Now, to get to some of those topics on the list! Because, you see, I guess I was mistaken in that conversation I had with Hutt some months ago – kiddingly, I said something like, “I have nothing to say” – well, Hutt ran with that and we got a lot of laughter mileage out of it. So, perhaps I was incorrect, perhaps I have plenty to say. And now, by the grace of my good fortune in sitting on this decrepit, delightful veranda, I have the time and space in which to say it! So here goes!! (Anyone who gets to the end of this post wins a prize – it’s a long one, get comfy!)
Gettin’ My Groove On
It takes a lot of doing really, this creating a way of being out here. Or maybe not-doing, which is more to the point. And it’s not always easy, but it’s a great practice in paying attention and listening deeply to my own inner voice. How to decide what to do, how to be, where to go, when to go, where to stay. In my daily ‘regular’ life at home, I tend to be, like many, on automatic pilot in these decisions. I go to work, I eat at the places I like, I go home. It’s all rather simple and takes little, if any thought. And it’s fine. When I’ve traveled with others, it’s also a shared decision-making process. But out here alone, I create and then follow my own rhythms. But before I can do that, I have to figure out what they are; which of course, is a great part of what I love being out here … and a great part of what confounds me being out here!
If I were in a workshop or program of some sort, I would follow the structure laid out for me. I would eat when and where it was offered, I would go to the workshop offering and hopefully, be thrilled with what it was. Like with the recent, fantastic Singing with Courage week at Kalani. I loved every minute of it! And like I will do at Esalen in August – yippee and ohmigod – I just heard from them that I was accepted into the program – normally they make their decisions for Work Study Scholars 3 months in advance of the workshop, but since I asked, they made an exception for me and I am in – holy shit, a month-long workshop (and working at Esalen) on “Writing My Memoir” – with emphasis once the writing is done on performing it – with who I guess is a pretty high-powered woman teaching it – ohsure, I need to put that projection of her in there just to make me feel even more nervous about it – yikes, what was I thinking signing up for that?? Why couldn’t I just take the prior month’s offering of the Gestalt thing? That would have been fine, but no, I’ve got to do the stretching, challenging thing – haven’t quite gotten enough of that yet!!
Anyway, my point is/was that in a workshop, I am following the structure laid out by another – I have no such structure here – I need to create it (or not) every moment for myself. And I love that freedom. And it’s sometimes very challenging – although once I listen, really listen to that inner voice to make the decision for me, then it’s easy peasy and feels so ‘right’ and pono. It’s a process, finding my way there; and I’m in the midst of it right this moment as I write. And write and write. And don’t go and see the elephants (this reference will make sense later on, keep reading!). It’s okay – I’m sure they’re fine without me. And really, that laundry does need to get done (another reference that will make sense, I promise!), so I’ll do that today instead. That is, if I ever move off this veranda!
Ohsure, I did all my pre-trip reading and research, set up a route with plans of what to see and do along the way, knowing full well I will certainly not adhere to that itinerary any more than I would to any set-out plan! That’s just not my style. (It’s Joseph Campbell who said, ‘if your path is clearly laid out in front of you, then it’s clearly not your path – right on, Joe!) But it is my Virgo style to have some kind of structure within which to then serendipitously follow the flow that shows up in the moment. I love that combination. And I’m just getting my feet wet with it. And I’m in absolutely no rush to get anywhere, which is heavenly – ohmigod, how I love that!
So, here’s the current conundrum – how long do I stay here in Champasak? (I have followed my own self-imposed ‘rule’ in the past of never staying in a place for less than two nights, lest I feel like I’m always on the move – early on right now, that seems to be getting extended already! – tonight will be night 3 here as was Pakse.) Today, what do I do with my day? I’ve seen the ruins, even with their magnificence, I have no big need to return there – I’ve seen what there is to see of the town. Should I take the next turn in the road, go see the plains, the elephants, the next unknown place around the corner that allures me? That all sounds fine, but going to see the elephants, for example, is quite an ordeal of transportation. It’s wayyyyy off the beaten transportation route and as a single traveler, when I hire a tuk-tuk, then I have to pay for the whole thing, unless others are going that way who I can tag along with. That gets pricey, even at Lao standards. So while the elephants of course attract me, the truth is, as exotic as it sounds, I don’t really want to travel into the forest for hours on top of an elephant – sorry, Ms. Adventure Queen, but it’s true. I remember taking a camel-camping trip into the desert of Northern India near the Pakistan border for several days; and while it makes for a great travel story, when that camel stood up, I had the feeling I had no business being that high up off the ground on top of an animal, with it moving, no less! Oh, and then it got up onto its feet – it had only been on its knees to begin with – from there, I was absolutely sure I had no business up there – but what was I supposed to do at that point – tell the Indian man I wanted off this E-ticket ride? There was no going back at that point. But there is now! I think about elephants and I have no idea how they compare in height to camels, but I do have a general idea of their size and the same sense returns to me – I have no business up there!!
