Thursday, March 31, 2011

Vietnam




Vietnam has been a bit of a roller coaster, but a good one, an important one.

Our first day here (in Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon) when I was learning how to cross the street, my heart jumped into my mouth a few times. The sheer mass of motorbikes on the road is astonishing, but when you realize that in order to get to the other side of any street you have to play human frogger with them, you just have to take a leap of faith. The locals walks slowly, so the motorists can gauge whether to zoom on the right or the left of them! I tried to give you an idea of how it feels, there is a little video here.

After a long walk through the city, Brian and I went to the war remnants museum. This was pretty intense. An unabashed, raw and gruesome look at the Vietnam war. There was an entire war crime photography display and a whole room dedicated to the horrific after effects of agent orange and other chemicals used in the war on human bodies. I can't even begin to explain the emotions I had there and for a long time afterward. I will never be able to burn those images out of my brain. But I think it is important to see. See exactly what happened, how it happened, and not shy away from it. Realize what humans are capable of, and hopefully how to prevent atrocities like this in the future. I may never come to understand war and why we as humans have not been able to evolve to a more peaceful coexistence with each other. I hope one day that we will.

Our guesthouse is along a cute alleyway where families hang out on their stoops eating, playing, napping. The city is just massive and dense and there are lots of folks approaching you at all times trying to sell you just about everything.



Yesterday we took a tour down the Mekong river


where we saw floating markets and were paddled to a little island where they made popped rice, rice paper (for spring rolls),



coconut candy and rice wine. We actually had a taste of the fiery cobra wine below!



A beautiful Vietnamese woman paddled Brian and I to our lunch destination on the tour. We thought, who needs Venice?





We are off today to Mui Ne which is more along the beach. I have to say I am relieved to be leaving the frenetic Saigon.

Oh, here also is a video I wanted to share with you earlier of some monks chanting beautifully at a Wat in Chiang Mai, enjoy :)

Monday, March 28, 2011

What I'm Learning

It is our last day in Chiang Mai. We are headed on a night train tonight to Bangkok and then we fly out to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam tomorrow. We both loved Chiang Mai and felt very at home here. I had some experiences here that really contributed to my spiritual development, and I feel like I am making some progress in increasing the joy and peace in my life. There are two things that I am focusing on now that I wanted to share with you.

1) Self-acceptance. Loving and accepting myself for who I am in this moment and every moment. Loving and accepting any thought or idea I have, any impulse I have, any mistake I make, any feeling that arises. Loving and accepting what is the "real" me. The me that has been wanting to emerge and not be judged or criticized. The me that has the potential to be filled with positivity and radiant love and light.

2) Positivity. Working to stay positive in any and every moment. Shining positive energy onto myself and out into the world. Recognizing when I am criticizing or judging and reversing that behavior. Not being afraid to smile widely and share love in a deep way. Having the courage to not participate in conversations that belittle, criticize or judge others. Appreciating the wonder and beauty of the world I live in every day.

Things are changing for both of us now, there has been a shift in our travel plans, our priorities, and our needs. It is interesting to experience how things really unfold versus how you believe they will. I'm excited to keep exploring along this path and am so grateful for this opportunity to travel and take a step back from the life that I was living before.

Thank you Thailand for everything. I will miss many things, but your food most of all I think!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Traveler Profile - Thomas

We met Thomas in Bali on an amazing bike tour. His big wide smile, sense of humor and easy going nature were a delight to be around. Through him we were able to learn more about Dutch culture (did you know they celebrate two Christmases??) and understand the history better between Indonesia and the Netherlands. I loved how he just couldn’t stop buying his girlfriend back home gifts too :)

Name, Age and Country of origin

Hi my name is Thomas, I’m 23 and I’m from Holland.

How long will you be traveling on this trip and where will you go?

I’ve traveled now for 7 weeks. I went to Java, then to Lombak and now I’m in Bali.

And what is your ethnic background?

I’m Indonesian, like both of my parents were born in Indonesia only I’ve got five different countries inside of me. My father is Italian and Dutch and my mother is German, Chinese, Indonesian and Dutch. So, I’ve got a lot of them.

Why did you choose to leave home and travel?

I just graduated from school and I just wanted to know where I came from, like Indonesia like I hear all the stories about my grandfather and from my parents all those different stories, I wanted to know where I’m from.

