My experience volunteering with ATMA SEVA

I was preparing to embark into a 3-month trip through Southeast Asia and could not ignore the “calling” to do some volunteering work during this time. I had been thinking about that for a long time, but never had the opportunity to do so. Since I am very interested in the field of Education, it was only natural to look for positions where I could spend my time teaching (and learning!) – and that’s where ATMA SEVA came into my life. Having planned to start my trip in the South of Thailand, the prospect of living in Chiang Mai for a while was a very inviting idea.

I found ATMA SEVA through a Google search, contacted David (programs director) and got very excited about the program. He was incredibly patient to answer my endless questions and put me in contact with two previous volunteers, Hunaid and Jamie. They were both very helpful and from their descriptions I could picture the experience ahead of me. Well, sort of. You can never be entirely prepared for it: surprises and unexpected situations will happen. And that’s not too bad after all!

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Maekhue Wittaya School

I was assigned to teach English at Maekhue Wittaya School in a village located approximately 40 minutes from Chiang Mai. Although I did not have much experience in teaching, Katherine, ATMA SEVA’s volunteer coordinator, gave me a lot of support and provided guides and books that immensely helped me during the classes. What I encountered at the school was much beyond my expectations: extremely respectful students, curious and open-minded teachers, and friendly staff.

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Mrs. Rattana and Mrs. Kru Nam at the Art Room

My host at the school, Ms. Rattana, was a sweetheart, and did everything she could to make me feel comfortable: from bringing local (and delicious) breakfast to making sure that a vegetarian lunch was cooked for me everyday. Students surprised me with their engagement at school activities (they helped clean and organize the space for events), as well as for their English knowledge. Pronunciation, I figured, was the main problem – they were often too shy to speak and as a result, most of them had a lot of room for development. Thus, I tried to engage them in several activities that would foster communication. From videos to presentations to games, my main objective was to let them feel comfortable with both my presence and the language, so that their voices could be heard.

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Public speaking practice

The main challenge I faced was not being able to speak the local language – sometimes it was difficult to explain simple things. However, it also made the experience more exciting and fun – I would often convey my message through gestures, drawings (that most of the time made them laugh) and examples. It is so interesting to understand another culture and have the opportunity to witness genuine events – I was lucky enough to see presentations for the Thai Language Day, Sport’s Day, ASEAN Day and also Mother’s Day. Each of them was unique and showed me a little bit of the habits and beliefs of the Thai culture.

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Sports day!

Another highlight of my experience was living with a Thai family. My expectations were again surpassed, and I was gifted with a loving, big family that received me as one of their own. From strolls at local markets – with personal guides that gave me detailed explanations of every fruit, vegetable or delicacy presented at the booths – to visiting family members who lived two hours away – where I could experience Thai life in the countryside –, it was definitely unforgettable. I received local gifts, blessings (from senior family members), tried different foods and drinks, and learned a bit more about Buddhism, which I reckoned is not only a religion, but also a fascinating way of living.

The moment I had to say good-bye was bittersweet, as I felt time went by so fast and there was so much more I wanted to do to help those incredible people. All in all, I took home not only pictures, but also special moments that will last in my memory for a lifetime. I am grateful to ATMA SEVA for making this happen, and to Thai people for teaching me their wonderful and special way of seeing the world.

written by: Daiana Stolf

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

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What Else Could I Ask For?

Experiencing different aspects of ATMA SEVA’s programs, especially teaching and interacting with monks, is an amazing part of my experience here in Chiang Mai. However, my working experience at Doi Saket could not have been amazing without the improvisation from a colorful life style that any intern may live in during their time at Wat Doi Saket.

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Me at Wat Doi Saket!

Doi Saket temple is very beautiful and enriched with amazing decorating styles. The paintings on the walls of the Vihan, the entrance to the temple, and the statues all truly reflect the long, glorious and vibrating culture and history. Every day at Doi Saket is a happy day for me. For each day, I spend at least 20 to 30 minutes for an easy walk or a hike around the mountain and the temple with my music. There are a lot of quick ‘hi’ back and forth between myself and the people around the temple, as well as those who pass by. Starting my day by waking up early for a quick chat and breakfast in the Wat’s kitchen has become my favorite habit at the temple. It reminds me of a lot of my childhood when my mom would wake me up early in the morning of a normal school day for a quick breakfast and rush to school. The kitchen ladies, like my mom, basically want to feed me to death every morning.

