Custom travel – Three week learning adventure Part VI

Below is part VI and the last entry of Raghav’s custom learning adventure from 2012! If you missed it, here is Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, & Part V.

23 July 2012 

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Comparing ID cards

Today was a pretty simple day, with my conversations with the group from Shan State being the highlight. We had a very interesting conversation today, comparing cultures. They got an American – Indian perspective of my life and I got a Thai outsider perspective from them. We compared each other’s problems and challenges in life. Compared to them, mine seemed very insignificant. Most of their comments ranged from how to find work, finding and relocating their families from Burma, living with segregation, and more. This conversation was definitely an eye-opener for me to appreciate the opportunities and privileges my background offers, and the challenges that others face in their daily lives.

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Group discussion!

24 Saturday 2012

Today, on the whole, was a very cultural day. I started the day off with a lesson in the National sport of Thailand: Muay Thai. David and I had two guys teach us some different techniques of the sport such as kicks, punches, and blocks. It was really fun learning the sport that I had seen people here watching so often, even in the remote hill tribes.

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David and I with our Muay Thai teachers

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The whole group getting ready for food!

After our lesson, David and I headed over for our next discussion to the Best Friend’s Library. A lot of people didn’t show up today, so I was able to have a much more intimate conversation with the ones who were there. Today, each person brought their favorite dish from their origins. One girl was so excited, she brought three full dishes of food! The food was very similar to Thai, just with a little more meat and seemed a lot spicier to me! It was really fun trying all their types of food and hearing that they all love pizza and pasta, most said they could it every day! In addition to the food, we continued our comparison of perspectives of each other’s countries. This conversation seemed to be, universally, the most interesting for me and for everyone else.

With our discussion coming to a close, we all decided to go out to dinner as it had been awhile since we had gone anywhere as a big group. We decided to go for Mexican. It was a fun dinner with everyone!  After dinner, Natch and his girlfriend Im dropped me to my hotel. We shared some local fruit and talked a little. Then it was time to go to sleep!

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David, Nid, Marcia, me, Ji, Natch, and Im ready for Mexican food!

25 July 2012

Today would be my last full day in Chiang Mai. It is amazing how quickly three weeks flew by! I started off the day with a cooking class. When I first heard the idea of cooking, I wasn’t too excited about doing it, but I tried it anyway. A guy came to pick me up in a car and took me to the restaurant I would be learning at. A nice lady greeted me there, and we both went to a small open market very close to her restaurant. We bought all the things we would need to cook with and brought them back. It took me about three hours, but in the end, I was able to learn how to make three different curries, papaya salad, mango dessert, and much more! I was glad that I took the chance at doing something I hadn’t tried before!

After they dropped me back to my hotel, it was time for my last discussion at the library. Today was a pretty short discussion because most of the people had to leave early for work and other things. We had a very informal conversation with everyone about their lives, parents, romantic interests, and very simple conversations. At this point, only about 5 were coming to the discussions, but I felt very connected and comfortable with each one of them, more so than I probably would have been if it had been a large group. We did some closing activities and took pictures there with Garrett. As always, it was kind of a melancholy goodbye as we had gotten to know one another.

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Last group shot with Garret at the Best Friends Library!

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Nid and I wearing traditional Thai outfits!

Everyone was pretty tired from going out to a late dinner from the previous day, so we decided to end the day early because I also would have my long flight back tomorrow. We did however first go to Nid’s costume shop and tried on some of her elegant costumes. After, I went to the hotel and fell asleep for the big day back the next day!

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written by: Raghav Agarwal

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org

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Custom travel – Three week learning adventure Part V

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

Interested in custom travel? Click here for more information!

20 June 2012 

Today, we woke up at the farm around 9 in the morning. Dtee had already left to go to work in the fields. Heading out in the light rain, we rushed back to the village because we were slightly late for our talk with the kids. We reached the village and freshened up quickly and went to the school. The kids were in their classrooms. When the students leave the classroom, they chant “thank you teacher” in English. We went to the room and the kids come in one by one. While I start looking up some more pictures on my iPad to show the kids, Moi brings me a cup of coffee, showing that she also has opened up to me (she was one of the shyest ones).

