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The materialistic mind frame and the secret to being happy

Recently, having received a few pay checks and being back in the swing of things, I’m hating my current mind frame.

When I was packing my bags and seeing how much I was leaving behind, when I was away and saw how little I needed and again when I got back and saw how much I left behind, I vowed that I would never return to my materialistic ways. After being home (and avoiding the blog updates) for 6 months, I’m sad to say that it’s all too easy to get sucked in.

I want / need everything. Everything.

I want / need new work clothes. I want / need a new phone. I want / need, I want / need.

Living in a cold climate, I’ve realized that adding warmer items to my wardrobe is an absolute necessity. As is dressing for the job. I’m lucky that I’ve landed a job that doesn’t have me working from an office from 9-5, that comes with some quiet little perks, and that feels rewarding when I’ve done something that made an impact. I couldn’t have done it without my friends. However, those client meetings wearing the same dress pants I wore as a teacher everyday for a year just doesn’t cut it.

Now that I’m going to be receiving semi-regular pay checks, I need to keep myself in check. I need to remember how little a person actually needs to survive and not go crazy with the shopping sprees. I need to remember what’s important; to save, pay off debt, and travel more. Always travel more. I need to remember that having material things doesn’t actually make me happy. It only adds to the illusion that I’m a contributing part of society, whatever that actually means.

Two articles this morning inspired me. This beautiful article about running towards life and not away from it makes me want to spend NOTHING so that I can be on a plane as soon as 2014 hits, escaping the harsh Canadian winter (oh, so harsh). Then, a friend bringing me back to reality shared this article about the pain required in order to be happy and successful.

Two very different articles, two very different messages, both completely accurate. I’m quoting the first article here though, and it’s something that rung true: “The real secret to life is that you get what you want when you do what you want.”

Yes, travelling and experiencing different cultures makes me incredibly happy, as does the freedom of not being tied down to anything. But in order to travel extensively and still feel fulfilled, I need to endure the “pain” of working hard. Again, I’m incredibly lucky that my work doesn’t feel like work, (especially when it’s mostly in my pajama’s), but to be well-rounded and achieve my goals I need to have both of these things in my life.

SO, while I have many goals, first and foremost my goal for 2014 is to include both of these things in my life simultaneously and find a happy balance.

(And to finally post some catch-up blogs… Sorry!)

Some deep thoughts and life lessons for a Monday morning.

Inle Lake: Home of the leg rowers

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Inle Lake has been made famous by the iconic image of the Intha fisherman who row their boats with an oar wrapped in the crook of their leg so their hands are free to set up their fishing nets. It’s an amazing thing to watch and the sheer balance and coordination that goes into it is simply astounding.

After our early morning arrival in Nyaung Shwe, (the town filled with hotels closest to the mouth of the river) and a nap into the early afternoon we set out to inquire about boat tours and bus tickets back to Yangon. We struck it lucky, finding a very friendly tour operator who offered a boat and a guide for up to four people if we “found more friends” for 16,000 Kyat for the entire day. 8AM to Sunset.

So the next day, with a friend from the hotel in tow, we drove the 4KM from Nyaung Shwe into the lake wrapped in sweaters and scarves, surrounded by wildlife and bird conservation sites. As we entered the actual lake itself our guide explained a little about the life of the fisherman and how many have given up the ways of fishing to collect weeds and seaweed to be used as fertilizer. A full boat can get them 5,000 Kyat, and they can usually do 3 boatfuls a day. Considering the average daily wage for most laborours is 2,000 Kyat, enough to buy a bottle of water, this is quite lucrative.

A seaweed collector in the foreground, a fisherman with a circular net in the background

A seaweed collector in the foreground, a fisherman with a circular net in the background

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Our posing fisherman with a circular net

For most fishermen, the act of fishing itself is too often uncertain and requires a lot of work for little reward. There are two methods that they use to catch fish, the most common is to drop a net into the water and use an oar to scare the fish into it. The most beautiful and skillful method is to use the round net and wait for a fish to come so they can drop the net over it.

Fishing with a net

Fishing with a net

Our day around the lake was very full and we were constantly moving from place to  place. We started at the Phaung Dow Oo Paya Pagoda market and wandered around snapping photos and smiling at all the locals with their rows of spices, fish, fruit and handicrafts.

