Los Angeles, CA, USA (12.19.11 – 12.22.11)

On Monday, After a long day of flying, I landed in Los Angeles. Luckily, I was able to catch an earlier flight from Vancouver to L.A. so I got in three hours earlier than I’d anticipated! Michael was there to pick me up. After I exited security, I took an escalator towards the baggage claim area, and there he was at the bottom of the escalator. I had wondered whether I’d cry when I saw him, but I was just so excited! I squealed and ran down the escalator steps, into his arms. Getting to hug him and kiss him after being apart for so long seemed like a dream.

We stayed in L.A. for three nights, at a hotel in Korea town. We spent our time eating delicious food and checking out vintage shops. He and I both scored some fun vintage finds! He ended up with a vintage bow-tie, and two skinny ties. I came away with two vintage dresses, and three brooches, as well as a beautiful pair of new Doc Martens.

On Tuesday, we went to the Santa Monica beach and pier. We caught a beautiful sunset, then had dinner and shopped on the Santa Monica Promenade.

My friend Jen came to meet us on Wednesday; we had lunch and did a bit of shopping together, and generally had an excellent time.

On Thursday, we headed back home! We tried to visit the Shepherd Fairey gallery space before we left town, but they didn’t open until 2PM, and we arrived around noon. Unknown to me, we had to head back in time for my surprise party! Unfortunately, one of our hosts fell sick and Michael had to ruin the surprise so that I could help him brainstorm about where to move the festivities.

Our time in L.A. was absolutely wonderful, and I could not imagine a more perfect way to come home than to get to spend a few days with my love.

🙂

Shanghai, China (12.16.11 – 12.19.11)

The end of my travels were far lazier than I’d envisioned they would be. I flew into Hangzhou airport, and was immediately met with all of the sorts of troubles that I’d encountered during the rest of my time in China. I got a bus into Hangzhou city, and then tried to get a bus to my hostel. I had so much trouble, and got so much conflicting information (surprise, surprise), and spent close to an hour waiting for a bus that never came, that eventually I decided that I just didn’t care anymore, and I was going to head into Shanghai. I’d heard that Hangzhou was beautiful, but I just couldn’t be bothered to deal with this sort of thing anymore! So, after long last, I got a bus into Shanghai, and luckily was able to navigate myself without trouble. I got to my hostel, and checked in a night early without any problems, which was a relief.

On Saturday, The only thing on my agenda was to go shopping, which I did, but I didn’t find anything I wanted. My goal was to end up with a cute outfit to wear home so that I didn’t look borderline homeless. After living out of a backpack for four months, that’s how I felt I looked! Shanghai was cold, and my warmest pants were way too big because I lost some weight while I was gone. Without a belt, they literally fell off of me, and by the end of my time abroad, I just felt like my clothes were not the most flattering.

On Sunday I planned to visit the Sex Museum in Tongli, but ran into trouble when I got to the train station. I decided that I did not want to spend my last full day in China stressed about catching the right busses while unable to communicate with anyone, so I decided to skip the museum, despite the fact that I had been very excited to visit. If I go back to China, I’ll be sure to visit, but I decided to give shopping another attempt. I procured an outfit that I was very pleased with! That was the extent of the day!!

On Monday, I packed my things, and passed before I needed to leave by wandering the neighborhood around my hostel. At 2:30PM, I took the metro to the airport, and enthusiastically (doesn’t even begin to describe it) started my journey home.

These pictures are from a park I walked through on my shopping days. Not especially representative of Shanghai, but they’re pretty!

 

So, this marks the end of my four month trip to Asia! It wasn’t always easy, but I’m indescribably glad that I did it. Removing myself from the familiar and the routine always helps me to assess where my life is and where I what direction I want it to take. I missed Michael every day, and while I was traveling, I knew that it would be the last time I did something like this. Next time, he’s doing it with me. It may take a while, but I’m fine with that. For now, I’m ready to spend some time at home and settle down for a bit. A proper job’s in the cards for 2012.

Much love to you all, and thank you for sharing this crazy journey with me. ❤

Favorite Memories

We all have memories that we hold close to our hearts. Not surprisingly, a great deal of my favorites have something to do with travel. There’s something magical about sharing an experience with someone that’s a little outside of your normal routine or comfort zone.

I thought I’d share a few of mine with you.

My earliest favorite memory is something very simple, but I think that’s the beauty of it. When I was growing up in England, we would go on holiday to France sometimes. We were staying in Brittany, and I can’t remember how old I was exactly… young… let’s say seven or so, and my dad and I would go to the boulangerie in the morning to pick up baguettes for the day, and pastries for our breakfast. We would walk hand in hand down to the bakery, and I would get to pick my own pain-au-chocolat. It’s simple, but perfect.

