Another insanely packed week in Thailand, but man, this country is awesome. A cabaret, a hike, a Buddhism lesson, a cool museum, and a bamboo raft walked into a bar…
- Kha and krub are words said at the end of phrases to add politeness. Kha is more feminine, and krub is more masculine and you use the one that you identify as. I say sawatdee kha as hello.
- On those lines, Thailand does a good job with gendered words. Kha being ‘more feminine’ versus ‘for females only’ is one example. There are also three ways to say ‘I’: one that’s more masculine, more feminine, and neutral. Go progression!
- The LGBTQIA+ community is fairly well accepted here. The reasoning? Buddhism is more open to it, if you’re a good person, you’re a good person.
- ‘Ladyboys’ are a big part of the culture. A ladyboy is a transgender woman (assigned male at birth, transitioned to female). If you go on Tinder, just be aware that someone who looks like a woman may not have been born one. They are very, very beautiful. Some are scared by it, but our city team says ‘you never know what you like until you try’.
- Got the chance to chat with some ladyboys and they expressed a wide array of challenges and experiences:
- Generally accepted to be trans but older generation more resistant, some families less supportive than others
- Hard to travel because Thailand doesn’t allow you to change gender on documentation. Passport will say Mr. Someone and be marked male, but picture and person will look like a woman. Result: confusion and strip downs
- Gay marriage is not legal, informal ceremonies and unofficial marriages are allowed.
- Have to prove still that they can be role models and succeed in jobs like teaching
- Not everyone is fortunate enough to transition surgically, it’s very expensive. 50,000 baht for boob job, 75,000 for nose, more for botox, teeth, and removal of male parts…sums up to around 230,000 baht or $7,445.
- Enjoy performing in cabarets because it allows them to perform and express in a feminine way, rather than having to give off masculinity
- Volleyball in Thailand tends to be a more ‘gay’ sport
- Let’s talk Buddhism. Visited a monk university and had a monk chat with us for an hour and a half about his life, the Buddhist way, and some meditation techniques. Things I found interesting:
- “It’s not a belief, it’s a practice. It’s not a religion, it’s a way of life”
- “Buddha is not a God, he is human just like us. He lived many years ago.”
- Four noble truths (in short): suffering is inevitable in life, suffering is caused by desire and attachment, there is an end to suffering, there are ways we can end the suffering
- Reaching ‘enlightenment’, like Buddha, means becoming completely detached and ending all your suffering. But very, very few in all time have gotten to that point.
- The rest of the people? Practice Buddhism to reduce suffering by moral, mental, wisdom, and physical training
- “We clean our bodies by showering, but how do we clean our minds? We train our bodies by exercising, but how to we exercise our minds?”
- Buddhists believe heavily in karma. “Your past is your present, your present is your future, so make your present good” A lot of focus is on staying present.
- Also believe in reincarnation, so maybe something bad happens in this life because of something bad you did in a previous life.
- Meditation is one way to train your mind, to clear it of distractions and ‘attachments’. We learned a 14 step movement that requires you to do nothing but focus on the steps, quite effective and I’ve since done it a couple times.
- Monks are respected in the community because they have taken the time to focus on finding themselves, learn and perpetuate the Buddhist ways, and teach back
- Because Buddhism is not a religion, you can also follow a religion and be Buddhist. This monk was also Hindu (a common combo)
- Female monks are much rarer for a few reasons: you can only become one if you’re inducted by another female monk, religion came first and Hinduism believes women are less than men, and generally there’s less desire from women to be them (supposedly…)
- Fun fact? Monks do not eat after noon.
- Putting your hands up against each other and against your chest and bowing your head is a way to show gratitude. Pretty sure I’ve done that all year anyway, but at least here it means something…
- Used a squat toilet for the first time this week. Not advised, everything is wet, including the floors and I’m not flexible enough to squat effectively.
Monday- last day on the islands:
- Take a long tail boat from Ao Nang, Krabi, to Railay Beach, a coastal town about 15 minutes away. We chose Railay because it was a bit cheaper than others and gave us a taste of the limestone rock structures.
- We loved Railay! Quaint little beach town with lots of little huts selling fresh juices and food. We walked a bit then just relaxed on the beach
- Great way to end a weekend down South, happy to get out of the sun for a few days after
- Flight back to Chiang Mai and work
- Accidentally sleep till noon, guess I needed it
- Indian dinner with friends
- Cabaret show! Remote Year event that included a pre-show interview with three of the transgender performers and the wildly entertaining show.
