In Part II, I wrote about farming, and the daily routine.
Weekends at New Life Foundation provided an opportunity to break from the daily routine.
The foundation is a 30-minute ride from the city. During the week we stay on campus, busy with our daily routine. On the weekends a shopping trip is organized, where we can ride into the city in song tao’s (red pickup trucks with benches in the back, see below) to go into town and get personal necessities.
(image courtesy of American Expat in Chiang Mai)
Once in town, I would take this opportunity to enjoy junk food – McDonald’s fries and Coke, followed by going to a cafe and having a pastry with a mocha – little things I didn’t have access to during the weekdays, so it really felt like a treat…something I never had the impulse to do back home.
The city is a contrast from the quiet, secluded environment at New Life: shopping malls, sounds of motor vehicles, pollution, ads and billboards promoting materialism. I know some people from New Life didn’t go on these weekend shopping trips just because they didn’t want to leave the serene environment at New Life. They were happy to stay home.
A hiking trip was organized one weekend. A “moderate” hike according to our local guide ended up being a very difficult hike, requiring machetes to create a path through the dense foliage, and several hikers getting bitten by leeches. Usually it was the same two people getting bitten repeatedly. In Southeast Asia it’s always better to be over-prepared; good-to-know information is usually not shared beforehand.
The hiking crew.
The hike started innocently through beautiful rice fields.
A local panicked when Elbert walked on this rickety bridge – he told him the bridge is “for looking only”. Elbert also appears to be quite careless in this shot, like he’s texting while crossing a dilapidated bridge. lol
Beware of leeches!
Grubs. Our local guides would take these back to the village to sell.
Sabrina looks like she’s just chilling here, but she’s actually holding on to the tree to keep from sliding down!
Visiting the Local Temples
Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly be surprised by any more magnificent temples, I was. In Chiang Rai, there are two temples worth seeing: the Black Temple and the White temple. Despite the simple names, they were quite epic!
The Black Temple is very animalistic. And black. It’s not actually a temple, but a museum of various art collections. I imagined Vikings would feel at home here.
Inside one of the buildings. Lots of buffalo skulls, and sharp chairs with fur.
This building stood out as it was a completely different style than the buildings around it.
The White Temple is quite eccentric, and still under construction for perhaps another decade.
The creator seems to have something for superheroes and celebrity figures. Once you walked inside the temple, in front of you is a golden Buddha statue; behind you is a wall painting, with figures like Michael Jackson, Superman, Batman. The painting colors are dark and reddish, which represent darkness, hell. This is contrasted with heaven, symbolized by the golden Buddha statue in the front of the temple.
Yes, that’s Neo.
(image from Man on the Lam)
Batman’s head hanging from a tree.
In case you need to use the bathroom, it’s in this building.
There were many new techniques of spirituality I was being exposed to during my time at New Life, and Dance Mandala has stood out in my mind the most.
In the Forest Hall, a few dozen of us gathered for a night of unstructured dance, called Dance Mandala. We were advised to close our eyes and just move to the music, however we felt like. Various songs would be played, electronic beats, bass, and each person expressed how that felt through dance. Again, the beauty here is vulnerability. I wasn’t concerned about whether I was going to be made fun of or not – I explored dance through movement. It is a very different experience to be able to dance individually, yet with a group of of fifty people or so, everyone immersed in their own bubble. I felt gratitude for being in an environment where I could move without being judged; dance purely for the sake of dancing.
You Don’t Need Alcohol to Have Fun
One big thing to point out is that I had fun, we all had fun, without alcohol or drugs. I didn’t even realize this at the time, but I’m grateful for having an environment where I could escape the usual social conventions of drinking to have fun.
I will end this post with a cool video one of the volunteers made (all shot and edited on her iPhone). It gives you a good glimpse into the environment and people at New Life (while being silly).
(video made by Gabriela)
Next Post: My Last Day at New Life Foundation