Thursday, September 23, 2010

September 23rd, Tuesday

I have six weeks left of work in Singapore. I can't believe it! As much as some parts of this year whizzed by, other parts crawled slower than a slug. I have a list of things I want to do here before I fly off, and topping that list is completing Level Three of the ropes course on Sentosa Island. I did Level Two a month ago andI was completely terrifying for me due to my fear of heights, but I did it and felt so exhilarated by the end. It's funny because there were times at the beginning of this contract that I had planned to complete the course and ended up not making it because it was raining and "Oh, we'll go another day." When I look back at that, I know at that point in my life, I would not have completed the course. I would have turned around. There were two points in the course that I froze and went, "I CAN'T!" One was where you have to run across a plank to have enough momentum to jump to the other plank with nothing to hold on to, two stories in the air. I kept walking to the edge of the first plank and my legs would go numb. I'd walk back to the starting post and run and when I'd get to the precipice my legs would go numb again. I started panicking and finally I took a deep breath as tears filled my eyes. I thought about this whole year, the particularly painful and challenging moments I faced. Ironically, it was pouring rain that day, the very reason I always stopped myself from doing the course. In that quiet peaceful moment standing at the starting post, fighting back tears, 20 feet in the air with the rain falling, one of the course workers shouted down from the ground, "You can do this! I'm gonna count to three! One, Two, Three!" and I ran and jumped across and grabbed on the next post for dear life! But I did it! I couldn't believe it, but at the same time, I knew I could. It was only me standing in my way, telling myself that I couldn't. Even though you have a harness on, it doesn't feel like you are safe. The problem I was having was trusting that I was safe and just taking the chance. Once I did that (pretty much right after the plank challenge) I was breezing through that course like it was a piece of cake. I just had to trust that if I slipped or fell, I was safe. And if that isn't the lesson I learned this year I don't know what is! It was just really interesting to deal with it in a very literal and physical sense as opposed to emotional but the rule holds true for both. Trust that you are safe, and someone (whether it's a friend or just yourself) has your back.

Yesterday a friend asked me, "Yeah, but if you had it to do all over again, would you have chosen to go to Singapore?" My immediate reaction to any question like that is, "Regret is a wasted emotion." Because, well, it is. What's the point in banging your head against a wall trying to change something that you can never go back and change. The lesson is how you deal with it, mistake or not. Usually that would be my answer to this specific question because it was hard to feel like I didn't wish things had been different.

But right after my generic, "Regret is a wasted emotion," response I realized for the first time a very important thing. "Yes. I would do it all again." I mean it: the constant moving, the heartbreak, the stress, the illness, embarrassment, fun times, miserable times, disappointment, crying, laughing, confusion, making new friends, trusting people, distrusting people, missing my family, missing my friends, feeling lonely, feeling loved, feeling whole; I'd do it ALL again because I'm right where I need to be.

Here's to the next six weeks in Singapore! Excuse me, Level Three? I've got my eye on you.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Thailand - Morning Alms

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Phuket, Thailand with three of my friends and it was by far the best experience I have had while living in Singapore. I love Thailand. The people, the beaches, the food, the scenery, everything was just beautiful and amazing.
One of my favorite experiences was taking part in the morning alms of the monks at a temple within walking distance of our hotel.

The four of us had to meet our guide in the hotel lobby at 6am to journey over to the temple. Joe (which must be a nickname because he certainly didn't look like "Joe" was his given name,) greeted us with a huge smile and seemed slightly nervous at first as we started our morning together. I think this may have been because we spoke so fast (as Americans tend to do) and English was definitely not his first language. We all had to really work to understand each other but it was worth it and all of us had smiles on our faces the whole time. I think Joe really appreciated how interested we were and especially appreciated Adam's questions, because he had done his research beforehand (as always!)

We reached the temple and Joe first took us to give offerings to the monks. We waited a little ways down the road from the temple and were instructed to take off our shoes. As two monks in bright orange robes with silver bowls approached us, we were instructed to all crouch on the ground out of respect, with our hands together in prayer. The monks said a blessing over us and then we each made three offerings of food and water. This is an opportunity for you to make merit. In Buddhism, this represents that the more you give, and give without seeking anything in return, the wealthier you become. The monks collected the offerings from us in their bowls and continued their journey toward the temple. We followed closely after them, along with some animal friends we made. There seemed to be lots of stray dogs and cats hanging out around the grounds of the temple!

As we strolled back to the temple, Joe explained that basically all Thai men become a monk at some point in their life, be it for a week, a month, a year or permanently. Joe himself had been a monk for one month in his younger days. It was interesting because at that very time, one of our handlers at work, Sam, was on leave for a month to become a monk. He came back with his head and eyebrows shaved. The one think he made sure to mention was that he missed women and that he definitely did not think a lifetime of the monk lifestyle was for him! I think it's really beautiful though, that at one time or another in this culture that you get to experience such a completely different lifestyle.

It was nice having this experience with friends because there were definitely times of awkwardness! When we entered one of the areas of the temple, there was an older monk who was seated amongst various ornamentation, statues and incense. Of course, I was the first to be asked to show him respect and because of the language barrier with Joe and I, at first I just looked like a total fish out of water. I kneeled and sort of bobbed up and down like one of those toy ducks that dip their beaks into a glass of water. He had to actually stop and show me the kneeling bow that I was to do in front of the monk. Of course, by that time when Chelsey, Seth and Adam followed after me, they were pros!

We entered another area of the temple where there were lines of strings hanging from the ceiling and monks sitting in several areas eating the offerings they received that morning (monks can only eat until noon and then they fast the rest of the day.) If the strings touched the top of your head it is considered good luck. We did not get close enough to this area of the temple for that to happen, as there are only certain areas that tourists are welcome.

