The Importance of Establishing Trust Whilst Travelling

The Importance of Establishing Trust Whilst Travelling

 

 ‘If fear is holding you back just remember that in general, places are safer and people are kinder than you may expect. Discovering this is one of the beautiful benefits of travelling’ – Justin Alexander

“Be careful. Mind yourself. Take care. Be safe.”
Anyone who’s embarked on a journey further than the corner shop or into town for the day has heard the warnings.
What if you get robbed? Knocked down? Attacked? What if you don’t understand what they’re saying?

Travelling places you directly in the firing line to be stifled and stagnated by these often irrational fears – yet also to conquer them. To experience humanity in all it’s confusing and miscommunicative glory, and for once, to let go and trust it.

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Finding and attending sunrise yoga sessions overlooking the Himalayas, meditating on the mountaintop at Tushita, jamming with local and Israeli musicians at Jolly’s and in tiny cafés and bars hidden away down windy paths in the mountains, and some of the best and cheapest monk-made vegetarian food at Tibetan and Indian restaurants where nobody actually speaks any English….2 years ago these things would have seemed impossible and terrifying for me.

I’ve experienced the anxieties, and I’ve now learned to surrender to the language barriers and embrace my fellow humans as the kindred souls they are. As a solo female traveller in particular, the warnings I received about India were enough to make me doubt my decision the entire flight over here. While an element of common sense is required in navigating unfamiliar soil and encountering cultures and people unaccustomed to communicating with pale-skinned, ginger women, in general, my experience here has been altogether more comfortable than the warnings had led me to expect – something which has left me ashamed of my paranoid actions (or lack thereof) on more than one occasion.

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Building bridges

Having become so used to this typically Irish paranoia, self-consciousness, and disinclination to trust ourselves or others we have come to adopt as the norm, I only realise now how much I was limiting myself in denying the natural inclination and need all humans possess to communicate and be open with one another. Given that communication leads to understanding, and understanding lies at the root of any harmonious relationship – be it mind and body, our relationship with ourselves, with friends, family, food – every aspect of our lives, it follows that the initial first step to reach out and interact with another human is often the most daunting, yet rewarding action we can take.
In the travelling/backpacking scene (in Asia, anyway) it may seem easier to speak to and make new acquaintances as everyone seems in the same boat – all secretly sipping beers or coffees in the underlying hope that the attractive guy across the bar will make the first move and ask you to accompany him to see the temple tomorrow (*swoon*).
We need to stop assuming.
We need to take action for ourselves, be more assertive and attentive to our own needs in the moment, and trust whatever natural direction we receive, be it from the kind stranger who just returned a 10 rupee note you dropped by accident, or the vague gestures of locals towards a forest path with not a word of English to accompany their directions. 9 times out of ten you will find their intentions to be genuine and heartfelt, even if their initial scowls or frowny faces may suggest otherwise. Some cultural differences will never change. It’s a shame that I still sometimes feel the apprehension before trusting the directions or unprovoked aid of a local on the street, but I’ve learned finally to open up and trust their lack of agenda for what it is – honesty.

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New friends and good food…

Travelling has helped me see that people aren’t so bad, really.
Discovering the kindness and hospitality of the Indian and Tibetan people I’ve encountered during my short time here has been fulfilling and heartwarming, and part of the reason I’m so reluctant to leave. While I have been careful not to walk too far alone at night or to concern myself with any ‘dodgy’ looking characters, I’ve found it’s the times when I’ve opened my mouth and made the first greeting, comment, or question to a fellow traveller or local that I have been rewarded with a flicker or flame or warmth and friendship – sometimes lasting no longer than a cup of chai, sometimes a whole week of meeting up for yoga classes, activities, or meals. Climbing mountains with new acquaintances and not being afraid to show your true self or embrace your lack of umbrella in a downpour at the Taj Mahal during monsoon season is about as freeing and grounding an experience as any I can hope to ever have again.

