Thursday, December 17, 2009

Madrid- entering the western world

What a place to re-enter the Western world after being in Asia for a year and a half. After more than 24 hrs of being in Transit, we finally landed in madrid at around midnight and were greeted by the shining face of Cristina. I must admit that at this point Madrid seemed so clean and quiet compared to what i had been living, though the apartments are equally as tiny and the people equally as well dressed as in Korea.

At first I must admit Madrid was like Candy to me, clothing stores that carried my size and would actually let me try things on (though they were way too expensive), people dressed in all black with banger hair and steel toed boots, really amazing coffee (although not enough cafes, Madrid is no Paris), street performers of all sorts and beautiful old architecture. Oh the pleasures the Western world provides.

We spent most of our time sleeping, cooking and eating amazing food and walking around admiring the scenery. Fortunately Madrid is not too cold in December though after over six months of hot weather even +10 seems cold. One of the most shocking things i think i noticed was the fact that there were actually more people on the pacted downtown streets then i had experienced in Korea or India. I supposed it was almost christmas but it was absolutely crazy making. I did notice however that people were much colder in Madrid than i had experienced since Korea. One of the things i loved so much about India and most of the developing world is just how friendly and talkative people are. I wonder where we lost this ability to be friendly and care for our neighbours.

All in all Madrid was lovely. a perfect place to stop before going back to Canada, slowly adjusting to the temperature and the Western world. I am so thankful to Cristina and Igor for putting us up.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The End of Time in India

Our exit from India was a blessing and a sadness. After our very difficult last week in Setrawa, we packed up last minute and headed out. On arrival to Jodhpur we booked ourselves into the Maharaja room in our guesthouse and spent three days in our own space; shopping, eating and saying goodbye. I can not say it was all peaches and cream. I went through an intense series of emotions and needed some serious time by myself. But after those three days a great amt of healing had occured and we were ready to take off again.

And so we hopped onto another train and headed to Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal. For being the city that contains thgis monument to Love, it is a bit of a dive to say the least. And the hotel we stayed in, though cheap, was equally so. But what the city lacked was made up for by the Taj. Originally we had considered not going to see it, but as our plans shaped and we had a few spare days before flying off it seemed the thing to do. It was obviously meant to turn out this way as when we pulled up in the wee hours of the morning on our rickety little rickshaw and entered the grounds after waiting in line, we were awe-struck. We had chosen just the time to come. On that early cold morning in december, the fog rolled off the river as thick as pea soup and slowly engulfed the surrounding lands and then the Taj. What a mystical and magical moment. I don't think my pictures or words could ever do it credit.

The Taj was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died after the birth of their 14th child. This is a truly amazing memorial to give to someone, esp a woman who no doubt lived a hard life and gave birth to 14 children. Though it is said that she requested him to do it before she had died. It took 22 years to build and at the end of it all the once prosperous kingdom was broke. At the suggestion of making another black mirror image taj on the other bank of the river, Shah Jahan's son locked him up in the Agra fort where he overlooked the Taj until he died.

Our visit to Agra was not just all about the Taj. It also consisted of meeting up with our old teaching mate Graeme who had travelled across japan, china, tibet and nepal to join us. As always Graeme sparked the adventurous spirit in me and the evening after we visited the Taj we decided to wonder out into the dark streets and find a beedi vendor. This eventually lead us to the Paan vendor where we tried both the good and not so good, but highly simuating varieties, at the absolute delight of the men in the neighbourhood. Not only were there whities out and about, chewing paan and smoking, but one of them was a woman. Eventually we were told to leave by an elderly sikh man who said it was dangerous to be out. On our return home we met up with our dear friend Rajat from CS who brought us the most amazing liqour straight from the army canteen. It is no wonder people join the army if they are served the best liquor in the country. Finally after a short sleep we hopped on the 6am express to Delhi.

Returning to Delhi was definitely not as much of a shocker as it was when we first had arrived. We were used to the mess and the touts and knew how to bargain and had to laugh at the taxi drivers trying to charge us an arm and a leg. This time we stayed in the infamous Paharganj area, but after some wangling we found ourselves a good deal. We said goodbye to Graeme and spent the day saying goodbye to delhi and india with two more lovely CSers. We visited Ghandi's memorial and experienced one last group of Indians taking pictures with us, we drank chai and sat on the grass talking. When it finally came time we returned to our hotel and packed up our stuff, went and ate one last thali and took a taxi to the airport.

But what we can not sit inside the terminal to wait for our flight!!!!! We must go to the little waiting room beside the cafes and sit there for 8 hrs, yeah. And so we did we sat, tried to sleep, read, walked about and waited until were admitted into the terminal and waited some more and then caught our plane. Goodbye India i will miss you!!!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Final report on Setrawa and the Sambhali project

After five weeks working with the beautiful girls and women of Setrawa village I am filled with so many emotions. Our time in village has been so special and slightly challenging. The girls and women, though especially the girls were so welcoming and by our second week there we were being lavished the hugs and kind words. From 11 to 1 each day we would go to the school and work on handicrafts with the women and girls who did not attend school. During this time I feel that they taught me more than I taught them. I learned to embroider and made a beautiful skirt, and more importantly I learned the beauty of sitting and enjoying some good company and music over simple creative work. There is no need to rush about or be concerned with what is happening tomorrow or in a week or month, it is time to just be present. Rajasthani and I am sure all Indian women are innately creative and it is remarkable the stuff that they can come up with, with the greatest ease. Unfortunately there are very few women coming to these sessions and it would be wonderful if there was a proper class or project that they could work on together to draw more in.

In the evenings we would return to the school and teach the school going girls English. Ever eager and excited to learn this was a very interesting experience for me after teaching in South Korea for a year. Unlike in Korea the children here have ample time to play and actually don’t often get a proper education when they are at school. So the girls were ever so happy to sit and read, write and do a very different style of lessons than I taught in Korea. But as little girls they do still love to play games and we definitely did play many, though their attention was much hard to maintain and they were not as well mannered when not seated and writing. We chose to teach a different topic each week, as we had a short time in Setrawa. Our first week was spent getting to know them and doing introduction games and activities, our second week focused around team work and unity, our third week focused on health and the body, our fourth week dealt with dreams and our final week was spent wrapping things up creating a photo collage and having a goodbye party.

The rest of our time was spent mainly at Usha’s home or going to neighbour’s homes for meals. The food in Setrawa is amazing, all vegetarian and super healthy and basic and if you like spicy like I do it is heaven. As it is very hot and sunny in the afternoon usually we would stay inside and read, write, play with the little kids or rest. The end of our second week and our third week Usha went to visit her pregnant sister and we were left to our own devices more or less as Usha’s family doesn’t speak a lot of English which made things a little more challenging and interesting.

Our time in Setrawa was amazing and I will remember it forever, but some things could be improved. It became evident to me while Usha was away and in trying to prepare lessons and determine what the girls already knew, that the project is in need of a proper teacher or administrator. Usha is a great asset and has the trust and respect of the girls and women but as she will be married off one of these days and will leave the village, I think it would be useful to have a full time permanent teacher to administrate and make sure lessons grow on each other and expand the girl’s knowledge. Also in our last week there was a serious problem with Usha’s father who after returning to the village on the weekend began drinking heavily and refusing to allow Usha to return to the school. This problem continued to grow throughout the week and turned into some very angry and painful screaming matches between Usha’s father and the family. There was a great deal of pain and grief in the house and my heart goes out to her family. I would say that I still enjoyed staying with Usha’s family a great deal and think it is very unfortunate that this had to happen in our last week. I do not mean to write this to discourage any volunteers from coming to Setrawa it is an amazing place and anyone will be greatly rewarded for going, but something should be done to prevent continued incidents.

