Category Archives: Awesome

Real Thailand vs. Parallel Thailand

UPDATE: Okay, I put a password on this post for a bit, but now I’ve just decided to edit the post and take off the password. In case you even noticed and were wondering (I’m SURE you were), I got some nasty comments on one of those nasty anonymous trolling forums here in Thailand, and I ended up really stressed about it. Then I was like…um, this blog does not equal real life, so if it’s stressful, it’s not worth it. I don’t get paid for this! So I put a password on the post, but that stressed me out, too. I know, it’s exhausting to be me sometimes. So, screw it, I’m just editing and reposting! Although, frankly, I think I took about the most interesting and funny part of the whole post, but whatever. /End unnecessarily long explanation for something you didn’t care about anyway.

Real Thailand for me is the Thailand I live in; the neighborhoods, restaurants, shops, and people I know well. Your personal experience is your own Real Thailand. If you have a problem with my Real Thailand, write about it on your own blog, k? Parallel Thailand is what happens when I’m outside my comfort zone here, and it mostly involves weird Westerners and tourist areas, let’s be honest. This is not intended to be a debate about what is “authentically Thai”. If you want to get yourself a McDonald’s hamburger while you’re in Thailand, go for it. I’ll probably be next door getting a Dairy Queen chocolate dipped cone (those things are good and only cost about 40 cents!) and then stopping off at the 7-Eleven for, you know, whatever.

Food in Real Thailand

Get in my face, food!

Hell yeah, Thai food! You’re the best! Food in Real Thailand is cheap, fresh, and delicious. Pad thai is a single dollar, people. If it’s not cheap, it’s still fantastic. I love food in Real Thailand.

Also, food in Real Thailand can include Western food and, unfortunately, pizza with gross stuff on it. That’s just part of living the dream, people.

Food in Parallel Thailand

Worst. Food. Ever.

Some examples:

  • I spent 80 baht (almost $3) on some pad thai on the beach, which isn’t too bad for beach prices, right? Except that it was the worst pad thai ever. No normal Thai person would have ever served that to anybody, which makes sense because I was in Parallel Thailand!
  • I’ve never been, but I’m pretty sure that the Hard Rock Café in Bangkok is Parallel Thailand.
  • World’s worst green curry, two nights in a row from two different restaurants, on the island? Parallel Thailand!
  • Spending 250 baht (almost $9) on terrible-looking pad see eu (my favorite noodle dish) at a resort on Phuket is completely Parallel Thailand. Spending 250 baht for pad see eu at the world’s most expensive but also most delicious street stall in Bangkok  is not Parallel Thailand.  See where I’m going here?

People in Real Thailand

I don’t really buy into that whole “Thai people are the nicest in the world!” thing. There are some nice people and some big fat jerks, just like any other country (although maybe “big” and “fat” are exaggerations—it is Asia!). Land of Smiles? Sometimes people smile, just like in any other country. Sometimes they scowl. Okay, fine. I don’t mind that the people I deal with are, you know, people, with moods and personalities beyond what the tourist board tells us to expect. So, for me, people in Real Thailand aren’t about the smiles, necessarily. But they are about not harassing me to buy things and not ripping me off.

Sometimes people in Real Thailand want to soak you with freezing cold water.

People in Parallel Thailand

Sometimes people come to Thailand and then complain about how awful Thai people are, how Thai people ripped them off, or were rude, or harassed them, or some other horrifying story. When I ask where they had been, of course they say they’ve been to some tourist Mecca like Khao San or Phuket.

Of course, by now you know why they had a terrible experience.

Because they were in Parallel Thailand!

Tourist areas bring out the worst in everybody. If you go to some super touristy area in any country, you’re going to get jerk local people trying to rip you off. Of course, you’re also going to get tourists walking around Khao San without shoes or shirts (WHY? WHY? WHY?!) or sunbathing topless (I mean, come on!). Also, you’re going to get ripped off, period. That’s the nature of being in a tourist area. Expect it, deal with it, and keep your moaning to yourself.

Cab Drivers in Real Thailand

Jerks.

Cab Drivers in Parallel Thailand

Jerks.

Well, actually…

That’s not entirely true. I’ve had cab drivers in Real Thailand and in Parallel Thailand refuse to take me somewhere for no good reason. No matter where I am, there are times when they won’t turn on the meter. But there are also times when I’ve had awesome conversations about food and I’ve learned new words and I’ve been happier at the end of the ride than I was to start with.

Still, I was recently talking to a Canadian tourist in my neighborhood, and he was proud of himself for bargaining a taxi down from 1,200 baht (about $40) to 700 baht (about $22) to get from the airport to his hotel. It should have been about 300 baht on the meter. I wanted to punch the cabbie in the face for him.

