Extra anecdotes from the retreat

During the chanting class, the woman was guiding us again. But I really started to appreciate her ways and she also tried to give us some insights into Buddhist teachings. Such as with the following example:

‘It is breakfast time and you are standing in line with maybe ten people in front of you. And you notice… there are bananas today! And you love bananas (her story was very applicable to me so far). So you crave the fruit. But you are afraid that by the time you will arrive at the front of the queue, they will be finished. So you keep looking and watching if people take bananas and you make yourself crazy. Maybe you annoy people behind you because you keep moving around. You are suffering. And you can’t just tell your friend in the front to take a banana for you. Because you may not speak. You are already in line and cannot do anything. Maybe you will get a banana. Maybe not. And that is not a big deal. But you think it is, because nowadays every wish we have has to be fulfilled. Dukkha.’


Do you guys also have a lot of random possible scenarios passing through your thoughts? How things could go if you meet someone (again or for the first time), how things will turn out when you start a new job, see a friend, do something new, something old, anything? I’m constantly imagining, which I guess really helps my writing, but right now, it feels quite useless.


Sometimes I think of a perfect sentence, and then I forget. Hello frustration, my old friend.


I hate walking on sand. I just don’t get the excitement. It makes you slip and you constantly have to stabilize yourself, which is not fun for someone with lower back trouble. During the running course I did they also made us run on a small sandy road sometimes. Supposedly it’s easier to walk on? For whom? Not me. I hate it. Why anyone would ever go running on the beach is beyond me.


To make things more bearable for myself I have decided to skip one of the sitting meditation sessions, to copy the chants from the chanting book. It will be nice to take these words home. Some of them have real insights in them. I will do this at the end of the afternoon, at the apex of my boredom. I still don’t know why I’m staying. Well, yes, I do, but when is it going to be day 11 already?!


During one of the talks, this is where my mind went:
“So, we have to find the middle…-“
I’m caught up in the middle, jumping through the riddle…
“Not caught…-”
What?
“ – in extremes”.


The line in front of the place to do dishes is progressing slower every day. I guess people are now mindfully washing their dishes, which means they are super slow. I’m still more of a fast-and-efficient kind of girl myself.


During the chanting practice, the monk kept trying to trick us into sitting in a lotus position (which is really hard. You need to be very flexible. I am not).
‘Just close your eyes. Breathe in, breathe out. Stretch your legs in front of you. Put one foot against your stomach. Now, just place the other on top of your lap and flip the first one, whoppa, like this’. Everybody laughs, because it is not as easy as he makes it sound. And then he reasons, that there is no I, no me, no self, no ego (which is a principle in Buddhism). It’s just a body, and there is a mind. So who feels pain?
Also: ‘When you feel pain, you are not sleepy.’


I feel like my mind is out of control. Even now, the pen is moving over the paper so fast, because my thoughts are going a million miles a minute. I’ve never noticed before how extremely quickly my thoughts go from one place to another, in the matter of seconds. And it is all so random. Also, I have a lot of repetitive thoughts (which is why I always need to write stuff down). The good thing is: I can entertain myself with my mind really well. The bad thing is: It is really, really hard to turn off.
Which is exactly what I should be doing.


I’ve noticed now that I have started writing, I cannot seem to stop. I guess the rules are there for a reason then. Oh, bells… Gotta go sit still and pretend to meditate! Bye!