And what’s all this ‘doing’ about anyway? I’m sure that even if I chose not to ride the elephants, just to see them would be great. And maybe I will sometime in my journey. Really, I don’t mean to take a bad turn on elephants, they’re fine creatures, no doubt! I just have no need to go everywhere and do everything – what a relief that is!
I’m about as fine as I can imagine being this morning (soon turning into early afternoon at this rate!), sitting on my veranda, drinking locally-grown green tea that’s on offer all day for the drinking, downstairs in the guest house; eating my yogurt from the honor-frig that’s also down there; watching the world of Champasak go by; taking the occasional photo and writing, writing, writing. I’ve been at it for hours already. And I’m simply and completely delighted with my time right now. There is nowhere else to go, nowhere else to be … perhaps I’ll rent a bicycle later and cruise around on it. Perhaps I won’t. Surely I will make my way back to the Champasak Spa for another (different kind, this time) massage. And I’ll do some laundry – since I’m traveling with so few clothes, that has to be done somewhat frequently.
Oh, on that subject – I am thrilled; let me tell you, thrilled, with how lightly I’m traveling. And I’m convinced it could be lighter, although I’m hesitant to let go of stuff this early on in the trip, lest I let go of something I haven’t yet recognized I will need later on.
Mahalos again to Donna for helping me with this – it’s been great having so little! Please, let me indulge in the details I am so prideful of – 3 pairs of capris, 2 short-sleeve tops, 2 sleeveless tops, 1 gauzy, very light cotton ¾ length-sleeve top, a long sleeve, very light cotton snapped shirt, a bathing suit bottom & two tops, a nightshirt that can also (but hasn’t yet) serve as a top, a very-thin, very light sleeveless dress and that is it in the clothes department! Oh, and two pair of thin black socks, one of which is a brand-new Christmas present from Mary I haven’t worn yet. There’ve been a few times I’ve been chilly, like on the train from Bangkok to Pakse when I was downright cold as we passed through some areas that were really quite frigid for my standards (passed through is the key word in that sentence, I am grateful to say!). But never yet chilly enough to wish I had brought that fleece I had in the car that I deliberated on up until the final minute.
The backpack still weighs too much at 15 pounds, but so much less than I’ve traveled with in the past. I’ve already walked for a few kilometers with it on and it’s get to be a bit much after a while, but mostly it’s fine. I am not in the least bit sorry that I didn’t bring my wheeled-suitcase. It would not have done well on these dusty, non-paved roads. And getting on and off boats, which I’ll be doing more and more of, would have been much more challenging with it than with the backpack that I can just throw on or off the boat. Hmmm, just as I write this, I see a tourist couple (the world is indeed a 2 x 2 world, which is slightly annoying at times!) walking down the street, wheeling their duffels, the kind I was thinking about – and invariably, as those wheeled things do on less than perfectly smooth surfaces, hers kept toppling over. Yes, I smugly think, the backpack is doing just fine for me!
My ‘day bag’ has taken some sorting through and getting used to. I think it’s a fine bag for the job, but with so many compartments, I’m still trying to remember where what is and trying to keep things in the same place so I remember where to find them without scurrying through every single compartment for that one item I’m looking for. Is this terribly boring to the reader? Well, maybe so, but out here, it’s pretty important stuff, you see, because, well, just because it is. It makes the world of difference for me to be organized in these ways – I’m like a turtle carrying my home around with me and if there’s anything this Virgo Turtle loves it’s not only beauty, but also order in my home! The day bag is also the place where my electronics live when I’m on the move from one locale to the next and I am most pleased with its capacity for all that stuff – computer, I-phone, camera and kindle all fit easily and nicely in there. And then when I’m where I’m staying, that stuff either goes in a safe in the guest house (if they have one) or hidden in my room when I go out. For now, here in Lao, that’s been easy and not a concern. I know it will be different in places where there is more thievery, which will necessitate me being much more vigilant. For now, I enjoy being able to be more relaxed.
