Monthly Archives: April 2013

Impermanence

I’ve been reading lots of books lately…partially because I’ve been on many terrible bus rides and am still too stubborn to buy an ipod after leaving mine at home (that’s right ladies and gents—6months sans—ipod!)…partially because June 3 marks the beginning of my 200 hour Yoga teacher training in Thailand. I’ve been a bit reluctant to share with people that I am doing my training because I felt that by Western standards my network of friends may not accept my decision whole-heartedly. That people might judge me for doing a qualification so brief after dedicating 4 years to a bachelor’s degree. That people wouldn’t understand that I actually really just want to learn more about yoga because of how much more positive I feel my life is when I’m actively practicing. I felt like as a past employee of lululemon athletica it was a bit cliché…and I think most of all I feared that (knowing if I do teach it will be part time) I wouldn’t be the ‘best’ yoga teacher. I’m so used to doing everything I do with commitment to excellence, and knowing (now at least) that I’m taking training to deepen my personal practice and maybe teach as well might be the first time I’ve really invested (time and money) in something purely for my enjoyment and interest. I probably won’t be a headliner at wanderlust or a lulu ambassador…and it’s OK.

I’ve definitely always struggled with acting based on ‘what other people will think’…oddly, I have a pretty thick skin…my issue is that I think (perhaps because I was an only child until I was almost 7) or have thought, that other people care a lot more about my life than they do. I’ve done a lot of digging recently as to why this is, and come out with a less negative conclusion than I had anticipated when I began my introspection.

I care a lot about other people…not out of gossip or malicious intent, but out of curiosity and simply caring what people I care about are going through. I may talk a fair bit about myself, but typically I remember every detail of what people tell me about themselves. Because this is how I think about others, I assume they are equally as interested in me….but that’s not always the case. The shift that has happened in this realm for me, is that I have surrounded myself (or connect myself with) with people who will communicate with me. Not saying “omg! I love that shirt!” but saying “I’m proud of you for getting through that situation” or (more commonly) “you’re overanalyzing”. I don’t have to wonder because my network is supportive, honest, and genuine and I would feel not only comfortable, but expected to share my thoughts with them.

The other branch of this discovery is that the less judgemental I have become through travelling, the less I feel others are judging me. We assume the same tendencies in others that we see in ourselves. Those who are judging others care most about what others think because they assume that they must be doing the same thing. I think back and…I don’t think I’ve actually been the worst for judgements…I’ve had my moments, but they are directly correlated with negative people in my life. If anything people tease me for having a “collection of friends” because I tend to branch out to all sorts of people, and ‘groups’ that wouldn’t usually associate. I’ve realized how toxic these few people over my life have been to my core psyche. I don’t care what people are wearing, but being so close to people who used it as their only yard-stick for friend-worthiness made me start to care about my own possessions out of social survival.

So, why did it take me so long if I’ve come to all these revelations? Because nobody’s perfect…but mostly because what you have in your own head you assume others will also have in theirs. I was fighting my own ghosts and blaming what I assumed of others.

After leaving Bali, my prior debates to do a teacher training were crystal clear. My good friend Josh said “no dramas? Bali must be your bliss” and I couldn’t help but agree. I thought “shit, my bliss is not close to home”….then realized that I have the power to re-create any given environment in my life in a different geographical location. It is my degree after all…. So I looked back and thought—what was Bali? Why did I love it?…I won’t be as cheesy as to say ‘yoga’ and act like I had some sort of enlightenment….but it was who I was in the studio overflowing to every aspect of my life. I was focused, calm, I gave praise, I was confident, grateful, and I cared about my body. I ate vegan, got to bed on time, hydrated, and practiced. I had people in my life that had no problem waiting an extra hour for dinner so I could do a late night class, and for the first time I was able to practice yoga without competing with others (I totally was that person thinking ‘heck yes my half moon is better than yours’). If I was curious about somebody or something, I asked. The simple solution to not creating assumptions… Because this was how I was acting, I expected the same in others. I didn’t think teaching yoga was the solution, but I did know I needed to better understand the history and theory behind the yogic lifestyle (and it is a lifestyle not a ‘workout’).

