Monthly Archives: May 2013

Writing to Read

If you had asked me a year ago if I was a writer, or if writing was a hobby, or even if I so much as like writing I would have said “no”. That response would be routed primarily from the fact that for somebody who loves systematic processes, I hate spelling, grammar, and every part of ‘writing’ that school gives you a score for. Luckily, I’ve discovered blogging…where my poor writing mechanics are overshadowed by my lack of filter and self-preservation as an art form. Somewhere in the last several months, this blog has become therapeutic more than a chore to let everyone know I’m OK. I’m not writing to make money or be ‘popular’ in the cyber community, but actually because it clears my always-overthinking mind better than anything else. So, here I am, writing…so that I can clear my mind and finish reading the last of my 3 readings for Yoga Teacher Training which starts in 4 days!

Anyway, a few entertaining happenings of lately:

At the night market getting an alarm clock and flashlight….combined price still less than a new phone, and as I’ve realized they were the only things I used my phone for other than whatsapp. I am talking to the lady, she’s delightful and for once not annoying. I explain that I need these items because I got my phone stolen (as part of bargaining and ‘i have no money). Her response “no lay-deeee you need tazor! I sell too!”…classic.

Also, purchased ‘Birkenstocks’. Yes, they will be good for India and Africa seeing as how my only shoes atm are runneres, hiking shoes and verge of breaking fake havaiianas from khao san. But also they will be great for squat toilets and walking post rain. Addressing the first, I think this is why women wear platform flip flops….so that when they are in squat toilets with an inch of ‘water’ on the floor it doesnt overflow onto their feet. And the second…up kicked mud from rain water with flip flops looks gross and requires me to both do laundry and shower–both are not my favourite.

My hostel at the moment is amazing. My Home is just off of soi 9 moon muang in chiang mai’s old city and they are lovely. Free bikes, coffee, tea, water, computers/wifi and the most friendly helpful staff. 100baht per night allows me to blow my budget on food. i.e. the ‘best eggs benedict in chiang mai’ as per trip advisor at smoothie blues, which was terrible and pricey. My favourite place remains blue diamond, right by my guesthouse. They sell every health food under the sun and have generous portions for great prices. They have amazing thai and western food alike and the owners are delightful.

In regards to YTT…

I have done an embarassingly small amount of yoga in the past month since my bike accident. in fact I’ve done minimal sorts of any activity, even walking, as my head hates the sun/heat. I have however been reading my books intently and somehow I feel better at yoga than I was before. Understanding the philosophy more in depth and holistically has helped me not only in seeing beyond the asana (physical poses) of my practice but also in my asana. The way I approach each pose, the breath, and my mindfulness has made me ‘better’ than when I was practicing regularly. I’m more flexible and focused than I was before. Perhaps the injury helped my psyche, and perhaps the literature has some truth in saying yoga is beyond the physical.

Last week as I finished up the Jivamukti yoga book (which has pretty much made up my mind that I will be a vegetarian after training…with the exception of a JUICY alberta steak and prime rib and proper eggs benedict cooked by dad upon arriving home) I had a moment of clarity. “oooooh ‘clarity'”…yes, maybe it was the increased vividness of my imagination/dreams caused by anti-malarials but either way I came to the realization that what I want to do with my life is exactly what I wanted when I was 17.

When I was 17 I wanted to help cancer patients and their families. I volunteered a lot at Calgary’s Tom Baker Cancer Centre from the age of 16 and always felt a huge connection to the work I did. I’ve been blessed to not have had any first hand accounts with the disease that affects 1/3 North Americans…which I think is why I started volunteering…out of fear—thinking if I knew more my fear would subside. What came from my time though was awe and inspiration from the resilience of people and their families. How volunteers were widows or widowers, how 30 year old women battled gynecological cancers while raising new borns, how at 80 a man cared for his ex-wife because it was ‘right’. How after hearing about a 4th recurrence a patient would console the nurses, and how I’ve never seen health professionals so emotionally invested in their patients. For the most part it is a disease that doesn’t discriminate. Yes, lifestyle and environment can increase chances of getting cancer, but 3 month olds, 90 year olds, rich, poor, every race, women, men, any religion or sexual orientation…we’re all at risk, and being in a cancer centre, knowing its largely the luck of the draw, is one of the most humbling experiences.