My love and thanks go out to all involved at Sambhali; Govind and Mokta, Usha and her family, Ramu and Mulsingh and all the beautiful girls and women of Setrawa and all the awesome staff at Durag Niwas.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The pain of this world

It is so strange how things happen at a specific point in time, teaching us an invaluable lesson if we are willing to learn it. This past week has been one of those times. We returned to Setrawa later than expected on monday afternoon and walked into our temporary home. Usha (our co-teacher) and her cousin were seated on the floor in opposite parts of the courtyard, huddled in balls they looked as if someone had died. There was little response to our entrance, no cheerful hello or even getting up. As we entered the house further we saw Usha's father sitting in the TV room in the same infantile position. A millions questions flooded my mind what had happened, had someone been hurt, had Usha's sister's new baby died? Unfortunately we had no time to ask as it was school time and so we went off to school without Usha. At school i continued to thinking of the plentitude of horrible things that could have happened, but it was Mulsingh (another co-teacher) who let us in on the secret, Usha's father had been drinking. Govind (the NGO boss) had told us when we had started that there had been a times in the past when Usha's father had drank and refused to let Usha come to Sambhali. But he reassured us he lived in Jodhpur most of the time, in fact this was only our third time meeting him in five weeks.

When school was finished we returned home to the same cold situation. Usha's mother had gone to see Usha's sisters new baby and would not return for another day. With Usha unable to speak to us we went into our room and attempted to focus on other things. But an intense rage filled me and i so badly wanted to leap out of my room grabbed Usha's skinny little father by the neck and slap some sense into him. Of course my better sense held me back as that would never fix the problem and so we sat in the most uncomfortable silence. As i processed these emotions i realized that part of me wanted to rescue Usha because she could not rescue herself and part of me wanted to control the situation and i saw my own controlling nature in her father. Caitriona was much more cool headed about the situation thinking it would all blow over the next day and so we finally were carried off to sleep.

But we awoke to the same painful situation and the day was spent the same with us in our rooms or going off to school by ourselves and the same dead silence remained until Usha's grandmother came to the house to talk to her son. We missed most of this when we went to school and by the time we got home Usha's mother had returned. But as we had hoped she could not return the peace and herself fell into a painful silence. But the silence was finally broken that night in a screaming match and a sudden bang and crash and Usha running into the courtyard crying. by this point most of my anger had subsided and i was filled with the most intense sense of grief. The pain that this house and family felt was unreal to me, though i have experienced many black holes in my time, i have never experienced a single person pulling down everyone to such a horrific low. Usha had finally been able to talk to us briefly that day and she said that her father was extremely angry and had been drinking day and night since sunday, but why he was angry she did not know. That night i did not sleep so well, infact i spent it bent over with excruciating stomach cramps. According to Ayurveda the food you eat and the people who make it are filled with emotions, as are we, so i believe that my own feelings of anger and grief and the feelings of the mother and Usha which were prepared into the food i ate created a very unpleasant reaction in myself.

Finally daylight came and the fighting restarted and i lied in bed trying to block it all out until it was time to go to school. Though i did not feel up for it i went to school to remove myself from the black hole that the house had become and as i walked to school alone i burst into tears no longer able to hold in all these emotions. Fortunately, Usha appeared at school with her grandmother as they were concerned about my health and While we sat working she spoke to us more of this continual problem. For at least 10 yrs now her father would return home once a month from Jodhpur filled with pain and anger and would begin to drink and hit the girls blaming them for his pain. Usha said she never talks to her family or friends about it, though the whole village knows. She says she hates her father who won't let her come teach at Sambhali and will not let her get married and leave this horrible situation. It made my heart break listening to her, hearing all her bottled up pain, not understanding why she was the target. After class Caitriona and i decided we would leave the next day, one day earlier than planned. When we returned home and told the family another fight broke out, i presume the mother and brother were angry and said that this would loose them the income of the foreign teachers who come and stay and some time during the fight Usha left to go to her grandmother's. The next day when we left we went o visit her and she said that she would stay there until her father returned to the city.

This experience for me was so intense. I have not felt emotions this intensely in ages and have not fully comprehended the experience yet. But my love goes out to Usha and her family who suffer so greatly and to all people out there who experience such abuse. I am thankful that Usha lives near her family and has somewhere to and be safe. I can not imagine all the those people out there who have nowhere to go and no family near. This has not put a damper on my love for Rajasthan and her people, in fact i feel my connected to be able to have truly experienced some of their lives. I will miss Usha and all the girls and women at the school. Ironically we are off to Agra next to see the Taj Mahal, a monument to love.

I send you all my love and hope that you are happy and healthy.

Desert Village Living

Life in the village continues and has changed little since we arrived. We still have daily visitors, mainly the girls we teach who come in, say a few words and stare at us. The last week was particularly strange, as Usha our co-teacher who is really the only one who speaks a decent amount of English here, decided to go to Bikaner to visit her pregnant sister for 10 days. Of course who can’t really blame her, as she hardly ever gets more than two days off in a row and there were two of us here to hold down the fort. This did however make for a far more interesting time in trying to explain our lessons and games to the girls and during the afternoon we basically sat in the sewing room working on projects while women either sat there and stared at us or worked on their own projects. It was nice to have more freedom though, as I still find living in such a communal space difficult. Mataji, our host mom is amazing and dealt with us so well despite the language barrier, getting us what we wanted and giving us lots of privacy. Caitriona and I have both stated that it makes a huge difference in living somewhere when you can speak the language. I have picked up some words and the fact that they are very expressive people makes it much easier to understand them, but communication abilities are still rather meager.

We continue to learn more and more about the women and girls, which is really wonderful because when you travel India you don’t really meet many women. We realized this after spending the weekend in Jaisalmer with only men and on thinking back it seems other than in school or at the ashram our day to day lives and travels in India have been totally and completely surrounded by men. Life for women here seems to take a good and a bad angle. Looking at it with our western eyes we see that they are kept at home and pulled from school at a young age, they are married off young and at a great cost to the family, they must cover their faces when in the presence of their mother-in-law. But they have an incredible bond with each other, far more than we have at home and without them their homes would fall to pieces.

Teaching here is good and very different from Korea. Unlike in Korea the children are not going to school 16hrs a day and actually get time to play, and for those who go to the gov’t school they sometimes play all day. As their teachers, despite being good, rarely teach or show up a few hrs late or not at all. So they want from us a very different sort of lesson. They of course want to play as all kids do, but they also really want to learn. They sit and read and write obediently and they love tests. In fact when we have a sit down lesson things go much better than when we try and play games. They are rather spoiled and can be difficult some times but they are so cute and love to dance and play with us. It is definitely a rewarding experience.

