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What a weekend with a meditation guru looks like

Sometime back I wrote on how it’s like to be in a room with meditators and how I learned to let some battles go from a meditation teacher who used to be a monk. That meditation guru is Australian and I was lucky to catch him at home after years of traveling to teach meditation while I was doing my graduate studies in Sydney. He and his sister were very kind to welcome us in their home in Gosford and his friend who is also a meditator was very kind to drive us around.

It took me and my friend about an hour and 30 minutes by train from Sydney Central station to Gosford. I enjoyed the relaxing view on the way from the thick greenery to the distant mountain tops, wide flowing river and the vibrant blue sea; such sweet respite from the concrete jungle of Sydney. Though I haven’t had enough sleep the night before I was wide awake on the train to savor the natural scenery. Oh how I love long train rides.

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From the station we headed straight to Somersby Falls. I forgot I will be spending the weekend with a meditator and nature lover so instead of wearing pants and running shoes I wore a dress and boots which made it so hard to walk on slippery tracks that was about 250 meters long. The waterfalls wasn’t as huge as I expected but it was pretty. After we set our picnic we meditated for a few minutes. How lovely it was to meditate in a rainforest while listening to the sound of the waterfalls, the chirping birds and rustling of the leaves. It was made even sweeter by a cup of coffee afterwards. It was one of those moments when I wanted to scream, “I love my life!!!”

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After the picnic we drove around to see more of Gosford, headed to the farmers market to grab food then proceeded to a nearby park to eat our lunch. I haven’t taken much photo because being with meditators reminded me to disconnect from technology and be in the moment. I felt ashamed to be using my phone a lot, though I took some snaps while we rested for lunch and played with Australian pelicans (Pelecanus conspicillatus). Lying on the grass felt so nice. We talked a lot but there were also times when we just stayed silent to meditate and be more aware of our environment.

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Our last stop before heading home was Wyrrabalong National Park which offered a stunning view of the ocean below. At the Crackneck lookout we could see Shelly beach, which we visited the following morning. The Crackneck lookout has a picnic area and is a great spot for whale watching, too bad we didn’t bring binoculars! We walked deeper unto the park and climbed on a tree. Before leaving we did standing meditation guided by our guru surrounded with the lush vegetation.

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In the evening we cooked a healthy vegetarian meal, pasta with veggies. After we had eaten and washed the dishes, we stayed outside of the house to gaze at the sky. The light pollution wasn’t so bad in their village so we could see more stars. Our guru realizing we loved stargazing decided to take us to the nearest golf course. It was so dark on the way, I could barely see what I was stepping on but he walked that area with mindfulness several times so he knew where to go even if we couldn’t see much.

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When we reached the edge we laid on the ground and looked at the stars silently. We could hear the sound of the waves splashing on the shore below us. It was freezing cold but I didn’t mind. The moment was a wonderful reminder that whatever we are going through, life is beautiful and sweet if we just know how to slow down to appreciate it.

The next day we woke up before sunrise and walked to Shelly beach passing through the golf course we went the night before. We stood at where we laid before for a few minutes of meditation or to simply take it all in and take mental pictures of the natural beauty around us. We then descended to Shelly beach as the sun began to rise. Our guru shared memories he had of the place while growing up. He also brought to our awareness the sound of Kookaburra birds. The beach had fine sands but there were rocky areas too. I stood on one of the rocks to do standing meditation while the waves passed by me. We walked barefoot until we reached the foot of Wyrrabalong National Park. We threw stones to the sea and competed which one could throw the farthest. I laid down on the rocky shore and meditated for a long while until we left.

The spot we laid down the night before to stargaze

The spot we laid down the night before to stargaze

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When we walked back, the sun has gotten hot and the beach was crowded with people. It was a pleasant weekend and I loved seeing families, especially those with kids, enjoying it. When we arrived home, I baked a muffin for the first time. It wasn’t rocket science of course but being someone who is scared of burning the kitchen, I was happy with that little achievement. We traveled back to Sydney in the afternoon and luckily since it was Sunday, we only paid $2.5 for the train ride. We brought back with us lots of happy memories and a book that our guru wrote himself.

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It was a weekend of fun and many activities but above all it was a weekend of friendship, of being still and living in the present moment.


Blue hour at Chocolate Ville

I was going through old photos and found these, taken four years ago at Chocolate Ville, Bangkok during blue hour. “The blue hour, from the French expression l’heure bleue, is the period of twilight each morning and evening where there is neither full daylight nor complete darkness. The time is considered special because of the quality of the light.” As the term suggests, when you take a photo during blue hour the result is a stunning deep blue sky.

We were at Chocolate Ville for dinner; I went around to take photos while we wait for our food. I have been wanting to try blue hour photography but since it has to be taken at specific time of the day — during twilight — I was not able to execute that plan and I have no idea why. Nonetheless, when I saw the photos I’ve taken at Chocolate Ville I was thrilled to realise that I’ve taken them at blue hour! So much about making plans when things can be accomplished at the least expected moments. Unfortunately, I started a bit late as the night began to deepen so as you can see the color of the sky in some of my photos are too dark.