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An Irish & an Indian climb a mountain…

After all, aren’t we all just doing our best to keep going? Keep meeting, discovering, and moving onwards to the next destination, even if it’s just down the road? In my experience you are 10 times more likely to encounter kindness than nasty or dangerous behaviour whilst on the road, and discovering the importance of trust and my capacity to remain calm in these situations has already led me to several places and friendships with people and places I never would have experienced had I remained in my ‘safe’ bubble of a hostel room. While an element of self-awareness and common sense is also necessary, the key is to find a balance between overly-analysing the outcome of potential interactions and ultimately ruining them for yourself before they ever happen, and just going with them without thinking. I’ve come to a peaceful middleground where both sides are now available to me, and now just appreciate that I have the opportunity to experience it all.

 

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Bhagsu Waterfall, Dharamsala

 

 

 

Indonesian Company….Ubud & The Yogabarn

Is that the hum of a juice blender I hear or the Om of the latest yoga class finishing up?

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Chances are strong it’s either one. As I sit here in the Yogabarn in the heart of Ubud, Bali, in the middle of monsoon season with the rain pelting down on the bamboo and banana leaf- awning overheard, I can’t help but wonder at myself and at how far I’ve actually come in the past few months. Not just physically and in the ‘other-side-of-the-world’ sense, but mentally, spiritually, metaphysically…I’ll stop before I get too airy fairy altogether.

Up until now my blog has served as a way of keeping track of my journey – my literal journey, starting in Cambodia and continuing on up through Vietnam, all the way back down again and through a painful yet fascinating 30-hour stopover in Singapore as I headed on towards Indonesia. I’ve documented various aspects of places I’ve travelled, aspects of travelling alone, travelling with a group, travelling as someone who never thought she’d be able to and praciticing yoga along the way, whilst also trying to be funny and lighthearted in whatever way I can to keep people at home engaged and informed, instead of merely using the blog as a platform to show-off pictures and stories of faraway lands and living through the medium of social-media ‘likes’.

Since arriving in Bali, however, I haven’t posted a single thing. Zilch. Zero. Less than that. I’ve yet to string a sentence together to sufficiently describe this place; the atmosphere; the people; the food; the attitude and general way of living; the sheer contentedness and ease and peace of mind I’ve felt….even this description falls short. I don’t even know where I’m going with any of this.

Do I have to be going anywhere? Bali has shown me that I don’t. Yoga in Bali has helped me call this into question, and realise that instead of constantly looking forward, aiming to get somewhere, do something, be something and somewhere other than what and where I am right now, I have every right and capability to occupy my current space, to be where and who I am in each moment and to stop wishing otherwise.

I’m here, I’m now, I’m content… that’s all I can be sure of.

After spending a week at Serenity Eco-Guesthouse and Yoga, I genuinely didn’t want or feel the need to leave Canggu and the surrounding areas in any way. The three main beaches and surfing spots I grew to love are easily accessible via various narrow, windy streets that are best navigated by motorbike, which are available to rent from reception at Serenity and also from a huge array of places along the mainstreets. I would happily have stayed there exploring as I did every day after my yoga class, swim, or surf lesson, settling in different chillout spots and cafés for the remaining two weeks of my travels, yet Ubud and the Yogabarn were calling, as so many of my recent new aquaintances and Google Search results had recommended.

Ubud is…the Templebar of Bali. Without the booze. The ‘creative’ and ‘artsy’ centre of the small island is renowned historically for it’s temples, arts and crafts and traditional fare, yet more recently for it’s yoga, holistic, and healing retreat centres, the more expensive of which embody everything you’d imagine from a soul-searching American tourist desperate to follow Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat. Pray. Love. kind of spiritual path in a tendency to lean towards the excessively naff and moneymaking kind of superficiality.

That being said, the Yogabarn is actually the most incredible place I’ve ever stepped foot in. For any yoga practitioner (I still find it difficult to use the word ‘yogi’ without thinking of Star Wars), no visit to Bali would be complete without at least coming to see it. The grounds themselves are enormous, and have a commune-like atmosphere and positive, healthy vibe that is honestly as infectious as the chants and repetitive mantras I encountered in my first Kirtan Yoga session the other day (more on that experience later). This variety in itself is one reason to visit and stop in for at the very least a class or two, the going rate to stay here being slightly overpriced for anyone on a budget such as mine. Again however, I seem to have struck lucky in my choice of accomodation. Despite the lack of wifi in Detri Inn hostel, it’s cheap, cheerful, clean, and more importantly is situated literally twenty metres away from the entrance to the Yogabarn, a happy accident that I still refuse to believe happened by chance.

