“As much as I want to be in the present – as much as I want to appreciate the fleeting moments I have – I’m frequently elsewhere. I’m in my scooter riding the chaotic, dusty streets of Kathmandu, dodging other bikes, cars, cows, carts, bicycles, old men, goats, buses and children. I’m in my apartment in Patan, lying in bed with my love wrapped in my arms. I’m on a hillside on the edges of a valley, catching a glimpse of the Himalayas. I’m talking to shopkeeper about their village, and receiving invitations to dine with a family I just met. I’m sipping sweet milk tea, listening to the cacophony of horns and watching the dark plumes of exhaust around me. I’m wishing I was far away. I’m wondering why I’m really here. My memories are more alluring than the experiences they once were.”
If this were a story, would you want to read more?
If you get an extended trip in Thailand, or are not interested in the “beach scene,” consider a trip up to northern Thailand to visit Chiang Mai. I was not planning on going to Northern Thailand until my friend temporarily relocated there for personal reasons. I am glad I got the opportunity to experience this part of Thailand as it was one of my favorite parts of my Thailand vacation.
Chiang Mia features the heat of the Thailand but not the dense humidity of Bangkok, due to its proximity to the mountains that eventually grow into the Himalayan range towards Burma and China. A city of less than 150,000 and under 1 million people in its metro, Chiang Mai has a laid back atmosphere but features all the modern amenities you can imagine. Where renting a bike in Bangkok would be intimidating and scary, it’s the perfect way to explore Chiang Mai. If you are more ambitious, you can follow the outgoing roads to more villages and towns in Northern Thailand. The city is exploding with temples, but still features an active bar scene if you’re down to party. It has two large Air-con malls when you need to escape the heat, and plenty of spiritual activities to partake in. You can easily escape the city for a variety of hiking, outdoor activities, sports and wildlife viewing.
If I had a choice of anywhere to live in Thailand, I’d go north. Many expats make the same choice, as there is a thriving international community. The three days I spent in Chiang Mai were a welcome surprise and highly recommended for anyone wanting to see a different side of Thailand
At the beginning of this month, I had quit my job at the NGO, creating intense anxiety and stress about where I would end up next. I entered Vipassana meditation with much hope I could clear my mind, but in turn find my mind very difficult to subdue and calm. I found myself running away to the future, craving for some stability and direction for the next few months. But then something changed.
I have seen a few friends and others go through Vipassana and there’s definitely a difference when they exit, regardless if they keep in practice or not. It’s like years of baggage have come to the surface and realized, and suddenly, good things start happening in their lives. Well, I can say I am lucky to experience the same kind of transition of my own.
In one month post Vipassana, I have landed one job with another potential job on the horizon, moved into my own spacious studio apartment, seen several incredible relationships grow (including one special one in particular) and have even pondered the idea of staying in Nepal with a new VISA. I have also started taking Nepali language lessons.
I can’t say enough how lucky and appreciative I am to enjoy all these wonderful things in my life all of a sudden. After 4 months of life chaos, I refuse to take anything for granted. It seems like many things are coming to fruition, and it’s best to keep living in the moment and enjoy the ride.
Oh 2012 what a year you were! Will there ever be a year again with such adventure, such growth, such courage?
I apologize 2011, you were good as well, but far too often I saw the same patterns of fear, of conservative choices, of regrets that have been far too frequent in my life. Luckily 2011 you gave the greatest gift of all – of losing something big in my life, reminding me that life is far to short to squander, and giving me incentive to do something unimaginable. But even I did not know the scale of things to come.
2012 began with heartbreak and physical breaks; the confusing end to a relationship and the injury of the legs that keep me mobile. These things that made me so vulnerable I had no choice but to grow, to move on, and to learn from my experiences. I saw an opportunity, a great horizon open like ever before. I reached back and touched an old dream of mine – I would finally visit India! I would travel the world with no regrets. However, I had some big goals to attend to first. I needed to reclaim my spirituality, to push my studies into overdrive, to get my confidence back and to figure out my next big career move.
But in 2012, I never made it to India, though the feat wasn’t any less impressive. 12 months after that pledge, I have been captive to Nepal for over 4 months, moved by both its breathtaking scenery and its welcoming people. I may have struggled through my first job here, but I adapted and found something else to keep me here. I couldn’t be happier.
What other gifts did 2012 provide?
The gift of patient. So often have in been in situations that have been so far out of my control, I could only watch the chaos engulf me. I had to remain stoic and accept the reality.
The gift of confidence. The accomplishments, the support I have received are a factor of the many amazing people in my life, but they have given me the confidence to know I can do anything in life I want to.
The gift of letting go. Oh so many relationships have trapped me in my own cycle of clinglyness, loss and despair. This year, I was able to walk away at the right times and follow the path I needed to in order to progress my life.
The gift of trust. So many people have opened their literally doors to me, to house me, to feed me, to console me without anything wanted in return. Humanity can be a beautiful thing despite the craziness of it in the world.
The gift of friendship. I have forged so many friendships with so many crazy people in the last year. Not just shallow ones either, but really people I know I will enjoy for a lifetime. I am so fortunate for all these people to have come into my life.
The gift of family. When I told my family I was moving to Nepal, they were a little scared understandably However, I am lucky to have some of the most understand and loving family in the world, who continue to support me to the ends of the earth.
Thank you to everyone for the best 2012 anyone could ask for.