Lesson learned: Cab drivers are a parallel universe unto themselves.

Bah!

Transportation Costs in Real Thailand

Cheap! When the cabbies put on the meters in Bangkok, they’re of ridiculously cheap. If I spend 100 baht (about $3) on a cab ride in the city, I’m kind of shocked. It means either that I’ve gone really far or that traffic was horrendous.

Motorcycles, as I’ve reported before, are quick and convenient, although they will often cost you more than a taxi. If I’m in a hurry and it’s not raining, I’ll usually pay the extra baht to be able to go around all the cars! HaHA–take THAT, traffic!

Transportation Costs in Parallel Thailand

See above story about the cab ride from the airport. That’s got Parallel Thailand written all over it.

Parallel Thailand can more readily be seen, however, on islands like Phuket or Samui, where the taxis are basically a mafia scam to get every penny of your money. A ride that would cost maybe 150B in Bangkok cost me 500B on Samui because the cab driver refused to turn on the meter and refused to bargain, even a little bit. I had no choice, so I paid the 500B with a semi-smile.

But in my head, I was crossing my arms and huffing. 500B? I’d love to take a 500B taxi ride in Bangkok and see where it got me. Yeesh.

Motorcycle in Parallel Thailand are virtually non-existent, and ridiculously expensive.

You could always ride this sweet scooter!

Bars in Real Thailand

There’s no real hard and fast rule about what makes a bar in Real Thailand, but it usually involves a mix of people, Thais and Westerners.

Bars in Parallel Thailand

When I was in Mae Sot—decidedly not a tourist town—a few weeks ago, Sarah and I went to a bar frequented by the expat workers and volunteers in town. It’s run by Burmese people, so most of the food and staff were Burmese. As I was looking around, the realization slowly dawned on me that 99.9% of the patrons were white Westerners. There were no Thai people at all. Nobody had a Thai girlfriend. Not a single person. At one point, a couple of Thai woman walked in, talked to somebody, and walked out. It was so much Parallel Thailand that it made me feel uneasy, like I had accidentally shouted, “Beam me up, Scotty!” and been transported to a completely wrong destination.

Okay, it wasn’t that bad, but it was weird. It was definitely Parallel Thailand.

Similarly, every time I go to Khao San Road, I just spend time gawking at all the white people! They’re everywhere!

You're so weird, Mae Sot, but you have delicious food, so I'l forgive you.

Final Score:

Real Thailand: 1  Parallel Thailand: 1

I’m not saying I like Parallel Thailand all the time, but it’s a thing. And like I said, this is not a debate over which one is right or wrong…although clearly, Real Thailand is better.

JUST SAYING.

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Filed under Awesome, Food, Living Abroad, Thailand

Challenge: Eating ALL the Burmese Food!

In case you don’t keep close track of my schedule (and why not?!), I visited Burma/Myanmar a few weeks ago with my buddies Sarah and Melanie. One of the reasons I was excited to visit Myanmar is that I just knew that Burmese food was delicious. All the Burmese food I’ve had in the States and in Thailand has been fantastic, so I was really excited to go to Myanmar and eat ALL the food.

Well, no thank you, Burma, I will pass on most of the Burmese food you presented.

Look, I’m sorry, but sometimes somebody has to speak the truth: Burmese food in Burma is not the most delicious stuff I’ve ever eaten. The Indian food was crazy good, though, so that’s positive!

Let’s recap:

Burmese food in Burma: No, thank you.

Burmese food outside of Burma: Yes, please!

Indian food in Burma: Yes, please!

Indian food outside of Burma: Yes, please!

Conclusion: Indian food is awesome.

And now some pictures!

My favorite meal of the trip:

See, it’s Indian! Fried bread cut up, samosas cut up, chickpeas, mint, tomatoes and potatoes, all covered in broth. It cost about 40 cents. I will dream about this for the rest of my life. Really.

This was supposed to be our last breakfast, except that a plane ran off the runway at the Yangon airport and we had one more night at a very nice hotel in Yangon. Air Asia actually came through; they took care of all the hotel stuff and then had a special extra flight the next day for all of us to get back to Bangkok.

That has nothing to do with food.

Final Score: 

Eating ALL the Burmese Food: 0   Sarah, Melanie, Megan: 1

We tried and tried and tried. I say we win!

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Filed under Awesome, Food, Trips

Megan vs. Herself: History’s Most Boring Smackdown Ever

**So, I tried to make this short, but…you may have to take some time to read it!

I’m sure you’ve all been dying to know more about my meditation retreat, so I have answered some of your (imagined) questions. Calm down, people, here you go.

Q. Um, what was this?

A. Dipabhavan Meditation Center offers silent meditation retreats from the 20th to the 27th of every month. It’s all free, but you can make a donation at the end if you want.

