have not blogged for a long while... it seems like an age away since i sat down and wrote about my trip even though it was only just over 2 weeks ago! Well we went to Pai and that's why i am sitting here now to tell you all about it :)
The road to Pai was super windy and we were slightly hung over after a really funny night in a really crappy night club called spicy. I say crappy, i mean seedy, full of prostitutes of questionable sex and seedy looking men, plus the drinks were expensive. A strange feature of the nightclub was the 2 blokes that hang out in toilet... let me explain, sooo i was standing next to the urinal happily making myself a little lighter when the first of the two guys grab me from behind.... stay with me because if you leave now you might have some bad thoughts about what i have been up to in Thailand....the first guy grabs me around my neck, the second guy gets to work on my free arm... and they do some pretty rough massage, i had to tell them to stop because i couldn't concentrate on the task at hand plus the bloke was shaking me all over the place. They stop and then continue as i am washing my hands... it was a bloody good massage, they popped all my fingers, cracked my neck, cracked my back in a few places and afterward i felt refreshed.... its based on a tip service and i chucked them some cash.
Anyways the road to Pai was windy and i was slightly hung over... luckily Mike (who we are still traveling with) had a headphone jack and i let him DJ for me the whole way, lovely! We spent a total of four days in Pai and a week just outside of Pai (5 KM) on an organic farm, first i will let you know about the experience we had staying in the center of town. Pai itself is very very very chilled out, its so chilled out you seem to get very little done but have a great time doing it. The surrounding mountains and rivers running by make it very scenic and adds to the atmosphere of a very relaxed little place, and if somehow you are not relaxed enough there are also some natural hot springs you can spend the evening in while watching the stars. The beautiful scenery aside you have lots of small cafes, bookshops, shops and activities to keep you occupied.
On the first night we decided to take a wander around the night market that brings the main street alive at around 8:00pm the art gallery had a band playing (we found out they have someone playing every night), this night it was a fuzzy haired lady with a voice like Oscar the grouch...very different, good for a song or two but that was my limit! The trumpet player was the coolest looking Thai bloke i have ever seen ( i will put a pic on this blog). We finished the night by going to a Shisha bar.... i am sure most of you know what a shisha is but just in case it is also known as a "hubbly bubbly" or "hookah" basically a glass jar filled with water and pipes running through it, on top of this a hot charcoal covering a ceramic cup full of flavored molasses, which is what you smoke. It is tobacco free and lots of fun as other than the fruity flavor it gives you (we had apple) there is lots of smoke so you can take some funky photos.
We started the second day at around 12:00 with a cooking course, it was super laid back as was head chef Tee a very welcoming and chilled out Thai guy. He explained all of the ingredients very thoroughly and gave us time to take it all in.... there were 5 of us on the days course and each person made three different dishes. I made a massaman curry (bloody loverly), coconut soup and stir fried holy basil, Zoe cooked up Phanang curry, glass noddle salad and a Phad Thai... all of the food was gorgeous and we prepared everything including the curry paste. I can not wait to get home and use my new Thai cooking skills....some of you are in for a treat... hopefully. After cooking for lunch we had a 3 hour break and came back to cook up a storm for dinner with the main rule "After adding each ingredient to the wok you must take a swig of beer". It was amazing fun and i recommend to anyone heading to Pai to see Tee and take his cooking course, at the end of the day we sat and chatted while tasting each others food... oh and Tee also quizzed us on the days teaching. If you got a question wrong you had to drink a stupidly large shot of whiskey, the night continued on this theme with lots more drinking games Tee got his shisha pipe out and then we went to the local bar to play pool, chat and dance like idiots to crappy music :)
The next day we met up with Tom Mills, as we both happened to be in the same town again, this time only for a day, and also the last time we will be seeing him on this trip :( He had already sourced out a really beautiful fishing spot and after renting mopeds (2 pound a day!) we followed him through windy paths and dirt tracks to a hidden fishing spot just outside of town. It was really beautiful and for a super cheap price you could rent a rod, buy bait and snacks and fish, they also have hammocks so for fish friendly people like Zoe who are not interested in snagging a hook in the poor little buggers lip, you could sit and relax the day away with a book. We fished and chatted and caught nothing... Tom gave me a lesson on the basics of rod use.... he was very patient and a good teacher although he kept calling me son, he also swore that he had caught some catfish the day before but after catching nothing ourselves i was not quite sure...plus he somehow forgot to take a picture of the supposed catch :P
After a fish-less day we whizzed back into town and back to Tees place... hes very welcoming and if you have done a cooking course you can arrange to come back the next day and cook yourself some dinner to practice your skills, the kitchen is in his house so me Zoe and Mike cooked again and then we all dug into the tasty grub, Tom included. The night ended with a movie in one of the private movie rooms you can rent in town and we said fair well to Mr Mills until our return home.
