Saturday, February 16, 2013

Moving on.

So as everyone who reads this knows, we have returned to Canada.  I felt it fitting however, to bring finality and closure to our adventure.

It's hard to believe that two months went by.  It's hard to believe we traveled about as much as humanly possible within one country, and on such a low budget.  I think this exceeded our expectations.

I learned a lot.  Not the things I thought I would learn though.  I predicted learning about Buddhism, culture, and a broader understanding of the uniqueness of people in the world.  Instead what I learned was how similar we all are.  Our practices, traditions, and beliefs merely identify where we came from, not who we are. 

And who are we? We are people on the move.  Believing that we're riding a cosmic bicycle, and if we stop for even a moment to enjoy where we are, we'll topple over into the cosmic mud and skin our cosmic knees.  What I learned was this is not the case.  You're allowed to enjoy where you are in life.  You're allowed to appreciate the hardships you've endured, and even the ones you're currently enduring.  It's not glamourous, but that's not the point.  We're here to discover, not to know.  There's endless wonder in every waking moment.  If you can feel the vibrations that go by unnoticed 99% of the time, you start to tingle, and your entire body will feel like it's floating, and you will feel endless compassion.  This isn't drugs or religion or anything abstract either.  It's a sense of being.

So I learned that no matter where I am in life, the awareness of life itself is quite a blessing.

So yes this is the end of one major part of my life.  And it is bittersweet, but there's so much more to come.  From me and Audrey.  Just the glimpse I've had of her future makes me tingle like so much.  She's going to make her mark in a huge way.  So from me, I say so long to Thailand blog.  It was fun.

Bryce Knudtson

To be continued...

Friday, January 11, 2013

Mae Hong Son Motorbike Loop

Mork-Fa Waterfalls

Inside a bat cave

View of a jungle highway.

The final leg of our journey.

Found some gooseberries at the market and so I stuffed my motorbike full of them.

After spending a week on Mindful Farm I decided to hit the road. Quite literally. My friend Arthur and I rented motorbikes and did the well-known (dare I say infamous?) Mae Hong Son loop. The roads are incredibly beautiful, with many interesting hikes, waterfalls and hot springs to see along the way. However I think that its fair to say that the roads are as dangerous as they are beautiful. The hairpin turns are surrounded by lush jungle, and occasionally poor infrastructure means that you often drive no more than 25 km an hour for three hours at a time. But all in all it was a great trip, and the roads were well-maintained for the most part.

Cooking Class

Proudly displaying my Pad Thai
As I'm sure most of you can imagine, my cooking class at We's was the highlight of my time in Chiang Mai. My gracious teacher, Wee, took me to the market and taught me how to identify many foreign looking Thai vegetables. Then I made: Pad Thai, Green Curry Soup, Vegetarian Spring Rolls, Papaya Salad, and Mango Sticky Rice. Bryce showed up at the end of the day to help me eat everything of course :)

Learning about veggies and spices. That yellow is actually turmeric!

Green curry paste I made with ingredients for green curry soup

Wee. the owner and teacher at We's,

Chiang Mai Temple Tour

There are over 300 temples (wats) here in Chiang Mai and each one of them is as beautiful as the next. I did a walking tour of the city on one of our first days here, taking in all of the most recommended wats. The Lanna style architecture is beautiful and I'm not used to seeing art and buildings that are 700+ years old - they really are something.

I even got to talk to a Monk, who was studying English at University as well. He told me of his daily routine, and that he had been at the monastery for seven years already. When I asked how long he will stay he gave me the very Buddhist reply of: I do not plan, I will just "be".

Monday, January 7, 2013

Monday, January 7 2013 : 1:32pm - How to describe my time at mindful farm?

Mindful is a relatively obvious one.  Serene.  The landscape is beautiful.

So beautiful that you don't even mind the blistering heat during the day, and the freezing cold at night.  I haven't seen community quite like this before.  Every day someone comes, and every day someone leaves.  But everyone helps.  Gardening.  Building.  Cooking.

The past few days I've been the designated fire starter.  Funny, because before this I had never made a fire before in my life.  I will miss everyone, but at the same time I know it's the right moment to leave, like the last day of summer camp.

I learned a lot.  About mindfulness, farming, and pouring urine on plants.  I think life will be good.  My isolation big city madness has faded, and now I have... things!  Plans, and so much more.  This is all gravy.

 This is the first monk to ever stay at Mindful Farm, and the first one I ever met and talked to in real life!

Today a bed I spent an entire day making and seeding, and all week watering has sprouted.

And maybe it's a weed, quite possibly is.  But you know what?  I created that weed with my bare hands, and I'm proud of it.  DANG proud!

