Tag Archives: Buddhahood Culture

Ever-exciting train travel

“Too often travel, instead of broadening the mind, merely lengthens the conversations.” — Elizabeth Drew.
Personally this quote makes a lot of sense: new experiences should cultivate our minds and give meaning. How much do herds of tourists learn from visiting the Eiffel Tower? I wouldn’t say we travel all that much, but we’re always on some kind of a journey – not necessarily looking for stories to tell, but to experience something new: new sights, new sounds, new smells.
It has become typical to start a trip with a certain routine, I can’t think of a different way to do so: early morning, over-air-conditioned trip to the train station, coffee, train. It’s a routine, though it never gets boring. We find spending a few moments waiting for the train to arrive so relaxing, that whenever we plan our trips we try to incorporate a train journey to our itinerary. It is also because we love the Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok – it has such an authentic feel to it. We also like train travel as we associate it with a slower lifestyle.
Auste and I had an interesting discussion recently that whatever we do in life, our actions represent our values. In other words, all that we say and do reflects our thoughts and beliefs. Consequently, whatever happens to us in life – is a reflection of those values. In terms of train travel, it kind of makes sense: organization (of train tracks), punctuality, communication, stability – all are not alien to us.
Train travel isn’t just jumping from A to B. It’s a time-tested way of travel that has been around for centuries. It allows flexibility to be productive, as many cannot sleep, read, or eat on other modes of transport. Train travel is almost a world of its own, which echoes an experience most of us are familiar with: a certain leg of the journey has to be spent collectively before each individual parts their own way, whether it’s school, relationships, or work.
Taking a train to places with names we can’t pronounce also adds extra security of not ending up in a completely unexpected setting – there’s just one track!

Travel in general adds a level of excitement to certain things that are generally mundane. For example, packing. Putting stuff inside a backpack is such a dull activity, but when you assess each item individually, you kind of place yourself in your future destination before you even travel. In addition, I find packing my half-moon shaped Osprey like a Tetris game – each item has to be rotated, bent, and squeezed a certain number of times before it fits properly!
And of course coffee. Sitting in our favourite spot, people watching, and adding finishing touches to our trip plans. It’s like a ritual. Even if the weather’s bad, or the actual trip turns out to be less than great – we will have done at least one thing we enjoy!
Obviously it’s impossible to experience every walk of life, but at least travelling slowly, overnight, on 3rd class trains, and so on, has helped broaden our horizons so to speak. We have met interesting people, observed locals and strangers and had chances to peek at their ways of life, which have also influenced ours.
Everyone knows that we need balance in life, but we also need balance in our travels – too much and it loses meaning, too little and we struggle to settle our minds each day. I see our own little routine as a tool to keep that balance when we get out to see the world.

Distant relationships

 

