Thai Herbal Medicine and Other Good Stuff

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wasp’s nest is good luck charm

 

I have turned to Thai herbal remedies more than once in these past few years, for ailments ranging from cold and cough, constipation, and a worsening skin allergy.

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Being with kids takes my focus away from discomfort.

For cold and cough my friends gave me leaves to make a tea from fah tha lai jone (heaven that beats thieves), a bitter drink that I took daily for a few days and I got well.

Fah tah lai joan

Fah tah lai joan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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samun phrai

There is also a dried herbal concoction the yais (elder women) make called samun phrai (Thai herbal mixture). You soak it in a bunch of water to make tea and it has a slightly sweet woody taste, pleasant smell and turns the water orange.

A concoction of leaves and herbs including a long leafy grass called baiteuy  or panadus, is used in Thai herbal saunas.  It takes a few hours to prepare with a wood stoked fire from which the steam is directed through a pipe you stand over filling the room with herbal goodness that soaks in the skin and lungs.

The leaf to induce diarrhea grows in my back yard and is potent as I discovered. A veritable colon cleanser. My 20-minute bike ride away acupuncturist, gave me leaves and branches from tung pan chang (1000 gold elephants) for my excema. I soaked my hands and feet in it and it left them soft and smooth.

One day my co-worker stopped along the side of the road and identified the leaves from bai yao (long leaf).  Breaking apart the leaf at the stem reveals a clear liquid which can be applied to cuts acting like a liquid bandaid. Then, my neighbor showed me where it was growing in a corner of my backyard.  For a time, my refrigerator was filled with branches and leaves; storing food for cud chewing animals.

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At the local walking street I happened upon wan yao, sweet grass, or as it is known in America “Stevia.”  This wonderful little plant with its leaves so sweet kept filling my teapot with its wild grassy nectar, cup after cup.  Afterwards, I ate the leaves. The Stevia we know has no such flavor.  So much we are missing!  In Thailand, the sugar industry has prevented wan yao from being farmed and commercialized. I am sad to report that my wan yao has died.

stevia

Sweet Grass; Stevia

I happened upon another Thai herbal remedy when my excema was so painful with fissures, dryness and stiffness, I could not open my hands. I was sitting in a van returning from a wedding in a mountain village in Chiang Mai, that grows almonds, strawberries and grapes, when my partner teacher from the monastery school handed me a bit of a lip balm she said had beeswax in it. It took the pain away within seconds. I was thrilled. She said she bought it on-line but knew where to buy it in Chiang Mai. We stopped at a large department store where a small cosmetic counter sold it under the name Siphun Mae Liab 2480. It cost about a dollar for a three-gram container.  I promptly used up my precious resource that night as I spread the aromatic sticky substance on my hands and feet.

Siphun Mae Liab 2480

Siphun Mae Liab 2480

I have since ordered it on-line, twice, buying it in bulk. 50 three-gram containers in a box. My latest order has three blobs of the viscous charm, individually zip locked in tiny bags. The ingredients intrigued me: bees wax, coconut oil, and Boswellia Serrata.  Boswellia Serrata?  I had to know more.

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Frankincense tree

In short, it’s Frankincense Oil. Boswellia Serrata is one of the Boswellic acids in Frankincense Oil. I know way to much about it now. I had an idea to add the oil to my creams, so I bought some in Bangkok. This was after hours of research and investigation and a search for sources on alibaba.com, Asia’s answer to amazon. Boswellia Serrata has been used for thousands of years and has proven to be effective in reducing inflammation and pain from osteo-arthritis and many other afflictions (the list is long). You can buy it powdered in the U.S.

A local product called kee pueng (bee shit), not to be confused with nam pueng, (bee water) or honey, is available at my local market. So, I ask for bee shit, no bull shit, and the locals happily sell it to me and query about what I am going to do with it.  “Chan tam Samunphrai dua eng”.  I am going to make Thai herbs myself. Then I show them my hands.  They look at me knowingly wanting a closer look, “agaat peh” (weather allergy), I say. “Mee taao duai” (on my feet too). They stick a pair of rubber gloves in my bag.