As for adventures we go off every weekend, typically to Jodhpur to have a little excitement and a change of pace. But last weekend we went to Jaisalmer, which is an amazing and mystical place. It is the only living fort in India, set up High above the great thar desert. It still lives and breathes as it did in the past. It is looking a little worse for wear, but there are several temples and exquisite stone work and the shopping :D Definitely more expensive than other place but they have got the good stuff including tons of gypsy stuff which just pulls me right in. But I am sure you have heard enough about my shopping sprees, so let’s talk about the desert. Caitriona and I had sort of given up on the idea that we would venture right out into the desert, but the great goddess that is mother earth decided we were to see this amazing part of her. The couchsurfer we stayed at of course ran camel safaris, as well as letting people stay at his house for free. We arranged a one night safari and set out with a group of germans, French, Russians and Venezuelans into the desert. Our guides two old men and two young met us on the side of the road with our nine camels and got us all up on top of them, as comfortably as possible. They walked us through savanna type desert past temples and their own village with cool mud huts that the people lived in. We stopped and ate and they cooked us delicious food. Finally, we reached the real sand dunes and we set up camp. As they cooked for us we wondered out into the dunes. Such a magical and peaceful place, sitting on top a sand dune looking out into the big empty world under the hot sun. We were quite blessed that it had been cloudy and cool all day until we set up camp just in time for sunset. After dinner we drank cold beer and desert whiskey by the fire as our guides sang to us and turned our cooking equipment into musical instruments. Our one guide, the oldest of the lot, who I would have guessed was in his sixties but was only 45, was truly a gypsy. Originally from Pakistan, he wrapped his scarf around his head and swigged back desert whiskey while we sang his heart out, in fact everything he said was in song. When it came time to sleep and the fire was put out, the sky lit up with millions of stars, as it was near the new moon every star in the sky was visible and we slept under nice warm blankets and watched them dance before us. It was a really wonderful experience though next time I would rather go in a small group for a longer time, that is if my body could handle it. I was sore for a good three days after ;)

Friday, November 6, 2009

First impressions of a desert village and the sambhali trust

It is a long and surprisingly bump free road to Setrawa passing not the typical desert we think of but a land of hardy trees and shrubs living in the sand amongst people, goats, dogs and peacocks. As we sat on the bus and the suggested time of arrival had passed we began to worry, oh no did he miss understand us or miss the stop and not want to admit it. The tension rose as we hoped we would make it to our new home. But at last, only one hour later than expected, we arrived in Setrawa. Our host Usha, the teacher at the school was tracked down as school was shut for lunch. She came up to us smiling with a group of girls all curious to see who the new foreigners were. Immediately we were put at ease by the friendly nature of Usha and her friends. We were taken to a lovely blue and green house and were plunked down and offered tea and food. After filling our hungry bellies we talked about ourselves and must have met at least 20 aunts and cousins. Who all came waltzing in the door saying hello and then proceeded to try and talk to us in Hindi, stare at us or wonder off. Everyone was so welcoming and excited for us to be here.

Soon it came time for our very first class and many girls showed up at Usha’s to greet us and take us to the school. Holding our hands they pulled us along and soon we were seated surrounded by bright shining eyes. The girls were all fascinated by us and all was joyful except when they heard we would be staying for only 5 weeks. “Why do you only stay one month?” they asked us, which made me realize how much these girls need long term volunteers. However, I know our time spent with them will be magical and rewarding. The rest of our first class was used as getting to know you time. Some girls were painfully shy and others were right in our faces. Their English abilities varied greatly as did their ages. They are the perfect little crew of girls to play and have fun with.

After class we went home and ate some delicious food completely made of Onions, I must say this is a first for me. Usha is such a lovely woman opening up to strangers and helping take care of us all. We went to bed early as we were very tired from our day’s travels. In the morning the alarm went off at 5 to tell us it is time to wake up and do our yoga practice, but my exhaustion kept me in bed and suddenly out of nowhere a group of women began to bang on the door shouting Usha’s name. In they came and the morning’s puja was performed with much chattering. From that point on our morning was very relaxing; first yoga on the roof, then tea and planning and later some tasty and salty Poha for breakfast. Many people came to meet us and despite the language barrier there was complete love and welcome in them.

Finally it came time to go to school to meet the women, but this time there was no one who came to fetch us or even waiting for that matter. So we set about looking around and I began to wonder whether any women at all would come. Finally three girls came in, all 15 yrs old. They no longer attended school having stopped after fifth grade. Only having joined about 10 days before they were incredibly shy not used to foreigners but we sat together and embroidered sharing smiles and encouragement. It was sad for me to see these beautiful young women with so much potential who had been taken out of school so young. But coming to Sambhali is a good step in the right direction, learning skills that they can use to make money and help their families.

Of course, First impressions can be deceiving. Despite the fact that I knew I was coming to a village to help women at first it never quite seems that way, smiling faces and invitations to dinner can often be misleading and as an outsider you remain on the outskirts of what is really going on. But here in Setrawa we have experienced a phenomenal thing, an insiders view in a mere two days. On the Friday following our arrival a meeting was held with the women of the village to discuss the development of the Sheerni project. Sheerni means Tigeress which is more than appropriate for these women. The meeting began with women slowly showing up and general banter and curious discussion about what would happen. Once all the women had arrived the meeting began and the real issues of the village were brought to light.

The main issues centred around education, child marriage, the Nreja and Anganwadi projects, the rapidly dwindling water and food supply and of course the sheerni project itself. I was shocked to find that only 4 of the 20+ women had gone to school and only 4 read the newspaper. Literacy as we found out from Govind merely means the ability to sign your name, doesn’t matter if you cant read what you’re signing. This has lead to a large problem in regards to the Nreja project, which the Indian gov’t has set up to help poor women in times of drought. Women are given 100 days of work at 100 rupess a day in order to survive until the next monsoon, or at least they are supposed to be given. But as many women testified in the group they were only paid 30 after they had signed a form that they could not read at which point it was too late. Sadly the women did not defend each other in trying to get their full wage and the men will not step between their wives and the gov’t. Similar corruption has been seen in the Anganwadi project which is supposed to ensure that children and pregnant women get enough to eat. This of course is a logistical nightmare with the number of people in India, and to make matters worse it is now being controlled by private self help groups who close early, don’t stock supplies and seem to be generally inaccessible.

All of these issues and more are what the women and girls of Setrawa and I imagine Rajasthan and India at large face. But on Friday the Sheerni project was given life and now 15 women have access to micro financing for projects they deem worthy. Some of these will be sewing, cattle farming and cooking. These women seem so resilient and determined I hope it brings them new hope and opportunity.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Finishing school and giving back in the desert

After my last email i am sure you all are beginning to think i am a shopping addict and may never return home as i will owe too much money to seedy jewel sellers in the back streets of Jaipur. But have no fear i have broken myself away and am seeking salvation. These three weeks in Jaipur have been amazing. The school has been incredible and i am bursting with info to share. Our host mom was lovely and put up with us coming and going. Diwali was a blast and shopping was to die for.

My experience in learning and experiencing Ayurveda to it's full extent has left me wanting more and more. The simplicity of it all is amazing. It is stuff we all know and yet have forgotten in our busy and crazy lives. I hope that i can bring some of this magical wisdom to all of you and everyone else in the west. To stay healthy and happy so little is required and yet we get such major benefit. Just through identifying our own nature and not that of the herd, we can maintain our health through diet, herbs and the right exercises for us. We are all so unique and must recognise this. I will definitely be continuing my studies who knows how far.

As i spoke of at the beginning of this mail we have chosen to seek salvation from the devils within. Our original plan was to travel for the next 5.5 wks to the south of India but as we have both realized, first from our experience in south east asia and now here, we are not the backpacking types. We long for connection and sharing, to give back to this amazing place. So after a weekend full of research and many emails sent off to NGOs we have found just the place for us. It is called Sambhali trust and was started in Jodhpur originally with just a few women learning skills and basic english it has now turned into a training centre for the lowest caste, a scholarship program for disadvantaged girls and a school for girls and women in a small desert village called Setrawa.

