Lesson #7: As often as possible get deliciously caught up in the here and now

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One of the most salient reasons why I travel is so that I can understand what it means to be content. When traveling I have learned that you have to surrender. You have to live with no expectations.You have no way of predicting how something is going to end up so the only option that exists is to enjoy it for exactly what it is, in the exact moment that it is happening. Meaning staying present becomes effortless and in turn so does life.

So here are some of my favorite Thailand moments of complete contentment. What has shocked me most is that the moments have been extremely simple- nothing fancy, no special sauce, no bells and whistles- proving to me that it really is about the attitude that you carry with you and adapt when you are away from home and not purely the magic of where you are. It’s about choosing to accept fully whatever situation you find yourself in, loosing all ideas of what the outcome should be, and letting any silly thoughts that the grass is actually greener on the other side slip away.

Last Thursday my afternoon classes were cancelled which meant that I had time for a much appreciated nap. So when the end of school came along I wash’t interested in my usual routine of going back to my room to rest. Instead I decided to hop on my bike and pedal past the typical turn that I take to get home. I ventured down a side street and stumbled upon a whole different side of Thabo. One filled with sweeping views of rice paddies, farmers clad in their conical hats working hard to set out their crops to dry in the sun, thatched homes near the river carefully balancing on wobbly stilts, huge fishing boats constructed entirely of bamboo polls standing tall and proud on top of the water, and families sitting outside on their porches chatting with their neighbors across the street.

When we first got to Thabo Melanie and I saw a new restaurant being built. Last week it finally opened so out of curiosity I decided to head down and check out the menu, expecting to simply peek in and then leave. Instead I found a menu full of decadent ice cream sundaes, the Friendly’s of Thailand. I ordered an Oreo sundae and got to chatting with the owner. A women who appears quite shy but is actually fiercely independent. I found out that she is married but that her husband and son live in Bangkok. When I asked why she said because she loves how peaceful Thabo is and she has always wanted to sell soy milk. A strange and humble dream but one that she has taken big chances to pursue. I quickly learned that she sells ice cream to lure people in but soy milk to get them to come back. So of course I bought a cup. For 10 baht (30 cents) I was treated to a huge mug filled with coconut jelly, beans, tapioca, grains, and other unrecognizable treats mixed in with creamy warm soy milk. As I drank and chatted some more I was introduced to the owners brother who had been out back cooking. He arrived with plates of food for me to sample, insisting that I needed to get away from the “farang” food that is served in all of the restaurants and instead try the real food of Isaan. After hours I finally had to leave, a sweaty mess from the battle I had just lost with all of the spicy Isaan flavors, but am set on returning soon for a language exchange and more delicious soy milk!

Since coming to Thailand I have been on the hunt for pork satay, peanut sauce, and cucumber salad. It has always been one of my go to thai dishes back home but has been nearly impossible to hunt down now that I am actually in Thailand. The other night however I saw a man drenching his skewered pork into creamy peanut sauce and I pounced determined to learn where I could get my hands on some of my own. The simple answer: the night market. The market that is on the very same street as my Thabo home. So, that night I ventured out on my own for dinner. I poured over every stall, peeked in every pot boiling on the stove, and whimpered satay to anyone willing to listen. I was ready to give up when I heard the familiar sounds of “techa, techa” a beautiful reminder that I am actually becoming a part of this community, suddenly the quest that I was on seemed trivial.  I decided to join my students who were all eating together. As I walked over to where they were seated I saw that their table was loaded with heaps of satay, cucumber salad, and creamy peanut sauce.

New Years in Chiang Mai was essentially four days of getting wonderfully lost in the moment. Two of the most memorable: riding on the back of an elephant and counting down to 2013 at the front gate of the city.

  • The first thing that shocked me about elephants is that they are covered with course, prickly, black hair. The second thing was how dramatic each step is that they take, as they trudge forward their shoulder blades alternate shooting up into the air which means that you have to either succumb to their rhythm or risk falling off. My favorite part of the elephant was its ears, soft and thin, decorated with a beautiful polka-dot design that looks like it was painted on by an artist from Brooklyn. Going down hill the elephant would pull its ears back to its body, trapping my legs in the process, I don’t think it was for my benefit but it left me feeling as if possibly the elephant was trying to protect me and keep me safe on our downward descent.
  • If you ever get the chance to experience New Years in Chiang Mai don’t hesitate, say yes and figure out the details later. The whole city turns into a glowing spectacle, filled with fireworks and thousands of lanterns, brilliant reminders of the multitude of people who are all celebrating and all collectively hoping that 2013 will be spectacular. It’s a sky filled with shared optimism making it impossible not to believe whole heartedly that 2013 will be one for the books!
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