22 June, 2011

days leading up to the Solstice

Okay, let's see if I can play a quick game of catch up. When last I left you, I was ruminating on my day of emotional release. The next day I awoke feeling completely renewed. I was regularly overwhelmed with sensations of gratitude and joy and of great fortune for my current nomadic existence. During the rare moment when I would start to respond to some small stimulus in the negative .. which, sadly, has been my knee-jerk Pavlovian reaction ... I would just remind myself of what I would likely be doing if I was still back in NC going through the motions of that mostly stale and droopy life. That would instantly revive my sense of gratitude and happiness. And, since, I have been consistently reminding myself how lucky I am to be living this new life ... to be experiencing newness on so many levels and to be growing in ways that really inspire and fulfill and uplift me.

At the end of the last post I mentioned my adventures in food prepping in an ill-equipped kitchen. Turns out the guest house kitchen is only equipped with a hot plate and a microwave, a very limited supply of knives, some plates of varying sizes (no bowls), and only one pot for cooking that I could find. So, I was able to make my millet, but couldn't saute any of my vegetables since there wasn't a pan in which to do the deed. So, I had millet and salads ... a lot. I did crack open my first young coconut with only a very little spillage! The kefir I made was so-so, and the kefir cheese that I tried to make without the proper container did not at all turn out as hoped. In fact, I think I may have concocted some new and exotic type of non-dairy bleu cheese. It smelled exactly like a good, pungent bleu. Unfortunately, though, it didn't taste anywhere near as delicious, so I tossed it. Oh well. Better luck next time. I will have to get some grains and do it properly.

On Friday, we finished up our last day of school. Our second level testing took considerably longer than the Level 1, so we were pretty knackered by the end of the day, but we all passed. Eugenie, Charlye and I "graduated" from Level 2 with our certificates in hand. Yay!

Saturday morning I met Eugenie for our first round of spa treatments at the Janrawee House Spa. We both got the "Detox" treatment (colon therapy), Herbal Steam, and Oil Massage. Eugenie also received a Mineral Milk Bath and a Full Body Exfoliation treatment. Afterwards we both felt very light and clean. We also felt tired and quiet, so we decided to go back to our respective abodes and just relax and recover for the rest of the day. I had hoped to meet my friend Vasae that afternoon for an Acro-Yoga "flying yoga" workshop in the Old City Center, but was feeling much too Yin for that kind of energetic Yang activity. She went and gave it high marks. Maybe I'll catch it next time. Vasae is another woman I met at school. She was taking Level 1 while we were taking Level 2. She's really nice and I felt a kindred connection to her very quickly. She's a bit more free-spirited than I am yet. I hope to see her again before I leave, but if I don't, I feel glad to have met her.

Sunday was my big shopping day. I left Chaba House at noon and took a tuk-tuk to the Wararot Market. (This is the market where all the locals shop. It's open every day from very early in the morning to around 9pm or so.) Wararot is a very large market that is partially located indoors. It also sidles up to and kind of melds into the flower market where you can get fresh cut flowers as well as fresh flower garlands and such for altar decoration. Due to the expansiveness of the place, and the crowds of locals and tourists alike, the Wararot Market can be very overwhelming to the senses. I puttered around for about an hour or so, but that was about all I could take. From there I just walked on over to the Old City Center. First I found a postcard shop. I have been looking for postcards everywhere, and, for whatever reason, have not been able to find any. So, I was overjoyed to find this shop. They even had vintage Thai postcards that were beautiful, but they were only from Bangkok, so I didn't get any. (I'm keeping it real with only postcards from Chiang Mai.) The shopkeeper even hooked me up with the appropriate stamps for the cards so I could mail them without the hassle of searching out a post office. (Though it turns out there is a post office just a few blocks from my guest house.)

There was a sweet little cafe/coffee house next to the post card shop, so I decided to while away some time in there with some lunch. The cafe also houses an adventure tour business and a language study business. I was the only person in the place for a while. (My time table seems to be out of sync of that of the Thais.) The proprietress is a cute little tea sandwich of a lady named Petchara. She is very tiny and has a super smile. Her English is impeccable. She asked where I was from, and told me she had worked with the US Peace Corps a lot when they were here many years ago. We chatted for a while before she disappeared into the kitchen. She returned many minutes later with a steaming hot bowl of spicy vegetarian galangal soup and a plate of freshly made rice. It was delicious. I mean, really delicious. I could tell that she had really touched this food with a bit of her own magick. It was very spirit warming ... and that wasn't just the spicy peppers! A couple more guests came in while I was eating ... clearly they were regulars ... a Western man and a Thai woman. (That seems to be de rigueur here.) I took my time eating, savoring every sweet and spicy moment, every zing of lime and lemongrass, every zip of galangal, every crunch of carrot and cauliflower. I tried not to slurp too zealously for fear of making a spectacle of myself. I was in public, after all. Plus, I was in no hurry to end the experience. I had all the time in the world, and I, for once, allowed myself to just languor over a simple, yet ambrosial, meal. Before I finally left the cafe, I made sure to get a photo of myself with Petchara. One of her employee's took the shot for us, and Petchara made me promise to email her a copy of it.

I did.

After lunch I just walked up and down the street biding my time window shopping until the Sunday market got up and going. I had a couple hours to spend in this way. But they weren't wasted. I discovered a couple of really charming little boutiques that I would likely never have found otherwise. First I found a shop that sells handmade cotton clothes, appropriately called Chiang Mai Cotton. They are very simple, yet very chic. I got myself a pair of palazzo-style pants and a lovely deep purple blouse. The shop girl was extremely congenial, and she, too, spoke impeccable English. (I made sure to thank her for making the effort to speak to me in my language since I was unable to speak to her in hers. I felt really lame about that.)

