25 May 2012

Drawing at the Reggae Bar- pt. 1

The first few days were a little difficult.  I was having a hard time even making marks, turns out I was thinking too much.  Even after all this time out of school, it always takes a little while to get your creativity back.  This is just a start.

First drawing of the night, was trying to loosen up and just make something.  I am working only from  memory, I do not have a model to help with proportions and anatomy.

After finishing the first drawing, I felt like I had finally warmed up to start a second.

It eventually lead to this.

I am restricting myself is to work with only pen.  Working with pencil allows the artist to fuss over detail to the point where its never good enough and the drawing never gets completed.  By only using pen, even if I don't like an area I have to work with it anyways.  Besides, I have to remind myself that it's just a sketchbook, nothing needs to be perfect.

"Doing Double Good"

Found Image

After having such an enormous adventure through the mainland, I felt keen on finding a place to stay-put for my month in Bali.  Lovina is the name of the place I chose and it is a quite town with black sand beaches, rice fields, and jungles in the mountains above.  The beach is sprinkled with fishing boats and locals doing their daily activities, while only a few tourists pass through day-to-day.  In the afternoon when it is quite people sleep through the heat, while at night the local reggae bar plays live music to stir up the energy.  The sounds are made up of a mixture of waves, birds, farm animals, scooters, laughter, and chanting from the nearby temples.

One goal I had set for my trip is to do something called a Fast.  Its purpose is to detox and there are many different versions you can choose.  It's recommended that everyone should practice Fasting at least once a year to promote good health.  The Fast I chose is coconut water, and you need to drink at least 5 young coconuts a day.  This makes me look like the local crazy coconut lady because now my porch is sprinkled with empties.

The other goal I set was to learn about myself.  Turns out I was missing the point.

I know my past and I often think about my future.  I know my habits, wishes, insecurities, dilemmas, fears, talents, hobbies, all the things that make me who I am.  I've discovered all I can know, and trying to look deeper was like playing a record on repeat.

Turns out the belief in self is all an illusion, that the only thing you are is within the present moment.  I laughed at the irony of my search, and realized I was looking in all the wrong places.

The book that helped me come to this realization is written by a man who lives in Vancouver B.C. named Eckhart Tolle.  The book is called the Power of Now and  I'm sure you've herd the names uttered in conversation here or there.  If you currently live in Vancouver I recommend you pick up a free monthly magazine called Common Ground which Tolle writes for, along with other great minds such as David Suzuki.

After having read the other two books by Don Miguel Ruiz, this became the cherry on top.  It covers a lot of details, and I deeply recommend anyone dealing with internal insanity (which is all of us) should pick up the book if ever you see it.  The format of the writing is like that of Plato's dialogs, as it is a question and answer discussion.  I will give this one excerpt so you can have a little taste:

"What is the power of now?"
"None other then the power of your presence, your consciousness liberated from thought forms."

Because that's all life is, a present moment.  You can physically do things here and now, all thoughts are just illusions created by the mind about the past or future.  That doesn't discredit that the mind is a wonderful tool, but the ego has gained control over it.  Take back control and enjoy your life, there is no need to create needless suffering through the idea's in your head.  The Buddha's definition of enlightenment is "the end of suffering." Find the off switch for your thoughts, become present, and feel the love that exists inside yourself, that is enlightenment.

I always told people I was crazy.  Turns out everybody is crazy, but most people don't know it.

Go out and discover it for yourself.  Be an observer of your mind, just for one day.  Don't be your mind, or your thoughts, just listen to them, be aware.  Maybe you will see how much it controls you.

No one is perfect, our outer existence is a reflection of our inner self.  Collectively as a species if you look at what we have done to the world we must all be mad.  If we can cure ourselves of this madness, we can start enjoying what we are and what we have.  The more you work on it, the better you will become. "Be the change you want to see." -Gandhi.

I understand now why Asian grammer is the way it is.  In Thailand there is no past of future tense, if you want to speak about tomorrow or yesterday you must add the word to the beginning of the sentence.  Then all the other words you use are the same as if they are present.  This often comes across in the way they speak English.  Maybe that's the key to their happiness?  Or maybe it's that they live in the tropics.  Either way, they'll always tell you they are "doing double good."

