If you are amongst one of the millions of people who reside abroad then you know that everything can get chaotic really fast. We must adjust to differing cultures, customs, languages, food, and lifestyles. How does one maintain balance amongst such disorder? Releasing all of the built up anxiety on your mat, keeping up the one thing that can always remain the same: your yoga practice. As an American residing in one of the largest city in the world, Shanghai, China, I’ve come to learn the importance of a regular practice for a balanced life.
We are a curious generation. We take on multiple roles in search for happiness, fulfillment, and excitement. We overschedule because we are hungry. We are hungry for life; to live, to travel, to experience, to meet, to love… to be. When we fail we get discouraged. When we take everything on, we lose our personal time. When we overschedule, we become sleep deprived. We become anxious. What’s next? Where do I need to be today? How did I forget to schedule this/that? When will I have time for myself? Our schedules are so tight; we don’t have time for any disarray.
Inhale 1 2 3 4 5 6
Exhale 1 2 3 4 5 6
Breathe. Be present. Do your sun salutations. Thank your body for allowing you to be so mobile. A steady yoga practice at face value is so beneficial for our bodies. A steady yoga practice at the subconscious level allows us to evaluate and appreciate. It is our time: our time to meditate, to re-evaluate, and to balance.
So it’s been a while since my last post. As my current position is super intensive, I just dove in head first and have been consumed by teaching and planning. Also, my internet connection is terrible. Anyhow, I find myself with some time on a Saturday night. Typically I try to get out on the weekends because A) my town is super small and not a lot goes down here, and B) I’m usually soooooo needing a break by Friday (if I die in China it won’t be because I got ran over by a rickshaw that defied all traffic rules… it’ll be on a Thursday at 5:00 pm after my 7th class) Anyhow, this weekend is different because I caught the Shanghai cold for the second round and decided to take a chill weekend.
So let’s address a few things I find (and hopefully you find) interesting.
My first ‘Dance Yoga’ class! So, I finally found a gym… thank heavens!!! This gym doesn’t have the best equipment, and it’s freaking over priced… but hey, it’s here. Anyhow, they have yoga! I saw ‘Dance Yoga’ on the schedge and decided to give it a go. So.. yeah, not many people speak English here. Luckily yoga is a universal language! Vrksasana is the same pose in every language! I just had to watch the teacher and follow her moves. This dance yoga class was a combo of Chinese dancing and yoga… I felt that it was a little more like 3/4 Chinese dancing and 1/4 yoga actually… but I’m cool with that! I’ve never done Chinese dancing before, and now it’s my new favorite class! I had SO much fun! I tried to record the music and then come home to practice. If you’re interested, I attempted to record what I could remember… check it out here.
I think I’ve aged like 30 years in the last 2 months. I go to bed before 10, wake up at 6, I almost always prefer talk radio over music, and I love these little prune drops. What? Prune drops? Yeah. Who knew? My new ‘friend’ (I put that in quotes because when Chinese people want to talk, and their English is so-so, they usually ask if they can ‘make friends’ with you. I think the Chinese translation must have something to do with ‘making friends’… anyhow, she gave me these prune drops one day and I instantly needed to buy more because they are good.
Along with these, she gave me toasted coconut drops and… okay, this one is a stretch for the un-China-fied mind, I don’t even know how to translate it.. but it resembles a partially candy covered dried plum. Yeah, you’re probably thinking I’m crazy now, but realize that we are in different parts of the world. Haha.. I’m trying to keep a more open mind this time, and try more Chinese things. 🙂
That being said, I also tried a Chinese face mask… the women here are always super concerned about their skin, and using these. So, I decided to give it a go (and it was on sale…)
I uncovered another Chinese secret! In America I was always searching for Goji berries for their antioxidant and other health benefits, but couldn’t ever find them. Well, they’re easily accessible in China! However, they are usually dried, so people put them in hot water to make them plump and edible again. So, I’ve been drinking Goji berry infused hot water. Hahaha. Win.