We start off the discussion with a funeral presentation from the kids. The two explain the process once someone in the village passes away. It was interesting to note that funerals here were not a one day thing. There were many ceremonies, and the burden was not just on the family, but everyone in the community participated. It was a rule that within three weeks (approximately) a family who has lost someone will not be left by themselves lonely for a single day. When it was my turn, I presented briefly on Hindu funerals as I didn’t know too much about either American or Indian funerals.

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Relationship discussions

After our funerals presentation, we started talking about relationships (boyfriend/girlfriend). Both the guys and girls were shy and laughing throughout the discussion. When my turn came, even I was a bit uncomfortable because everyone was giggling. It was a fun topic though, and it was one of the most interesting things that we talked about with the kids.

We then went to Nid’s uncle’s house to hear a few more presentations, with the principal also joining us. I noticed that everyone presented something except one. Upon questioning him, we found out that he came from a different village (Karen); a village that was converted to Christianity and had lost its culture with time. It was kind of disappointing to see such an ancient and rich culture destroyed by another to get some followers.

After all the presentations, we said goodbye as this was our last day of discussions. We took a few pictures with all the kids. We exchanged Facebooks and emails IDs. It was so cool to think that I could keep in contact with kids so far off from my home. We then met up with the principal again and took some pictures with him. He gave me a guestbook to write in and I wrote a note of thanks to the people and the kids.

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Group shot!

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Me with the principal and Nid.

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Me with Nids Dad.

Upon arriving home, we got ready to learn how to work with bamboo, with Nid teaching us. I made a lot of mini baskets, but I got her dad to make most of the harder parts. It was nice of him to teach and help us. When Nong Beau came home for the first time she asked me for help with her alphabet. We practiced together, and I was amazed at how well she knew it! I was also glad that she had finally opened up to me!

When Moi came home, I asked her whether she wanted to go play volleyball. We went and some of her friend’s came with. It started to rain, and we played for a long time in the rain. It was a ton of fun! After her friends leave, Moi and I played badminton with Nong Sai (one of the children of our house) watching.

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Me with Nong Beau practicing the ABC’s!!

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Trying on the traditional Lawa attire

Tired from playing for such a long time, Moi and I headed home. When we got to the house, the family surprised me with a traditional Lawa costume. I tried it on (with Dtee’s help), and we took pictures with Nid’s family as this was the last opportunity we could. I was taken aback by the kindness of the family throughout my stay with them.

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Me in the traditional male Lawa attire

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Hunting for eels in the rice paddies!

Once we were done with dinner, Dtee decided to take David and me out eel hunting because this was something typical that farmers do that I hadn’t seen. We went to some nearby farms to do so. We looked hard for some eels but we couldn’t find any. At one point, my flashlight ran out of batteries, which was the scariest experience being on thin steppes in the pitch dark. Ultimately, we couldn’t find any because apparently they hide when it is raining. Coming home, I was exhausted from the day’s events so I just fell asleep after getting killed in some arm wrestling matches by Dtee.

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Arm wrestling with Dtee!

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Group shot with Nid and her family!

21 June 2012

Today, we had to get up early in the morning because it was the day we had to go back to Chiang Mai. Everyone was already up waiting for David and me. Moi and Nong Sai said bye because they had to go to school early today. Nong Sai gifted me with a Lawa bag. I was surprised because my communication with her was minimal, so it was really nice of her! I decided that next time I come to the village, I will get her something. After they left, everyone started giving me gifts; I was very appreciative of their kindness! I got a ton of Lawa bags. Pee bit even gave me several handmade hair-clips for my sister. After receiving such hospitality, I did not feel like leaving the village at all.

After saying bye and promising to come back soon, I set out with a truckload of people (me, David, Dtee, Nid’s dad, two of Nid’s uncles, oo, some other Thai girls, and of course Nid) and things to drop off at the village. This time along the bumpy road, we only had to get out of the truck once. Along the way, I started talking to some of the Thai girls on the truck. I learned a lot about them. They were all Catholic, and they told me about the many churches that we saw on the way. I also told them a bit about my own religion because they seemed very interested in that there were many other religions practiced in the US other than Catholicism. During our conversation, it started raining very heavily, making our ride so much more enjoyable!

We reached Mae Sariang and Dtee dropped the girls and our suitcases off at the bus station. Then, we went to go get a Thai massage and said bye to Nid’s dad. It was kind of sad saying bye because it had been such a good time with him. I got ready for the massage by putting on some massage clothes. It was an interesting experience. It was extremely painful (my left calf hurt for days) but it did have a refreshing and healing feeling to it. After our massage was over, Dtee came to pick David and me up while Nid finished her massage. He dropped us all at Leelawadee restaurant, and we said bye to him as well. This was also sad because we had spent so much fun time with him!