After enjoying the previous days fishing and determined to catch something me and Mike zoomed back out to the lake while Zoe spent the morning in a Yoga class. We treated ourselves to some fresh coffee and the owner of the lake set up his rod next to ours and gave us some tips... after some chatting they offered us a room by the lake at a stupidly discounted rate (Very nice people), we told them we might pop back after the farm (unfortunately this did not happen) oh and unfortunately we did not catch anything this time either! But i did leave Pai feeling super relaxed and ready for some hopefully intense manual labor.... Off to the organic farm :)
We heard about the farm word of mouth from a girl who shared our tree house in Laos, the basic deal is that you pay a low rate for a room, or in our case your own little bamboo bungalow and you are free to work as much or as little as you want. I went there with the full intention of getting stuck in, partly for the exercise and a stupid as it sounds partly for the want to work. We met the relaxed owner and then were guided around the farm by a very nice french lady currently staying called Christine, we were allowed to choose from 6 different bungalows or the dorm... each bungalow created by the super cool, super relaxed and very funny owner Sandot and his crew. Each bungalow had been created in the style of a different hill tribe, one was made of mud, most were made of bamboo, one had a fire pit inside the bungalow and they all had their own little personalities...... we choose one with a gorgeous view of the Thai countryside, a double bed, a hammock, a small fore pit with a kettle, a toilet that looked like a throne (also with a gorgeous view) and a shower that cascaded water along three different logs before it refreshed you. After dropping off our bags we returned to the main campfire and kitchen area to enjoy a night time fire and some local made Thai whiskey poured from a bamboo cane / flask by the local Thai guys... this ended up being a regular routine most nights on the farm.... not getting drunk but a couple of shots of whiskey and some music / chatting around the fire.
Before going on i just want to set the scene of the farm. You have the many bungalows i have already told you about dotted around, taking about 30 minutes for you to walk around from hut to hut. Mixed among this there is a swimming pool (read: pond that you can swim in), a nursery, vegetable patches, fruit trees, Cotton trees, and other various organic treats. Everything is made using natural products (mainly bamboo). The bowls we ate from were bamboo, the chop sticks or spoons we used were bamboo, we cooked over a campfire, the fire tongs were bamboo, the cups were bamboo, we washed the dishes using the husk of a coconut as a scrubbing brush dipped in ash from the campfire as washing up liquid. Sandot was currently in the process of building a loom so that he can weave his own materials. Most of the guys on the farm were Thai and it was nice to be outnumbered by locals.... over the week that we stayed on the farm we bumped into a total of 6 or 7 Westerners on the farm grounds (maybe a few more but no more than 6 or 7 stick in my mind) most night we spent around the campfire, they all liked to play instruments and sing so the atmosphere felt really special and not something that the average tourist gets to join in with or experience. I'm finding it really had to put into words the average night time scene but the words i would use include music, dancing, strange instruments, local whiskey, special, laughing... you might get a better description of this scene from Zoe's blog but i think i have got my point across.... i loved it :) We picked up some Thai... the main phrase used was mainly "Nit Noi" to express "only a little bit" when they were offering us whiskey.
The first full day on the farm we were up early enjoying some galangal (root vegetable, similar to ginger) tea around the fire waiting to find out what work was available from Sandot. We didn't see Sandot but noticed some of his workers jumping in a blue pick up truck and used sign language to express our interest in joining them, that we did and headed out of the farm in the back of the truck. Pai tended to be very misty and cold in the morning so it definitely woke us up cruising along the road on the truck, we turned off into a field, drove through more fields until we ended up next to a wooded area. We spent the rest of the morning helping the guys by carrying the bamboo and logs they had cut down with their machetes to the back of the truck and loading it up, trying my best not to think about the possibility of scorpions under the bark, snakes and/or spiders in the grass! After working up a semi sweat we were back on the farm unloading the collected mass of wood to be used for projects such as the building of a tree house, the building of the loom, and any other projects Sandot or anyone thinks up..... An American guy we met while staying on the farm had the idea to build an Adobe oven using clay and traditional techniques... i believe he is at the farm building it now (as long as Sandot agreed and you had a good project plan you were free to do what you wanted).