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The Yogabarn restaurant Garden Kafé is a must to try during any stay here too, every single option packed to the brim of the coconut-bowl servings with nutrients and health foods so fresh you nearly have to clean the organic compost from them yourself. Atman Café located a few minutes walk away too is also an extremely delicious and yet again healthy option, and has totally revolutionized the way I think about porridge for good – something I genuinely never thought could ever happen. I’ll be returning home with a wealth of knowledge on making healthy, raw and vegetarian dishes aswell as new ideas and motivation to make them.

I feel Serenity Guesthouse in Canggu was also a gold mine of a find accomodation-wise, as it included everything and more that the Yogabarn in Ubud has to offer, at a fraction of the price, whilst also providing a balanced choice of nightlife versus retreat and holistic medicinal pracitices, classes, and information all within walking and biking distance of a beautiful beach. Honestly, the only reason I left Canggu was to experience Ubud, and I’m already looking into ways to get back there…

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I leave Ubud in the morning to meet a family member down in Seminyak, and while I’ll be sad to leave the soothing and medatitive environment that is my current proximity to the Yogabarn, I’ll be sure to take with me the lessons and experiences I’ve had there and around the Monkey-laden streets and lively centre of Ubud. Until then….

Useful Links
Serenity Eco Guesthouse & Yoga
The Yogabarn Ubud
Yogabarn Garden Kafé
Atman Kafé Ubud Facebook

Ar Thóraíocht Taistil – Ho Chi Minus 1

****LEAGAN BÉARLA FAOI – ENGLISH VERSION BENEATH***

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An chéad rud a rith liom nuair a chuala mé an preabadh ísle, domhain i bfhad uaim is mé ag tógáil céime amach roimh éirí na gréine in Ho Chi Minh, ná go raibh an ‘oíche amach’ aréir nach raibh diúltaithe agam ach cúpla uair a chloig roimhe sin le mo chairde nua ón mbrú fós ar siúl. Bhí mé leath ag siúl go bhfeicfinn ag teacht ar ais iad leath-dallta timpeall an chúinne, nó ag léimt ó chúl ceann de na tacsaithe-moto nach molfainn d’aon turasóirí lena dtaitníonn a gcuid seilbhe luachmhara leo comh luath is a dúisíonn ceantar na mbackpackers in Saigon le titim na hoíche.

Is mé an leanacht liom ar an tslí aitheanta anois don pháirc láirneach, ag trasnú sráid Le Loi nach raibh ach ábhairín níos ciúine ansin ag 4 ar maidin is a bhíonn i rith an lae, bhí muintir na sráide gafa ag ‘glanadh’ deannaigh ó áit go háit ar an tsráid le scuaib fite, is iad ag réiteach le haghaidh trácht na maidine. Thug mé le fios nach cur isteach drochbheasach ón oíche roimh ré agus ‘Happy Hour’ ag leanacht ar aghaidh go ‘All Hours’, a bhí sa cheol leanúnach a chuala mé ag briseadh ‘suaimhneas’ na cathrach, ach a mhalairt san iomlán a bhí i gceist. Bhí orm athbhreathnú a dhéanamh sular thuig mé i gceart a bhí os mo chomhair – grúpa ollmhór d’mhná meanaoiseach Vítneamis i lár spás oscailte sa pháirc, gleasta in leggings agus tléinte ildáite, agus iad uilig ag gluaiseacht le chéile ar nós airm aisteach polyester, in am don chuisle leanúnach nár shíolraigh ó áit ar bith faoi leith go bfhaca mé – ní raibh sé fiú geal faoin am seo. Faoi dheireadh d’airigh mé go raibh cead agam stanadh a thabhairt ar ais do dhaoine a thugann dom iad comh minic sin anseo, mo chraiceann geal agus gruaig rua mar chúis grinn do go leor daoine áitiúla – tuigim go bhfuil mé aisteach, ach ní bhíonn mise ag déanamh aeróibicí sa pháirc ag a 4 ar maidin!!

