Monday, April 17, 2017

Finding A Routine In Chiang Mai, Thailand

Dec. 31 New Years in Chiang Mai
In Thailand the Songkran water festival just ended over the weekend. It is an annual event to celebrate the Thai new year. For five days everyone out on the streets is having water fights and walking out your door means playing. It was delightful to see so many adults with big water canons and bigger grins aimed at every scooter and pedestrian in their path. A very fun atmosphere, but one that I was ready to be done with on about the second day.

I was ready to be done with it because I had just gotten into the groove for my new webucation (seriously, I just came up with that brilliant nugget. my genius knows no bounds!) site, Prepared Passing.

Let me go back a week.

Last Week

Songkran was beginning and many businesses shut down, including all the yoga studios. Daily yoga at $5/class is one of the benefits of living in Chiang Mai. Since I'd be taking a week off from yoga, I decided to do another 4- or 5-day fast (as I first chronicled here 6 months ago). For the first 3 days I was doing great. But by the afternoon of Day 4 I was feeling depressed, and this is not a normal feeling for me. I was tired of traveling. Homesick. Just wanted to move back to the States and settle down somewhere. Red flat alert! I was frustrated with this business idea and couldn't find any motivation for it. And I couldn't make heads or tails of this spiritual awakening that appears to be happening to me.

So I ate food. Crazy, I know. I made it 4 full days of fasting, noticed a successfully lowered blood pressure (because of feeling faint when I stood up, not because I actually had access to a cuff). I had dinner and a beer and a Snickers bar and went to bed.

The Next Morning

By morning I felt great. I found a place to hire a web developer for Prepared Passing and was shocked to get more than 80 job proposals. The thoughtful ideas coming in from seasoned programmers were just what I needed to light my fire around the website. Sparks were flying and it began to feel like it really might be a legitimate business model.

Finding a Routine

So now that the festival is over and I'm inspired to work, I've found myself a nice routine.
  • 7am Wakeup. Listen to the latest podcast of On Being or Tangentially Speaking or Buddha at the Gas Pump
  • 9am yoga ($5)
  • Healthy breakfast (omelette, salad, green smoothie, coffee for $8) and working for 90 minutes. That's where I am as I write this.
  • Noon meditation group (two 20-minute sittings for $1.50 donation)
  • Thai massage (60-minutes for $8)
  • Work a little more
  • Dinner. Chill out
  • Bedtime

Sorry, No Photos

I haven't really been taking any photos recently. After traveling for 17 months the picture taking gets a little old. Plus, my exploration has turned more internal in the past month. The warmth and energetic vibrations that I mentioned here are still with me. My latest theory is that maybe it's me being awakened to the sense of my chi (aka prana, spirit, life force). I don't really know yet, so I'm spending time every day exploring it further and continuing to learn and grow. 

Buried Lede

Perhaps I've buried the lede here, because this topic of energy and spirit is not one that many people are comfortable with. It's difficult for me to discuss, but I'm working on it. Western culture barely acknowledges its existence, even though Eastern cultures have had an understanding of it for 2500 years. If one of my friends had told me about their energy experience 5 years ago I would have been quite skeptical. In fact, I can think of a couple friends who may have tried to share something similar with me, only to be met by my predictable skepticism and ignorance. Heads up: I'm still not ready to hear about your crystals or magnets.

Example: Brilliant, smart, highly educated, American neuroscientists can now scan the brains of meditating monks with billion-dollar science machines! They discover that meditating monks show more in the awareness and happiness and peacefulness zones of the brain than normal Americans do. Shocker! 

Buddhist monks have known this for 2500 years. Just because we can't prove it, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

I don't think this has happened to me because I was looking for it (though I've certainly been growing more open to possibility in the past 5 years since I started listening to a shitload of podcasts). I think it happened because I simply shed all the bullshit in my life, walked away from it and began living the life I always wanted to live. My mind is able to be free. And when I challenged it by feeding it the words and experiences of many wise people, it was finally able to blossom.

That's my current theory, anyways. I'm still a Western skeptic and still looking for better explanations. And I do still understand that I am a very fortunate person in so many ways. I don't know if that's because of karma from past lives or not. Haven't started believing in that yet. But why else should I be fortunate enough to explore any path that interests me while billions of people are stuck fighting for food and water? Pure luck? I dunno.

Time for meditation. Smell ya later.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Shanghai, Hong Kong & Bangkok Photo Dump

Recently I spent a month in Shanghai and five days in each of Hong Kong and Bangkok.


In Shanghai I had the pleasure of staying with my buddy Mike who I don't think I had seen in two years. He's been living in Shanghai for work (Ecolab) for the past two years and will likely be there for two more. Catching up with him was definitely the highlight of my time there.

