Mafia, Malls, Museums and Thai Time in Bangkok

meeeMy flight from Houston to Bangkok took longer than 40 hours including the layover in LAand Doha in Qatar. Doah was very clean and bright. The airport was immaculate and extremely fancy. There were so many high-end stores. My feet swelled up like balloons for the first time while flying.

When I got to Bangkok, my phones were both dead. I brought two phones with me because I thought I could get my old phone unlocked and keep my actual as a backup. My phone company wouldn’t let me unlock it so I had to scramble to find wifi once my phones were charged so I could text my next couch-surfer without getting charged crazy fees. Once I got a hold of him, I took a taxi from the airport to his place. The taxi driver asked if I had a boyfriend and at one point told me he loved me…Yes…he was looking for an American sugar mama to take care of him…:(

I got to the home of my couch-surfer, we will call him “V,” in the Sukhumvit district of Bangkok. This area is named for the very long boulevard that runs through it of the same name. Sukhumvit is well known for its restaurants, shopping, ex-pat friendliness, and brothels.

When I arrived at the four-story townhouse, I was greeted by my host and a beautiful white and grey cat named Dexter. My host was in the middle of conducting an interview for a movie a friend of his was making on relationships. From this interview, I learned of three of “V””s jobs including a traditional bamboo tattoo tourism gig, a modeling agency, and a perfume production company. I also learned that his parents worked for the Italian mafia. Yes, the mafia. He is part Italian part Thai. I later learned that being a part of the Mafia for Italians is like being in a political party.

dexter

I met his three other roommates who were all to my luck, involved in the food industry: a lythe and mystical, yogic, Iranian, chef in training;  a charming and confident Thai, sapphic, Thai food classes chef; and a witty, dry, highly humorous, Slavic, bearded, manager of a cooking tourism business. These amazing strangers eventually became my family away from home. We spent evenings talking and playing games late into the night. They told me about their amazing travel adventures and the Thai chef instructor taught me to cook a delicious salted fish and green curry meal that we shared with the rest of the crew. They were patient with my inexperience and nervousness upon traveling in a foreign country and the moments when my social anxiety would take over, they were honest and kind.

The first night “V” and I  went out to grab food and hunt down a place to get my phone unlocked. We wandered the many malls of Bangkok and my need to buy more clothing itched at me like a mosquito bite. I remember it was like a dream. Darting from store to store where words were just mumblings to me. Strange smells and American music like Taylor Swift and Justin Beiber were everywhere and the contrast was jarring. Each mall had a different theme including but not limited to Terminal 21 the airport terminal mall, Siam Paragon mall the lush plant filled and real aquarium mall and MBK Center the street market mall.

Eventually, we found a place that would unlock my phone. “V” spoke fluent Thai and was able to get me set up with a chip that when inserted into my phone, under my sim card would unlock my phone for any sim card I wanted to use…couch surfers are, most of the time, amazing.

My host took me to the Rod Fai Night Market that evening where I ate grasshoppers, dry ice fruit loops and gave into my shopping craze just a little. I was astounded how inexpensive everything was. Nothing in the market was over sixty dollars that I looked at. At the night market, we passed vintage cars lit by strings of tiny lights and antique stores filled with things I knew I could only carry home in my camera.

One thing I noticed right away in Thailand is how slow things moved. Everyone and everything were on a  slower time schedule than I was used to. Waiters, lines, and events were all laid back as if there were no need to accomplish the next thing. This drove me crazy at first and then I realized how beautiful it is to slow down. American culture thrives on accomplishing and doing something all the time, but this city reminded me to be truly present. Despite being a thriving, dirty crazy beautiful city, Bangkok was present and focused on the right now. It pulled me in and made me spend more time taking in the crazy drivers, the faces, and characters of the people around me, my photos, on my writing and just being. It was Thai Time I learned to let go and so I began the process.

The next few days were a flow of jetlag recovery mixed with wandering. “V” took me a few places the first couple days during the day and then I took over once he had work to get back to. I ate street food, saw all the touristy things I could muster and visited every art museum I could. I went to the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, The Bankok MOCA, and the Jim Thompson House. I also tried to hunt down ghost art museums that Google said were open but turned out to be just shells or closed for the summer.

I walked or used the sky-train system as much as possible to save money. I spent an entire day on a bicycle at a park with mini versions of Bangkok sites called the Ancient City (Mueang Boran) where they were filming a documentary. I saw the Grand PalaceWat Pho and crossed the Chao Phraya river to Wat Arun or the Temple of the Dawn. I drank at least two fresh coconuts a day and explored all the less expensive top-rated restaurants.