Dried fish for sale

Dried fish for sale

Then we headed to a weaving factory where we watched ladies sitting in front of giant looms creating beautiful Longyi, shawls and scarves. Per day these women usually make 3,500 Kyat (if they make one Longyi or shawl). But the atmosphere of the factory was lighthearted and compared to what one assumes factories in third world countries would look like, the fresh air and view of the lake was a definite bonus to the workers.

Making a Longyi (skirt - like clothing worn by men and women)

Making a Longyi (skirt – like clothing worn by men and women)

DSC02974From there we went to a blacksmiths, where we watched 5 men pounding away at heated metal to create knives, swords and tools. The intensity of their pounding echoed across the lake and the accurate pounds of their hammers was enough to scare any tourist from standing too close. It also made one wonder how often they miss and collide with a blow from their colleague.

After lunch at “Nice Restaurant” we visited a cigar and cigarette rolling display where we learned about the Burmese cigarettes and had a chance to smoke a minty fresh clove cigar.

Hand-rolled cigars

Hand-rolled cigars

We then headed up a small alley-way river where women rode up beside us to try and sell some jewelry as we made our way to visit the Longneck women. This was the biggest tourist trap of the day, and I felt bad for the four women who spend their day posing for pictures, either sitting in chairs or weaving in the shop. These Kayan women are the only four of their kind in Inle Lake, as  most reside in the Shan State of Southern Myanmar bordering Thailand. Thailand has three villages of Longneck women, and a visit to Chiang Mai can include the exploitation of a visit to these three villages. I never did it, and don’t know anyone who did, but simply being witness to the women in Inle Lake was sad in its own way. With the brass coils around their necks, they are incredibly beautiful and I can only hope that having their picture taken day in and day out doesn’t make them feel exploited, but beautiful and interesting instead. The coils themselves are worn since the age of five, and only taken off to change to bigger ones as they age. The appearance of a stretched neck is actually caused by crushing the clavicle and compressing the rib cage.

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Along the same river we visited a silversmith where we watched them turn blocks of silver into intricate jewelry or elaborately etched bowls.

Then, my favourite part, as we floated through these tiny little roads between rows and rows of floating gardens anchored by bamboo sticks. This is where you see the weeds and seaweed that the fisherman now collect being put to good use, as it’s this mix of mud and much that creates the beds for all the vegetables produced in Inle.

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DSC03038Just near the densest jungle of gardens is the Nga Phe Kyaung monastery, also known as the jumping cat monastery. While monks used to teach the plethora of cats at this monastery to jump through hoops and do circus tricks, there appears to no longer be a show of this. Most of the cats lazily lounge through the day and tourists wander around to see the large number of antique Buddha images collected from around Burma.

As the sun was setting we started heading home, slowing to watch the sunset and try to get shots of the leg fisherman. One of which was posing for us in the hopes that we would give him some money for his performance.

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The whole day felt a little fabricated, a show put on for tourists to see how things are done in Inle, but it was beautiful and simply viewing all the gardens and neighbourhoods on stilts would have been enough for me. Thinking about how those people literally live their lives on the water, being unable to even visit friends without the help of a boat or a long plank of wood between houses is completely different to our Western neighbourhoods full of concrete.

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Coming Home

I’ve been back for little over a month now, and while I’m not even up to date on blog posts of my travels, I’ve got to say that it feels good to be back.
Yes, the full-time job hunting gets depressing. But having some freelance writing to do fills the days (and the bank account) a little.

A lot has changed in a year and a half, but a lot has also stayed the same. I came across one of those sappy pictures on Pinterest one day while I was away and sent it to one of my closest friends, but I’ve realized that it applies to all of them.

friendship Read the rest of this entry

Mandalay Palace: “I paid $10 for that?!”

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Considering that I paid $10 for the entire town of Bagan filled with plains and plains of temple ruins, it seems absolutely ludicrous that I paid the same amount to visit some silly palace in the middle of some silly protected fortress, putting money right into the governments pocket. Firstly, we hadn’t properly done advance research and learned that it had been completely rebuilt in 1995, possibly with the use of forced labour.

