Sunday, April 29, 2012

To stand is human, to dance...divine.

Whew!  I'm done with my therapist training course.  Trying to finish that off and live it up my last week in Chiang Mai has been...exhausting.  I've tried to fit in as much dancing, massage, markets, and good food as one human possibly could in 7 days.

Tuesday night I went salsa dancing met a Russian girl named Natalia and a fun Cuban guy named Reuben.  Reuben was not only fun to dance with, but fun to discuss politics with.  The best moment was probably when Natalia was talking about Russia and Reuben mentioned how their countries used to be great friends so they should be friends too.  Then they both looked at me.  I couldn't contain my laughter, but Reuben generously added "Yeah, I know...but we can still be friends."  The whole experience just made me think of the beginning of a joke.  "So, a Cuban man, a Russian woman, and an American Mormon walk into a bar...."  I'll let you create the punchline.

As is to be expected, I asked Reuben how he views his own country and culture.  Namely, what is life like for your average Cuban?  Though he was exiled to Miami when he was younger, the majority of his family is still in Cuba, so it was nice to have an experienced perspective.  He explained that because of the way the government works (dictatorship), people live a life of extreme emotions.  Family is a big deal (partially because they have nothing else), so while they may be happy and enjoying their family one day, the next they'd be crying because another one of their family members went into exile or was arrested.  As he explained to me the problems Cuban people face, it was interesting to hear how much passion he has on the subject.  It made me think of a quote from Castro's sister. "My brothers Fidel and Raúl have made it an enormous prison surrounded by water.  The people are nailed to a cross of torment imposed by international communism."  I guess it's just another testament to the power of freedom.  Whatever that means to you personally, try not to take it for granted.

So Wednesday, I dedicated to shopping and prepping for Chihiro's goodbye dinner on Thursday.  I promised Chihiro that I would make her dinner and crack cookies to celebrate her graduation.  This is her helping me make the crack cookies that evening.

Not wanting to spend my whole trip fund on this dinner, I decided to go to the Thai supermarket to do my shopping.  I've been grocery shopping before, but only at the local markets and the very touristy and expensive supermarket.  This supermarket was a whole new experience.  It was the Thai version of Walmart - a giant Tesco.  It was really interesting to see the similarities and differences.  I was able to navigate it alright, but almost everything was in Thai, so I was grateful for clear packaging.  They organize things very similarly, though the content was definitely a different variety.  Luckily for me, noodles, tomatoes, and basil are easy to come by here, so I decided to make my killer good spaghetti.  The most difficult part was navigating the meat section.  Thai people buy and sell meat in a disturbingly open environment.  I have a hard enough time with the smell and look of raw meat as it is.  Knowing what grows on it in open bins at room temperature just makes matters worse.  I was able to accrue some packaged ground beef for the spaghetti, but I still cooked it veeeeery thoroughly - just to be sure.  Shout out to the USDA:  I know you and I have many differences of opinion, but I'd like to send my thanks in this regard.  You make grocery shopping less nerve racking and less nauseating.

As you can see, the dinner I made Thursday night turned into quite the feast.  I made the spaghetti and crack cookie dough (still no oven), one of the guys from school made okonomiyaki and yakisoba (Japanese), and some of the teachers made tom yum kai, kangkung, and some fish balls (seafood version of a hot dog).

The awesome food plus some of the drinks brought by the schoolmaster put everybody in quite the boisterous spirit.  We just talked for a while, but Julie (the French girl on the left in green) was feeling sassy and when the subject of dancing came up, tried to imitate my style of dancing for all to see.  Though I admired her efforts, I think it's safe to say French people struggle with hip hop.

While I was about to pass out from laughing, one of the girls started playing Waka Waka by Shakira on her mini-speakers.  Feeling a slight need to restore my dance reputation, Julie and I ended up in some sort of improvisational dance-off that eventually involved the whole table (even the headmaster).

After about 2 hours of trying to teach Japanese people how to pop, lock, and drop it like its hot, our party dispersed and somehow I convinced Julie, Mimi (bottom left), and Chihiro to go salsa dancing.  Mind you, I was a mess already.  I had been at school all day, cooked all evening, danced all night, and with the weather being humid and about 90 degrees...well....lets just say I was gross.  One of the nicest things about travel, is that you really don't care too much about that since you're not really out to form any lasting impressions.  By 10:30pm, we were in a tuk tuk and bound for salsa.