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Getting ready to go back to Chiang Mai.

At the restaurant, I got some noodles (I was pretty tired from the trip there). After lunch, we left for the bus station. We got into the van after packing everything. I went into the window seat and enjoyed the long ride back and also slept for a while. Upon reaching the city, we took a taxi to the hotel where I would be staying (Rainforest Boutique). David dropped me to the room and left for his own home. I took a hot shower. For the first time ever, I started appreciating ‘luxuries’ like hot showers after the freezing cold bucket showers in the village.

Natch then came to pick me up, and we went on his bike to the shopping mall to fix a camera. We had dinner at Pizza Hut (we chose this because it had been awhile since I had had something not Thai!). We talked about my experience at the village and continued our previous conversation about how people can be truly happy even if they are poor. After, we left the mall and drove around the city. I saw a really cool temple on the way made of wood and gold. We also a ton of bars and even more lady-boys than I could imagine. After a quick drive around the city, Natch dropped me off at the hotel. I soon after fell asleep.

22 July 2012

Today, I started my discussions with Burmese refugees from Shan State at the Best Friend’s Library NGO. (Find them on Facebook) Before we started our discussions, I was given a briefing about the political situation in Burma at present because, to be honest, I didn’t know much about the military dictatorship there. I was shown pictures and books, and David and I talked a bit with Garrett, the director of the organization. This day was ice breakers and introductions, as all the first days had been. It was a bit intimidating this time because they were all older than I, mostly in their twenties. They were also pretty independent and much more mature than the others had been.

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First day of discussions at the Best Friends Library.

After our late discussion, we headed out back to the hotel and got ready for dinner. We decided to go to Khun Churn restaurant, a vegetarian Thai restaurant that my dad had really enjoyed when he was here. The food was alright and the ambience was really awesome!

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At the night safari!

After our dinner, we decided to go to the Night Safari that night. There, I got to hold and  feed a baby white tiger! It was actually pretty scary because, even as a baby, this guy was strong and aggressive! Before the actual safari, we got to see an awesome show with lights, dancing, and waterworks! On the safari itself, we saw other bigger tigers and many other animals on our safari. We even got to feed some of them such as giraffes and monkeys.

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David, me, Marcia, Nid, and Natch at the night safari!

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Click here to read part VI

written by: Raghav Agarwal

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www.atmaseva.org

Custom travel – Three week learning adventure Part IV

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

Interested in custom travel? Click here for more information!

17 July 2012 

Today, I started the day by waking up relatively early at around seven. So far, I had been avoiding the extremely cold bucket showers, but I decided that today I needed to get refreshed again. After my shower, David, Nid, and I ate breakfast. We ate eggs and bread, both of which, and especially the latter, are not eaten in the village, and we had bought at the market in the city. Even though I had been enjoying the homemade meals, it was nice to have some familiar food.

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View from our hike!

After breakfast, we went back to the school for our daily discussion. This was a fun day as we discussed perceptions of both places and compared them. It was interesting also comparing their perception of me and the monk’s perception. Today, we had to cut our discussions a bit short because we had to take a long trek.

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Some of the kids who joined us on our hike!

After a quick break at the house, we set out for a long trek to a Karen village even deeper in the mountains to meet people there and learn about their culture. Accompanying me were David, Nid, four younger kids, and even two dogs! We got our walking sticks and raincoats and set out. It was a beautiful hike, out in the greenery of the mountains with steep agriculture at random places. Winding roads even held some wildlife, especially the blome which was a type of leach that kept sticking to us.

We trekked for two hours, after which it started raining heavily, and we were forced to stop. In a little while Dtee came to pick us up on his motorbike. He took me up to an overlook and called people from the other village to pick up the rest of the crew. This was my first one on one with Dtee. I realized that even though we couldn’t talk because of the language barrier he was a really cool and caring guy.

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The men from the Karen village who came to pick us up!

Eventually, the rest of the people came; after some pictures, we headed over to the village.

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In the Karen village talking with the village leader.