Update on those damn elephants! It’s late afternoon now and I’m sitting Mekong riverside at the Vong Paseud Guest House Restaurant, eating a bowl of fried rice with vegetables, filled with carrots and all kinds of green stuff – all for $1.25 – it’s quite yummy and more than filling my hunger in the moment.
Throughout the day I kept coming back to what my plans might be for moving forward, feeling like it was time, yet also wanting to just surrender to the comfort that Champasak is giving me. I knew, though, that if I wanted to reserve a place on the minivan for a ride down south tomorrow, I needed to do it today. So I went ahead and told the man at the guest house that indeed, I would head down to Si Phan Don (the land of 4000 Islands) tomorrow. The day wore on. I did laundry. Hanging clothes to dry on a line is nothing new to me as I don’t have a dryer at home and I hardly miss it, except on linen laundry day. But it’s rare that I wash by hand every piece of clothing in my wardrobe, which is what, except for a few pieces, I did today. While I don’t need to romanticize such an activity (believe me, if there were a machine available, surely I would’ve used it; but there isn’t one anywhere to be found in these parts.), it was far away from drudgery. And corny as it may sound, it gives me a different sense of connection to these clothes – they’re all I’ve got out here (and surprisingly, so far, little opportunity to buy any more) and I pay more attention to them and feel more of a sense of appreciation for what it takes for them to be clean in a way that I totally take for granted and give not a second thought to at home.
But the elephants, the elephants – onto the elephants. I couldn’t quite get them out of my mind even as I made my minivan reservation. I went back to the guest house man and asked him about those damn elephants and while it took awhile for us to understand each other, here’s the short version: I’m going to commune with the elephants tomorrow. They’re calling me and I’ve answered. Whether I will hoist myself atop one of the mammoth beasts is a whole other question not for this moment. But go I will, to see them and their neighborhood. He will take me on the back of his motor bike and then probably return here to the guest house. I’m happy about this! I’m simply not quite ready to leave this area – Champasak is growing on me – and there’s plenty of time for moving on another day.
Oh, and I’ve ‘done’ not one single tourist-oriented thing today. And it’s been a lovely day of slow and easy, giving words to all these thoughts and feeling and noticing that every act, every moment is a sacred ritual. I’m basking in it all right now and it’s delicious!
Boldness & Freedom = Discernment & Responsibility
When Bear and I were in Bangkok, she made mention of a woman in her satsang who was going to India with them. As Bear described her in the positive light of her boldness, this woman thought she would act however she wanted while in India … ‘I’m a Western woman and I’ll do as please, I don’t have to adhere to those Indian ideas of how women should behave.’ (This is totally my rephrasing, but I think I got the basic gist of the idea.) I didn’t say much at the time, but something about it irked me. It kept coming back to me, this irksome feeling, long after our conversation and I think I get it now. It had the feeling to me of what I’ll call The Entitled American. That quite typical Americanism I’ve encountered on the road of ‘I can do whatever I please (that part stated), I’m an American (the second part not so obviously stated, but there nonetheless) – the American who thinks the road should part for their entrance, service should be this or that, standards should meet their expectations, they can behave however they like, on and on. And yes, it irks me.
But the one related to the women is more than simply irksome. It hits me even deeper. I would hardly be one turning a blind eye to the oppressive roles of women anywhere, in any culture. And hey, I love boldness. And of course it’s challenging for me when I travel to other countries and see the status of women there – it’s not only challenging and enraging, it hurts my heart. Deeply. But my refusal to cover my shoulders or my knees when that’s what’s asked for does little to improve the lives of those women who live in the shadows of their brothers. In some ways, I think it even mocks them. ‘Look at me, I’m a free Western woman, I can do whatever I want – and you can’t.’ That may be a bit overstated, but it also may not. I don’t know how those women interpret that behavior, but I have sure seen the looks of disdain and/or embarrassment toward some travelers from local people. And I prefer not to have that look directed at me.