Random things that didn’t fit into one specific blog

  • Sometimes, when I was on the motorbike, it could happen that the drivetumblr_nmvck83Hn41tlakrlo1_1280r was hitting the brakes rather suddenly, which caused me to jolt forward and hit my helmet against their helmet. This made me feel immensely stupid and a little bit like I was in a cartoon.
  • You get really good at rejecting people. I have been proposed to a lot, have gotten a lot of offers from guys who offered to be my boyfriend within the first five minutes of meeting me. You learn to say no.
  • You also learn to say yes. You need to, in order to get friends, join activities and do things that you maybe wouldn’t do otherwise.
  • During my time in Jakarta, I went to see the Star Wars movie in the cinema. It was a very interesting film to see in an Asian country. In the end of the movie, a lightsaber is being offered with a left hand, and the whole scene is supposed to be very respectful. But in Indonesia, it is very disrespectful to hand somebody something with your left hand, because it is seen as unclean. It was interesting to see the movie from their perspective like that.
  • There are a lot of unwritten rules in Indonesia, which is why you should totally connect to the locals to find out where things are and how you should behave in certain situations (buying a bus ticket is not the easy process it once was when you were in a western country)
  • Musicians in Indonesia don’t get paid for their musical talents. They get paid to leave. After giving them money they move on, which is what most people want. It is really a different world out there.
  • Smiling is like second nature to the Indonesian people and after a while it will become yours too.

Appreciations

Now that I have lived abroad for a longer period of time, there are some things that I have taken for granted in The Netherlands, that I now see in a new light.

  • Being able to ride your bike everywhere. Isn’t that just great? You are not dependent on public transportation, you won’t get stuck in a traffic jam and you can go wherever you want.
  • Knowing exactly what to get where. I guess this is true for everyone’s hometown or country. You know which stores to go to for certain items and you know about fair prices.
  • There is fresh air in The Netherlands, which allows you to breathe. In Jakarta, there are no parks and smog is everywhere. I mostly noticed this if I got back from being in a natural setting outside of the city, and I felt like I was choking when I got back to Jakarta, but it usually just took me a day to get used to it again. But still, I prefer a place with at least the illusion of oxygen.
  • You don’t have to go far for the actual oxygen. A lot of the Netherlands consists of land, and it is easy to go out of the city to go there, be it by car or even on these amazing bicycles I missed so much (although riding a motorbike was tons of fun too).
  • You can drink water out of the tap. Isn’t that just great? Not having to buy a bottle, drinking some water while in the shower… I’m always drinking water, so this is something I really missed, a lot!
  • Having personal space and room to live. In Jakarta, everything is packed pretty tightly, be it the people on the street or the buildings that are so close together. There are no open spaces except for the roads, and even those are always packed. Sometimes I just want to extend both my arms and spin around. I cannot do that there without hitting an Indonesian.
  • Having all my stuff. Actually, this is weirdly not something that I missed, but I’ve gained a new appreciation for it nonetheless.

This is one of the things I love about travel. It makes you realize what you do and do not have, and most importantly, what you do and do not need. And I’ve come to learn that I don’t need a lot, and that I already have the world.

 

On a local bus

I have written this blog a while ago, back in December when I visited the Toba lake. But I hadn’t gotten around to typing it out and actually publishing it, so today is the day you get to enjoy it and picture yourself on a local bus in Indonesia.

“The tourist bus leaves now, come,” a random guy at the busstation told me. But I had a local guy drop me off who said this bus would be much more expensive. I’m always up for saving some money, but the difference was only about a euro or two. Normally, I would have chosen a more comfortable option for this price difference, but my newest friend told me the other bus would have ac and would be fine as well. I should have known that wasn’t true.

But, I ended up on a local bus from Medan to the Toba Lake. A trip that would take two to three hours according to Google Maps, but took six hours with this lovely, non-ac, smoking allowed, all the windows open bus that not only had people in the seats, but also crammed people into the aisle like stacking Tetris blocks. I was very, very happy with my seat in the back where I could not move my legs, as it was better than not being able to move my whole body at all.

And off we were. Perhaps you didn’t know, but busses in Indonesia generally don’t do the whole busstop thing. You just stand along the side of the road that the bus passes and it will stop for you. And I noticed they had a very clever system of doing this.