We then walked a little further to another section of the grounds where there was a small room with three Buddha statues, a large urn of blessed water and a cabinet with about 20-30 small drawers in it. Joe had us take a canister of sticks from him, kneel and shake the canister until one of the sticks fell out, but it was important that you only make ONE stick fall out. The stick had a number written on it and that corresponded to a drawer which had a paper in it that would tell you a fortune. If the fortune was good, you kept the paper. If the fortune was bad, you put it back in the drawer so you didn't take the bad vibes with you (this is obviously a translation of mine.)

First we had Seth, the birthday boy, go. He shook the canister, out popped on of the sticks and Joe proceeded to look over the paper which was written in Thai so he had to translate. Seth had a great fortune! He should expect luck, wealth and power in his future! Next, Chelsey shook the canister. Joe's face did not look promising and he just said, "We put this one back. Not good." We all laughed, not really wanting to know the details of the bad fortune. I went next and produced a different stick but the same crestfallen reaction from Joe. "Not good. This goes back in the drawer." Okay, well, it doesn't look like the ladies had much luck with this activity. Last, Adam gets his fortune and, as one of our favorite moments of the trip he mistakes Joe saying, "You will be a great leader," with "You will have a big litter." Seth, Chelsey and I all heard Joe say the first and correct interpretation so we were puzzled when Adam responded, "Of children?! Great!" Joe just nodded, not quite knowing how to respond and handed Adam the paper. The three of us were laughing because we couldn't understand why Adam seemed just pleased as punch to be a great "leader of children." We realized the mistake in deciphering Joe's accent that Adam thought he meant he would have a litter of children one day. I guess you had to be there. It was hilarious.

We continued around the grounds of the temple for a little while longer, soaking in the peace and serenity of the morning. The sun was just glistened off of every ornate corner of the temple and it was a very spiritual and soul-soothing morning. I'm so glad I got to share this experience with three such great people and I know we will all hold it very near and dear to our hearts. I didn't really know anything at all about Buddhism before moving to Asia and I have a lot of respect and awe of this religion. There is something so grounded, giving and peaceful about it that made me feel extremely centered and grateful to have had this whole experience, from the day I landed in Singapore. Though this was the toughest year of my life, it has been filled with the biggest life lessons. Had I not taken this journey, I'd be a completely different person and I'm grateful that I did.

And you should have seen the look of shock and awe on the monks face when he witnessed this little Irish Catholic redheaded white girl awkwardly kneel and sway back and forth trying to show him respect and gratitude. If nothing else, I hope he had something to laugh about later with the other monks.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Just another day . . .

Each morning I like to start my day with a reading from the book The Language of Letting Go by Melodie Beattie. I highly recommend it to anyone. There is a beautiful reading and affirmation for each day and I like to have something to ruminate on in those few quiet moments I can steal in my hectic day.

I have been meaning to blog because so many extraordinary things have happened the past month, that I don't even know where to start. The passage from my book a couple of days ago, though, shifted my focus. I had just gotten back from vacation and had so many adventures that I was feeling a bit saddened by going back to the humdrum of everyday life. As it has happened so many times before, the passage for that day was just perfect. The lesson was to recognize all the beauty in your everyday ordinary routine. What would you miss? The affirmation at the end of the passage was, "God, thank you for every detail of my ordinary, every day world."

There will be many blogs to come about all the extraordinary adventures I've had, but today I felt compelled to take a look at and appreciate all of the ordinary things that happen to me throughout the day that I would really miss if they were gone. A lot of these things, I realize will be gone in two months when I head back to the United States.

I love that when my alarm goes off in the morning for work, I hit the button on my automatic blackout shades and the sun comes pouring in to my bedroom. I'm grateful for those first few moments of opening my eyes and thinking about the upcoming day. I appreciate this moment even more so nowadays because for a few months out here waking up in my bed, alone, used to be the toughest moment of my day. Now, I feel peace and comfort.

On most days, when I catch the elevator in my apartment building to head to the MRT, the cleaning woman is in the elevator wiping down the mirrors and walls. She doesn't speak much English, but her face always lights up with a smile. I think one of the only words she knows in English is, "Pool?" so she tends to ask me that every morning. I just shake my head and smile. We have the understanding that we can't really communicate but she is just so joyful and happy. It's nice to share the elevator ride down with her.

Usually on my train ride to work, my friend Chelsey texts me to say, "Good morning." We will banter back and forth and talk about the upcoming day or an idea we had for a project we are writing. I'm so grateful for that, just having someone who thinks of me every morning.

When I get in to work, I have the pleasure of sharing a dressing room with a group of people that I adore and will definitely miss. Our motley crew has become a family, a highly dysfunctional, but loving family. I love all of our inside jokes, our group dynamic and the fact that we can watch the same seven movies over and over again in our dressing room and still laugh.

At the end of the day, I head home to an apartment that I love on the top floor of a beautiful condo development with four room mates that I am forever grateful for. We are usually all in the kitchen, making dinner or "fairy cakes" and catching each other up on the most recent happenings. Kopi, the house cat, is usually laying around watching all the action as the sun goes down. I feel like I hit the lottery to have Jac, Bill, Tori and Greg as room mates. I am grateful every day for them.

That's my ordinary day. We go through our ordinary days sometimes just waiting to get to that next vacation or our weekend or some special vacation but there's so much to appreciate and be grateful for in our ordinary days. I was really glad to have a reminder of that. Take a look at your "boring" ordinary days . . . I bet you will find that life isn't so ordinary.