I feel so fortunate that ATMA SEVA put me to work with a group of teachers in the same office at the temple. Though I felt like a new comer to their place, in just a short while I was made used to the place and made to feel at home. They are like brothers and sisters to me. Being caring and concerned about your well-being is how they are. I foresaw myself very homesick after having been there for a long while. But no, I was just right there at a place I could call home. The friendliness, hospitality and emotional support they gave to me are immeasurable. Every lunch time, there are always jokes around the lunch table. We talked, and we made jokes. Even though there were a lot of language barriers in our communication at first, we always tried so hard to learn and get to know more about each other. This is a really unique chance for me to get to know more about Thailand in terms of its culture and the commonalities between Cambodia and Thailand. I taught them Khmer, they taught me Thai. As time went by, our cross-cultural communication skills improved quite significantly.

Downtown is within a walking distance from my work place. You have access to almost any kind of necessities you may need. It’s a small beautiful town, full of friendly people. I made friends with so many people in the market, in the stores and in the small restaurants. When you look like a stranger to them, sure you’ll catch their eyes. All you need to do is to say a simple ‘Sa Watt Dee, Krup’ to them. They will sure greet you back, and with an additional smiling face. In the evening, one could always find cheap and fast foods to eat on both sides of the street. The social environment is just perfect for those who are tired from work and looking for a spot to seat and relax with amazing Thai food. I was very lucky to get to know a very friendly Thai family who has their shop nearby the market. I got invited for a visit to their garden family and for a cooking session.

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Me with my new friends in Doi Saket!

What’s most fortunate of all, they have a Muay Thai training camp that I could have free access to training with boxers and a trainer. There, I got to practice a lot of Muay Thai, my most favorite martial art/cultural sport, with other interns from ATMA SEVA as an evening exercise. Just five minutes away from town, there is a beautiful fish pond where I spent a lot of time at. It is a great place for refreshing one’s mind with fresh air. You can go for a quiet walk or a run around the pond; and it is also a great place for reading.

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Muay Thai training!!!!

This is what an intern’s life would look like in their off duty time at Doi Saket. Of course, there are still so many other places and more activities to be explored and get involved in, depending on one’s personal interest. The point is: no matter what life style one may be used to before coming to Doi Saket, experiencing a different way of life in Doi Saket during one’s internship is truly a worthwhile one. In addition to getting involved with interesting and enjoyable education programs, the internship truly gave me a chance to be surrounded by amazing people, colorful natural and social environments, and delicious Thai food. So what else could I ask for?

Click here for more information about internship opportunities with ATMA SEVA!

written by: Kimhean Hok

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

Custom travel – Three week learning adventure part III

Below is part III of Raghav’s custom learning adventure from 2012! If you missed it, here is part I & part II.

Click here for more information on custom travel!

14 June 2012 

Today, I had to get up a little earlier than usual because it was the day to leave for the village. My dad and I went to get breakfast at the buffet and were joined shortly by Natch who came to pick me up for the bus station.  Before we finished, we were also joined by Ji who was going to take my dad on his tour alone today. We all decided to head out to the bus station.

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At the bus station ready to go to Mae Sariang!

David and Nid showed up shortly after we did. We all took some group pictures as this was the last time I would be seeing my dad until I returned home to the US. After saying goodbye, we got in the van. The vans in Thailand were very interesting. They were very comfortable-looking with an air conditioner and everything. However, there was limited leg space! You got used to it quickly; it was just funny to see it at first. Looking through the window, we could see beautiful views of the green mountains we were going up to. After about four hours of short naps and awesome views, we arrived at a small town called Mae Sariang. Here, the van dropped us off, and Nid’s brother Dtee picked us up. To me, he looked exactly like a male version of Nid. David told me that he was a very solid guy and he was a tough guy (he looked skinny but he was hiding some major muscle!). We did some shopping in Mae Sariang at the market and 7 11 for bread, candy, and many many vegetables because there would be no shops or markets up in the village.