Q. Oh, right. So, the real question here is: Have you lost your mind?

A. Not that I am aware of, although at times during the week it did, in fact, feel like I was slowly going crazy. I wanted a shorter retreat, but they’re hard to find in Thailand, for some reason. Most are 10 days, and I thought I was signing up for a 10-day retreat until a few weeks ago when I woke up in the middle of the night and realized—wait, the 20th to the 27th is not 10 days. Funny how time works.

Q.  But silence? For one week? Why? As your mother said, “That’s weird.”

A. I thought so, too, at first. I thought it was going to be horrible. I was terrified—not speaking for a week seemed like a superhuman feat, and a really stupid superhuman, at that. (When I told my friend Jonathan I was doing this, he said, “I could never do that. I’m like a shark—I talk or I die.” Ha!) But before 7:30 on the first morning, I knew why we weren’t talking. All I had to say was boring, thoughtless drivel or gossip: “It’s hot. Did you see how much she fidgets? She’s not following the rules like I am. Ugh, why is she so perky in the morning? I’m tired. This is hard. My legs hurt. Has it been 30 minutes yet? I hate you all. I’m hungry.”

Not speaking allowed me to focus on what was actually important enough to say, and allowed me to turn inside and focus on my meditation more. It also meant that groups weren’t formed and nobody felt excluded or judged (even if we were actually judging everybody, silently and harshly, in our heads—or at least I was).

Turned out that not speaking was my favorite part of the whole retreat. Seriously. I loved it, and it really wasn’t at all difficult not to speak, despite what I’d thought. I said a few things to the staff when I needed something, and that was fine, but now I think we should all keep our mouths shut more often. *cue self-righteous look*

I loved this kitty because she whined as much as I wanted to.

Q. What about waking up at 4:30? That’s, like, really early. That’s, like, before the sun comes up.

A. Yeah, I was also really, really worried about this. I love to sleep. It is one of my favorite hobbies, along with eating and sitting around doing nothing. In the end, it was my other favorite aspect of the retreat. Go figure, right? The two things I was most scared of turned out to be my favorite parts. I’m not saying I was happy to get up at 4:30 or that I’m going to do it on a regular basis (OR AT ALL, EVER), but I really loved being awake that early in the morning. Plus, when you’re sleeping on a board, waking up at 4:30 isn’t that hard.

Q. WTF do you mean, sleeping on a board?

A.  I slept on a board. Here is a picture:

It was a board. I am, for once, not exaggerating, although Thai beds are almost as hard as boards, anyway (no joke, what is UP with Thai beds?!). We had a “straw” (plastic) mat and a blanket, which I folded in fourths, then put my other blanket and even my towel down to try to get more comfortable. For a pillow, I stuffed some clothes in a cloth bag and that approximated most Thai pillows I’ve used, anyway. (Thailand, let me introduce you to these things called pillow-top mattresses and non-lumpy pillows. They’ll change your life.)

By the end of the week, I almost didn’t mind it. And I figured out why we were sleeping on boards: One of the chants talked about not sleeping or sitting on luxurious things. No worries there.

IT WAS A BOARD!

Q. What was the hardest part?

A.  Not speaking was fine, waking up at 4:30 was fine…so that’s it, right? The rest was easy!

Yeah…not really. For me, being physically uncomfortable was the most straining. I never felt clean, I was sweaty and smelly all the time (no a/c, of course, and not even fans in the dorms), I was hungry all the time, and I didn’t even have a mirror to see what I looked like (which I’m sure was terrible). This was not me.

To bathe: Take a bowl of cold water, dump over head and body. Curse violently (and silently). Feel bad about that. Vow to do better. Soap up. Say hi to the toad living in the drain. Ponder whether or not toads care about naked women. Decide probably not. Repeat.

At the same time, I realize all of that probably taught me the most valuable lesson I learned there. I don’t like to be physically uncomfortable. I do not go camping because I prize indoor plumbing and decent bedding above most other things in life. But…but…I began to appreciate the fact that I could do things that make me uncomfortable and actually be happy about it. I could be a different me and still feel like me.

I might even try camping at some point.

Also: No Internet about drove me to the point of insanity. I didn’t miss my cell phone at all, but no Google? SOMETIMES I HAVE QUESTIONS THAT NEED TO BE GOOGLED. SOMETIMES I NEED TO KNOW THOMAS EDISON’S BIRTHDAY, LIKE, NOW. I also missed my laptop beyond the point of reason, which made me feel kind of pathetic.

I love you forever, MacBook.