I know it’s not an easy call and I for one sure don’t want to collude with oppression of women (or anyone). How do I affect change, then? By refusing to adhere to the cultural standards of a society in which I’m a guest? I think not. I may be someone who prefers to swim naked (you can take the ‘may’ out of the sentence, really!), but if I’m invited to someone’s home to swim and they wouldn’t dream of swimming naked, then are my preferences the priority over respecting them, their home, their invitation? Is proving our point the most important stance? Is taking a stance even the most important thing? Or are kindness and respect and graciousness really more important?
Yes, it’s true; I have my freedom to show my shoulders and my knees and way more than that. Pretty much any time I want. And I do, god knows I do! If I want to take on the subjugation of women in foreign countries, then doing something about that sounds like a fine idea. But not by being a disrespectful guest. As my mother used to say (as all mothers say?) – ‘You live in my house, you live by my rules.’ I always balked at that when she said it, but I realize now that I don’t have to agree with those rules; but yes, I get it now, Mom, I do have to play by them. I think it’s respect, really, that she was trying to instill. The method and the terminology may not have been the most skillful, but that was what she was getting at. And she would be happy to know I finally get it!
So, in places where it’s not ‘proper,’ you won’t see my shoulders or knees for awhile; but you know what – that’s just fine with me. Really it is. I’m so aware of and grateful for the extraordinary freedom I have to even be here and that freedom is not without responsibility. And that’s a responsibility I take seriously.
Just for the record – none of this is directed at the woman in Bear’s satsang. I don’t even know her, for god’s sake. But I am grateful for that conversation with Bear – it got me thinking. And I’m always grateful for that!
Why Aren’t These People Talking to Me?
Lao women are friendly – as I’ve said, all it takes is a smile, but I haven’t yet met any who speak English. And really, they’re pretty busy taking care of home and children. Lao men speak more English and work more in the tourist field, although few have fluency with the language. I see them talking to other tourists, though, even women. But not so much to me. And I’ve been wondering why. As I sit here on the veranda looking down at a Lao man talking to a group of three women tourists, I think I just now understand what might be at work – I’m alone and they do not want to offend or give the wrong impression. Lao people are a humble folk and they are big on propriety – adhering to the ‘appropriate’ public/social behavior is very important to them – talking to me, a single woman, just may lead someone, even me, to get the wrong idea. Okay, I think I got it and now it’s more okay that they’re not talking to me. But still, I sure would love to have a conversation with them sometime – oh, I’ll figure out how to make it happen, of that I’m sure!
The world is going up in smoke! I’m amazed, really, but everyone out here is still smoking. I’ve seen narely (I don’t know if that’s a word, but I like it and I’m using it and that’s that!) a tourist who hasn’t had a cigarette dangling from their hand or mouth. Europeans mostly, as I haven’t yet met one person from the States on my trip, thus far. Have the Europeans not been paying any attention to what we’ve learned about cigarettes over the last several decades? It’s unbelievable. And since most of the tourists I see are in their 20’s, that’s even more disturbing. Is smoking still considered ‘cool’ with the young generation of Europeans?
There are some locals smoking, too, but not en masse the way the tourists are. And somehow, not that it’s ‘okay’ by any means, but I wouldn’t expect that there’s been nearly the massive education campaign here in Asia like in the States and like I thought was in Europe.
Maybe it’s that righteous indignation of former smokers from which I’m speaking, but I don’t think so. I’m just surprised. And grateful I’ve given up that stinky and disgusting habit. Oh yeah, and there is that annoying issue around the lung cancer thing, too.
Traveling as an ‘American’ with Barack at the Helm
I was curious about this, really, since the last time I was out here traveling for an extended time, the Bushes were in charge and there were times that my embarrassment and shame led me to lie and say I was Canadian. I remember plenty of travelers with a Canadian flag patch sewn onto their backpacks lest they be mistaken for and associated with us folks from the States, although I haven’t yet seen that this time around. (I’m keen on not calling us ‘Americans’ when I’m out here – in respect to the lots of other Americans besides those of us from the United States of America.) So I’ve been curious about what kind of reception I may get now that I think we’re not quite the laughing stock or the scorn of the world that we were back then.