We then went to Nid’s sister’s house to pick up Nid’s dad who was staying with her and would be coming back with us to the village. We got into the pickup truck with a lot of stuff in the car. It was a tight fit!

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Our new friends!

Along the way, Nid’s dad wanted to pick up some chickens for some ritual and food. They literally went to this place to buy them and just stuffed the chickens into these baskets he had made. While we were watching this, a very friendly shopkeeper on the other side of the road greeted us. He invited us over and fed us some Thai fruits and got us some water. He was very kind and talked to us nicely. We took a picture with him, and we headed on to the village.

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On the way to the village

Driving along the way up on the mountains, we had some interesting experiences. There was so much rain that we had to stop the truck at a rest stop. We waited there for awhile till the rain subsided a bit, having some drinks and playing with the local dog. Dtee also bought us a sling-shot and David and I had fun shooting it around! Then, we headed out to the winding road to the village. The rain had ruined the dirt roads so badly that we often had to get out of the truck in order for Dtee to maneuver around.

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First dinner in the village!

We finally arrived after a few hours, and I got to meet the rest of Nid’s family including her mother and sister in law and some of her nephews and nieces. David and I watched the family make a Thai dinner, different from what we had in the city. It looked different because the flavoring and spices they used were indigenous to the area. During our dinner, one of the teachers, Kamon, came and visited us. We discussed general things such as introductions, family, schooling, and other things. After Kamon left, I was shown the room I would be sharing with David. It was a very basic room with sheets on the floor and no fan or AC. Fortunately, there were no bugs. It felt different and surprisingly good to be living so simply. I also got an introduction to the bathroom that was a hole in the ground in the downstairs, which made me kind of nervous, but it was a good challenge. After this quick introduction, I fell asleep on my bed early because I was so tired from the journey!

15 June 2012

Today was the first full day I got to spend in the village. I woke up really late because I was so exhausted by the previous day, so by this time everyone had gone to the farm. I started my day with my first bucket shower. Pouring myself with ice-cold water for a shower was frightening. Although it was an awesome experience, it really was cold. In fact, my hair even began steaming from the temperature difference between the water in my hair and the air around!

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First day discussions!

After getting ready and having some breakfast, we all headed to the school where we would be having our daily discussions with the kids. This time, we played a game with candy. The number of candies a student took was the number of questions he or she would have to answer. As an icebreaker, we had fun questions for each other such as what superpower would you like to have. I got to learn the kid’s names (although I cannot claim to have remembered them perfectly) and about their families. Most of their families were farmers and most of the children went to help out at their respective farms after school and during school breaks.

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Two of the village elders who taught us about Lawa culture

With our daily discussion complete, we all had lunch and then set out to explore the village. David, Nid, and I met with some of the village elders who often joined us later on our discussions with the kids at school. These elders were the ones who were the most knowledgeable about the culture, and we asked them many questions. One of the most interesting concepts we learned about was the belief of spirits. Through these discussions, we learned that there existed a blend of animism and Buddhism here. After our discussion, we decided to go visit Kamon’s farm.

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Kamon getting the rice fields ready for planting!

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Me trying to get the fire ready

We began our twenty-five minute trek to the farm. Along the way, I learned that Kamon was one of the people, along with Nid’s brother Dtee, who were advocating green farming and the reduction of pesticides, something that was also being taught to the young students. We reached Kamon’s farm and saw a beautiful display of steppe agriculture. We explored a little around and had my first “blome” (a small leach that would stick to us). In addition, we saw Kamon working on the farm with his machines. Unfortunately, we had to cut it a bit short because it started raining extremely heavily, and we still had to walk a ways back to the village.

Walking through the cool and heavy rain, we arrived back at the village ready for dinner. David and I offered to help with the dinner preparations. Nid challenged us to make fire from two pieces of wood. No matter how much we tried, we could not get it! Eventually, Nid’s dad just helped us out with it. After dinner, I immediately fell asleep.