From one charming shop to another ... I stumbled upon what I think must be my favorite shop in Chiang Mai: Things Called Art. It is run by an artist who makes really lovely paintings of elephants, birds, cats and such. Each has a very whimsical quality to it, which is, of course, why I fell in love with his work. He has other gifts and handmade treasures in his shop, as well. I ended up buying a glazed elephant figure for my dad, a silver elephant slide/charm for my mom, some sweet bunny earrings for myself, and a small painting for myself. I rarely allow myself to buy art for some ridiculous reason, but I was really taken by this simple, but fanciful, painting of a cat. Go figure. So, I decided to treat myself, and reminded myself that I like spending my money in ways that support artists and creative endeavors. Then I wondered why I had kept myself from buying more art in the past.

All this shopping was making me thirsty, so I popped into a Mr. Juicy shop for a yummy juice concoction. I don't remember exactly what I got in mine, but it was tropically (yes, I made up that word) and so yummy and refreshing.

Still wandering around pre-market, my feet brought me to another sweet "gifty" boutique. I can't remember the name of the place, but I got some dangly wooden earrings here. It's strange: I never really wore earrings in the States, but this day I bought two pair! And I've been wearing them every day since! Strange, indeed.

At this point, market vendors were beginning to sprout all along the street. I spotted a little side street with all its vendors up and ready to sell, so I made a bee-line for it. I was happy to score some really great gauzy pants with built-in skirt-like panels in the front and back that can be made long or short per the wearer's mood. (Yes, I know, that's a difficult description to follow. I will try to post a photo of them sometime soon. Suffice it to say, I love these pants.)

After all this shopping I was feeling pretty happy with myself. I had managed to spend my money carefully on things that really made me happy (or I hoped would really make someone else happy). I had remained budget conscious throughout all my purchasing decisions. And I managed to check two (out of three) gifts off my list. But, there was still one more gift to get. I still needed to get something for my sister. And I really wanted it to be good. I was already sending her back some Thai fisherman pants, but I wanted to get her something else a little nicer. She had only asked me for pants, and I know she's trying to purge her home of clutter, so that meant no tchotchkes. I considered a pair of silver elephant earrings from the artist's shop, but she doesn't really wear earrings much, either. (Save the pair of diamond studs our mom gave her.) I looked and looked for some pants that I thought she would really like, and couldn't find anything! There were several "almosts" but no "YES's". Finally, I decided to take one last stroll down one of the side streets of the market before leaving. (It was nearing 5:30pm, now, and I'd been shopping pretty much since noon!) Then, like a gift from the gods, I saw them. The skies parted. The sun shone down in glorious rays of illumination. I heard a faint trace of angels' chorus on the breeze. And I saw them: Sister's pants. They are quite lovely, really. They are olive green with a sort of tribal/floral patterned waistband in greens, blue-greens and creams. And they are loose and flowy. Very bohemian ... but in an elegant way. I hope she likes them. But, if she doesn't, then I will be happy to take them. (But, I swear I bought them for her. And I really do hope she loves them!) So, that was my Sunday. Sunday, Shopping Sunday.

Monday I didn't do too much. Slept in, then lounged in the morning. (After my yoga, of course.) Then I hoofed it to the Central Mall to get some cash from the bank and some groceries from the supermarket. As I was walking back to Chaba House with my two bags of groceries, a man pulled over and offered me a ride ... "for flee ... no money!" I politely declined his offer. I was having trouble deciding if he was being kind or creepy. There wasn't a distinct vibe emerging. So, I am deciding that he was being kind. I mean, I was a farang (foreign) girl walking along the superhighway carrying two pretty heavy bags of groceries going who knows where (from his perspective). I must have looked tired. And he was catching me as I was almost home, so I was probably sweaty and covered in a fine film of exhaust sprayed from the many cars, trucks and motos that had passed me along the way. Now that I think about it, I probably looked kinda sad and scraggly. Yeah, I'm going with the Kindness scenario.

Today things took a turn. To use the vernacular of Mary Poppins, the winds have changed. It's appropriate, too, since it's the Solstice and all. Litha, or Summer Solstice, is a celebration on the Wheel of the Year that marks the pinnacle of the Sun's brilliance. It's the longest day and, therefore, the shortest night of the year. From here until Yule (Winter Solstice) the Sun's power will wane and the dark aspects of the Moon will begin to heighten. What all of this portends, in simplistic terms, is that after today, Nature begins a slow and steady shift toward a more introspective, receptive and self-nurturing (yin) way of being following the more out-going, liberal, external (yang) energy that takes full bloom in Spring. What does all this have to do with my travels, you wonder? Well, a couple of things, really. One, is that I made a rather sudden change in my travel plans today. I decided to shorten my stay in Thailand and rescheduled my flight to Pohnpei a week earlier than originally planned. I now leave Thailand this Thursday morning. That's right .. in two days. It all happened really quickly and with significantly fewer fees than I was expecting. So, I consider it a fortuitous decision. Secondly, I have been feeling a very quiet, but persistent, need to reconnect to my spiritual practices and studies. I've been feeling this for several months now, and I think it's interesting that, as I begin to really pay attention to the world around me and my actions and reactions within it, that I keep making decisions or embarking on journeys on very specific spiritually appropriate days. For instance, I mentioned in an earlier post that I hopped my flight for Thailand on the New Moon. And I was slated to be hopping my flight for Pohnpei on the New Moon as well. But when I changed it, I didn't negate the magick of that occurrence, but, rather, added significance to it by making the change on one of Nature's spiritually significant days ... one that marks the beginning of a return to the more spiritual side of Self. It all seems very appropriate and synchronistic to me.