So I’ve been back in Shanghai for about 3 days now. It’s interesting and slightly sad that I forgot how different things are here. Whithin 5 short months I became so accustomed with the States again that I’d forgotten how different China is. Aaaanyhow, the following are some of the highlights that I’ve experienced in the past three days:
I stick out like a sore thumb here… or more accurately like a giraffe in a hoard of deer. When I was waiting for the metro I noticed two Chinese people signing to each other. It’s always interesting to me to watch conversations between people who are deaf because they get so animated and passionate about what they’re saying, but there is no sound. Super cool. Well, I noticed they were looking at me, and I could pick up what they were signing to each other; they were talking about my height. They were guessing how tall I was… that’s when I decided to join in. I motioned that they were wrong and then told them how tall I am with hand signals for numbers in Chinese. They were shocked that I could communicate with them and started smiling and laughing… then I realized what just happened. I had communicated to two Chinese people who are deaf… that’s like two language gaps. You know how they say ‘you have your first cousin, then you have your second cousin’, well, you have your first foreign language, then you have your second foreign language. It was such a cool experience, and hopefully made their day. It made mine.
When I walked in to the bank yesterday, the greeter asked me what I wanted to do, then attached himself to my hip. He took me to the teller and stood right next to me while I sat for the entire transaction (which was like 15 minutes). Half way through I looked up at him with an ‘oh you’re still there’ look and then smiled with a ‘yep you’re still there confirmation’. He was probably in his early twenties and spoke English well. He said something like “You know, since the man by the name of George W. Bush, the relation between our countries is not so good. He sees us as an enemy.” I imagine he said that to explain why he was standing at my side. I decided to keep it lighthearted. ‘Oh, and what about Obama? What does he think?” I asked. “Obama says we are friends… as long as we support Wall Street.” I giggled through our entire conversation. A) because it was such a foreign experience.. and he was ‘so matter of factly’ about everything, and B) I was actually slightly nervous and wanted to communicate that I’m no threat. Then I began to wonder where he gets his information… well, and if that’s going to be the process every time I go to the bank.
…and there we go. I move in to my apartment tomorrow, so here’s to hoping it rocks!
So I’ve decided to return to China in February. While I’ve been back in the States, I’ve been busy preparing to get out to teach/travel more. I did another semester at university where I became a certified yoga instructor and took a basic Chinese language course. That was an amazing experience in it’s own. Also, when I went SCUBA diving in Bali last year I realized that I definitely want to dive again; therefore, I’ve recently gotten my SCUBA Open Water diver certification. In addition to those certifications, I decided to join three of my family members by getting the ‘M’ on my drivers license. I took the motorcycle driving course, realized how freakin’ fun it is, and then got my endorsement. Throughout all of these certifications and training I’ve gained so much knowledge, invaluable experiences, met inspiring people, and ultimately went about them with the thought of ‘limitless’. I want to be able to do anything… whenever. I want to experience. I want to see. I want to be.
I’ve had an incredible 5 months back in the States and have been lucky to spend time with important people in my life. It is difficult to leave people and situations, but I’m just going with it. I’d like to believe that things happen for a reason. I will depart for China early February and will be there for the remaining semester of this school year. From there… ‘the sky is the limit’. I’ve been throwing a few around ideas of what to do when July hits, but we’ll see how Feb-June unfolds first.
This time I’ll be living in a southwest suburb of Shanghai with quite a different teaching schedule. Stay tuned to hear about it all 😀
The following are my travel videos that I compiled according to country and/or activity over the past year. Enjoy 🙂 More will come as I am headed out again in February 2014.
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After three nights in Chiang Mai we jumped on a bus to Chiang Rai. ..on the way we ate Chiang pie and Shmacy had a good a Chiang cry while I got bit by a Chiang fly.
Okay, the last three Chiang’s are false.
Anyhow, Shmacy and Shmooke have a friend, Shmalan, living in Chiang Rai, so we decided to make our way up to hang with him. The bus ride up was very comfortable.. thank you Northern Thailand for having a comfortable bus system. They even stopped half way through our 4 hour bus ride for a bathroom break. Oh yeah, this is another story that I’ve only lightly touched on… toilets in Asia.