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Chocolate Ville is a theme park restaurant in Bangkok though located a bit far off from the city center. The best way to get there is by taxi which will cost from 100-200 Baht. Don’t be mistaken by its name though, sorry to break it to you but the place isn’t about chocolates; I haven’t found a shop that sells chocolates there either. Contrary to most restaurants in Bangkok, Chocolate Ville offers a European vibe so if you are a westerner wanting to experience Thai culture, it’s probably not the best place to go.

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The best part is there is no entrance fee and you can take as many photos as you like. If you’d want to dine there I would suggest making a reservation to make sure you get a seat after that long trip by taxi; it took us an hour to get there! Also note that they are open from 4PM-12AM so don’t go there too early since it’s far from the central district and there is nothing else to do to kill time.

Chocolate Ville
Soi Nawamin 74, Yak 3-8, Kaset-Nawamin Road, Klong Kum Subdistrict, Bueng Kum District.
Bangkok, Thailand
+66-83-077-3738 or
+66-81-921-2016 or
+66-81-921-0661
http://www.chocolateville.net/


Kayan tribe: meeting the long-necked women

There are different concepts of beauty but for me none is as eccentric and rather ‘life-threatening’ as that of the Kayan tribe. During my naïve years in my early twenties, I visited the controversial ethnic tourist village in northern Thailand that showcases the long-necked Kayan women as part of our tour package, unconscious of the ethical issues around it. I didn’t know then that there are existing activism against the exploitation of these women for tourism purposes. My preconceptions then was that these women migrated to Thailand along with their tribe to escape their hard life in Burma, used their tribe’s unique custom where women wear brass-necklaces to attract tourists which eventually became their top source of income — entry to their tribe village costs THB300 back in 2011. Little did I know that aside from the health problems and life risks these women suffer because of this particular custom, their tribe also face complex issues around citizenship and migration.

With the most beautiful woman in the village

With the most beautiful woman in the village. Why I said so? Read on.

Kayan tribe

The Kayan tribe, a sub-group of Karenni tribe, is one of the six ‘hill tribes’ in northern Thailand. They are refugees from Myanmar who fled from the conflict. As refugees they continue to suffer from dire poverty, lack of healthcare and basic services including education. They also receive unequal share from the tourism profit. Some of them also experience difficulties in integrating with Thai society probably because geographically they live mostly in hills farther from Thai homes and customarily they have a more backward way of life as opposed to Thais who have embraced modernisation. Such ‘identity crisis’ is worse among young Kayans who grow up between ‘two worlds’.

Human museum or human zoo

Some call the Kayan village a human museum or human zoo because the main tourist attractions are the girls and women wearing brass rings on their neck. Kayan girls begin to wear brass rings as early as 5 years old; more rings are gradually added as they age. It is believed that the woman with the most number of rings is considered the most beautiful.

Wearing rings is part of Kayan tribe’s traditional customs. Some believe that wearing the rings will ward off evil spirits. Some think that the rings will protect the girls from being bitten by a tiger. Some also say that village men use this tradition to keep their wives from having affairs as husbands would punish their wife by removing the rings. In doing so, Kayan women are left bedridden as their head can’t stand without the rings.

I was told that the rings weigh as much as 14 kilos. A replica is made available for tourists to carry so they will know how heavy they are; I could barely carry it longer with both hands! They also have a lighter version of the rings that visitors can wear to take photos with.

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Practicing their craft.

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Wearing the bonnet I bought from them.

She is so pretty!

She is so pretty!

Should one visit the Kayan village?

During one of our intensive classes on human rights of migrants, my classmate brought up the question on whether we should visit the village knowing that some tour agencies exploited these women without giving them a fair share of the profit. Although the issues they face are very complex, a sad truth remains that because of their refugee status this women will not find a job in Thailand and tourism in their village remains their only form of livelihood. As such, the question is not whether we should visit them or not but how we can help them through our visit.

One way to directly help the Kayans is to purchase their products. If you have spare cash, directly giving it to them after you take their photo will bring joy to their pretty faces.

The village

We went to a village with less tourists. At the entrance before you pass through the bamboo bridge were booths lined up where they display their handicrafts for sale. I didn’t know then that young girls also wear the rings so I was a bit shocked when I saw them. At first they were indifferent to our presence which made me uncomfortable because I felt we were invading their peace, but when I smiled and attempted a conversation they smiled back making me feel at ease. Some women vendors belong to another tribe so they don’t wear the rings.

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How to get there?

I visited the village in 2011 through a tour agency so I cannot be of much help to adventurers who would prefer to commute. Although I remember that we passed through narrow roads along bushes which is said to be inhabited by snakes. Even if I speak a little bit of Pasathai, I may still find it harder to reach the area so going through a tour agency may be the most convenient option.