So, today was spent mostly trying to get myself organized to leave so quickly. I walked to Spa Mantra to make my appointment for tomorrow afternoon. Then I stopped in at Satva Yoga and had a kombucha and one of Tukta's delectable juice blends. I also ordered a Thai massage mat from her. She was kind enough to have it ordered as a rush delivery, and the lady who makes them was able to get it to me by 5pm tonight. While there, I was happily surprised to see Eugenie and Charlye who were coming in for a very late breakfast. We made dinner plans for tonight, but through some confusion in our communications, we missed each other, so I am hoping we can do dinner tomorrow night. While there, we also got to talk a while with Freddy the Yoga Instructor/Massage Therapist and Andy the Acupuncturist. I wish I would have known about Andy before now ... I would have loved to receive an acupuncture treatment before leaving. Ah well, next time, maybe. I also packed up most of my stuff to see where I stand on the luggage situation. I will be checking not only the big fish shoulder bag (that I had to begrudgingly check on the way here), but also a yoga mat and a Thai massage mat. I hope I don't get charged to check these pieces, but I suppose it's better than trying to arrange to ship them to the island. My backpack is nice and light and I'll have a little canvas bag with my computer and books in it for carry-on. The one bummer is that I just bought all this food at the supermarket, and am not going to be able to eat it all or fit it in my luggage. I'm eating as much as I can of the perishables. Then, I think, I'm going to see if Eugenie, Charlye or any of the folks here at Chaba House would like to have it. I really hope it doesn't go to waste.

This morning, I got to chat with some of the other guests here at Chaba House. I saw Louisa (from Australia) briefly at breakfast. Mariano (from Argentina) was there, too, and he stayed for a while while I had my breakfast. We talked of my travels, and his travels and our "same same, but different" Thai massage training programs. Then he told me of the Spanish woman he met in Argentina several months ago. They spent three months together falling in love, then she had to go home. He arrived here in Thailand from a month with her in Madrid. Now they are trying to figure out how to navigate the relationship from here. He has the most luminous smile when he talks of her. I hope they are able to make things work so they are both fulfilled and happy. A little later, I got to chat for a bit with Sam (from Great Britain), who is doing a two-day meditation retreat, which, if it goes well, might lead to a four-day meditation retreat. I wish him well on his spiritual path. I immediately liked Sam the first moment I spoke with him. He is very kind and his spirit is just warm, and gentle and lovely. Saw Patricia (from France) for a moment, too. She just got back from the south yesterday, and was heading off to Pai (north-ish) today. Last night I met Werner, a massage therapist from Hawaii. He was great fun to chat with ... very personable and generous. I do wish that I could have gotten to spend some more time with these folks.

Tomorrow is my last full day. I will go to Satva Yoga Cafe for lunch, then to my big spa day at Spa Mantra. I'm not sure what time I'll be getting out of there, but I'm guessing around dinner time. I am hoping to meet up with Charlye and Eugenie for dinner. Then I'll just come home and do the last of my packing and set my alarm for early a.m. Then it's off to the airport .. again!

I very much would like to return to Thailand. My earlier departure is in no way a reflection on this place. I just felt like I had gotten what I was supposed to get from this visit. I would like to come back when I can plan an extended stay. I want to study a while with the Thai massage master, Pichest. I would love to take some Thai language classes. I would like to explore more than just Chiang Mai, for sure. It's nice here, but it's a little too "big city" for me. I'd love to explore some of the smaller villages. So, I plan to come back at some point. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Thailand has gently crept up on me and nestled its way into my heart. I am grateful for my time here.

And now I'm going to bed. It's late, and I'm tired, and I have much to do before I leave. Have a happy Solstice, wherever you are! And sweet dreams!

PS: Photos will have to be added a little later. It's way too late to post them tonight! xoxo!

14 June, 2011

My Guest House

Today was a challenging day for me. It started out normally enough, if a bit more singed with fatigue than usual. As I was waking I was gifted with a call from my beautiful Sister. That part was nice. But I should have noticed that something was 'off' when I was having difficulty expressing how excited I was to hear from her.

I started a new (simple) yoga practice last night. I am committing to a simplified form of the Chandra Namaskar (Moon Salutation) in the evenings before bed and an equally simple version of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) in the mornings upon waking. (I only write this now, in case I forget later.)

So ... back to my story .. I completed my morning Surya Namaskar practice. It felt really good to be moving my body in these familiar ways again. But I was still feeling uncharacteristically sluggish. As I arrived in the dining hut for breakfast, several of the newer friendly faces were there to greet me: Australian Louisa, Argentinian Mariano, British Sam, as well as a new fellow from Brazil whose name escapes me right now. Normally I have been engaging in conversation with these folks over breakfast, and it's been really nice. But, today, for some reason, I felt totally unable (unwilling?) to engage. Mr. Pathom's helper, Three, brought out a Thai breakfast instead of the simple noodle soup I'd requested for my ongoing morning meals. (This was not his fault. I think Mr. Pathom has a really hard time serving me the same boring dish every day. He's an excellent chef, so I can understand, but, right now I just can't seem to tolerate that kind of food in the morning.) So, I had a few bites, made some mumbly small talk, and then lamely excused myself by saying I was running late. (I was not.) I was starting to feel some kind of unnamed anxiety about being around people today. But being unnamed, I couldn't really place what the feeling was ... it was just kind of a vague, blurry awareness of something 'icky'. It was almost as if I had walked through a cobweb of negative energy, and, try though I might, I wasn't able to shake it off my fingers. So ... this is how my day began.