Wood collection over with and feeling a little helpful Sandot suggested that we could De-husk some rice.... i say some rice i mean a bagful of rice and this took us up to the early afternoon. The process consisted of putting the rice into a big wooden bowl, one person using their feet to operate this huge wooden hammer to smash the husks from the rice while another person moved the rice around in the bowl attempting not to let their fingers get smashed by the hammer. Once this had been completed and the rice looked mostly dehusked, Sandots mum would use a sieve and a special technique to separate the rice from the husks (or at least the majority) and we could then check the remaining rice and remove the stowaway husks. So the jobs were smashing, moving the rice and checking..... me mike and Zoe took turns on all three. We ate some gorgeous lunch prepared by Sandot... a collection of "forest leaves" as he called it, which was basically a bowl of leaves somehow prepared into a gorgeous tasting salad and also a Jack fruit salad. I just want to say a little about jack fruit.....it is Amazing, can you get it at home??? i don't think you can....if you can i will be so happy....can someone just check in the fruit n veg section next time the go shopping...look for a jack fruit ( i will put a picture up) it is a massive fruit and when you remove the skin and eat the center it tastes amazing...it is very spongy and seems to soak up any flavors of the dish it is used in and amplifies it with its own unique flavour...bloody lovely..jack fruit jack fruit jack fruit.
We ate the amazing Jack fruit (did i mention this) and then after a lazy hour or so set about looking for some more work.... Cotton picking! Sandot has some trees dotted around the farm that produce super soft super easy to pick cotton, me and Zoe spent a lazy afternoon hunting down these trees and collecting the cotton, all the time avoiding the spiders and the many red ants that gave me many bites who love the trees. Collection completed we removed the seeds from the cotton buds (stored ready for re-planting) and put the cotton into a basket ready to be used when the loom is completed! We ate a tasty curry for dinner... anyone can cook and we all tended to take turns on the various days and cook up enough food for everyone to share around the campfire.
The second day started with a very different fruit, the star fruit. So called because when you slice it width ways it looks like a star... has a very sour taste (which i became addicted too) and i looked at the fruit as natures attempt at sour sweets (or candy if your American). We spent the morning collecting the fruit from the trees, Zoe climbing them, me using a bamboo pole to knock them from the tree and Mike doing much of the same. We washed and chopped them (bloody loads of them), and then while me and larone attempted to remove as much juice from the pulp, Zoe and mike chopped bananas...our plan, to make a shed load of star fruit and banana wine :) Taking a break for lunch we wandered down the road with Sandot to collect some Papaya from the trees and then we all set about chipping in to make some food for everyone, mike was grating the papaya under Sandots wife's instruction, i was smashing chilies and tomatoes in the mortar and pestle and everyone was completing various other tasks to whip up a scrumptious lunch...and bloody tasty it was with a super spicy papaya salad and various other treats... we didn't have enough chopsticks until Sandot whipped out his machete and prepared some out of a bamboo cane. All suitably full we jumped into and onto the back of Sandots jeep (Zoe took her moped and followed as she fancied a cruise) and he drove us the 5 Km into town, our mission to buy a shed load of sugar and a little bit of yeast for our wine.