22 May 2012

A Head Full of Coconut Water

View from my porch.
I've arrived in Bali.  There is a small town on the northern shore called Lovina where I have chosen to stay the month.  It's quite, clean, cheep, and has very slow Internet.  The people are friendly, and even though I had decided to make this the introverted part of my journey I still seem to be surrounded by people which makes it extremely hard to be lonely, even when you travel alone.

Luckily I am staying at a place called Puspa Rama that has a very big garden and a patio in front of my room where I can lounge about all day if necessary.  The garden also contains a dozen of more Coconut trees, which the staff will clime for me if ever I want one.  The place is but a short 30 sec. walk from the ocean where I can lye on beach chairs and snooze away the day or get a 2 hour massage for a mere $6.

I have three books in my bag that will be finished before I leave:  Occult Philosophy, The Power of Now, and Godel, Esher, Bach: The Eternal Golden Braid.  There are not light reads, but interesting and full of radical ideas and perceptions of our world.

I have already busted out my sketch book and am working on drawing a little every day.  Nothing spectacular, but at least I'm making marks.

Later in my stay on the island, I will be taking a dance class.  The reason for my decision in this is that the local dance requires a special movement with the head where it can levitate side-to-side without any movement from the neck.  I have always been able to do this and have never met anyone else that could.  Here I am surrounded by people who also do it with ease.  Watch this video if your curious as to what I am talking about. 

This month will be slow, but that's okay.  It will however make an imprint on the lack of entries.  Photo's will be to a minimum until I have faster Internet.  In learning about myself I can can relate it to what I read, but will most likely not share.  My mantra for this part of the trip is to Heal the Body, Cleanse the Mind, and Purify the Soul.  If anywhere could do that, its Bali.

16 May 2012

Street Art and Alleys, Chiang Mai

Last day in Chiang Mai, I've done so much thinking on this trip that I took the day off.  I simply walked around, in search of alleys and street art.

15 May 2012

Same Same, But Different.

This statement applies to everything.

I started out seeing it printed on tee-shirts and tank-tops throughout the markets in Cambodia, everywhere in Southeast Asia you'll find recurring themes.  Kids at the Temples selling bracelets and postcards.  Vendors selling clothes and souvenirs at the night markets.  If you don't buy anything and simply reply 'no thank you' when approached by swarms of people, you miss out on their response of "Same same, but Different!"

When I arrived in Laos it was everywhere and the saying started to be pulled to my attention.  On the bus rides I started contemplating the statement on many different levels and degrees of complexity.  It even started popping up in conversation when explaining something to other travelers.  Even though it had become an idea I attached to, I still hadn't realized its full potential.

In order to do that we have to shift our thinking.  I've read two books so far on this trip.  Both are written by Don Miguel Ruiz and are called The Four Agreements and The Mastery of Love.  Before entering this trip there were many internal struggles I was trying to overcome.  I knew the roots of the issues, but getting the mind to let them go was the hard part.  These books pin point exactly what is happening in the mind and explains why we as people have created the habits that make us suffer, then explains how to change these ways.

In an email to a friend, I wrote this introduction about The Four Agreements :

What happens to us when we are born is we are domesticated by our parents, our society, our culture and our school.  This domestication tells us what to believe and how to act.  When we do something wrong we are punished, and when we do something right we are rewarded.  So we are constantly chasing the reward, and continually punishing ourselves when we don't do good enough.  Attention is what we use to discriminate and focus only on that which we want to perceive.  Our brain can process millions of pieces of information all at once, but we use our attention only to focus on a sliver of that information.  This is done through repetition.  So it is us that have created a single dream that we choose to live by based on what we focus our attention too and how we have been domesticated.

What this domestication ultimately does is create a Judge and Victim mentality that you use to reward or punish yourself using the agreements you have chosen to believe.  The victim comes up with why your not good enough for something and the judge reinforces the idea by being the punisher.  I used to come up with excuses for why I couldn't do something.  On this trip I've decided to stop telling myself what I can or can't do and just enjoy the time I have now.  I will not let myself feel guilty or unworthy of what I treat myself to and enjoy it for what it is, an amazing experience.  Why not, if this is my dream then I am going to make it a good one.

