live without them… the shoes, clothes, toiletries, and yes, my computer. I had accepted the loss. I believed I had everything I really needed without them. I was happy. I was freer. Now, I feel more pressure. Now that I have more, how do I control the attachment to them?  How can I still live simply?  Do you know how many Thai scarves I have?  Purses?  Tee-shirts?  I thought Peace Corps was going to thrust me into a more simple life.  In many ways it has.

My job is not really my job.  I work in partnership with others and really do not have the lead. I do not have control over results or what will remain after I leave. I have to let go each day. I speak in a simple language and sometimes not at all. Not talking as much has its own benefits.  I see how much talk is empty.

Writing is simple. Writing long hand captures my heart more than writing on the computer.  I will keep trying to do that. What moments I see, makes me wonder how many moments I let slip away, thinking about the past or future. What moments best capture my experience here?  What moments do my family and friends back home want to hear about and see? What have I become accustomed to seeing and hearing everyday?

Is it interesting to know …

On sunny Sunday afternoons, I have birds that mimic me and speak in a loud complex language? Hoo hoo hoo, ha ha ha, nee up nee up, cheu  cheu cheu cheu, raa raa raa.  I cannot help but look out at them (very skitterish), laugh out loud and speak back to them. The pairs sit very close to each other on the tree branch.

The little “puppy” that used to hang out at my neighbor’s and my house, is not a puppy but a mommy, and that she has been a mommy before? And, her puppies are hidden in the culvert pipe next to a neighbor’s house. Her head is visible … a food bowl inches from her nose.

It is so cold in the morning, fogs curls over the ponds and fields like reluctant honey. Below the water, fish.  Indifferent? Spiders cast their webs like greedy fisherman, dew stained grass.

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I look closely at the wooden slats in my kitchen, and can see the mist marching inside, regiment after regiment.

A banana leaf is twisting in the wind, its broad shoulders, yes, no, yes, no.

Thais have an insatiable appetite much like America. Thousands of bamboo trees are loaded on gigantic trucks.  Barreling down the highway, men sit a top their kingdoms and duck under power lines. A greedy demand for disposable chopsticks. Will Thais write their version of “Where have all the Flowers Gone?”

I am in between coming home, and my last two months in Thailand. My thoughts, do I really wish to come back? What will it feel like to be back in America? What will my family and friends be like? What will I be like?  I do not have my 30 or 60 second sound bite yet.

Street Art on Khaosan Road in Bangkok

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Little street urchin in diapers

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Ultimate travel in Bangkok is the tuk tuk

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white fur purse

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Thai massage is an amazing experience; can you say pretzel?

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photographs around Wat Puket in my village

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Temple alms for the New Year

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Those moments when I stop and get off the bike

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Hmong New Year pics

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mobile coffee and tea shop

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My students Nit and Docmai

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palm reading


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courtship ball tossing

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Pron, my student , made what she is wearing

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The yais, elder women, showed so much affection for me and I them!

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Men and women’s bow and arrow competition

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going to sleep standing up with grandma

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Walking and Sitting

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

Peace Corps Volunteers are headed to Bangkok at the end of November for Close of Service program (two years almost finished), which will include a Thanksgiving dinner at the Ambassador’s residence. Not too shabby.

It is hard to catch up on the months that have gone by, but I’l try.

First, I get some questions about Thai people, what they are like and such, and I have to say they are very much like anyone else.  They love family and community above all else. Everyone wants to be happy.  I am not going to criticize Thailand and list all of its social, political, economic, and religious problems. There are many. I equally acknowledge that in America, the richest country in the world, three times bigger than Thailand, we have had (and still have) the same issues in our country at one time or another. Thailand is like no other country in the world.  The people are a mosaic of SE Asian culture, modern style, tradition, with belief in spirits and charms. Yet they also love the western world, materialism, enjoy the internet and youtube a much as anyone.  Here is an interesting info- graph illustration of differences. http://www.dramafever.com/news/eastern-and-western-attitudes-about-life-explained-in-18-simple-infographics/undefined

Some differences in daily life in the country:

