Talking to Strangers

As soon as I arrived back in Thailand a month ago, I felt instantly happy and content. I find Laos such a beautiful place, but it doesn’t seem to agree with me long term – the two times I have taken jobs there, I have ended up getting so sick and not feeling like the happiest, sparkliest version of myself.

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Several days I felt like an introverted hermit woman floating around in the swimming pool and lying on my air conditioned bed. I had a wonderful time, teaching yoga in an incredible space, teaching English to a Laos family and learning Laos in exchange, meeting volunteers, being surrounded by beauty in people and nature. Sometimes, though, I think there are places in the world that have a certain energy, and maybe that energy is misaligned with your own, in that it doesn’t build you up, it brings you down, and I’m just glad I can recognise that now. We have to find the places that support our happiness and health on all levels.

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When that happens, its time for Thailand. We spent about ten days in Chiang Mai, staying in an AirBnB with a firm mattress on the floor, a balcony, a rooftop for practicing yoga and free breakfast and bicycles in the Old City – a perfect spot for us.

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I think the best thing we did was ride our bicycles everywhere – this is the way to explore the Old City. We convinced ourselves that it was our task to go out and do as many social things as possible in order to meet people and spread the word about our retreat.

The atmosphere in Thailand was a little different this time, because of the death of their King. No live music in any of the bars, everyone wearing black, a little more reserved and sombre than usual. There was a worry prior to visiting that it would be seen as disrespectful for tourists to visit Thailand during this period of mourning but in fact the Thai people were very welcoming and appreciated our respect.

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I am just blown away by the beautiful kindness of the Thai people – they are having fun with every interaction, their eyes glitter with mischievous laughter and their kindness and selflessness, innate to their Buddhist culture, brings a cycle of good energy exchange and onward flow of good karma. Free buses, sharing their meals with you, fixing your things that are broken, helping you when you are lost, being curious about you and your home and precisely how long it takes to fly there on an airplane, giving you free beers when its 1 AM by the river and you forgot to hit up the 7-11 before midnight so you ask where they got theirs. Every single interaction soaked in kindness and generosity. They will give you a smile, without asking for anything in return.

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I am currently going through a stage in my life where I talk to anyone and everyone, because I truly believe everyone wants to make friends, and we are all just curious about one another. So my task in Chiang Mai was to talk to as many interesting people as possible. As I like to say, “if it’s not a good time, it’s a good story”.. I’m very sorry to my mother, because this story involves many stories that see me talking to strange men in strange situations. But this is a great joy in life – the unknown. What will happen when you say hello?

Natasha and I went to the park in the corner of the Old City one afternoon for some yoga and sunbathing, and we noticed some pretty interesting characters surrounding us. A man came along and set up camp behind us, spreading out his bamboo mat and sipping on his sugarcane juice, his muscular tattooed chest bare. He began to stretch and practice some yoga, so I decided to take him a card about our retreat and ask him some questions. The tables turned quickly.

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“I am from France. My name is XAVIER. What is this card? You want me to come do yoga wiz you?”

“Yeah, you would love it! SO much fun!”

“You want me to show you some things that you do not already know about yoga? I know many breathings. Zey are good to practice in public places, to eradicate the ego, so zat everyone knows you do not give the shit what they thinking of you!”

“Haha….okay sure. Oh you want me to kneel with my knees out wide like that? Oh okay… cool.”

“We are practicing ze lions breath. You sucky sucky in your belly and stick out your tongue and gaze at your third eye and roar to release all the air in your body and SUCKY SUCKY BELLY raaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar waggle your tongue!”

“Rarrrrrrrrrr!”

“LOUDER NOW!”

“RARRRRRRRRRRR!”

“Excellent. yeeeees.”

A small Thai woman having a picnic behind us gazes at me with astonishment, suppressing laughter.

“Now you lie down.”

I lie down, he takes my hand, and begins to caress it very gently, either the softest acupressure or the creepiest hand hold ever. Then he promptly drops my hand, stands up and walks to the other side of the park, and stands gazing at a tree for a short while. I sit up, dazed, and look around me, as if emerging from a dream.

“Cheers Xavier! You should… become a pranayama teacher! That was truly profound. I must go now. Bye bye….”

Xavier was right – I realised that my ego did not want me to do that, to protect my coolness, of which I have a lot. He gave me a sense of awe at people who just truly do not give a shit what people think. It must be very freeing.

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Another hilarious interaction was with a complete stranger from Canada. We met on the street, we drank beers by the river (which were gifted to us by a kind group of Thai people who just wanted us to have a good night), we saw a few rats and cockroaches and exclaimed on how fat and happy they were.  He was about half a year younger than me, and exuded this youthful enthusiasm that reminded me exactly of how I was at the beginning of my travels, and reminded me to find the excitement in all the little interactions. He exclaimed with disproportionate excitement for a stranger I’d just met, when I told him I was working in Southeast Asia and leading a retreat in just a few weeks time. He was like a reflection of myself and lit a little fire reminding me to enjoy each moment, after a brief period of feeling very tired of Asia in all its glory. I mostly enjoyed his self deprecating humour and ability to laugh at himself, telling me a story of himself when he was little, that he wore an eye patch and was a little chubster, a wee fat pirate, and I thought to myself that it was the most attractive story a man could ever tell me. Maybe this is what I’m into?