In China, we’ve got the squatter with automatic flushing (if you’re lucky). In Thailand (unless your in a super touristy area) there’s a different version of the squatter. The Squatter 2.0 if you will… or perhaps the Squatter 0.2 depending on your preference of …’situations’. In Thailand the squatters are raised about a foot off of the ground so you’re elevated when you do your buisnass. Also, there’s usually a bucket of water next to the squatter with a plastic bowl half submerged in the water. ‘What do I do with this?’ you will ask yourself. Welp, this is your manual flushing system. Use the bowl to scoop water and then pour the water into the squatter until your ‘buisnass’ disappears. It’s one of the prouder moments you will have in your life.
Anyhow, back to the story..
We arrive in Chiang Rai, settle into our hostel, meet up with Shmalan and head to the Night Bazaar for dinner. Every major city in southeast Asia (at the the ones I’ve been to) have a Night Bazaar. Pretty cool. You can shop for locally crafted souvenirs (I’m choosing to believe they’re locally crafted), eat local food, watch cultural dancing, and socialize with… mostly tourists, but some locals as well. It’s a good time. Also, this is where I had the best Pad Thai yet! The noodles were wrapped in an omelet and you can choose which and how many toppings you want on it. I put some salt and pepper, crushed peanuts, and a lot of bean sprouts on it. Soooo good.
The next day we headed to the Wat Rong Khun.. the White Temple. The architecture of this modern temple is very interesting. It is all white with pieces of mirrors on the edges and points. It is very detailed. The painting inside the temple is different from anything I’ve ever seen within a temple or place of worship. On the wall farthest from the Buddha is a giant mural with 20 or so small pop fiction characters painted in different areas. It’s my understanding that the farther away from the Buddha you are, the more you are living in a sort of fake, societal based world. As you get closer to the Buddha, the paintings on the walls suggested you are going the right way, towards enlightenment. However, that is all perception, and could be completely inaccurate. It was very interesting to see something so current and societal-based displayed in a temple.
This is the designer, Chalermchai Kositpipat.
After the temple we went to grab a bite to eat. Shmalan was such a good host. Since he lives in Chiang Rai he knew all the good places to eat and all the good sights to see. Shout out to Shmalan… You rock, dude! Thanks for showing us girls around.
Anyhow, we ate some delicious local Thai dishes for lunch.. one of my favorites was the coconut curry soup. Coconut milk, noodles, veggies, chicken, spices, and some herbs made this dish exquisite.
Next stop was a traditional Thai massage. Yeah, boi!… I had been waiting for one of these. Full body 60 minute massage for only 140 baht! That’s like $5. I love southeast Asia at times like these. The massage was really good, too! It wasn’t too hard, yet hard enough. Thai masseuses use different techniques as well.
After the massage we went to the Black House compound. This is an area with different buildings constructed by a world famous designer. This dude’s work is 100% different than that of Chalermchai Kositpipat. Apparently this guy lives in the compound and whenever he is in one of the buildings they just close the door and don’t allow access to that building. ..so it’s kinda like a treasure hunt. I was sort of hoping I’d be able to solve the puzzle and find him, but after seeing his work I was also slightly scared to find him. Let’s just say this guy isn’t a huge advocate of animal rights. There’s all sorts of animal skins, pelts, heads, horns, etc on display throughout this compound. Also, the carvings in the wood seem quite hostile. This, accompanied with the black coloring of the buildings, the two live, caged pythons, and super eccentric style make me really wonder what’s going on in this guy’s mind. His work is fascinating. What was his upbringing like? What inspires him? What do all of the carvings mean? I’d love to understand this guy a little more and pick apart his mind.. as long as it’s with at least 10 other people in the same room…
The next day we went to a peaceful waterfall. The ride there was absolutely beautiful. We could see rice crops and so much greenery. I couldn’t help but realize how much it changed my mood. No wonder Thai people are so kind and laid back. They live in this amazing, scerene, tropical area that simply sets the tone for that attitude… and way of life.
The waterfall was a good escape from the business that we had been experiencing. I walked away from the group for a bit to explore. I hiked for a bit upstream.. leaping from rock to rock while listening to the calm stream as the water gently flowed between the rocks. This was awesome. No commotion, no man made interruptions. Just nature as it was intended.
Then chaos hit.. in natural form. I came across a battle site. I noticed a some fresh drops of blood on a rock I was about to step on. Then, I looked around to see little blood splatters on a few rocks in the same area. There was a battle royale here! I almost felt like I should tie a handkerchief around my head, rub some dirt on my cheeks and investigate further.