Recently I talked to a friend about their relationship spanning to the other side of the globe, and they told me how the biggest part holding it is hope. Well, I’m not an expert in distant relationships, but since I am not in one, it makes me look at my own relationship differently, and appreciate it more I guess.
I try to give an objective opinion when I give advice to my friends, but it always comes out subjective. For me, OBJECTIVE opinion is not an opinion – it’s a weighing of both sides. And giving advice is personal (subjective).
I guess I find this idea interesting because people are interesting. Some people want only a little. Some want a lot. Some want everything, and some want nothing from a relationship…
When I think of any relationship, the first thing that comes to my mind is the definition of a ‘girlfriend’ or a ‘boyfriend’ – the half of the whole. Being away for as long as a year or two, does he still fulfil all the qualities that a boyfriend should? Or is he just a pen-pal we used to have at school when we were kids?
And does that let you perform your duty of being a girlfriend? If not, perhaps this relationship is not letting both of you to complete your identity, or accomplish the relationship goals that you have in your mind. If we cannot do something we like, or cannot be something we are – we do not feel free.
Personally I’m all about close relationships, as I know I wouldn’t be able to handle a distant relationship, at least for a long time. Sometimes I forget myself that both people are responsible for the relationship, there shouldn’t be a manager and an employee in a couple. Unless you are, in fact, an enterprise. Hehe.
But a relationship is not a meeting that you attend once or twice a year to see your ‘other half’. Relationship is a continuous process – it is made by little things that we do daily.
If you have a pen-pal, you learn about each other, and if the person’s character is up your street, you can start meeting them more and more, and then start a closer relationship. But if it’s the other way around, you start close, get accustomed to each other, but then distance yourself from them, as if there was no other possible way in this life to get close again? We adults are just like kids – we like to laugh, smile, hug – it makes us feel like home, it makes us satisfy our basic needs. But everyone’s needs are different, which you learn through your day-to-day interaction with that person. Even if you’re thousands of miles apart, you still learn and think about each other. For me having a long-distance relationship is like having a crush on a celebrity: following their activity online, watching their movies/videos, reading to know more about them, and so on. That’s what one of 8th graders said to me: “teacher, I have a boyfriend from Korea”. I was like “ok, good for you, any chance he’s from the EXO K-Pop band?” The student was like “yes teacher, I know everything about him”.
If you are not happy with your current relationship now, will you be happy with it one more month later? One year? Two years? What will happen after your initial plan to get back together? What if he or she will get an amazing job offer unexpectedly? Maybe you will go abroad yourself? And do either of you have a big ego? Is that an obstacle? Do you have to sacrifice your own ego to satisfy his or hers?
If there’s a social/emotional breakdown we tend to seek support or empathy from someone who’s close to us right HERE, right NOW. That’s why it is shown in movies all the time. We people have feelings. We tend to go to someone who lives a similar life, someone who you can find in the same places you go to, someone you share moments with. And that’s kind of all we have – moments. You have good ones, bad ones – every second, every minute, just like breaths of air – some are fresh and nourishing, and some are short and smelly if you happen to experience central Bangkok traffic… It’s not like you can breathe every moment, and then stop for a year or two. But that’s only if a relationship is a priority to you. Again, people have different priorities!
I’m guilty of being less of a guy who wants to do EVERYTHING together, but Auste makes us do more. If you think of it, when someone from a couple decides to travel, and the other has to stay and work – it’s fine, you can wait it out. But think of all the moments the travelling person will experience WITHOUT their other half?
Excitement, new energy, new people, new ideas, new smells, tastes, etc – a form of enlightenment. And then when they get together again, what happens? There is a big chance that the travelled person would become bored in the relationship, because of having grown more during their travels. However if couples travel together, they grow together, they stay together (assuming they have gone past the stage of learning how to be able to handle each other in many situations!)
However, the heart can do amazing things. Some people go through years and years of separation and then get back together as if it never happened. Someone close of mine lived in a beautiful country for a few years and had a good relationship with her boyfriend. Then she left for another country, but he had to stay, because of his ongoing studies. They tried to keep a distant relationship, but kind of vaguely split up eventually… They met up again for a short while, but then separated again, so it was like an emotional roller-coaster. She lived her life and worked on her career and personal development, but just wasn’t happy. Many months, many conversations and many awkward get-togethers later, somehow all circumstances changed. They both managed to settle in the same country, and now they live together, have a house, cars, both have jobs, and both travel and grow together 🙂
If you’re in a distant relationship and have thoughts that it may not work out in the end, you don’t really want to spend time, money, energy chasing what’s not worth it. Maybe it is worth it? Because that’s what relationships take – time, money, and energy! This may be the stage to find out whether it is worth waiting, taking a break, or moving on in a different direction. I believe these issues have to be dealt with in person, and not remotely, because only then you really know the truth – from your basic senses that connect us: touch, smell, and looking into the eyes – and eyes don’t lie.
If you’re in a long-distance relationship and are not happy, only you can decide what you want in this stage of life. If you need a closer relationship now, if you need someone to support you through THIS current stage of life – go for it; otherwise if you can keep yourself busy and entertained, and don’t need someone close by your side – maybe you can wait it out?
These beautiful drawings show [in my view] a happy relationship. Have a look and see if these little things matter to you .
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/10/06/love-is-puuung_n_7188998.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000063

A couple on Koh Kret - a laid-back man-made island.
A couple on Koh Kret – a laid-back man-made island.

