Today I was a grown up.
Really, I was. I had emailed this woman, Venetia several months ago about working with her nonprofit- being her consultant. That's what I want to do some day- consult nonprofits on how to be better, I figure why not practice now, right? There are so many people in the world who want to do good, who have such great passion and innovative ideas to fix the world's problems. Problem is, they don't know how. In fact, many nonprofit leaders are so wrapped up their crusade to make a change that they pummel through those who should be benefiting or waste money given by those moved to donate because of their leader's zeal.
I want to empower people with the passion for change to know how nonprofits should work. How they Could be great if only leaders are on top of things. They aren't only interested in the bottom line like most companies, and rarely should they be just random handouts. Nonprofits straddle a funny line between business and charity and quite frankly most people suck and the balance. That's where I come in.
So I went to the Dhamma Park today (cue up soundtrack) and sat in an open air patio surrounded by sculpture and art dedicated to simple principles: peace, tranquility, and the innate ability of every person to be creative. It was stunning to sit and just feel good.
Venetia is this 78 year old British woman who came to Thailand almost 30 years ago and fell in love with these principles. She married a Thai artist (quite talented, the both of them) and little by little established this park just an hour south of Chiang Mai where people can come and learn how to relax, understand themselves and encourage their artistic selves. Sounds hippie fantastic, I know. I was so enthralled with her as she spoke of how people today are so disconnected, materialistic and really have no idea what their own lives are all about. Problem is, their organization is falling to pieces. No money, no new projects, deteriorating lots of things.
So we had a little throw down and I got all riled up about what we can do to get us back on track (us?) and by the time I got back to Chiang Mai I was all wound up and needed a nice facial/foot massage to relax (cue music again). Pure ZEN.
The song itself is not super my style and I'm not sure what this David guy is even doing in the song (not singing that's for sure - driving?), but on the night Lisa and I got to Chiang Mai, after we had dinked around the city a bit before Dr. Page and crew arrived (at the wonderful hour of 1:00am), we ended up glued to the TV. What an invention really. We were hypnotized by poorly dubbed movies, repetitive news crises (Holy Haiti, when did that happen?!) and crap music videos. I won't detail the effect of the video on Lisa and I, but watch the video and understand (the homeless guy is my favorite).
It's been rejuvenating to be back in Thailand. I wasn't too excited when I found out that our first Saturday with the crew I got suddenly designated tour guide (only because I don't have any idea where I am in Chiang Mai or what there is to do here) but it turned out just fine. We wandered around for a bit (an easy fall back) and I explained a bit about Buddhist culture and religion on the way to the church. Sister O'Neill (a sister I taught at the MTC) screamed when she saw me. I love her and she's kicking butt now, which helps me feel like I didn't fail the missionaries when I taught there. I had arranged to meet with Sister Nisarat, one of my favorite sisters who served with me, and she helped fill the afternoon with Actually cool activities like a trip up the mountain to view points and temples with dancers (all at the Thai price!).
To the Merkleys: Sure, I'll personally hand a disabled person a prosthetic leg that will change his life forever (only if I can cry while I'm at it) Sure, I'll applaud you with 100 others when you stand stable for the first time in your life and you shake my hand in gratitude as if I had something to do with it.
To CARE: Of course I'm qualified to have a discussion and review of Cyclone Nargis recovery with 30 community leaders and and impromptu hour or more of open questions (multiple times) and give my approval on water sanitation and agriculture projects in 4 cities. Of course, this is just what I expected... Thanks for fanning me while I eat in the middle of your community center, sir, could you please tell everyone they don't need to wait? Yes I'll put your request for more funds for a school and new bridge to share with the next village over in my final report?
Did I mention that tourists aren't allowed to come here? We had to get special permission from the big guys.
I am so amazed at what people can do with very few resources. Maybe I'll move here instead. On second though, it's so hot, I'm chewing gum feverishly to keep my pulse from stopping.
