06.09.16 Second week of classes at CMU

It’s crazy to think my 2nd week of classes in Chiang Mai has just finished! It’s even crazier to think that I am now about halfway done the program. Where did the time go? Although, when I look back and think about how much I have done THIS far, I am pretty satisfied. As I write these blogs I don’t really have an outline of what I am going to write or about how long things are going to be so fair warning, this may be a long one.

Waking up Monday morning I was a little bit scared for Thai class because I hadn’t practiced too much over the weekend, so I though I forgot what I learned. It turns out after a quick refresher in the beginning of class I was good to go! It is satisfying to say that learning Thai does seem to be getting easier, although it is still very challenging. The most strange part of this class though was when we learned how to ask for blood in our soup. My professor was completely serious too. She said she prefers it with blood cause it has a much better flavor. On the other hand, I was completely nauseous and if she mentioned it one more time I would have ran to the bathroom to throw up. I think the problem was that I was thinking there was a slight chance I could have already eaten blood soup because how was I supposed to know the difference and how was I supposed to know that was even a possibility? Even writing this now and reflecting I find myself a little sick to my stomach.

For Monday’s lunch I decided to have Khaw Soy, which is basically crispy and soft noodles in a curry. The curry was amazing; the only problem was it was SO spicy. It was baffling to think that there were people adding extra heaping amounts of chili powder to it to increase the spice. I on the other had, had to go buy myself a coconut smoothie to soothe my mouth and throat so I could actually finish my meal. Both were amazing.

IMG_4104.JPGFor Buddhist Philosophy, my teacher took us to the temple Wat Suandok, which also happens to be a university specializing in Buddhist studies. It is also rather interesting because it is about half regular students and half monks studying here. While our professor was showing us around and showing us the uniforms for the regular students, I learned that the general uniform is pretty standard, the only thing that changes is the shirt buttons, pins and belt buckles students wear depending on what university they go to.

The temple was very beautiful! My favorite part was how from the parking lot there was a beautiful view of the mountains in the background, with the temple in the fore ground!

Later that day we took another venture around the old city; however, instead of going right towards Thae Pae gate, we took a left to see what we would find. We ended up turning down one of the main roads and then making a right down a smaller road when we saw a sign for a vegetarian restaurant. This ended up taking us almost through a residential area, and the vegetarian food was simply a stand in front of someone’s house. Because we wanted to sit down to eat something we continued. It was really neat seeing people come home from their days or whatever they were up to and listen to them having conversations I couldn’t understand. What a strange concept: eavesdropping but not being able to understand a word someone is saying.

Eventually we made it back out and realized we were only about a block from where we had made the right into the square. Just before we left the old city square area, we realized we had were passing a place one of our friends was telling us about with terracotta statues, so we decided to take a quick stroll around.

Apparently the grounds are being turned into a gastropub and I think a coffee bar. Once it is all finished up this place is going to be awesome! It has a wall around it and is filled with plants and statues so you completely forget about the hustle and bustle going on outside. Once we realized there wasn’t much more for us to see or do here, we continued on to the Chiang Mai gate Market where I decided to try and avocado mango smoothie and boy it was delicious!!

After, we continued strolling around new slightly different areas until we ended up back at the hotel. I love seeing this small city at night. I love the way the lights of buildings and cars reflect into the water of the moat. I love how the smells of delicious foods from street vendors are always present and you can smell the shift in different flavors as you pass down a street. I love how this city never fails to make me smile and my heart happy.

Tuesday was great because during our break in Thai class, said my entire coffee order in Thai. Now that’s a pretty cool trick or interesting fact to be able to say about yourself… I can order coffee in Thai. I was feeling pretty good about myself because I had actually learned something and was able to apply this knew knowledge.

In Buddhist philosophy today, we went to the temple Wat santi tam where we were able to meet with one of our professors monk friends, who ended up giving us a quick tour and then sat down and talked with us for about an hour.

In this temple, they have a museum room with relics of various monks and meditations masters. The museum even apparently had a relic from the Buddha himself, which is pretty amazing!

After when we were talking with the monk, it was super neat to be able to hear some of his stories, as well as learn a lot from his outlook on life. Something that is definitely going to stick with me for a while is when he said “If you are suffering or angry it is because you created it, if you are happy or feeling joy it is because you created it.” Maybe it’s silly, maybe it’s not but I think it is so true; we can interpret situations however we want and if we want to look at it positively and be happy then we can, if we want to be miserable then we can. We are in control of how we feel, no one else.