We arrived at the host’s home. We first started talking about sports, Muay Thai was a big deal in Thailand. It was on TV (I was very surprised that there was reception in such a remote area of the world!). We also started learning about the culture and history of the village. The most interesting thing that I learned was that a few decades ago, some Christians had come and converted most of the village. We paid a visit to the school and church that they had built when they had arrived. It was interesting to note that the church that they had built was magnificent for such a remote place, but the school was very run down.

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At the school in the Karen village.

Upon seeing the school, we all head over to visit the eldest people in the village, who were the only indigenous (religion) family left. The couple that we met were in their late nineties. This was one of the most special experiences of the entire trip because they both performed an indigenous, ceremonial blessing for me. I felt extremely privileged to be the recipient of such a special and old practice. After the ceremony, it was an indication of respect for everyone to drink some home-made rice whiskey (very bitter).

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One of the elders who performed a blessing.

We then said bye to the elders there and started heading off home. Before leaving, we saw the places where the villagers make things like rice whiskey and prepare grain in order to be self-sufficient. After this, we decided to head home because it was getting late and it was almost dark. The same people who drove us offered to take us back even though they would have to drive the narrow, winding path in the dark. It was very nice of them! As soon as I got home, I laid down and went to sleep, reflecting on the interesting day I had had.

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Learning how the village whiskey is made.

18 July 2012

Today, after a good nights rest, I woke up early. We all had a nice breakfast that consisted mostly of egg dishes that Pee bit, Dtee’s wife, had cooked (she suspected we liked eggs a lot because of the previous day). We talked about the previous day and shared some thoughts before heading out for the next discussion with the kids.

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Comparing daily schedules.

We began the discussion with general questions from the previous days. There weren’t too many questions except some inquiries about my family and school. They thought it was really cool that I drove myself to school and that it was so far away from my house. After this, we started playing our team building exercise. We had to draw certain things that David would describe to us and the team with the best drawing would win. Our team lost by a little bit. During this activity, I noticed that the kids were a lot more open and talkative than they had been a couple of days before. I felt really connected to them as we tried winning the game.

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Team-building!

After this game, we headed to Kom Jon’s sister’s house because two girls were giving us a presentation on food and traditional Lawa costumes. These presentations were really impressive, especially taken that they were doing it in front of some almost complete strangers. During this presentation, I saw the girls looking at the guys and giggling with each other. Thinking about this, I realized that human behavior is universal. Everywhere that I have seen, young adolescents act like this. Human behavior is truly something that breaks the barriers between different types of people. When the presentation was over, some of the kids invited us to come play sports with them.

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Volleyball time!!

After a quick snack made by Nid, David, Nid, and I went to the school to play. In the beginning, the girls were having their volleyball practice so I just played badminton with Nid on the side. I also shot around some hoops with Nam (Kamon’s son) and other boys. The girls were really good at volleyball, especially Moi (Nid’s niece and Anchille’s sister). Moi let me practice with them; initially, I was terrible and my arms hurt like crazy. I got used to it eventually and, when we started playing some games, my team dominated the other team. We played late into the evening even during heavy rain. It was exhilarating.

Eventually, some of the girls had to go home, so we went back home too. I talked to Dtee’s little kids for a bit (Beau and Nye) and taught them my name (because it is kind of hard to pronounce I guess). Even they were opening up to me and feeling less shy around me. I taught them how to clap and pound, and they loved that! We then ate dinner and played some games on the iPad before falling asleep.

19 June 2012

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Cultural comparisons!

Today’s day started off with another discussion with the kids (the principal of the school also joined us). Today, we had a comparison day. We analyzed our perceptions of each other’s culture and discussed why we thought that way. The main topics that we looked at were government, people, culture food, and sports. One thing I noted, that others had also pointed out, is that the kids were fascinated with America but also disgruntled with Americans at their superior attitudes towards them.

UntitledAfter some group discussions, we headed over to an elder’s house for another presentation. Today, the presentations were Lawa weddings and funerals. It was interesting that the importance of these two events in human society is universal. After the kids presented, I showed them and the elders some pictures of American and India funerals and weddings, and described them with as much detail as I knew. The kids were very interested in my short presentation and many of them took rapid notes. It was cool that most of the group said that they would want an Indian wedding because of the grandiosity while a few of the boys said they would want an American wedding because of the smaller cost.When we finished our discussions for the day, we headed home to get some lunch. Pee bit made us a delicious egg and vegetable meal.