And these are all pictures mostly for Audrey, to see how the place has changed, even in the last few days!

I made that back wall!

January 1, 2013 : 1:01am - I've been living more and more in the past.

Like, visions of a past life.  From Ken Kesey being released from prison, and even before that, Magical Mystery Tour, The Grateful Dead, Merry Pranksters, Allen Ginsberg, Hell's Angels, a dust storm of death, and Hunter Thompson, always, right there in the midst of it all, grinning maniacally from behind his typewriter.  Tim Leary, the sage, and Neal Cassady, the who-knows-what behind the wheel of a day-glo bus.  Jack Kerouac lamenting what he helped create, and then threat!  And dope!  And acid, good God.

I've been reading, books, articles, anything, and listening to that fiendish old time music, and I wonder.  Seems that's all I do now.

"Just gimme that rock and roll music, any ol' way you use it."

My mind is ricocheting off these walls like a lightning discotheque and BANG!  BANG!  BOOM!  It's new years.  Don't forget.  Don't sleep.  Yes Thailand, thank you Thailand.   Point!

Yes, what did they start that they did not, or could not finish?  Did the drugs rot out their brains like the television ads say?  Did apathy take hold?  What was it that stopped people from fighting, only not fighting, living, for more.  Honesty, up frontedness, synchronicity, harmony.  Why stop?  Seems silly to me.  Though in truth, what have I done lately?  I'm too scared to say hi to Johnny from Toronto when I see him in the hall. Well okay.  I'll try.  People can be happy.  I saw it once in a dream.

Monday, December 31, 2012

December 31, 2012 : 11:44am - I feel madness coming on.

This is why it's a bad idea to travel alone.

Audrey wanted to go to a farm an hour outside of Chiang Mai.  I will join her shortly, but I felt there was still more to experience here.  This is my second day on my own.  It's a horribly empowering thing to be able to succumb to weird urges in public and still be viewed in the exact same degree of alien that you already are.  Whatever you do in daily life is already strange and confusing enough to Thai people, if you start tiptoeing around a shopping mall with your eyes bugged out, I assume at least there's some comfort in seeing familiarity in this:

"Oh yes, homeless and insane, we have those too.  More coffee sir?"

The most abhorrent thing of all is when I attempt to distinguish Thai madness from our own. What is imported madness?  3 ice creameries in one building.  Definitely ours.  Everyone still wais though. Even in KFC.  The wai is the Thai handshake.  And yet the one thing they can't shake is their hospitality. How comforting.

Speaking of comforting, I starved myself for hours (unintentionally mind you), walking and rejecting breakfasts until now.  Pasta with bacon.  Do I have a problem?  First fries and now this.  Maybe it was all subconscious and I knew I would come here all along.  Gotta gooooo.  To that faaaaarm.

December 30, 2012 : 8:30pm - 5 minutes ago,

I sat, twanging a loose fibre from the thatched hammock I lay in, listening to the smooth sounds of a silky Chiang Mai evening.  The chorus of "Gangam Style" echoing faintly in the distance.  It has become a part of the audible landscape, with the frogs, crickets, birds and dogs.  These are the sounds of nature.

I looked off onto a distant Wat.  In Thailand, they call temples Wats.  It means something in Thai.  God only knows what.

Tonight is filled with magic.  I contemplated being filled and realized with great urgency that I am hungry, and require a plate of french fries immediately.  And a bottle of Leo to go with it, why not?  I look at my phone.  5 minutes until they close the kitchen.  This suddenly becomes the most important task in the world to me, crucial really.  I bolt.

Presently I look on at the magic of the evening.  I remember Johnny from Toronto telling me how he's felt better.  I don't think he's seen in colour today.  He'll see it soon enough.

My fries just arrived.  You see?  Magic.  I have to admit that it peculiarly fascinating.  This country.  I wouldn't say that I've become disenchanted, as I've recently been pondering.  Rather, the weight of reality, intimidating and massive like a bodybuilder on steroids, has finally descended on me, with my naive notions and classic schoolboy romanticism.  I've been uprooted.  It's uncomfortable.  Who do I blame?  The government?  But which one?  Those sneaky rat bastards, they've separated into splinter cell factions!  No matter.  Perhaps I had something to do with this turn of events as well...

Audrey's as happy as a pig doing pig stuff.  Digging the culture, digging the heat, and the markets.  The silk, and digging better ways of living.  Maybe I think too much to be carefree.  I still find humour in the situation though.  Isn't that just as good?  I'll be the plucky comic relief of Thailand.  The Simon Pegg, sure.

