Friday, March 30, 2012

Thai Family Sedan

All over Southeast Asia, the number of motorbikes far surpasses the number of cars and trucks. Motorbikes are cheaper and get better gas mileage. They are also much smaller, which is a blessing when navigating one’s way through traffic, and it certainly makes parking easier.

But, having such small vehicles comes with its own burdens. Namely, how do you transport extra people or stuff? As we have seen, you apparently just figure it out.

You have a six-foot bookcase, a wheelbarrow full of dirt, some fifteen-foot piping, two bicycles, or a broken motorbike? Figure it out. And, yes, we have seen all of those items being carried by people while driving motorbikes.

And when it comes to people, luckily the Thais are smaller than Westerners. We have managed to transport three Americans at a time on one motorbike, but that was max capacity. Thais ride around in trios constantly, with the driver in the middle.

They do any number of things that in America would probably get you arrested for reckless endangerment, and land your kids in the care of Child Services. Toddlers ride around in one of several ways: crouched in front of the driver, standing in front of the seat, standing between two adults, or propped up on the back (possibly asleep).

In fact, not only have I gotten comfortable riding sidesaddle like the local women (because it's rude not to), I kind of prefer it. But I think even that would get us pulled over in America. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sak Yant

Yantric tattoos, also known as Sak Yants, have long been part of Southeast Asian tradition. The tattoos are applied using either a sharpened bamboo stick or a metal rod (thank you, modernization). Performed by a Buddhist monk, the tattoos are believed to bestow blessings, fortune, and good luck on the recipient.

At Wat Bang Pra, Thailand’s most famous Sak Yant Temple, there are two ways to get the tattoos. Downstairs: two monks sit at the front of the room giving tattoos in exchange for donations of flowers and cigarettes, as the room slowly fills with people waiting. The tattoo an individual receives is up to the monk. Upstairs: the tattoos, chosen by the recipient, are given by the “master” in a cleaner, air conditioned room in exchange for a higher donation (500 to 1,000 baht). Personally, spending around $20 for options and better conditions makes sense when it comes to getting a tattoo.

Our first attempt to get temple tattoos, for my birthday last year, was less than successful. Taking the local bus got us to the temple around lunch time, so we arrived to a room full of waiting Thais. We also showed up on a day when the upstairs area was closed. On our second trip to Wat Bang Pra, we arrived in the morning and the upstairs area was open.

I have other tattoos, including one that goes from my shoulder, down my ribcage to my hip, and I don’t think that getting them done is a particularly painful experience. Sak Yants are a different story altogether. I don’t know if I have ever felt such pain in my life. I have an incredibly high pain threshold, but this was something else entirely.

Any imagery is tattooed by a layman outside of the air conditioned room. Between the heat, having not had breakfast, and the pain (probably mostly due to the pain), I fainted about halfway through my tattoo. Based on their calm, collected reaction, I am guessing I wasn’t the first.

The script is then applied by the Buddhist monk. Since monks aren’t allowed to touch women, he wore latex gloves while finishing my tattoo. The image, in my case a lotus, is surrounded by Khmer-Thai hybrid blessings made up of phonetic abbreviations of Pali, the language of the original Theravada Buddhist texts.

Win, who tolerated the pain much better than I did, got a beautiful Ganesha image on his back. Once both our tattoos were complete, which included the monk rubbing the area with oil and blessing the tattoo, we presented our donation alongside flowers, cigarettes, and incense to the monk and were on our way.

If I had it to do over again, I would. It was an incredible, spiritual experience, despite (or maybe because of) the pain. But, I think I would probably eat breakfast beforehand. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Thailand must be a dream come true for graffiti artists. Blank cinderblock walls line every street, empty canvases just waiting for some color.

Back in Ratchaburi for the remainder of our time in the Land of Smiles, we have been utterly captivated by some of the street art around town. It greets you as you cross the river into the city, it's outside the mall, in empty lots and down side streets. With bold, eye-catching hues and unique images, the art stands out.

And it all seems to be done by someone named Pluto. Whoever this Pluto is, I admire the quality of the work and the depth of creativity. It makes me consider adding “learn my way around a can of spray paint” to my bucket list. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Where the Magic Happens

Far too often, we get so caught up in the day-to-day nature of life and end up ensnared by routine. We become so comfortable that life becomes stagnant, rather than dynamic. In the last month, some of the best things I have done have been those things that I wouldn’t have expected to find myself doing: blindfolded yoga practice, for example. There's something incredible about taking a moment, every day, or maybe just once a week or once a month, to do something you wouldn’t ordinarily do.

Go to a restaurant by yourself. Confront a fear. Brush your teeth left-handed. Learn a new language, even if you may never use it. Drive on the opposite side of the road (you may need to move to a different country first). Pick things up with your toes instead of your hands. Tell someone you love them. Take a class doing something you think you can’t learn, and learn how to do it. Do a somersault. Lie in the grass, or dirt, or leaves, or even just carpet. Dance like you never learned any dance moves. Tell yourself that you’re beautiful. Learn to take a compliment. Use your imagination for something other than worrying.

If you spend all your time doing things that are ordinary, you’ll never experience something truly extraordinary.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ha Ha Ho Ho He He

Laughter is contagious. But unlike the flu, laughter is good for your health. It boosts your serotonin levels, increases your immune responses, and leads to a general sense of wellbeing. Given enough time, it can also be one hell of an abdominal workout. It doesn’t even have to be real laughter, your brain can’t actually tell the difference. So, theoretically, that apple a day could be replaced with some forced chuckles.
Enter, Laughter Yoga. Even if the laughter starts out fake, in a large group it quickly turns into full-fledged hilarity. In a half-hour class, we electro-shocked laughs into one another, sprayed each other with machine gun laughter, laughed off imagine tragedies, made a belly laugh chain, and pretended to be hysterical, laughing clams. We suppressed giggles, snickered at fake farts, and guffawed in each other’s faces. We tittered, chortled, hooted, howled, cackled, and snorted.

At the end of it all we were sweaty and our sides were aching, but there wasn’t a frown to be seen.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Balance, Trust, and Play

I have recently been introduced to a wonderful new pastime: Acroyoga. Despite its name, Acroyoga isn’t a particularly “yogic” activity in the traditional sense. Unless of course by yogic, you mean amazing. Then you would be spot on. Basically, Acroyoga is the lovechild of partner yoga and acrobatics.

I am currently participating in a month-long, intensive Yoga Teacher Training and enjoying every blissful, challenging moment. Acroyoga has taken over our Sunday afternoons (and I am sorely disappointed that there are so few Sundays in a week). Though not technically part of the course, we have had the joy of being introduced to Acroyoga through one of the instructors, the quirky, multi-talented Ms. Emily Baxter, who happens to also be a certified Acroyoga teacher.

From first glance, Acroyoga looks like it is somewhere between difficult and impossible, reserved for only the strong, stable, and fearless. In reality, it’s not as hard as it looks. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t say it’s easy. But with trust and confidence, it comes together. The base finds a nice, sturdy position, the flyer moves in a light, slow, strong manner, and suddenly you find that sweet spot, where you actually feel a sense of ease in all the effort. 

And, after an Acroyoga class, every one of us walks away with newfound self-assurance, feeling upbeat, light, and strong (as well as mildly exhausted). There’s nothing quite as reassuring or confidence-building as stretching the boundaries of what you think you can accomplish to include something you thought would be impossible.

*Photos courtesy of the lovely Candace Cabrera Moore and Elmar Munar, as Win has been off traipsing around Myanmar with our camera