16 July 2012

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View of the rice paddies from the village

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The animals blood wiped on the created structure for the spirits

Today, we spent most of the day trekking and witnessing really unique things at the farm. After a long, long hike up in to the mountains we came to the farm that we were supposed to be at. Here, we witnessed a ceremony to wish for good luck and a good harvest for the upcoming rice planting. The ceremony entailed the sacrifice of two chickens and one pig. I could not help but feel sorry for these animals as their emotions were brought to their face (the pig started crying of desperation to escape). After the sacrifice, the blood was wiped and a ceremonial plate was carried around. The animal’s meat was then eaten for lunch. Despite my rudimentary understanding of the ceremony, it was a complex process.

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Food, whiskey, and tobacco offerings for the spirits

The rest of the day, we spent exploring the farm. I went down to the river that ran through the village and farms that provided a major water source. In addition, I helped plant some new rice seeds into the flooded soil in the steppe agriculture. This was a really messy and fun process. We enjoyed the company and learned more about their farming techniques from the other farmers there.

Later on, we headed back to the village as it was going to be a very long way back. Kamon invited us to his house to have a drink and converse. We stayed at his house for an hour and then we stopped at another house to see Kom Jon’s (one of the monks at Doi Saket) sister’s new born baby. After this visit, I quickly fell asleep.

Don’t forget to ‘Like’ ATMA SEVA on Facebook!

Click here to read part IV

written by: Raghav Agarwal

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

Custom travel – Three week learning adventure Part II

This is part II of Raghav’s custom learning adventure from 2012! If you missed it, here is part I.

Stayed tuned for part III coming soon!

10 June 2012 

Today, waking up I was very tired from the activities of the previous day. Shortly, it was time for our daily monk chats. Milan and a few other monks came to say hi and pick me up from where I was staying, a two minute walk away from where we talked.

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Notes from our discussions

Today’s discussions went deeper than the previous day. Today, we started off with a scavenger hunt. The monks and I had to find a certain number of things they use in daily monk life (in two teams). After finding the things, we later talked about them. One of these included the robe of a monk, and we even learnt how to put it on. After, our discussion went into deep analysis of Hinduism and Buddhism. We talked about the roots and most importantly the concept of time as a linear and circular concept, tying in dharma and dhamma. Also, we talked about some of the questions I had about monks. I wanted to know why many of them decided to be a monk. I was surprised to learn that most of them had done it for the free education. Also, disrobing was a concept I had not heard of (a monk can choose to stop being a monk any time he wishes, I thought that they were monks for life). I wanted to know whether they wanted to stay or disrobe. I learned that most of them wanted to disrobe after their education: in fact, only two wanted to remain a monk. Today the discussion seemed to go really fast and before we knew it, it was time for them to go for lunch (some of them seemed to want to stay and talk more).

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Milan and I talking about Buddhism

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At the dam!

After our monk discussion, David, Natch, Marcia, and I decided to have lunch out at the dam. We went to the dam on our bikes. On the way, I even got to drive the bike! The dam was extremely beautiful (as most of things have been). We had lunch at a restaurant right on the side of the river. Seeing the river and many boats, we all felt like going boating. We talked to the restaurant guy, and he led us to go to his boat. We went on the river, and it felt like bliss. It was one of the most beautiful things I had seen so far in Thailand.

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View from the boat!

We then decided to go to other districts just to see and cruise around. I got to drive with Natch on the back. We saw beautiful scenery. We even fell into a rice paddy after stopping to take a look at it! We then stopped at a local shop and got drinks and snacks. Then, we had to take the route back. I drove the bike up till the highway, where Natch took the wheel.

Coming back to the Wat, I was scheduled to meet one of the wisest monks there, Phra Ake at the main temple. There, I talked to him for about an hour about Buddhism and the paintings on the walls on the ceiling. I learned a lot from him and started respecting him a lot. I could almost sense the spirituality flowing from him. Unfortunately, we had to cut it a little bit short to go along with the schedule.

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Learning about Buddhism from Phra Ake

We (sans Marcia) headed out to Nid’s costume shop for dinner. Nid sold all types of costumes for everyone. David told me about the concept of a ladyboy in Thailand. They were men born feeling they were supposed to be women and dress and like women. Some take it far such as hormonal implants and some just occasionally dressed up as women on the weekends. Nid got a lot of ladyboy clients because she sold costumes (clothes) for them.