En-route to town we stopped off at Sandots sisters farm (all adding to the experience as most places he took us, tourists did not have access to) We collected Thai apples (very small and taste strangely like cheese), some tarragon, bananas and passion fruit. We also stopped in at a secret location before hitting town, it involved walking through a field and into an area covered by tarpaulin and green netting..... what did we see....something i don't think i should write about on here but if you e-mail me and i know you i will send the pictures and tell you about it :)
We picked up the goodies needed for a homemade wine experience and made another unannounced stop at a friend of Sandots. Here we watched an old lady use her loom, a very complex procedure with over 10 hours of labour producing a piece of material smaller than a sheet. I think sandot wanted to get more ideas for the loom he was building and after a little chat with the lady she produced a roll of white string and tied a piece around each of his wrists (a tradition to express good luck to the recipient) Surprisingly it was then my turn and i also had some string tied around my wrists .... a very personal and quite intense experience, the lady was lovely and very smiley....she said something in Thai and Sandot laughed he translated it as "she likes you" but I'm not sure that is all she said....any ways i was gifted with luck and so were the rest of the guys. Before leaving the guy at the house led us all to a tank he had out the back he stuck his hand in a nd spent a few minutes searching for something in the dark waters... we were all quite confused at what this guy was up too, either we were watching a nutter with his hand in a sewage tank or we were about to see something cool, luckily it was a latter and out from the murky waters he pulled a soft-shell turtle! It was large and ugly and looked terrified.. he also pulled out a baby that was very energetic and by stretching his long neck did his best to bite our host. With Sandot as an intermediary we gathered that the turtles had been collected from the local river, they bury themselves under the mud banks and these guys come along and dig them up. We also gathered that the turtles are there to be eaten :( They sent us on our way with some more passion fruit and some small passion fruit plants to add to Sandots farm. Almost ho0me we make a third unannounced stop this time at the farm of Sandots uncle, very different to sandots but also organic, his uncle was growing in mass lots of very tasty looking veggies. We left with a bag full of onions, eggplant, lettuce, and pumpkin to cook for the nights dinner... also had a very strange tasting experience, he grew his own tea so they had damp tea leaves which they wrap around a chunk of salt and eat... i had to taste it, there was a lot of salt so that was strong but the taste of the tea still over powered it...an acquired taste I'm sure. Finally back at the farm (don't get me wrong i loved the excursions) we boiled the star-fruit juice and bananas with a shed loada sugar, we prepared the yeast and ate around the fire leaving our concoction in a large clay jug to brew for the next 10 days.
The next morning we were straight into the back of Sandots jeep again and off to a hill tribe market, had a wander and checked out the local produce... picking up only a few white clothes for the meditation camp we had booked in Chiang Mai. The rest of the day was spent lazily making a sign that would read "Keep Pai Clean" in English and Thai. It was for an initiative that Sandot was involved with to keep the Pai Canyon (just up the road) tidy, it was also affiliated with an up and coming reggae festival in the town. We made the sign out of dried long grass with thin strips of bamboo used as ties (bloody handy stuff that bamboo, no wonder the pandas love it), and then painted it. Sandot announced a trip to the hot springs, and gave us 10 minutes to grab our swimming gear. I say "the hot springs" i don't mean the normal hot springs that you have to pay for.... i mean the secret hot spring spot that sandot knows about that you don't have to pay for :) Back in the jeep we whizzed through some of the most gorgeous scenery i had seen so far in Pai, with green and brown leaved trees covering the mountainous skyline. Arriving at the hot springs we chucked some eggs in a bubbling pool of water to cook while we soaked and relaxed. I say relaxed that was after burning our feet on the way in... Sandot also knew where to find some really thick warm mud and we covered ourselves in this (noting that it can cost a lot of money to do the same in a spa). Hmmm this is sounding really boring as I'm writing, is anyone still with me i wonder? did i lose most people three paragraphs ago or two hmmmmmmmmmm.. ..maybe i will speed up the story a little -> Left hot springs -> drove some more -> arrived at Karen village.
Karen village, home of the Karen hill tribe and not surprisingly one of Sandots friends. We all bundled out of the Jeep and into this ladies house to see the really beautifully crafted "Karen Cloth". After viewing her wares and drinking their tea, we spent a load of money on some things she had made.....me and Zoe buying a couple of scarfs, a blanket and something else i can not remember....all really cheap but also bought in the back room of the ladies house where it was made, so for me it had an immediate sense of authenticity that gave me the inability to refuse buying something. Back on the farm, Zoe was head chef for the night and after she prepared the dish, Sandot and about 20 friends also added the dishes they cooked and we had a buffet around the fire.... this was the best night around the fire we had..... a load of Thai people singing, dancing, playing a bunch of different instruments, clapping hands, one guy was even playing the fire tongs.....and us enjoying it all and joining in where we can me and Zoe two out of five Westerners. This night was also special for another reason... ..