  1. Thai people give alms to monks walking past their homes every morning around 7am.  They may not and chances are they do not, practice meditation or go to the temple at any other time, expect for funerals, which in Thailand last at least three days. And, for festivals, like New Years or Buddhist special days.
  2. Everyone has time to stop and say hello, or squeeze the cheek of a little child or baby. Even though the “head” is sacred and cannot be casually touched without great offense taken, Thai people pat little children on the head.
  3. Thai people believe in ghosts or “pi”. Parents tech about pi early in their child’s life, I think to keep them in line…
  4. Thai people do not get paid vacation days.  Teachers are the only workforce that have a break in their work because of student’s bit-term.  Many go to see their family during this break. Loyalty and respect of elders trumps all other plans.  My Thai teachers and friends have not been to many places that I have been in Thailand.  Volunteers get so many vacation days it is kinda embarrassing.  As it is, I will not be able to use all the vacation Peace Corps has given me. There is so much to see and do in my community, I feel much of it is unexplored!
  5. That said, Thai people always share and buy gifts for their family, co-workers (or friends) when they go away on weekends, travel for a meeting, or a trip. Even though they have no vacation days…. They do go places on weekend or just leave. I recently observed teenagers carry bags of goodies on the bus after a bus stop. When buses stop at other bus stations along the way, we usually get off to pee and buy snacks.  Sharing and giving are traditional values.
  6. Thai people always give gifts wrapped with bows. Presentation is everything.  They do not, however, open the gift in front of you.  That would be rude.
  7. Thai people take pictures of events we may consider silly, or a waste of time. A recent retirement party for Loong Chao, the janitor at one of my schools, received a gift from every employee. That is over 50 gifts.  One was a microwave oven. It had a big bow on it.  Also a water dispenser.  How can you wrap that!? Each gift was given to him in front of the room by the “giver.” A photographer took a photo of each gift exchange. Thai people are the best picture takers at large events and can coordinate large groups in minutes, but hey, what’s the rush? I have seen pictures of meetings….. on FB.
  8. Thai people love to sing and dance. I bet every home here has it’s own karaoke machine. From kindergarten on, they learn all the popular songs and shake their hips too.
  9. If you are a gay man, you are effeminate – (wait, most men in Thailand are effeminate). No, yes. In fact, there is a third sex here, called a ladyboy. I do not like labels but for the sake of explanation, I feel it necessary. There are transvestites (who dress like women) and transexuals (who have physically altered body parts, usually to become a woman). If you are a gay woman, you are butch.  You have to look like a man or boy.   No wiggle room.
  10. Most Thai people love the Thai dramas on TV. Some are on exotic locations with dramatic costuming.  I have seen sand dunes, elephants… p.s., I no longer have a TV in the house. If I have time to watch TV, I will read a book ormeditate instead!

What did I do over School break in October?  I went to a monastery in North Thailand for a 15 day meditation retreat.  I brought two sets of white clothes. I meditated in the rain, with mosquitos having me for dinner, 14 hours a day, eating one meal a day, sleeping at 10pm waking at 2:15am. Waking to ringing bells echoed by drums in the distance.  Which sparked an entire chorus of dogs barking for 5 minutes. Buddhist nuns and a female monks also called the Monastery home. We chanted before each meal. It was loud and busy, and quiet and serene. I LOVED IT!  In summary.  It changed my life. I want to go back maybe for a year or more and live as a mechee (Buddhist nun).  First, stay six weeks… Then decide.  When will have six weeks?!?

During a recent English Camp a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer asked me what my biggest three take aways were.  Oops, I wrote 4.

1. I remember coming to a clear realization about impermanence… it was triggered by my body…noticing scars, calluses, aging, my skin is cut and torn from excema etc., I realized why do I worry about how it looks. Can’t I just accept it? After all, it is not really mine.  I am borrowing or renting it for this life.  It does not go with me afterwards. I am happy for it, really, because it has accomplished and carried me through so much. It is just a shell though. But, it is not mine.  There is no ”mine.”  This awareness is wisdom or what the Buddha’s teachings call, right thought.  I take care of it … But no longer care.