My dad showed up in a while and immediately left to get his first Thai massage next door. We waited for him for dinner and eventually started eating. Nid was an amazing cook! After dinner everyone decided to go to the night bazaar. Anchille, Nid’s niece who was staying with them for college, also came with us. Natch and I roamed the market while everyone else made their way slowly. We eventually found some nice Thai shirts for me that we bought. My dad bought my sister many things.

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Sunday walking street

12 June 2012

After we finished breakfast at the hotel, David, Nid, and many monks came to pick us up in an open van vehicle. David said that Natch would be meeting us at the foot of the mountain we were going to with most of the novices that were also coming. We got in the car and soon reached the foot of the mountain in about 30 minutes. During this time, it was nice to stick my head out from the car because it was beautiful weather and beautiful scenery.

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At the waterfall

After reaching the foot of the mountain, Natch was yet to show up so we decided to walk around and see the waterfall we were at. En route the waterfall, we saw many shops. For the first time, I saw a bunch of cooked bugs that people were buying. It seemed absolutely disgusting to me, but Nid said some tasted alright and were similar to chicken.

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Snack anyone?

We started trekking up a little where the waterfall was. We arrived, and I started climbing the rocks immediately. My dad joined me after a minute (although he didn’t even get close to how far I got!) and even David came up a little ways to dip feet in. I learned that the wet part of the rock is much more slippery than it looks as I almost slipped! One of the novice monks came with us, but he decided to stay and take pictures (so many people in Thailand who I had met were interested in photography).

We headed back after Natch gave us a call that he had arrived. We greeted him and split into groups again. I decided to go with Natch and Marcia and more of the novices because the pickup truck was much more open, and we could sit outside (enjoying the beauty!).

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On the way to Wat Doi Suthep

This trip in the car was probably the most I was able to bond with the monks. Milan started the conversation with politics. We discussed the democratic republic of America, communism of China, and the constitutional monarchy of Thailand. All of these names for everything seemed meaningless when it all boiled down to the same thing. On lighter notes, they told me that they loved my hairstyle. We even started discussing American rap and pop songs. We all sang along to some popular ones like Jay Z and Eminem.

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My Dad and I at Wat Doi Suthep

We reached Doi Suthep after a beautiful ride while we were literally in the clouds. We were supposed to climb up around 3000 steps to get to the temple, but I decided to go with Nid and Marcia in the elevator to “accompany” them. The temple itself was very beautiful. There were Buddha statues surrounding all the walls. To pay our respects, we had to take some lotuses and walk around the center Buddha three times. Each of the three times we had to think of three things: the Buddha, The dhamma (the teachings), and the sangha (the disciples) respectively. Although it seemed a little odd at first, I realized the power of it after we were done. We then lit an incense stick and put it at the feet of the Buddha for respect.

After paying our respects, we just walked around the main temple and saw different things. I went into this mini temple where Natch told me it was considered good luck if you picked up this heavy object with you pinky finger. Although it was painful, I was able to do it! I was excited for the luck. We all walked around and saw many Ganesha statues (again showing the Indian influences on the Thai culture). We also saw a string of different-sized bells where it was auspicious to go and ring each one. My dad did it. We also saw another gong we had seen before. We could not get it ring with our bare hands though (which Thai people thought of has having a bad karma!).

Going down the elevator, we met this Thai tour guide who asked if I were an America. He said he could tell from my mannerisms. I was surprised because most people can guess that I am of Indian origin but most people don’t know I’m an American because of my brown skin.

Going down the elevator, we met this Thai tour guide who asked if I were an America. He said he could tell from my mannerisms. I was surprised because most people can guess that I am of Indian origin but most people don’t know I’m an American because of my brown skin.

Marcia arrived at the foot of the temple. While waiting for everyone, we went into the market area, and I bought a little Buddha statue. Everyone then came, and we went to go get some lunch. I got some delicious noodles with egg and tofu. It was nice seeing the monks eat something as they barely ate (they weren’t allowed to eat anything after midday). Most of them even enjoyed some ice-cream.