Q. Ok, but you went to do meditation. How was the meditation?

A. I was lucky that I found a meditation posture that worked for me on Day 2, so my knees didn’t hurt at all and back pain was kept to a minimum, but otherwise, it was rough! We were practicing concentration meditation, which is where you are supposed to focus on your in-breath and out-breath and let all other thoughts go. Try doing that for several hours a day. Try doing it for 10 minutes, even. You’ll find that your mind doesn’t want to let all other thoughts go, that it clings to those other thoughts like you will never have another one in your life, like you’re falling off a cliff and must hold tight to that thought about your childhood best friend who you haven’t thought about in 10 years or you will literally die.

It’s good times.

Here is a physical representation of my thoughts during meditation time:

You can see that I devoted approximately 2% of my time to meditation and breathing and that I devoted approximately 35% of my time to what I’m just generally calling Lustful Thoughts. I also ruminated obsessively about two people for very different reasons, until I was so bored with them that I didn’t want to think about them ever again.

That took almost five full days.

Right. Five full days of thinking the same things over and over and over. And over. Oh–and over.

And over.

By the evening of Day 5, I had burned out on most things I’d been thinking about, so I could focus on actually meditating. The evening of Day 5 and most of Day 6 were great days, meditation-wise. Hooray!

Q. What was it like in your brain?

A. Like this:

Me: Dooodooo…clearing my mind…breathe in…breathe out…breathe in…

Mind: Hey, remember that time you were really mean to your sister when you were 7? You’re a terrible person.

Me: Um. What.

Mind: Ooooohhh, never mind…I want to have an elaborate fantasy involving that one person.

Me: Oh, okay!

Mind: Wait, remember that time you were really awful to your ex-boyfriend? You’re such a bitch. And you’re really gross and smelly right now. No wonder you’re single.

Me: Wow. Where did that come from? That’s not very ni—

Mind: Do you think it’s been 30 minutes?

Me: Yes. Over 30 minutes. It’s been, like, an hour. They must have forgotten to ring the bell.

Mind: It’s totally been over 30 minutes. Why haven’t they rung the bell? You should peek at the clock.

Me: Bad idea. But it’s definitely been more than 30 minutes. I bet they’ll ring the bell right now…

Mind: No bell. It’s been about an hour and a half now. Peek!

Me: Fine. 15 MINUTES? ARE YOU SERIOUS? Crap. BREATHE IN, DAMN IT. BREATHE OUT.

Mind: Now I’m going to sing the chorus of that one song on repeat. Just the chorus, because that’s all I can remember. It’s my favorite!

Me: I hate you.

Conclusion: You do not want to be in my brain.

Sorry, Sis!

Q. Did you have any big revelations or epiphanies?

A. My biggest, most disturbing revelation came on Day 4. From my notes, word for word:

WTF WHY DO I SWALLOW SO LOUDLY? WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?

Epiphany, indeed.

I am pleased to announce that I believe my swallowing has returned to normal volume, but at one point I was convinced that my deglutition (I looked that up!) was going to be abnormal for the rest of my life, and I would never get a date, ever again (or I could just stay in Asia forever—oh, snap!), and nobody would ever want to have dinner or drinks with me because I was a MONSTER. Every time I swallowed, it would actually disturb my meditation and I would be all annoyed, like, ‘WTF, BODY?!’ And then I’d feel bad because I was sure the people around me hated me and my ridiculously loud swallowing.

The mind does weird things, what can I say?

Q. Did you break any rules?

A. Yeah, I read every time we had a break, and rarely anything about Buddhism or meditation. I wasn’t the only one…Not that that matters, but it was my choice to take the silence pretty seriously and have some give on reading.

Q. What day was the hardest? Easiest?

A. Easiest was Day 1, by far. It was so easy that I had a false sense of security. Day 2 was awful. In the afternoon, I was actually in tears while walking around the garden. At one point I thought, “Maybe I’ll get stung by a bee! I have terrible reactions and I bet I couldn’t meditate after that. Or maybe a scorpion will sting me! They’d have to send me home!” Then I laughed at myself for being ridiculous and felt a smidgen better.

Also, somebody got stung by a scorpion and she got shot up with morphine at the hospital and was back the next morning, so my plan wouldn’t have worked, anyway. Curses!

Q. Are you different now?

A. No, I’m not different. I’m not enlightened. I have lots of opinions and always will. I still prefer creamy peanut butter to chunky, and I will tell you that if you ask (and, clearly, even if you don’t ask). I have strong beliefs about cheese (stinky), pizza (chewy crust, good cheese), sparkling wine (dry dry dry), public transportation etiquette (let people get OFF THE TRAIN FIRST before you try to get on!), and pretty much everything else (just ask!).

However, I do think I’ve been able to roll with the punches more since I started meditating a few months back, and I’ve felt more flexible and willing to take things as they come. I’ve been able to go through stressful situations and come out calm, and I’m not even panicked about what I’m going to be doing in the future. All of that is pretty unlike me.

