lessons learned

1 december. monday. chiang mai, thailand.

It’s cold. Why is it so cold? Is it just me, or is everywhere cold? I awoke this morning absolutely determined to stay in bed, where it was warm. After a half an hour, my determination waned, and I rose, showered, and dressed quickly.  I climbed reluctantly onto the back of a motorbike, and sat rigid like an ice cube, while the cold wind burned my face.  I have brought with me two sweaters, a vest, and two pairs of pants.  I assumed since I was going to Thailand I would be warm all day and night, and I was wrong. The forecast on my computer says eighty degrees, I say liar, and pull the blankets tighter around me.  I have not brought a jacket.  This is one of my fatal flaws, I think. I underestimate the weather constantly.  When I went to the mountains of India for a semester I also brought two sweaters, a vest, and a hat.  It was thirty-two degrees constantly, and there is no such thing as central heating in India.  I should have learned my lesson, right?  I should be smart and pack a coat when I travel, but no, no, I would rather bring books than a warm coat. Hey, if it gets really bad, I’ll just stuff my clothes with the  pages I’ve already read.  On second thought, this is unlikely. I love books too much to sacrifice them.

Speaking of clothes, and packing too light…I own two pairs of pants.  One pair is turquoise, a decision that I mildly regret.  You see, I’ve always wanted “fun” jeans, like those bright magazine ads. I found a pair at a thrift store in Berkeley that actually fit, so I bought them.  When I was cleaning out my closet months ago I decided to sell a pair of grey jeans, and then go and buy a pair of black jeans. I sold the grey jeans, but never bought the black jeans. Thus, I own one pair of turquoise jeans, and one pair of dark blue jeans.
These dark blue jeans are those pants that you just love. You love to wear them, and so you wear them to death.  I’ve had them over a year, and last week a Thai friend, Bee, took them to get mended for me.  They came back in pristine condition.  Then, the knee started ripping slightly.  I decided to fix it before it got any worse, and so I took it upon myself to bring them down to the tailor.  I walked in, greeted her in Thai, and gestured for her to sew up the small hole.  Another woman came over, they looked at the inch-long rip and talked about it in Thai for a while.  Have you ever seen someone watch a conversation and not know what was going on? I wonder what I looked like.  After some time I left the pants in her custody, planning to return the next day to pick them up.  In the meantime, I sported turquoise pants.
I rode my bike to the shop the following evening. The woman was gone, and a man sitting on the couch nearby came to help me. I pointed to the jeans, he handed them to me, and I handed him 20 Baht.  I thought should I inspect these? but quickly brushed the thought away, trusting that they were fine, and that my gesturing skills were the finest in all the lands.  I arrived home, opened the bag, and found that the small rip had indeed disappeared.  In fact, half of my pants had disappeared.  In fact, they were not pants at all. No, no, now they were deemed “shorts,” an ugly word for such beautiful pants.  Somehow my gestures and instructions were lost in translation, and this woman decided that in order to properly get rid of the hole in the knee, she should also rid me of the calf portion of my jeans.  In the privacy of my room, I threw an unnecessary fit, knowing what task lay ahead. It is hard enough finding jeans in the US…in Thailand, finding anything flattering for someone who is not built like a twig is near impossible.  After a few fitful minutes, I decided that the Universe was just helping me practice non-attatchment, and minimalism.  Lesson learned, yet I am not looking forward to the search for new pants.  It seems as though I have no choice, with the weather as cold as it is.

Back to this morning…
A few days ago, Bee asked me if I would like to go and live at the temple for a day. I thought, cool! I can meditate with Thai people, and get an inside look at Theravada Buddhism. I accepted, and this morning we set off on the freezing motorbike to the temple.  When we arrived, a monk directed me to an English booklet on the center.  I read the rules and regulations, no smoking, okay, yeah, no drinking, duh, modest clot
hing…twenty-six day retreats, minimum ten days, from four in the morning until ten in the evening…OH MY BUDDHA, WHERE AM I?!
I had unknowingly walked into a Vipassana meditation center, which I think is something one should be prepared for before committing to.  I was not prepared. I had not even brought a toothbrush or a change of clothes. Thus, I now know to do my research before hand, and to bring the necessary supplies into the unknown. Like a toothbrush, something soft to sit on, maybe even an unnecessary hammock, but no turquoise pants.


Lessons learned: pack a coat, have someone translate any clothes-mending activities beforehand, embrace minimalism, never buy turquoise pants (or if you do make sure you have a few normal back-ups), and do your research before you’re dropped off at an unknown location to meditate for over a week, eighteen hours a day.


Lastly, I had an absolutely lazy day today. When I returned from the retreat center this morning I crawled back under the warm covers and started reading. I pic

ked up “What is the What” by Dave Eggers on Friday, and I could not stop reading it.  Today I read for five straight hours until I finished it.  I moved outside to find warmth in the sun, and sat completely still for the last few hours, only moving when the sun scorched my shins every few minutes.  I was obsessed, captivated, enraptured with this book.  When I read it, I thought that I was in Africa, in the refugee camp, Kakuma, or in a hotel in Nairobi, or in his apartment in Atlanta. I could picture what the writer depicted so clearly.  When I finished, around two, I fell asleep, and I dreamed of Africa. The book seemed to penetrate every layer of my consciousness.  I awoke  hearing unknown voices pass below my window, and I was convinced again that I was in Africa.  I have been deeply affected by this book, and I highly recommend it to everyone who has not yet read it.  A good friend recommended it to me and now I am forever grateful to her.
now go read, learn lessons, and be grateful! you are so blessed!

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