Secondly I had crazily assumed, because of the detailed roads on our tourist map, that the entire area inside the moat would be one giant preserved palace camp ground. However, as we sadly learned, tourists can only enter from [ONE] entrance, and once you’ve been walking all day to FIND that entrance, interest and excitement starts to wane. Once across the moat and the entrance fee is paid, tourists then learn that they can only walk down the main path, and around the old palace grounds. Exploring is forbidden and based on the heavy army presence, I would guess strongly enforced. Also, once across the moat, photos are frowned upon until you reach the palace grounds and it is likely assumed that everything you’ve seen, every army family or naked baby playing with a mangy dog is erased from your memory. “Restricted Area” signs blocked many side roads and military guards kept us in check, so onwards we headed to our allowed destination.

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While the buildings and pathways were stunning, that’s really all there was. More than 2/3 of the buildings in the little lost city stood completely empty and without much ceremony about what was once inside. While the thrones where partially there, 3/7 where in their original places, the purpose of the surrounding rooms was only given away by their names.

DSC02735My favourite place on the whole compound was the watchtower, which just so happened to be one of the original buildings that wasn’t destroyed during WWII. After climbing the 50 steps up around the circular building the rooftop gave way to a perfect view of the whole compound and the back of the 7 tiered spire. It was while standing at the top, watching a couple monks meandering around the grounds with their families that I actually got a sense of history from the whole place. The buildings, despite being rebuilt, truly had a sense of history and ancient life that I could almost close my eyes and imagine scenes unfolding underneath me. I could see people lazily meandering down the paths, or taking their time washing in the bath house under the noon time sun.

It was upon discovering the Archaeological museum that we realized where all the replicas that should have been adorning rooms and buildings around the compound had gone. The museum was “easily” accessible at the very back of the “foreigner area” with the entrance facing what appear to be the gates at the back of the compound. If one were to pay the $10 to enter the palace grounds, they better not miss the two room museum filled with dressed palanquins of the royal families and their cabinet.

 

Riding the Circle Train around Yangon

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While in Yangon, one of the best ways to see the area surrounding the city is to hop on the train that runs a loop around the city proper. I love public transit anyway because you’re exposed to what a city is like day to day, and you get to people watch.

I don’t know what I expected on the train ride, but I certainly got a feel for the people and the culture throughout the duration of the 3 hour ride.

As we approached platform 6 and 7, we were ushered into a ticket office and an official looking ticket was issued after we handed over our crisp clean $1 bill. While we waited for the train to arrive we were entertained by an adorable little girl and her even littler sister who high fived us and hopscotched and showed us their Gangnam Style abilities.

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Initially the train was packed, but as the train moved on away from the city, it began to empty out. As I effectively emptied my camera batteries by photographing the train, landscape and stations we passed, Eira set to filling her pocket sketchbook with quick drawings of people on the train. Initially I had hoped that we could hop on and off and visit the towns around the stations, and while you’re allowed to do just that and make an entire day of it, we had a bus to catch that evening and opted for a walk home and some dinner in a tea house. So we stayed put, sketching, watching, photographing the scenes and sharing cigarettes out the window with the old man sat next to us.

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I’m glad that the train was simple benches along each side instead of sections of seats because it was much more conducive to creeping everyone on our car.

As we reached one station in the country there was a giant commotion as the car emptied out and people started chucking parcels of produce through the window. Bags upon bags of Chinese kale, holy basil, chilli peppers, apples, cucumbers, tomatoes, and anything that grows in the countryside around Yangon were hoisted through windows and settled anywhere there was space. As the farmers themselves jumped on the now moving train and organized their packages the security guard, who had previously been oblivious to passengers and tickets, now went around collecting fees for all the extra parcels from the newly boarded.

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It was after this that the atmosphere on the train changed. It had started out as a packed commuter train, but was now a joke-filled little community. As the farmers and produce sellers organized their product they teased each other, shared leaf-rolled cigarettes and bettle nut and dozed off cross-legged facing the window.

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Feeling like part of a community, we disembarked back in Yangon proper and wandered around until we met a couple ladies who wished us a happy Easter and chatted with us for a bit before leading us to a tea shop employed entirely with boys under 17 years old for a delicious lunch of pasada’s.

The last hoorah

I’m back in Lopburi. Although in approximately 24 hours, I start my journey home in a bus that will take me and my accumulated mementos to the airport.