So what does impermanence have to do with this? Well…this state of bliss, of needing yoga and the community that comes with it in my life, this motivation to change…it was impermanent. Somewhere between stuffing my face with thalis in Penang and volunteering in Phnom Penh I felt like a total fraud going to YTT because my life no longer coincided with anything it did in Bali. I was buying the cheapest food possible, practicing infrequently and inconsistently, and finding myself having more raging reactions to pushy tuk tuk drivers by the minute.

I read a book recently called Buddha or Bust about spiritual tourism and one of the author’s main learnings was impermanence. I suppose it’s the Buddhist version of ‘this too shall pass’…but I feel like we have put that saying in a box referring to negative times. What I took from the book was that impermanence applies to everything in life including life itself.

Depressing? It shouldn’t be…it should light a fire under your ass. Yes, cravings and broken hearts are impermanent. But so are love and success. To me, impermanence eludes to my freedom and ability to manage a situation (one some may call life) not the fate of happiness ending. I realized as I got further from Bali how impermanent that lifestyle was. It made my yoga training all of the sudden seem far fetched. I opened up to Josh about being afraid I would be ‘bad’ at yoga…which in my head I was just thinking, what if you’re a yoga poser? His response “can you breathe”…I must admit (and I know you’re reading…)I rolled my eyes a bit. But as I read my first prerequisite book The Heart of Yoga today soaking up each word like gold, I came to a sentence where the author essentially says the exact same thing to the reader… and something clicked.

To have this life of happiness, calm, focus, ambition…every quality you or your mom thinks is needed for ‘success’…you just need to breathe. Being as intentional with your time and energy as you are with your breath in yoga will lead you to activities you want to be doing, people you want to be with, and skills you want to have. As much as you can end negativity as simply as re-focusing your breath and choosing for something to be over, you can also start a new beginning just as easily. I can hear my friend Dylan saying “she really has lost track of what real life’s about”…but to be quite frank, I don’t really care. This is impermanent. I must enjoy it [the carefree, responsibility-free, loftiness of travel] while I can.

I can hear the ‘wtf’s’ about my comment that love and success are impermanent. But they are. First, to address the latter…balance effort and surrender my teacher Noga said. If you are always succeeding, how are you learning, how are you challenging yourself, and really….how can you appreciate your triumphs. Now ‘love’…it is impermanent. It is ever-changing. It develops, it gains depth, loses intensity, re-ignites, and to stay in love or leave love, is a choice. Impermanence doesn’t necessarily mean (to me) that something always has to end (although it often will)…it means you will have to actively choose to keep something around. Being intentional with what you chose to have in your life, and having the ability to do so freely.

So, somewhere between Bali, breathing, and reading about breathing…I’ve chosen to stop judging myself for everything I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post. I oddly don’t have any of those thoughts about other yoga teachers in my life…I think I respect them all so much I fear I can’t fill the shoes…But I’ve realized that my insecurities have been the result of me not choosing to stay focused, of me being lazy with my practice, and making excuses to mask my fear of the road less travelled. The road less travelled was always my motto when I was young, but I was always on the road I had planned. It may not have been what others were doing, but I always did what I ‘knew’ I wanted to do. Even travelling….I’ve always known I wanted to do it, maybe not to this scale….but in a way the scale of this trip is a version of me over achieving. Doing yoga training is my road less travelled, I’m nervous, I didn’t plan on it at all when I stepped on the plane to Sydney over half a year ago. But I’m choosing it actively, and finally full—heartedly.

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Phnom Penh 3

….I think it’s 3?

Anyway, we’re in our last week of volunteering at the special needs orphanage. We’ve dusted the cobwebs off of our nursery rhymes and mastered all of the Khmer names and eating habits of each child. It’s a bit gutting to know we’re leaving so soon…but I am looking forward to properly travelling again.

We’re gathering our gifts for the orphanage which consist of formula, cereals and diapers…all essentials that the kids end up going without if volunteers and donors don’t provide contributions. In once sense I really don’t agree with how we’re expected to provide these essential commodities when we’re already donating our time (I don’t have spare cash…hence donating my time?), but at the same time if the kids need it 100 bucks is worth heaps more to them than to me, even in the dire circumstance of backpacking.