 

  1. There is no “mine,” because there is no “self.” I watched my mind grasp for what’s mine, or what it thinks is mine.  We were told to leave the “monk’s robe” we bought for the robe ceremony on chairs inside the ordination hall.  When we arrived the robes were missing and moved to other chairs.  My first thought where is “my” chair.  I want my chair with my robe (which I endowed with much importance). Other people sat in “my” chair. When they offered it to me, I said no thank you, realizing my attachment to it.  I am glad to have had this experience though. I saw my mind grasping for “mine,” clearly. There is no “self” or “mine.”  That is a lie. I have so much more freedom in not having to keep watch or worry about, mine. The best way I can describe it is I am observing from a vessel. I see the mind think, attach, and that is what it is supposed to do.  But, like the Captain Crunch cereal, there is a hidden prize inside the box.  It is a pair of those magic glasses that let’s you see stuff that you normally can’t see. I can put on those glasses now and see!
  2. I began to lose the need to comment on things or make a story about people, or what they are saying; instead, noting “thinking” or, thought; then I could see how thought changes; how fleeting and impermanent. It is not really anybody’s thought. In meditation, I kept awakening from thought… increasing the space between thought, until there was deep concentration.  Thought moves away and is replaced by a knowing… space. Clarity is left. I can note feeling, seeing, hearing, knowing. It became clear to me that it is better to be unseen than seen, unheard than heard.
  3. I remember feeling so grateful. There are two types of gratitude… one internal and one external (like, I am grateful it is sunny, or, that I have a house). The other, internal, like I am grateful to practice what the Buddha taught, for what I am learning. I want to be of benefit to others and be a catalyst for mindfulness. If I can do that, it is enough. So, I had profound gratitude to the Buddha for sharing his teachings so we could all have them with us today.  They are free. Buddha was a teacher, who wanted everyone to find an end to suffering in their lives. He was/is not a god. Then one day, someone wrote down Buddhism. He became a religion. With it grew all these folk beliefs and superstitions that have nothing to do with the Buddha’s teachings, but the people of Thailand have adapted Buddhism to meet their beliefs.

Back up

Day 1 -  I meet the monk who supports foreigners with two other young men. One drops out the next day.  The monk is funny and strange.  He kept saying, “Learning by Do…. ING.”  “Learning by Do… ING.”   I had a nice little room with private bathroom. We were not allowed to have books, cell phones, notebooks. No distractions.  We could not leave the grounds. The pictures I took were on the first day, before I registered and the last day, when I left.

 

On the third day, I left my body and was in the stars or diamonds?  But, supernatural occurrences are normal and common. We are told to acknowledge them and not write a book about it- that would be attachment. During a Dharma talk, with the Bhikkuni (female Buddhist monk), she said, no one is special. People who have grown up in countries where Buddhism has been practiced for thousands of years know, have seen, or have experienced themselves, rapture.  It is considered one of the many obstructions to the dharma (the teachings), such as levitation, colors, lights.  People can get attached to the sensations, and want to recreate them over and over again….and think they are special.  Just acknowledge and note…nothing to do.

We met daily with the Abbot of the Monastery, Phra Ajhan Suphan.  A compassionate teacher and wise, wise man. I want to go back and learn more from him. His assistant was Thai and German.  He spoke English, as did Ajhan Suphan.  During my rapture, people were commenting on it …. in my subconscious. “There she goes.”  I could see the flash of someone taking pictures next to me.  I told Phra Ajhan this, he said to wish them well.  Of course I should do that. He asked if I could accept people. Can you? I said, “Can.” “Can Do.” “Can Do It.”  I spoke as if English was a second language.  I got it.  I started to be less affected from conditions around me, environment and people around me. There was a confidence not attached to external events or people.

Phra Ajahn Suphan, said, “There is a galaxy of stars out there… on the inside as well.”  I took this to mean inner-knowing is vast and possibly immeasurable, endless.

 

Does my sub-conscious have a voice?  Yes.  Awesome, because it was quiet enough to hear mine. Memory. Collective memory. The universal place we all can dip into? I remember learning in grad school that eye sight is not a physical act, it comes from the part of the brain that generates memory.  Seeing is remembering.  During chanting (inThai) about forgiveness in the ordination hall, I was singing words in Thai that I did not know. When I became conscious of it, I stopped. These are not extraordinary events. It is natural to experience phenomenon. Experience, acknowledge and let go.