... We drove into town on the motor bikes (or the designated drivers did) i was on the back of one. Our destination, the Be-Bop bar.. we heard it was open Mic night and one of the girls at the farm was going to be singing with her band. After watching a few acts i mentioned to Zoe that she should sing and after a hesitating moment she set the wheels in motion and spoke to the guy in charge. After finding no one in the bar who could play guitar to any of the songs that Zoe knew (or at least anyone with the balls to play), even after an announcement, Zoe ended up singing without any instruments. She was amazing, everyone was quiet throughout, i was super proud, she was sat on stage lit up with a microphone in front of her, and singing to the biggest crowd she has sung to yet. Zo started off by announcing to the crowd how nervous she was and then began to sing "Feeling good" by Nina Simone, she also got the crowd involved by getting them to sing the bum-te-bum-tebum- bit....but the best thing was her voice shining out throughout the bar....at the end she had a loud applause i could tell she was super happy....a bloody good night.
I think I'm going to shorten the writing down a bit as i think it may be dragging on.....
Fourth day on the farm, eggy bread for brekkie on the fire, finished sign, and i set about doing some gardening. Sandot showed me the patch of land that needed clearing and pointed me to the hoe. He also explained that he had a bus load of around 100 students turning up to take a guided tour of the farm and would like to show them the simple life. He wanted to know if i was fine being part of that tour and i agreed to Hoe while they walked past. It was a strange experience, i heard a loud speaker getting closer and closer and then seen a large group of students and teachers heading towards me..... i continued to hoe and they all stood around me watching as Sandot explained something in Thai over the microphone.... i don't know if you have ever been to a museum that shows some old school farming or something similar, but if you have you will know what I'm talking about when i said i felt like one of those mechanical manikins they have doing some hoeing or digging....that was me and it was a weird experience....what made it comical was the fact that the handle for the hoe came up to my knee so i was using a midgets hoe with an audience of over 100 people!
We found out that we would be playing a part in the reggae festival and the clean up Pai canyon initiative..... we also found out that this meant we were to be given staff passes and free entry to the festival ...Whoop! Over the next couple of days we set about helping to get the Tacome Pai stand set up at the festival grounds and arrange a few things for the Pai canyon. In between this i did some more hoeing, clearing a massive patch of land and preparing the earth for planting (i unearthed a couple of large frogs hiding deep in the dirt ?!?!?), oh and we seen some elephants bathing in the river while we helping at the reggae grounds.
Right so the Pai canyon clean up initiative was happening the next day, Sandot had given a couple of us the task of constructing a curtain to cover the sign we had made at the canyon. The plan being that the Governor (Governor of what I'm not sure...but apparently a pretty important bloke) was to pull a string with Sandot on the morning of the clean up and reveal the sign. We came up with the idea of creating a curtain full of leaves that when released would reveal the sign..... simple in theory, not so simple in practice. Me, Mike and Casey (American Girl), wa;lked the 35 minutes to the canyon and started to prepare our curtain (Zoe and Larone were flyering the vent in town...oh and making the flyer's)... we gathered large leaves from the surrounding trees and began to thread them onto fishing wire we had attached to a piece of wood. We then strung this wood over the top of the sign and tied it off against a tree. We had probably managed to string up half of the leaves when the sunset...and then hitch hiked back to the farm. Oooo i forgot to mention, when we were first on the farm we had mopeds rented but then soon realised how easy it is to hitch hike around the area...me and zo e dropped our bike into town and within 30 minutes we back on the farm after catching a ride with a super friendly Thai family....everyone is so friendly...a bike really is not necessary if you are not in a rush to get anywhere.
The morning of the festival and the Clean up Pai event (Which I'm now going to call CUP event) me Zoe and mike woke at 6:00am and after a quick swig of galangal tea walked back up to the canyon.... as the curtain was not finished and the event would be starting in a few hours. We strung on the rest of the leaves, hoisted up the curtain and tied it off to the tree. After realising the wood was not long enough (we only had a few hours to create the bloody thing) we had the idea of tying off some of the string to the surrounding trees to try and cover more of the sign....my main concern being that when the Governor released the rope the whole thing would swing around and whack him in the head.... Well we got it finished and had our fingers crossed as the crowds started to arrive (i didn't look amazing but i think it was a good effort in the short time given to us). So the crowd was quite a large one, including a descent amount of guys from the army, students, head of police and of course sandot and the Governor.... all of these people gathered around our sign and our possible death trap of a curtain. After a few speeches Sandot and the Governor pulled the rope... to our surprise and luck the curtain fell from the sign and suspended in the air just above the ground (sheer luck due to the way we had tied the last of the fishing line in attempt to cover more lettering)...looking very professional, oh and there was also a cheer from the crowd and some clapping. Yey! Of course the whole sign and curtain business was not as important as the actual event and we spent a couple of hours wandering the canyon collecting rubbish. We ate pork, rice and chillies from banana leaves for lunch and headed back to the farm to rest before the festival.