I continued about my morning ... walked toward school ... stopped in the Satva Yoga Cafe for breakfast where Charlye, Eugenie and I had arranged to meet. I was the first of us to arrive, so I sat down and ordered a Lemon Mint Honey Ginger juice. (Tukta, the proprietress, makes amazing fresh juices.) Despite the deliciously frothy and effervescent glass of liquid sunshine Tukta brought me, I was still feeling gray and cloudy. Although, I don't think, at this point, I was fully aware of what was happening yet. Once Charlye and Eugenie arrived, we started chatting, and I found myself re-entering a mini-rant about school that I'd already laid on Eugenie the afternoon prior. It was then that I really realized that something was amiss. I was grumpy. In fact, I wasn't just grumpy, I was feeling kinda angry. And the more I sat with and studied my feelings, the more irate I became. As the light bulb erupted over my head, I relayed the information aloud to my companions. That helped to subdue it a little. Just naming it, I guess, was comforting enough to calm it a little. I acknowledged my feelings. (A solid Step 1.) Eugenie and Charlye were great at both receiving the information and not trying to help me "get happier". (Thanks for that, ladies.) That being the case, I was able to create a sort of space or inner container for those feelings that I hoped would allow them to exist and breathe and be honoured, but would keep them from spontaneously leaping out at some poor unsuspecting (and undeserving) bystander.

As the three of us conversed further over breakfast, I realized that I was feeling a HUGE resistance to going to school today. I didn't really know why, but I DID NOT want to go. That, in turn, made me believe that the best thing for me to do would be to go. This may sound completely ridiculous to many of you reading this, but I often feel that the things (or people) that push our buttons the most are usually the teachers of the lessons we most need to learn.

This is where things got even weirder. Charlye, Eugenie and I were late getting to school. (We got our food a little later than planned, and decided to enjoy breakfast rather than rush back for the morning group exercising.) That was actually a good thing ... for me, at least. Because once our lesson began, my anger began to mutate. It was happening in a simultaneously super slow motion and lightning quick action. (If you think it's freaky to read that, just imagine how bizarre it was to experience it.)

Before I could wrap my head around what was happening, my heart whispered to me that she was going to send me some sadness now.

And, so she did.

I became suddenly overwhelmed with sadness. It was powerful, yet it was soft and unassuming, as well. I tried to internally hold myself in my own space while, externally, I was listening to lecture, watching demonstration and taking notes. When it was time to practice the day's lesson, I asked my partner, Roberto, if I could receive the work first, and, fortunately, he agreed. (Roberto is a very kind man. I like him a lot.) During the practice session, I began to cry a little on several occasions. It was very soft and quiet, this crying ... unusual for me ... I would just every now and again feel my cheeks getting wet with tears. Then, almost as suddenly as it had arrived, Sadness departed. Then I was just tired.

I made it through the day, and it was not altogether unpleasant. It was more an interesting experience in awareness to witness this emotional purging. My body has been in detox for a little while now. My subconscious released its toxic debris through all that violent and vivid dreaming last week. Now, it seems my old unexpressed emotions are clearing out. I do feel lighter now as I prepare for my evening yoga and bed. I feel as if the fires of Anger burned up old negative energies lingering inside my body's nooks and crannies. Then Sadness came through and washed out the remains with her salty waters. Now I feel, well, still tired (emotional clearing is exhausting work!), but very light.

As I reflected on the day's experiences, I was reminded of Rumi's amazing poem, The Guest House. I re-read it just before I wrote this post, and it spoke very clearly and directly to my heart, so I have posted it below to share it with you. I hope you get from it what you need.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

~ Rumi ~

PS: More mundane adventures to come soon ... including: my first time cutting open a coconut; my first attempts at making young coconut water kefir and kefir yogurt (in an ill-equipped guest room); making dinner in a makeshift kitchen with limited tools; and, in the not-so-distant future, my first Thai colonic! (Stay tuned ...)

The Lotus Awakens

the land of a thousand smiles
is gifting me with one of my own

no great worries here
no trifling distractions
only Life
and Love
and Smiling

i am opening ...
...softly ...
gently ...
as a Lotus

and i am smiling

i am softening like
a honey sweet whisper
on the breeze

i am smiling

i am letting Life
wash over me
like a cool

and i'm smiling

i am greeting my Self
from the inside out
as the seed
can see
the flower

i am smiling

and as i smile
i. become. Light.

12 June, 2011

Irony or Synchronicity?

Was just cleaning out some old emails, and came across this Chinese Horoscope for 2011. It seems eerily on mark when I look at my life at present. (I'm a Tiger.) How does it match up for you so far?

Photos of Thailand!

Satva Yoga Cafe

Class time at ITM!

Sapphire on her bicycle in the park.

Blue Garden Yoga Studio ...

... which is CLOSED!

Photos of Thailand!

Chef Peak!

Yummy curry at Chef Peak's Kitchen.

My favorite lunch cafe proprietor!


Me + Eugenie

One Week ... and Change

I have now been in Thailand a little over one week. It's already going by so quickly. I feel like this place is sneaking up on me. I was having a really difficult time getting into the rhythm of my visit here for most of this past week. I had been enjoying myself well enough, but wasn't feeling any kind of real connection to the culture, or to myself in it. I tried researching what adventurous activities I might participate in while here, hoping that would help me get excited about this part of my journey.

