I wake up in Urban Light’s center to the white noise that plays on an 11 hour Youtube video loop—if I was waking up at 5AM, the mosque’s call to prayer, the temple bells ringing, and dogs howling on top of it all would be a sufficient alarm for me. Currently, I’m keen on sleeping through this early hour of the morning. I throw my blanket towards the wall uncovering my drowsy self. It took a while getting used to not sleeping with a top sheet on my bed. When I purchased my linen set, there was none included, and I have learned to do without, as most Thais do. My feet hit the wooden floor and I’m up. The fund-raiser show I played last night at the Colour Bar went great and it will take a bit of coffee to shake the later-than-should-have-been night.
I carry my computer down two flights of stairs turn the gas stove on and make my first pot of coffee of the day in my not so conventional Moka Pot thatI purchased secondhand in my first weeks while in Thailand. Making my coffee saves me a considerable amount of money— nearly 100 baht per day (even at local coffee shops, a cup-o-joe will cost 30-50 baht). I’m happy heading over to the local grocery store to pick up a month supply of hill-tribe coffee ( one kilo) for 200 baht (`$7).
Moka Pot— my Italian Coffee Maker.
Eggs, always eggs— I pay the extra twenty baht for the organic ones— not as cheap as the eggs I was used to buying at my local Aldi’s store in Baltimore, but a few of my friends here are really into the vegan, organic and permaculture movements. Sometimes I feel they are ALWAYS whispering in my ear as I buy ANY unnatural or processed food products from the local markets and grocery stores. Hearing these voices doesn’t help me resist making the short walk down the road to the Warorot Market at night to pick up some delicious muu ping gap khaw niaw (marinated grilled pork on a stick with sticky rice). One bite and I am in dollar-dinner heaven— I’ll eat raw, organic, vegan food another night— I really will. We are what we eat, after all—right?
After attending the rice planting ceremonies a few months back, I knew I wanted to make a return to the Akha Village for the New Year Swing Festival that would take place approximately 120 days later. Near the end of August, most of the boys Urban Light serves made the journey north to be with family and celebrate this age-old tradition of swing building and dance. Urban Light’s Outreach Worker, who is also my Thailand brother and best mate, Fame, was kind enough to invite myself and another Urban Light volunteer, Marissa, into his family’s home for the weekend’s festivities.
On my previous visit, the fields were bare and freshly burned from the slash and burn style of agriculture that is still very prevalent there. The burning of fields is considerable reason not to travel in Northern Thailand during late February through April, as resulting clouds of smoke and debris linger in the air. The climb to the top of the mountain where Fame’s family’s rice field rests was much more of a site to behold, and a considerably tougher trek, with lush, green, and chest tall rice grasses forcing us to take care with every step. Though the journey to the top of the mountain is worth it for the view, we were there to collect cantaloupe and cucumbers that had been planted the same time as the rice. Vines scattered through the field, and we all were excited to come across a ripe melon or cucumber— they were a bit tough to find in the huge field.
The Swing Festival is meant to bring good fortune on the current rice harvest, as last year’s supply is more than likely gone or dwindling. It also seems to be a coming of age event, where girls who have worked hard all year long making traditional dress wear these clothes for the first time, or add to costumes of years past, and boys actively participate in different roles surrounding the swing building.
Check out this cool video from Sam Harris (author, neuroscientist, philosopher) explaining the need to “locate a feeling of fulfillment in the present.” Though the feelings of anxiousness creep up on me occasionally, mindfulness in daily activities takes me away from the what ifs of the future and past and allows me to enjoy the moment I’m in.
Mindfulness is easy to practice, and can even be done every time you eat, for example.
Turn off the radio, television, computer, tablet, and other gadgets or distractions that may take you away from where you are at in this moment in time. Sit down at the table, and look at your meal, becoming aware of the colors and textures as the light reflects off the food and passes through your cornea to your pupils that have already adjusted to accommodate the intensity of light in the room. The light travels through your eyes’ lenses and on to the optic nerve where this mix of visible spectrum, which we have evolved to perceive, passes on to the visual cortex and is processed into what we understand as the image of food in front of us.
Everyday, boys choose to come to Urban Light’s programs and center as a choice to empower their lives and make a positive change. We’re slowly but surely winning the fight against the exploitation of teenage boys in Chiang Mai. LOVE always wins.
This past weekend I had the awesome opportunity to attend a traditional Lanna style wedding. Thailand’s relaxed and go-with-the-flow attitude, and unofficial national motto mai-pen-rai (meaning no worries), was more than evident when my co-worker approached the Urban Light team and announced that her sister and sister’s boyfriend, who had been dating for nine years, had decided to get married in three weeks! Of course we all accepted the invitation, as we were all excited to get into some traditional Thai threads and see how a wedding could possibly come together in a matter of days. I headed to the Warorot market a short walk away and negotiated a price on a green, heavy, 100% traditional Thai silk shirt (still questioning the silk content) and fisherman pants (which are quite airy— I’m thinking about buying a few more to wear to bed at night).
Me and Marissa, another UL volunteer, with Aw who graciously invited us to the wedding.
The day of the wedding came, me nervously waking up a half hour before my 7:00 alarm (I actually set two just in case my body resisted after a Saturday night). A song-taew arrived at 8am to pick up the nine members of the Urban Light crew, and off we were (nearly ten farangs in traditional Thai dress is definitely not a regular sight for our neighbors living on our soi, or side street). When we arrived, we entered the space where the wedding would take place and were greeted by the bride and groom, both receiving us with a wai which we all returned. The dress and suit of the bride and groom looked great! I’m thinking of grabbing one of those suits before heading back to the states— goodbye wool sports jackets, hello silk!
After just listening to David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement address to Kenyon College, I realize the dramatic shifts my thinking and way of living has gone over the past several years. Wallace states that sometimes, “The most obvious and important realities are often the ones are the hardest to see and talk about.” The “banal platitudes” of life are the ones that seem to be meaningless but happen “day in and day out.” Grocery shopping, the laundry, brushing our teeth— do we ever think about these things, or are these just the necessities that drive our life into seemingly endless tedium? Wallace starts his address by telling the “fish story.” Two young fish swim towards an older fish who nods and says, “Morning boys. How’s the water?” The two fish swim along for a bit and one turns to the other and asks, “What the hell is water.”
Graduating college in 2011, I, like most fresh college graduates sought to jump right into the workforce, make those big bucks, and REALLY enjoy the real world. My frantic job search for two months landed me away from the pizza shop (shout out to Brenda’s Pizzeria, my place of employment for eight great summers) to a government defense contractor position working in Army chemical defense research (yea, cool stuff). This was an incredible opportunity to flex my research muscles and get some real world experience in the research field. With an incredible mentor and great team, I was able to do just that— attending several conferences around the country and even contributing to several papers that will be published in the near future. My love for science was being nurtured well, but an itch to get out into the world and immerse myself in new cultures had not fully been scratched.
That’s one good Bronx Belly Buster Steak and Cheese Hero.
Chemistry and Biology B.S. degrees attained.
Welcoming ceremony at our research institute. Yes, Darryl and I ended up working at the same place. Great carpooling opportunity!