When I was young (‘young’…like 5 years ago…but a BIG 5 years)I wanted to help and figured, as all over-ambitious teens that I would just become a doctor and cure the disease all together. Then I went to university, partied a lot, didn’t feel like being a doctor–too hard, went in to Human Ecology because it seemed easier and was still a science degree if I re-kindled my motivation for med school by 3rd year.

Human Ecology studies how environments, from clothing to relationships to political-social, affect human potential. How ‘nurture’ can be [i]the[/i] difference. I studied everything from material culture to counselling, law to parenting, health care to organizational development. Most of my peers hoped of working with non profits helping youth and children but my interest remained in Death, dying, aging, and long term care facilities. The topics everyone else found depressing or ‘a lots cause’ were actually what evoked passion in me. Perhaps once again because I was afraid for myself and wanted to understand it–because to me fear is from the unknown…wondering will kill a busy mind.

Then I started working at lululemon athletica. A company routed in goal setting and ‘elevating the world from mediocrity to greatness’. My first goal frame for years 1-5-10 year goals surrounded yoga trainings, marathons, and ultimately creating a holistic cancer center in Alberta. Goals should be re-assessed every 3-6 months. The more I was immersed in the company, the more I saw the business side…and being a work horse and over-achiever at most things, I saw advancement in the company, and with the encouragment of others saw that perhaps business was my true calling (honestly who isn’t even partially motivated by money and power). My last goal frame was about how I would be a head-honcho in human resources making a ridiculous salary to build my pretentious house and afford overpriced health foods.

Being gone travelling has taught me a lot. It’s taught me how to budget toilet paper, that when it comes to dirty surfaces, bugs, and seeing your food prepared ignorance is bliss, that you can tell within 10 minutes of knowing someone what their ‘purpose’ to you will be (either not having to eat lunch alone or a long term friend), that insecure people will try to be the cool kids even when half way around the world, that coffee can be both more terrible and more amazing than I had ever imagined, that baby powder is more effective than washing my hair, that it really is all a matter of perspective (applying to market prices, have-have nots, humidity….etc). Most of all this particular trip has taught me that I don’t need things to make me happy.

‘Duh’…but it’s like I realized in Byron…there are lots of things we say because we know they should be, but until we actually believe them authentically we don’t realize we were only going through motions before. I’ve had my ups and downs but I’ve never been happier than I am now, I have also never had less. Once I pay for my flights to/from Africa, my tour, and my flight home my savings will be the lowest they’ve been since I was 14. (pretty much the last decade).

So, without the distractions of friends, shiny Michael Kors watches and nice handbags, I’ve been thinking about career. I’m going home in 4ish months, which is a while, but in comparison to the size of my trip it’s still soon. I’ve come to the realization that any income is income. And theoretically if I stayed in asia until I had $0 I could actually live here for another 2 years…so no matter what I do back home I will feel rich even with cost of living being about 5 times higher.

Returning back to the Jivamukti book…I think it was somewhere between Laos (which I hated) and Thailand when I was reading about how karmically terribly it is to eat meat when I realized that serving families with cancer is what I want to do. Without realizing I stopped reading completely and began to visualize my life teaching yoga, doing life coaching, hosting retreats in the mountains, and a continued thirst for learning everything about alternative healing methods not for me but for others…not to help them but to serve them. The yoga texts differentiate quite clearly between the two, as helping suggests a sense of inequality where serving puts you on the same level. Serving is the key of cancer care as cancer it self proves there is no true hierarchy.

Anyway, I’ve just realized how long this post has gotten, and likewise I feel ready to read the Bhagavad gita, the last of my readings. I feel like this post was a bit more for me than you…as I hope that once I’m re–imersed in the distractions of the western world I can read it and remember to stay true to what I want, because if there is any ONE thing to take away from it all its that basing happiness and fulfillment on actions (which you can control) rather than things (to impress others < who you can't control) is the only way you can actually guarantee your happiness. I went to a tarot card reader because it was 100 baht and I was bored, and for the first time I didn't care what she said, nor did I have questions to ask. She laughed and said I had figured it out. She said I knew that I could and would be happy and didn't need her assurance on the future of my love/career/posessions to make me feel better. That, might have been the best reading I've ever had, and best 100 baht spent (unless I purchase the tazor).