Busting down the Irawaddy River to a village (by boat. I feel like Moses)- I can't believe I've been traveling for over two weeks now. Then again, I cannot believe I have over two months left. I hope I don't burn out. I've tried to set it up so that with each destination there is a semi-home base- wehre we're not staying in a hostel but with a family or in ahome of some sort. Hotel and early mornings get old and tiring. But man, is this amazing.
Hello bus. Hello local Burmese rock band doing a remake of Tequila Sunrise and It Must Be Love (in Burmese!). East Washington (around the Gorge) turned into massive cliffs and full mountains. Winding down the Shan Mountains at sunset was beautiful and terrifying. Thank you to (tmi alert) whatever I ate that messed with my bowels and such a bumpy time in my life. I can now say that I have gone where many females have never before, places that require agility and wilderness savvy and unmatched bravery.
No more buses, please.
Sitting on the Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding (on repeat please)
Who Says by John Mayer (the feel of the song, not so much the 'I do whatever I want' lyrics)
I was most excited for Inle Lake (I <3>
We wandered around Naungshwe, the cheap backpacker town, until we thought we'd seen it all (ghetto fabulous museum and myster flour on noodles) and started walking due east, by a seamstress' recommendation of a cave and monastery "20 minutes walk." Our guest house said maybe 30. We put on the good sheos and headed east. Turns out 30 minutes was almost half way- we walked and walked and walked- no singing- passing the outskirts of town we didnt' know existed, government offices I wanted to egg, a lot of kids on their way home from school and then! a dirt road. Onward we went, hoping for the best despite lies of close proximity.
This is far too much leadup for this caliber of story- I'll get down to facts. After an hour of alking we hit the mountain where a score of young monks (aged 8-16 probably) were on the hill in red, moving big rocks from the hillside. Hmm, okay? Up the stairs was aloverly little pagoda and a man carving a huge plaster or stone pagoda fish (for good luck?). One of the little monks (very cute but in no way endearing) led us down a windy path a bunch of stairs and someone's backyard to a creepy but awesome cave with a bunch of Buddhist reics and a roped-off staircase that led down into the dark. The boy motioned for us to take a picture down the abyss. Haych no, little boy. I know enough about Buddhist ghosts to know that pictures in places like this are a bad idea. Our walk back was pleasant and we had a pitiful pancake dinner and amazing kettle corn (and Star Cola as a night cap). The 45 minute longboat (motor canoe) ride down to the lake was FREEZING. We (2 of us) in our chairs with lifejacks (I used mine as acusion, because really), the Burmese (at least 5 per boat, but up to 20) coming to and from markets on the floor (probably more comfortable), along with 500 pounds of produce, of course).
Through the Wire by Kanye West (a little bit frantic, but a somehow Kanye chill)
I need a Hero by Bonnie Tyler (only at sunset)
I was worried that Mandalay wouldn't be worth it (sounds like a reoccuring skeptical theme, I'm just noticing). It was at least an $80 excursion outside the other two big tourist sites in Burma but we went, mostly to see the Mustache Brothers (more later). We had asked a couple tourists along the way advice on thing to do because we really had no idea. The report on Mandalay was always something like 'it's not a charming city. At all. But go..." Great advice/warning that the city sucks.
Of course, at every turn were trinkets and paintings. Some tempting, some ridiculous (i.e. an intricately designed laquerware motorcycle helmet) and randoms just walking around to practice their english. One stud muffin 13-year-old boy had currency from a good twenty countries (from Uzbekistan to Triniada and Tobago). None from the US (filthy stingy Americans) so we competed his deck as a tip for showing us around Ananda- the King of Bagan - 30+ foot tall Buddhas and a blinding gold pagoda (especially in afternoon sun). We topped off the day with a sparkling sunset and an overpriced inner at this loverly restaurant with a new French friend.