I had my first opportunity to find out about this with Lan, a Lao man in Pakse. He was the tour guide for the 10-hour tour I took from my guest house to the Bolaven Plateau. I’m generally not one for tours at all. Someone telling me when to go, where to go just makes my skin tight. It’s that damn independent streak in me. But in this case, it was a fine idea, was a small group and gave me an overview of the area I simply would never have found or gotten otherwise. It got my feet wet here in Lao, introduced me to some of the Ethnic Lao who greatly intrigued me with their ancient culture and their animist traditions; and I learned a lot in the course of one day. The countryside was beautiful plains with high mountains surrounding them, the local tea drinking was yummy and our traditional Lao lunch of noodles with vegetables and spicy meat with mint was mouth-wateringly delicious!
And then there was the matter of letting go of hiring a motorcycle and touring through the area on my own. That was my original plan when I read about the Bolaven Plateau – the great touring one could do by renting a motorbike and exploring the back roads and distant villages at my own pace sounded like just the kind of adventure that would stretch and exhilarate me. Sign me up, I thought, when I initially read about it. But something in me was also hesitant. So I thought I’d take the tour, get a lay of the land and see how I felt. And the tour helped me decide not to do it. But it wasn’t an easy decision and a big part of me was disappointed, but it was an important process for me to go through early on in this journey.
During the course of the tour, I saw the condition of the roads, I saw the lack of facilities and services on these back roads (like motor bike repair places, for example!) and it gave me pause. Adventure, sure. But I’m not out here for the adrenaline kick – I’m not out here to be stranded and scared. And then I saw a woman at the guesthouse with bandages over her legs and feet and big scrapes across her face. I filled in the blanks. And then I took the tour. And it all added up to knowing I had made the right decision.
However, sometimes I feel a little envious of the couples or small groups I see traveling together and their companionship that can offer the reassurance of taking a trip like that. And sometimes I pine for it. Like when I met the Italian couple at the Sabaidy Guest House, my age-ish from the coastal area near Genoa. We had a great conversation – of course I had to tell them of my love affair with their neighbor, Manarola, and the many achingly-sublime days/weeks/months I’d spent there. And my love affair with Italy in general. It also didn’t take me long to give them my surname so I could let them know of some of my ancestral roots! And then he started on a rant about Berlusconi and how he’s in bed with the pope and how horrible the pope is and how the government gives tons of money to the Catholic Church there and his ultimate point that the pope should just be sent back to Avignon and be done with the whole matter once and for all – with all that lovely Italian-style drama and animation, I got quite a tickle about it! And then they drove off on their motorbikes as I sat there wishing I had someone with whom to do the same. But not for long and mostly not.
I realize I can’t have every trip in this one trip. I can’t have every experience there is to be had out here. While I may suffer from that interminable disease of FOMS (fear of missing something), it’s not chronic in me like it used to be and I can’t make decisions based on it. I have to let it go. Really I do. I can. And I am. I can have my experience. And all that I am and all that I have is way, way more than enough. My intuition is my guide and my compass in taking care of myself. So I am and I do. I decided not to take that motorbike trip after all. And the tour, amongst other things, gave me that. So maybe tours aren’t so bad after all!
But geez, I digress in a big way here – back to Barack and my conversation with Lan. Lan brought him up – he asked me what I thought about Obama and in my most skillful psychotherapeutic way, I turned the question around and asked him, since I was much more curious to hear his views than I found it necessary to share mine – and I was touched by what he had to say. While I realize that many of us ‘liberals’ are disappointed in him and wished for so much more than he’s delivered (and although I sympathize with the sentiments, I’m not totally there myself – a discussion for another time, lest I digress even more!), I was grateful for this extremely minute sample of one foreigner’s perspective.
Lan said, “Ohsure I like him, this Obama, everyone likes him. He thinks before he’s doing anything, he considers other people, other countries and he’s a very smart man.” Well, surely, I had never heard any such description in my travels (or at home!) about George Bush 1 and/or 2. Nothing even remotely close. If other people out here in the world feel similarly, then indeed that sensation that came over me might get to have more air time. I felt almost proud. Or at least not ashamed. And that was a vast departure from any feeling of being an ‘American’ I had ever known out here before. I hope to have more to say about this as my travels continue and I’ll keep you up-to-date as I do!
Whew, congrats on arriving at the end of this post!
Oh and by the way, if you’re curious where the photos are, I’m in the process of posting them on a Snapfish account — while they’re fun to have here, they take forever to upload and there, you can see them all! I’ll let you know when it’s a done deal.
Ciao for now from the one who has more to say than she says she does!