The Mastery of Love explains how we are living our own dream, and the relationships in our life are the dreams we share with others. The main focus in this book explains that you should never rely on people in your life for the love that you seek because happiness exists from within yourself, only you control that.  If you are happy and love yourself then others can easily join in.  Now I see the true meaning of child-like innocence is having the ability to laugh, play and love unconditionally.

What I've learned from these two books is that growing up isn't about following the ideals that society has set aside for us, its about gaining a bigger playground.

So here I am on the playground that is the planet, melding my dream in and out with others.  Every person on this planet is the same, but different.  When you share your time with someone the experience is the same, but different.  Every place you go may seem the same from a distance, but up close its different.  Even the thing that is our fundamental drive in life, emotion, is same same, but different.  In this life we are all searching for the exact same thing, but how we get there is going to be different.

Life itself is,  "Same Same, But Different."

I had no idea what I was looking for before starting this trip, but I knew there would be a personal revelation.  How can you not when your burst your own gigantic bubble.  This first 33 day trip will be named Tour-de-Same-Same.  I even choose to finish it by staying at a place in Chiang Mai called Same Same Guesthouse.

Tour-de-Same-Same was full of extremes.  Not only was it an emotional roller coaster but a physical one as well.  At times I couldn't understand why I was here or would even consider putting myself in these situations.  While other times I would be so overwhelmed with joy that I didn't want to leave.  I went into the trip with anxiety, doubt, and confusion while restricting myself to stay within parameters so as not to break a budget.  It didn't take long to start ignoring the budget and to just go ahead and do the tours, go out with people, enjoy the sites and splurge on a single room from time to time without feeling guilty, ever.  What can I say, after staying in a room with mice and bugs I can counter-balance it with a place that has a marble bathroom.  Near the end I could act like a experienced traveller being able to hop on any transit or be dropped off in any city with confidence to know what to do.  All the initial fears have vanished and I have completely rewired my way of thinking.

Having the first 33 days as the extravagant tour doing a loop around Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand, the next 30 days I have in Bali are going to be the other extreme.  It is clear that a month of solitude in one place will be a great way to counter balance the first part of Southeast Asia's trip.  The hope is that it will carry it's own set of life lessons that I don't yet know what it will be.

"Living Dreams of Love"
One night I had an experience that was so strong I didn't realize I had been dreaming until I woke up.  It was my last night in Siem Reap and I was hanging out on a patio area overlooking the water and some mountains.  The sun was about to go down and people were standing around waiting to get the best photo.  While approaching an old man with white hair tells me that if I take a video I could then choose from the best frame.  Thinking this was a great idea I hold my camera up ready to film, but suddenly the sunset its no longer what it had been.  A dodecahedron was slowly spinning in the center of the sky pulsating shapes of circles and hearts made of light that encompassed each other.  An even greater light was breathing over top that lit up the whole sky.  As I was standing their baffled at the fact I was witnessing this, suddenly a loud noise penetrated the air blasting through every ones bodies.  It was a low humming bass that was a solid note like a didgeridoo without the waver in frequency.  It was so strong I nearly collapsed from the noise, at this point I didn't think it was the sun anymore, but some greater energy.  When it all stopped I tried to get to my computer and to save the video, but it was defective.  It could not contain the complexity of the event and I could only load it as Html code.  I was so upset that I couldn't share this with the world, and sat back trying to accept this sad fate.

Then I woke up.  It had been so vivid I could still hear the sound, I still remember the noise, and the light, and the feeling I received.  This description is a meager detail of the event, but encompasses much of what I was about to discover.

Some notes I discovered on trying to figure out what the meaning is behind this Dodecahedron:

Background: It has twelve five-sided faces and is the fifth of the five platonic solids.  The ancient Greeks saw the symbol as a representation of the universe, and Plato noted  that the earth appeared from above as a "twelve-sided leather ball."  Russian Scientists have more recently discovered the earths crust is indeed a dodecahedron patter.  More spiritual beliefs claim it compels our eyes and hearts to observe more deeply, and others believe it idealizes the form of divine thought, will, or idea.  It is the representation of life energy and goes beyond its own parameters of this dimension.  It is the heart chakra, and its sense is hearing.