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My Kindle provided more than enough entertainment

There were three people working on the bus. The bus driver, who did nothing but drive, and two boys who took care of everything else, like helping people on and off (and they needed the help, trust me) and letting the driver know when to stop and go. The boys were all the way in the back, so to let the driver know they tapped a small rock on the side of the bus, a sound that apparently travels.

So as people get on and off at random places all along the road, we head to Parapat. It took long, because of the many stops, of course, but people were not all that was being transported on this bus. Along the way there were also folks who handed the two guys packages of God know what, that they proceeded to dump outside of the bus in the middle of nowhere. Nobody was there to collect them, they were just tossed there, although I’m sure someone would come for it later. Gotta love the Indonesian system.

I really respected the guys for the work they did, because it was really hard. They constantly hopped on and off the – sometimes still moving – bus and they were sweating like pigs in the Indonesian heat. They hauled people’s luggage and children around like it weighed nothing and never seemed to complain. Their speed also didn’t decrease. Amazing. And during the few moments they had, they were either drinking some well-deserved water or collecting and counting the money from the many, many passengers they got from A to B,C,D,E,F till Z that day.

 

 

 

 

 

The weirdness of normalcy

I’ve been back in The Netherlands for a few weeks now (and in fact leaving again in less than two weeks from now), and I find it has been surprisingly normal. I know I have been totally neglecting you with my blog posts and seeing as how I have recently discovered people actually read them, I almost feel bad about this. But I have plenty of ideas and still some unpublished blogs from way earlier that I will publish sometime soon.

 

Do you know that moment, when you walk off a plane and pass customs and you see all these people waiting for their loved ones? Every time I pass this area, I look around for a familiar face. I never expect them to be there, but it is an automaticity. I always look. And when I arrived back home from being away for 6,5 months, I didn’t even have to search for a familiar face, because they were at the front of the crowd, right there in my face, unmistakably, my friends.

Even though I didn’t want to expect somebody to be there sometime, I’m the kind of person that remembers… a lot. So I kept it locked away in my mind somewhere that one of my friends had asked for details on my return flight when I left, so I had my suspicions. But what I did not see coming, was the banner. They made a freaking banner. Mind. Blown.

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“Welcome back, dear Sanne”

After I got past the fact that it felt so weirdly normal to be with two of my best friends whilst not having seen them for so long, it was like I had never left. I also experienced this when another friend came to visit me in Jakarta. I was looking through the stream of people coming into the arrival hall at the airport and occasionally you will see someone and wonder ‘is this my friend?’ But it is never them, because when it is actually the person you are waiting for you will know it instantly and you don’t even have to ask yourself.

I felt like everybody expected me to have changed when I came back. Maybe they expected me to have become Buddhist, or maybe they would wonder if my native language skills have decreased a bit, or if I would now be this sophisticated, well traveled, young woman who feels like she has ‘seen the world’ (which, I have to admit, is a little true). And yeah, maybe I have changed in some ways. I have seen more, I have learned more, I have more knowledge and experiences, maybe some new ambitions or insights, but my personality has not changed. I’m still the same person as I was before I left. We’re just at a different point in time, at a different location, but it is weird how you find yourself wondering if you will still have something to talk about, and, oh my god, what will we talk about? But you never wondered about this before, so why start now?

And I found myself wondering why people would expect this. Maybe it is the fact that when you don’t see someone for a long time they always seem to look slightly different and they have many new things to tell, new topics to discuss and new insights to share. But you have read all of my stories and know a lot of what I have experienced. So when I see the people I have been away from for so long they ask me to tell them all about it, as they seem to think I have many stories to tell. And yeah, I could tell a few, but I notice I’m more interested in what they have to tell. After all, I already know how my stories end, but I have been kind of out of the loop where the lives of my friends are concerned.

 

Of course, as any returning traveler, there are some things that I miss, some things that I’m very happy to have again and some interesting moments, created by a new set of eyes.