I had my hair cut at this amazing Japenese salon called BOYRiKYU where they drew a picture of how my hair would look before cutting it. I spent two rainy days doing laundry, getting over jetlag and watching bootleg American movies. I saw two beautiful parks where I saw beautiful plants and unusual animals, like giant lizards. It was bliss. Each day offered the opportunity to explore and experience things as I chose with no boundaries or restrictions, besides money of course. Like The American from the musical Chess: “the world was my oyster.”

At night I went out with my host and roommates to beautiful bars and restaurants. Notable were the Nowhere Bar with steps going into the ceiling and the Iron Fairies, a bar with live jazz, giant jars of glitter everywhere and the smokiest drink I have ever consumed, served in a bottle with a cork. My host had connections in the taxi world due to his tourism jobs, so we rarely had to pay full price. I met Russian and Ukranian models from the modeling agency, that my host also runs, and I saw the city from the top of one of the tallest towers.

It was on that tall tower or Sky Bar , the last night of my stay in Bangkok, that I truly pulled in the weight and freedom of my adventure. I marveled at the challenges I had to overcome to get there. Family, money worries, depression/anxiety, and self-doubt all defeated to achieve this goal. Two years I planned to see this country. During those two years, seeing this place was what kept me going. Looking back and reflecting on the time before my trip, I don’t feel the pain that I remember, but see a beautiful and strong past self, fighting to live with purpose.

 

 

 

Featured

Mindful Processing of Hurricanes and L.A.-yover

Only five weeks since I have come home from my journey, and it seems like five years. The last few weeks, I have watched the sun disappear and flood waters play Russian roulette with my home city. But in the midst of this awe-inspiring reminder of nature’s, well, nature, my travel experience, and mindful education pursuit; have served as a beacon reminder of impermanence and pause.

IMG_8436IMG_8461

 

During my travels, I saw so many cities and none were as bittersweet and impermanent ques as the layover cities. Layovers were planned commas or times where I thought I would gather my thoughts to prepare for the things to come. I was pleasantly surprised.
flight

My first queue was Los Angeles. While I was there, I planned to focus on not spending money and exploring as much as fine-tuning my supplies. I pictured running errands and sitting in coffee shops to plan out my first part of my journey.  I had set up a couch surfer stay with one person that backed out last minute and luckily another surfer stepped up. This fellow picked me up from the airport and we had dinner at a cafe where we talked about, believe it or not, mindfulness in education. My host works with youth camps to help them achieve better things in their lives through mindful style education. He seemed to struggle with some of the same anxiety issues as I do and his methods of calming these included yoga, meditation and exercise. We had many things in common and some things that were not common at all. After dinner and talking, we stopped at a local bar near the ocean where we watched some attractive European graduate students sing karaoke.

As a couch surfer, I have come accustomed to seeing strangers homes and their lives. It’s such an adventure to meet people in such a vulnerable way. You learn their strengths and weaknesses very quickly and see habits that you may or may not agree with. With this individual, I did not read his profile fully and was shocked to realize when I got to his kindly shared home, it was a one room situation. I quickly told him I would seek out a hotel but he offered to blow up a mattress for me. After looking at the prices of even hostels in L.A. and talking more with my host, I agreed to the mattress. People have stigmas about things like this and I know it was out of my comfort zone but it turned out fine. My host was a proper gentleman and despite me not sleeping very well and a few other habits I had not read about, I learned a valuable lesson about myself, the kindness of strangers, and what I am willing to do or not do again.

After my awkward stayover, my host went above and beyond to make me feel comfortable. He drove me all over the city to get last minute things for the trip and helped get me get a little snapshot of L.A.  In a short amount of time, we drove through tough LA neighborhoods where I saw brightly colored old vintage homes from the 50’s with bars on every window and the sun chipped terracotta paint.  We stopped by the seashore and took cheesy “jump” photos. We drove through the cliffs of LA past beautiful million dollar homes and stopped at the top of a cliff to take photos with a tree.

What I thought would be a pause was actually not. This was more like a pre-adventure where despite awkwardness I learned so much and grew. The more I look back on this, the more I realize that all waiting times can be whatever you make them out to be. You can travel wherever you are and at any moment if you keep the mindset and when you do, the adventure will find you.