So now we find ourselves in Jodhpur after a long bus ride at an amazing guest house which is also home to the training centre. Govind the man in charge is quite the character, all business and all smiles. The project seems perfect for us. As we only have five weeks we will be doing mainly projects with the girls to help them develop unity, self esteem and independence. It is a very traditional village, so it should be very interesting to experience. I look so forward to going out into the desert to dance under the stars and live a simple life. In the mean time you can check it out here

Twinkling lights + precious gems = Laxmi Personified

This weekend as you may or may not have known was the Diwali festival, the biggest and brightest festival in India. As we had three days off during this exciting event we went to town, literally and figuratively. Saturday, Sunday and Monday we slept in till 7 and then after getting ready we headed for the old city. Each time planning on making it to see the sites and each time being distracted by shops full of goodies and very charming men selling jewellery. By the end of the three days we had been in at least ten jewellery shops and had sat and had tea with at least 20 jewellery sellers.

These men are truly a breed of their own. They sit on the sidewalk or walk along the streets in pair, dressed to impress with killer smiles, waiting for foreigners, women mainly to walk past and try and strike up a conversation. They are always willing to help and if you are in search of food or a bank or a temple they will gladly show you where it is and after "no pressure of course you must come and see their jewellery shop. They have no expectations as they are wholesalers not common shops selling to the public and they have a great deal for you". Naturally they do have amazing jewellery and for some of it it is reasonably priced. The best part is the chatting though, they bring you chai and will sit and talk to you about all sorts of things for hours. I think we spent a total of at least two to four hours each day in jewellery stores. We did of course buy some jewellery. I got a blue sapphire ring to balance the saturn in my chart, Caitriona and i both bought earrings for presents.

The ultimate jewellery experience was on Monday however, another pair of nice men try and chat us up and say we must see the Krishna temple up above. So we go and check it out and one of them appears after a while and invites us for tea. Ok Caitriona says and we follow them down the steps and along the street into yet another back road up some more steps to surprise, surprise a jewellery store, at which point we inform them we have no desire in jewellery. Oh it is just a cup of tea no looking at jewellery and they do keep to their word. Somewhere along the line however we begin to talk about energy work and how one of them is studying under an amazing Guru and we must meet him. A call is made and within 30 mins we are standing outside of another jewellery shop!! Oh what adventures. So we enter and are escorted into a back room where we wait for another 30 mins. Suddenly the Guru appears smiling. We are talked to separately and what he says is amazing, he truly reads one like an x-ray looking at your aura he tells you of blocks you have, illness(es) you may not be aware of but have begun to form. It was one of the most interesting readings i have had in India and effected me the most, things i had long forgotten came up and i realized many things. It is going to take a long time to process them and i am confident in my healing powers. Naturally, we left his shop with more jewellery ;) A special pendant ritually made for each of us to help with our blocks. I got 4.5 carat emerald from Brazil and Caitriona a 4.5 carat blue sapphire from Sri Lanka.

Jewels are not all that Jaipur offers although sometimes you think it is. On Sunday we went nuts shopping and by the end of the day my arm ached from the weight of my bags. The old city is broken into bazaars, whole streets that sell only one thing; jewellery, clothing, bikes, bangles, sports goods, spices. It is amazing. Each shop is an experience unto itself. The sellers are charming and as you look at their goods you hardly realize you have spent 30 mins trying to haggle down the price of a shirt by 50 cents. Oh but it is all worth it. I wish i could buy everything and send it home to all of you and perhaps my new persona will allow this wish to be achieved. It seems my shopping bags and overall appearance seemed to transform me into the goddess Laxmi under the twinkling lights. My blonde hair sparkled as did my jewellery and people began to flock to me bringing their children to shake my hand and take pictures. Whether they truly saw me as Laxmi embodied or not it is quite funny as i got Laxmi tattooed on my arm in Cambodia in January. Laxmi for those of you who don;t know is the Hindu goddess of wealth and Diwali is her holiday. People pray to her and give puja in hopes that she will come to their home and spend some time and bless them with good fortune and as people came up to me i only hope i provided them with something so marvelous.

On top of all this shopping we also got to participate in the celebrations of the family we were staying with. The children all came home from Delhi and we ate delicious food and each night held puja and aarti for Laxmi. After the rituals were all done the streets exploded and i mean exploded into a virtual war zone. I have never in my life seen or heard so many fireworks go of at a time. The fireworks you can buy here and for a reasonable price are awesome and dangerous. It was lots of fun until we tried to go to bed and were kept up with visions of exploding streets until well past midnight.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Astrology, Ayurveda and Abhyanga

Our time at the ashram is over and in order to top off our amazing experience in Uttarkhand we went on our second last day to visit Prateek the astrologer in Rishikesh (thanks again Adrian!!) Prateek is (i believe though it may have been longer) the 32nd generation of astrologer in his family, his fore-fathers having read the stars since the 7th century. Vedic astrology is slightly different than western as it is much more ancient beginning before a major transformation in the skies, which alas i forget the name of at the moment. In Vedic Astrology i am not an Aquarius as i always believed but a capricorn, my moon is not in pisces but aquarius and my ascendant is in virgo not libra. What does this all mean you ask, well a great many things. In fact the things that Prateek told me based up my charts were amazing; my parents were menat to go in seperate ways, i have a step-brother, i have more tattoos on my right side, the list goes on. Of course all of this was in the past, so what of my future, well as many of these things go it is stuff you already knew deep down inside but need an added boost to remember. I am very creative and will succeed greatly in this field, I would be great in any therapy work and should definitely not live in Canada (big suprise). I think my favourite part though was of my previous life, in which i was the third life of a muslim man and had a very hard and repressed life, Therefore my karma in this life is to enjoy as much as i want!!! Can't argue with that now can we. There was much more but i will save that for a time i see you alone and If any of you come to Rishikesh you must go and visit him.

Now we find ourselves in Jaipur studying hard and it hardly seems possible a week has gone by. Our school Chakrapani Ayurveda is amazing. The staff are wonderful and the information is inspirational. Each morning we have 1.5 hrs of theory dealing with the basics, diet, herbs, doshas, panchakarma...... Then 2.5 hrs of practicals in which we get an example massage performed on us and then we practice on each other. How can you go wrong with two massages a day!? So far we have learned head, foot, spine, face and full body massage. I am sure you are now all dying for me to get home to give you all a massage ;) I would love to tell you more about all of this but i am afraid you may get bored, so you can wait until you experience it in person.

I also decided to get another consultation and do some panchakarma (cleansing) while i was here and had a good reliable place. So every afternoon Anita my therapist comes and finds me in the classroom and she procedes to give me 2.5-4hrs of treatment. Each session includes Abhyanga (oil or powder massage), swedana (sweating either in a chamber or by a heated bolus), ear oiling, Basti (oil or decoction enema) and a special therapy (pain relieving oil on my hip or knee, eye oiling, shirodhara). It is all very enjoyabole except perhaps the decoction enema which gives major cramping in order to remove all the built up Ama (toxins) in the colon. All in all it is making me feeling amazing, though a little tired as detoxs usually do.

As for Jaipur, I can;t say alot yet. We have been so busy we have had no time to see the city. I finish my panchakarma on friday just in time for divali and we will go and wonder through the lights of the city.