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Walking out to the farm

We then headed off to Dtee’s farm. Fortunately, his farm was not too far and it only took us a 25 minute walk. When we arrived, we walked around and explored as much as we could. The land was very extensive and some parts were surprisingly well-developed! We picked up some walking sticks to help us walk through all the plants and wildlife (the farm was situated in a small jungle/woods). As usual, we caught a few blome trying to get us, but none of them got too far. After spending the entire afternoon, we also decided to spend a night at the farm. We would be staying at a two-story wood structure, built for overnight stays at the farm. Dtee got us some tents and supplies that we need. It also started to rain heavily, but we were lucky that we were covered; also, the views of the rainfall were amazing!

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View from Dtee’s farm

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getting ready for dinner

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Eels!

After setting everything up, we started preparing for dinner. Dtee showed us some eels that he had gone out and hunted (they live in the over-flooded farms in the steppes). Being a vegetarian, I decided not to try them. David, however was open to trying them and even helped prepare the eels. Nid meanwhile prepared other dishes for all of us to share. After dinner, Nid went to sleep and David, Dtee, and I talked long into the night. We learned that Dtee had a desire to learn English just like the Lawa children. Even though he had not been taught much, he still knew the alphabet pretty well and even the numbers. We taught him some basic phrases such as how to introduce oneself. We also talked about how Dtee was engaging in green farming without the use of pesticide and harmful chemical and how it was important to teach the newer generation this. We talked like this until we had to go to sleep just because we had to get up a little earlier in the morning to walk back to the village.

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Dinner out at the farm!

Click here to read part V

written by: Raghav Agarwal

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.

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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 – 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

The monk chat experience

During my trip to Chiang Mai, in addition to preparing and helping with English Camps at schools and temples ATMA SEVA works with, I have also been working to spread and strengthen the monk chat program. Monk chats are an excellent learning/teaching tool in which students sitting anywhere around the world can talk and ask questions to Thai monks in Chiang Mai through video skype calls. Students can ask the monks questions about Buddhism, their monastic life, and virtually anything the students would like to know or talk about.

So far, monk chats have been useful in classes such as cultural anthropology, global problem solving, and world religions.

monk chat from West Hartford

A monk chat with a high school Human Rights class in Connecticut

The concept of monk chats was born in 2010. After coming to Thailand to work with monks for English education, David Poppe (ATMA SEVA’s Programs Director) thought that communicating and learning from the monks was unique and extremely interesting. David really wanted to find a way to share this opportunity with people back in the US. The idea of using skype to talk to the monks was then conceived. Since then, many groups have utilized monk chats. Among these include four different schools, a boys and girls club, and other various groups. The ATMA SEVA team and I are now working on bringing monk chats to as many schools as possible so the maximum number of students can benefit from this opportunity.

One of the very first monk chats!

One of the very first monk chats!

Monk chats were created with several goals in mind. First of all, they are seen as excellent teaching tools. Instead of learning about topics such as Buddhism from old textbooks, students will get an opportunity to learn first hand from someone who lives their life in accordance with the Buddha’s teachings. On the other side of the call, the monks get a chance to practice their English and gain exposure to people from around the world. Initially, the monk chats had a fee of $10 per person in order to raise money for ATMA SEVA’s scholarship program that supports the educational needs of novice monks and monks. Now, the fee is no longer required but donations are highly encouraged and all money still goes towards these scholarships.

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The monks answering questions from Wat Doi Saket

In my personal experience, I have been a part of five monk chats. Whenever I am in a monk chat, whether I am participating or moderating, I always learn so much from the interesting question-and-answer back and forth. One of the most memorable moments was a question about how to incorporate Buddhist ideals of detachment in our daily lives without becoming a monk. I’ll let you find out the answer during your next monk chat!  Just talking to a monk, about whom we barely know anything, is an experience in itself let alone learning about them and their culture. Most people are amazed at the responses they get and are excited about their one of a kind experience!

Me in Thailand during a monk chat I scheduled!

Me in Thailand during a monk chat I scheduled!

I am really excited to continue working with the schools and other organizations on monk chats! If you or anyone you know is interested, please contact ATMA SEVA via email. If groups or schools want to know what the experience is like beforehand, we would be happy to host a “practice” monk chat for you. For further information about the program, you can visit www.atmaseva.org/Page-74/Monk-chats.php. Thank you for reading and looking forward to (monk) chatting soon!

Written by: Raghav Agarwal

info@atmaseva.org

www.atmaseva.org