Thursday, September 25, 2008

Things I Love that can Make My Day

1. Seeing the Sunrise

2. Smiling a really big smile at a stranger and getting one back

3. Seeing a rainbow

4. Laughing so hard I start crying and then sort of screaming quietly to myself which I can't control and then everyone realizes I'm still laughing and gives me weird looks (thanks Ted for the cinderblock joke)

5. Getting Snail Mail (shout out to Abbie for snail mailing me a Love List!)

6. Making brief meaningful connections with strangers

7. A really great yoga practice

8. When something simple works out just perfectly (like a light turns green just before you have to slow down, or you make a smoothie and it fits perfectly into your glass, or you take a wrong turn and run into someone you wanted to see)

9. Hearing from an old friend

10. Having an epiphany about something that has been bothering me

11. Synergistic potlucks

12. When someone posts a comment on my blog (go Sandy and Ethan!)

13. Letting go and realizing that everything will still be okay (often will only be okay if I do let go)

14. Dancing 

And She's Back!

Alright I'm back. I feel good about life again! 

The meditation retreat was okay. The retreat itself wasn't really what I was expecting or wanting, but the time to myself outside of the city away from work was awesome. I had a lot of realizations about things and I was able to let go of some things I was holding onto that were causing me stress. 

I didn't really "feel the love" at the retreat. It wasn't quite the atmosphere I was wanting. There was not very much sitting meditation, just lots of talks by the monks and nuns, and some walking meditation. One thing I really liked though was there was lots of singing. The dharma talks were a little frustrating/boring because it was non-native speakers of English giving talks in English that were simultaneously translated into Thai, so it took twice as long to get the information across and the message ended up being really disjointed. A lot of times I had no idea what they were really trying to get across. I also felt really sick for most of the time, my body ached, I was sniffly and really tired. So for the most part, not that fun of an experience, but valuable. 

On the second last day, they ask you if you want to receive the 5 Mindfullness Trainings which is a Thich Nhat Hanh thing, kind of like vows or precepts to live a better life. 

I wasn't sure if I wanted to receive the trainings (there's a ceremony) because the it seemed suspiciously like getting baptized or joining a cult or something (you get a "dharma name", which seemed a tad culty to me, but I actually really like mine (Boundless Love of the Heart), so I've decided I'm okay with it). 

Also, you vow to give up meat and alcohol forever which I wasn't sure I was ready to do even though I've had little of either in the last three months. I sat in the meditation hall for about 15 minutes thinking about whether or not to do it and figured that I would if I got a sign. I got up and as I was walking out, a couple that I felt really connected with since the first "Day of Mindfulness" I attended, stopped me to talk. They said that it wasn't really strict like some other religions like "you must never do this again and if you do you should feel guilty" but more like practices to help you along the way to being a better person and having better relationships with people and with the earth. I was also reminded of a conversation with my good friends Gaston and Laurence in which Gaston referred to the trainings as "friends" which gently remind you how to be rather than hard and fast rules. With this, I felt more comfortable and decided to accept the trainings with my personal caveat that it would be okay if I broke them sometimes and that I would not feel guilty if I did, simply accept myself and my situation. After the ceremony the next morning, the aching in my body, the intense tiredness, and the negative energy I had felt all weekend (and the anxiety I'd felt for almost two weeks) lifted and I felt free and happy again. Until then I had been a little disappointed with the retreat, but I realized that that was the reason I was there, not for the dharma talks or other things, but to let go of expectations and guilt in myself and get back in touch with a lighter spirit that had accompanied most of my time in Chiang Mai. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Few Things of Note in my Life at Present

Hello all! It's been a while; I've been busy and also a little stressed out (which I though was impossible with my life in Thailand!) I've been a bit anxious and emotional about some things and have fallen behind on my yoga and meditation the past few days. It makes a big difference. This weekend (Th-Sun) though, I'm going to do a meditation retreat with monks and nuns from Thich Nhat Hanh's Plum Village. I think this is coming at a really good time because I've been feeling kinda down recently :(

A few updates:

1. Its the end of the semester, so I've been grading like a madwoman and trying to make sure my students are ready for the exam that I don't write (and therefore have no idea what is on).