Euros felt like foreign money, but I’d gotten used to it quite quickly. Speaking to people in my native language felt like I had mastered a foreign one and I was actually proud at the well structured sentences that left my mouth. Doing laundry and dishes again is not something I had missed, and could have done without for the rest of my life. Cooking all my favorite meals has been a joy and sharing a meal with my loved ones has been even better.

Walking into a Dutch supermarket felt like walking into a foreign one at first. Different products, prices, people… Maybe they renovated during my time away, they changed their assortment… But there were also some items I had missed and it felt really nice walking into a familiar supermarket and knowing exactly what to get and where to find everything.

Coming back to Groningen, I had expected them to have made huge progress on the mall-like building they were busy with when I left, but I found it in the exact same state as when I left, while two other buildings just seemed to pop up out of nowhere.

You know how they say ‘it is like riding a bicycle’? With this saying, one tries to say that you will never forget how to do it. And while this may be true, and I still knew how to ride a bicycle, muscles do weaken and make it harder for you to do so. The first time I got on a bicycle was completely embarrassing and made me realize I had neglected some of my muscles. It’s going much better now, thankfully.

When I went out to dinner to spend some quality-time with one of my besties, I saw the huge white walls and I kept looking up expecting gecko’s to appear out of nowhere. And I noticed that we have so much less bugs here. I guess it’s too cold for them, which brings me to my next point: the cold.

I got off the plane in flip flops and a thin sweater, as I didn’t have anything warmer. So when I arrived at my brothers house, I took a hot shower and dressed in many, many layers, drank a bunch of tea and went to bed cold anyway (and I had to get out in the middle of the night because the tea decided they couldn’t wait until morning to make an exit).

When I went back to my mothers house where all the crap I call my possessions is stored I got to open all the boxes that I had packed away seven months ago. Let me tell you, it was like shopping for free. I was so grateful for my collection of warm sweaters and my ginormous winter coat. I also gained a new appreciation for gloves. I forgot many of the clothes I had, which made me realize how unimportant stuff is. Clothes are replaceable, as are all the other items I stacked away.

So, I’m getting used to the cold again, I guess. And I liked dressing up again, putting on some make-up, trying on all my old clothes. And the past few weeks have been filled with fun dates and events. The jet lag was less severe than I expected, which was great. I was quite tired in the evenings, but all that did was ensure I would go to bed early and get up at a reasonable hour, and even after three weeks, I’m already back to my lazy old self that cannot get out of bed in the morning. I had so many people to see and most of them I have already seen, my schedule was crazy (also, because I picked up some work at the university, which sounds a lot more glamorous than it is). The next week I am completely free and I will spend it doing more of the things  I love, seeing the people I love and packing my bags for the next adventure: working at a campsite in the south of France.

And I’m already so excited about it!

Why I didn’t ride an elephant during my time in Asia (and you shouldn’t either)

I could have, trust me. They are available to ride in a lot of places. But even before I went on my trip, I had already researched a few places and found one of which it was clear they treated the animals well and that means, there would be no riding.
At first I thought I wouldn’t get to go here, because it was in the north of Thailand, and I wasn’t planning on going there. But plans change because there is something to be said for spontaneity and so I ended up going to the Elephant Nature Park after all.

The morning started with a pick up in Chiang Mai, and during the bus ride there we were shown a video where we learned some basic rules for interacting with the elephants, but we also saw some of the horrors they go through. A lot of elephants are still used for logging (dragging huge tree logs), but there are many elephants that are being used as touristic attractions as well, not to mention the circus shows that feature elephants, because they are insanely smart and can do tricks.

The thing is, no elephant in its right mind wants to do these things. It is unnatural for them and in order to get an elephant to do these things, their spirit has to be broken. Which basically means that they are being tied up very tightly and beaten until they will comply. Until their soul leaves them and there is just a shell of an animal left.