We started the festival off with some more homemade Thai whiskey, it comes served in plastic bags you would wrap your sarnies in for about 80 pence... we got two of these bags and it was plenty for five of us. After walking down to the grounds, in between listening to the music, exploring the site and chatting to people our task was to show the simple life. Our area was like an oasis in the field set out for the festival...the field consisted of the main stage, an entrance bridge over a river and the perimeter occupied by food stalls and beer tents. Bang in the middle of the field with a perfect view of the stage was our area....pretty much a mini mock up of the kitchen and fire area of the farm smack in the middle of the festival. It almost felt like we were still on the farm and the festival had been brought to us. I was smashing Soy beans in a large mortar and pestle to make soy milk, along with making more star fruit juice. Other activities around the fire from the gang included pumpkin soup, sticky rice and general chat to the crowds that were drawn to our oasis about the farm. It was a really goood night and a really good way to say goodbye to the gang from the farm...as we had plans to leave for Chiang Mai in the morning.
So overall an amazing time in Pai...or just out of Pai, we loved it so much we are thinking we may extend our Thai visa and go back...it just means shaving a week or two off of India...and its just a plan so it may or may not come about...we will see :)
So we left Pai, and i was already missing it on our way out of the city, but i was also slightly apprehensive about our next little adventure in Chiang Mai. We had booked ourselves, or rather i had booked everyone on a meditation course within a temple on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. We spent the day before preparing ourselves by buying up some cheap white clothing, toiletries and all the items we would need for our six night stay....
.....The Location: Wat Phradhatu Doi Suthep Rajavoravihara, and as quoted by the temple its self "if you have not visited Doi Suthep you have not been to Chiang Mai" well we decided to do one better and live there. It is situated on a holy Buddhist site, and if you would like to read more about the site its self click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wat_Doi_Suthep
We were there for a short stay to experience and gain some knowledge of Insight meditation or Vipassana (Vi = clearly, passana = to see) The idea of the mediation to see clearly your own body and mind. The main theme of the meditation is to be mindful, you are attempting to be mindful of the present and bring your mind and body together. If you think that your mind can be in the future, the past, on the moon, in bristol, in Thailand....your body can only be in one place, the idea is to bring your mind to the same place as your body by being mindful about your actions at the present time...I'm not sure i explained that clearly enough but it should be come apparent when i describe our meditation training.
Our daily schedule was very relaxed with only a few appointments needing to be attended and the rest of the time free to be used how you liked. The first day we started in the afternoon, first we dropped off our bags in our rooms, my room was large and empty, only containing some blankets and a small thin mattress in one corner. We then attended an opening ceremony... there was one other person starting on that day, so including me, Zoe and Mike it made 4 of us, taking the total number of meditaters at the retreat to 12 people. The opening ceremony involved us prostrating to the image of Buddha, chanting, lighting candles / incense and listening to the monk. At the end of the ceremony he explained to us two meditation techniques and left us to practice for the rest of the day.
From here on out my daily schedule was pretty much the same every day. I would wake at around 4:00 am, meditate for 30 minutes (it was increased to 40 minutes per session after the third day....and now i am OK to meditate 50 - 60 minutes at a time) after this i would normally get a herbal tea or something....actually i will put it in a table for you:
4:30 - 5:00: Meditate
5:00 - 5:45: break (get a herbal tea, wander the temple, rest in the garden etc)
5:45 - 6:15 Meditate
8:00am Dhamma talk
9:00 - 11:00 meditation with breaks
11:45 - 3:00 meditation with breaks
3:00 - 6:00pm Meditation with breaks
6:00pm optional chanting until 8:00pm at the temple then the rest of the night to meditate.
So that was the basic structure of my day... i will talk a little bit about each of the elements but first i will let you into the rules:
- No killing (spiders, ants etc)
- No stealing
- No sexual or romantic activity
- No Wrong Speech (lying, swearing, talk to other meditators, unnecessary talk)
- Refrain from intoxicants (no smoking, no coffee or caffeine, no drinking, no drugs)
- Refrain from overeating (we were not allowed to eat after mid day, so that left 19 hours after lunch with no food until breakfast the next day)
- Refrain from beautification and diversion (No music, reading, writing, phones, Internet etc)
- Refrain from over sleeping (no more than 6 hours sleep a night)
There were other requirements but these were more adhering to Thai culture and respecting the temple such as:
- use a quiet voice, do not use anger
- respect objects and people around the temple i.e do not point your legs towards either of these
- respect the nuns and monks, give them some space basically
- bow when entering a place of meditation or worshiping... this was bowing three times. And when you r greeting people it is a small bow with your hands in prayer position...no high fives or shaking hands with the monks or anything
- and one of the hardest being to sit on your knees when in worship areas...it bloody hurt.