During this time I was also having a somewhat heated debate with my body. I wanted to dive in and really enjoy the food of Thailand en masse ... in all its spicy, ricey, noodley, sugary, fruity glory. And I wanted to enjoy all that food with lovely wines. And I wanted to go out for drinks should the occasion arise. These are things I enjoy. However, my body seems to have other plans for me here. She wants to eradicate this candida that has been running around unchecked for far too long. She wants to get healthy. She wants to exercise and stretch and feel good. She wants to be radiant and vital and alive again. And She can be very persuasive when she wants. After every delicious meal I devoured, and after every glass of wine (or gin) I imbibed, I began to feel worse and worse. I was still taking my Anti-Candida herbs, my probiotics, my Para-Free tincture, and my ume plum balls, but it didn't seem to be helping. In fact I started feeling worse. And I kept getting a little worse every day until about Thursday. Thursday wasn't great, but it was a noticeable improvement. My nightmares are still happening, but I started feeling less tired. My breath was a little sweeter and my armpits didn't get nearly as funky as they had been all week. Even my bloating seemed to be lessening, though I would prefer it to lessen even more.

It was improvement.

I believe this improvement happened for two reasons: 1.) My body was simply purging a little more efficiently during the "worse" days thanks to the aforementioned medications, the intense sweating that happens when one walks anywhere in Thailand, and the daily Thai massage work; and 2.) I made the intentional decision to make my time in Thailand about healing and self-care rather than adventure.

Self-care is a recurring Life Theme for me. I am a classic healer type: I focus all my energy on helping other people feel good and find balance without devoting enough time and energy to doing the same for myself. It seems ridiculous that, knowing what I know, I could allow myself to be so unhealthy and so uncared for by the one person over whom I have control - my Self. So, I find this lesson is facing me yet again. It is time to take care of me for a while ... well, hopefully, forever.

In retrospect I can see that this lesson has been coming to me in whispers for quite some time now. In fact, I feel that the seed of this lesson was the catalyst for the selling of the house, etc., and even for this journey into the world. I have been feeling within myself a kind of gentle tugging drawing me back to more spiritual and healing practices and studies. Back home I was able to ignore these whispers in the midst of all my self-imposed busy-ness, but here the quiet voice has become deafening.

In the spirit of this healing awakening, I have decided to book myself some detoxifying and relaxing spa treatments. I am planning three visits, each to a different spa, for a series of treatments. Some will be the more traditional relaxing fare of oil (table) massage, Thai massage, and facial. Others will be more aggressively detoxifying treatments like colonic therapy, herbal steams, infrared saunas, and exfoliation treatments. I am really excited about these spa days. And what's even better is that a friend from ITM (Thai massage school) is also interested in doing these treatments with me. I'm not sure we'll be doing all spa days together, yet, or just one or two. I am planning on visiting Spa Mantra, Janrawee House, and the spa at Tao Garden Health Spa & Resort. I will, of course, write all about my experience so you can join me during my healing process (and vicariously enjoy some spa treatments from home).

Friday was the last day of our Level 1 course at school. We learned the positions and sequences during class Monday through Thursday with opportunities to practice independently after class each day. On Friday we each had to perform the entire sequence while we were examined by the teachers. I passed with no real difficulties, but I did gain a real appreciation for having had prior massage therapy training and a natural affinity for the work. A couple of the other students were really nervous and uncomfortable about the testing. But, everyone in our class passed. Monday is the beginning of Level 2. I'm looking forward to it. I have really been enjoying school. I've made some really lovely friends there. Of particular note, I have befriended an American woman named Charlye, a Dutch woman named Eugenie, and a British woman named Sapphire. Although, I like everyone I've met there so far. It's a very special place, and I am really looking forward to putting these new skills to practice. Mom and Dad are going to get lots of bodywork when I arrive on Pohnpei - with their permission, of course!

Since school started I haven't been spending as much time with Patricia. (Patricia is the French woman also staying at Chaba House.) She has been going out a lot and sowing some wild oats while on "mothering sabbatical". (Good for her!) And I've been mostly petering out after school. We did have a light dinner together on Monday night, I think. Then on Tuesday, she was gracious enough to treat me to dinner at a French restaurant in the Old City: La Terrasse. The proprietor is a French man who has lived in Asia for many years. His establishment is very nicely decorated, and the food is delicious. (I did NOT restrict my diet this night!) We shared some tuna carpaccio and pan-fried prawns. Then I had a duck confit leg (YUM!) that came with fried potatoes and lardons. I washed it down with a lovely French Merlot. For dessert we shared a black chocolate mousse and a frozen Grand Marnier souffle. My mouth is watering just typing about it here. It was an excellent meal to appoint as my last big hurrah before limiting my diet. Thank you, Patricia!

Other than that, things have been fairly quiet. I walk pretty much everywhere I go. Oh, and in a previous entry I mentioned that it took me an hour to get to school on foot. That was erroneous. It only takes about 35 minutes. Mr. Pathom did give me a bicycle to ride. I took it to school one day, but it just caused me more stress trying to figure out the flow of traffic on a bicycle that wasn't my own. So, I've been hoofing it ever since. I will, on occasion, take a song taew (red cab) or tuk tuk, but mostly I walk. Today was my longest city trek yet. I walked all the way to the far side of the Old City square in search of a yoga studio I read about online. (I got there only to discover that they are closed for renovation and vacation until July. Boo!) Then I continued on out of the Old City toward an area near the Night Bazaar where a health food store is located. Sapphire had given me a little flier for the store, and I was eager to check it out and get some groceries. It was a pretty small place with equal parts packaged goods, herbals/medicinals, and natural beauty products. I got a few things I needed there, but had to go to the Tops Market (supermarket) to get the rest. I did, however, get a natural beauty gift bag with a full sized facial scrub, facial mask, mineral water toner and foot mask for just over $10. Score. Although, this is how it is here. The dollar goes a very long way. (This is also how I'm able to book three spa days for myself!)