Worshipping the Goddess Cleansing the Temple

The very last day of our impromptu class has arrived and boy has it been amazing. Two and a half weeks of knowledge is nestled into my brain and i am excited to learn more and share it all with you (although i think that will have to wait for an in person lesson). As i may or may not have mentioned the course fell over the Navrati festival, 9 days of worshipping the goddess, most specifically Durga who is the destroyer she slashes at demons, ego and bad habits alike with her many arms and many more weapons. This is a major time of cleansing and fasting, a time when the seasons change and the sun turns southward.

This was also week filled with many many birthday celebrations, Caitriona on the 22nd, Joel on the 23rd, and Agnis on the 27th. And let me tell you i have never experienced such an amazing celebration. First, the room is decorated with a yantra or mandala (a symbol of great honour and worship). The first two nights Gangotri made an exquisite lotus flower out of different coloured flour and on the last Mandakini made a conch shell. The lotus symbolizes the individual on the inside spreading out to the world around. Inside and around the lotus were little clay lights representing each year of life and the new one to come. First songs are song asking the gods to bring light, love and health to all present. Then the lights are lit by all present with the first and last being lit by the birthday girl/boy (as we all are born and die alone). By lighting the lamps the dark memories from that year are turned to light and happy memories abound. After this each person is given a hand ful of flowers and spend a few minutes filling the flowers with all the wishes they have for the birthday and then as we all sing we go one by one and pour the flowers over the birthday girl/boy. It was the most amazing ceremony and i hope to share it with all of you :)

On the cleansing front as a part of our class and a way to get rid of all the Ama (toxins) i have accumulated i and many others did the total cleanse, Shanpakshalin, kunjal and jal neti. This involves first drinking a liter of warm salt water at a time and then doing a series of Asanas, going to the bathroom and continuing until all that flushes out of your anus is clear water, cleaning your lower digestive tract. After this you drink another liter of salt water and puke it all up cleansing your upper digestive tract. Finally you fill a neti pot with salt water and clean out your nasal passages. Let me tell you you feel very clean after such a procedure. With all the healthy food, strict routine and asanas I am feeling really fabulous.

I can not fully tell you all i have learned and experienced yet, but i can say this. I have learned how crucial discipline, devotion and commitment are to leading a happy life. I have started and plan to continue the ayurvedic lifestyle and can already feel my body mind and soul tingling with life.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ashram Living

I believe i left you at the end of our lovely stay at the Haveli Hari Ganga, which still leaves me with a blissful memory. The day before we left as i said we finally got the directions to Sri Santosh Puri Ashram which my friend Adrian told me about (thanks Adrian) and we went to find it. It turned out to pure peace, a small place away from the madness and right on the Ganga. So we packed up our stuff and said goodbye to the Haveli and set off to experience Ashram life.

Santosh Puri Ashram is run by a beautiful family with an interesting tale. Mataji was born in Germany some 65 yrs ago and at the age of 23 she set off to see India. She fell in love and wondered the country finally finding babaji, a saddhu who had spent the last twelve yrs wondering covered in holy ash. She decided to stay with him and left all her possessions behind receiving only one piece of cloth and became his disciple, Narvada. For 10 yrs they sat under a tree on a small island near Haridwar and there they meditated, did cow service and lived a basic life. On the tenth year she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, Ganga and they moved and got some land on the side of the ganga and began their ashram. Over the years she had two girls, Gangotri and Mandakini and there they lived peacefully for many years. What a fascinating life these kids have lived, now fully grown teaching at the ashram, they constantly tell us stories of their childhood. Haveing a holy man as a father who never was a father but always a teacher. Never being told what to do, but being shown what to do by example. When Babaji died the children built a beautiful temple for him and they opened up the ashram to people in 2001.

As luck would have it we entered the ashram 12 days into a month long course on Clinical yoga and Ayurveda, so we have thrown out our plans until the end of the month and are staying to complete the course. It is a really interesting course covering so much information. Our days typically run from 4am to 9 or 10pm and look something like this.

4am- wake up, drink 1 ltr of water to clean out our digestive tracts
5am- aarti/puja, devotional chants and rituals at the temple
6am- Kriya/cleansing class, this is lead by Ganga and every second day we learn a new cleansing technique, cleaning the bowels, stomach, ears, eyes, nose, gums, teeth, tongue and third eye.
8am- Asanas class, which what most people in the west consider yoga. This is taught by Mandakini who has her master in yoga and stress management
10:30am- morning meal, we sit in silence and eat amazing food served to us in unlimited quantities
11:30am- Karma yoga, selfless service, cleaning, gardening,...
1pm- Clinical yoga theory and ayurveda class, lead by Gangotri who has here masters in Ayurveda and is preparing to go to Kerala to become a complete doctor on the 27th
4:30pm- Pranayama class/breathing, this is by far the hardest class, perhaps it is the afternoon heat or perhaps sitting cross legged for so long. THis class is lead by Ganga who has his masters in Human Consciousness and sort of looks like he is from south america.
6:30pm- evening meal
7pm- aarti/puja
8pm- meditation or chanting

I know these are long and full days and it feels amazing. At first it was really hard, trying to fit into this small community, having recurring feelings from high school; will they like me? Also just spending time with oneself, being quiet, connecting with our bodies. I will tell more when the time is right.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A royal escape from the rain

We arrived in Haridwar on a very auspitious day, 9/9/9 after traveling through the rain our train arrived to a dry city. With no couchsurfing planned I was really our first experience of getting out the train with no idea. Let me tell you it is much nicer with a plan. The streets were packed with thousands of people many here for the yearly journey to offer puja to their ancestors. It was a bit of an intense experience to say the least and so we wondered about with our heavy bags trying to decide where to go. The ashram hadn’t gotten back to us and so we turned to the our trusty old LP, but alas it’s advice was not good. The supposedly clean hotel Om deluxe was not clean and was run by a rather creepy man and many young boys he bossed aroud. After putting our stuff in our room we caught the cable car up to the Mansa Devi Temple, there we were sold flowers by boys to give to the goddess and were called over by every other saddhu to make an offering and receive the quintessential painted dot on our forehead. It is an interesting experience watching the Hindus and Sikhs all worship they are so devoted and put all their faith into these ideas. Alas as we left the temple and returned down the mountain the streets seemed more hectic and all-consuming, so we tucked into our hotel early hoping tomorrow would bring more light.

After a rather dismal sleep involving a continual up and down to turn on and off the fan, we awoke to rain and this was not just any rain this was insane, streets turned to rivers Indian monsoon rain. Oh what were we to do? Should we try and find the ashram on our own or should we stay another night? Fortunately our upper class tastes led us back to the LP and to the most expensive hotel in town, The Haveli Hari Ganga. Of course an expensive hotel in India was really only $50 a piece per night. The Haveli was built in 1918 and was originally a guest house for the rich and royal who came to visit the holy city of Haridwar and it definitely felt royal. We arrived and ate a sumptuous breakfast and then relaxed in our nice clean room until it was time for a massage. WE were treated to a steam bath and Indian head and foot massages which lifted our spirits to a whole new level. We spent the whole day relaxing in the hotel watching the rain and playing chess and eating delicious food. The next day we finally got the address of the ashram and after a relaxing morning we went to check it out. It was just what we hoped and so we walked most of the way home and entered the Haveli one last time with smiles on our faces knowing we had one more night to relax and then had a place to call home at least for a little while.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Beautiful India

Namaste beautiful people

We have arrived in India safely and boy has it been three days packed full of adventure. We arrived in Delhi under a stormy sky at 9:30pm (2am Korea time) and quickly found ourselves a prepaid taxi to the take us to our hosts house in the suburb of Gurgaon. Our hosts name was Shailja and she was a 29 yr old stay at home mom with a four yr old and a husband who works for google. It was an interesting perspective on India. There apt was in a beautiful condo building with four bedrooms each with an attached bath. They had a three servants, a live in maid who had her own apt just outside the main apt, a cook and a cleaner. It was a strange reality but they were nice to the help, though they did not quite feel like family. We however were treated like family. Perhaps it was a way to curb the mundane reality of a house wife, but Shailja stayed up late chatting with us and fed us all sorts of amazing food.