So, after that I was super blissed out, the rest of the day I took a quick walk to the market for another mango-avocado smoothie, 2 spring rolls and a samosa, which I enjoyed in the hotel while editing photos, uploading photos, writing, and most importantly, smiling. I ended up going to bed around 9:30 and falling asleep probably by 11. What a nice day!

Wednesday we had our first class cultural field trip for Thai class. Our professor took us to the Thai market that David and Pat took us to when we had to try and find various fruits. We had the morning to look around and explore and use some of our knew Thai words and phrases. Because it was hot out and we were stuck in our uniforms I was covered in sweat by the time the van came to take us back to school. I know it’s kind of disgusting to admit to but this was probably the most sweaty I has been the entire trip. It was hot and humid and I was stuck in a uniform that did not breathe one bit. I am not sure if it is fortunate or not but everyone else was the same way so I was not the only sweaty American.

Once we got back to school, I had some sticky rice and a Thai tea for lunch and then headed on up to Buddhist Philosophy class.

Today we actually stayed on campus and chatted about the Buddhist perception of time, and talked about ego. Buddhists believe that your mind has two parts: your eo and then your true self. Your ego is what prevents you from being your true self, or seeing things just as they are rather than your perception of things. After talking back and forth with the professor and the other two girls, I was taken back when the professor said I have a very low ego. I took this as a major compliment because basically the professor was saying I make little judgment on the world and simply just see things and take them in as they are. What a kind thing to say about someone.

IMG_3797In my opinion the best compliments a person can receive is when their attitude is complimented. For example, someone complimenting a person’s smile or laugh, or in this case, the way you perceive things, and your attitudes about them because at the end of the day, what else really matters.IMG_3821

Once we got back, we decided to check off walking around the entire moat and Old City walls from our bucket list. Before we started walking, we grabbed smoothies and I chose dragon fruit, which had a subtly sweet yet earthy flavor. As we were walking there were various tents with chairs set up. Once we reached a tent that had a small buffet outside with the centerpiece of two pig heads, I had to ask what was going on. Apparently in was a celebration for the city’s birthday so later there was going to be some dancing and other sort of events.

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The walk eventually took us an hour and forty minutes, which is pretty good because it did not feel that long at all! As well, it was nice to get a much better orientation and sense of where everything is. I also learned that there are a couple temples on the opposite end of square that I would love to be able to take a closer look at.

IMG_3824Once we were back at the Chiang Mai gate market it was time to eat dinner and I found myself in another mood to want to try a whole bunch of different things. First I got what was listed as vegetarian Turkish pizza. It basically came out as almost a quesadilla filled with spinach, mushrooms, onions, and something else. It was so delicious!! Then, I continued on to have another samosa and a vegetarian noodle soup. It was refreshing to finally have a soup that I knew for sure wasn’t going to have meat in it and was something I didn’t need to make a special request for.

IMG_3836After that my friends and I were finally full so we took the quick walk back to the hotel and went to bed a little bit earlier.

Today was a good day!

Thai class went well again and I actually got something else a little more interesting for lunch because the special was fried rice with shrimp! I had this with a cappuccino and then went on to our highly anticipated Buddhist Philosophy class, because we were going to be trying a device that simulates the deepest level of meditation. The device does work a little differently on everyone depending on the way his or her brain works; however, we were all excited to give it a go.

I decided to go first because I as just super curious. The device uses flashing LCD lights, which apparently trigger various functions in your brain such as creativity, calmness, alertness, and then your subconscious. The whole time my eyes were close and the lights were going I was super jittery and hyper focused. I was following the blinking lights around in my head and noticed every single change whether it was 7 spinning blinking circles, 4 spinning squares, circles moving vertically and horizontally, or a honeycomb of circles moving all at once. Even though it was supposed to make me calm and relaxed, I found myself unable to focus because there was so much happening at once and changing every so often.

After comparing results with the other girls in the class and my teacher, apparently I was the only one this happened to, everyone else had various levels of calms because I think the lights focused them. The professor said next time he would change mine up a bit so that hopefully I was able to experience the complete zen feeling.

Even after it was over and we were walking to our red truck for the way home I still felt a sense of hyper-focus. For example I noticed every single sound around me and everything I say seemed extra clear. I could hear the sound of my feet brushing against the road, every bird in the trees, every car horn, the wind in the trees, etc. I felt like I could see every single leaf on the tree and every brick on building even far away. Eventually I mellowed out a bit more but I am very happy with my experience and am excited to try it again next week.