Day two, we rounded up the frenchies for Mt. Popa, a day trip out of central Bagan through surrounding countryside. Sidenote: I have a special weakness for urban poverty. I think it is often overlooked. People think that just because one lives in a city, they have access to the food, healthcare, housing and clean water there. Not true. It is often urbanites who lack the most, plus they deal with a host of other problems stemming from separation from family and lack of land. That being said, life outside the city just plain blows. Hot, long and heavy. It doesn't help when tourists drive by and you have to do a ridiculous song and dance about how you climb trees to get palm oil, distill it to makes wine and liquor and grind peanuts for hours to make a half cup of oil.
Giving in to the song and dance
The drive to Mt. Popa just depressed the heart out of me. I. am. a. bum. I can never complain about my life because no matter what goes wrong in my life, I will never have to carry hundreds of pounds of something on sticks over my shoulder tens of miles or more in blazing heat just to make enough for my family to survive.
Still depressed on top
Mt. Popa brought the wind back into me. A buddhist/local animist mix (a report deal they struck when the religions came to a clash) overlooking a fertile valley from a mountain 777 steps high. Quite the climb, rounda and round til the top. Unfortunately, there were monkeys all up the way - jumping loudly, ogling creepily and hissing/barring teeth at Lisa and one of the frenchies when a three day old dead baby looked under attack. Blech. I hate monkeys.
Frenchies and a monkey
The view was good, but beat by another killer sunset at a lonely temple near our new hostel and that was trumped yet again by a sunrise that makes all the world right again.
The highlight of my night was a trade- my mp3 player and a tube of lip gloss for some quality souvenirs I wouldn't otherwise be able to afford. Looks like I have a little Mark Knudson in me :)
Asia Prince got my mp3 player- I got his paintings
I can't stop smiling. Sister Merkley picked us up from the airport (if there were an eHarmony pairing grandparents to grandkids, she'd be my match) and we went straight to church. There is something magical about the sacrament prayer in another language. I love to hear it, thinking that 2000+ years ago was the last supper and here we are in Myanmar year 2553 of the Buddha, blessing that same bread. I got to play the piano (at least for opening and closing, Kitty is practicing sacrament hymns for her upcoming mission to Pocatello, ID) and I am again thankful for Marsha Nielson's 4 years of efforts in teaching me. My children will learn enough to play piano in branches where they are needed.
Off to one of Yangon's top Buddhist sites- a massive porcelain looking reclining Buddha - the eye alone is 5'8" wide and made of pure glass. They didn't have a factory equipped to make such a sacred eyeball so they built one for the job. It's apparently in shambles now but you can still go dig out blown glass from heaps in the adjacent jungle. The gift shop sells all the knick knacks you'd expect, some better ones. So begins the quest for souvenirs that don't suck. I'd like to get stuff I might actually use/display in my home someday. Hard to do without a home in mind.
Big Buddha, big Buddha, aww yeah, big Buddha big Buddha big Buddha
Late afternoon- off to Shwedagon Pagoda, so we could see it in the daylight and all lit up at night. It's quite an impressive site, complete with Asia's favorite color: gold. And Buddhas lit by blue and green casino lights of course. I'm pretty sure we were hit on by a group of monks but I'm too uncomfortable about the situation to go over the details enough to decide. I do know there was a cocky approach, lots of smiling and an email request at the end. Ahhh, weirded out.
Don't get the wrong idea. I am NOT touching that monk on the right.
Other pictures from Shwedagon/Yangon
Ringing the bell five times (Satu! Satu! Satu!)
All lit up at night
There are no ATMs in Burma so the missionaries had to bring all the money for their 2 year mission in CASH and exchange it here. Elder Merkley busted out their literally 2 ft. by 3 ft. brick of 1000chat bills (= about $1 each) and played banker for us. Result: wads of grubby, stinky, smelly, sticky, well-used for over 30 years cash we had to cart around with us (let's call us paranoid, and weighed down) for the rest of the trip.
You'll notice a lot of outfit repeats. This one's my favorite.
Uh, no dad. He then made me watch this.