Delhi itself was crazy. A city of around 13 million filled with so much contradictions. Everywhere there are beautiful new glass buildings surrounded by crumbling walls and pot-holed streets. The extremely rich in their mercedes and silk suits roam the streets with the extremely poor, children with kwaskior swollen bellies and old women with clothing so thread- bare their breasts hang out. It is a hard thing to see, esp witnessing and hearing the perspectives of the rich who just claim there is nothing to be done. Of course, the main thing that one notices, esp after being on little Jeju is the smells, noise and colours. Everywhere the scent of urine, spices, dirty, sweat, cows and cheap cologne mingle in the air. Mixed with the noise created by people yelling and horns honking it is a complete and total sensory overload. We spent our first day in town shopping in Khan market and Connaught Place and wow was it heaven to me. The goods are amazing, so colourful, so cheap. I am amazed i didn't spend all my money. I did get pulled in by some beautiful Gujarati women who were sitting down a side street in their beautiful sarees selling the most exquisite clothing. I bought an unreal dress with matching pants and scarf which i can not even express the beauty of with words, but as Caitriona said i should be married in it. I also bought to pant suits that are both wonderful. I have decided to get rid of all my clothes i brought with me and just wear Indian clothing, not that i didn't already know that ;)

Yesterday, we spent the morning with our hosts playing with their little girl Anhiti and eating spanish omelettes and dosas. Finally it came time to catch our cab to the train station. I must admit an feeling of dread and adventure filled me with this prospect after reading all the horrible stories written by travellers visiting this place. But it was really easy as pie. Of course it was busy but we did not feel in danger and we never got harrassed or groped by anyone. I think this definitely had to do with the fact that we wore traditional clothing. It is amazing how different it feels being stared at in western clothes and in Indian clothes. The train ride was spent trying to find a place to stay (thank god for my cell). The woman who was supposed to take us in bailed last minute and fortunately we were rescued by Amit one of the primary members of CS Chandigarh. Despite the fact that he was also in Delhi he spent a few hours calling around to other CSers and found us a place to stay.

Now getting of the train and waiting for some complete stranger is possibly insane. It turned out to be quite an adventure. As we waited for Gurmehar a family seated near us started eyeing and smiling at us and before we knew it the whole family was surrounding us chattering in Punjabi and a few words of english. It was so sweet as they asked us to sit and join them. But out of the back of the crowd walks to to young Punjabi men in western clothes, one with long hair and another with a sikh tattoo. They introduced themselves and we followed them out of the station to a brand new white SUV. We have truly had quite the royal treatment so far in India. The guys sped through the streets as only wealthy young men in fancy cars can do and took us to a hookah bar that one of them own. There they fed us and gave us tea and we smoked amazing shisha and chatted about life in India for the elite. Their perspectives about the poor and the state of India. It was an interesting experience. They were very spoiled and lived a rather traditional life. They would both be in arranged marriages and life with their families for ever. Our host had gone to the top boys boarding school in India and studied commerce while the other was a lawyer. In the end we did not have to pay for a thing and they took us to a hotel that their parents owned and we got to stay in for free. Of course they were disappointed that we would not go out drinking with them and perhaps take them to bed at the end of the night, but it was an interesting experience.

Today we awoke and left straight away and found ourselves our own hotel and ate an amazing breakfast of chai, samosas and dal and gulab jaman. Now we are headed of to the Nek Chand fantasy rock garden and shuksa lake. Tommorow we will be off to Amritsar to stay with a Punjabi family and visit the golden temple and see the guard change at the pakistan border. Then off to Haridwar and rishikesh for some yoga and meditation at an ashram.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Goodbye Korea

Time is coming to an end swiftly and though i have been urging it forward i find that i am sad that it is finally here, only one week left. After a year i view Korea in a new light. My dislikes and aggravations are no longer bothering me and i see the things i like. I still do not think i will return other than maye for a short time but who knows.

I will always remeber Jeju fondly and remeber all that i have learned here. I never thought i could stand up in front of a room full of people and talk to them, now it is easy as pie. I have spent good solid time with myself and discovered more about what i want to do. I have realized i can not live in a place without music and dance. I have learned how similiar and yet different a culture can be to my own. I have learned to appreciate many things and see the world in a new light. I have met amazing people and will hold them in my heart, as will i this island. This magical pace full of natures raw energy steep volcanic cliffs, huge wave, beautiful flowers, every shade of green imaginable. thank you, Thank you, thank you. I am so blessed!!!!!!!!

Summertime and life is easy

The summer has been a mixed bag. July was insanely rainy and so humid. I have never experienced anything quite like it. And i found myself seeking shelter most of the time. Fortunately school was still in and it was in pre-vacation and classes became extra easy. August snuck in with a little bit of cool, but we were not fulled long as the sun came out and the humidity did not disappear. I generally hate A/C but i find myself longing for it here and even got a little sick from it (i like to think anyways) The island is so beautiful however and i have been cruising around on my scooter, Isis and spending lots of time on the beach. I have had lots of couchsurfers and it has felt like i am travelling.

My greatest adventure has definitely been my trip to Udo with Justin (a couchsufer from the states). We packed up little Isis with nearly 400pds and set off, but not even 30 mins into the ride driving up a rather steep hill something snaps and isis comes to a halt. In an attempt to fix her ourselves we ask some Korean workers for some tools and in Korean fashion they begin to examine the bike and talk amongst each other. Oblivious to what is going on Justin and I watch the men decide what is to be done with these to weiguks and the painted pink scooter. Finally one of them actually puts isis into his truck and drives us back to the city to a bike shop. Naturally he refuses payment and leaves us with a smile. Turns out it was the belt and it it speedily fixed for under $30. So we hope back onto the bike not allowing this to deter us and drive along the much flatter coast until we reached the island.

Udo is incredible and so magical. You can ride around it in about an hour and there are three beautiful beaches. It is hard to imagine that there is a place more chill than Jeju but Udo definitely is. We rode around the island with Laurie, Caitriona and Caitriona's mom and went for a dip in crystal clear torquise water. We ate amazing fish and drank beer beside the sea. oh what a life. As dark approached we wondered off to find a beach to sleep on and as we cut through the small roads on the island we could feel spirits watching us. When we finally made it to the beach we had a lovely dip and after setting up camp we quickly realized bugs were everywhere. Attempting to cover ourselves with bags and sarongs was a good enough defense and soon we had to give in and hunt for a Minbok. What lucky folks we were just around the corner was one with rooms and the woman was still up at 1am. So we slept on the floor Korean style. and woke to an amazing view of the ocean.