My legs are led at the moment due to the fact that we’re biking 15km a day as we traded in our turfed tuk tuk for push bikes saving on cash and contributing to the calorie burn….probably good considering I have an empty bag of soft baked dark chocolate cookie purchased tonight by my side…We’ve also been pretty dedicated to doing the workouts at Olympic Stadium, which are 25 cents for an hour of zumba/tae bo, and cater to every and any cambodian of any age, social standing, and/or attire…
our nurs
Otherwise the stadium is great, there’s stairs, track, soccer pitches, tae kwon do, tennis, and impromptu badminton.

We’ve also discovered some sweet restaurants this week including an Indian joint called Taste Budz on street 282, just off of Monivong and Sihanoukville. Pretty good indian….if I hadn’t been to Penang, great Indian. Relatively cheap….but we hear there are cheaper all-you-can eat places by the lake. We went in search the other night to find out it was ‘closed’. Must love Asia and it’s ‘yeah, it was grandpa’s birthday last month and now we got a new cat so I think we’ll take a day off to watch soaps’ holidays…

Friends is also amazing…pricier because it is an NGO cafe, but the food is great. I’m going to interject here and present my beef with Cambodia. Yes, it is very poor; Yes, it has seen complete turmoil I will never understand; and Yes, I might do the same if I were them…but the use and abuse their tragic history. Every cafe is run by street kids or teaches them to cook, every shop has things made by mothers in need, every traveller is a volunteer… So, all these shops charge extra because they cater to empathetic Westerners who are here volunteering their time…when really they are Massive cash cows for their western owners. All of the major NGO cafe/shops are owned and operated by westerners. Hence the English menus, tons of advertising, and all in one heart string teasers to get the biggest bang for the buck out of each visitor. You would honestly be better off buying from the super local cafes where nobody speaks English…betcha they need your cash more than the others. It’s funny, each of these NGO places always has air con, fresh paint, and recent renovations…Wonder if they hired street kids to install it?

I know that they are in fact poor, and that I couldn’t imagine what they’ve been through. However they definitely have taken their past and turned it into a pity story to scam westerners….not even the Khmer people, more sickening…its the westerners that come, use the story, and benefit off of other westerners. I feel a little sick every time I go to one of these places but it seems all my other ‘good hearted volunteer’ friends quite like it. What gives. Perhaps I’m a cynic…I like to think I’m smarter than ‘scambodia’ as I’ve called if from the minute I entered it. Eating local, buying local, and staying in our somewhat bug infested guest house makes me feel better than eating a ‘really good apple crumble’ recipe by nana in Georgia executed by a Khmer kid, whose brother comes to sell me DVDs during my dinner with begging hands…

Somehow in the next 10 days I am trying to get visas for India, Vietnam, and a 60 day for Thailand. Cambodia is the cheapest place in SE Asia to get all of them (moreso I need Vietnam to continue my journey), but the office hours are while I’m at volunteering…time will tell. Either way these three will cost me upwards of 200 combined…yeesh! good thing I found cheap flights to India, from there to Africa, and from cpt to Athens–Skyscanner I love you.

Lunch tomorrow is Tofu, cucumber, and Carrot…made possible by the knife I bought for 80 cents. Arguably my best purchase in Asia so far.

I’m also going to yoga at Yoga! Phnom Penh tomorrow for a ‘sweat and samadhi’ class. Not only do the instructors and classes seem sweet but they are also doing me a massive favor and helping me get my books for yoga training which would have costed upwards of 80 bucks to get shipped, for only 6 bucks each here in PP!

That being said, I’m doing a pretty good job of keeping fit, probably because we have one home and the laundry lady is AMAZING, so any excuse to get a fresh load washed, dried, and folded for a dollar is a gooder.

Vacation from Travels

Really, I think we deserved a vacation after volunteering for a week with special needs kids. It is so rewarding, and so necessary…but so exhausting. Just like when I was in Peru, I leave this experience respecting care givers even more than ever. We have another week ahead of us now but we had the last 10 days off due to Khmer new Year.

….Khmer New Year…my 4th New year of the 2013 calendar year; including the international New Year, Chinese New Year, Balinese New Year (Nyepi, coinciding with the Hindu Calendar), and now Khmer which is what Cambodians are technically called…this new year is also celebrated by Thailand, and Laos.

