In late 2015 - after the launch of this website, I got on a a one-way flight all alone to Krabi, Thailand from a short visit home with no clear idea of what the future held - I just knew that the future for me was somewhere in Asia. I booked a retreat on an isolated tropical island. After a year in South Korea, I had a desire to push reality back as far as possible. I carved out some time and space alone for myself to decompress and process all of the incredible challenges and exciting adventures i'd been through during the past few years. Paradise was all it ever promised to be - for an epoch in time. Oasis Yoga, in Koh Lanta accepted on an art-yoga trade commission, so I delivered their wood-mounted drawing of the island and started to learn the natural healing ways of the Yogi. The stretching and core-strengthening poses have been the most difficult and rewarding treatment sciatica, stress, and the back pains that loom at 28. Furthermore, Farra and Kate at Oasis Yoga studio generously put three more of my pieces on display for sale at artist price.
It was just before Christmas Day that I landed in a concrete maze baking under the unrelenting heat of Southeast Asia. I began living in the slums of Samut Prakan, just outside of Bangkok, at a Daycare School run by FORDEC – The Foundation for the Development and Rehabilitation of Children and Family – a Thai charity organization dedicated to helping the poor children of Thailand get a start in Education, healthy nutrition and positive daytime activities. My goal was to give the children a start in a beginner English classroom education. Without this center, the children would be left to scavenge the dumps in the area and play in the streets with no real direction or any formal education. As a result, the entire community was served in many beneficial ways, and I became known as the “Farang Teacher” in the community. Introducing a curriculum, new activities and the foreign language was a real challenge for over 200 children. The Thai teachers were helpful, but there was an extreme language barrier. This experience was challenging and confidence boosting. I highly recommend a teaching experience at FORDEC to anyone interested in giving them a helping hand, and having a very exotic cultural experience.
After two months, the students were able to learn English communication skills through flash cards, questions, and having done the Hokey Pokey way too many times. On the final days, I jumped on the trampoline with the kids who were hanging out after school, receive hugs and high fives from kids with dirty, wet hands who lived in tin shacks, from a walk of life I couldn’t imagine. In an environment full of stray dogs, mosquito bitten legs, and unrelenting heat, the children were grateful for a morning snack and one meal a day, and were lucky to receive whatever toys and educational materials that were donated.
I let go, and let my hands get dirty in an environment where we swatted the flies away from hundreds of bowls of thai food and joined in feeling grateful for another day. I bonded with the children, and hoped my small gesture would inspire them to propel themselves into a better future. My activities helped bring more joy, activity and energy to a school that was a bit sleepy when I first arrived. I truly believe in the huge potential of any child who really wants to learn. For me, I started taking a Meditation class and learned how to sit in silence and observation for 20 minutes a day. It wasn't until after I had finished my charity work with FORDEC, that I got an e-mail that my most spiritual Thailand piece, Luang Phor Klai (or "The Monk/Buddha") had sold back at Oasis Yoga. Little did I know, I was in for a long stream of good news.
Thank you to everyone in Thailand who taught me, helped me and showed me around. It is a buzzing land of smiles encompassing a city of Angels of glowing gold.
“Helping the children will heal your soul” – Dusanee Tersch.
Was it all a dream? My surreal memory of Korea didn’t fit in with my previously understood definition of the world. And I was still afraid to go back. I found myself in Thailand. Samrong, Samut Prakan, an outlier to Bangkok and a rough and impoverished area. I still wrestled with the memory of Amber’s shaming and toxic hostility in the korean kindergarten. At the same time, I found myself missing Korea - feeling an emergence of nostalgia for the cold, bleached faces, the geometric hair cuts, even its antagonists, hidden threats and trap doors. It kept me on my toes. I had a vision of the majestic Korean air flight attendant standing tall at 오리 Station in her sky blue uniform forever etched in my memory.
I was living in a school built by a charity to educate the underprivileged children who lived in the slums of tin-shacks behind it. The school was fortified by spike-crowned walls with one large gate that they would lock every night at sundown and leave me alone in the complex. I had a key to the fortress. On my first walks out into the neighborhood at night I would scurry past a few stray dogs out in the street. After careful analysis I realized that these dogs were sickly, one of which was getting sicker by the day, with sores all over her body. Her white fur was thinning over her fleshy pink irritated skin. She barked at me several times and took on a threatening pose. I felt pity on her soul, burdened by a sick biological form. I was often afraid to leave the gates of the school because of this sick dog. It sometimes made me hesitate to leave safety of the walled-in fortress. But I began to make peace with the idea that there will always be some sort of hostility in the world that I would have to accept. I would still avoid the dog by telling my motorcycle taxi to take long routes around and drop me off right in front of the gate at night.