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Bhí trácht cloiste agam ar an nós seo sa Chambóid, ach ní raibh sé feicthe agam ag tarlu go dtí seo, agus bhí sé deacair an gáire a sheachaint nuair a chonaic mé cúpla bean a bhí tar éis achar a chuir eatarthu fhéin agus an cuid eile sa lár, le casadh agus lubadh leo fhéin ar nós Sims ar an gcosán. Le firinne bhí mé ag iarraidh damhsa leo! Chuir sé an Hokey cokey i gcuimhne dom ón scoil sa Chambóid, ach amháin gur na céadta mná Vítneamis a bhí ann ag bogadh leo féin le púis orthu is iad i mbun cleachtadh coirpe na maidine seo roimh éirí na gréine agus an teas meanlae, seachas grúpa páistí. Is dóigh go dtugann na gluaiseachtaí rialta seo cead dóibh an bia friochta agus oiliúil sin a ithe gan mórán iarmhairtí freisin..
Aisteach.

Is dóigh gur mar gheall nach raibh mé ag súil leis is mé fós leath i mo choladh ag iompar chuile rud gur liom ar domhain faoi láthair a tháinig an oiread sin ionadh orm iad a fheiceáil ann, ach seans mhaith freisin gur mar gheall nach raibh mé tar éis an cathair a shiúl comh luath seo riamh, agus toisc gur ‘early riser’ mé fhéin ar aon chaoi, ghlac mé nár tharla aon rud sular éirigh mise – cé comh mícheart is a bhí mé!

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Thaitin Ho Chi Minh i bfhad níos fearr liom an uair seo, ach amháin an dorm le 18 duine eile sa mbrú buiséadach – ach ar $3 in aghaidh na hoíche, cé atá le gearán faoi? Cé nár éirí ro-mhaith liom roimhe sin mo bhealach a dhéanamh ann, an uair seo go tobann bhí mé go breá in ann na sráideanna a loingsiú go héasca le níos mó muiníne agus píosa cleachtadh taobh thiar dom. Thaitin an ‘World Food Festival’ liom a bhí ar siúl sa pháirc don deireadh seachtaine áirithe seo, thug sé neart deiseanna dom níos mó bia aisteach a thriail agus freisin tuilleadh nósanna aisteacha fheiceáil nach bhfuil mé cinnte a bheadh riamh in ann teacht i bhfeidhm anseo!12351388_10153218838373483_843405117_o

 

D’éirigh liom cúpla bronntanas Nollag Víteamise deirineach a fháil ( níl pictiúirí agam, mar….bronntanais!) le seisiúin crua ag stangaireacht in Aonach Ben Thien sa lár, agus d’fhág mé le tuilleadh ábhair ná mar a bhí ceannaithe agam riamh ar bheagáin airgid. Táim ag dul i dtaithí ar seo!

12348755_10153218958898483_772053028_nSílim freisin go bhfuil mé ag dul i dtaithí ar na nósanna bóithre atá acu…tá feabhas tagtha orm ag transú na bóithre gnóthacha leis na sruthanna gluaisrothair agus gluastáin beaga nach stopann le teada – nílim ag iarraidh ‘jinxáil’ a dhéanamh ar seo, ach tá feicthe agam go n-éiríonn níos fearr leat do chuid spáis fhéin a léiriú le beagán muiníne, seachas a bheith ag braith ar chomhghlacaithe nó turasóir eile an bealach a dhéanamh duit. Chuir mé le líne tráchta is mé fós mar lucht siúl – ag seasamh le gluaisrothar ar gach taobh díom, bhí orm fanacht go dtí gur chas na soilse glas chun leanacht ar aghaidh – chuile fhear (nó bean) dóibh fhéin a bhí ann, agus bhí orm léimt ar thaobh chuig an gcosán comh luath is a lean mo réamhthachta ar aghaidh.

Is mé ag scríobh anois táim i mo shuí in aerfort Changi, Singapore, go héasca an t-aerfort is fearr le cúpla uair a chloig (nó 28) a chaitheamh ar domhan. Táim ag súil leis an gcathair a fheiceáil anois i gceann píosa tar éis an cupáin caife Starbucks seo (an chéad ceann le beagnach 2 mhí!!), agus mar sin fágfaidh mé é seo anois go dtí go bhfaighim áit an ceallaire a luchtú!! Vietnamasté!