So, for this vacation from our travels we headed out of Phnom Penh to Siem Reap (the Angkor Wat city) and to Battambang, then got back to PP for the weekend to hit up the S21 museum and killing fields. If I may say so myself, we’ve had a rather stellar 10 days. This post may be a long one…I’ll write a post all about volunteering to follow, and obviously upload some money shots of Angkor.

So we started the week on Saturday morning jumping on a 7am bus from pp to siem reap…it may have been 2 hours late, which is good for Asia I suppose…Anyway, we were welcomed with a “Welcome Anika & friends” sign and tuk tuk to take us to our 3 dollar a night, 92% hostelworld rating Mangolo-Angkor guest house…
angkor 003
Pretty luxurious…in all fairness, those were the comfiest pillows and mattresses any of the 3 of us had slept on in weeks…on the other hand, even with that mosquito contraption we all walked away with at least 5 more bites most nights. Referencing the 3 of us, my friend Stacey who I met in high school, saw in Melbourne, and is volunteering with me in PP. Also, my friend Alyssa that I met in Ubud Bali during my yoga-Soma(raw food cafe)-volcano hike days. So the room was tiny…but we had enough space on the deck to do yoga in the mornings and the staff spoke English, French, and Khmer fluently. They also had bikes for us to rent and ride to Angkor in the mornings.

Siem Reap…great place. Definitely a change from where we are staying in PP at Chantrea Guest house. It is a great place, close to what we need…however very far from the touristy parts of PP…it made being in the atmosphere of white folk, English menus, and copious souvenir markets seem ever so much more like a vacation. We hit up the night market, shopped the many community project shops that either teach street kids skills or give them jobs, and lounged at sustainable cafes. We quite enjoyed our carrot cakes and peanut butter cookies at Peace Cafe where they have yoga and free buddha chats/khmer lessons on weekends! We got dollar foot massages, raided the 50% off discounts at the bakery from 7pm til close (come to think of it, they may be concerned we haven’t returned…), got lots of ice cream from Blue Pumpkin (BEST ice cream and bakery in SR and PP!!), and had our fair share of 50 cent drafts on Pub Street. There are also great Khmer restaurants on the side of the Old Market opposite the river…Best curries we’ve had in Cambodia for 2 dollars including rice and drinks.

Angkor Wat…I feel like we almost forgot we were in SR to go to Angkor, we were so busy soaking up the touristy vibe we forgot we were actually there to see the largest religious building in the world, and honorary 8th wonder of the world. Knowing myself I opted to do the 1 day pass for 20 dollars…if you buy after 5pm the day before you can get it for the next day, so you can do sunset one day and rise the next…however if its cloudy, like it was when we biked 6km to get there, they may just decide that they want to go home and don’t let you go to the view points to watch. So what better thing to do than go get tons of free beer/wine/avocado/coffee/energy drink samples from the festival tents that were up for the new year!

Sunriseeeee, Alyssa and I have a thing for sunrises…in Bali we stayed up til 2 then did a hike up a volcano to see mt batur get illuminated to start the day…every time it seems like the worst decision…until this is your view:
angkor 156
Defo worth fighting the tripod-packing asians for a spot by the pond. Also, climbing up to the actual temple of Angkor doesn’t open until 7:30 and sunrise is at like 6. So if you don’t want to spend an hour and a half doing the exterior, head to Bayon in the Angkor Thom complex and come back to angkor in the afternoon. It’s so busy in the morning and eve prior to sunset, but it actually is the most shady temple to hide from heat in mid day. As for Bayon, probably actually my favourite temple…I thought it was stunning, and more original. Not that Angkor wasn’t stunning…but like when you’ve seen hundreds of photos of the Eiffel Tower, it looks like the postcards.
angkor 290