After a few weeks, there was a day that the threatening, rabies infected dog wasn’t there. I wondered if it had passed away, or just found a new alley to resume scratching itself to death in. I thought about the respect these Thai’s have for the right to life, but the understanding also and a visual reminder that life is not conditionally pleasant for all living things – in some lower realms it is unconditionally torturous. Each day I would venture out of my caged-in Kindergarten and witness the ugly sides of suffering that come with the wild, unregimented freedom and growth of living things.
Standing in a crowd of bodies, pinned up against the window of the skytrain as it floated over Suumvhit street in the thick of Bangkok, I looked down at the traffic through the crowded city below - a humidified sweat hole where everything is out of place and no one seems to really mind.
For a moment I felt completely at peace and free, eerily serene in such a crowded rush hour train. I saw my past self in the shadows down below. Three years ago, a weak and fearful soul, straddling my e-bike trying to catch my balance in the parking lot of an old Anglican church in the Canadian Midwest. In my mind, I said to my 25 year old self through the cold, foggy winter skies and the light threat of wet snow, “Don’t you worry about a thing. You don’t have to think. You don’t have to worry. In fact, you’ve never had to worry about anything at all. So relax, let go, and try to enjoy the ride. Everything is going to work out great. The world is waiting for you and once you spread those wings, nothing can stop you from taking on the adventure of your own life.” I smiled through the glass and felt a strange sensation of communicating to myself in spirit, through time. Perhaps I was also hearing my best friend’s voice channel down through me from the future.
When my family first took me to Thailand in 2000, we stayed in hotels with elephant sculptures, ornate fountains and oriental restaurants where you tipped the air for flowing spiritually. It's like trying to see America and explore American culture by staying in the walls of Disney world. Now, I’m seeing the kingdom beyond the white walls of luxury, and I felt more alive and inspirationally ignited for it. Once you’ve lived among the average people, you realize that Thailand is a land of frustration. There's an underbelly of corruption centered in the military and the police force. As a foreigner, you need to be careful. If you yell at the wrong person, you might disappear and be found dead a week later, and your body will never make the news.
From a sinking swampy expanse of flatness and sitting air, a bustling city of many dimensions was created on its opposite landscape. In Bangkok, there will always be the sensations of a dark and murky stale swamp, with the weight of the infrastructure always pushing down and the damp, humid origin calling it all back to the underworld - all of the man made mosquito vacuums of refrigerated air pressed up high into the sky, nervously ignoring a call to fall back to the wild wetland it once was.
I came here to buy time and volunteer in a land where I thought helping poor kids would be straightforward and survival would be cheap. I didn’t realize the huge task I had set up in front of me - with the 200 children in a school with no active English of any kind. Not a single teacher or member of the staff spoke a word of English. But I did what Amber taught me to do. I created flash cards, I bought simple picture books to read to the children, and I prepared some active songs and games to play. And then I showed up, day after exhausting day, for 5 classes totaling 200 students. By the end of the month, swarms of children were running up to me every morning asking me what my name was, and they would scream out words like “Happy!” and dance along to the words of Pinocchio. I realized that teaching English was not the dramatic, near-impossible task that I had made it out to be or feared it might be. I underestimated the ability for people to learn, and mostly, I underestimated myself and the good at my core. Without a hostile, punishing boss looking over my shoulder and pulling at marionettes, I was free to operate in a lighter, more loving way and set my own humane workplace rules. I would only hope that this lesson in perspective and experience in independence would carry me back to Korea with a new confidence for the workplaces ahead of me.
For the first time in my life, I started to sit in silence for 15 minutes every morning. It was time to silence the ongoing dialogue of my mind, and let go of the lies I kept telling myself. It was then in the deep meditations, after a long Yoga and stretching routine, with exercises that began at the outermost sense of the universe, inward, further inward, and to the innermost gentle focus and observation on my consciousness that I’d feel an unrivaled sense of peace and calm. Visions of circles of light and energy rocketed into the ceiling above me. I saw things I wasn’t sure were objectively real, but they were real to me. And the thoughts of the past, the unfairness, the angry fight against my Korean employers of last year, and the closed-chest centered tension that arose with the memory of being in that hostile Kindergarten began to pass through me. I found a way to appreciate that they ever happened. I found a way to embrace this opportunity to live life unconditionally, and I found a way to let them all go, hope for the best for them, and face the next lesson that was waiting for me – right here and now.
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