Volunteering at New Life, Part III

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.

Shopping Trips

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.

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(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.

Hiking

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.

Ankur New Life Crew

The hike started innocently through beautiful rice fields.

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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

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Beware of leeches!

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Grubs. Our local guides would take these back to the village to sell.

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Sabrina looks like she’s just chilling here, but she’s actually holding on to the tree to keep from sliding down!

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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.

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Inside one of the buildings. Lots of buffalo skulls, and sharp chairs with fur.

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Chair

This building stood out as it was a completely different style than the buildings around it.

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The White Temple is quite eccentric, and still under construction for perhaps another decade.

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This part felt inspired by Dali. I think it represents hands reaching up from hell.IMG_2272

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.

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(image from Man on the Lam)

Batman’s head hanging from a tree.

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In case you need to use the bathroom, it’s in this building.

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Dance Mandala

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
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5 thoughts on “Volunteering at New Life, Part III

  1. Black and White temples rule!!

    Fascinating that first they are still building magnificent temples like that. I guess I stereotype temples to always be some relic of the past, representing a bygone era when public architecture strove to be extravagent rather than practical.

    Second, how comic-book esque these temples are. Seems that there is a deliberate intention not to make them conform to a historical style or cultural standard, and by doing so attempt to make them relevant to today.

    The incorporation of pop-culture strikes me as something rather brilliant (although the actual execution in your pictures comes off kinda weird). As I have read over our experiences with New Life I have privately thought to myself that there seems to be a danger in escaping “normal life” to find balance. What happens to that balance which took so much effort to find, when you are inevitably forced to return to the hustle and bustle of “normal life”? Is the inner peace you found while parted from society able to integrate with the life you left behind and must return to? Escape may be necessary to find inner peace, but the ultimate goal of the journey is to assimilate that peace with the life back at home. A place where pop-culture is worshipped, senses are under constant bombardment, and chaos is a reality that all must learn to cope with.

    I think the picture of Neo, and a hanging head of batman, within the setting of magnificent temple which captivates the senses and inspires spirituality, is a step forward towards integrating the two worlds.

    • Thank you for the thought provoking questions! I will hold on to them until my last post…where I can reflect on the whole journey and what it all means.

  2. ment to say “your experiences with New Life”

    Of course I wasn’t there 🙂 Although reading your blog makes me feel like I could have been

  3. Pingback: Farewell, New Life (Part IV) | Ankur Wat

  4. Pingback: Volunteering at New Life Foundation, Part II | Ankur Wat

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