So... So so...  I guess I ran out of words.  How unlike me, right?  Staring at the man playing pool who may or may not be Iggy Pop.  Looks about ready to search and destroy.

The magic's faded a bit now.  I guess that's what makes it special.  Understanding what an absence of magic feels like.  Otherwise it would mean nothing.  It would become another shade of grey, analyzed under a microscope into oblivion.  I'm happy waiting for the next perfect moment.

Monday, December 24, 2012

December 25, 2012 : 11:23 - Merry Christmas!

Here in Thailand there is only a minor buzz around the monstrous multi-month long Titan known as Christmas. I feel homesick for my friends and family momentarily, but I mostly feel okay with being calm and reserved here in chiang mai.

Being without technology or the internet for a week was very strange, and going to another, stricter, more mindful farm for 2 weeks followed by yet another farm will be challenging, but also rewarding.

The most frightening prospect of all though, is the though of taking a 26 day meditation course a month from now. The would mean no technology, no reading, no writing, no talking, no naps, no contact with the outside world, and only 6 hours of sleep a night for a month.

Yet it is my main reason for being in Thailand so I can't back out now. It will just be intense. Nothing wrong with that, right? My brain won't implode from deprivation of stimuli. Right?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Pizza, Sign making, mud houses

Today was another beautiful day at Baan Sairoong. We visited many other farms to look at their mud houses, I worked on carving and making a sign for the farm, and I even made pizza in the mud oven. Somehow my brain has managed to store the information for 4 perfect balls of dough to make 4 pizzas. I can hardly recount what I learned in 5 years of university, but if it's pizza dough you want, I've got you covered. grumble grumble....$40,000 education...grumble grumble...

My Birthday!

The cook on the farm made me a special birthday fish that was caught from the lake down the road. We even stuck a candle in it! Best birthday fish I've ever had. We also had mango from trees nearby and rice grown from here too. It was so lovely. Bryce got me a beautiful orchid hair clip from the night market and we all had dinner together. Even the hives that are mysteriously appearing on my arms whenever I work with the mud houses couldn't get in my way of having a good day. 

Baan Sairoong

 We have been here for 3 days now and still have 4 more to go! Our host Isara is quite the man. Eternally grateful and endlessly generous, even with stomach problems plaguing him he still has a smile on his face.

Yesterday we attended the funeral of a village woman. Isara was happy that we came along because he wanted to share Thai culture with us. Here, when someone dies no one is sad because they know this person will come to Earth again via reincarnation. Instead of sadness, village monks come to chant for an hour while we meditate along to the chanting, and then they stuff us full of food, and Thai whiskey and beer until we're close to bursting. 

Today I went to the local school to 'teach' the kindergarten. This involved me being tossed in a room for an hour with the children while the teacher dicked off. I had no help and couldn't translate a thing for them, but I still tried to teach them a few animal names and the English alphabet. They are just so desperate to learn English here that they'll throw anyone in the classroom and have the ramble in English to the kids in the hopes that something will be retained.

Traveling from Krabi to Tha Ma Fai Wan

After traveling for more than 24 hours, 3 truck rides, two cabs, three buses and one scamming cabby later, we've made it to Baan Sairoon (Rainbow Community). We were offered an opportunity to stay on an organic farm and learn how to make mud houses, thai cooking, and working with children. It meant we had to cut our time in the south short, but it seemed worth it.

Isara, our host, is a smiling, generous man, a former monk turned commune leader.

Our bed is in a mud and brick hut with holes in the thatched roof, and dirt and bug carcasses litter the floor. But you know what? That doesn't bother me because I have food, shelter and I'm sharing this all with someone I love. Lucky me!

Friday, December 14, 2012

December 10, 2012 : 6:56pm - As I sit in the lodge...

thinking about today, wearing my last dry set of clothes, listening to the thunder roar and rumble through the trees, I feel no anger or resentment, but rather, something almost resembling gratitude.  Those memories flash in my mind in synchronicity with the lightning.  Fragments.

Earlier that day:
I duck my head down, along with everyone else.  We brace ourselves, like an airplane about to crash, some men remove their shirts.  Not me.  I look on.  It looks like the end of the world.  I look to my right.  Audrey is smiling at me with fire in her eyes.  I wonder now why I wished for adventure 2 hours ago.

2 hours earlier:
I wish for adventure as I trudge through the jungle.  It isn't like I'm not enjoying myself, I really am!  I'm in one of the oldest rain forests in the world, how awesome is that?  I spend a lot of time looking at Audrey's ankles.  They're clean.  I wonder if it was a good idea to leave my phone at home.

