Sunday, April 29, 2007

Err um...

A few days before my retreat started I moved into a new room. It is certainly worth some talking about because I love love love it. It is enormous, even better is the fact that I have it all to myself. Forget renunciation, it is such a luxury! I think there have been less that five nights that I have had a room to myself since leaving home, now I have a whole month ahead of me with sooo much space and privacy! No more complaints about the Reb bomb! (for those of you who aren't familiar with this, I'm referring to the phenomena where every single one of my possessions becomes strewn around the room within a couple of hours of me having entered) Paradoxically, ever since being on my own my room has been spotless.! Hmmmm that sheds some light on what the cause might be - my naughty roommates must somehow do it whilst I'm not looking.

I have two big windows which look out over the neighbouring fields. I can sometimes see the local women ploughing them and wandering around with baskets picking their produce. I have made a beautiful alter in my room with statues of Buddha, Chenrezig and Manjushree. The latter two symbolise Buddha's compassion and wisdom. In front of my alter is my meditation spot with a small cushion and blanket. The room itself is above the monasteries medicine Buddha clinic and it always smells like incense.

Each afternoon the hot summer winds from India cause thunderstorms here in Nepal. The sky gets really dark at around 4pm and the downpour begins shortly after. There have been some beautiful lightening shows which I watch from the balcony of the gompa. It is a spectacular show to see them make their way across the valley. A couple of nights ago from the safety of the dining hall I watched the monks running through the evening drenching. It made me laugh. One had a huge tarpaulin draped over him, another little one had a bucket over his head. he he.

So wow, now it is May that means there is less than a month till I'm home. I have mixed feelings about that. Obviously I am hanging out to see everyone, especially Bazzaaa! However, I can't deny that I feel a sense of panic. Perhaps panic is too strong a word, maybe uncomfortable is a better. I am a bit fearful that I will be returning to a life that I've lost all interest in. I'm worried that I will have to force myself back into the old Rebecca mold. It's not that I have changed so dramatically whilst I have been away, it's also that I didn't feel so 'at home' in my life before I left. Being away has enabled me to forget about some of that and enabled me to let go of my beliefs of who I thought I was. Particularly in the last month I have stopped identifying with certain behaviours I used to exhibit. I feel simpler, like I've returned to the basics of who I am. I don't agonise and intellectualise over my mind as much, at the same time I am more aware of its nature mind than I ever have been. Deep down, I know that when I get home I can be whoever I want to be and if I find it hard then the barriers are probably my own creation. So technically it shouldn't matter where I am. But, and this is a big but, I don't quite trust the strength of this more relaxed and gentle Rebecca. Certain environments I will find myself in will make old habits resurface and then make them harder to break. Life back home gets so full of distractions and superficial details. Most worrying though is that I will not be exposed to the Dharma anywhere near as much.

Anyway, time will tell. No point stressing yet. Back to the present. Retreat is going okay although it got off to a shaky start. My achievement oriented mind saw that I burnt out within a few days of working way too hard. I have restructured my timetable now that and am being much kinder to myself, it seems to be going okay but it is very hard to be disciplined without group support. I've escaped into town a couple of times to hang out with people, a nice break although returning after the gates have been locked for the night has occurred on more than one occasion and is a little embarrassing. A friend of mine from Holland, Marius, surprised me by coming and visiting me here at the monastery today. I just walked into the dinning hall today and there he was! A very pleasant surprise because it is getting quite lonely now that all my Dharma buddies have headed off in different directions. I especially miss Nicole, an Australian with whom I got along really well. I think she was some kind of angel in disguise, always knowing what to say and coming out with some of the best one-liners I've heard since Mum left! Ah what a funny girl. Having said all that the next 10 day course has started here now so there are new friends to be made although I should be keeping to myself a bit more than I am. I have been talking to a very beautiful South African woman who was Tenzin Palmo's secretary last year. Pretty cool. She has some interesting stories to tell and I'm always happy to see her around.