Being quite pleased with my Tuesday experience, we went to the same place.  When we got there, we found a group of about 5 Japanese people trying to learn how to dance salsa.  Incredibly convenient right?  More importantly, one of them knew how, and after enlisting me as his partner, we did what we could to teach.  I wish I could tell you the name of that guy because he was really very good.  In fact, he was probably the best asian salsa dancer I've danced with thus far.  But, I have this really bad habit of not getting to know anybody I dance with unless I actually sit down and talk with them (like I did Reuben and Natalia).  That goes for just about everyone I dance with too, so it's not personal.  For instance, that same night, I danced the last two bachata's with a gorgeous Scotsman (tall, broad shoulders, dark curly hair, dark eyes, and of course...the super hot accent), and I never even thought about getting his name.  Oh well...I guess it's just how I roll.

By Friday morning, my body felt like it had been hit by a truck.  I somehow still managed to teach yoga, but by the time massage class was over that day, I was feeling pretty shot.  Thank goodness I'm in Thailand, where massages are about $7 per hour.  It being our last day of classes, Eriko and I ended up making an evening of it.  Painful as it was (and usually is for me), I think it's safe to say I will miss them terribly. 

Saturday was my big day of tourism.  Mimi (short for Miwako) decided to join me.  I really like Mimi.  You can tell she's kind of an odd duck for Japanese culture, and she has confirmed to me that this is true.  She's opinionated, outspoken, and very spunky, so it's obvious why I like her.  She used to be a middle school teacher, but has decided she'd like to go into massage therapy and get a job in Hawaii at one of the resorts that caters to Japanese people.  One of the coolest things about Mimi, is that she's been to 20 different countries, and she's only 25 years old.  She's not rich, but she's curious, loves experience, and has a boyfriend that works for Swiss airlines, so she travels cheaply, but effectively.  She fluent in both French and English, and also doesn't drink, so it's nice to have her around when the others do drink and therefore lose their already rough English skills.  Spending the day with her as tourists was quite enjoyable, and I hope we can continue to be travel buddies in the future.

Anyway, Saturday.  So we started the day off with a drive up to Mae Taeng where our first activity for the day was the chance to float down the river and even guide a bamboo raft.  The funny hats were provided.

Next up we went to see an elephant show.  We watched them play soccer, paint pictures, and build a dam.  I've always like elephants, but this experience gave me a whole new appreciation for their intelligence and gentle, but playful nature.  Each one had it's own distinct personality, and it kind of reminded me of having really really big, smart, and strong Great Danes.  We also got to play with the elephants, climb up on top of them, and feed them.  My favorite moment though was when one of the mahouts gave one of the baby elephants the command to kiss Mimi.  The elephant was small, but so was Mimi, and watching her face as this trunk totally enveloped her mouth was possibly one of the funniest things I've ever seen.  I tried to get a picture of it, but I guess I was too slow.  This is what I got instead.

Still pretty good, but not the money shot.  Oh well.  After all the fun and games, we ate lunch at the camp (where they served an incredibly yummy massaman curry), and went for a ride on the elephants.  Watching how flawlessly those giant creatures navigate narrow mountain pathways just sealed the deal for me.  I want an elephant.  And if that can't be done, then I'll have to keep coming back to Thailand to visit.  Either way, elephants are awesome.  I'm not sure which I like more, elephants or tigers.  But I'll be headed to tiger kingdom tomorrow, so I'll have to let you know next week.

After the elephant camp, we went to a long-neck village nearby.  This was a fascinating and perhaps a bit depressing experience.  Little history on the long-necks.  They originated in Burma, but came to Thailand as refuges.  In order to earn their keep, they allow tourists into their village (for about $10/head) to gawk at their customs, take pictures of/with them, and purchase their hand-made wares.  Though most were very friendly, and the tourism does keep their way of life afloat, you could tell something wasn't quite....right.

Unique as it may be, I can accept the practice of neck stretching as no different or weird than breast augmentation or a nose job, but this is pervasive cosmetic alteration.  Every woman in the village practices this, not just some, and those without long necks are just simply not considered beautiful or of worth.  Their whole value is wrapped up in their ability to fit more rings between their shoulders and skull.  Granted, when a woman has the rings, she is very well respected in her community and well taken care of by her husband.  But I struggle to understand how they can have a deep and fulfilling commitment when everything is so focused on something as superficial as the amount of space between a woman's skull and scapula.  But then again, I don't really understand how anybody has found fulfilling commitment through superficial means, so I guess that's not surprising.  Either way, emotional depth seems to be the least of their problems for now.  Incest is a much more pressing matter, mostly because there's just not that many people in the village, and since long-necks are hardly the concern of most Thai people, they do not marry outside the village.