The next day was spent wondring about the island by foot and soaking up the beautiful serene environment. It was the most divine and relaxing little vacation.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Seoul of it all

I am in love with a dirty, loud, pulsating, cultured, fast moving seoul of a city. In order to get a little break and get away from the hum drum that life seems to have become i took myself on a glorious little journey to Seoul. After not really spending any time there during this whole year i found myself wondering the streets in utter exasperation. How could i not have realized that this was here for me all this time. This mecca of culture, food, clothing . It almost makes me sad to think i could have ignored it for such a long time. But i spoiled her just as she spoiled me and i indulged in every little bit.

I had begun to think i would prefer to live in the country and live a quiet and peaceful life, but i still do not think i am ready for that. I need the smells of hot tar and sweaty people, the whoosh of the subway flying by, the millions of options available in everything you could possible want. Granted i think i would die if i could never leave be apart of nature, while i could probably live without a city, but it is not time yet.

Walking down her streets i was so happy. Hot and sweaty i climbed her hills to see what treasures lay on the other side. I drank the best coffee and ate divine pastries, treated myself to bombay and wine and went shopping in stores where women did not send me away. Granted i avoided almost everything that was Korean in the city and searched out all the little european, latin american and other worldly hide aways.

My lovely host for the weekend Sriram took me to an awesome hookah lounge with psychedelic paintings and fabulously eccentric music and we went to Hobo Hill the gay district of Seoul where i got hit on by men. A strange thing to happen to a girl who lives on an island where homosexuality does not exist and yet she is never hit on. I took myself out for superb food; belgian mussels and pomme frites, croissants and artisanal pizza, all a girl could want in life.

and of course i took myself out shopping and found some superb clothes while wondering through art galleries and antique shops. oh life is blessed!!!

The obsessive journey forward through the mind

As it happens to all, perhaps not as often as i however. I did begin to get bored once again by the monotonous routine that is a 9-5 job. Yes the children make it a little more thrilling, but after three months of no really holiday you just start to go a little nuts and lose all creative direction. In order to prevent myself from going totally mental, i immersed myself in my next adventure a sure fire way to keep me motivated.

So i delved into India head first. I spent a good month plus spending every extra moment finding out info on India. I read books, watched movies, listened to music, did yoga, surfed the net. I attempted to consume the history, cultures, schools, dances, airlines of India. By the end of it all, I am feeling much more prepared for India and i have found cheap ass flights to Seoul, Delhi and London and a wonderful school for Caitriona and i to go and study massage at.

Now that i have our tickets and our visas are in the mail, my ever buzzing brain has moved onto new things; dance and preparing to leave this home of mine.

It'a been a long time coming

I know it has been a torturously long time since i last wrote and i am sure whoever is readying this has been missing me all the more. So here you are i will attempt to write some of what has happened in the past five months.

On return from my great adventure in South East Asia i must say life was a little sad and the fact i had to return to cold weather and work did not help. Fortunately for me i only actually had to work for a little over a week and then got three more weeks off. That made a whopping eight weeks of winter vacation, Yippee!!!! My return to school was actually quite enjoyable i had missed my kids and i was now rejuvenated and had been teaching long enough to truly feel comfortable. So i fell into teaching like it was an old glove and it has been quite fun this semester.

The weather managed to warm up quickly and the cherry blossoms and flora and fauna have been on a never ending reproductive cycle since march. The island feels so full of life and actually sub-tropical now. I have been riding my scooter more and more and going on random adventures all over the place.

I spent children's day long weekend in hamdeok at Laurie and landis's which was a lovely break from the usual routine. We went to the beach, watched girly movies, ate delicious food. It was a real girl's weekend. There have also been some bonfires on the beach. Beltane by far being the best fire, drumming, wine and my fire hoops debut on Jeju. It filled me with so much energy. I was truly connected to the earth and all on it.

The whole spring here has been spectacular and i can understand why people choose to renew. But that is not my path.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Laos the land of Elephants

Well Laos definitely takes the cake, in fact it may be one of the most amazing places i have ever visited. The people are so kind and gentle, the landscape is amazing, ranging from rice fields and islands along the mekong to the south and mountains and valleys filled with vibrant folliage to the north. Our visit to Laos started in Si Phan Don (4000 islands), these islands along the mekong change number depending on the time of year and the height of the river. But they are all lush with palm trees and rice fields, beaches and waterfalls. Life here could not get any more simple and peaceful. Laotians are the most relaxed people i have come across. As the french said "the Vietnamese plant the rice, The Cambodians watch it and the Laotians listen to it" It is actually quite easy to hear it too, as it is so quiet on these islands.

Ancient Ruins

Cambodia continues to get better and better. We arrived in Siem Reap and after a very long hotel hunt we nestled into our hotel, arranged for a tuk tuk for the temples and went to sleep after another delicious meal. The next day we arouse early, as usual, and set off to Angkor. It was a chilly morning and we were not entirely prepared for it but we made it and when we pulled up outside of Angkor Wat, it was all worth it. It was absolutely ridiculously phenomonally awesome. The ancient kingdom angkor was huge with hundreds, maybe thousands of temples all over Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. The best are all in a relatively small area of northern Cambodia. I have never experienced anything quite like it, partly i think because they are so close together and partly because they are still in very good condition considering they are only about 800 yrs old.

The overall appearance of the temples of course is astounding, but the sheer detail that is in every little piece of stone is the most impressive thing i think. Everywhere there are slabs of rock still attached or not with some design, person or story engraved into them. My favourite would have to be the Apsaras, a female deity who appears to be dancing all the time. In all we spent two days exploring the temples; the first from 9 am to sunset and the second from sunrise to 3pm. but i could have without a doubt have easily spent a week or even a month examining all the intricate little details. The only problem which you can never get away from is all the people, my god it is amazing that the temples are not more warn out with millions of people stomping all over them. In fact partly because of this my favourite temples were the small that were not as busy. Probably the best time spent in the temples was at sunrise on the second day.

We went to Angkor Wat as everyone does, but instead of waiting outside and taking the customary photo of the sun rising over the spires of Angkor we went inside. We journeyed through the dark corridors and climbed up the steps to come to the far side of the inner sanctum of Angkor. There we made ourselves comfy on the ledges hang out of the windows and we sat and watched the sunrise with not a soul in sight. It was remarkable and so peaceful. I could see and feel what life would have been like when people lived there. Monks and scholars, kings and queens, small children, soldiers and workers all talking, working and playing in this grand place. it would have been an incredible place to live i am sure.

As for the town Siem Reap was the usual tourist town with a centre full of Western restaurants charging 4-10x the normal price, guest houses all around ranging from cheap run down old buildings with decks covered in mattresses and mosquito nights you can have for a $1 to magnificient hotels and resorts running along a beautiful little river bank. A strange and surreal world in comparison to the life of the locals and that of Angkor.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Oh my dear sweet Cambodia

After a mere three days in Cambodia how can i express to you my deep love for this amazing country. From the minute we arrived (after a all day boat trip up the Mekong from Vietnam) people smiled and were quick to help without that same aggression that the Vietnamese have. We entered Phnom Penh driving down the beautiful boulevards with palm trees and french colonial buildings with motorbikes and tuk tuks driving along side us and fireworks in the air. See we had the good fortune to arrive on the day of independence from the Khmer Rouge and the city had an amazing energy to it.

As we were cruising along on this bus i happened to see a huge poster of Jurassic 5 near the river (why was this poster there in cambodia, i asked myself). Arriving at the sister hotel of our boat company our fortune continued to grow. There we met Lucky, a very chill tuk tuk driver with excellent english. We were immediately charmed by his nature and we hopped into his tuk tuk to head to the lake district. He took us to his sister hotel and we were shown some rather shabby but cheap rooms. This was not what sold us, what really sold us was the patio. Hanging over the water on stilts with hammocks and big beanbag chairs, good music and free pool. How could this not be the place for us? I knew it was the minute Ching offered me some sweet maryjane and thanked god i was not in Korea anymore.