I got groceries with the intention of cooking my dinners at the guest house. I have, however, found a few nice places to eat lunch. One place, which was discovered by Patricia, is just around the corner from Chaba House. It is called Chef Peak's Kitchen. I believe Chef Peak studied cookery in France before opening up this little restaurant. He certainly knows his way around a curry, I can tell you. Everything is made fresh to order. Very good as well as very convenient. Another little jewel of a discovery is the "buffet" style eatery just around the corner from school. I say "buffet" because the menu changes daily, and they keep the dishes under glass so you can choose what you would like. It is run by the cutest little man and woman. I have no idea what the name of the eatery is ... or if it has one, nor do I know the names of the proprietors. Charlye, Eugenie and I went there one day for lunch, and the chef/proprietor was so accommodating to all of us with our weird dining requests: Charlye is vegetarian; I am gluten free. He doesn't speak any English, and none of us speak Thai, but he managed to understand what we wanted and served it to us with a huge smile. As we were near the end of our meals, I tried to use some of the VERY limited Thai phrases I have learned to tell him that it was delicious (aroi)! Then I told him I was finished (set lao), and was full (im). He seemed really pleased that I had tried to speak to him in Thai, (despite my lousy accent, I'm sure), that he brought us out some fruit for the table. It was the pink spiky fruit called Rambutan. (It's very similar to lychee.) We, of course, were very gracious, and ate it up quickly. Then I asked him for the check (cape tang). My noodle soup with a gorgeous fried egg added on top was only 20 baht! That's just under 70 cents! So much delicious food for so little money. We all left extra gratuity for him, and that pleased him as well. The next day we went back and brought along Sapphire and Joel (a French guy in our classes). The proprietor was so happy to see us again. He brought us two platefuls of fruit this time: mangosteen and sala. Both were delicious! And Sapphire, who speaks a little Thai, was able to talk with him a bit. Apparently he doesn't even charge us the full price because he likes us. We will definitely be going back there next week ... many many time. (This is a phrase that our instructor uses, well, many many time!) Another place we have become fond of eating (and drinking) is Satva Yoga. It's a tiny cafe + shop with a yoga studio upstairs. It's run by a gorgeous and super kind Thai woman. She only serves breakfast and lunch, and all the food is vegetarian and very healthy (and delicious!) She also makes amazing juices fresh to order.

So, that's my weekly roundup. After my long walk and grocery shopping, I just came home, tidied my room, gave myself a shower and a facial, and did some computer work. It's raining now, and the rhythmic sounds of the falling water are making a lovely percussive beat for the songs of the frogs, geckos, and other exotic animals I hear everyday outside my windows. What a beautiful symphony. I think I'll sign off and immerse myself in the dreaminess of it all. Bon nuit!

06 June, 2011

International Traveler - Day 3

Two nights ago a French American woman and a regular American woman went to Chiang Mai's famed Night Bazaar. It was their first proper night in Chiang Mai ... in Thailand, even. They had just met each other that morning. And they were both jet lagged and tired, but excited to be beginning their respective journeys.

To make short work of that story, I will tell you that the Night Bazaar is overcrowded, overpriced, and overhyped. This, of course, makes it like most tourist attractions the world over. Patricia and I had a bite to eat. I wasn't too hungry, so I just had a sticky rice and mango. (And it was delicious!) Then we trolled around a bit to see what there was to see. But, there was sooo much to see and so much of it was the same stuff repeating every block or so with only slight variations in presentation. We pretty quickly got our fill of the Night Bazaar. Feeling the jet lag begin to weigh in on us we decided to stop for a nightcap before returning to our guest house. We decided, pretty randomly, on an Irish Pub called, rather unimaginatively, O'Malley's. We took a table on the patio. Patricia had a beer and I had a gin + tonic. As we were reaching the bottom of our glasses, what did appear but two strange fellows at our table. One was an Iranian gentleman (by way of France, America, and who knows where else), named Nate, who has been living in Thailand for, I think, 5 years now. The other guy, Charlie, was a recent ex-pat from the greater Boston area, who had been only 3 months here. Charlie was very enamored of Patricia. He made no attempts at hiding his intense desire for her, nor did he try to conceal his complete disregard for my existence. (The latter bringing me a good deal of joy since Charlie is one of the biggest douchebags I have ever had the displeasure to meet ... arrogance, machismo, rudeness, egocentricity ... this man appears to embody of all that is ugly in this world.) Nate was respectful and interesting in conversation, but I had no interest in entertaining, or being entertained by, strange men ... especially on my first night in town when I'm exhausted and overstimulated by all the sights and sounds. Patricia, however, was interested in making some Thai connections. Charlie invited her to a "party", so I gave her leave to go with full assurance that I would be fine getting home on my own. I was so relieved to be removing myself from the company of Charlie that I probably would have bunny hopped the long way back to Chaba House if necessary. As I hopped in my red taxi (song taew), I said a silent prayer that Patricia would be safe, and then came home and welcomed sleep with sprawling arms.

(In case you are wondering, Patricia was fine.)

The next day, which was Saturday, I braved the busy streets of Chiang Mai on foot. I walked from the guest house to the massage school. It took me about an hour, during which I may have lost around 10 pounds of water weight in sweat. The streets are a little treacherous if you aren't careful, but I have never really been one to shy away from traffic. Besides, my favorite way to travel is on foot. I find it is the best way for me to get a really intimate look at the environment around me. Case in point, I discovered a charming little yoga studio near my school. I was having trouble finding the new location of the school. (They relocated the educational portion of the organization a couple months ago. The old location now just houses the spa.) I stopped in the Satva Yoga studio + cafe to ask for directions and found a warm and gracious English-speaking woman who answered all my questions and gave me directions to boot.