 

The Adventure Begins

On June 6th, my solo adventure to South East Asia began. My family came to pick me up from the airport and I lugged my 55-liter Osprey Fairpoint turtle shell into the car. As we drove to the airport, my dog Bean would not leave my side, as if she knew I was going away. Despite my protests, my parents kept asking me if I was sure I wanted to do this and reminded me that If I wanted to come home for any reason, at any time, they would find a way to fund a ticket for me.

When I got to the airport, my dad would not stop taking photos, as if he needed more to put on the milk carton advertisement he just knew was imminent. He snapped a photo of me as I walked away, and I remember feeling a rush of both fear and anticipation. Carrying my home on my back, I felt insular, disconnected from something greater I can’t truly describe. It was like I imagine floating into space would feel like.

IMG_8410

I glided through the automatic doors, checked into the automatic ticket counter for Qatar Airlines and dropped off half of my backpack home at the check-in counter, praying I would see it again.

I found my way through the passport and bag checks to my gate. I grabbed my favorite soy chai latte beverage and curled up near the other passengers waiting for the plane. While I waited, I listened to a playlist I had been creating on Spotify for months – music that I loved and instantly sent to my queue without returning to it till my trip began. The list included but was not limited to The Sound of Siam Vol. 1, Traveling Song by Ryn Weaver,  Pyrakantha by Balmorhea, and Young as the Morning Old as the Sea by Passenger It was like opening a sound present.

FullSizeRender 3

As I waited, it began to rain outside and I wondered if my flight would be delayed- I journaled :

“Airport is rainy but it’s as if Houston is saying goodbye in the best way it knows how…I got my 4 vaccination shots, paid rent, packed, organized and followed through with a clay education day for a few friends, and made it to the airport. I finally got the 10 days at the Mindfulness Project confirmed and I have couch surfers ready to host me for my layover in L.A. and in Bangkok. I worked so hard for this I can’t wait to travel the world. ”

The flight was on time and as I watched Houston travel into the distance, I remember feeling momentarily numb, as if someone else was on this adventure or that it was only a dream. It was the strangest feeling. I breathed deeply and pulled it in, using mindful breathing techniques, and then suddenly I felt so present, so alive. I felt like the blind character in the movie Amelie when he glows. The hairs on my skin stood up and I got chills. Reality and my dream were connecting and it was a gift I gave myself.

 

The End is Only the Begining – Planning a 60 Day Solo Adventure to South East Asia

I just returned from my solo 60 days South East Asia adventure. What an amazing experience it was. I originally planned to focus this trip on mindfulness education – interviewing and recording other peoples comments on what mindfulness means to them and how they would like to see it incorporated into the schools more.

I originally planned to focus this trip on mindfulness education – interviewing and recording other people’s comments on what mindfulness means to them and how they would like to see it incorporated into the schools more. The more I learned from reading and conversations, the more I realized that my mindfulness research needed to start with my own personal experience of it.

Mindfulness education in the schools will not be taken seriously unless the teachers and staff are practicing mindfulness in their own lives. True teaching and learning come from setting an example that others want to follow. If I am not fully engaged in a mindful life, others will not trust me to teach them about it.

FullSizeRender

I did not get the Teach For America grant, but I used this as an opportunity to become more mindful of my finances so I could still afford my adventure. I realized how much the things in my life controlled my time and what things were more vital than others. I cut back on buying clothes, food, and drinks. I began the process of minimalizing the items I owned; selling what I could to add to the funds. I began working to sell my art work at local art events.  I opened my home to a friend in need and began splitting my rent. I started a kick starter to try and gain more funds.

All of this paid off and I was able to save roughly 2,000$.

I considered blogging while on the trip but realized that I wanted to be in the moment as much as possible and not carry any extra weight. Everything began to have more weight in my life as I began to realize how little we all truly need to survive.

I am a magpie clothing addict and deciding what clothes to get rid of, or what clothes to bring on the trip, was an embarrassing obsession. I spent hours on Pinterest and travel blogs reading about how people packed their bags for their adventures. I read about appropriate clothing for the countries I wanted to visit and packed my backpack finally with an almost gross level of pride.

fullsizeoutput_2545

I wanted to make my journey as open to adventure as possible, so I booked nothing but the flight into Bankok, the flight back and a Couchsurfing stay in Bankok for 5 days. I refused to read many travel books because I wanted to find things out as I encountered them. The only planning that I did was to figure out which countries and cities I wanted to see and the order in which to see them.