- Had never been to such a thing, lots of raunchy dancing and bad lip syncing but so much fun!
- Early morning hike to Wat Pha Lan (called the Monk’s Trail Hike). Easyish 1.5 hour trek to the temple at the top of a hill. Beautiful and nice to be out in nature. Remember to cover knees!
- Get fresh produce from the locals’ market: Ton Phayom Market. These are the moments where I get to feel like I’m actually living in Thailand vs. being a tourist. No one just visiting was going to buy things here.
- Work and personal admin afternoon
- Pad thai dinner for $1.50 at Pad Sen Benja, that’s never going to get old.
- Brunch with a friend at Manifreshto, yet another amazing café in our neighborhood
- Remote Year ‘Buddhist Way’ experience: monk talk at the university next to Wat Suan Dok.
- Ever wonder why the monks wear orange? I still do to…he claimed there was no real reason.
- Go to the COOLEST MUSEUM EVER called Art in Paradise (definitely made by a stoner). A 3D art museum.
- Entire museum is 2D huge murals intended to give the illusion of 3D. Aside from the fun, the artwork itself was crazy impressive
- Guests download an app called ‘Art in Paradise’. On certain marked paintings, you hold your phone up to it and the art comes to life. Example: painting of a still shark becomes an animated one looking scary on your phone. So you get to get creative with pictures and videos.
- Other murals were illusions in themselves, and a couple pieces were more interactive. Highly recommend.
- Pit stop at a hedgehog café (yes, you can drink coffee with a hedgehog in the middle of your table) before lunch at the Better than Butter Café. I’ve never been so excited to have a root beer, fries with real ketchup, and chicken salad sandwich. A little taste of America after 6 months doesn’t hurt.
Saturday- Remote Year Tracks Day:
- Early morning drive out to the south Karen tribe village, about an hour and a half from Chiang Mai, with four other remotes and our tour guide, Dej
- Hike to a quiet waterfall, along the way, eating several leaves that Dej kept picking and handing to us. Don’t know the English names but one smelled like farts, one tasted like sour apple, one tasted like dirt, and another tasted like lettuce.
- Dej also showed us the ‘Bubble Leaf’ that you can naturally blow bubbles from the juice with
- Lunch in the Karen village, prepared by the ladies with the fresh market produce we picked up that morning. The BEST massaman curry, oh my gosh. So good.
- The village itself was really desolate, lots of farmers, not a lot of technology, lots of animals, and they spoke their own dialect of Thai, not Thai itself (we found out after the confused looks when we said sawadtee kha to them)
- Last activity of the track: bamboo rafting! Jumped onto these long bamboo rafts and wound down a narrow river, led by two local guides.
- During the busy season (nov-dec), this activity is apparently crazy because many people try to go down at once, and it causes lots of jams. Even this day, we had a 5 raft pile up and had to wait a bit. I can’t imagine what it is like in high season.
- Best part? Getting to steer the raft myself. Way harder than I thought it’d be, partly because the water is of varying depth so sometimes you go in for a push against the sand and come up empty. Also got us stuck on 2 rocks and the guide had to jump off and push us. Hard to avoid them all.
- Long ride home after a great event, spent with even better people. I like the smaller group tracks.
- Dinner with the squad at Tops market Central Plaza Kard Suan Kaew, an open air market in our neighborhood. Dumplings and mango sticky rice, for the win.
- Try a new flavor of Lays: “Cooling Mango Bingsu”. NOT recommended, first tastes really fake sweet, then tastes like you just coated your mouth in menthol.
- Personal win of the day: turning down an opportunity to go on the other Track event to take some time to rest and do me.
- Write, plan, gym, sleep
I decided to go last minute to the Buddhist lesson, but I thought it was very valuable. As I’ve described before, Remote Year is like life on crack. A million and one city activities you could be doing at once, balanced with work and daily chores. I appreciated the reminder and techniques to help me stay present. Had a few moments on Saturday where I stepped back and said “woah, I’m in Thailand…in a remote village…eating the best curry ever…after a cool hike…with some awesome people…life is cool”
Embracing the ride.