Something that did make me feel better though was some good evals from my students. Most of it is a scantron in Thai which I can't understand (yet!), but some wrote comments in English:

"I want to learn English with Alison next term and every term. I <3>

"you are very cute and you are the best english teacher for me hope to see you again"

"you are my very good teacher . I like you :)"

"we love Ali so much"

2. A good friend of mine got Dengue Fever so I spent the last 5 days taking care of him. He had a fever of 40C (around 105F) for 3 of the days and was ridiculously sick, but didn't want to go to the hospital! He's doing better though (due to my excellent care, I'm sure) 

3. It turns out peace and non-violence really are the only way. After weeks of spraying the ants with this natural pesticide that I got and trying to kill them, I finally just put out a peace offering bowl of honey on the balcony and they have left everything else alone since.

4. My Thai is coming along well, I can read slowly (even though I usually don't know what it means) and my writing is decent. Today I wrote on the board in Thai and my class cheered for me :)

It was the last day of class since I'm going on the retreat, and so we had a party in my favorite class. Everyone brought in snacks and a couple of the students gave me presents. It was really sweet and I found myself really sad not to be teaching them anymore. 

Now that the rainy season is coming to an end, we are getting some gorgeous sunrises

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Driving on Faith

In Chiang Mai, you have to drive based on predictions. If you make decisions based on what is happening, you're too late; you have to anticipate what is about to happen and drive accordingly. You have to know what everyone else is about to do because you are usually driving so close to each other that you wouldn't have time to react  - this guy is going to stop, that guy is going to accelerate, this guy is turning, that guy's about to cut me off. Most of the time, this works beautifully (everyone does what you expect them to do, and responds to what they expect you to do) and is the only thing that allows so many vehicles to move around this city during rush hour. 

Occasionally, it doesn't work. The other night I was on my way home driving past Warmup ("the hottest club in town") thinking to myself "drive carefully, most of these people are probably drunk, be alert, be cautious..." and I was changing lanes to get out from behind a car that was going slowly when all of a sudden the car was no longer going slowly but in the split-second it took me to check my blind spot, it had stopped (unexpected action) and I was now crashed into it's back bumper. I was going slowly and so I just got thrown forward a little, but I definitely cracked the plastic. Of all the cars in Chiang Mai I could crash into, it had to be a BMW. The driver got out, saw that I was a farang (westerner) and immediately asked how much money I wanted to offer him for the damage. I started to to rub off the scuff marks to try to make it look a little better and to buy time because I hadn't the faintest idea how much it would cost to fix this. As far as I knew it could be 100 baht or 10,000. He took my stalling to mean that I didn't intend to pay and got offended when the friend I was with asked if he had been drinking, so he proceeded to call the cops. After yelling 'farang mumbledthai farang' a couple times into the phone, he tried to scare me by telling me what I had done was a criminal offense and we would have to go to the police station. After he called the cops, he wouldn't talk to me anymore so I called a Thai teacher that I work with and he came out to help. Once the teacher told the guy I was an ajaan (teacher at a university) everything seemed to smooth out; he suggested 2,000 baht and I accepted, eager to get out of the situation without police paperwork. I needn't have worried though, while I was paying, the police officers showed up and must have just come from the club and thrown on their uniforms because they seemed drunk and rather than asking what happened, just started flirting with me! An altogether different experience than it would have been in the US. 