North Thai beeswax

North Thai beeswax

My first Thai herbal balm was fantastic. I melted the orange kee pueng, then added equal parts olive oil, coconut oil and jojoba oil.

the oils

Then the delicious Frankincense oil.  It was great, but it’s gone. For my second batch, I wanted to use real beeswax. Luckily, down the street live a group of people who collect honey and wax from wild bees and sell in Chiang Mai.  I was riding by bike past their house one day and over the fence offered, “Mee kee pueng mai ka?”  Do you have any beeswax?  They said, yes. I rode home with a huge wad of honey comb, for free. I was so excited. Little did I know about the work that lay ahead.

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Brood honey comb

 

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Okay. I got this.

My first attempt was actually five attempts because that is how many times I had to render the beeswax. This is the result of the first rendering.

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the slurry

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filtered out scum

To render beeswax, meaning melt down, filter and cool, takes time. It is hot season now, and laboring over a hot stove making beeswax is interesting, but hot.

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top

bottom

bottom shows imperfections

2nd rendering

2nd rendering

cooling

cooling

cool 2

cooled

 

final rendering

final rendering

5th rendering

beeswax base ready to melt with oils

poured in vessels

poured in vessels ready to use

In between the renderings, is the time consuming and messy task of cleaning beeswax from pots and buckets.  I still have two dirty buckets sitting in my back yard, having lost interest in pouring hot water inside to melt the wax and clean, knowing it will take three pots of hot water.  The process involves wearing three pairs of gloves: a cotton liner, followed by two plastic gloves, but the heat still penetrates.  I ouch, ouch, ouch my way through, then run cold water over the gloves before wiping the wax off. In the future, I wish to buy my beeswax already rendered. Or, become a bee keeper and sell beeswax and my homemade Thai herbal remedy.  LOL!

Am I getting better?  Yes.  My skin is more elastic. I can straighten my fingers. It takes the pain away. No medicine has been able to do that. I accept that this is part of my self-care.  Slathering my skin with beeswax at night and morning. Wearing socks and gloves. I eventually throw them out due to the amount of beeswax on them.  Downside is I have to apply the cream often.

As a long term cortisone cream user, I can’t use topical medicine anymore. It is not effective or good for long term use. Beeswax has a bunch of healthy properties. It lets your skin breathe, and has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.  My dermatologist, at the internationally acclaimed Bumrungrad hospital in Bangkok, also echoed this by telling me that in ancient times, monks actually used beeswax like skin cream. He encouraged me to use it.

Yesterday, was the first day in over a year, I have been able to leave the house without socks!

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before beeswax

 

hands March 14

with beeswax

Here is to discovering what heals you!  Chocolate chip cookies wouldn’t do any harm, but for today, I think I will have coconut ice cream!

A Day for Children

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Hi everyone. I don’t know what to say… I’ve neglected you.  My service is ending April 20. WHAT?!?!?!. And I cannot possibly catch up on the past five months.  So, I will do weekly updates.  Here’s the first.

I wanted to share one special day with you, Children’s Day January 10, 2015. Fellow PCV, Yee Lor and I were invited to go to a remote school in my district, to offer fun activities for the students. It is only 10 kilometers away but takes over an hour to get there, on a good day.

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We were invited by Kuhn Oa (Thamonpat Cooperider), Bangkok’s Books4Thailand, General Manager, Phayao University Library staff, offering their annual community service day to the school, and local government officials.

In Pua, it had been raining a lot, the roads were wet and muddy.  The home stay roof we stayed at leaked throughout the night into a makeshift container we set up to catch the drops. We were worried whether the event would happen or not. The road to the school had been hit hard making it dangerous to travel. No one was about to give up. Kuhn Oa had traveled from Bangkok and the others from Phayao for this annual event. Think of the children, was what we all said. They are waiting for us. We were told other promised visitors had been no shows to the disappointment of the children. We were not going to be no shows. I had visions of us walking up the slippery road, arriving drenched in mud but to the laughter of happy children.

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Non-stop rain for two days was not going to stop the show for the intrepid cast of two Peace Corps Volunteers, and staff from Books for Thailand and Phayao University Library, who were determined to offer their gifts to the school children.

The next day we woke it was Children’s Day. The rain had stopped. It took two four-wheel drive vehicles more than an hour to travel 10 kilometers up the mostly rutted-out, wet, steep dirt road to Baan Pha Vieng School. The saw naw from Nan PESAO 2 (my office) has not visited the school for two years. On a normal sunny day you cannot drive your average vehicle up this road and motorbikes are questionable too. But on this day, our two vehicles carried precious cargo: shoes, towels, socks, blankets, school supplies, books, food, ice cream and snacks. Rounding each corner, the mist and fog was so thick that the rolling mountains in the distance surrounding this village, went sight unseen. Lucky perhaps, not to see the drop off on one side of the road.

