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The Bangkok Flâneur

Last week I arrived in Bangkok after 24 hours of travel and despite an initial urge to hustle to the islands in the south, I remained for 3 days, enjoying my solitude and exploring the city. I had horrible jetlag for some reason this time and always found myself awake at 4am, which I realized was actually a wonderful opportunity to see the real Bangkok. The Shanti Lodge, where I always stay in Bangkok, is a little gem of a guesthouse located away from the crazy backpacker/partier haven of Khao San Road, in a nondescript Thai neighborhood. For 3 nights in a row I made my way to 7-11 at 4:30 to buy a caffeinated beverage, then I would wander over to giant outdoor market a few blocks away. By 5 the action was really happening: fish being chopped, spices mixed, things moving this way and that. The mixing smells of raw fish, sewer and red chile to name a few were poignant. Men on motorbikes delivering ungodly amounts of things on their little machines zipped through the narrow passageways . It was clear to me that most of the vendors slept in the back of their little shops, starting each day by immediately going to work. There was such a feeling of aliveness and energy as they prepared for the day’s business. 

Eventually I would return to the TongJan coffee shop across the street from the Shanti Lodge and watch the world wake-up. The proprietors at TongJan were very kind to me, often bringing me free tea and snacks to try. I observed the orange-robed monks move from shop to shop with their begging bowls, seeking the sustenance that they would eat for the day. Students making their way to the nearby University and parents taking their children to school would stop by for a quick coffee or treat. I’ve been returning to the Shanti Lodge since 2009 when I first stayed there; and in most aspects, one could not differentiate this little street corner 4 years later. The same street vendors stood in the same places, the tuk-tuk drivers and massage parlor owners looked incredibly familiar. I thoroughly enjoy this element of timelessness. There is a sense that the folks in this little neighborhood cared little about progress, but treated their lives much more as a daily ritual of work and family life. I appreciated their willingness to allow me to sit and observe in silence.

I continued my days wandering the city, never finding myself too busy for a Thai massage or mango/banana fruit shake 🙂 I noticed how much I enjoy this sort of aimless wandering, and recalled the concept of the flâneur that my Zen teacher has mentioned a few times. I thought it was quite a fitting description of what I was doing:

Charles Baudelaire presented a memorable portrait of the flâneur as the artist-poet of the modern metropolis:

The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world – impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define. The spectator is a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito. The lover of life makes the whole world his family, just like the lover of the fair sex who builds up his family from all the beautiful women that he has ever found, or that are or are not – to be found; or the lover of pictures who lives in a magical society of dreams painted on canvas. Thus the lover of universal life enters into the crowd as though it were an immense reservoir of electrical energy. Or we might liken him to a mirror as vast as the crowd itself; or to a kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness, responding to each one of its movements and reproducing the multiplicity of life and the flickering grace of all the elements of life.

I eventually journeyed to the island of Koh Phangan, where I’m preparing to begin a 12-week, 600 hour Yoga training course at Agama Yoga. I found a nice house to live in and am enjoying a few easy days on the island before the course begins and the intensity of the schedule and practice takes over.   Bye for now!

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Reflections

I had sincerely intended to write a reflection on my two and a half months in Thailand. Alas, I’m out of time on the eve of my next meditation retreat. The condensed version is that my journey has been full of light and beauty, a tremendous opening and affirmation.  I’ve gone deeper into the Self, explored new practices and techniques and have met and shared this journey with some incredible people. In all of this I find myself cultivating a great sense of peace and joy. My heart is big and my mind at ease.  Below is a photograph of my classmates and me celebrating the completion of our third month of study at Agama Yoga, receiving a red sash for recognition of 250 hours of practice and study.

Soon after this retreat I will leave Thailand, stopping over in Europe for a couple of weeks before returning to the U.S. in late August. I’m looking forward to spending my remaining time on the island in silence, contemplating and reflecting on this amazing experience, resting in that profound stillness that pervades everything.

 

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Puppies!

A family of stray dogs has found their home here at Bovy Beach House

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Puppies!, posted with vodpod

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A typical day in Koh Phangan. Finding shade between 12-3 is highly encouraged!

 

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Tonight’s Sunset

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Yes, I got a tattoo. Two actually.  I was warned repeatedly not to get one. Each time I would read anything about this island, it warned, don’t go home with a KPN tattoo  – be careful! (KPN=Koh Phangan) Yet, on my second day, I without warning ended up with two small ones – one on my back and one on my right thigh.

Now, the tattoo’s I’m talking about aren’t nice drawings of dragons or spiritually charged Japanese Kanji characters. The ones I have are described in guidebooks as the ones  that either result from your tender-skinned body image_thumb4sliding along a bitumen road at high speed with few clothes on, or from the inside of your leg touching too hot exhaust pipe of the moped. Or, as was my case, attempting to navigate a 30+ degree dirt road full of boulders and potholes… following a prospective landlord up the hill (who made it look easy), I decided I should try and before I knew it I was making a high-sided and jumping clear of my bike to save myself.  This meant landing square on my side, my phone jamming into my leg and a sharp rock meeting my back… It could have been much worse…My iPhone could have broken. Kidding, kind of.

That was the low point of the week. Its been all up hill from there (or downhill?). Deciding against renting the house up the dirt track of death, I eventually landed at a nice place called Bovy Beach Resort, a new place with a hippy vibe near my Yoga Halls and right on the beach (see the video below). There is a deserted island feel here, only with WiFi, warm water, fridge, AC and a nice women who is supposed to come clean for me once a week… so just a step up from a Robinson Caruso fantasy.

I’ve taken care of the essentials when arriving in a place like this for an extended stay:

1. Securing comfortable long-term accommodation

2. Moped Rental

3. Finding the vendors with cheap fruit and pad thai.

4. Finding the Expat who knows everything about everything and runs a nice café with her Thai husband with awesome fruit and vegetable shakes. 

And the one thing I haven’t found yet is a Thai masseuse (although I’m hot on the trail of one).

Wait – I thought this was supposed to be a spiritual trip? Yoga and meditation and profound states of Samadhi occurring daily under coconut trees?  We’re getting there. Yesterday I began a Vira Workshop led by Swami Vivekananda Saraswati, the directory of the Agama Yoga school. Here I will continue the curriculum I began in Rishikesh last year and participate in several meditation  retreats. I’ll expound on these in great detail soon enough. 

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Here is a short video of where I’m living these days in Thailand. Paradise! Now, back to work for you. :p Happy Tuesday.

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