So there is not much else to report. Hopefully I can keep working away here, in the somewhat slack way I have been. I can't deny that I'm getting restless - sometimes I find myself meditating on doing a runner back out into Nepal in order to get a social fix and do some sightseeing. I've gotten close to a Dutch girl who lives in Patan and has offered me her spare room for a few nights... maybe that can be a break if I get to itchy.

All my love xoxoxoxooxoxoxoxoxxo

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Out of retreat but heading straight back in...

Hello all you lovely people.

I just finished a ten day retreat at a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery outside of Kathmandu and feel totally at peace with the world despite, or perhaps because of, all the meditations on suffering and the certainty of my death! At the end of the retreat I chose to ‘take refuge’ so I can now say I am officially a Buddhist! It involved a ceremony in which vowed to develop my mind for the sake of all beings. I took the 5 lay precepts, one of which was never to drink alcohol ever again. It sounds extreme, well it certainly would have to me about 6 months ago, but since the retreat I did in Thailand I haven’t felt particularly inclined to drink anyway. I have generally been doing it because whoever I’m with is sinking some. The night before last I went to a cocktail bar in Thamel and didn’t have a drop, despite being the only one not drinking. It wasn’t too hard and I felt really empowered afterwards. It was clear to me that I didn’t need to do it to have fun or be socially comfortable. Anyway, the process of taking refuge has been really great for me because it committed me to a path that I was tentatively heading down. I feel that my enthusiasm to meditate and practice is stronger than ever. No more half arsed practice! I promised! And I even got given my own Tibetan name, Losang Pelmo. I’m told it translates as ‘Good heartmind perfect understanding lady’. How appropriate. Lol.

Also, I’ve decided to live at the monastery for the rest of my time abroad. Whilst I’m tempted to do some more sightseeing (some of my friends are heading to Tibet for example) I know that in the long run staying here is more important. The Nuns are great teachers and the other students are really friendly and a pleasure to be around. We are going to work out a 4 week retreat for me to do, based on the Lam Rim – the text we’ve been studying in Melbourne and the one that His Holiness taught about at Losar.

However, having said that I did some pretty touristy things yesterday. I went into Kathmandu to visit Pashiputinath, a major Hindu pilgrimage area. It was quite confronting seeing people being cremated left right and centre. The bodies and the funeral pyres were much closer and more exposed that in Varanasi. I felt quite disrespectful being amongst the processions and grieving families, so I sat on the banks and did Tong-Len to try and ease their pain. It didn’t seem to be working at all so I headed back to the monastery on foot, winding my way through the back streets and seeing some pretty remarkable sights. It is amazing how the number of kids without pants on quadruples as soon as you leave main road. 3 hours later I arrived back in time for tea, very dusty and sweaty.

In other news, I have picked a return date! I am flying home from Kathmandu on the 24th, arriving in Melbourne around noon on the 25th. I won’t have much to write until then, and will be using the internet even less than before (if that’s possible) but please keep me posted on life down under.

Till then, all my love and hugs to you. Particularly Harry. He he, I didn’t forget this time.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

McLeod Ganj

Three nights ago, Mum and I took a 12 hour bus ride to McLeod Ganj, a small town in northwest India. McLeod Ganj is home to a community of Tibetan refugees (including His Holiness the Dalai Lhama) who have settled in India due to the Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet. It's a heavily Buddhist population - at times the number of monks on the street out numbers the number of laypeople! Men and women in maroon robes are sitting at the computers on either side of me as I write this and a thangka (Buddhist cloth painting) hangs in front of me. The Dharma is very much a part of life here.

It's also quite touristy. There is a plethora of guest houses, book shops and restaurants. Nevertheless, I find the people here to be much less aggressive than the people in Rajasthan. Even the tourists are noticeably more friendly and caring.