Shanghai is a huge mega-city of 25-30 million people. It is also very international because it is the main business hub of Communist Red China.

Mike has a lovely 2-bedroom apartment in this centrally located building:
Mike's Apartment in Shanghai

The iconic skyline of Shanghai was all erected in the past 20 years or so. They tell me that the land across the river in this picture was just farmland in the 1980s.
Kirk. Shanghai. The Bund.
Funny story about this picture. I later learned that the woman who offered to take it for me was likely trying to scam me. I met two nice, talkative women in their twenties who were walking along this promenade (on the Bund). It is a very touristy area because of this view. So local scam artists will befriend you, first by offering to take your picture. Then they chat you up in broken English and eventually invite you to get a drink at a place nearby. If you take them up on their offer, you end up in one of those scams where you sit down for a drink and it costs $100. This happened to me in Rome some years ago so I'm now wary of it, but wasn't certain that was happening at the time until Mike confirmed it. So much for Communism.

My new favorite breakfast is being made by this lady as Mike looks on, drooling.

Here's what it looks like when done. Flaky, crispy, crepe-like outer that contains a minimal amount of spicy paste, small hot dog of some sort, greens and some other paste. There's not much to it, but it's really tasty. Costs about $1.

Other amazing Chinese food is xiao long bao, seen here. They're delectable little dumplings, with a little meat and hot (temperature-wise) watery sauce inside. I ate this sampler platter and then ordered another full platter of the spicy maroon one.
Xiao long bao
Next up: Getting high in Shanghai. At least I haven't tried to squeeze in "getting Shanghaied" anywhere. Shanghai has 3 really tall skyscrapers, each of which has observation decks. But only one has an observation catwalk outside the building on the 88th floor. This is me, 1000' above the ground clipped in and actually outside the building. I waited for a rare clear day to go up there. I think it cost about $40.
Getting high in Shanghai
A guide took a group of 6 of us outside single file and clipped in to a rail. We walked around part of the building, staying outside for about 10 minutes. There were 2 places for photo ops and this photo cost me another $10. It was a lovely day with amazing views and just a hint of a breeze.

Tea time. One Saturday in Shanghai I took a tour about an hour outside of town to tea country. That's actually fog, not smog, and I think it's one reason the tea grows so well here. This is longjing green tea, a local specialty that was in season. Met a nice Colombian guy who was also going to Hong Kong and we connected there for the hiking trip you'll see below.
Tea time

Hong Kong

And then I got high in Hong Kong, another city with a broad and towering skyline. A cool thing about Hong Kong is that is includes a collection of islands. This photo is taken from the top of Mt. Victoria overlooking the main business district. Gorgeous view. There's a nice hike that circumnavigates the peak and allows for this perspective.
Getting high in Hong Kong
Most people are familiar with urban Hong Kong, but you don't need to travel far from the business center to get out into the country. Mike and I went to a small fishing town and saw the catch of the day from the pier. 
Catch of the day in Hong Kong 
And then I met up with some other international travelers for a day hike out to this dry waterfall and the nearby sea shore. I'm on the left and the photo is just before we all jumped. Good times.
Cliff jumping with new friends in Hong Kong


I didn't take many pictures in Bangkok, but here are some highlights.

Bicycles and butterflies. What could be better than that? 

On a biking/boat tour we went through a market. Here are some of the famous chilis that make Thai food so delicious.

Boat from the boat part of the bike/boat tour. The water is shallow so they use a engine (not sure why it's so gigantic) with a propeller on the end of that long stick, maybe 20' back of the boat.

Buddy Shanghai Nick pointing to the spiciest food either of us had ever eaten. It's a bean salad at about 4am after a good night of drinking in Bangkok. After eating it I was running around looking for a surgeon to amputate my tongue. We did not finish it.

Bangkok was a lot of fun. Shanghai Nick is a co-worker of Mike's from Ecolab and I met him in, you guessed it, Shanghai. Late nights, too much booze, and very little actual sightseeing. But I'd go back to Bangkok in a heartbeat to explore it more and see the sights. It has a river and canals and some crazy architecture and many great little drinking neighborhoods. All for a very reasonable price.

And now, your moment of zen..

What's Next?

I write this from charming Chiang Mai, a kickass city in northern Thailand. I'll be staying here for the next 6 weeks, working on updating my business website and enjoying the greatest food on earth. I'll also be enjoying the fantastic value of living in Thailand: mouth-watering meals for $5, hour-long thai massage for $7, daily yoga for $5, room at an apartment building with pool and gym for $10/day. Smell ya later.