 

 

***********LEAGAN BÉARLA – ENGLISH VERSION ********* 

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My initial reaction to hearing a distant, low thumping beat as I stepped out into the 5am pre-dawn of Ho Chi Minh’s ever-chattering streets, was that the ‘night out’ with my new dorm-friends I had reluctantly declined merely hours beforehand had still not come to an end. Early-morning flight-jitters aside, I half expected to meet them stumbling in around the corner, or jumping off the back of otherwise ill-advised moto-taxis that prey on tipsy tourists once the nocturnal backpacker district of Saigon awakens with the dusk.

As I continued on the now familiar route to the central park-area and traversed the only slightly less chaotic dimly-lit Le Loi street as its’ occupants swept dust from one place to another with wicker brushes and geared up for another rush hour, it became clear that the music I was hearing was not in fact an intrusive occupation of an otherwise peaceful morning by the extension of a nightclubs’ ‘happy hour’ to All Hours, but frankly quite the opposite. I had to look twice before I could comprehend the abnormally large gathering of middle-aged Vietnamese women in a central clearing of the park, all dressed in leggings and coloured polyester tshirts and moving robotically in sync to a monotonous and crackling throbbing ‘beat’ that was coming from nowhere within my available line of vision – it was barely even beginning to get bright at this stage. I finally felt a sort of justification and permission to return the stares I am so regularly subjected to over here, my pale skin and ginger hair proving a source of great hilarity to many locals – I know I’m weird, but I don’t do aerobics in the park at 4.30am!!!12351274_10153217909993483_2020078173_n

I’d heard of such practices in Cambodia, but had yet to witness it actually occurring, and I found it hard to hide my amusement as I passed several women who had distanced themselves from the main congregation to thrust and wiggle by themselves to the ‘music’ in a Sim-like manner along the sidelines. I’m not going to lie – I kind of wanted to join in! It reminded me of doing the Hokey Cokey with the kids in the school in Cambodia, only this time it was hundreds of anonymous early-morning Saigonese women shaking and gesturing with frowned and scrunched up faces in what I can only assume is a regular exercise regime that both avoids the midday heat of the sun and also helps to burn off excess calories supplied by the inclusion of oil and grease to every single dish and meal.Bizarre.
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I think the fact that it appeared out of nowhere as I blearily trudged to the bus station with all my worldly possessions (or at least, everything I currently carry with me) was probably the main source of surprise, yet it may also have been due to the fact that this was the earliest I’ve ever roamed the streets of the city, and being accustomed to my name as an early riser had pretty much just assumed that nothing much happened before the hours I found myself outside. How very wrong I was!

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Ho Chi Minh this time around was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, despite the rather dodgy 18-person dorm room in the budget hostel – but for 3 dollars a night, who’s going to argue?! Previous navigation having not proven so beneficial, I all of a sudden found on my return that I knew where to go and had the confidence to somehow find the things I needed, and the timely occurrence of a World Food Festival in the central park during the day and evenings was a fantastic find when it came to securing cheap eats and yet more bizarre interactions with customs and trends that I’m really not sure will ever properly reach our side of the world…!

12348755_10153218958898483_772053028_nI managed to secure some final Vietnamese Christmas presents (no pictures, coz , yknow, PRESENTS) in my most intense haggling-session to date in the Ben Thian Market, and proudly left with more plunder for my money than I have ever before! I’m getting used to this!

I also think that since being alone I’ve become more accustomed to and adept at crossing the roads and incessant torrential flow of motorbikes and vehicles that do not stop or cater for pedestrians whatsoever in their narrow span of vision – I don’t want to jinx this, but I’ve found that in literally just asserting your space and striding with a bit of confidence instead of looking to a companion or fellow tourist to pave the way for you, I’ve had more success crossing the roads and have even found myself adding to a line of traffic as a pedestrian – locked in on four sides by motorbikes, I literally had to wait for the lights to go green before I could walk in any direction – it was literally every man (or woman) for themselves, and I quickly had to leap to one side as soon as my predecessors revved forwards.