Well i sat myself down on that chair and began to roll when an aussie fellow came up to us and asked if we had heard that J5 was coming to town and that they were playing tonight. Did i hear right? Some girl had seen the poster up close and knew where it was. At last my search was complete, i was in heaven. First we ate the best food i have eaten since coming to Korea then we hopped into a tuk tuk. Our driver ended up being an interesting fellow as he liked to drive slower than a bicycle whilst looking back at us and saying things we could not understand or hear and attempting to pick up random girls and tell them to come with us. We decided he must have been smoking something real special and it was probably not a bad thing he was driving so slowly. When we arrived at Pontoon, a boat restaurant with a dock party floor beside it, our driver disappeared into thin air and i crawled my way to the middle of the dance floor. just then the crowd was asked to move back and clear the dance floor and i was lucky enough to remain at the front for all of the amazing festivities, first the B-Boy competition (Cambodians can really twist and turn their little bodies), then for a beautiful lady from the states singing to us, then a friend of Akil's and finally Akil the MC (so it turned out to be Jurassic 1) himself stepped out and honoured us by spouting some fantastic rhymes. By the end of the night i could not have been more exhilarated.

I could go on and on about Cambodia, but it might take a really long time so here is a brief snapshot of what i love about Cambodia so far:

-the smiling helpful people

- the amazing, decadent, delicious food from all over the world

- the market, oh my god i could have spent a week just at the market: clothing, fabric to make clothing, rip offs of anything you could imagine, or the real thing that is sold at factory prices because here is where they are made. Caitriona got two dresses made and i got one skirt made. this actually turned out to be the very best and cheapest shopping of our whole trip.

It all started in Saigon

What can i say about Vietnam, well to be honest it was not my favourite spot on our trip. it is an intense onslaught on the senses and boy do they know how to get foreigners and milk them for everything. We arrived in Saigon and went to our hostel and spent the first evening wondering around the backpacker's district. It was so strange to see so many foreigners (non-asians) in one place. The sites and sounds and smells were incredible. It is so nice to be somewhere with lots of life in it again. Reminds me how tame Korea is.

In the morning we wondered around for an hour or so and then got out of the city as soon as possible. We hired a taxi to take us to My Tho in the Mekong Delta. The ride was quite interesting, watching thousands of motorbikes trying to compete for space with cars and trucks. We finally arrived and of course were taken straight to a tour place. And after much haggling we decided to do a tour of the mekong for $5 a head. It was definitely well worth it. We got to go to eat some delicious fruit and listen to traditional music on Unicorn island and then went for a canoe ride down one of the small canals. Then we went to a bee farm and got to drink amazing honey tea. After filling up on tea we hopped back on our boat and got taken to a coconut candy workshop. Yummy, there i got to taste coconut and banana candy as well i got to drink snake wine (imagine a huge 10L container filled with dead snakes and ginseng that had liquid floating surrounding it which had been fermented and turned into wine; it sort of tasted like whiskey) and coconut wine. Our final stop was at the temple of the coconut monk, a man who after studying engineer in France returned to Vietnam to eat and drink only coconut and call himself buddha. The temple was pretty wild and very colourful. After a hot day in the sun we returned to My Tho and got ourselves a hotel on the river for only $3 a piece (with a bathroom and a tv) and we took a rest. Once refreshed we wondered around town and found an all vegetarian restaurant which made the most amazing vietnamese noodle soup (the best meal i had in all of vietnam). After dinner we wondered throught the market which reminded me of Tanzania with vendors spread out all over the dirt hill with clothes and shoes and any other random thing you could imagine. After our fill of being stared at there, we wondered on and happened across quite possible the coolest thing ever. An amusement park in the middle of town. Though only a child sized amusement park, it was still fabulous. With a ferris wheel and carousel, a mini drop of doom and a roller skating rink. The games had juice and food as prizes instead of toys and the main stage was holding a bingo game, with the announcer calling numbers in a song to the music blaring out of the speakers. Boy were we a hot ticket here. Katiria, juan and i had all sorts of vietnamese teens coming up to us to tell us how cool our tattoos were and when Karen (originally from the west indies and very black) and i walked beside each other people did not know what to do. Some children were scared, some people stared with their mouths open, others giggled and said hello. I always find it so funny to be the attraction in a place i go to visit. I guess it sort of makes things even though.

The following day we attempted to hop on the bus to Can Tho but of course it had left at 5am. So some very kind and helpful motorbike taxi drivers offered to take us to the main highway. After a very fun ride through small streets past beautiful houses and rice fields we came to a small restaurant on the highway and there we waited for the bus. Naturally this bus driver was a friend of our motorbike driver and wanted more a ridiculous amount of money, playing on our weakness saying it is the only bus until tommorow morning they got us although not for the original price requested. We arrived in Can tho to be followed to our hotel by another woman who was selling tickets for the tour to the floating markets. We didnt actually realize she had followed us until after she left. They are so on it here. So the next morning before sunrise we hopped onto some little boats and cruised out on to the mighty Mekong. The floating markets were well worth the money (i think $9). People traded all sorts of fruits and veg and other things on these cool boats that they actually lived on. They were boat gypsies. I totally want to be a boat gypsy it was so cool. Definitely the best part of Vietnam.

Ringing in a new year

The end of 2008 was a most memorable one. Of course i was living in Korea, but little did i realize that that would cause me to suffer from the worst food poisoning of my life in a Korean hospital. Well it wasn't that bad as hospitals are quite fascinating places and all my little old lady roomies took great pity on me esp since i could not eat. I am not entirely sure where the food poisoning came from, maybe the japanese restaurant. It was really nasty beginning on sunday in the middle of the night and lasting pretty much until i had arrived in Vietnam. My first two days were spent mainly in my bathroom and i will save your from those details. By the time i crawled into the hospital with some help from my friend darryl i hadn't eaten or drank anything in two days and was so thirsty. Originally i was just thinking i would be given some fluids to rehydrate and go home later that day. But no in korea they are keen on loading you up on all sorts.

So i was admitted, tested and hooked up to an IV of antibiotics and rehydration fluids in a mere 45 mins. My room consisted of 8 beds mainly filled with Ajummas (older woman) and one other young woman. They were all exceptionally curious about me and tried jibbering at me in Korean. When that didn't work they asked the nurses. My first day was rather boring but i was so out of it, it didn't really matter and fortunately i had many visitors. When it came to sleep though my problems seemed to get worse. As i had been in and out of sleep all day i found it very hard to go to sleep with bright lights glaring down at me and the tv turned up full blast drilling horrendous korean into my incredibly headachy and dehydrated brain. I don't know what time it all finally ended but the next thing i know it was 5am and i was being pumped full of more antibiotics. There was something about these antibiotics that caused my arm to burn intensely.

Fortunately by 11am i was feeling much better and couldn't wait to get out of this place. After my test results came back saying there was no extending damage from the food poisoning i asked my doctor to go home. She said yes, thank god as i couldn't handle another night in that place, esp new years eve. So i finally made it home around 3pm and rested until 9 when i attempted to get ready to go out, alas i was so tired after a shower and putting some clothes on. I couldn't do it, so i spent the night at home relaxing and i am very happy i did, as it might have ruined my holiday.