This morning:
It's so beautiful out that I can't even imagine my phone getting wet, but the program said that sometimes things can get a little hairy out there, so I decide to be overly cautious.  I'm super excited because today we're in Khao Sok and we're doing a cave tour!  I've never done anything like this before so I'm a little nervous.

I think Audrey's a little more nervous though because she's terrified of leeches.  I will probably be spending a lot of time watching her ankles, since it's quite likely we'll run into them here.

Before long we're loaded into a van, tossed out, and into a long motor boat for an hour long ride across the lake.  The lake is beautiful.  You can see huge limestone cliffs jutting out from the water.

As we're on the boat I have an epiphany, vast and visual.  I see every future of my life played out to the piano composition of La Valse d'Amélie.

I see myself becoming a master meditator in the northern province of Thailand.
I see myself back in Canada, owning a cabin and a boat, working with fresh foods.
I see myself in France, immercing myself in culture and creative endeavor.

These visions are so beautiful that it's difficult for me to part with them, but I do for now.

This afternoon:
We get off the boat, eat, and get on another boat heading for the forest.  The plant life is massive and towers above us, which relieves me, since at this point I'm sweating profusely amongst our mostly German tour-mates.  The foliage overwhelmes my senses in a way I haven't experienced before.

In the cover of the trees we make our way to the caves.  Over fallen logs, through streams, hopping on rocks.  By the time we make it to the cave my sneakers, socks, and most of my shorts are drenched.

The cave is amazing, and traversed 800m.  In its depths you can see only by flashlight.  Its ceilings are swarmed with bats, and many of its canals have to be swam through.

When we emerge we are soaked head to toe.  We make it back to the floating rafthouse unleeched, a reward for our bravery.

As much as I enjoyed it though, it was also very touristy.  I wish for something unexpected to happen.  I wish for adventure.

Late afternoon:
I change into a set of dry clothes and we begin our hour long boat journey back to land.

I feel a sense of calm wash over me.  For the first time today, I feel quite comfortable.  And then Audrey points something out.  Rain clouds.  Not normal rain clouds.  Dark rain clouds. Dark, ominous, thunderous rain clouds.  We are in shorts and a t-shirt in an uncovered boat in a vast lake intended to travel for another hour.  I don't see how this could work out in our favour.

I can see the clouds approaching.  The border where the torrent begins draws itself along the water, like a battle line.  The tour guide tells us to use our life jackets like an umbrella.  Again, I fail to see this working, but I do it anyway.  I duck my head down.




It does nothing.  We're soaked to the bone within minutes.  Silently I apologize to anyone I may have wronged in my life.  I'm only 27.  That still qualifies as too young to die right?

Audrey looks in high spirits.  I'm probably taking this too seriously.  Lightning crashes.  I cling to Audrey for dear life.

The second our boat arrives at the pier the rain stops.  For now it seems we've been spared.  In the blink of an eye we're whisked off the boat and onto a pickup truck with a roof with 4 of our German tour-mates.

This evening:
The ride begins uneventfully enough.  I contemplate offering some of my can of Pringles to them, now sitting in my wet shoe in the center of our shared seating space before deciding it may be culturally insensitive to offer someone food out of a dirty shoe.

Before long the rain starts again and I am huddled next to Audrey, wrapped in my towel, now the only dry article I have left.  The Pringles are also remarkably dry inside its can.

The sky becomes dark and Audrey jokes, "At least we can't get any wetter." What do you think happened?

The rain's rain got harder.  The driver's driving got more erratic.  And I apologized to more people, plotting what to do in worst case scenarios.  Audrey jokes, "At least now we can't get any wetter."


I've never been so wet.  I was so wet I didn't even know how to feel anything else.  Thunder boomed, lightning crashed.  It looked like we were evading some unseen monster, about to swallow us whole.

Now - 8:40pm:
As I write this, the storm we worked so hard to escape has made its way to our doorstep.  I'm now sharing this lodge with thousands of insects and lizards seeking shelter, swatting them as I write.  But as I finish this story, and my beer, I only have one thought.

How the hell do I get from here to my room without soaking my last set of dry clothes, and my phone?!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

December 8, 2012 - We are closing in on our final days in paradise.

We've become accustomed to motorbikes, to the point where when we saw a car on the street, we freaked out a little.  Today we kayaked, had breakfast meat, explored, and I believe tonight we will see a fire show.  Hoo hah!

December 7, 2012 : 5:30pm - It did get better!

Audrey rode me all around the island, then so did I.  I saw monkeys.