 

As I write now I’m sitting in Singapore airport – easily the coolest place I’ve ever had to kill a few hours. Hopefully I’ll get to see a bit of the city as my flight onwards doesn’t leave until the early hours of tomorrow, so I’ll write a post on that as soon as I find a free plug socket….! Vietnamasté!!!

Days 3 -5 in Cambodia and Why I’m Going to Stop Numbering Them

From Connemara to Cambodia

Days 3 -5 in Cambodia and Why I’m Going to Stop Numbering Them

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The Royal Palace of Cambodia

It’s funny that as soon as I finally have something and somewhere to write about regularly and keep people updated with that I find it difficult to get the right headspace and time to sit and actually write it. I think the main and most important difference is that I’ve been so busy, no longer having the time to spend thinking about travelling and being elsewhere and doing something different, seeing new things – I am now finally living those thoughts and wishes, and no longer stuck in the repetitive cycles and mindset of not being in the moment – because I am all here. I am doing the something different, I am seeing the new things.

I’ve never been so fully engrossed in a place or trip or country as I have been this past week, and it’s only starting to hit me that this is actually my new home until Christmas. As the ‘holiday’ mode wears off and we begin to settle in to our new surroundings, there’s a sense of identity and self-sufficiency that comes along with it unlike any I’ve experienced before.

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Floating lilypads outside the Royal Palace

The confusion over tuk-tuk prices, haggling at the markets, getting lost down unfamiliar streets and tasting all kinds of new and strange foods I swore I’d never even take a whiff of before is all part of the excitement of learning to live a new lifestyle, and accepting and appreciating things as they are in the moment. I’ve come so far out here – travelled over 16 hours, saved up the money and challenged myself so I have time to spend growing accustomed to and experiencing a new way of life, to shake up my own and prove to myself that there are other ways of being, thinking, and living than the stagnancy I had become so accustomed to. Even though it’s different, and I’m enjoying every second, I’m not going to limit myself to it either – we must always keep moving.

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New friends!

There are so many things to experience, so many places, people, and routes to take, that has made me realise that ultimately the only thing keeping my head clouded and in the darkness before was my own negativity and inability to appreciate the light in the world. That’s easy to say as I sit in the shade from a glorious 34 degree ray of sunshine in South East Asia, but I’m talking figuratively here aswell as literally!

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Spotless grounds of the Palace

Our visit to the Genocide Museum of Phnom Penh was eye-opening to say the least, and shed some light on the dreary history of Cambodia which we’d heard about, yet failed to understand in detail before. The rows of cells and torture mechanisms still in existence (some fully furnished) and barbed wire on the outside of the buildings to prevent suicide attempts as the innocent prisoners suffered under the Khmer Rouge really shook me to the core and reminded me that all is never what it seems.

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Block of Prison Cells in The Genocide Museum, many still containing the locks, chains, and torture instruments which bound prisoners

The “Land of Smiles” which we’d been introduced to the country as suddenly seemed all the more powerful as a title, as we considered the hardships the Cambodian people have been through in such a short space of time (it has been a mere 40 years since the prison was in use). To have the resilience and strength as a population and city to recover from such horrors and progress onwards after any growth of the sort being stunted for years is admirable, and even though they seem to struggle still with poverty and wellbeing, the general standard of living around here seems to be simple, yet sustainable.
In the end, isn’t that all we want? To be able to sustain ourselves, in an uncomplicated and easygoing way, without getting too caught up in trivialities and superficial worries that are ultimately damaging to our beings and make things harder on all around us?

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“Never will we forget the crimes committed during the Democratic Kampuchea regime”

The young monks we observed around the Royal Palace of Cambodia and Wat Phnom on our final day as ‘tourists’ before starting teaching placements embodied this peace of mind and simpicity of lifestyle, their brightly coloured orange robes informing the world of their devout nature.

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I found it interesting to discover that there are 3 main reasons a young Buddhist enters the monkhood, the first being an obvious devotion to the religion, and need to shorten the distance between himself an The Buddha in a personal vocation to search for Enlightenment. The second occurs only if a family is too poor to send the son to school, or to afford to keep providing for all children in the family. Any young boys who find themselves at an age suitable to entering the practice are morally required to do so, to lessen the strain upon the family and expand potential for their own futures. The third and probably most surprising reason a monk enters into the practice is as an element of the recovery process from addiction, mostly drug-related in Cambodia, but also involving alcohol and other ‘soul-damaging’ practices within the Buddhist community. While all young monks have the choice to enter into the practice, not all monastic undertakings are definitive, with a ‘temporary’ Bhikku (young monk) merely taking the robe for a few weeks, months or years of his life to dedicate some time to a monastic and detached life.