Did you have any goals for yourself for this trip before you left?

The reason why I wanted to travel was to see the house that my mother was born in, so that was the start. Only the sad thing is that it was demolished about two years ago. So I arrived there and like almost all of the houses were gone or neglected and that was really sad, but that was the goal the first thing, why I wanted to travel was to see where my mother was born.

And where was that?

Surabaya. I also wanted to go to the part where my father was born but that’s in Pakua, but that’s too dangerous now. All of the old tribes are still fighting against the government, you know they don’t want to be part of Indonesia, so they are still fighting over it so it is too dangerous. But that was my main reason to go to Indonesia, to see Surabaya and to see, to have a picture with all of the stories my grandfather told me. It was hard for me to tell him that the house was gone. Like I heard from my mother that he was really down by it, so it's sad.

Can you describe your favorite moment on this trip so far?

Arriving here in Indonesia, like all my friends were saying like yeah you’ve got the feeling like you’ve got after a hard days work you will arrive here and just say like “I’m home” but I was like, “Yeah I don’t think so”, but I arrived here and still don’t get the feeling like I’m in Indonesia, I get the feeling like I am home. It feels good, like it feels safe, it's good, it's like home. So I’ve got a second home.

If you could summarize your philosophy of life in one sentence, what would that be?

I think it’s easy, I think you have to say, “Live now”. That’s it. Like all my friends are saying “Yeah I want to travel, I want to do this” but they’re not doing it. I said I wanted to travel, ok I’m going to travel. Maybe I’m 40, 50, 60 and maybe I’m still traveling, I don’t know, but if the opportunity is there, than seize it. So live in the moment and don’t just put everything on hold, that’s it.

Any other thoughts?

Just enjoy life, I think that’s it.

Friday, March 25, 2011

My Thai cooking class on an organic farm





















We live in a global world

So last night was date night for Brian and I. We had one dollar mojitos at a little bar then walked to "Miguel's" an "authentic" Mexican restaurant across town. Somewhere between the bar and the restaurant was a 7.0 earthquake in Burma, not too far from Chiang Mai where we are. We didn't feel a thing, but once we sat down at the restaurant, everyone was all abuzz and said they felt a strong shaking. We were flabbergasted. How many near miss natural disasters can we experience on this trip?

Regardless, we had a lovely time and we ate this plate of DELICIOUS Mexican food that blew our minds. Good Mexican food in Thailand? Sometimes you can't even get good Mexican food in New York? We live in a global world.



Next we went to a bar that was having an open mic night and we watched this Thai man (named Patrick) play flawlessly Irish traditional music. The bar was filled with people from all over the world.


We befriended a German sitting at the table next to us and we all played percussion instruments to the Irish tunes Patrick would belt. I had a moment of bliss where I felt like there were no countries, no boundries, no nationalities, no identities, just radiant human spirit. It was nice.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Thailand


Thailand. I'm not sure where to start?

So we spent three nights in Bangkok and I have to say that the city did not jive with me very well. The smog, the crowds, the pushing, etc. were in sharp contrast to the laid back warmth and ease of Bali and I think it was a bit of a shock. I did enjoy so much, though, taking the water taxi up the Chao Phraya,


visiting the Grand Palace





and Wat Pho which housed the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.

His Feet!


Brian likes doing these little interview videos with me from time to time, here is one on our first day in Bangkok eating lunch along the Chao Phraya.

So, then we were off to catch our train to Chiang Mai.......

"Engine Engine Number 9
Going down the Chiang Mai line
If the train falls off the tracks
Do you want your money back?"


In our case, no! This was indeed train number 9 bound for Chiang Mai from Bangkok. As it was pulling into our station to pick us up it crashed and tipped over. We got on another train a few hours later, and were grateful that we didn't tip :) Brian was singing me the song above as we were waiting in the train station. I guess yet another disaster averted!

On the 12 hour train ride I spent hours working on one of the plays I have been writing and I'm delighted to say I nearly have a first draft finished. I also listened to the Buddhist talk in this series which I gave Brian for a wedding present. The different ways that Buddhism is practiced in various countries is pretty fascinating. I find it interesting how there are so many golden statues of the Buddha here and that Thais bow down and pray to the Buddha, give offerings, etc.