I perfected the list many many times as I learned more. The main struggle was scheduling a visit to the Mindfulness Project, the organization that I decided would be the lynchpin to the mindfulness part of my journey.

I emailed the Mindfulness Project back and forth, curious to whether they truly existed or not. The emails were sporadic, I discovered why later, and scheduling the ten-day required experience was difficult. I was determined to though because this project was exactly what I was looking for. I would not hear back from them till the trip had already started.

Fear was also present a lot during this preparation time. Traveling alone was intimidating, traveling across the world- petrifying. I struggle with GAD or Generalized Anxiety Disorder and ADD or Attention Deficit Disorder, which reared their heads during the adventure as well, but we will come to that later. Many times I was tempted to throw in the towel but fought through. I had so many people telling me to go and the same number of people sending me articles about female tourists dying in South East Asia.

The more people tried to convince me this journey was impossible, the more I wanted to prove them wrong.

On June 7th I left for Bangkok and began my journey.

 

NAEA Mindfulness, Creativity and Art Education Webinar

I just listened to this webinar from National Art Education Association by Wendy Ann Greenhalgh. Wendy is the writer of the blog Art of Mindfulness Education and the Books Stop Look Breath Create and Mindfulness and the Art of Drawing: A Creative Path to Awareness. The webinar is worth official Professional Development credit as well. Here is a link to the class.

naea_7f734dda6bba1e2ce0f3c6ab928e4c62

Wendy Ann explained her interpretation of mindfulness, led the listener through a guided drawing meditation and answered questions from art teachers listening live. Here are some major take backs from the experience:

  1. Her definition of mindfulness is ” The process of noticing what our experience is while we are actually experiencing it.”
  2. When one practices mindfulness they need to chose a specific focus for the mind such as breathing, art or writing.
  3. The objective is to get so absorbed in the activity, you fully emerge yourself in it without your mind wandering. This helps to increase the awareness of thoughts rather than awareness from inside the thoughts.
  4. Notice when negative thoughts creep up while you are creating mindful art and pause. Then come back to the body by focusing on the breath or movement of the art production instead of the thought. The more that this practice happens, the less the negative script will continue due to newly created neural pathways.
  5. Create mindful movement activities by changing up the way the utensil is used to create the art(putting it on the end of a stick etc.).
  6. Suggestion that teachers develop their own practice first through a mindfulness based cognitive therapy classes.
  7. Drawing Exercise: (this reminds me of a great music and art immersion Kandinsky Lesson that I use in my classroom every year to get them warmed up.)
    1. Sit with your feet flat on the floor, focus on your breath and close your eyes.
    2. Slowly scan your body from the feet up being fully aware of each body part one at a time.
    3. Put your drawing utensil on the paper and scan your hands response to the paper and the utensil.
    4. With each breath out, move the utensil one direction. With each breath in, move it in another direction. Repeat this for at least three full minutes. Switch hands half way through to your non dominant hand.
    5. Slowly open your eyes and observe your mark making. What thoughts come to mind related to the marks? How did the experience feel?

Political Art Piece Call Out

I’m doing a political artwork for the First 100 Days Art Show. I need folks who are or are descendants of refugees or immigrants to send me photos of themselves or family members. Please email me the photo and a one sentence quote about the person in the photos views on politics and or immigration.

I want to be a teacher that practices what I teach, so I have been looking for art contests to make work for. There are so many great opportunities for art making and inspirational experiences out there. After my search, I found these amazing artist calls and contests to get involved in in the Houston area:

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/first-100-days-artists-respond-to-the-donald-trump-presidency-300403914.html  (First 100 Days Art Show Call)

https://www.fresharts.org/artist_opportunities

https://weingartenartgroup.submittable.com/submit

http://houstonartsalliance.com/publicart/opportunities/

https://www.zapplication.org/event-info.php?ID=5192

 

 

 

VASE Art Show 2017 – State Bound!

cuo

This weekend, our school took 70 art students to our regional Visual Art and Scholastic Event. Out of the 70, we had 2 state winners! Attached is a photo of one of the winning sculpture works. This student received a perfect score from the judges and created a meaningful work based on a Teaching For Artistic Behaviors inspired lesson from the beginning of this year. This student work illustrates the student’s identity, love for her family and cultural background. The cup represents her family’s connection to the coffee industry in Mexico and the words on the outside are her own reflection on how her family has influenced her life. The entire work is made from paper plates.

Lesson Plans (see the paper plate lesson)