I didn't know it at the time, but what a great way to be greeted into my trip.  I was just about to go into the thick of it and needed all the help I received.  Sometimes its hard to see the lesson your learning until after you've come out the other side.  Being that I had gone into no-mans-land without idea of how to handle it and learning to give in before being able to enjoy its pleasures was a valuable lesson.  Cut yourself off from the world, learn to accept what the moment brings, and appreciate the love you can give even to the worst of places.  Because in the end its all beautiful, and to not feel the love would be to rob yourself of an amazing experience.

14 May 2012

Life Lessons and Elephants

We started in Chiang Mai.  I am now in the last city of my first 33 day circuit and will be leaving in a couple days.  The one tour I knew that would really be worth it is the Elephant Nature Park which is an hour 1/2 north of the city. 
Into the mountains, we came upon a river in a valley.  Here live 34 rescue elephants, all aloud to roam the property freely and get feed copious amounts of food.  They take baths in the river daily and cover themselves up with mud right after.  It's nickname is Elephant Heaven.

After having come to this sanctuary, you learn a lot about how elephants are being treated in Thailand and why their population has dropped by 95% since the 90's when logging was outlawed.  There are only 5,000 left and many of them belong to the tourist industry because of the high profit margins.  Most of the beggar elephants in places like Bangkok suffer immense stress due to improper living conditions within the city.  The same goes for working elephants in small farms.  The ancient technique used for taming elephants by villagers use a "squeeze cage" and beat the elephants with sticks that have nails protruding out the tip.  This ritual lasts as long as three days for females and the males for seven, they are repressed from sleep, food, and water until they "submit."  For these creatures to be the most revered in Thailand, they are not being treated with the respect they deserve.

This sanctuary buys elephants that are being tortured and allows them to live free on the property.  Most have permanent damage such as blindness or broken hips.  Here they are well loved and are given full care to heal.

The day trip consisted of feeding them Pineapple, Squash, and Bananas in the morning time.  The elephant I am feeding is named "Jeeka," meaning eye of heaven, is blind in both eyes.  She had been rescued from a logging industry that had forced her to work while pregnant, then when she gave birth on the job was not aloud to attend to her baby which then rolled down a hill and died.  Being in such a state of morning she refused to work.  The trainers shot rocks into her eye with a slingshot trying to force her to work, she eventually knocked one of the men over and they stabbed her in the other eye.  Luckily when she was introduced to the property the female elephant to the left walked right up to her and adopted her as a friend.  They are always together and they are the best of friends.

After lunch we all got to go to the river and help bath the elephants.  This one had been used as a beggar  in Bangkok and one day got hit by a truck which broke her hip.  She was brought here and aloud to heal enough that she can walk around, but will always have a bad limp.  She was one of the sweetest ones there.

Being able to hang out with these creatures in an environment where they were finally aloud to be at peace was a wonderful experience.  They are gentile creatures that are also highly intelligent and deserve our utmost respect.

Even though these creatures carry deep scares, they have been able to transform.  They still have the ability to love and show compassion.  They build new friendships and show trust in those who nurture them.  They understand their new life and are able to open up to its possibilities.  Even though their past is of suffering, they understand it's in the present that life is good.  Is this what my first 33 days taught me?  Yes, and with this day everything I learned on this trip so far came full circle.

The Witch of Portabello

IOnce upon a time, I met a guy.  I told him I was a princess, then he told me he was a prince.  Discovering we are ambassadors from our own far-away land, we agreed that each of us could ask the other only one question.  I asked him if he believed in monsters.  I don't think he even knew what monsters were, and we continued talking casually about other things.  Eventually I had said something that struck a note, and he asked me if I was a witch.

The question had arose because he was reading a book, and something I said about myself reminded him exactly of the character in this novel, he was right.  This happened a long time ago and since I have naturally always though it would be a good read.  Having now read the book, I think it's a very good read indeed!