Today in Chiang Mai we visited two beautiful temples and actually had the opportunity to listen to young monks chant.


We also were able to sit and talk with a young monk for a while at a "monk chat" where monks answer any questions foreigners have and also get a chance to practice their English.

On the agenda for the rest of the week in Chiang Mai is a cooking class, meditation class, lots of yoga, cheap massages, meeting with a spiritual healer, a boat tour, renting bikes, watching sunsets on rooftop bars, touring more temples and lots and lots of delicious cheap food. What a charmed life we live!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Bangkok and Rabies

Well we made it to Bangkok and are staying in a nice hotel for a couple of days before we head to Chiang Mai. Our first order of business for today was to head to the traveler clinic. So in Bali one night I had slipped and fallen on the wet street and banged up my knee a little bit. The next day a little dog came up to my knee and licked it. I didn't think much of it, but after having dinner with some friends I realized that I might be at risk for rabies because of the dog licking a wound. Rabies has been rampant on the island for the last couple of years, but currently Bali is trying to vaccinate the islands' dogs. I went back to where I remembered being licked and tried to find out about the dog. I saw it in a little shop front and talked to the owners but there was definitely a language barrier so I couldn't find out if the dog was vaccinated. Anyway, the dog looked fine to me, but by urging of my cousin who is a physician I went to see the doctor here in Bangkok today.

See the thing is, though the chances of me contracting rabies were very very low, if for some reason I did contract it, there would be no treatment after the disease had set in and I would basically die a painful, grueling, most likely swift death. So I was relieved today when the doctor said yes absolutely I should be treated for rabies and I got my first shot out of five this morning. It will be a bit of an adventure because I will need to get my next in Chiang Mai, the third in Ho Chih Minh City, the fourth in Hanoi and the last back in Bangkok again (based on our current travel schedule). Here is me getting my first shot below :)

Brian and I were so relieved afterwards. I think deep down there was a fear that maybe maybe maybe there was a tiny chance I could have rabies and I was trying to feel inside what that might be like, to die very soon a painful death. A morbid exercise I know, but nonetheless I was trying to calm myself and tell myself that yes, I can deal with dying from rabies. An interesting thing to go through with yourself. A sort of purgatory.

But all that's over now. We have a plan and my body is already fighting of the thing if it is somewhere in the recesses of my body... Hooray!


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Traveler Profile - Eylin

So after meeting some wonderful people so far on our trip, I decided I wanted you to be able to get to know them a little bit too :) I'm adding a new feature to this blog called "traveler profiles" where I will interview the friends we make along our way. I hope you enjoy it!

This is Eylin. We met her in Bali because she stayed upstairs from us in our homestay. Eylin inspired me in many ways, her courageous trip to India, the 10 day meditation retreat she did in Thailand, her positive attitude and sweet generous nature, and her ability to always look so pretty and put together even though she was living out of a backpack! I hope we see you again Eylin in Europe!

Name, Age and Country of origin

Eylin (pronounced Eileen), 34, Germany

Where did you meet Katie and Brian?

In Ubud, Bali

How long will you be traveling on this trip and where will you go?

I will be traveling for 12 months. I am in my 5th month now. I am going to go to India next and then Nepal. I will also go to Turkey, Greece, Spain, Italy, France, the Netherlands, England and Sweden. I started my trip in India, I spent two months in India, and then I went to Thailand for a month and now I have been in Indonesia for one month.

Why did you choose to leave home and travel the world?

Because I’ve been working for the last 10 years and I just felt like I was ready to learn on my own, for my own life, not for my boss or manager or anyone else so that was the main reason. I wanted to just get out of the normal life.

What have you learned from your travels and experiences so far that you feel like you might not have learned or realized if you had not taken this trip?

To negotiate in different countries, different prices for food, hotels and transportation. I learned for myself yoga, meditation, playing the djembe, maybe being more patient waiting for the bus, waiting for anything. Trying new kinds of foods, I would never have done that. I’m enjoying mango and ginger now, yeah things like that.

What were you hoping to achieve on this trip before you left home?

My main goal was to become more confident, self-confident. And, I don’t know, I’m just traveling for four months now, I think I still have a long way to go, but yes that was my main goal.