But I decided to head back. Met up with my friends, enjoyed some fresh pineapple and then rode back to the hostel in the beautiful sunset.
That night Shmalan brought us ladies some more good, authentic food. This time, my favorite was the mango sticky rice. I’m already a big mango fan, but this dish combines mangos with sweet sticky rice and sweet coconut milk. Oh man, thank goodness I don’t live in Thailand because I would eat that all the time!
Chiang Rai is a beautiful city, we saw amazing sites, and ate many delicious foods. 🙂
We arrived at our hostel in Chiang Mai late in the day. We flew from Phuket. We went out for dinner and then hit the sack. The next day we’d be riding elephants and we wanted to get a good night’s sleep beforehand.
We met Eddy the Elephant Man at our hostel the next morning. This little guy is hilarious. He was crackin jokes the entire day.. Shmacy, Shmooke, and I were eating his jokes up. In his words, ‘I’m small, but I’m spicy.. like a little red chili pepper.’
It took us about an hour and a half to get to the elephants, but the van was very comfortable. Once we got there he told us to change into their uniforms. Long blue track pants and short sleeve blue shirts with their logo on them. This was good because later we’d be bathing the elephants and getting wet.
We sat and listened to Eddy give a little lecture about the elephants and how they train them. Then he taught us some commands in Thai that the elephants understand:
‘songstung’ this will get the elephant to raise its leg so you can climb up …well that was the idea anyway. Didn’t quite work like that…
‘huh huh’ this tells the elephant to go foreward
”quay quay’ shouting this and shaking your leg behind the elephants ear with tell it to turn. You shake the opposite leg from the direction you want the elephant to turn.
‘hao’ a good shouting of this word will tell the elephant to stop.
We practiced these words and then headed up to the training course. They had 4 elephants that our group switched off practicing on. When it was my turn I was so stoked to give this a try, but I had a hard time imagining myself just throwing my leg up over this large animal to get on it. It’s not like a horse where you can just put your foot in the stirrup to climb up.. You’re putting your foot on its leg, grabbing its extra skin, holding on behind the ear and launching yourself upwards.
Ok, here we go.. ‘songstung!’
Alright, say it with confidence. ‘songtsung!!!!’ she lifted her leg.. moment of truth.. I threw my flipflops and decided to barefoot it. They assured us that this doesn’t hurt the animal, but I didn’t know for sure. I wanted to be as gentle as possible. I grabbed behind the ear and threw my left leg and left arm up. With the help of one of the guides (pushing my butt up) I was able to get on her.
Wow!!! This is awesome! I was sitting on her neck, my legs wrapped around the sides of her neck, no shoes, holding onto the tops of her ears. Just me up there.. So cool. I imagined myself bonding with this elephant, going out in the jungle (or safari.. either would be acceptable) and exploring for a few weeks… Into The Wild style.
We walked around in a circle for a few rounds an then it was time to get off. Getting off was a lot easier then getting on. I just dropped my torso down, parallel with the elephant, swung my left leg back over and ‘climbed’ down. That was AWESOME! …and that was only the training. It only got better from there.
We went back to camp to have lunch. It was a delicious authentic Thai meal. Yellow curry, rice, steamed veggies, fried egg, etc. Yum! I got fueled up, and was ready to give this another go!
We picked up some bananas, snapped some photos with the baby elephant, and headed out to get on em again. This time Shmacy I shared one elephant. This was cool because we got to experience and freak out about all of this together. It was only 3 months ago when we had the ‘Let’s ride some elephants in Thailand’ talk. Now it was reality.
We did it instead of not doing it. And it was amazing.
I got on the elephant first, cause I would be on the midsection. They tied a rope on the midsection so I’d have something to hold on to. Elephants are a lot thicker than horses, much bigger bellies.. So it was quite the straddle on this animal. I needed to just make sure that my legs stayed out of the area where her shoulders moved.
Then Shmacy got on the neck. The guide kept telling her to ‘put your hand on it’s head’. However, with his accent Shmacy thought he said ‘put your hand on your hip’ so Lacy confusingly put her hand on her hip and struck a pose thinkin they wanted a picture. I lost it.. So did the guide. We were laughing historically as we and our elephant took off.