Here are some of my favorite quotes from characters in the book:

Pavel Podbielski
"Dance to the moment of exhaustion, as if you were a mountaineer climbing a hill, a sacred mountain.  Dance until you are so out of breath that your organism is forced to obtain oxygen some other way, and it is that, in the end, that will cause you to lose your identity and your relationship with space and time.  Dance only to the sound of percussion; repeat the process every day; know that, at a certain moment, your eyes will, quite naturally, close, and you will begin to see a light that comes from within, a light that answers your questions and develops your hidden powers."
"Do you know what I have learned?  That although ecstasy is the ability to stand outside yourself, dance is a way of rising up into space, of discovering new dimensions while still remaining in touch with your body.  When you dance, the spiritual world and the real world manage to co-exist quite happily.  I think classical ballet dancers dance on point because they're simultaneously touching the earth and reaching up to the skies."

Nabil Alaihi
"You have understood what all the great painters understand:  in order to forget the rules, you must know them and respect them."

Vosho Bushalo
"If i speak in the present tense, it's because for those who travel, time does not exist, only space."

"I can see the storm approaching.  Like all storms, it brings destruction, but at the same time, it soaks the fields, and the wisdom of the heavens falls with the rain.  Like all storms, it will pass.  The more violent it is, the more quickly it will pass."
"We don't posses the earth, the earth possesses us.  We used to travel constantly, and everything around us was ours:  the plants, the water, the landscape through which our caravans passed.  Our laws were nature's laws: the strong survived, an we, the weak, the eternal exiles, learned to hide our strength and use it only when necessary.  We don't believe that God made the universe.  We believe that God is the universe and that we are contained in him, and he in us."

Deidre "Edda" O'Neill
"Reprogram yourself every min of every day with thoughts that make you grow.  When you're feeling irritated or confused, try to laugh at yourself.  Laugh out loud at this woman tormented by doubts and anxieties, convinced that her problems are the most importantly thing in the world.  Laugh at the sheer absurdity or the situation, at the fact that despite being a manifestation of the mother, you still believe God is a man who lays down the rules.  Most  of our problems stem from just that-from following rules."

12 May 2012

Slowly Floating Up

Whenever you go somewhere, you don't always know where your feet are going to take you.  I used to worry about whether I was going in the right direction, and the only way to figure it out is to start by moving.  Once you do this enough times you realize you've been missing the point.  There has never been a wrong direction, only what is.  A set of experiences and dream like memories that mold themselves into a beautiful sculpture that no one will understand but you.

I had felt for a long time that I was traveling backwards.  The crowds always going the opposite way, or taking an alternate route.  Most people would start in Europe and go to the cheaper countries later in their journey.  Not me, I plopped myself right in the thick of it, went straight to some of the poorest countries I could with histories of genocide and war within the last 30 years.  I went without any idea what it would be like or how best to handle it.  I slept in some bad places and some good, I've had great fun and horrible moments.  But hey, that comes with the territory of wandering around.

Traveling upstream on the Mekong was no different.  It was a great way to see the rest of Laos, but I was once again on my own with nothing to do but read, think, sleep, think some more, snack, fall asleep again, lazily look at the landscape, think some more until finally arriving at the halfway point.

Most of the places along the Mekong are not even big enough to be called towns, just dusty shacks.  I can see why this is the part of Southeast Asia that's been forgotten about.  Time doesn't move here, making it a great place to learn how to live in the moment..

The slow boat is called the slow boat because it takes two days to go up or down the river.  I started in Luang Prabang, stopped in Parkbeng, and continued to my destination at Huay Xai which is at the Thailand boarder.  The boat arrived exactly 5 min after the boarder to cross into Thailand closed.  If you ask me this is planned by the boat driver so people in the town receive more business.  I had hoped to catch a night bus to save myself another full day of traveling but glitches like these are nothing to get upset about.  Here you just have to go with the flow.

I was able to catch a bus the next morning to Chiang Mai and turns out will still have longer then I had previously calculated in this city.  Having seen Cambodia and Laos and returning to Thailand, I feel like I'm back in civilization.  That does not necessarily mean I like it more, but I realize I hadn't noticed the difference going into them.  I liked both countries very much, and wish I had had more time to spend in each of them.

There is something that makes me sad and happy about these places, its a land of extremes.  Its beautiful and ugly, hot and cold, light and dark.  Even so, I already miss them.