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All elephants have an owner, and as long as the elephant still does what they have to for them, they will be of use. But as soon as they get older, or the abuse has been so bad that the elephant shows wounds or isn’t able to work in any other capacity anymore. That is the point where the elephant rescue center shows up to offer them money to take the animal, because they won’t sell them earlier, which means that all the animals in the center are pretty damaged – except for the baby elephants that are born there.

Nevertheless, their new life in the park allows them to heal, and the high prices charged to visit the elephants in this park and to hear their stories, allows the park to continue this work.

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The day consists of feeding the animals, walking around to pet them, to take some pictures (of course), but mostly to watch them in their natural habitat, which has been recreated in this park. They mostly eat. Sometimes they play a little, or throw some mud on their backs to keep the sun off their skin. We also go to do something that was advertised as ‘river bathing with the elephants’. This basically meant you could throw buckets of water on them, so that wasn’t really what we had envisioned.

One of the highlights was the vegetarian (but basically vegan) lunch. I could eat everything that was being served and the buffet was huge. Needless to say, I was stuffed after lunchtime and almost felt like walking at the same pace as the huge elephants.

 

 

And after reading this story, what if I told you that here in Asia, they have slaughter houses where they kill elephants, in order to be able to eat their flesh. Maybe they sell elephant flesh in every restaurant*.

You would be horrified.

And I feel the need (I’m sorry) to point out the hypocrisy in that**. Because this is exactly what happens to so many cows, pigs, sheep and chickens every day. Each year there are 9.000.000.000 (LOOK at all those zeros!) animals killed for factory farming, in just the US.
By spending your money on meat, you are encouraging this industry to keep doing what they are doing. And if you’re all about death and despair, then, by all means, keep doing that.

But if you feel bad for abused elephants, or dogs, or cats, or kangaroos for that matter, please just ask yourself why them.

Tell me, what is the difference between these precious elephants, and a ‘regular’ farm animal? Because to me, they are all the same.

*The elephants are not killed to eat, this was hypothetical.
**If you eat meat.

Why I could never travel without Google Maps

I know that people used to travel with just a map and a compass. And if I had to, sure, I could do that, probably. But I use Google Maps for so many things, it’s not even funny anymore.

Not only do I use it for the obvious reasons, such as finding out where my hostels are located and how to get there, I also use it to navigate my way when I am on a bus or train. The train stations are not always clearly mentioned or visible when a train stops and in the bus it’s all just one big adventure. Asking where you are or when/where you will arrive will get you a nod and a smile, which is not very helpful. But with this amazing app you can locate the little blue dot and see where you currently are. So when I see myself going towards the correct train station or see that the busstop where we stop is near to my destination, I know I have to get off.

Thus, using it to see where you are, to see where you have to go… Makes sense so far, right?

I also use it to track where I have been, as you can see here.

And, when I arrive in a new destination and I am looking for something, such as a market, a vegan restaurant for guilt-free dining or a supermarket.

So yeah, I never claimed I used it in other ways than most other people do. I just said it’s really, really useful. And I would be lost without it!

The north of Thailand

So, my initial plan was to just visit Bangkok and the south of Thailand. But everyone I met along my travels, and I do mean everyone, told me to go to Chiang Mai and Pai, because these were supposedly the best places in the country. So, flexible me booked a few plane tickets and I decided to visit these towns. Coincidentally, I had been eyeing this elephant park that is really close to there, so it gave me the opportunity to go there as well. But I will post about that later.

The pictures you see here were taken in the town of Chiang Mai, and when I was in Pai I rented a motorbike and went around there, so the nature pictures are all from the area near Pai.

I will save you the story of how I ended up throwing up in the mini van, because that mountain road that takes you to Pai is really as bad as they say. It wasn’t pretty, but I guess it was worth it?

I know I haven’t been very verbal lately, in my posts. Lack of time and lack of inspiration are the causes, but at least the pictures are very beautiful :)

Oh, and all the roads depicted here… Yeah we rode on those, with our motorbikes. And let me tell you… That is the best feeling in the world.