Still, for the most part, over here it’s all Megan, all the time. 

Thankfully.

I don’t want to be somebody else. I like me. I’m good company.

Even with the incessant droning in my head.

AHAHAHAHA! My friend Greg said this reminded him of me. I would be offended if it weren't so spot on!

Final Score: 

Megan: 1  Herself: 1

Can’t really get away from yourself, no matter how much you want to…

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Filed under Awesome, Special Challenge, Thailand, Trips

Challenge: Dipabhavan Meditation Retreat

Oh, hi. It’s Megan. You may remember me from a blawg I like to call “Bangkok Reality Smackdown” because…that…is its name. (If you get the reference in that last bit, you win Megan’s Gold Star.)

I have recently returned from Opposite World, where I did the following things:

  1. Woke up at 4:30 a.m. every day for a week.
  2. Did not eat between noon and 7:30 a.m. the next morning.
  3. Remained silent for 6 days.
  4. Bathed out of a bucket.
  5. Slept on a board.

Opposite World has another name, as well: Dipabhavan Meditation Center. It’s located on a mountain, in the jungle, on Samui Island, in the south of Thailand (and it was Colonel Mustard in the study!), and I voluntarily went there so I could spend a week living like a hippie, boring myself to death and sweating a lot. I mean, I originally went there intending to learn more about meditation, which I did, but really I ended up mainly boring myself and sweating a lot.

I was not here until *later*.

The schedule of the day went like this:

4:30 – Wake up to the bells in the pitch black, blearily brush teeth and sometimes wash face, then stumble up the path of about 150 stairs to meditation hall.

5:00 – Listen to morning reading, usually about Buddhism or meditation practice.

5:15-5:45 – Seated meditation. This turned out to be my favorite time to meditate—and that was a huge shock to me. The world is so still at this time of day (if you’re not in Bangkok, in which case this is the time of day when all the bar girls are going home). It’s cool and quiet, and the candles flickering in the meditation hall lent this mysterious, magical quality to the morning.  Yes, sometimes I fell asleep during this time, too, but that’s normal! Shut up!

5:45-6:45 – Yoga. Gentle, gentle yoga. The leader of the group, a layperson German-speaker, has this hilarious monotone voice and at the end of every yoga practice, when we were doing the relaxation part, he would say, “ REEEE-LAAAAAAAX. REEEEEEEEE-LAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAX.” And, yes, I fell asleep every single morning during the relaxation. You would, too!

7:00-7:30 – Seated meditation. Yes, I often fell asleep during this, too. Don’t judge me!

7:30-9:30 – Breakfast, chores, break. I would usually take about 30 minutes for my breakfast, do my chores (cleaning shower area), and then read until it was time to walk up the stairs to the meditation hall again.

Oh yeah, there were 9 showers and 4 sinks. Cleaned ALL of it!

9:30-10:30 – Dhamma talk. This is when we would hear more about Buddhist ideas about suffering or the elimination of suffering, basically. Suffering is a big deal in Buddhism. You both want to suffer, but want to avoid suffering. I don’t really get it yet. My friend Jess sent me this quote, which I think is a good representation of the confusion:

To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering, one must not love. But then, one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be happy, one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness. – from Woody Allen’s “Love and Death”

10:30-11 – Walking meditation. Walk anywhere on the grounds or in the hall, slowly and mindfully. You could also do a swinging-arms meditation, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like—you stand up, swing your arms, and meditate.

11-11:30 – Seated meditation. Right before lunch…getting hungry…actually, I’ve already been starving for about two hours at this point.

11:30-2 – Lunch/break. Because I ate mindfully, I would take 30-45 minutes for lunch, then head back to the dorm, sweat, and read.

My home for a week.

2-3 – Seated meditation and talk by Ajarn Poh, the abbot of Suan Mokh, which is one of the most famous monasteries in Thailand. They have 10-day retreats there, which are apparently great. Ajarn Poh had a lot of great things to say, but he also has a very heavy Thai accent and I know that a good number of the non-native speakers had no idea what he was saying. The only reason I had a clue is because I’ve been here long enough to realize that with a heavy Thai accent, “people” is “peepun”, for example. And, I’m not going to lie here, peepun, I fell asleep during every single talk, and every afternoon, this is when I would start to lose it. This is the hottest time of day, and I was bloody miserable.

3-3:30 – Walking meditation. More miserable. Seriously hating everything and everybody.

3:30-4 – Seated meditation. ARE YOU KIDDING? Almost every afternoon, I hated this so much I was practically in tears. The sun is beating down on the roof, the breeze has disappeared—every afternoon this happened!—and I can’t even feel the fans. Awful. Not, like, being waterboarded-awful, but awful in its own way.