So you have the rules and the basic structure so you kinda know what i was up to at the center...ohhh and only wear white clothing :). I found the whole experience a challenge it did get a little easier towards the end but not much. The meditation techniques we used were walking, sitting and my obvious favorite lying :)
Each of the techniques used has the key focus of being mindful...I'm not going to go into it too much because there no point me attempting to pass on 6 days of meditation experience in a blog, if you are interested i would say go to a center and check it out. For all of you in bristol there is a center on Gloucester road that practices insight meditation and i plan to visit it when i get home. I will just talk briefly about sitting meditation... and the most basic form...as time went on more and more steps were added to each of the three meditation techniques we were learning..... so i sat on the floor in half lotus position (cross legged with my right foot above my left knee), the aim to concentrate on my in breaths and out breaths...to have my mind fully aware of my body....as i breathed in "rising" as i breathed out "falling"....rising, falling, rising, falling, rising falling....and to continue this process until 15 minutes were up and my timer let me know so. It is very very difficult to concentrate on your body and your body alone at the present time.... if you hear a noise or as our teacher explained it "if a noise touches you on your ear" you are to recognize that noise and to say in your head "hearing, hearing, hearing" and continue with the rising falling. Obviously it gets a lot more complicated than this and there is a lot more involved especially as you get further and further into practice but it gives you the idea.
I had some bad times meditating, and some good times. It is basically you and your thoughts, and it can be difficult, especially when you are spending over 6 hours a day meditating. It can be very rewarding and useful within the real world as i discovered, it also has a very calming effect and i almost feel like the world is rushing around me now... i know that sounds very la de da, but there we go. I also had some amusing experiences during the meditation, where i would experience a sensation deep in the process that i am not able to explain, but i found myself laughing and extremely full of energy and happiness after coming out of the meditation.
Talking about laughing to myself in an empty room wearing all white, the meditation center did look like a mental institute, you had 12 people walking around in silence wearing white, going through the range of emotions on their own. Especially so when you see people in the garden practicing walking meditation which involves walking in slow motion while staring a few feet ahead of yourself at the ground.
There were several areas we could utilize, our rooms, a meditation hall, the dining area, a garden and the temple that is open to the general public. It was quite funny to walk around the temple all in white while surrounded by lots of tourists...definitely got some funny looks, especially from other Westerners thinking your the local nutter. The temple area was gorgeous and a real treat to call home for those six days, you had gold strewn everywhere, beautifully designed and decorated buildings, statues and a gorgeous chanting hall containing a giant gold Buddha all topped off with a gold pagoda in the center of the site. My favorite aspect of the location had to be the view, my favorite place to go and contemplate during my breaks while enjoying a hot chocolate. I often found myself at the view point at 5:00 in the morning and late at night.... it was good early in the morning, during the day it was too foggy towards the night it got better again...but when it was dark, that was the best. It took my breath away and seemed to take my breath away every time i looked at it, the lights of the city opened up in a flat area of land... the way i described it too myself at the time: Like someone had taken a giant scalpel and cut a layer from the earths surface revealing the hidden circuit boards and inner workings of the world, the electronic planet. It really did look like something out of a sci fi movie and thats how i like to remember it. Another bonus was the Chiang Mai airport....a perfect view of the runway so during the day and night, mainly because we were awake for so much of it! you would see at least 4 or 5 planes land and take off sometimes more. The garden was also the home of two naughty puppies who zoe fell in love with.
The food was great... it was a challenge to not eat after midday but after the first few days i soon adapted and i think the fact that i was drinking a shed load of water and herbal tea place the lack of physical activity definitely made a difference. Before our lunch time meal we would have to chant together, which was for me a novelty but the meaning of some of the chanting i really liked, it basically said "We eat not for entertainment but to survive and for continuance of this body" and my favorite bit " i eat to destroy the old feelings of hunger and not to create new feelings of overeating"...brilliant. One of tasks during eating is to eat mindfully also, we would sit in silence, each with our own table facing out into the garden and as we ate to eat mindfully. Thinking about chewing, the tastes, how my tongue was reacting etc, etc, it was a very interesting experience.
