3AM meetup and life on the edge

I have this impulsive habit my friends call “Cambodia syndrome”. It was during my annual leave in June 2014 that I woke up at 9AM and declared I will go to Cambodia. All I did was check if there is a train scheduled to Aranyaprathet, a province in eastern Thailand that borders with Cambodia, then packed my bag and left. I didn’t know yet how to actually reach Siem Reap, where to stay or what exactly I should anticipate from the trip. I just wanted random things to happen without me making so much fuss planning about it. My close friends who know me well are aware how such a risk-taker I am. And I have lived life this way even before that trip to Cambodia.

Long train ride from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet

Long train ride from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet

It was summer. I just finished my first year at uni. I went to my cousin’s birthday party. She told me about her school and how it looked like one in the telenovela, Meteor Garden, with its natural beauty and a beach at the lower campus. I went home, woke my mom from her nap and told her I will transfer to my cousin’s school. This is where I’m good at, running away.

After graduation, I went to apply for a job. I did not get in. The interviewer told me I have a different potential and may pose risks to the company (private). He said, “I don’t think you belong here. We invest money training our staff but you don’t seem to be the kind who would stay longer.” So much about being honest on one’s passion.

I went home feeling bad about the result. Although it may not have been because I am not good enough, still I took it against myself. I was on a hammock feeling bitter when suddenly I thought about coming to Thailand. I chose Thailand because 1) I did not need a visa 2) It is geographically well-positioned in the region 3) I have this beautiful image of Thailand in my head – glistening temples, monks meditating – and it has a vibrant, friendly society. In less than a week I flew to Thailand. I told myself I will stay for just one year, work on whatever decent job I can get, explore the country, mend my chaotic and confused heart, get a headspace and decide which direction I want to take, then leave.

Six years after, I found myself having trouble getting around the fact that I am leaving Thailand in 8 weeks from now. This country that cradled me, the country now I call home, how can I be leaving it already?

I’m moving to Australia for grad school at the University of Sydney, another impulse of mine. With the little time I have left, I juggled between finishing work, putting my life of 6 years into boxes, making arrangements in Sydney and meeting friends.

Last Sunday, I told my friend Art that I’m leaving and it would be nice to see him. This man being a troll told me we can meet 3AM at Burger King (open 24 hrs). Perhaps he didn’t know who he was talking with. Of course I agreed and he suffered from his own trap! It was an amusing experience though, meeting at 3AM! Like, who would do that? Although what started as amusing ended up to be embarrassing for me, having to meet his mom at his house who must have been thinking what kind of a woman would allow a meetup at a wee hour.

I left his home at 6AM and walked to Benchasiri Park. I guess about an hour walk can only get you numb for a minute. And then a pang… wrench.

Benchasiri Park, Bangkok

Benchasiri Park, Bangkok

It was when it started to sink in that I was leaving, for real. I’ve been living life on the edge; always going beyond my comfort zone. Thailand has become a comfort zone and this was probably why I decided it’s time to leave, among other reasons. But why has it become this hard?

I guess it’s because my spontaneity has led me here, a country where I had a life all by myself away from the shield of my family; a country where I battled with my own demons; a country that opened my eyes to a vast horizon; a country that showed me the beauty of imperfections, the possibility of new beginnings. It’s the country where I met the person who makes saying goodbye the hardest.

Want to be spontaneous? For once, try to let go of fears and just go somewhere for some adventures. All you have to do is identify certain places or countries you want to visit, check and book cheap accommodations HERE then off you go. Oh of course, once you find cheap places to stay you also have to book your flights if you need to fly. Enjoy the uncertainty!


Why I fell in love with Bhutan

I was on cloud nine for seven days while in Bhutan. It took me another seven days to recover and get down to reality.

I can’t remember exactly how I got drawn to Bhutan. But I can recall watching a documentary and was captivated by the scenery. I also read about the Gross National Happiness, a concept very unique to Bhutan as it was the idea of His Majesty the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. GNH speaks volumes of how Bhutanese value spiritual and well-being over economic progress or worldly materialism.

So why have I fallen in love with this Kingdom? Let me try hard to put it into words.

Up in the sky, Bhutan will greet you and bid adieu with exhilarating panorama of the Himalayas and snow-capped mountains. If you are flying from Bangkok, make sure you get a window seat on the left row (right from Paro).

View of Himalayas on flight to Bhutan-001

Photo taken on flight from Paro to Bangkok

Usually, the drive from the airport to a city is dull and tiresome. It took us about 1 hour and 30 minutes from Paro to Thimphu. But nope, it was not boring at all because we drove along hills with lots of apple trees in bloom; I thought they were cherry blossoms. How about this old house above the riverbank?

Rochogphel hotel Thimphu Bhutan-001

Paro to Thimphu Bhutan-001

Photo taken on the way back to Thimphu from Paro the day before my departure

I just loved to look at the fog-covered mountains. It’s the same sight I would marvel at on my journey to Punakha. But with the forest filled with blooming rhododendrons, I felt I was in Pandora. Remember Avatar?

Rhododendron bloom in Bhutan on the way to Punakha-001

Very few countries in the world can match the richness of Bhutan’s flora and fauna. Thanks to their serious environmental protection and conservation I enjoyed watching a monkey sitting on the side of the road; a huge colorful bird that hopped on a tree, I can only wish I knew its name. But when I saw the yaks (I had mistaken them for takins, Bhutan’s national animal and known to be an extremely rare mammal) I had to ask the driver to stop the car so I can run after them up in the hills.

Takin Bhutan's national animal-001

I have this strong affinity with ruins. A lot of people find them uninteresting, lifeless. I find them full of wisdom, exuding aura of the ancient times. I’ve been to ruins in India, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia so I didn’t want to miss Drukgyel Dzong in Bhutan. I was dumbfounded. I have no words to describe and will rely on the cliche, “a picture paints a thousand words.”