There is something inspiring about leaving behind things that a modern American citizen would want.  Things, technology, comfort, a steady source of income, distraction.  All that's on this island really is yourself, nature, a few others (very few which are native english speakers), nature, maybe a book, and your thoughts. 

Looking out over the sunset and the ocean, I can't help but wonder where I go from here.  And with seemingly instant clarity, before even finishing the thought, I know the answer. 

With nothing but time to reflect, one is instilled with blind confidence.

December 7, 2012 : 11:00am - Our first night in Ko Phayam was soured a little bit...

by the owner of the bungalows we stayed in.  After 4 years of ownership our bungalow was in disrepair, dirty, and Audrey put her foot through the floor on her way to the shower, which had a burnt out light, all of which Todd (the "owner") seemed hesitant to rectify.  Despite all that though, the food was amazing, and we had a great day just chillin' by the beach. 

Today was turbulent with the learning curve of scooter riding, but I think it will get better.

December 6, 2012 : 9:30am - So the movie didn't work out but the massage was amazing.

It felt like a UFC fighter forcing me into yoga poses.  Audrey took me on a dinner cruise with definitely the best food ever in my mouth, except hers.

The next day we took what I would call the most terrifying bus ride of my life, which lasted 10 hours.  Amazingly still alive, we arrive in Ranong.  Instantly 1000 times better than Bangkok.  My Thai improves.  An entire day spent sleeping after massive jet lag hits. 

We take a small bus thing to the pier, which charges us extra for being so large and having huge backpacks.  And then hop on a funny little boat with a bunch of other tourists to Koh Phayam.  This cute little kid inquires about Batman and Harry Potter, and sings along to Elvis, "Bruce Wayne's shoes.".

December 3, 2012 : 9:40am - It's mah birfday!

Today we will get massages and go to a movie, which I hear is a really big deal here.  You get blankets and can sit in a couch and get valet food service.  Sounds badass dope to me.  Then Audrey has a super special surprise planned.  I can't wait to find out what's in store!!

December 2, 2012 : 3:30pm - 2nd day in Bangkok.

I hate Bangkok. It's smoggy, the venders are pushy, everyone seems to be in poverty, and yet everywhere is advertisements for phones and cars and fancy restaurants. I want out. In a few days we will get the heck out of Dodge to a remote island, but for today we've treated ourselves to a private room for the night and a nice pair of pants.

Tuk Tuk drivers, "Where you going, where you going?" Not your way pal.

Old Bangkok is golden palaces surrounded by military armed guards next to more poverty.

Audrey brough up an excellent point. She wondered what Buddha would think of his image being replicated in gold and sold by the thousands to tourists and locals alike.  What would he think if he knew he had become a God-like symbol?  It's not what he wanted Buddhism to be, I can tell you that much!

My birthday is tomorrow.  I wonder if they celebrate this holiday here.  Bryce's b-day is a pretty big deal.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Khao Sok National Park

Okay, AMAZEBALLS! Went to a 160 million year old jungle. Went caving, saw bats sleeping and swam through the cave between huge venomous spiders and one lonely little toad. There were stalactites and stalagmites and crystals growing. Best part? I didn't get leeched! I win I win I win! I consider this to be my one free pass from the leech gods. Tomorrow I will get a massage and do some laundry while continuing to evade the leeches...

Jungle Boogie

It's so easy to never want to leave Ko Phayam, but we are doing it. Khao Sok National Park, here we come. I have decided to face my biggest fear = the leech. Going in to the jungle will mean I WILL get them. It's inevitable for all hikers. I will also be in one of the world's oldest rainforests - 160 million years old - and I could see wildlife like I've never seen it before, including maybe even a tiger! Although I'd sooner face the tiger than the leeches.

Did you know that they have both anterior and posterior mouths and brains, in addition to 3 blades in each mouth, anticoagulant spit and 9, NINE!!!!, testes. Living proof there is no God...

Ko Phayam

- Travelling on Thai time. When they say the ferry takes "around 2 hours" it actually means closer to 3.

- the ferry would SO not pass safety inspections in Canada. Officials would take one look and laugh hysterically. I actually had to balance along a one foot wide, slippery, angled plank to get on, and then leap on to some offset stone steps to get off. I wonder how the elderly woman with the cane fared...

- hop on the back of a "motorbike" and whip across the island to some falling over bamboo claptrap that you're to call home for the time being. Fall through the floor of said claptrap, relocate to Mr. Gao Bungalows...

- jumping jellyfish, something just stung me in the water!

- wake up to monkeys and dogs fighting.

- eat better food than anything you've ever tried. Ever.

- never want to leave and sadly do, in search of more adventures and upon finding leg muscles atrophied after too much beach bumming.