There are many more words to describe this place, amongst them is cold. The majority of yesterday was spent shuffling from shop to shop stocking up on warm clothes. I think I bought at least 3 sheep's worth. Mum and I whinged to each other and sipped cup after cup of hot tea and coffee, wondering how on earth we were going to survive in the Himalaya next month.

"Let's not do the Annapurna circuit but say we did," Mum joked, "Let's go to Thailand instead."

We kept asking people how cold they thought it was, expressing something like relief when they mentioned any figure below 7C.

"See it is cold," we'd tell each other, "We're not that weak after all."

So you can imagine I experienced something close to euphoria when I awoke this morning to find it had been snowing.

"Yay! If it's this is sub zero then I can definitely hack it in Nepal!"

Mind you, I practically flew out of my sleeping bag into 6 layers of clothing and ran to get hot coffee at the restaurant down the road. But that's not the point.

Now it is raining. Pouring, in fact. And there is an electrical storm going on that makes the one in Ko Toa seem like the brief flick of a light switch. We're pretty limited in what we can do with our time here. Hiking is out of the question but I've bought some beautiful Buddhist texts and want to study them before we leave. The Dalai Lhama begins teaching in a few days and Mum and I have registered for that also. We didn't even realise he would be teaching whilst we were here until we had difficulty finding somewhere to stay. How fortunate are we!

Mum is also considering doing a Reiki course. I'm going for something a little more main stream and learning how to cook Tibetan style.

Oh and in other breaking news, I almost forgot, we found a shop that sells Marmite! It's not quite Vegemite, but after 3 months without the beloved Aussie condiment I'm far from complaining. Tomorrow the nations of India and Australia will unite when I spread it all over my chapattis (this morning was a union between Tibet and Aus as I had Tibetan bread for a change). I'm currently riding a vitamin B high. Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!


Adam - I have sent you a physics book that you may find interesting. It's coming via sea mail so I may beat it home, if I don't, please enjoy!

Andrew - There are some table clothes coming your way (again sea mail). Pick which ever one you want, it was the elephant one I picked with you in mind. He he.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Ko Toa baby!

Stef and I have been on Ko Toa now for 4 nights. Two facing one direction in our bed, two facing the opposite way. Both are equally uncomfortable. Luckily, all is forgiven because the view from our bungalow is nothing short of spectacular. Photos to come I promise. The place is very 'hippy'. Whatever that means. It is quite secluded and offers basic bungalows on the boulders and a little deeper into the jungle. Martin, the German who runs it, teaches tai-chi here and his wife offers full on 2.5 hour Thai massage. Stef and I both agree our chi is flowing better after one of those! We have booked in for another on our last day here. I think this place will be a perfect transition into my retreat on Koh Phangan.

I have adopted a doggy and it sleeps on our balcony. Stef is convinced it has mental problems and I think she is right. It rubs itself up against things as if it is a cat. It perches itself on boulders and stares out longingly at the horizon as if it is a bird. It tries to get into our bungalow as if it is a human. And the identity crisis is not its only problem. It stinks. Bad. The reason I coaxed into our area was because I herd it crying, I think it got hurt trying to launch itself off a boulder. In the process I think it got poo on itself somehow. Perhaps it thinks it's a dung beetle.

We have met some really cool people here. Patrick is an Australian who has travelled more than anyone I have ever met. We get along really well. He is relaxed and new-age, but not in a selfish way. Reno is Austrian, we met when he offered me a lift back to the bungalows on his motorbike. He is warm and generous. Naomi is an ex-Intrpid guide. She has spent a lot of time in India and Nepal. The ideal person for me to bump into. She calls Koh Phangan, Ko Gang Bang.

We waste hours here chilling on our balcony. Playing cards and reading. Telling doggy to go back to his bed and not rub up against us.