Drukgyel Dzong in Paro Bhutan-001

Bhutan may be full of natural beauty but hey, the country is not just about that, it is full of art masterpieces too! In Punakha Dzong I have seen the world’s most magnificent temple. We were not allowed to take photos, sorry folks. I like it that way though, to keep its sanctity and solemnity. But here are some photos around Punakha Dzong showing very intricate designs.

Punakha Dzong Bhutan-001

Punakha Dzong interior-001

Punakha Dzong-001

I also had a bit of a shock when I saw penises, lots and lots of them, either painted on the walls of buildings and houses or carved on woods. My friend, understanding my amusement, explained that phallus is a religious symbol and is believed to ward off evil and brings good luck.

Phallic drawing Paro Bhutan-001

carved phallus Bhutan-001

Above all these, what truly captured my heart are the people. The Bhutanese are very warm and hospitable people. They are calm and patient. Around them I feel so at ease, it must be because they emit positive energies. With them I was reminded to savor the moment and not rush through life.

Mary Antonette Abello_Bhutan-001

On weekends they go out to play while most of the time I slack in front of the TV or drown on the internet. I passed by people playing different sports but when I saw an archery tournament, I let my driver have snacks so I can watch the game. I felt bad to have him wait at the car.

Bhutanese playing archery-001

I’ve seen a lot of young Bhutanese hone their crafts at the 13 Traditional Arts School (Institute of Zorig Chusum). I learned that most students came from underprivileged families. The school is financed by the government including their board and lodging. I asked one boy why he got interested in tailoring. He said he wanted to be an international fashion designer. They may be poor but why do they look more content and happier than those rich kids who showcase fancy items out of mommy and daddy’s pocket?

13 Traditional Arts School Bhutan-001

Institute of Zorig Chusum Bhutan-001

 

Photo taken at a ceramics shop in Paro

Photo taken at a ceramics shop in Paro

I admire how spiritual Bhutanese are. You will see many of them turning the prayer wheels, both young and old. They have a prayer room in their house; light incense for each morning’s prayer. Prayer flags are found all over the place.

Prayer wheels monk Bhutan-001

Prayer flags in Bhutan

I rarely see Bhutanese who wear modern clothes. Most of them wear their traditional dress, gho for men and kira for women. This makes the cultural experience in Bhutan distinct because at this modern period, you will see how Bhutanese go about their daily lives the same way from many decades ago.

Bhutanese girls-001

I have not seen nor experienced a wild nightlife similar to that in Bangkok during my whole stay in Bhutan. Although I did relish this stunning view of Tashichoo Dzong and Thimphu skyline.

Thimphu in the evening

In Bhutan I was able to reconnect on a deeper level with mother nature, with my spirituality and immerse into the quintessential of human connection that our technology-driven world has so often neglected.

And just like in temples where I was forbidden to take photos, my most memorable experiences with people very dear to me are beyond words. I will just let my heart keep it locked in until I come again.

More photos are available in my Facebook. Click here.

P.S. If you want to visit Bhutan, I recommend Almost Heaven travel agency. It’s owned by a friend so I can guarantee you are in safe hands. If you are in Bhutan, I encourage you to watch my friend’s latest film Kushuthara – Pattern of Love. And if you are a bookworm, then grab copies of Sonam Kinga’s books!


Smile with your eyes

Photo by miaymarch.com

Photo by miaymarch.com

I’ve always considered New Year as a symbol of hope and renewal. I welcomed 2015 with positive anticipation. And for the first time in six years, I get to spend it with my family. Unfortunately, as much as I wanted it to be my “kick-ass awesome year” ever, some things are just out of my hands. My yet to be resolved past mingled with dramatic changes in both my present and future professional and personal life.

If there is one word that can epitomise my life in the first quarter of 2015, it will be ESTUARY.

Amidst all these lies my resolve to empower myself.

Being a photography enthusiast — as you may have noticed from most of my Facebook and Instagram posts– I wanted this transitional stage in my life captured. This became more timely with my birthday turning me to the last year of my twenties.

As fate would have it, I bumped into the blog of Mia and saw her “Love you now, love you more after” photoshoot concept. Reading about this session felt like reading my thoughts on screen. She nailed what I had in mind.

“Smile with your eyes,” Mia asked me several times. It was my first professional photoshoot so I would have felt like a star in front of her lens. But no, all I had were unwelcomed thoughts flooding on me. I felt I was not okay yet. I didn’t want to pretend to be smiling sweetly but felt like in an emotional tornado inside – yep, going to Sydney in less than 3 months from now creeps me out like anything too. Change is always scary, huh! – The worst deception is that of our own self, indeed.

I was once asked what it is to be an empowered woman. My response was simple: an empowered woman is one who is able to make informed decisions for herself and is able to maximise her full potential.

And then it hit me.

Mary Antonette Abello

An empowered woman is one who is able to celebrate her strength and vulnerability; embrace her brokenness and nurture her inner power; forgive her past and high five the future as she can’t be truly bothered by it yet because being in the present moment is paramount. Amidst any storm she will carry on. She will choose selfless love over possession and integrity over personal gains. She will not be crippled by discrimination, abandonment nor injustice. She will rise, speak and act. She will respect herself.

She will smile with her eyes.

Cheers to womanhood! And this may just be a kick-ass awesome year after all!

P.S. If you are in Bangkok and up for a photoshoot for yourself or your family, then Mia (photographer) and Erika (make-up artist) is the team for you. What makes them different from those in the studio is the personal touch. They make sure you are comfortable and they allow you to take your time. And they are sooo fun to be with too!