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Group shot at Doi Pui

After lunch, we set out for Doi Pui, a hill market type place. There were many, many interesting shops. David and I even tried our hand at shooting a crossbow. Each time I would miss by centimeters, and the one time David tried he hit the target straight on. As we moved on, my dad, Natch, and many of the other monks disappeared. The place when we got in the middle of it was beautiful and full of flowers. I went to the restroom there and it was one of those toilets that are dug into the ground. Not bad for a hill market, I guess. We then found this shop where you could try on some of the native tribe clothing. Nid, Marcia, and I got into the clothes and took some pictures.

After browsing around shops and seeing a bunch of clothes and other things, we stopped for a little nut snack. Then, we headed into the waterfall area. This was a very manmade area, yet it was extremely natural looking. There were beautiful flowers and bamboo plants all over, and of course, the waterfall was as beautiful as ever! We even saw a gigantic green and red snake sleeping on top of the hut!

We headed back, realizing that half of the crew was gone. We arrived at the car and saw that everyone was waiting for us at the car. My dad told me that he had seen some good Thai shirts for me so we went and got them. We then got back in the truck and set out for a meditation center that most people don’t know about.

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At Wat Palad

Arriving there, the quiet of the center was noticeable. It was completely natural and outdoors. The only noise was the waterfall. We explored and saw some of the oldest Buddha statues in Thailand. Natch and I even ventured, climbed, and slipped up the big waterfall. It started raining so we had to hurry back to the car and head back to the Wat as everyone was very tired! I came back to spend my last night at Doi Saket.

13 June 2012

Today’s day started off with a discussion with the monks. Everyone was high off the excitement of yesterday’s trip, and everyone had opened up much more since the first day. Everyone was feeling kind of sad that this would be the last day for discussions.

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Group shot of the novices from our daily discussions

We started by showing the monks pictures of my family and friends on my iPad. This interested them a lot, and they got excited recognizing my dad from the trip. We then started talking about the different types of rules novices, monks, and I had at home and at school. This discussion took us through the entire two hours and before we knew it, it was already time to say goodbye. After some quick pictures, the monks were off to get their lunch.    After getting lunch with my dad, we all, picking up Sapphire, went to see the hot springs. This was my first time visiting anything else like it.

Right when we reached it, we saw a normal-looking stream type thing. Natch told me that it was part of the spring. That seemed ridiculous because it seemed like completely normal water. As soon as I put my feet in I realized that it was extremely hot (I think the sign said 103 degrees). Natch and I went to the source of the water: the spring itself. We bought some eggs and put them in the water nearest the spring where they could cook. The whole place smelled like eggs, but I realized that it was the smell of sulfur. We went into the spring. There were two. We didn’t drench ourselves in the hot one because that was way too hot, but we did get wet in the cold spring. Our eggs also got cooked, mine were cracked, but Natch’s looked good, and we had a little bit of them. We then went into a naturally warm pool straight from the springs, except this was comfortable to swim in. After about an hour or so, we left and set out for the caves.

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Hot springs

1Unfortunately, when we got to the caves, they were locked up by a little gate so it would be impossible to get in. Instead, we decided to just hike up the

mountain we had already partially climbed. It was a long hike up. I was most surprised because Sapphire was so extremely skinny yet she was ahead of all of us, with the most energy. After reaching the top, we saw the dam and trees we had passed through many days ago. We saw two gong instruments, and David and I started playing on them, and we even had a beat going! The Buddha statues at the top were beautiful as they were the main reason that monks came up here to meditate. It was beautiful. Again, we saw a Ganesha. I had a conversation with Sapphire when she told me that she meditated on the image of Ganesha because she had learned about him in the temples of her home in London. She was twenty-four years old and had already been to 68 countries already! She was probably one of the most interesting people I had met so far!

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Tired after a full day of activities!

After reaching the bottom, we took the truck back and dropped Sapphire at the place she was staying. We were also extremely tired. I went back to the Wat and packed all my stuff as the next day I would be leaving for Nid’s village so it would be convenient if I had stayed at the hotel with my dad. Tomorrow would come the next adventure!

Click here to read part III

Written by: Raghav Agarwal

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

New Video – Teaching at Buddhist temples

Check out our latest video which features the Wat Doi Saket project! The WDSP places volunteers to live and teach conversational English at Buddhist temples in Northern Thailand.  This video is a look into the experience!