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Young Monks at the Royal Palace

I tried taking a picture of a small group of monks from a distance, and was taken aback as one laughed, raising his own iPhone in response to take a picture of me!

It really just proved in a very peaceful and lighthearted way that our cultures have so much to learn about one another, and that exposing ourselves to them can only lead to a further understanding and acception not only of ourselves, but of the world around us and our space within it.

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Buddha….

The traditional meals of Cambodian Banh Cheo, a sort of flour pancake served filled with broad beans and a peanut sauce, and another containing tofu and stir fried vegetables were interesting to experience, and really added to the shift in our mindsets from being mere backpackers and tourists to working ‘citizens’. It’s strange to think that from today onwards we will be contributing to society and sharing knowledge necessary for our young students to expand their own horizons in the future, and hopefully understand a bit more about Western culture.

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Sideview

While the main tourist attractions served as a great way to further our knowledge of the city we are about to take up a lengthy residence in, there is a certain reassurance in being on the way to a more settled environment and day-to-day structure, even if it will be interspersed with various national holidays and days off! We’re excited for the next stage of the journey and to meet the students and staff of our school.

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Interns on the steps of Wat Phnom!

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48 Hours in Bratislava

 

This day last week I was in the middle of a 48-hour stay in the city of Bratislava, a pitt-stop on the way to Sziget music festival in Budapest (more on that in the next post!).
As a ginger who hasn’t been on a proper sun holiday since the cringy days of family package deals to Majorca where any hotel without a kids’ club wasn’t worth batting my glitter-glued eyelashes together at, I’ll admit I may have slightly underestimated the European heat – this was only the beginning of my knowledge of Slovakia proving itself to be extremely limited. The heat struck like a wall of dead, sweaty air when you walk into a heavily populated gym, and I immediately thanked myself for having left my warm jacket at home.

After stumbling our way through the barrier of sweat, hastily-applied suncream, and unhelpful Slovakian bus drivers, we eventually made it to the tram station which would take us in the direction of our hostel. What I hadn’t anticipated was the large amount of dodgy-looking characters who roamed the streets – drunks, cripples, barely-clothed scrawny faces who revelled in approaching young unaccompanied travellers at the stations. I’m not saying it was extremely dangerous, just slightly less civilised and more suburban than many of the other European cities I’ve visited – and this was only in the first few hours or so. Still, we had to avert our gaze as a man covered in dried blood boarded the tram and sat staring at us, making no obvious inclination or cry for help, and seemingly oblivious to the extremity of his unknown injuries.

On finding our hostel (Patio Hostel, Bratislava), a wave of relief swept over me at being briefly removed from the sun’s preying rays, and also at finally being able to remove our backpacks. Shoulders aching, we attended a welcome BBQ downstairs in the garden, accompanied by several hen and stag parties, complete with inflatable and edible items of memorabilia…apparantly Bratislava is a serious hotspot for European pre-nuptial celebrations, who knew!

After locating the local Tesco and stocking up on some essentials, we went wandering in search of ‘Rock OK’ , a lively and dimly-lit underground bar, advertised as the starting point of a nightly pub crawl aimed at integrating the many socially-awkward and party-seeking backpackers who pass through the city during the Summer months. (Rock OK)

Considering it was a Saturday night, the streets were fairly quiet and we found ourselves wondering did such a pub crawl even exist. The streets were buckled under roadworks, with cones, railings, and upturned earth blocking off the streets which Google Maps had set out ahead of us. I got the impression that the entire city was very much a work-in-progress, as the roadworks were central to much of the scenery and background of the busiest areas we encountered.