Then we went on a ride through the jungle with the elephants. Our elephant kept throwing its trunk back for us to feed it bananas. Luckily we had a lot of bananas. We’d feed it a banana, then it’d shoot that shiz right back at us through its trunk. Bleh. Half way through we were soaked with an elephant mucus, water, and banana mixture. Thank goodness we’d be getting in the water soon. They say the elephant does that if it likes you. I’ve got my suspicions about that theory, but I’m gonna go with it. Our elephant must have reallllly loved us.
The scariest part was the decent into the river. This was a super steep decline. I looked at it, and said frantically, ‘We’re going down there?!’ The guide said ‘yea’. Shmacy and I nervously laughed and exclaimed ‘oh no, oh no!!!’ as our elephant worked its way down. When we got in the river I let out a huge sigh. Whew! We made it.
Now how am I going to get off of this thing? Just as I contemplated the best method she lowered her booty and sat down in the river. I slid off gracefully, followed by Shmacy. Khob kun ka, elephant! Thank you for being so gentle. Eddy handed me a brush and I began washing our elephant. We bonded.
All of the sudden I felt a huge wave of water hit me in the back of the head. I turned around to see another elephant sitting there, and then look to my left to see one of the guides I had been talking to earlier suspiciously walking away. We’ve got a funny guy over here. …that resulted in me being soaked in elephant poop water. Funny guy-1, Anna-0.
We took a bunch of pictures with the elephants and took turns getting sprayed by the elephants through their trunks. Man this must be so much fun for the guides… watching how people interact with the elephants. I think that would be a fun job.
wait, who gave this guy the trunk?
she got me back…
This tour was awesome; I highly suggest it. If elephant riding is on your bucket list and you want to do it in Chiang Mai, I suggest Eddy’s tours.
The next day we decided to do some zip lining. I’ve gone zip lining in Hawaii before, and that was awesome, so why not try it again? We signed up for a package that included zip lining, abseiling, and shaky bridge crossing. I was excited to get some adrenaline pumping.
When we got to our destination we got all suited up. We had so much going on.. So many straps, ropes, and carabiners. I was getting excited. Put it all on me.. let’s go crawl around in the jungle! Tarzan style. I wanna swing on vines and stuff.
Well it turned put o be a lot less exciting than I wanted. It sounds weird to put it this way.. but it was too ‘safe’ for me. I was always hooked up to something… and whenever we zip lined, we were hooked up to two lines so we couldn’t really spin around or go upside down or anything. The zip lines were pretty low to the ground, not as high as I would have liked them to be. It’s a really good option for those who are super concerned about safety, though. Not that I’m not concerned about safety.. I guess I just wanted more danger.. or scare.
They did get me on two separate occasions, though. I volunteered to go first in the group cause I wanted to take advantage of the element of surprise. After a few zip lines we got to one platform that just had one rope hanging from a branch. The guides didn’t speak a lot of English, so once he hooked me up to 10 different things he said ‘sit’. I responded with, ‘Okay, where am I going?’ He just looked at me with that same ‘sit’ face… So I sat. Well… sitting meant falling. I dropped 15 feet when I thought I’d be taking a seat on the platform. When I got to the bottom we all laughed and I let him know he got me.
On the second occasion we were ziplining and were instructed to use our break to slow down. Many people forgot the break and ended up hitting the platform and then falling back or slamming into the guide. It was my turn and I did it so smoothly. Pulled out my break, lifted my feet, and greeted the guide with a smooth landing. He greeted me with a ‘you’re a professional’ …then I let go of my rope to soon, lost balance, and fell backwards. Perfect timing…ha! We all cracked up as the other guide helped me back to the platform.
It was definitely a fun experience, but not as active, or dangerous as I would have liked. However, the scenery was beautiful.
Day 2 in Siem Reap consisted of more temples and then the floating village. The temples were amazing, just like the previous day. Outside of each temple are Khmer people trying to sell things… Bags, shirts, dresses, hats, postcards… anything. This was the day they really got me. I walked out of there with postcards, a new dress, a new bracelet, and a scarf. I felt bad for them having to pester so many people to buy their merchandise. That job would not be ideal..