Here's what Burma really looks like:
Too excited considering the early boarding
Just west of Thailand it's hot and humid, jungly in parts, fields in others. Word is: Green
Yangon is a sprawling city of 5.5 million, which you wouldn't guess from the few skyscrapers. The rest of the 45 million people live out in the country, some in cities like Mandalay, but mostly in villages
Led by: Than Shwe and his military buddies. Oppressing minorities and freedom of speech (and thought)
An innappropriate smile considering the atrocities this man has committed
They're saying: Mingalaba and Jesu timbare (hello and thank you), usually with a ridiculously wide (cheshire cat style, but not creepy) smile. They've got Thailand beat for smiles, easy.
They're wearing: Longyis (a sarong sewed together at the ends). Children and teachers wear green, women wear patterns, men wear checkered, with crisp white collared shirts if they're meaning business.
And Tanaka, all the ladies at least, and some little kids- ground up wet sandalwood that's "good for the skin" and protection from the sun
All Tanaka's up with our new fried Momu
Why I'm going: To see what's going on with development there. And because I can :)
9:30pm (PST) Still walking to the international terminal. LAX, you have lame infrastructure.
Should old acquaintance be forgot and days of auld lang syne?
I'm not a super Sex and the City Fan (unless it's dubbed in Italian apparently) but here's the best version of the song
What does this even mean? Turns out auld lang syne translates roughly to 'long, long ago' or 'in times past.' Okay. Still doesn't make a ton of sense. How did this oft-sung New Year's Eve ballad become the song of the new year. The only song of the new year, really.
Turns out the poet Robert Burns was writing about old acquaintances and the past. He inquired how we should deal with them. Forget them? Move on? It's a question I've been asking myself lately as my pile of old acquaintances are growing and my days of auld lang syne being mushed together.
This New Year's Eve was a perfect goodbye to Provo. I spent a good part of the day working, packing and hating that I haven't sold my contract yet. I wasn't going to celebrate really at all. Lay on my floor and loathe the world and 2009 better, right? (Maybe fake entertain too, Charlie Chaplin style.) I finally decided to take the offer of this guy from my freshman ward who I didn't know until 2 weeks ago when we met at the MTC for a party up Hobblecreek Canyon. So I readied and beautified and left my room in disarray. I spent some time with my sibling and their spouses (old acquaintances that can never be forgot, thank heavens) and spend the night meeting 50 new people that I'll never see again. Ever. Acquaintances in the loosest definition of the word.
In my six years off and on mixing and mingling in the Provo pot (and elsewhere in life), I have met SO many people. I've become friends with so many people. I've left so many people from wards, classes, and grocery store meetings with the understanding that I'll never see them again. Why even make these connections if they are inevitably going to disintegrate?
I don't have any real good groundbreaking answer to the question of why we make these relationships and how we should deal with parting with them except for that it's worth it. I'm glad for the girl I work with whose name I always forget but who I always have good conversation with after work meetings. I'm glad for that guy in my ward who I will never date but I always flirt with. I'm glad for my old roommates who I shared late nights and breakfasts with and not much else. I'm glad for boyfriends that just didn't work out. I'm glad for friends who knew me well enough to give me advice tailored for me. I'm glad for friends who started as acquaintances and now seem inseparable from my life.
So what do we do with these piles of old acquaintances? Robert Burns gives a hint, in the chorus of his poem:
For auld lang syne my dear For auld lang syne
We'll take a cup of kindness yet For auld lang syne.
Take that for what it's worth. Think about the past thoughtfully, make plans for the future, for old time's sake.
Happy New Year!
And goodbye Provo. It's been fun.
The best, of course, was Christmas morning- Kaylee and Riley grinning like fools as they saw Santa's spoils under the tree. You ask Kaylee now what their favorite present was: PINK BOOTS!! Both girls got a pink cowgirl getup: boots, Wranglers, pink belt, shirt and hat. It doesn't get much cuter than that. And Santa came for me too :)
**Pictures and video to come**