11 May 2012

Bon Voyage from Luang Prabang

Vang Vieng was so nice I wanted to stay another 4 nights to enjoy this sleepy party town on the river.  I said goodbye to the girls as they zoomed off to Vietnam on the night bus farther north.  This was the last morning in our beautiful room at TCK Trekking.  I found a nice spot for single room closer to the river with lots of plants around.  You can never go wrong if you have lots of plant. 

After settling again I went down by the river and drew in my sketchpad while lying in a hammock.  The day was spent relaxing and doing a little research on where to would go next.  I had an idea of a few things such as a) See Luang Prabang, b) Take the slow boat to Thailand, and c) Take the Train from Chaing Mai back to Bangkok.  I opened up my calendar and did the math on how much time it would take to travel, and how many days I wanted to spend in each city.  Turned out I had none, and should be out of the city the next evening.  So I enjoyed one last night in Vang Vieng with the guys and was off.

The night bus was great, I would always suggest taking it over the regulare bus.  It costs only a few dollars more and you have a bed on a bus that acts as a room, and you set up to enjoy a full day seeing a new city verses sitting on a hot bus.  However, you should be weary of arrival times.

My bus arrived 4 a.m. and with most places in Loas, nothing is open 24hours.  Not knowing where I was in relashionship to the city I was forced to trust the tuktuk driver to take me to a hotel.  One thing I've noticed about traveling is that when people know they have something you need, they charge a high price and do not bargain down.  So after agreeing to pay more then I should for a ride into town, they asked for the money up-front.  The sleepy me almost agreed, then I remembered that my money is the only thing that gives me the upper hand in this situation.  So I told them I would pay on arrival and they finally agreed.  After driving only a little ways and passing several hotels, all of which were closed, he takes a turn down a dirt road and starts heading into a field.

At this point, I don't feel danger, but irritated that this is actually happening.  The Tuktuk stops and the driver gets out and points up to a road and says "Hotel."   I grabs my bags and start walking away.  I get up to the road and there is no hotel, and I'm not even sure where I am in relationship to the town.  After he hastles me to "pay now" and me saying things I'm sure he didn't understand, I walk away from the situation without paying him.

I walked for about 10 mins, and noticed a cute little road and I decide to walk down it.  A nice looking guesthouse was lit up at the sign so I sat myself underneath until someone arrived to open the gates.  The first person to come out was a woman on her way to feed the monks.  She invited me to join her and I left my stuff inside the gate.  Afterwards when we came back to the guesthouse, I asked for a room. It being three or four times more then I was willing to pay I was hestitant.  But they offered me to leave my stuff and use the bathroom or even shower while I waited for my room.  Once I walked into the guest bathroom and seeing it was made of marble, I thought, "hey, its just one night."  I booked the room, and joined the woman for breakfast only to discover she was from my hometown.

For the last month I kept thinking, I'm never going to run into someone who knows about Bellingham.  But her she was.  Being that I only had one day in town, I wanted to see the waterfalls and she was willing to join me.  Trying to bargan down our tuktuk we invited three more people, some brits on their year abroad from our guesthouse, along for the ride.

Sign say: If Can't Swim, Do Not Swim

The falls were amazing, and everyone was aloud to sim around.  There were several different levels of pools and all of them a brilliant teal blue color.

Later it started rianing.

We were in the jungle and unrecognizable fruit-vines grew on the trees.

This was the big waterfall at the top.  There was a trail to the top, but no one felt like joining me.

Later that night, the whole group went for dinner at a nice BBQ restaurant.  They brought a bucket to the table with hot coals and put a metal bucket over top.  It was shaped that you could soak noodles and vegetables in broth around the outer rim, and in the center an area that lifted up where you could lay thinly sliced pieces of meat and tofu.  You them broke an egg into the broth and scooped the soup into a bowl with pieces of meat, and added a spicy peanut sauce.  It was an extraordinary meal, and a great group to share it with.
In the morning, I once again joined my new friends for the morning ritual of feeding the monks.  Every person in Laos becomes a monk for at least three months, and sometimes as long as 7 years.  Traditionally they are not aloud to own possessions (However you now often see them with phones and cameras) so every morning they walk the streets with bowl and accept offering from the people in the town for their daily food.

Next Journey, the two day slow boat on the Mekong to the Thailand boarder.