4-4:30 – Walking meditation. At this point, it feels like the afternoon is never going to end, like I’m going to be meditating for the rest of my life in a hellish cycle of sweat, hunger, tears, boredom, self-hatred, anxiety, depression, and more sweat. And more self-hatred. Mostly self-hatred, if I’m being honest.

4:30-5 – Chanting. It’s starting to cool down, and the chanting is my favorite part of the day. It’s like Buddhist karaoke! We chanted in Pali, Buddha’s original language, and English, my original language. I loved it.  It woke me up and made me glad to be alive again. If you want to hear what chanting sounds like, go here. We did not sound quite so professional.

5-5:30—Loving Kindness meditation. This is one of the hippiest things about meditating, I think, but also one of the nicest: You send out positive vibes to people you know and don’t know. Yes, I sent them out to you, whoever you are, since I sent them out to the entire universe. No, I am not joking. You’re welcome!

The meditation hall. GET ME OUT OF HERE, STAT.

5:30-7:30—Tea time and break. I usually scarfed (mindfully!) a couple of Thai mini bananas and a cup of hot chocolate, then bathed and read.

7:30-8—Seated meditation. Pitch black in the meditation hall, cool and quiet with candlelight flickering like in the morning. Lovely.

8-8:30 – Group walking meditation in the garden. We just walked around the garden veeeerrrryyy sloooooooowly as a group. Standing out beneath the stars, looking up at that vast sky while surrounded by silence was surreal. Until somebody got stung by a scorpion, that is.

8:30-9 – Seated meditation. Usually my “best” meditation of the day, as I was cool and refreshed from the walking meditation, and had bored myself to tears with the rest of my inner drivel, so I could concentrate on my breath, as I was supposed to. Yes, 30 minutes of decent meditation was the absolute best I could hope for (and out of 30 minutes, let’s be honest, I probably actually only “really” meditated for, what, 10 minutes? IT’S NOT EASY, PEOPLE).

9-9:30 Get ready for bed and read.

9:30-4:30 Sleep. Or try to sleep. Or sleep a little, then wake up when I have to turn over because my bones grind into the board I’m sleeping on. Or don’t sleep at all, as there was somebody snoring in the bed across from mine. I literally did not know that women could snore that loudly; it was like somebody dragging a table across a tile floor ALL. NIGHT. LONG. As a matter of fact, I was shocked that she didn’t wake herself up. I tried to wake her up—I shook her bed and stuff, but to no effect. Eventually I moved to the other side of the dorm and slept great. Ish. Besides the bones-grinding-into-board thing, of course.

I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto.

**Ok, this is Part 1 because I am very verbose (funny, isn’t it, considering I’m writing about a silent retreat). Part 2 will be on Monday, with answers to your questions (like, “What THE?!”).

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Challenge: Seeing ALL the Temples of Bagan ( in Burma)

As you are reading this, I am sitting in a silent meditation retreat, probably going out of my mind (silently). I’m writing this on Monday morning, from the beach in Koh Samui, trying to soak up every last bit of my regular, input-laden life that I can. This includes stuffing my face with Oreos and coffee while frantically trying to read to the end of the internets. That’s possible in an hour, right?!

I guess I’ll find out.

I realize it’s only a week and I’m being totally melodramatic, but I’m scared! Anyway, I’ll let you know how it goes when I get out. I imagine it’s going to be like–Megan vs. Herself: The World’s Most Boring Smackdown Ever.

Anyway, I recently spent a week in Burma and while I don’t have time to write much about it, I’m going to post some pictures here of my time in Bagan. This is an area that used to be (hundreds of years ago) hustling and bustling with activity. Now it’s farmland, abandoned temples, and touts trying to sell you sand paintings.

Still, biking around in the fields and climbing up to the top of 12th century temples to watch the sunrise is not something I can make fun of. It was definitely one of the highlights of my time in SE Asia.

Hello! Where come from? You buy sand painting?

I am being supremely lazy, so if you want to know more about Bagan, go to Wikipedia.

Some temples of Bagan.

Overview of some temples.

Some details of the temples.

We voluntarily woke up at 5 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. to bike out to see a sunrise. It was so peaceful; just us, the farmers, and their oxen. I’d go back in a second.

Final Score: 

Bagan: 1  Sarah, Melanie, Megan: 0

There are SO MANY TEMPLES.

p.s. Please be kind in the comments. I’m not going to turn them off while I’m gone. :)

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Things To Do In Mae Sot If You’re Not A Do-Gooder and Feel Kind of Guilty About It: Part 2

**Apologies (mostly to my mother) for not posting sooner. I was in Burma/Myanmar for a week and could not access my site. Apparently the junta thinks I am dangerous! Sweet! The next week will be pretty sporadic, as well, for posting, as I’ll be doing a silent meditation retreat on Koh Samui, so no Internet, phone, reading, writing, speaking, etc. AT ALL. Good grief, I might just lose it.