One day the assistant held our appointments. Phra Ajhan was resting. I asked him about the chanting and whether it was important to know our past lives?  No, not really, unless it could help stop suffering today, he said.  I asked because I had this feeling that I was a young monk in another life but had to stop studying.  I was not finished.  Perhaps I died young. He said, “There is a reason you are here studying Buddhism at a monastery.”  I so wanna go back!  I also reflected on the fact that I had numbly wandered into the monk’s area… there was a very cool looking garden with elevated stone seats for meditation under trees with private mosquito netting and just a lovely area.  I had noticed the monk quarters but I had been at temples before where it was free to walk around.  I work at the temple school.  Women can’t stay overnight or go in the rooms.  Here, I didn’t get the hints. There were no signs and no one told me not to go there. But I choose not to listen to my subconscious… Which said there are no women here… That monk is looking at you strange. Later, I reflected and came to the conclusion that it was greed that I did not “notice.”

Phra Ajhan observed, “Try to be small and take up no space.” I became a bee inside the honey comb.

A tall man walks through the crowd unseen, unheard. A small man knocks over an apple cart.  I was the small man but needed to get smaller. I am still working on it. This is my attempt at a visual.

“Don’t go too far away, everything you need is right here. … Don’t be too attached to anything. Where you are, where you are going.” He added.

It is all about practice.  When you give time to concentrate for hours, walking and sitting, insight arises.  Walking and Sitting. That’s where is starts and ends.  Actually, it doesn’t end. Phra Ajhan Suphan still practices. But not all of his monks practice meditation. In fact, not all monks practice meditation.  Becoming a monk is a tradition in Thailand.  Young men can enter and leave after three weeks, three months or three years. Whatever. They choose. I have talked about the young monks I teach in other blogs.  They don’t have a choice.  They are from poor families, hill tribes, and/or have behavior problems.  They spend their high school years at the temple school. Bless them all! May the Dharma protect them. May they be happy.

I know you have read too much already. May I share the “Robe Ceremony” Day?

Katin Festival

More than two thousand years ago the Buddha walked the earth, searching for answers to the human condition of suffering and the extinction of it. He and his students lived on donations of food and gave his teachings freely. His fellow monks walked and wandered from hills to mountains and communities that lie within to share the dharma with people near and far. This became a problem during rainy season, so the Buddha told monks to sit tight at one monastery for the rainy season, which lasts three months. During this time they were supposed to meditate and purify themselves by following some 227 rules.

After the rains had stopped, communities would gather to give to monks robes and other necessities. Once a year, in October, (during a full moon, I think) the ritual continues across many countries, including Thailand.

I had the opportunity to attend “Khatin,” at my meditation retreat which landed on these special days following the rains retreat. Community women gathered with their spinning wheels and weaving machines to pull cotton from the seed, to spin the thread and then to weave, dye, dry and iron the fabric. All done by hand using the same technique and hand operated machines passed down centuries ago.

At Wat Ram Poeng, women gathered in a large hall to make a new set of robes for the Pha Ajhan (lead monk and teacher).

This was extraordinary to see. I had never actually seen a cotton seed.

Three weavers worked through the night, weaving the thread through looms and into cloth to make one set of robes. While the rest of the women, untangled thread, pulled the cotton to make it flat and smooth. In the morning, it was dyed, dried, ironed and wrapped in a beautiful pink bow.

It is like a big fundraiser for the monks and monastery. People donated anything and everything.  From toothbrushes and toothpaste to stuffed animal and blankets, everything is donated for the health and well being of the monks. They are not allowed to touch money. This monastery was also in the middle of big capital project. A new ornate monk ordination hall had been built.  New monk dorms and other supporting buildings are still being built. For one day, we meditators tried to be mindful as we navigated a feast of food and flavors, from Thai canooms (sweets), to pad thai, som tam, grilled chicken, vegetable dishes and dipping sauces, sticky rice and many other dishes, making it impossible to taste everything.  The community members gave it all away fro free. We and the novice monks who had been eating one or two meals  a day….took flight to favorite foods.  I craved som tam, and so did the novice monks, who pilled their bowls high with it. I also got  bag of sticky rice and coconut canooms. We ate our way through the table stands. I was keenly aware of the gluttony taking place and tried to move mindfully through the crowds, not rushing, observing. My night time, everyone was gone and all was quiet.

You will have to go to my Facebook page to see these photos! https://www.facebook.com/susan.alotrico/media_set?set=a.10151659212201991.1073741856.556891990&type=3