After a rather sexist drink allowance of ‘Free glasses of beer, or wine for the women’, we got talking to our fellow travellers in the Rock Bar, and did our best to mingle – I’ve found that in situations such as these it is one of the best things you can do to be open, friendly and inviting – we were all in the same boat, after all, and so there was no point in being shy.
Many of the other travellers, some from Spain, New Zealand, England, and Italy, to name but a few, were also stopping off in Bratislava on their way down to Sziget, so a common topic of conversation was easily established.
Making friends with a group of Australians proved to be one of the highlights of the night, as well as typically rejoicing together as we realised there were two other Irish lads on the crawl – although unfortunately they lived up to the ‘drunken Irish’ label the other nationalities muttered to one another. We didn’t stay for the entire crawl however, as after the third ‘pub’ proved to be more of a nightclub than anything else, we decided it was time to navigate our way back through the dilapidated streets, sleeping JCBs and makeshift gravel footpaths.

After wonderful cold showers and a brief annoying realisation that someone in the hostel downstairs had stolen and eaten the bread we’d bought, we set out for a day of exploration in the city. We decided to decline the appeal of a walking-tour of the city purely because of the heat, our timeframe, and also because we much preferred the idea of discovering things independent of tour guides and plans.

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Using some of the roadworks as points of reference, we meandered down the main streets which proved a lot busier during the daytime, a large quarter of the city around the church and fountain being pedestrianised to accommodate travellers. The Old Town proved to be extremely inviting, the ‘Alstadt’ area full of great picture opportunities, innumerable bars, cafes and restaurants that looked good enough to stay in all day. The former Palace of the Hungarian Estates surrounded by the many little cobbled streets proved extremely enjoyable to wander about, despite the midday heat!

We voted in favour of a Pad Thai style lunch instead of sampling some of the local cuisine, and were thoroughly impressed by the service and food of The Green Buddha, close to the main square.

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After impulse-buying another pair of ‘Uganda-pants’, as I call them, (my first ever pair having been purchased in Uganda) in one of the many little craft shops along the street, we took the 83 bus to the end of the line, and got off at Temantínska, and followed the beach-ready stream of locals and tourists alike down a short distance to Drazdiak Lake. This freshwater lake was the first experience I’ve had of an inland lake in Europe, and it didn’t disappoint! Although there were hoards of overly-exposed sun-worshippers and naked children throwing rocks at the (extremely patient) swans, the atmosphere and simplicity of the place really appealed to me. We secured ourselves a beer after hopping the language barrier of the bar, and for the first time since the trip had started we felt really at ease as we chilled in the sun (or in my case, the shade and beneath a light throw cardigan).

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That evening we wandered back through the city and had an early night, as the prospect of a busy day navigating our way to Budapest loomed ahead of us.

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On External Influences….

Today I was faced with this image. ‘The Buddha of Our Times’.

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It really got me thinking about our values and influences as human beings, and how we have allowed them to shape our current personas, situations, and everyday lives in general.

The Buddha – a figurhead of mindful awareness that has (somewhat ironically) shaped people’s beliefs for millenia, in which a lot of faith and trust is placed, has been transformed in this picture into a representation of 21st century compartmentalized life and chaos.

Maybe ‘allowed’ is a bit too strong a word. Growing up it is rare that we have any sort of control over our external environment and relationships, and so often we find ourselves answering for the actions of others that have unfortunately become intertwined with our own experiences. Parental influences in particular are things that people find difficult to differentiate themselves from, as exposure from an early age is one of the key issues when it comes to shaking off unhealthy practices – children learn only what they are presented with, and so a negative habit or notion of a parent will ultimately affect them more strongly than it would were it coming from another aspect in their life.

But there are influences coming at us from all angles. The aeroplanes, helicoptors, and various other air vessels prove that it’s not just the obvious and visual aspects of life that can influence us. Things we wouldn’t expect, things that aren’t planned. They all impact on our inner peace and even more interesting is when we consider that they themselves have their own journey and personal goals and destinations they are trying to reach. We all get in each others way at some point.

The important and most difficult part is staying grounded and within your own two feet on the ground when this happens. Though this image is at first somewhat unsettling to observe, and would even evoke a sense of dystopian loss of identity and independence, on the whole I feel that after a time of considering the different elements here (and of our world), the overall form of the Buddha stays true to his original message, and is strong and accepting of the challenges posed by the world around it.