Sunday, 25 March 2012

Sweating Bricks

What seems to be the problem officer?

Since being in Mcloed Ganj, India, back in October, this is the first time we've settled for so long in one place (a month).  We've been going for about 10 months now! It doesn't feel like long from this end though, since being Away From Home feels like normal life for us now.  Its beautiful actually.

Its been very very good to get into some regular work here though, lifting bricks instead of rucksacks.  The weather is hot now, and getting warmer.  The Thai's are glad it's not 'chilly' any more.  That is, below 30 degrees - they laugh at us shirtless, sweating foreigners in the cool of the spring, while they cover up with layers and jackets and work in the garden.  I've no idea how.  Me, i am a St Bernard, and so have just given myself a shearing this morning.

9 Tuk Tuks turn up at New Life, instead of 2 vans. Damn. Nice convoy though.

We've been closely involved in the building of a new circular meditation hall here at the foundation, on the other side of the rice paddy field. It's made of mud and rice husk bricks, straight mud, and cement.    We've only done 2 days work in the garden, while all the rest has been on the site- we've made the bricks, laid the foundations, mixed the mortar and laid the bricks.  I've learned a lot, and its cool to talk about construction stuff with california Phil, who is overseeing it.

fresh bricks from the moulds.  There are about 4000.
This will be 8 feet high...

Its big - 16 metres diameter, 18 windows, 3 doors and about 5 metres high with the roof on (made of wood, a contractor is doing that).  Its a shame we wont be around to see it finished (we leave here in 4 days, and the building is about 10 days off completion), but I hope to get regular pictures.  Its been a lot lot of heavy lifting and shovelling and mixing, and has made mince meat of my battered hands.

I’ve been putting equal effort into eating the food, with 3 lovely healthy buffet banquets a day, and this has increased my rice belly somewhat.  I’ve made myself use only chop sticks to try and eat less while being here (not a unique strategy), but I've just become really good at using them instead.

Three legged Jack gets a lift home from the basket ball court

Its been fascinating to gradually get to know some of the residents here, and their stories of addiction and recovery.  The horror and the unstoppable, uncontrollable compulsion of addiction is mind blowing, and very hard to appreciate its extent once it has got hold of someone.  It is sometimes called a Hungry Ghost -  always there and never satisfied.  But the bravery and courage of the people here is hugely admirable.

Laura is currently on a meditation weekend course, learning to control her mind, and hopefully, to levitate.  She is keen and open to learning.  The Thailand Big Knit is being spearheaded by our favourite girl, and there are approximately 18 new knitters here.  read all about it on the New Life blog - here

Before class at the art gallery knitting workshop

As I say, our time is wearing thin, and we'll move along in a few days time.  There are some great great people here and it will be sad to leave.

The Amazing Spider-Man makes it onto Laura's finest knitting work yet.  Its not for me :(

On Wednesday, we'll head back into the real world and travel south back to Bangkok on the fancy-for-us overnight train, and catch another train south east to the Cambodian border.  We'll be there for only about 2 weeks, and then cross into Vietnam for another 2, heading north and then into China.

Beyond that though, we have a change of plan.  Instead of going north through China, Mongolia and Russia to get home (that is now too expensive for us), we will cycle 3000km across europe from Istanbul to Newcastle via an Amsterdam ferry and roll onto our family driveway.  Bam!

Our lakeside villa looked much better in the brochure.

We will raise money for the foundation via sponsorship, which should take us back home sometime in September, where I will eat muesli and real bread toast for breakfast, corn beef pie for lunch, and a roast dinner for pud.


Monday, 12 March 2012

A New Life

Nearly 2 weeks ago we arrived at the New Life Foundation, a 'recovery community' 20km outside of Chiang Rai in the north of Thailand. The centre has been up and running for a couple of years now and supports people who are overcoming issues such as addiction, depression and relationship breakdowns. New Life isn't your typical 'rehab' centre however, as the focus of recovery is on mindfulness, meditation and personal development. Residents, staff and volunteers live, eat and work together, many staying for weeks, if not months at a time.

Our room
We had decided to come to New Life for a month for a number of reasons; to stay in one place for a while, learn new skills, meet new people, save money and have new experiences. I can safely say we've achieved all of those things and much much more even just in the first half of our stay. It's a really special place and even the most sceptical amongst us (John) couldn't help to be moved by what goes on here. New Life has over 70 acres of land with a number of buildings, a lake, rice fields, teak forest and large vegetable garden at its disposal. Local people are employed where possible to work the land and at the moment there are more than 20 volunteers all lending a hand.

Visiting monks
There are activities galore for both residents and volunteers to get involved with and in the last 2 weeks alone there's been yoga, meditation, salsa dancing, improvisation, and Thai massage courses available. Of course I couldn't let the opportunity pass to share the joy of knitting & so after a trip to the local market have taught about 15 people how to knit over the course of the weekend. It feels great to be sharing my skills and providing a useful and relaxing tool for the residents and volunteers. Now the dining hall is full of people happily knitting away.

We quickly got ourselves into a routine at New Life, and after a few days 'rest' have been waking up for the 6am yoga class every day. Arriving with a hangover made the prospect seem ghastly at first but after a few early nights we've begun to really enjoy seeing the sun rise over the fields while we gently wake up to yoga. Not wanting to learn Thai Massage myself has meant that I was quickly allocated the role of 'client' and have been receiving massages nearly every other day. Oh, and did I mention the swimming pool?!

It's not all fun & games however – there's hard graft to be done & we've been working 5 hours a day during the week. Sounds easy I know but being out of employment for a year means it was a bit of a shock to the system at first. We started out on the garden team & have since been working on the 'mud brick' team. For a week we were making & moving the mud bricks, and have since been laying concrete foundations and starting to build the new meditation hall. Although completely different to what we're used to it's been great fun & we've learnt lots of new things. Unfortunately I don't think our mud brick skills will be much use in rainy Manchester but maybe one day.

John the brick layer
The best thing about New Life is the people...everyone here is different and has really interesting stories to tell, either about their travels or if they're residents about their lives before coming to the community. Being here for a month means we can get past the usual traveller questions & really get to know people, so we've definitely made some good friends. Being here and living amongst recovering addicts has really been an eye opener and definitely makes us appreciate what we've got.

Sunrise over the meditation hall