I thought that I would have time to write and relax and catch up on everything that I haven’t been keeping up with while I was travelling. I have not. Instead, I’ve been catching up on the gossip, drinking until the sun comes up and sleeping until I have to peel my melting skin off the blankets. Then repeat.

Instead of writing about the monks in Yangon, the feet steering fisherman in Inle Lake, the art and architecture in Penang, or love notes to this crazy little town I’m leaving, I’ve been lazy.

Being in this unemployed transition is quite depressing, and I’ve had no shortage of craving to stay. Most people that are here at the moment are no longer in this transition. They’ve moved into houses, moved into new jobs, started their regular routine again. It’s making me wish that I had decided to stay on for another term, another year, for life.

While I do have to be home for some of the best moments of my best friends’ lives, things that I wouldn’t miss for the world, I really only have a 6 month obligation to Toronto. I love my city, and it will be where I eventually settle down. But, unless I find the job of my dreams, meet the man of my dreams or am simply too happy to get the itchy travellers foot (how likely is that, really?) Than it’s quite likely that I could pack my bags and leave again once those 6 months are up. Now that I know just how easy it is, and just how happy it can make me, I’m ready to take on the world.

We’ll see just how much of the world I can afford in 6 months’ time though…

Random Myanmar (Burma), from the road

Despite keeping a constant paperback journal, keeping the world up to date has been just as hard as I imagined it would be.

Internet is spotty in places, electricity randomly cuts out and rooms are double what I budgeted for. Money panic attacks are starting to set in. What that really means is less beer and souveniers.

The people are the smiliest i’ve met and simply walking around on Mandalay Hill this afternoon, I had my picture taken with 3 monks and 4 seperate random people. Also, at least half a dozen women giggled and told me I’m beautiful. This country is good for my ego. I think Myanmar is going to give Thailand a run for its money on who actually deserves the title, “land of smiles.”

I’m in the home stretch… and it’s kind of terrifying

I feel like I’m in the home stretch. The final month before classes officially end, the final lessons, the final goodbyes. March is going to be an awkward month. I’m still not sure if I’ll be working until the end of my contract considering that there will no longer be a summer camp. I don’t know if that means that I’ll be finishing up within the first week, and then spending a few weeks hanging around waiting for the vacation portion of my home stretch to start, or if they’ll find work for me to do and I’ll work up until the end.

People are going to start leaving. That’s going to be really hard: saying goodbye to people who were strangers a year ago that I’ve become so close with that I now consider my Thailand family. My roommate is going to be the first to go, planning on shipping out to Germany to live with her boyfriend as early as the 19th of March. My little heart is going to break.

The group, with a couple exceptions, at our Anything but Clothes Themed post-halloween party

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Random in Rayong

For our long weekend in November, all we wanted was to swim in the ocean. That was literally our only requirement. That’s a good thing, however, because that’s all we got.

We were going to head to Koh Samet, but since we started planning on Wednesday to head off on Saturday, we were going to end up without a place to lay our heads. So we decided to have a truly random, truly Thai long weekend. We booked a hotel on Agoda that was 50% off. The pictures looked ridiculous enough to at least make for a good story. What none of us really realized was that we were booking ourselves into a sex hotel.

Opting to travel on Saturday, we headed to Bangkok for a rip roaring night out on Khao San. Complete with random Thai’s falling in love with me (as usual, what can I say, I’m irresistible) parties in the street, and falling into bed at an ungodly hour of the morning. Leaving Bangkok was hard to say the least, and waiting hours for the bus didn’t make it any better.

Khao San Road at it's finest.

Khao San Road at it’s finest.

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Phranang Beach… and the most penises I’ve seen in my life

In conversation recently, I was asked what my favourite beach in Thailand is. Of what I’ve seen, I think I would have to say here:

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The water was perfect for swimming, the white sand perfect for lounging, the caves ideal for exploring, and the ingenious longtail boat restaurants made for a tasty beach picnic. The whole setting was something out of a photograph, a gift of nature that one could only hope to see. Aonang.com claims that this beach was voted one of the ten best beaches in the world. Who polled that, or when, I’m not sure because sadly there isn’t even a beach in Thailand on the National Geographic list. However, the beach surely is gorgeous; add to the fact that it’s not really a resort beach (I think there were only one or two in the general vicinity) or a party beach makes it that much more special. Read the rest of this entry