In order to optimize touristic funds, they do share real estate with another hill tribe from Burma - the Big Ears.  This wasn't as dramatically different to me considering the ear-gauging practices that seem to still be gaining popularity.  However, the principle with the big-ears is the same as the long-necks, and it still depresses me a bit.  These are beautiful women, and it makes me sad to think they perceive the source of beauty and worth to be somewhere in those shiny brass rings.  But once again, that belief extends far beyond the bounds of Thailand.

After the long necks, we went to a butterfly and an orchid farm.  As I closely examined all the varying types, colors, shapes and sizes of the orchids, I thought more about the beauty each of us has within us.  That sentiment continued as I walked through the butterfly farm.  Because while these butterflies now have gorgeous wing spans with incredibly stunning patterns, they each started off as a simple and rather plain looking caterpillar.  Likewise, I considered how we are gods in embryo.  Butterflies in the larval stage of our development, ignorant and perhaps totally blind to the kind of potential and beauty we have ahead of us.  

Eventually, I did give pondering all this stuff a break.  We made it back home just in time for our graduation ceremony.  So here I am, all official and certified by the Thai Ministry of Health.


Afterward we celebrated by going to a Thai buffet.  Talk about an experience.  The basic setup of the buffet was a mixture of prepped foods and hot-pot style raw meats and veggies.  They are all lined up on long tables in the middle of a stadium-like building with no walls.  Considering my reservations with the supermarket meat displays, it may be redundant to say I pretty much steered clear of the raw meat.  But I did have several other cooked foods and vegetarian options that were quite tasty.  It turned out to be a great opportunity to try many of the Thai foods I wanted to taste, but not eat a whole meal of. 

After eating more than our bodies wanted to allow, we tried unsuccessfully to find a decent karaoke bar.  Eventually we gave up and ended up going for massages again instead.  After loosening everything up, we headed to Zoe's, and spent our last Saturday night together, dancing like there was no tomorrow.  Around 3am, my body decided it was done so we went home, but my mind wasn't quite through digesting the tour to the long-neck village.  There was something about it that just didn't quite settle.

As bittersweet as the visit was, and though I'm not sure how I feel about it, I'm glad I went.  It was a good reminder to me that women everywhere struggle to remember that they are daughters of God with an innate and divine worth.  It's another affirmation to me that there is great understanding, happiness, security, and peace in the knowledge of that divine nature.  Additionally, as convicted as I am about my need for depth and understanding, sometimes I forget that beauty is in the eye of the beholder because it seems like so many are beholding with the same eyes.  But that's just cultural attraction, not beauty.  And it's good to remember that there is a difference.  I think, most of all, that's where my mind kept wandering to.

I know cultural attraction has it's place in propagating a society, but that's all it is, part of a culture.  In the eternal scheme of things, it's about as valid and meaningful as the Utah hair bump, the fohawk, or this here skin whitening tablet.  The more I think about it, I'm not even sure attraction as we know it really exists in the eternities.  If everyone is of one heart, one mind, and one understanding, then the length of their neck, the size of their bust, or the shape of their eyes is completely irrelevant.  If you think about it, those are nothing more than cultural distractions, covering up the true spiritual attractiveness of any given individual.  Think of what the world would look like if people were purely attracted to one another because of spiritual development, understanding, and compatibility.  Think of how much less adultery, divorce, or even pornography where would be if we saw one another for what we really are, rather than what we are packaged in. 

Humph, but I know I'm just spouting ideals.  I know attraction is as much a part of our physical natures as hunger or thirst.  But if we can fast, diet, and refrain from certain foods, that means we are able to overcome those physical urges and appetites.  Can't we do the same with attraction?  Is it possible to change what you're attracted to just like it's possible to change what kind of food you like?  I know it's changed for me over the years.  I remember when I thought there was nothing hotter than a emotionally troubled rebellious musician with a bad mouth and a sweet side.  Now, that's completely unappealing.  I remember when I refused to eat wheat over white bread growing up, now whole grains is always my preference.  Some of that was conscious choice, some of that was a consequence of other life changes.  But it does go to show that we have some say in what we are attracted to.  It also goes to show how fickle and temporal attraction actually is.