Video shot and produced by: Antoine Gratian

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

New video – Custom Travel

Check out our latest video!! It is about our most recent custom trip from Northern Thailand! Included in the trip were educational tours, English camps, and monk chats!!!

For more information about our custom travel options, click here.

*Video shot and edited by Antoine Gratian and Raghav Agarwal*

ATMA SEVA team

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

Learning Muay Thai in Doi Saket

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Kim sparring in the ring

Muay Thai is a combat sport and is the National sport of Thailand. It is also called “the art of eight limbs” because it combines fists, elbows, knees, and feet. As an English volunteer teacher in Doi Saket district I spent my evenings in Doi Saket with Kim, another volunteer English teacher. We always introduced ourselves to all the shop owners we met around the market. The reason is that Thai people are very friendly, and we wanted to make as many friends as possible in Doi Saket. On one of these occasions we befriended two young women, Kwang, Gift, and their mother at their family’s grocery shop. Kim forgot his notebook in the shop, that is why he had to come back the following day. While chatting with them he learned that their father used to be a Muay Thai fighter and was now training a few young men for free. They offered us to be trained at their gym. In exchange Kim offered to teach English to the youngest sister Kwang, whose English was weaker than her sister’s.

That is how we started training three to four times a week in Doi Saket. Kwang and Gift’s family owns a huge house surrounded by a wide domain including several traditional guest houses, farming activities and a gym with bags, gloves, weights and even a boxing ring. Even though we were a bit shy at the beginning, our Muay Thai teacher and his family made us understand that we were now part of the family. We call our teacher “Pa”, which means “Father”, and his wife “May”, which means “Mother”. We are trained by our teacher, but also by his four students, all younger than us (they are aged from 15 to 19, while Kim and me are 21 and 23 years old). Pa’s friends are visiting him daily and, along with the employees of the domain, they usually stay around the gym to watch the training and give us very useful advice.

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Me having fun in the ring!

More than just learning Muay Thai, we truly feel that we belong in this big family. The daughters always make a small detour to chat with us while we train, and sometimes even bake cakes for us. Our teacher and his friends are always smiling and patient, debating about how to improve our boxing and then trying to guide us with simple Thai or English words. The other fighters we train with are very talented despite their young age. One of them has fought more than 70 times. It is a privilege to learn with them : they are always training very seriously and being very warm and respectful with us, even though I am a complete beginner.

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One of the fighters getting ready for practice

All our training sessions start jumping for several minutes on a tire laid on the ground. We punch the air in front of us while holding small weighs in our fists. After this warm up we usually do pull ups, push ups, sit ups and lift weights in order to build our strength, as physical strength and endurance are a very important part of Muay Thai.

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Me doing some chin ups

As a beginner I have spent most of the first trainings hitting bags in order to learn different moves : kicking with the shin, usually as high as possible, hitting with the knee while holding my opponent’s neck, punching with one hand while protecting my jaw with the other and relaxing my shoulders to hit with my elbows. I have also learnt how to stand with my legs straight, my upper body bent forward and my fists held high on the sides of my head. I have trained to protect myself by lifting one of my knee and up to my elbows. I can create a wall with my upper arm and my shin in order to protect my head, neck and ribs.

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Practicing on the bags

When I started mastering these moves I was invited to enter the ring and practice with the other fighters. After exchanging a few punches, we practice clinching, grabbing each others neck and trying to free our elbows and knees to hit the other (lightly of course). We can also try to tire our opponent or throw him off balance. During my last training I also tried my kicks on one of the fighters who was wearing heavy protective gear and tried to punch back every time I kicked, to teach me how to protect myself against counter-attacks.

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Practice in the ring

I am very happy to feel that I am improving day after day. But the thing I appreciate the most about Muay Thai is that it is a smiling boxing style. We learn to relax and ideally to smile while boxing. The family atmosphere of our gym makes this trait of Muay Thai even more enjoyable. We train, fight and have fun at the same time, trusting each other and laughing as we learn together.

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Group shot!

I will keep training and I hope to come back to Thailand next year to continue this great experience.

Stay posted to learn more about Thai culture and the experience of volunteers within the Wat Doi Saket project.

Antoine Gratian, on-site intern

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org