When I arrived at the school I was able to tour the building on my own. The receptionist was a very sweet Thai woman. The classrooms are lovely, and there is a little second floor patio with fountains and foliage and seating areas. There is a charming little fountain at the front entrance, as well. I am really looking forward to starting my training tomorrow, even more so after seeing the beautiful digs.

After resting back at Chaba House for most of the afternoon, I went in search of dinner. It was Saturday night, so I thought it only appropriate that I take myself to a nice dinner. I walked about half the distance to the school to a place called Santitham Guest House. The exterior decor had captured my fancy as I passed by earlier that day, so I decided to stop in and try dinner in the restaurant there. It's really beautiful. I don't quite know how to describe it. The best I can offer is that it seems to be decorated in "elegant disco". That might sound ridiculous, but they use a lot of mirror mosaics and mirror balls to decorate, but it still remains elegant and clean and not terribly flashy. Hopefully the photos will help you picture it better than my severely lacking description. I got there just in time. On my walk there I had been noticing a gathering of dark clouds that kept growing more and more ominous with each step. (It was very Hitchcockian.) And not even five minutes after I sat down and ordered did the skies open up and release a heavy summer rain on the town. It was wonderful in that it was helping to cool the overheated night, but the lightning and thunder were not such happy thoughts when I remembered that I had to walk home.

I put the worries about the rain aside when my food began arriving. The waiter immediately brought me a complimentary crudite appetizer served in a martini glass with a light and tangy remoulade sauce. (This made a very pretty presentation on the mirrored tabletop.) And it just kept getting better as each dish arrived: sauteed Chinese kale in oyster sauce, deep purply-brown rice, clear egg drop soup. It being Saturday night I allowed myself a glass of white wine. It was a little sweet for my usual preference, but worked really nicely with the spiciness of the thai food. I tend to like my Thai food pretty spicy (ped mak). So, I attempted to ask the waiter for some hot sauce or other heating condiment that I could add to my soup to up the heat ante. This turned into a fun game of charades and broken english and very broken thai before he realized what I wanted. He brought me some red chili flakes with the warning that they are very spicy. I guess many farangs (foreigners) don't typically like very spicy dishes, because I had to add quite a bit of the chilis to the soup to get it spicy enough for my likes. But once I did ... it was super delish!! After eating my fill I debated over whether or not I was going to wait for better weather, or just head out into the rain and face the elements like a true nomad. I opted for the latter. And I'm glad I did. Aside from being a really refreshing walk home - there's nothing like a stroll through a summer rain - I was able to test the mettle of my new Chaco sandals and my new Arcteryx rain shell. Both, I am glad to report, earned their price tags by performing beautifully and protecting me well in wet weather. Whew, that's a relief!

This morning I awoke at around 3:40am, and was unable to get back to sleep. I did some reading until time for breakfast at 7am. Mr. Pathom was off today, so his young assistants handled breakfast for us. Still very delicious.

Disco Elegant ...

My fancy Saturday night dinner.

A view from the Sunday Market.

Chef Peak. What a friendly fellow!!

05 June, 2011

More Photos of Thailand!

The charming Chaba Guest House courtyard ... is there any question why I splurged for the room with this view?

Chaba House dining bungalow and kitchen facilities.

Here is the entrance to my room ... the door just beyond the beautiful wooden gates.

Photos of Thailand!

The inimitable Mr. Pathom of Chaba Guest House. What a lovely and jovial host!

View from the back seat of a tuk tuk.

My French/American cohort from Chaba House, Patricia.

The Night Bazaar: A magpie's dream .. an agoraphobe's nightmare!

This is the Satva Yoga Studio. It's located near the ITM school, offers yoga classes, and has a health food cafe. I will definitely be stopping by here again soon.

Some Photos Relevant to Prior Posts ...

This is Ned. He's the gentleman who bought Marsha Mellow from me. Very nice chap.

Anisette getting acclimated to her new (spacious) home. (She's on the Left on the second level.)

This is the WONDERFUL manager of the Spring Hill RV Park, Jim. Without him I would never have survived my experience in the camper.

Here I am at the RDU airport checking in for the very first flight of my adventure.

The sunset over San Francisco. Beautiful!

03 June, 2011

International Traveler – Day 1

Today I awoke in Thailand.

Let’s see … when I last left you, I was still finalizing all the details of pre-departure. How’d that go, you ask? As far as I know, the insurance situation has been handled. Anisette got her fancy (and SPACIOUS!) new house. Rosy the Argosy was emptied and cleaned and disassembled for storage/sale. The last of my gear arrived. And I got to celebrate with beloved family and friends before my departure on Memorial Day Monday. (On a side note: I’ve been getting some good renewed interest in the camper, so please cross your fingers, say some prayers, do some trance dance, or whatever you do to send me some luck that she sells soon. Thanks!)

My flights from NC to San Francisco were pretty uneventful. I always try to sleep on planes as much as I can since the seats are designed in such a way that they are the most uncomfortable and unnatural torture devices ever invented. (Sorry … soap box.) However, there was a little tiny bit of freak out when I realized on the way to the airport that I had miscalculated my layover in San Francisco. I had an entire extra day that I didn’t realize I had. Apparently the notion that May has 31 days rather than just 30 was getting lost on my frazzled brain. Luckily, my gorgeous and generous friends, Valeda and Elijah, were willing to put me up overnight. (Thanks, again, you two!)