Side Note: Thais are generally very nice drivers; the horn is used only to indicate location, like: "I'm right here, don't run me over," never as a "f***you a**hole" like it  often is in Canada/the US. Even when someone totally cuts you off, or someone is blocking the entire intersection in rush hour traffic, Thais just smile and deal with it, which is usually how they deal with problems in general - nice sometimes, frustrating other times.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Love List

This week Meg Fowler (my Love List inspiration) did a fill-in-the-blank Love List, so here's my response:

Song you love: Fortune Teller by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss

Word you love: Circumlocution

Academic subject you love: Linguistics

Hobby you love: Yoga

Type of baked good you love: Carrot Cake/Muffin

Type of sky you love: Intense dark purpleybluegray thunderclouds

Beverage you love: cappuccinos

Vacation you love: being in the mountains/on the water

Restaurant you love: PunPun

Way of getting around that you love: bicycling

Person you love: Ethan (Happy Birthday!!)

Room in your home (or ideal home) you love: my balcony

Movie you love: Love Actually

Book you love: The Harry Potter Books

City you love: Gainesville

Future plan you love: Traveling the World

Form of communication you love: eye contact

Junk food you love: chocolate in all it's various forms

I'd love to see yours! If you do one please leave it or the link in my comments, Thanks

What Have You Done with My Students?

My normally quiet, shy, reserved students decided to stay home these past couple of days and in their place I've gotten wild, yelling, hilarious actors. This week they did role plays of TV shows, and I wish I had known earlier that this was how to get them excited about English. There was yelling, cheering, costumes, props, dances, impersonations, singing and one group even painted their faces white to act as American movie stars (most Thais aren't that dark-skinned, but still covet light skin - for example it's difficult to find sunscreen or body lotion without "whitening" properties). They must have used Microsoft Word or some other auto-correcting word processor because we had nameplates for Angelina Jolly and Ben Affect. 

It was great fun to see them perform; in one presentation, three students dressed in matching track suits and headbands and got the whole class got involved doing an aerobics show. One group did a cooking show, complete with a table full of real food that we got to sample (mmm, corn-apple-yogurt-honey-lettuce sandwiches...). 

To understand how amazing this is, keep in mind that 99% of the time, it's impossible to get them speak above a whisper or anything besides what is written in their textbook. 

I was also heartened that one group did a show called "World Warm Warning" where they pretended to be scientists telling you how to reduce your contributions to global warming (on the whole, Thailand seems very conscious of environmental problems, specifically global warming; there are t-shirts, posters, bulletin board displays, etc.  - whether this translates to action is hard to tell, but at least there's awareness).

Thursday, September 4, 2008

R.I.P. Morning Glory

I have lost the battle, but I am determined to win the war. This morning I laid my once-beautiful morning glory plant to rest in the trash can at the end of the hall. It finally succumbed to the long, hard battle with a colony of ants (which have since overrun my apartment). I have been trying for weeks to save it - pruning it aggressively, rubbing it with ant-repelling herbal oils, taking it in the shower with me to wash of the disgusting white egg sacs... but it was not to be. To save the other plants (hopefully my sanity if this stems their population expansion), I had to sacrifice it.

I cannot leave a crumb of food lying out without it being swarmed. They are beginning to explore my clothes, and the garbage can is a lost cause. I have figured out a few ways to thwart them though. With my sharp TRiP leader instincts still in tact, I have started hanging small "ant bags" on my curtain rod with anything they may find enticing hoisted out of reach (so far they seem incapable of coming out onto the rod and climbing down the string into the bag). 

Ahimsa is great and all that, but I can't help it - Death to ants! The battles continue...

Speaking of battles - if you are worried at all about my safety due to the protests in Bangkok, don't be. CM is all 'life as usual'. So is most of Bangkok from what I hear, but really no worries here. I'm more worried about some of you in Florida! 

Funny side note: I recently bought some big plates to put my plant pots on to catch the water that runs out. I bought them at this place I go often, where most of the stuff is handmade locally - you can tell because there are imperfections. I sort of assumed it was all from the same people, but when I got my most recent purchase home, I looked on the bottom and saw none other than the Ikea logo! Rejects from the factory? Overstock? Wrong order made? who knows, but I got a plate most likely $30 in Canada/US for $1.50 and had a good laugh at all the cultural implications. 

My balcony feels so empty - like my heart - without you, morning glory...