For part 1 of Things To Do In Mae Sot If You’re Not A Do-Gooder and Feel Kind of Guilty About It, see here.

And now without further ado, here is the long-awaited (yeah, yeah) part 2 of Things To Do In Mae Sot If You’re Not A Do-Gooder and Feel Kind Of Guilty About It!

You’re welcome.

6. See Some Waterfalls.

Sarah arranged for a driver to take us around to some waterfalls in the area. He was Burmese, spoke pretty good English, had a 30-year-old car with no air conditioning, and also sold yogurt. We found about the yogurt because every now and then he would stop at a factory or a Karen-Thai village and say, “5 minutes!” Then he would take a cooler out of the trunk and sell some yogurt to people. It was…odd. But whatever, we were cool; we went with the flow.

So, anyway, William (our Burmese driver’s name was William, duh) drove us around to see some water falling down hills. How that ends up being so beautiful is beyond me, but it is.

I think this is purty.

7. Eat Lots of Burmese Food

Funnily enough, I was heading to Myanmar right after I was in Mae Sot, but from all accounts, the Burmese food in Mae Sot is better than the Burmese food in Burma. After having been in Burma, I can vouch for this truth.

For those of you who will be venturing up to Mae Sot and are looking for farang-friendly joints, Borderline has the most amazing potato curry, chickpeas, tealeaf salad, and basil lime juice.

Burmese ginger salad. My mom's favorite!

Burmese tealeaf salad. Yup, it's really tea!

Drooling now...

SP Kitchen, it is generally agreed, has the best tofu salad and fish curry.

Lucky is the place to go in the morning for Burmese Muslim food, but you have to get there early; by 9 a.m. everything you want will have long been sold out. Sarah and I went one morning and had potato curry, chickpea curry, two roti, two naan, and two Burmese teas, and it cost us 54 baht. That’s less than $2 for all of that. As a bonus, you have kids (kids—not teenagers) who should really be in school yelling your tea order to the kitchen in the back and serving you food, so you can start out your morning alternately praising the heavens for the delicious food you are stuffing in your face and feeling horribly guilty because you probably shouldn’t be patronizing a place that employs kids instead of sending them to school.

What I find interesting about that, incidentally, is that this place is super popular with all the NGO workers in town, as well.

Just-made naan. GET IN MY FACE!

8. Go to the Markets.

Duh, it’s Thailand, it’s pretty much a law that you have to visit the markets in any given town. In Mae Sot proper, there is a very lively and large market that lasts all day. Part of it is the fresh market, with fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, and–of course–large fried insects for sale. The other part of it is daily needs, clothes, that kind of thing.

Here’s a tip: Buy packets of tealeaf salad ingredients at the stalls here. They’re vacuum-packed and you can take them back with you and impress all your friends by adding some stuff and making tealeaf salad. If you’re in the United States and you are a white person (as in “Stuff White People Like” white person), this will immediately up your social standing by about 15,000 points because the kind of tealeaf you need is difficult and expensive to buy back in the U.S.

You’re welcome. Again. I really am providing you with a wealth of information today!

Burmese Muslim vendor. The white stuff on her face is called tanaka, and is used widely in Burma as sunscreen!

The other market, Mae Rim, is out of town at the river on the border of Myanmar and Thailand. Lots of tourist crap, really, but some neat stuff, too.

The market is right next to the Burmese-Thai border.

9. Hang Out in the Wats

The other tourist law in Thailand is that you’re required to visit ALL the wats.

My first trip to Mae Sot I was followed by the cutest—and dirtiest–kids ever at one of the wats. We shared some fruit and candy, I let them take pictures with my camera, they fought over who got to monkey-grip my various limbs while I was walking, and I had to practice my teacher look (I still got it!). It was good times.

ARE YOU SERIOUS?! STOP BEING SO CUTE!*

*(This pic was taken by one of the other kids.)

My second trip to Mae Sot, I found a Burmese Buddhist wat with a bunch of people hanging out. I knew it was Burmese Buddhist because the Buddhas have LED lights behind them like—Hey, here’s Buddha! He’s enliiiiiightennnnnned! Good for you, Buddha! Par-taaaaaaay!

What a horrible photo. Still, you can kind of make out the party Buddhas in the background.

I hung out around the fringes watching people until I got myself invited to give alms to the monks, eat a huge lunch in honor of a family member becoming a monk for a week, roam around the temple, and do some chanting (during which I fell asleep).