Has this goal/or these goals changed as you have been traveling?

On the way you always find new things you want to achieve, like I’ve done a free diving course, I’d never been thinking I wanted to dive but now I love it. And this month’s goal is to learn a song, the lyrics of a song and so the goals are adding up on this journey, I add to my list.

What is the most memorable moment you can recall so far on this trip?

That’s really hard. There are a lot of them. But maybe, shaving my head, that was a pretty big step. I did it because of a lot of changes in the first two months of my travels, and it’s hard because you kind of identify yourself with your hair and hairstyle and things like that, then suddenly you shave it and you are naked and you are what the people see, it is just the pure you, I think. And that was pretty memorable. But I got a lot of positive feedback so I didn’t regret it a second.

If you could summarize your philosophy of life in one sentence, what would that be?

There’s one sentence I like to say, Do the things that truly count for yourself, don’t listen to what the others say and just follow your heart. I think it is important to achieve your personal goals and to get to know yourself.

Any other thoughts?

I think Katie and Brian are really great and I am really happy that I met them. We had some really good moments and I hope we keep in touch and learn from each other and with each other and I wish them all the best.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Our Last Night in Bali

So it is our last night in Bali. I have to admit I am sad to go. I will miss the almost daily 2 hour yoga classes, the massages, the food, the people, the smells, the flowers and trees and offerings, the statues and architecture, and the sense of peace I feel here. We are having dinner with two friends tonight and may go and see a shadow puppet show as well.

Last night we saw an incredible kecak that included over 100 men chanting and creating a male chorus of sounds, rhythms and drones. At the end of the performance, a huge pile of dried coconut shells was lit aflame in a large bonfire. A man dressed as a galloping horse, barefoot, would run through the pile of flaming coconuts and kick them everywhere, even towards members of the audience! Some in the front rows jumped up startled! And then men would come and sweep up the flaming pieces back into a bonfire in the middle and then the horse would run through them and kick them again everywhere! This happened 5 or 6 times and with each time Brian and I became more and more amused. This would never happen in America! No one was hurt of course, but the performance teetered on the edge of something that was dangerous and exciting. The pulsating sounds of the choir, the the smoke and flames jutting in different directions, and the physicality of the performers was thrilling.

Here is a video that captures one of the moments that horsey kicked everything!

Tomorrow we are off to Bangkok :) Leaving the Rupiah behind and onto the Baht...I have always wanted to visit Thailand, I can't believe that I am finally getting my chance. We will be spending 3 nights in Bangkok and then one week in Chiang Mai in the north. Then onto Vietnam for one month.

Ok, I have spent over 2 hours now in a restaurant using their wifi, I think it may be time to leave! I will talk to you all again from Thailand soil. xoxo

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cooking Class

I signed up to take a vegetarian Balinese cooking class here in Ubud. It was fantastic! I was actually the only student because it is low season here and got extra attention which was nice :) I made six dishes together with my teacher Ketut. But first, he took me to the market on his motorbike.



Here Ketut explained to me what all of the items were and how they were central to Balinese cooking. The water bottles full of liquid are homemade coconut oil that is extracted from mature coconuts. This oil is essential to Balinese cooking. Do you see all of the crispy little dried fish in the front?
We went back to the school and he had our ingredients laid out already. It was exciting to see a whole tumeric root, I had never seen one! And the ingredients on in the circle in the center there are all for making "garam masala" an Indian based spice mix.

Our first dish was vegetables with stir fried coconut, chilis and shallots.
Next was delicious corn fritters!
Then onto Gado Gado, a traditional Indonesian dish that always includes tofu, tempeh, vegetables, eggs and a tasty peanut sauce.
Then onto fried crispy tempeh here with spices and chilies, to die for. I love the way they cook tempeh here, sliced very very thin and fried until crispy, they often eat it as chips with a dip actually as an appetizer.

Then my favorite dish, tofu with a coconut curry. Mmmm, I even had to eat some before I took a picture!
For dessert, black rice pudding with a coconut cream.
Towards the end of the class, Ketut and I talked for quite a long time about his family, Balinese culture, the problem with AIDS in Bali right now, vegetarianism and sustainability... I felt like we both taught each other many things, not just about cooking. I so enjoyed this day and hope I can grace some of you with these tasty dishes when I see you again....