During the day we would have Dhamma talk with our teacher, explaining basic principles of Buddhism. He was a great guy to listen to, very engaging, a great story teller and very comical, it was definitely something to look forward to during the day. He would also like to stress that we spend all of our time looking after our bodies but we go thousands of days without looking after our minds, and this is partly what the meditation sets out to do.
An optional activity was the chanting, the main session being at 6:00pm but you could also partake in the 5:00 am and 9:00pm session. I went twice and enjoyed both although i felt like Bambi taking its first steps every time i left because after sitting in the required position i could not feel my feet. You start by bowing to the Buddha and waiting for the abbot to arrive, when he does and he lights the candles, you all turn to face and pay your respects to the golden pagoda. After this you cant together (the monks mainly from memory us from a book) for about an hour... a very unique experience, there were over 40 monks and only 5 - 8 of us. As we were chanting you would also get tourists taking pictures through the door. Anyways you chant up until 7:00 then you change to the lotus position and you all meditate together in perfect silence for the next fifteen minutes, this is then followed by some more chanting and then paying respect to the Buddha and the pagoda once more. A very interesting and unique experience, one i will never forget, especially meditating alongside monks at one of Thailand's most famous Wat's.
We also took part in "Feeding the monks", i know it sounds strange and its not like they keep some of them in a cage and you need to fill up their water bowl and chuck in some fish scraps a couple of times a day. Basically every morning they walk through the temple with their alms bowls and people fill them with food. I gave out crackers, zoe gave out cookies and mike gave each monk 2 strawberries! Very funny morning, we realised afterwards how they would all be pissed at the strawberries crushed up in their alms bowls. ark ark
The last activity was reporting, this would be once a day and would involve a one on one talk with your teacher (monk) he would answer Any questions regarding the meditation and would then give you the next step in the technique along with any relevant tips. He was an exceptional guy and very down to earth for someone who has practiced for over 9 years.
I would definitely recommend giving meditation a go, as i said most towns have places where you can learn the techniques. If i had the time i would have liked to complete the 21 day foundation course, obviously that would be a big chunk out of our time in Thailand, and we decided not to do it, but if i ever find myself with a lot of time on my hands it will always be an option.... even with the final three days supposedly consisting of no sleep and a pretty much consistent schedule of meditation.
So there we have it.. i think i explained everything we have been up to since my last blog. I don't think i missed anything out either...i know i definitely babbled a lot in some parts so if you have made it this far, well done :) Since the meditation i have been on the net and wandering around Chiang Mai, eating at the night market etc and generally being happy. I am defiantly feeling a lot healthier in Thailand, i have not smoked a cigarette for over 10 days (not even when drinking) and i don't intend to, i still am and have been exercising in the mornings, I'm eating healthy, and now i meditate 30 minutes when i wake up and 5 minutes before bed. Pat C would be proud (x-colleague at orange)
I almost feel like it is the first time i have been free in Thailand as we were almost straight into a structured life on the farm, then we were in the meditation retreat and now ...well nowww ..ummm, i guess i will decide later what to do now :) Ohh we have booked up a trip to the elephant sanctuary tomorrow...me and Zoe are going. You don't ride them or anything (due to the cruel training methods), the idea of this place is to look after them, you feed them, you get in the river with them and wash them etc etc, its a little more pricey than the rides but it is there for the elephants not the customer so we are well happy to pay the extra :)
If anyone has any questions or would just like to send me an e-mail feel free to do so email@example.com
I recently finished a book called the bible code. A very interesting read, and speculates or actually almost proves the theory of a code that is hidden in the bible. The code is said to show all events that will happen in the future, and throughout the book proof of events that have already happened is shown in the code and also events that were in the future during the time of the book being written. Very interesting.... I'm starting to notice that as this blog has gone on I'm starting to sound a little more like a nutter every minute..
Till Next Time
P.s Happy Birthday Holly :) for today 2nd Feb and answer the phone !
p.p.s photos here : http://www.flickr.com/photos/discozo/sets/72157613180505827/
p.p.p.s jus been listening to radio 1 while uploading photos...home sick!!! soon wear off ;P