So, when I reviewed this picture, I'm sorry to report that I said, 'Oh my god, I look huge!' The lady to my left (in the pink) then said, 'But my skin is so dark!' Women in any culture: Insecure about their looks for one reason or another. Gah.

10. Do Some Shopping

Mae Sot has some nice fair trade shops like WEAVE (Women’s Education for Advancement and Empowerment), which is a registered fair trade store and supports Karen (an ethnic—and Christian—Burmese group) women refugees living in the camps. They have some really beautiful items, and I know that the money actually helps people, not just the organization.

Borderline, mentioned above for their food, is another store that has beautiful fair trade items.

______________________________________________________________________________________________
And that is my guide to Mae Sot. I really do recommend visiting, as it’s very different from any other part of Thailand I’ve seen.

Just remember if you go, though, to keep in mind the words of an extremely pretentious person on the Lonely Planet forum for Mae Sot: “Mae Sot is really for the traveler, not the tourist.”

And if you meet this person while traveling in Mae Sot, please punch him in the face for me.

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Songkran: You’ll Never Be Dry Again!

My mother is a wonderful human being. She is the kind of mom you hope you have and the kind of mom you hope you will be. She is kind, generous, loving, intelligent, responsible, and thoughtful.

Except for on the 4th of July.

Every year for the 4th of July, my mother is the leader on the path that takes my extended family straight to insanity.

She starts water fights, mainly with the kids.

She throws firecrackers at people, including her own mother, who is in her 80s.

She leads a bottle rocket and Roman candle fight, where two teams stand on either side of the lawn and just shoot things that are on fire at each other.

She instigated a “game” wherein my uncle rode his riding lawn mower across the yard and everybody shot bottle rockets at him.

She encouraged the same uncle last year to put a big ol’ firecracker of some kind in a watermelon and set it off. (That was actually pretty cool, and my uncle truly didn’t need much encouragement.)

She routinely gets body slammed or thrown into kiddie pools by a family member who has just had too much.

What I’m saying is, my mother would fit in perfectly with the Thai new year, Songkran.

Yup.

The Thais grab onto any excuse to have a party. Western new year party? Check! Chinese new year party? Check! Thai new year 5-day-entire-country-on-holiday-crazy-ass-party? Double check!

Since everybody in Bangkok had the week off for Songkran and had left for their provincial homes, being in the city for the last week was amazing. The traffic was light, the streets were empty, and the BTS wasn’t packed. You could actually get across town in less than 12 hours and walk down the sidewalks without tripping over people and things. There were no ladies pressuring me to get a massage on my walk to the train station (“Massaaaaage, lady?”), and only the most dedicated street vendors were out. Even the stray dogs and cats were taking it easy. It was great.

For ease of explaining it, I’ll just say that the Songkran festivities are divided up into two parts:

1. Lovely religious activities at the wats (temples), including bathing Buddha statues, building sand castles, and being blessed by monks.

Sarah and Megan making sand stupas. Originally the idea was that you would bring the dirt back into the wat that you'd brought out during the year. For me, the idea was, 'SWEET! Sand castle!'

Thai dancing. And Thais dancing. Thais dancing Thai dance!

Sarah bathing a Buddha statue to make merit and bring good luck.

Buddha, nice and clean.

2. Crazy insane water party fight ridiculousness. Including buckets of ice cold water and ginormous water guns. And booze.

Part of Silom Road in Bangkok at Songkran.*

Songkran on Patpong. Still full of lady bars and creepy white men, only now they were all armed with water guns.*

*Photo by Melanie.

This guy REALLY wanted me to take his picture. Seriously, he stepped in front of my camera like this and wouldn't move. So I took his picture. I am nothing if not generous!

This was right after four guys surrounded me and dumped huge buckets of ice water on my head and wouldn't let me leave until the buckets were empty. Also, yes, turns out that shirt is transparent when wet. Valuable information I wish I had known before. All the important parts were covered, though, don't worry!

*Photo by Melanie.

Melanie, Eric, and me. Good times.

That paste on our faces is clay or chalk or something. It’s all part of the good times. You’d get a big “Sorry!” and then somebody would plaster your face, back, or neck with that stuff.

By the time I got home from the water fight, my clothes were still dripping water and the clay was drying on my face, so I looked beyond ridiculous. Thai people were literally stopping in the streets, pointing, and laughing at me. WHATEVER. I fully participated in your holiday, Thai people!

Overall, I have to say this week of Songkran was one of the best I’ve had in Bangkok in a really long time. I did some crazy water fighting and I did some cultural things, but most importantly, I got to hang out with some amazing friends (cue vomiting because of the cheesiness).

Now if everybody would only stay out of Bangkok…

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