The weather here has been crazyf. On the first day it was fine and sunny and then wham. 99% humidity, lightening, thunder, torrential rain and gale forced winds. For 3 days straight. The roof flaps up and down and we can see the sky between gusts of wind. I made the mistake of doing all my washing on the morning the storms came. I think they got wetter after I hung them out to dry even though they were under cover. Stef had to hang the clothes from her suitcase out to dry, and they hadn't even been washed! Crazy times. The sea got rough and because we don't have beach where we are staying (we have boulders were the sea meets the land) it is a bit dangerous to go in.

I went in yesterday though. Patrick and I attempted some snorkeling as there is some great reef right outside our resort. The visibility was poor but I had an awesome time. I saw a fish like Nemo. The sea was rough and when on the surface I was a bit scared. But under the water it was calm and peaceful. A very cool experience and I think better than if it had been calm. Getting out was tricky because I kept getting pulled of the boulders then pushed back onto them. But it really was part of the exhilaration of it.

Some creepy crawlies have invaded our bungalow to escape the weather. Including another big lizard! Larry's long lost twin perhaps? A huntsmen fell out of the toilet roll into my hand the other day. I thought I was tough until Patrick said "I'll see you a huntsmen and raise you a python". Yes, he had a python in his bungalow. Stef and I console ourselves with the fact that his bungalow is deeper into the jungle than ours.

The main beach towns here are a bit gross. Very western and extremely touristy. There are lots of dive and surfy shops. Stef and I found a restaurant that plays movies and we watched 'Night at the Museum'. Hilarious movie. And I am convinced Owen Wilson is gods gift to women. As is Andrew (:

Tonight Stef, Patrick, Naomi and I are having a fish bbq. Yum yum.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Last day on Koh Phangan

This morning I was sitting cross legged on a straw mat at a beach front restaurant. A coffee sat in front of me on a low, thai style, table. The view was breath taking. The sky and the ocean were different shades of the same brilliant blue. Paper lanterns around me blew gently from side to side in the cool sea breeze. Sand glowed and people glowed back. Whilst I sat I jotted down the following:

...Today is our last day on Koh Phangan. It is a bit sad to say goodbye. Stef has told me she will miss it here and I suspect I will as well. It is hard to explain exactly how intimate it is here. The particular beach we are staying at is about as far away from the main port of Koh Phangan as you can get. It is personal here. Everyone (except for the transvestite who runs this internet cafe - sorry but its true) is generous with their time and their smiles. The staff at the restaurants Stef and I frequent recognise us, and they greet us warmly when we sit down. The small size of this particular beach has made it cosy. So quickly we settled in...

But, as much as I love it here I am ready to leave. I'm a little restless and Ko Toa is beckoning. Yesterday I got so excited about the prospect of diving that I dreamt about it. Although I also dreamt about the lizard in our room falling on me - not so enthusiastic about that happening.

We have met a few people here, although only a couple I feel I have really connected with. Most are the kind of people you can drink with but that is about it. Stef claims we have met the most cliched English backpackers in Thailand, I agree. But they are good value (: One thing I am particularly sad to leave is the awesome restaurant we have just discovered. As if the food could have gotten any better. They even serve a cocktail called 'Bloody Hippy'. Chris Van der Poel, that one is for you.

In summary...
Highlights - The giant lizard, Larry the lizard, who lived in our room oh too briefly. Drinks and sunsets (not the death by chocolate cocktail - I was sorry about that the next day!).

Low lights - Our toilet getting blocked (and I mean blocked). Death by chocolate, see above.

Funny lights
- Sea kayaking, including the trying to get in part (this was probably even funnier for the men watching us a laughing).

Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Years Eve Chaos at Haad Rin

Stef and I are currently at Had Rin on Koh Phangan, the home of the notorious full moon parties. People everywhere are preparing to get seedy. Every second shop has a stall out the front selling buckets of alcohol. At about $10 a bucket it is a very cheap to get drunk! Although, rather than getting me excited, the whole scene is kind of turning me off. We don't intend on hanging around here too late, things are going to get more and more grotty as the night progresses. Stef and I will jump on the back of a ute (I think they're called songthaew) and head back to our beautiful beach for the count down, a local bar is hosting a party, which I think is more our scene. There are some cool bars along the beach near our resort, including one which served Stef a glass of red wine with an ice cube in it. Funny stuff. Tomorrow night one of them is hosting a big barbeque and shooting fireworks off on the beach. We're planning on getting there early and wasting the night under the stars.

The last couple of days have been a bit of a write off. We have been at the beach for most of our waking hours. Each day it seems less and less likely that we will get bored of it! Yesterday we hiked it to a nearby beach called 'bottle beach' as well as checking out a lookout and some waterfalls. What looked like a pleasant stroll on the map turned out to be one of the longest, steepest hills I have ever encountered. It is ridiculously hilly around here, and many of the roads are unpaved. "Eltham on drugs," Stef calls it.

I have met some interesting travellers at restaurants and whilst travelling between beaches in the back of trucks. Some are really offensive, some are charming and down to earth. The type of people attracted to this island is really variable. Some are totally obnoxious - load and insensitive to the culture/environment, all they want to do is get pissed and get a tan. Others seem wise and have considerate open hearts. All are out to have a good time.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Bangkok to Koh Phangan

I find it hard to believe that less than 3 days have past since leaving Melbourne. It feels like weeks have gone by! Everywhere I turn there is a feast of new sights, sounds and smells (not all of which are pleasant when it comes to the latter!). Months have to go by at home for me to experience so many new sensations.

Bangkok was full on. But not anywhere as much as I expected it to be. We shopped and checked out the grand palace and the famous emerald Buddha (photos to come). Shambara boutique hotel was gorgeous and is a good choice for those wanting somewhere quiet to escape the crowds i.e. Andrew.

Stef and I have now arrived in Koh Phangan, an island in Southern Thailand. Getting here wasn't the smoothest ride though, as Stef so succinctly put it "we got nearly fucking fucked!". The main reason being, we nearly missed our overnight train down the coast. It was prety funny actually. Thanks to a tuk-tuk driver with a death wish though, we made it with a bit of time to spare. We are staying in a simple hut about 15 metres from the beach, in a resort called Baan Panburi. It is spectacular here. An absolute oasis after the chaos that was Bangkok. Much time has been spent down on the beach.

On the down side, my pack weighs a bloody ton. Much of my walk from the bus stop to Stef's hotel in Bangkok was spent making a mental list of all the things I'm going to ditch. I got really excited this morning when I noticed that my moisturiser has nearly run out - at the thought of one less thing to carry.

Anyway, I love it here and am settling in already. I love the pace of life and the lack of agenda I currently have. It makes me imagine a life I could lead should I be prepared to make certain sacrifices. I'm not talking about a life living on the beach and not having to work. What I mean is, a more minimalistic life. One without so many distractions, where I have time for my thoughts. I noticed whilst on retreat back home, and even more so here, there is a quiet, subtle voice which becomes overwhelmed and drowned out by my pace of life in Melbourne. It saddens me that this is the case because I feel like this part of me is more accepting of lifes ups and downs, more content to just be. Being aware of this makes me realise how driven and task oriented my life has become - perhaps that is necessary for succes, but I don't think it is necessary for mny happiness.

Let me finish up with a word about the food. Oh god, the food. Andrew you are going to have a fit, it is amazing. The restaurant of our resort is apparently one of the best in the area. It opens onto the beach and has bamboo tables nestled in the sand. Lanterns and tea lights border its edges and the staff are kind and gentle. Last night Stef and I had fish with red curry (Stef) and chilli (me). It was orgasmic. It is not just that restaurant that rocks. Provided you stick to the recommended places, it is hard to have a bad experience. The delicious Thai beer (Chang) that you wash it all down with is dangerously cheap!