Most of all though, I wonder why we've chosen our current standards of attraction.  We change them all the time, but they still seem to be centered or at least heavily weighted on physical appearance, and none of them ever actually address that void we are looking to fulfill.  And despite some beliefs, Mormons are no better at this.  We should be.  Based on our teachings of divine potential, the Holy Ghost, eternal families, and especially eternal marriage, we shouldn't even be batting an eye at cultural attraction.  We should be able to see one another as Christ sees us.  We have the tools, but too many of us aren't using them.  You look at who dates, who marries, and who does not, and it's apparent that we struggle with that.  But it's never too late to learn.  It's never too late to decide you want something different, hopefully, something better.

To all my single friends:  I have a suggestion.  I know you've heard this before, but if you are looking to find a spouse, work on your own development.  Be the guy/girl you would want your daughter/son to date.  Read, pray, look for understanding that will bring you peace, fulfillment, joy, and eventually, love.  Work on developing the vision to see the sons and daughters of God that surround you as they really are.  Not just for romantic purposes, but for the betterment of your life.  The more clearly you see yourself and others, the less confusion and drama you'll have in dating, which eventually leads to a better marriage (or at least that's what I've observed).  Ditch the drama, it's mindless (and often stressful) entertainment that has no eternal value.

To illustrate this:  I was watching clips from The Mormon Bachelor earlier in the week, and this became glaringly obvious to me.  Just watching the interviews for these men and women made me feel anxious and a bit nauseated.  Not that they were awful or unappealing people by any means.  Many were well accomplished, attractive, good men and women.  But with the vast majority, there was something just a little off in their interview.  It took me a while to put my finger on it, but I think it had something to do with a general lack self-awareness, depth, and genuine confidence.  There was plenty of entertainment, arrogance, and lots of talking about self, but few of them really addressed who they really are.  They talked about things they liked, what they were looking for, but rarely did they offer up an explanation of who they were as a unique son or daughter of God.  Rarely did they address why those desired attributes would be specifically beneficial to them or their development and understanding.  

Now granted, this is for a show, and shows are about drama.  And I know making a video about yourself, trying to sell a committee on why you should be picked for something, is not the easiest forum for expressing your own self-knowledge or understanding.  I thought about whether or not I would be able to make a video that accurately portrayed my own self-perception (not that I would EVER try out for that show).  Truth is, it would be hard, perhaps even impossible.  So this is not a judgement on those who auditioned, but rather, an observation of something I think our generation struggles with.  I think we struggle seeing things and others as they really are.  Maybe it's because our attention is always being demanded elsewhere (media, friends, drama, etc), but I think we struggle seeing ourselves as we really are.  Yes, part of that is just a bi-product of mortality, but we have the tools to see better every day, and few seem passionate about using them.  Wouldn't using those tools be an incredibly good investment of our time and energy?  Not just for ourselves, but for everyone.  Think about what a waste it would be for an optometrist to know how to test or improve vision, but never bothered to correct his own.  How helpful would he really be to any of his patients? 

Being pervasively single, I probably should add, that this is something I have been and continue to work on, every day.  So, this is as much for me as anyone.  That desire for greater vision is what ultimately drives me, and so far it's worked out pretty well.  It's what directs my choices, creates my curiosity, and curbs my appetites.  I am single, but I'm happy.  I feel patient.  I feel at peace.  I'm working, learning, and striving to see better all the time.  Every day I see more than I did previously, and I know I'm doing what I should be to become the person that will be more capable of participating in a healthful, happy, and fruitful relationship bound for nothing short of eternity.  I may have a while to go, but I'm not worried.  I'm really not even lonely.  With that knowledge and a stubborn sense of optimism, I feel good on my own.  I enjoy single life, but I still look forward to the day I can share my life with someone, have children with someone, and figure out what exactly it means to become one with another human being.  I have faith that the Lord will help me to see clearly who that is and when the time is right.

Until then, I know I've got a whole lot of work that can be done on my own.  So, I best get to it.  Thanks to all of you who have been and are so patient and supportive throughout that process.  Thank you for putting up with my ignorance, curiosity, verbal vomit, and ideological pontificating.  Thank you for listening to me, laughing, dancing, and crying with me, and helping me to see everything more clearly.  Thanks especially to my family, both biological and otherwise.  Nobody has put up with more from me than you, and nobody is more important to me than you.  I miss you all dearly, but I can feel your prayers, love, and faith, even on the opposite side of the world.  It is because of you that I've been able to embark on this adventure with no fear, high hopes, and no worries.  It is because of you that I've been able to continue with a decent amount of patience and more energy than any sober human being should be capable of possessing.  You've each helped me to better understand myself, God, and the plan He has for me.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  God bless, namaste, and sawadee ka!

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