Little things

Exam. I’m looking at these little girls: all in exactly the same uniforms, their little feet, all with the same white socks, their little heads resting on the tables, all braded in the same way, all with identical little white ribbons… Some of them are sleeping on their desks, some are playing with their pencils or hair, or are trying to mouth something to their friend in another row, something “very important”, probably, similar to “Look, the teacher is drinking water!”. I can see some of the little feet mingling restlessly under the desks…
A couple of hours ago three of them were rehearsing some sort of a dance with their arms, reminding each other of the moves. One of them took out some plastic flower figures and started playing with them on the table with several other girls curiously peeking at her. Another was folding her jumper, then unfolding it, laying it neatly on her desk and then folding it back up. A few more were drawing on their desks with their pencils and then erasing everything.
It seems like they were doing every possible thing they could think of that doesn’t involve them moving around too much or making any kind of sound – both of which would attract the teacher’s attention and they would be told to go to sleep.

Apart from these little moments of “naughtiness”, sleeping is what most of them were doing anyway. And all I’ve been doing for the past six hours or so, was watching these girls taking one test after another with these compulsory “sleep” breaks in between. And even though I am almost falling asleep myself, inside I also feel just as restless as these girls.

Normally, I don’t have much time to think. There’s always so much to do and not enough time for everything. And now I’m forced to sit at the back of this classroom all day, mindlessly staring at the backs of these little heads. I’m not allowed to read, listen to music, or do anything that would occupy my mind. I can’t do anything productive. So I have plenty of time to think. To think about my life, why I am where I am and what I want to do next. And you know what? I don’t want to think! My mind, that’s usually buzzing with all sorts of random thoughts is pretty much empty today. All I want to do is sleep (I guess the girls nodding off around me have something to do with that…). Unfortunately, I can’t sleep either. So I’m just sitting here, looking at those little heads almost through the mist of my dreams…
And then I thought how quickly everything becomes normal. My current surroundings, and everything that puzzled or fascinated me the first time I encountered it. I remember talking to Vidmantas just after moving to Thailand and how there are so many strange things here, that nothing really surprises us anymore. I remember being frustrated with so many things that I now see as normal and have plenty of patience to deal with, because… this is Thailand.
Even though I came here with an open mind, expecting lots of things to be very different, there are some things you just can’t prepare yourself for. Like someone storming into your classroom, asking you to leave all the kids and whatever you’re doing, and go downstairs to see the management a.s.a.p. – all that mayhem just to find yourself and other staff receiving a glass of milk. It’s all the little everyday things that can be very frustrating or really fascinating. And it’s those same little things that you miss about home when you’re abroad. The little things that are different. Specific to each place on Earth and you can only experience them by spending enough time in one place. Getting to know that place well enough, becoming a part of it.
And really, these little moments, these tiny pieces of dust – good and bad, annoying and sweet – that’s what most of our lives consist of. There are not that many big events or changes in our average week, month or year. But there are thousands of these tiny moments which add up to make our days the way they are. And the more happy moments you collect during the day, the better your day is.
Average moments don’t really stay in our memory for long, as there’s no spark to them. And then all we’re left with are the little special moments that made us happy. We filter the events that are happening around us all the time. Anything that is “normal” or usual fails to catch our attention. Maybe that’s why we get used to a new environment so easily – when you stop reacting to things that look surprising or unusual (and most of the things in a new place are!), your brain quickly learns to filter these things out. And you don’t notice them anymore. They become normal.

But I don’t want everything around me to be “normal”! I want to notice the little things. And keep them.