The best part was as lights took certain patterns it triggered so many great memories that seemed super simple or like things I wouldn’t remember. It was also curious how certain people kept showing up in my memories and people who I thought would did not. The whole time I just felt super happy and even now writing this I still am.

Tomorrow for Thai class we are going back to what suan dok for a monk chat program the temple and university runs. I am excited to hear what the monk has to say and learn from their insights on life.

Hope you all have a wonderful day!

05.31.16 Two more days exploring Chiang Mai

Before I even begin, I’m going to apologize in advance because this is about to be another long one… so once again, kudos to those who actually read until the end.

Waking up on Monday was an absolute blessing because it was the first day I actually slept through the entire night and woke up pleasantly around 7. After waking up I went downstairs to the lobby where I had wifi to catch up on what was happening with my family and friends, as well as write a bit. After looking at my computer time, I had a mini freak out because I thought it was 9:30 and I only had 30 minutes to eat breakfast and grab my stuff until we were picked up. I sped over to the morning buffet area to eat quickly when I looked at my phone and realized it was only actually just about 9:00 am. I had made the mistake of not adjusting my computer time for the new time zone so when I thought it was 9:30, that was the time it was in Philadelphia.

IMG_3742.jpgAfter a quick laugh, my friend and I decided we would take a quick walk to the market to see what sort of treat we could find. We ended up coming across a fruit stand that sold coconuts for 25 baht. After giving the old lady who spoke no English the best symbols I could to ask if she could cut the top off so we could drink, she all the sudden nods her head, pulls out a literal machete and then points to the coconuts for us to pick one out.

First of all, I was completely caught off guard my the at least 80-year old Thai women sitting in front of me casually holding a machete and second, how could I resist—how often do you get to spend your morning sipping fresh coconut water from the coconut for less than a dollar? When you go the Caribbean it costs at least 5 dollars, which I always thought was a good bargain.

So I picked out my coconut and then for about the next minute watch this lady gracefully stab at a coconut until a straw good be stuck in… how cool!

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After we walked back it was just about 10 o’clock and time to drive up the mountain that has been making my heart happy ever since I arrived: Doi Suthep. Today we had the privilege of being able to not only be on top of the mountain and see the view of the city from above the clouds, but also visit the temple up there, which is one of the most famous in Chiang Mai.
IMG_2918Up the mountain we went in our trusty red cab truck holding on to the railing tightly during every tight turn the car had to make. Once we reached the top we got in line to take the cable car to the top instead of the crazy amount of stairs. As per usual with everything in this country, the temple blew me away, and honestly I found myself more jaw dropped and lost for words than before. This temple was gold contrasted by whites, yellows, orange, and reds. If this wasn’t enough beauty all you had to do was look out at the incredible view. Absolutely out of this world. After seeing the main temple area, we ventured around the other areas in the temple.IMG_2947

We ended up finding the place where the stairs led. This was super neat because the side of the stair resembled a green snake, IMG_3039which I like because it was green. It was also beautiful because of how high up we were, all the fog was at the bottom, so it quite literally looked like we were sitting on a temple in cloud. It was honestly one of the most amazing feelings I have experienced because it shows how incredible and beautiful the world we live in is. We are so lucky.

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Once our whole group gathered again at the top, we went back to where the cable car was for our decent to where the shops and restaurants were. We had about another 30 minutes until our van would drive us back down the mountain. During our time exploring this area, I was able to finally try one of the local fruits, Rambutan which was a spiky exterior but a super sweet, delicious interior, with a similar flavor and texture to a lychee.IMG_3017

After eating nearly half the bag I bought, we started down the mountain. I am not one to usually get car sick but after driving about half was down I found myself looking at my phone every minute seeing how long it has been and how much longer to go. I had death stared the front window keeping my gaze steady, because any time I shifted it I found the nausea kicking in even more.IMG_3045
Once we reached the bottom I was feeling a little better but after feeling completely nauseated I wasn’t really hungry anymore; however, it was time for lunch.
At the restaurant selected for us, we were told we were going to be trying Chiang IMG_3080Mai traditional food. Unfortunately what was chosen for us did not have a lot of vegetarian options; however, fortunately I wasn’t very hungry so it wasn’t really a problem.