Visas & Border Crossings in South East Asia

This isn’t ALL the info…this is info for Flying in to DPS, Bali then to Singapore, then overland to Malaysia-Thailand-Cambodia-Vietnam-Laos-Thailand on a Canadian passport in 2013.

Vietnam Visa: 60 dollars, get it in advance, there is also an e-visa system for air arrivals, 45 in advance, 15 on arrival. Extentions in country, overstay is 5 per day. Its like 15 minutes to get done in sihanoukville in person but it’s a bit out of the way solid 45 min walk from water) so most places charge 10 bucks to get it processed…use your judgement on what’s good for you.

Cambodia Visa: 20 on arrival…anything from Thailand by land will charge you more, the airport, Laos, and Vietnam borders are well regulated. Extention is 40, overstay is 5usd per day ***Cambodia is the only SE Asia country with atms that dispense in USD….get all the USD you need for Visas here, you will get ripped off on exchange elsewhere ***

Thailand: 30 by air arrival, 15 by land, 60 day tourist visa extendable to 90 once in Thailand is 1000 baht but needs to be done before hand…it is 40USD in Hanoi, 110 MYR in Penang, and 1000 baht in Vientiane. Double that for a dual entry. Malaysia is the only visa run country that doesn’t have a visa charge itself. You can do a visa run to Myanmar for a 10 dollar fee at the border crossing closest to Phuket. Getting a 60 day is cheaper than extending or paying the overstay 500 baht pd. If you get a double entry visa it means you can enter for 60 days, renew for 30 additional (90 total) then leave and do it again so 6 months total…but once you’ve left, the first ‘90’ days is done, and you start your second entry at day 1 of your second 60/90. If you’re getting your visa in Vientiane there is a massively long line and wait, so beware…also people out front to scam you saying they’ll process for a fee…there ARE application forms inside! Also you will need photocopies of your passport, Laos Visa, and Laos stamp page which you can do for 1000 kip at the consulate. There are like 20 tuk tuks and mini buses to the border at 2-4 pm daily after pick up.

Laos: 42 for Canadians, 35 for UK, USA, lots of the EU (some only 30). You will pay 1USD to ‘stamp’, and 2 more if it is after 4:30, a weekend, or a holiday.
Indonesia: 25 on arrival, 150,000 IDR departure tax paid only in IDR and the atm at DPS airport only dispenses in 100’s, you can extend in country.

Myanmar: 20-30USD in advance Border runs to Myanmar charge at $10 stamping fee in/out of Myanmar

Malaysia, Singapore: free.

Bonus….India: cheapest in Vietnam by about 10USD….it is 63 for everyone but Japanese (74) and Americans (83) but takes a full 5 days to process…time it well. Hanoi is great because you can go to Halong Bay and Sapa while waiting but get copies of your passport…Vietnam is sticky about it for hotel stays. Nicest embassy I’ve visited for sure.

Overland border crossings
Singapore-Malaysia…hectic because people do it for work daily, but simple and efficient.
Malaysia-Thailand (hat yai) also simple, any mini bus pretty much holds your hand…however make sure you’ve filled out your arrival card fully, the thai border officials aren’t known for their friendliness.

Thailand-Cambodia(poipet)…basically any border in this direction is a mess, poipet is the worst. Not unsafe, just a scam. There’s about 3 fake border offices, do NOT pay in baht, and you do not ever NEED to pay an extra processing fee….follow signs for ‘pre-arranged’ visas to take you to the real boreder!

Cambodia-HCMC: Because the viet visas are pre done it’s quick and easy. The 8 dollar bus from pp to hcmc will arrange it all and get the passports stamped as a group. No fee.

Vietnam-laos (Vientiane): you will pay 1 dollar to stamp leaving Vietnam (or 20000vnd), then as mentioned 1 dollar stamping at laos, plus 2 more on weekends holidays and after hours.

Laos-Thailand (Huay Xai-Gibbon): Super easy. Any package bus deal will include your bus across the river, if not I think it was less than 100 baht. Out bus dropped us off by the night market (LP-CM) so we didn’t have to pay for the sorongatheu from Arcade station which was nice. buses leave the Thai border town at 6 and 10 am. Paid no stamping fees on either side.

Fire me a message if you have any questions.