Seeing Madness for the first time. I bought the ticket impulsively, after screaming and shouting for a while. Once purchased, I remember saying aloud “Right. Now I figure out how to get there.” When they came out on stage, the venue instantly echoed “Hey you, don’t watch that, watch this! This is the heavy heavy monster sound! The nuttiest sound around!” And I instantly broke into tears. It is one of the few times in my life when I have cried tears of joy.

And of course, the “friend pile” that Jen made sure I got when I came home from my year long trip to Europe ranks in the top memories as well.

 

So, why am I bringing up favorite memories? Because I’m pre-emptively telling you about my next one. In a few hours, I will get to see my fella again, after 128 days of separation. I know that exiting security, and seeing his smiling face is going to be one of those perfect moments.

Happy holidays, babies. I hope you make some favorite memories with your loved ones in the upcoming weeks. ❤

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (12.12.11 – 12.16.11)

I was in Kuala Lumpur for four days, and despite my intentions on arriving in the city, I didn’t see much at all. Having left the meditation retreat, my mind was buzzing with the thoughts of one thing: home. Basically from this point, my mind was already home. I began searching the internet for somewhere to live upon my return, and planning for finding a job. For days one and two, I was online far too much. Being tucked away from the internet for about two weeks meant that there was a fair bit to catch up on, and I began to work seriously on my resume, and started reaching out to people about serving as recommendations for me. I ventured out for small amounts of time in search of food. On days three and four, when I planned on going out, it was pouring. I haven’t seen rain so torrential and unrelenting since I lived in England. I hate when it’s like that, and each time it would happen, I would end up very involved with something else I was doing while I waited for the rain to cease. By the time I was all done, it was often rather late in the day. I wandered around China Town for a few hours one day, but didn’t take any pictures because it was drizzling.

It’s ok though. I feel like the way I spent my time in KL was the way I needed to spend it. I was so focused on the things I needed to prepare for my return home, that if I hadn’t devoted significant time to them, I would have driven myself crazy.

So, Malaysia, we’ll just have to meet again one day.

On day five, which was Friday, I had to get up at 4AM in order to catch a bus to the airport in order to catch my 8AM flight back to Shanghai. My four month journey was nearing its end.

Suan Mokkh and the International Dhamma Hermitage, Thailand (11.29.11 – 12.11.11)

From Krabi, I headed to Surat Thani and then took a minibus up to Chaiya, to Wat Suan Mokkh. I was headed up there to take part in an 11 day silent meditation retreat! Sounds like quite the adventure, non? I arrived at the temple, and was given a dorm for the night. I arrived on Tuesday the 29th, even though the retreat itself didn’t officially begin until the 1st of the month. Registration begins on the last day of each month, and as retreats fill up some months, it was advised to show up on the day before registration in order to ensure a space. I arrived at about 5:30PM, and met a few others who has also shown up early. There was little to do once the sun set, and I headed to bed around 8PM. On Wednesday morning, we walked two km to the International Dhamma Hermitage. Although connected with Suan Mokkh, the Hermitage is used only for retreats, and is somewhat isolated for this purpose. I registered, paid my 2000 Baht (that equates to about $65, and was the sum total of what I had to pay for my time at the retreat), and handed over my passport, then headed to my dorm room. I set up my room… which isn’t saying much. Let me tell you about my living quarters. My room consisted of a concrete slab, covered with a thin bamboo mat, which was in turn topped with a wooden pillow. If you’re wondering about the wooden pillow… it’s just what it sounds like. It is a block of wood that has been sanded smooth so as not to cause splinters, and this is what you rest your head on every night. I set up my “bed” with my blanket and mosquito net, and then headed into Chaiya to get my last internet fix for at least the next 11 days. I ended up in a cafe for a few hours and spent far too long talking to my fella, reassured by the fact that when I was done with the retreat, there would be only nine days left separating us. Around 2PM, I headed back to the Hermitage, handed over my valuables to be put in their safe, and explored the grounds a bit. At 4PM we had an info session, and at 7PM, we officially went silent, and listened to some talks. 9PM meant bedtime, with lights out half an hour later.

I won’t go into the details of the next ten days, because the schedule was the same every day, but I’ll mention the worthwhile bits.

Everyday, our schedule went like this:

4:00AM Rise and shine

4:30AM Morning talk

4:45AM Sitting meditation

5:15AM Yoga

7:00AM Dhamma talk and sitting meditation

8:00AM Breakfast, followed by chores, then free time

10:00AM Dhamma talk

11:00AM Walking or standing meditation

11:45AM Sitting meditation

12:30PM Lunch, followed by freetime

2:30PM Meditation instruction/ Dhamma talk

3:30PM Walking or standing meditation

4:15PM Sitting meditation

5:00PM Chanting meditation and loving kindness meditation

6:00PM Teatime, followed by free time

7:30PM Sitting meditation

8:00PM Group walking meditation

8:30PM Sitting meditation

9:00PM Bed time

9:30PM Lights out

 

Getting up at 4AM is not a talent… what I would say is a talent though, is the fact that I was able to fall back asleep on my wooden pillow and bamboo mat after the bell rang for ten solid minutes in order to wake us up.