After lunch I had become tired and was excited for the nap I was about to take; however right then was when David told us we were going to a Thai market where they were going to give us the word for a fruit in Thai and we were going to have to bring it back and then all of us would sample each others fruit so we could all try a little bit of Thai local fruits. After that, he told us we had an hour to find our fruit. An hour? I thought.. the fruit stand was right across the road how can it take more than 15 minutes?

IMG_3056It only really took my group 10 minutes to find everything. My word was ‘mangkoot’ which ended up being mangosteen, and also my favorite. After we were finished, I had no idea what to possibly do with another 50 minutes because I had no need to shop any more.. I wanted to sleep. We ended up roaming aimlessly until it was time to meet back up and head back to the hotel where we sampled all the fruit.

Another highlight from my fruit sampling experience was the mango. This was the best mango I have ever tasted (yes mom, better than the Florida mango). After we were set free, I finally got to have my well-deserved nap. After about 30 minutes I was good to go again and headed to the market with my friends for dinner, and a roam to Thae Phae gate area. For dinner I tried a fish and wonton soup with noodles, which was fantastic, like everything else I have tried here!!

During our roam to the Thae Phae gate area, we passed a McDonalds which I found interesting because Ronald McDonald in the front was positioned in a way where he was giving the Thai greeting ‘the Wai’ in which you basically hold your hand in prayer position and then bow your head. I also decided that at least one time before I go, I need to try Thai McDonalds, because there was a whole bunch of different things they offered which I thought would be interesting to see how they differ.

After spending a little bit of time hanging out, we eventually made our way back to the Chiang Mai gate area, where we each grabbed another noodle soup dish. In my seafood and noodle soup this time, I was surprised to find a cooked whole shrimp hanging out inside with its poor little head on. I pulled it out of my soup and quickly removed the head and tail before my vegetarian brain could convince me to not eat it.

IMG_3087After finishing up our meals we walked back to the hotel and had another great night of sleep.

The next morning (Tuesday), we were getting picked up between 8 and 8:30 because we had a Thai cooking class set up for us in the countryside. We drove about 40 minutes north of the old city to a market where our guide showed us essentials of Thai cooking, as well as the staples of every dish. After, he gave us about 10 minutes to look around for ourselves.

IMG_3108During this time, I found myself in the section where you could by your raw meat, which basically resembled a butcher. Every part of the animal you could imagine could be bought here to bring home and be cooked, including the head. There was also a section where a man was killing the fish. The only way I knew they were still alive at first was because one of the fish’s tail was still flapping around on the table. The even funnier thing is that even though I am a vegetarian, I have numerous pictures on my phone and a few videos. As well, I ironically found myself smiling ear to ear and kind of laughing and I really don’t know why.

We eventually all met up again and then drove about another 20 minutes into the countryside where our cooking class was. Our guide was absolutely hilarious and if you ever find yourself at Asia Scenic cooking school in Chiang Mai, request Anthony. Our class started out with a tour of the farm in the area where all the vegetables were grown and picked fresh for their classes. After, we got to choose which dishes we wanted to make from each category, for a total of 6 dishes.

I don’t need to get into too much detail, but the most hilarious part was that any time the guy wanted to know how spicy we wanted our dished to be (how many chilies we wanted) he would ask what our sexy number is: more spicy more sexy. Apparently I am not very sexy at all.

I am happy to say that I now know how to make pad thai, spring rolls, red curry, mango with sticky rice, tom yum soup, and a clear noodle salad. One of the coolest part was now that I know how to make the dishes, I know how they are basically being prepared for me and what is going into them. Another cool part about the day was in the beginning we had to eat this small welcome dish that included a spicy, sweet, creamy, salty, and sour element: all of the flavors consumed at once supposed to bring good luck.

This was the most fun I had so far because I was laughing out loud every other minute and found myself smiling the whole time. During the ride home I was about ten more minutes of a drive away from falling fast asleep in the van. Once we got back to the hotel, we sat by the pool for a bit, but once again the sun had moved to a spot where we wouldn’t be hit by the time we got out, so we wouldn’t be able to get a tan.

Instead I went back to my room and took a nap, which turned in to me sleeping until about 6 am. It was probably good though because I was well rested for my first day of classes, which I will write about tomorrow after the first week of classes is over.

Being able to spend these first four and a half days exploring has been awesome and has really helped me get acclimated to the region and better oriented for when we explore on our own.

To most of the people reading this, have a wonderful day, everyone else, have a great night!

Xx Hannah