Laos: An expensive detour

I was always planning on going to Laos…because that’s what you do in SE Asia…then I realized there wasn’t really much that interested me.  However, I assumed that going by land to Chiang Mai (Thailand) would be cheaper, and sure why not add another country to the list. 

 

What I didn’t include in my comparisson to the 100 dollar direct flight from Hanoi to BKK…$22 for the 20 hour bus journey into Laos.  45 for the visa (42 for being Canadian +2 for weekend +1 for the stamp).  The most expensive overland travel in South East Asia.  Getting ripped off by a dickhead tuk tuk driver and paying $40 CAD for the 2 minute tuk tuk because he threatened to tell the police I stole from him and took all my cash.  The SHIT exchange rate in atms. The nuisance of malaria tablets. The outrageous price of activities. The 35 dollar Thai visa because land entries only get 15 days (vs 30 by air). The 45 dollar bus to Chiang Mai. My stolen camera memory cards…

 

ANYWAY  I’m still glad I came.  I’ve run in to tons of people, made lots of new quality friends, partied with locals, become realllllly good at bowling (the only thing open past the 11:30 curfew in LP and Vientiane), and gotten my fix of baguettes and pastry —god bless the french. 

 

The bus from Hanoi to Laos-NOT THAT BAD.  As tourists we were all thrown in the shitty back seats (which youroll around in and can’t adjust your incline…right beside the toilet).  But we were all fit enough, we all slept, locals didn’t eat durian on board, and we actually arrived 3 hours early!

 

Minibus from VV-LP also not that bad.  Everyone was all terrified about the roads…yes, they’re dirt, but the cliffs you rip around through the Canadian Rockies are MUCH more terrifying.  Plus, the scenery is incredible! Don’t take the night route! It’s a bit hard to sleep on the turns anyway.

 

Tubing in VV…didn’t go.  Instead ate french pastries and played rummy with my new English friends for 5 hours watching the monsoon…

 

Vientiane was a totally alright place.  Actually besides the awesome people in VV it would be my favourite.  You can get street food for 5000 kip which is double elsewhere, it is clean, locals are nice, it is cheap, totally laid back.  Everyone claimed to be ‘bored’ but as I told a new friend of mine in VV I think boredom also includes a certain lack of social competence.  If you can’t find a way to occupy yourself and be productive without your environment and others constantly stimulating you, maybe its you not the place? 

 

Getting to Thailand: I’m taking a bus for 40USD directly to Chiang Mai…will let you all lknow how that goes seeing as how there is a plethora of info on the reverse route and nothing about leaving laos.  The prices quoted here in LP are double everything in Lonely Planet for bus and slow boat. I’m also preparing a post about visas and border crossings through SE Asia.  It will only be valid for a couple months, but I’ll gather the info anyway. 

 

Dorm etiquette: just because the bars on the top bunk surround your mattress doesnt mean you can do full laundry and hang it all around my bottom bunk creating a jungle of panties to crawl through when I go to bed. Know your weird heavy metal screamer music isn’t mainstream and don’t have it as your volume 10 ringtone you sing along to instead of turn off at 6am.  Don’t put the inside slider lock on if everyone isnt in the room.  In places where mosquitoes are prevalent, shut the fucking window. Do not smoke in the ensuite. One fan means rotating…not aimed at you only all night. Conversations in the room take priority over skyping mom…if you’re annoyed that we’re talking, go elsewhere. You’re trying local food…great me too…I don’t however want to wake up to the local bugs that your un-disposed of garbage is attracting wtih it’s dried fish scent. Consider the possibility that others are comfortable with silence.  If you need A tylenol I’m more than happy to help you out, however use your judgement…if you’ve had said headache for a week, go pay 3 dollars and buy your own.  I also will NOT ever share my 5 dollar a tablet anti malarials with anyone. No guy in asia cares about how you look…ladyboys are not your competition, and the inch think face you put on will last about 30 seconds in the humidity and heat, that’s bonus advice really…I quite like going out and getting more attention that girls that spent hours getting dolled up.

 

Anyway, I feel like travellers in Laos have been abnormally young, naive to anyone but themselves, and judgemental about partying (or lack there of).  I also met some seriously legit people…but it has been extreme, there hasn’t been the usual middle ground people I can tolerate but have no interest in.  Its all people I was sad or elated to leave behind.