It’s November in Nepal. Everyday I wake huddled under my covers, trying to stave off a room temperature that has dropped to 45 degrees. It takes a lot of effort to remove my blankets and get started on my day. I put on 3 or 4 layers to prepare for my scooter ride into town, bracing for the cold air that is about to whip across my body. Many Northerners might chatise me for saying that 45 degrees is cold; however, in Nepal no houses are heated, so you feel every single degree change. The air is still foggy, and remnants of a polluted smog are visible hovering over the city.
By mid day, beautiful rays of sun greet me as the temperature has risen to the low 70s. Gone are the monsoon clouds and humidity from the summer, and the Himalayas are visible from my bedroom everyday. This is one of the best times of the year to be in Nepal, as long as you are comfortable with dressing and removing many layers of clothing. Thamel is bustling with tourists – guestrooms are full and resturants are packed with patrons. There is energy and excitement in the air.
And yet in this setting, here thousands of miles away from home, there is still the same old me. I certainly have grown and evolved in ways I am not even aware of yet. However, the many of same fears and weaknesses remain with me. I lost myself for a few months, but the core still exists somewhere deep down and it’s rising up again to greet me. The good and the bad are still there, making their appearances known. You can leave a place, but you can’t leave yourself behind completey. Eventually, it’s still the same old ugly you have to face over and over again. I think the best part of this experience is facing these challenges so far away from what is familiar to me, and rising everytime to meet them.
Just like the fog has dissipated to unveil the magestic Himilayas, my own mind is clearing to reveal different parts of me.
After returning from a week of freedom and Western luxuries in Pokhara, coming back to the early bedtimes and chaos of Kathmandu wasn’t the easiest transition. I have been easing the transition by watching a plethora of Hollywood films and TV shows. You would think that in Nepal I would have a dearth of media to keep me entertained, when in fact it has been far the opposite. I was unaware of the amount of pirated media that would be floating around – anything from DVD’s to full hard drives full of movies and TV shows (It’s like being in college again!). Combine that with an early curfew at my host family, and I have been attached to my computer in the evenings. In the place where I am fully immersed in a world that is completely Nepali, I still hold onto my American media culture. However, that culture is celebrated here by Nepalis alike, so it is not so far out of the realm of what is natural. This access to endless media is basically what has kept me from dying of boredom at my host family. What was once a newness of experiencing Nepal that I embraced, has now become a sometime routine and mundane existence.
That is not to say I’m complaining, more so just adapting to another stage of cultural experience in Nepal. I really do love this experience, but there are times where it still feels very oppressive and unnatural to me. I miss having the freedom to construct my life at my own will, but relish the opportunity to experience customs that push me to the limits of my tolerance. My job is not really meeting my expectations of what I hoped it could be, but it is not so awful to deter me from staying longer at this point. I hesitate to say anymore due to the publicity of this blog….
I still have to remind myself that I am in a very privileged place in Nepal. I have frequent hot showers, somewhat clean air, my own personal transportation, three meals a day, and the financial security to actually enjoy myself when I want to. I’m not married living with my parents. I can travel. I can drink and eat all I want and not worry about bankrupting myself. These are not commonalities to your average Nepali. Most importantly… I’m still American. I can go home anytime I want to a country where I have a loving family and plenty of opportunities.
Life is mundane in Nepal, but people make the best of it they can. They do it with huge smiles on their face and welcoming arms. Expectations are half the battle in the quest for personal happiness. Still thousands of miles away from home in a place where the Buddha was born, I struggle to stay in the present. My mindfulness is no stronger than when I left. It’s proof that no matter where you are, the same internal battles still rage within. I have grown in so many ways by traveling here, but there is still so much room for positive change. I look forward to it.
I have heard many travelers revere in the beauty that is Pokhara, raving about their experiences lakeside before they disembark for their trek into the Annapurna region. They told me of its sweeping views of Himalayas, its calming but enigmatic atmosphere, its plethora of food and drink options, and how it little resembled the chaos in Kathmandu.
What is Pokhara? Pokhara is a place to revive, a place to eat well, and a place enjoy the few luxuries of Nepal. My peace was at display as I slept a consistent 10 hours one night – the first time since I arrived in Nepal. My allergies that plagued me Kathmandu disappeared immediately in the clear air of the city. I ate delicious Western food and enjoyed high-quality venues. I took a peaceful boat ride on the lake in the most pristine valley. I road my bike through the outskirts of town to view waterfalls and hidden restaurants. Most exciting of all, I paraglided for the first time, catching stunning views of the valley and allowing my pilot to display his pocket of air gymnastics by flipping me 360 degrees.
Pokhara is a beautiful city and I loved my time being there. However, the city is not a place to linger for too long. Maybe I have embraced too much the chaos of Kathmandu, but at times Pokhara felt too removed from the realities of Nepal. For one, it was the first time in 9 weeks I didn’t feel like I was in Nepal. I was surrounded more tourists than I was the local population. The prices were definitely not Nepali, food and drink was significantly higher than at most establishments in Kathmandu. I was able to shed nearly all my monthly salary on this vacation, though it was little cost for the heavy pockets of tourists that come to visit Pokhara. After a few days of touristy activities, there really isn’t a ton to do accept eat and drink eve more.
Pokhara is a great retreat away from the headaches of Kathmandu, but it is not a place I would have wanted to stay much longer. For trekkers, it’s a perfect gateway to the beauty of the Annapurna range. I’m looking forward to returning sometime in the next 5 months for another brief stay.