It was so lovely to visit with good friends in such a colorful, big city like San Francisco. They took me to lunch at Café Gratitude where I had a raw foods version of macaroni and cheese – zucchini strips with sun-dried tomatoes and cashew “cheese” sauce. It was delicious. Washed it down with an effervescent juice concoction of ginger and lemon. Refreshing! Then we all shared dessert; a couple of chocolate treats and a brilliant raw + vegan + gluten-free strawberry shortcake. Yum-a-rummy! After lunch, they brought me back to their charming home in Bernal Heights so I could take a nap. That nap turned into 16+ hours of deep sleep. Aaah. It was just what I needed. Tuesday we went shopping at a local natural foods co-op, had lunch at Samovar Tea Lounge (wasabi Caesar salad + Thai mulberry tea), and took Valeda to work at the italian restaurant, Ragazza. Then Elijah and I went to a gorgeous little herb + gift boutique, walked with Dulce (the sweetest little dog in Cali) to a hill with the most spectacular view of San Francisco to watch the sun set, then back to the house where Elijah was offered the job he wanted (Yay!), and back to Ragazza’s to pick up Valeda and have a snack with her at the bar (and to celebrate Elijah’s good news) before taking me to the airport. What a great time with great friends!

At the airport, I discovered that, despite all my careful packing, and despite culling my luggage down to what I thought was the bare minimum, I had brought too much stuff. I had not considered the weight requirements of international flights, and was over the limit, so I had to check a bag. Luckily, I was able to get creative and managed to consolidate my computer, snacks, and a book into a little fold-up shopping bag I’d brought ‘just in case’. Then I put a few ‘less necessary’ items from my backpack into what was my ‘purse’/shoulder bag. That allowed me to check the shoulder bag, and still have my most important stuff with me. It actually felt a lot better carrying the lighter load. I have a feeling I will be losing some of this excess by the time I fly from Thailand. Other than that, there was nothing really out of the ordinary with any of the three flights from San Francisco to Chiang Mai. I slept a lot on these, as well.

Once at the Chiang Mai airport, I made my way to the gentleman carrying a sign with my name on it: “MELANIE HAYES”. The gentleman is Mr. Pathom. He is the facilitator of the Chaba Guest House, where I am staying for the month. Mr. Pathom, a very sweet and jovial man who speaks fantastic English, drove me to the Chaba House while giving me a brief, but thorough, tour of the city along the way. Once there, he gave me my choice of two rooms – one an upstairs room in the main building, and another just off the courtyard and near the outdoor kitchen. (I splurged and got the courtyard room. I figured I’m going to be here a month, so I might as well treat myself well while I’m here.) Mr. Pathom got me all checked in and left me instructions on when breakfast was available. He made sure to get information regarding my dietary restrictions and preferences, and promised to take me out in the morning to show me where the Old City Center and the massage school are located. Then he left me to my solitude. I managed to put away my things, catch up on a few emails, and Skype with my folks before, at around 5pm, Thai time, I went to bed.

This morning I awoke at 5:30am in my comfortable double bed with the gauzy mosquito netting draping around it. I’d been having a dream about Ashton Kutcher. Not sure what prompted it, but I am certainly not complaining. I also realized that I arrived in my very first international destination on the new moon. That’s an auspicious sign, as the new moon has long been associated with beginnings. I took my time getting out of bed, luxuriating in the sweet newness of it all. Then I showered, dressed and set out for breakfast on the lanai. Mr. Pathom was out there and greeted me with his customary large smile. They say Thai people are renowned for their smiles, and Mr. Pathom is a shining example of this wonderful stereotype. He and his staff prepared a most delicious breakfast for me: vegetable fried rice, egg sunny-side up, fresh fruit, and sticky rice with taro root puree. It was heaven. He introduced me to another woman staying in the guest house. Her name is Patricia. She is a French woman who lives in Maui, Hawaii. She also arrived last night. Mr. Pathom was to take us on a tour together so he didn’t have to do it twice. It turned out to be a wonderful gift, that introduction.

Mr. Pathom dropped us off in the middle of the Old City center. Patricia and I went to the bank to change money, then decided to walk around the town together to see what there was to see. She has traveled extensively in her life, and shares a similar travel style to mine. We just walked around with no specific intent, getting to know each other. We stopped at the Corner Café to share a bite to eat (bean thread with tofu and oyster sauce, brown rice, and banana spring rolls) and to have a drink. Patricia was craving a cold beer, so I got wild and had a gin + tonic. Under the heading of “It’s A Small World”, I discovered that Patricia used to own a restaurant in San Francisco. The restaurant in the space where hers used to be is Ragazza – the very restaurant where Valeda works and where we had a late snack before my departure. Small world, indeed. While enjoying the food and conversation, one drink became two. That, of course, along with the jet lag and the heat, made us sleepy. We hopped a tuk tuk taxi and made our way toward Chaba House. The tuk tuk driver wasn’t familiar with it, so we directed him to a nearby [larger] hotel. He tried to help us find it with the little map on the business card, but, after a while he gave up and suggested we walk until we found it. We set out … we knew we were in the general vicinity of the place … cursing ourselves for not paying better attention to our landmarks on the drive out earlier. Eventually, we stopped to ask a street policeman. He wasn’t familiar with it, either, but a friend of his rode up on a bicycle, and he knew exactly where to take us. We were only one street past the street we needed. Whew! Crisis averted! We made it back just fine, and parted with the promise of getting together later this evening to check out the Night Bazaar. Exciting! I have a travel buddy! I am already feeling that this trip is going to be everything I needed and so much more. Stay tuned! Xoxo!