Throughout out time at the retreat, we were taught about Buddhism, and the teachings of Ajahn Buddhadasa, who founded Wat Suan Mokkh and the retreat center. We learnt about the dhamma, or dharma, as it is more commonly called in English. We were taught about mindful breathing, and how to use it to meditate.

We were silent every day, except before meals when we recited a passage together, and during chating meditation. By day four, it was obvious that the women were getting restless, and I started to hear whispers all over the place. I was far from perfect, and the occasional words escaped. They were typically apologies or swears.

By the end of the retreat, I didn’t successfully meditate. I did not delve deep into my mind, or even achieve total concentration. I now know, with more certainty than I did before, that I have a very restless mind. It’s difficult for me to turn it off, but by the end of the retreat, I had managed to subdue it significantly. I realized that even though I was still always thinking during the meditation sessions, when I was open my eyes, I felt like I was waking up; noises were louder and everything was brighter. So, no meditation, but my focus was improving.

On day 11, we packed our bags and many of us went for breakfast at Wat Suan Mokkh. It was wonderful to get to speak with everyone we’d been sitting alongside for the last ten days. By 9:30AM, I began my journey back to Surat Thani, with my ultimate destination being Kuala Lumpur… it was another one of those endless days of travel.

The experience was challenging, but I am so pleased that I decided to attend. I came away with some insights, and practices that I want to incorporate into my life. It was time well spent.

My bed, all set up with the mosquito net in place to keep out all sorts of creepy crawlies. (I had a scorpion in my room one day!)

The bamboo mat and wooden pillow. Looks comfy, right?

This magnificent tree is right next to the main meditation hall. We met multiple times a day.

At night, we would do a group walking meditation around the reflecting pools. This is the circular reflecting pool.

And this is the rectangular reflecting pool

My room 🙂

 

Is anyone is interested about attending the retreat or you would like more information, you can learn more here.

Secret, secret

So, I’m in Surat Thani right now, and I’m going to be offline for a few days. There will not be any way of contacting me. If all goes according to plan, I won’t be back until December 11th, but then plan is to travel as immediately as possible down to Kuala Lumpur, so it’s a possibility that I may not be online again until the 12th.

Can you guess what I’m doing?

Krabi, Thailand (11.26.11 – 11.29.11)

On Saturday, I arrived in Krabi, and got a tuk-tuk to my hostel. I had paid for a bed in a two-bed dorm room, and lucky me, I was all alone! I wandered around the city for a while, which was really nothing special, but the river scenery is quite lovely. Krabi Town, where I was staying, has a weekend night market that started up around 5PM, which was superb. It was one of the best markets I’ve seen so far! There were plentiful food vendors, so I was able to try some delicious Thai snacks for cheap.

On Sunday, I was sick with the same thing that keeps plaguing me periodically. I experience intense lower back and kidney pain, and it totally debilitates me for the day. Pathetic as it was, I slept intermittently until about 6PM, and then I went to the market to get some food. It was a thoroughly unremarkable day.

On Monday, I needed to go to the immigration center to get a visa extension, which proved to be a hassle. The office had moved about six months ago from somewhere that was conveniently located, to somewhere inconveniently located outside of the city center. It took a while to get that sorted, but it was a necessary task. I then headed to the pier in town to get a long boat to Railay Beach, a gorgeous beach in Krabi, accessible only by boat. Because getting to the immigration office had eaten up a good portion of the day, I spent less time at Railay Beach than I’d have liked, but it was enough to get to see Rai Leh East Beach, Rai Leh West Beach, and Hat Tham Phra Nang, which was one of the most stunning beaches I’ve seen yet. Before I knew it, it was time to head back to Krabi Town. I slept off a headache, then had some dinner, talked to my fella, and called it a night.

On Tuesday, I got the bus to Surat Thani, for what will remain secret for a little bit.

My time in Krabi was perhaps not the most riveting, but aside from the day I spent sick and sleeping, I enjoyed what I saw. I’d definitely love to spend more time in Railay Beach. Next time!

The Krabi Town weekend night market

Rai Leh West

Rai Leh East

Monkeys, over by Tham Phra Nang

Tham Phra Nang is, in my opinion, definitely the best beach in Railay

Tham Phra Nang

Rai Leh East. The tide was out when it was time to leave, so we had to wade through low water to get to our boat. I was paranoid that I would fall!

Gosh, Railay is beautiful. I wish I had more time to spend there!