I remember the last few weeks before leaving UK when suddenly all the places that we used to visit pretty much every day became so much more special. Although we always tried to notice everything around us and find joy in the little things, and that’s exactly the reason why we loved the place where we lived. But when you realize you may not come back to that place ever again, you suddenly start to cherish everything around you a lot more. You try to take in as much of what you see and feel around you, hoping to keep it somewhere in your memories. That’s why when exploring new places we often find ourselves reminiscing of where we lived, the experiences we had – glimpses of sunshine on cloudy days, orange streetlamp lights at night, stillness of streets when raining, watching passers-by through a coffee shop window and so on.
Notice the little things. Don’t wait until you have to leave to appreciate what’s around you. Create little moments of happiness. Collect them, and share them with those around you.

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Not just travelling

“I left Europe with the naive idea and picture in my mind that I will come in Asia and work with poor kids in a remote village but I ended up working at one of the top schools in the city, more hours than I ever did back home, although this was the first thing I wanted to escape.” These words come from a girl named Cat, whom I haven’t met in person, but we seem to have similar mind-sets and have gone through similar experiences.

A few years ago I found myself at a crossroad between considering future prospects at a job I was only partially satisfied with, and just quitting everything. With very little enthusiasm for staying at the workplace, I approached a business-minded man twice my age, expecting a monologue about financial stability and long-term career objectives. To my surprise the answer was “go for it, do what you feel like doing”. I was blown away by such a simple yet encouraging response, so I quit my job the same week. Next thing I knew I was at the best job I had ever had in England, saving for and planning my travels.
Similarly to Cat, I thought of Asia as a rather undeveloped, poor and exploited continent – as these are the keywords used frequently in the ‘western world’. It turns out that many Asian people have a view of Europe as a wealthy, organized, and money-growing-on-trees type of place, where everyone is happy, educated, and polite. Even though some of it is true, both perceptions are somewhat distant from reality.
When I was in Chiang Mai I met a guy at an internet café/print shop, who looked like a stereotypical hippie-like employee: unshaven, long-haired chubby man in his mid-20s, wearing a colourful t-shirt, playing some NinjaTown/Farmville-like online game, possibly stoned, and overly friendly with random customers. He told us he had never been outside of Thailand, and then complained that the working conditions and the pay were rubbish, unlike the jobs in Europe (England). It was very interesting to hear somebody’s honest opinion of Europe, even though it was more of a perception than an opinion. I don’t blame him – I was also full of perceptions in my head about Asia!
When people travel for a long time, they seem to have a ‘base’. For example in Thailand, most people base themselves either in Chiang Mai or Bangkok, mainly due to the well-developed infrastructure. Whenever I leave my ‘base’ in Bangkok, I try to have my stays at different ends of the spectrum: from cheap backpacker hostels, to higher-end hotels – just to get a more varied experience. When it comes to food, I always prioritise street vendors and local markets, but once in a while treat myself to a fancy meal or a cocktail at a rooftop bar. Not only does this allow you to see different sides of the country, culture, and food, it also generates more ideas as you are exposed to a more diverse group of people.
I think there are many travellers who just backpack their way across, let’s say, Asia, whose experiences are undoubtedly totally different to a family’s packaged-holiday stay. Hence, the experience can be limited in a way. I travel around Thailand and I love it here, but I also work here. Even though I enjoy the work, sometimes it’s just too much, and I feel very tired, have to put up with unexpected issues, both organisational and cultural, language barriers, and so on. I still love it though, as it only makes my experience here richer than I ever thought it would be.
I encourage anybody who likes travelling to really take in as many aspects of the country as possible, instead of just ticking off tourist destinations off a list. Not only have I learned so much about the people, culture, and food in Thailand, I have also taught others about Europe, breaking some common stereotypes.
Since I left Europe, my perception of Thailand has completely changed, and I can again easily relate to the words Cat has written:
I left Europe with the naive idea and picture in my mind that I will come in Asia and work with poor kids in a remote village but I ended up working at one of the top schools in the city, more hours than I ever did back home, although this was the first thing I wanted to escape.

With my lovely students at SJT, Bangkok
With my lovely students at SJT, Bangkok
Wearing long-sleeves and a scarf in 35 celcius
Wearing long-sleeves and a scarf in 35 celcius