After we did a 20 km route, saw the tomb raider temple and headed back to siem reap getting totally rained on…oh the joys. But, we earned a solid night out! It was coincidentally the last night of Khmer New year celebrations (3 days…they’re on to something). We headed to pub street and bounced between Angkor What and the Temple…the only two nightculbs, which had a water and powder fight slash gangnam dance shake down happening in the streets between. It was actually mostly Cambodians partying, and virtually no foreigners were participating in the water fight. Luckily for me and my hatred of make up…slash poor packing and thus wearing a bathing suit instead of a bra…I was game to join in. Fun fact, there is male and female baby powder…menthol and floral scent respectively…word the wise, don’t get male baby powder in your eye…Definitely not if you wear contacts…and to those of you who plan on getting into said situation while wasted like I was, don’t consider washing your contact lens with undrinkable tap water and putting it back in your eye. Luckily my shaky hand didn’t permit for that anyway, but sober Ani is a bit repulsed that blackout Ani considered it. …solution? Walk around blind…and don’t accidentally blind 13 year old boys…them and their posse will hunt you down for revenge…
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Anyway, after such festivities I followed my friends back to their hostel which had a pool…then we weren’t allowed in it so we played pool for roughly an hour before the front desk came to ‘take one turn’…aka sink the balls our drunk asses never would so we would stop making noise and go to bed.

What better decision than to leave at 7 the next morning to Battambang? I would like to take this moment to say cheers to Capitol bus company who got us to Battambang, and subsequently to Phnom Penh ON TIME…amazing. The second trip even involved changing a flat!

Battambang…everyone seems to have loved it…we stayed at Chhaya for 2.60 a night each, so how could you not really? In the 2 days we were there we spent roughly 12 hours sitting at Sunrise Cafe enjoying delectable cinnamon buns, brownies, cookies, and omelettes….oh and coffee…oh boy, the coffee (this week is gonna be a toughy without the caffeine)…we were to be ‘reading and relaxing’ I would say roughly 50 pages of our respectful novels were actually read, however approximately 100 versions of ‘would you rather’ and where should we eat for dinner were covered in great depth.

Come to think of it…they probably think we are MIA as well…and yes, I know how fat we deserve to be after consuming that many baked goods, but we biked and walked a lot…and will be biking 14km a day this week to volunteering, AND participating in the Olympic Stadium public Zumba/Tae Bo/Tae Chi nightly…so ease off the criticism.

Back to Phnom Penh for the weekend, Stacey and I decided to get S-21, the high school turned concentration camp of Pol Pot during the Khmer Rouge revolution and Killing fields 15km southwest of PP off the to-do list. We managed to walk to S21 and get a tuk tuk for 8 bucks return, the audio and entrance at the fields was 5 bucks, admission at the museum was 2. 11 dollars for a SUPER informative, and a little depressing day. For those of you who don’t know about the Khmer rouge, it happened between 75 and 79…so when my parents were only in High school… during that time 3/8 million Cambodians were murdered as a part of the mass Genocide led by Pol Pot in his attempt to create a perfect communist nation. He did so after studying in France, and died after only 1 year of house arrest at the age of 82 in the 90’s. The killing fields houses a tree that was used to crack skulls of babies, and many mass graves of the prisoners who had been transferred from the camp at S21 where they were brutally starved, worked, interrogated, and tortured so that killing didn’t require pricey bullets, only beating and blows to the skull.
pp 007
Both museums were excellent. Well done, not over done, affordable, respectful, and heart-wrenching. S21 has movies for 5 dollars at 10 am and 3pm, the museum is rooms of the detainees, photos of all detainees, examples of weapons used, history, and testimonials from survivors/reports from those arrested. The killing fields includes an audio tape in many languages explaining what was there and what used to be as well as providing personal testimonials and a brief museum. I’d say do both, do the killing fields first then you don’t have to do the video at S21 and you will appreciate it more.

After that tough day we chugged a couple bottles of 3 dollar wine and downed some ice cream to ease the emotions. Today has been a day of exploring the river side, kicking our cravings for chicken and italian food (La dulce vita…AMAZING gnocchi, coffee, and wood burning oven pizza for great prices). We bought some crazy well priced goods at Friends which supports local street kids getting skilled at trades (the restaurant re opens tomorrow and is supposed to have to die for crumble!). We went to a new super market, explored markets for my watch fetish and new notebooks to journal my time, and are about to re-emerge to get BOGO baguettes for work lunch tomorrow.

After our Angkor adventures we’ve decided to do the 8km trek to volunteering by push bike this week to get a work out and save a few bucks. If you’re looking to rent a bike in Phnom Penh check out street 107 6 ish blocks south of Sianhoukville blvd.