Hello my name is Susan

Once we arrived and started to unpack the vehicles, students and their families started to trickle in. The school has 70 students, from kindergarten to 6th grade, all from the Luwa hill tribe. On this day, about 50 students and their families braved the elements to take part in the festivities. The school has no English teacher. The location is isolated. The school science teacher doubles as the principal. There is one village of several hundred people. Everyday, students walk to school from their mountain villages. For some it is a daily, three-kilometer walk.

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Sing a song

The students enjoyed singing songs and playing games. For kids who don’t have an English teacher to teach them English, they sure learned their body parts  and numbers in English quickly. After singing, we played a few games. Mostly, they enjoyed making their “superhero” head bands and chanting, “We are superheroes!’

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Showing how to make Spiderman ‘web” fingers

Next, children ate ice cream cones until they were so full they could not come up for more. Then, each was given a soft fluffy towel.  The rest of the gifts would be distributed by the teachers a later date.

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Serving coconut ice cream.

Students got very creative with their headbands and not one was the same. Parents made them too. It was Children’s Day and we reinforced to them that they were all superheroes. That they do have power, magical power, and that they are important.

We are super heroes!

Later we were told that the school had not had foreign visitors for over 10 years.  On Saturday, January 10, 2015, the spell was broken.

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View from classroom.

 

Mom’s making headbands for little ones, too.

Munchkins one and two.

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Button nose.

He wouldn’t leave me alone, luckily.

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Looking at teacher housing.

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Water tanks and play ground.

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Well done little one!

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Little bit with one shoe off and one shoe on.

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Morning Mist

There is a heavy damp mist in the air over the rice fields this morning which I have not seen in a while.  But it’s not raining. The sky is waking up with streaks of pewter braids and peachy puffs.  We have been having torrential rains here from a storm over Vietnam. It has been here for weeks bringing rain off and on every few hours. It means a longer dry time for clothes, no aerobics in the park, and a wet ride to work, if no one picks me up.

The morning is alive with the strangest of sounds layered one upon the other so it’s fun to try to find out how deep it goes.  Geckos make these trilling clicking rhythms.  The cicadas whirl. Birds are calling to one another.  I keep sneezing though I not not sure what from.  Geckos are five inches of fierce instinct.  They will go after an winged insect much too big for their little bodies, but they will hold on and gulp it down section by section.  And, of course the chickens.

I now believe chickens talk. They have this fierce determination to protect their brood and they talk all the time while out foraging.  I respect that. The neighbor’s chickens come around to my house daily.  I dump big piles of vege and fruit waste in my back yard and they have come to enjoy it very much. They almost seem like they would be friendly. Then I get the “eye.”  The prehistoric eye which has imprinted a genetic code of wariness and fear. Sometimes I hear voices outside my house. I think there are people walking around my house.  But, I’m pretty sure it’s the chickens’ mumbles and murmurs.

Thank god geckos and chickens are not ten times bigger than they are. However, small things can be irritating.  Ants for instance are a big reason you can’t just lay out in the backyard.  You can’t rest for long outside because if you do you will be have ants crawling on you. When I gather fruit, pull weeds, or linger in any spot too long I will have company. Sometimes an hour later I will be doing something and there is an ant on my neck.  How long did it take it to travel from toe to neck?

Today, I go to a house warming party for a family I know because I ride my bicycle by their food stall, which sells grilled pork, grilled pork intestines, grilled pork fat and other popular dishes. I ride by to and from work and then to and from aerobics. The mom remains single after her husband died several years ago. Her three children, 20 and 30 somethings, include Pammie, a transgender woman, as are many of her friends. In Thailand, a house warming must include: a Buddhist blessing by an entourage of monks, an ornate Buddhist decorative structure, offerings of flowers made from flowers and banana leaves, offerings to the monks of money or things they use in daily life.  In addition, there is a five, six, or seven course meal for attendees. Karaoke begins in the morning and lasts all night. Cases upon cases of Hong Thong whiskey and Leo beer are consumed, which the Thais drink diluted with lots of ice. Hours will be passed sitting, (maybe dancing) talking (or not) refilling glasses and singing karaoke, played at deafly loud decibels.  I can’t wait!

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

folded paper picture story

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.

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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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