He told me he always pats the stray dogs even though they probably have rabies and fleas, because he believes they deserve a little love too, which made me think he is the male version of me. He turned to me at one point and said “can I kiss you”? And I just laughed in his face and he took it remarkably well. It wasn’t that I didn’t think he was a handsome chap, I suppose I’m just not that kind of girl. I have left his name out of this because maybe he doesn’t want his mum knowing he went on a date with a hobo girl in a tie-dye dress on a bicycle.

I drove home with him on the back of my bicycle, he rode glamorously on the back, I tooted my bell at passers-by, then I left him on the street and conked out on my bed next to Natasha. When I woke up I felt that it was all a dream. I checked my inbox and he had written a message ending in “wishing you nothing but the best.” Gave me something, asked for nothing (much, haha).

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Natasha and I visited Zoe in The Yellow (the place to party in Chiang Mai) one night and ended up hanging out with four Spanish guys. Two of them were policemen from Spain, and were probably the most genuine dudes ever. They were so nice to each other, saying to me “wherever he goes, I go.” Two huge, muscular guys with so much kindness. They ran alongside our bicycles on the way to Spicy club, waited for us at each door, offered us drinks not to get us drunk but because they wanted us to have the best time possible in their company, they cleared out the mens toilet in the club and stood by the door so that I could go to the bathroom. They carried a bag of souvenirs for their family back home with them all night, little bobble-heads and fridge magnets, which I believe says something about a person. They wanted nothing from us other than to spend time in our company and it was such a refreshing notion.

Then one night we were sat in the night market eating our nightly feast of pad thai and papaya salad, and I noticed a man sitting a couple of tables down from us by himself with a large beard and a pensive look on his face. I recognised him instantly but I couldn’t put my finger on how. We made eye contact a couple of times, Natasha went to leave and go home and I decided to stay and chat to him. I wandered up to him and said “HI! How are you? Have we met before?”. He looked mildly astonished at this bold girl approaching him wearing a floral onesie, no makeup, a slightly troll-like hairstyle, and no hidden agenda other than a genuine curiosity about what was behind his man bun and sad eyes. I told him he looked sad, and he just laughed and said, “Shit! I think I was just really involved in my dinner”. That makes sense, but also, how unfortunate to have a sad dinner face?

He had been living in Chiang Mai for almost 6 months, so I definitely had seen him before. I never forget a face. We sat at this rickety table in the night market for over four hours with no food, no drink, no phones, no music, just two people sitting opposite one another conversing authentically, which can be a hard thing to find these days. He told me he could tell as soon as I approached him that I didn’t want anything from him. I’m just a curious child. He told me he learned years ago that he was surrounding himself with people and situations who wanted something from him, who wanted to take away from him in some way – sex, drugs, alcohol, love, money. He made a complete lifestyle change, quit drinking and drugs, and started to build himself up rather than allow himself to be drained. He chose to spend time only with select people who he knew were good for him, who encouraged positivity, and who understood the importance of a healthy energy exchange in life, of karma and the consequences of actions.

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So we rode his motorbike up into the mountains in the dark, which in hindsight sounds like a bloody terrifying thing to do, but my gut was telling me to just go with it. We wandered into some abandoned temples, found some people praying for the king by candlelight, we drove to his apartment and sat on his balcony and he played me some songs on his guitar, including a song he wrote himself, which he was quietly proud of, I could tell.

We snuck into his apartment sauna after hours, then realised it was turned off, so we just sat there in the dark and stared out over Chiang Mai by night. I asked him to take me home, realising suddenly I had left my bicycle in the market carpark, unlocked, and he drove me back. We said goodbye and he thanked me for coming to talk to him – he had been planning to just go home and sleep. We connected on Facebook but I knew we were saying goodbye for good. And that was quite fine.

These people, giving me everything, hilarity and wisdom, insight and protection, without even realising it, and asking for nothing in return.

This is what can happen when you talk to strangers. I guess I just love the possibility of people.

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Thai-ed in Knots

I’ve just finished a two week intensive Thai Yoga Massage training, at Sunshine Massage School in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Woohoo!

There were just four of us on our course which was perfect – the week before had around 15 people, so I think we were lucky to get one-on-one time with the teacher.

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All excited about our certificates

On my course was Kay, a fellow yoga teacher and travelling soul from Japan, who is just the sweetest person and shares my love for finding healthy restaurants and yoga studios everywhere she goes – we ate some amazing food around Chiang Mai together, fuelling our bodies for full days of massage and being massaged. She plans to open a yoga and massage studio and coffee shop back in Japan, and I’ll definitely be going to visit in the future. All of the best things combined in one place!

Capu, or Capucine, was my beautiful bunk buddy from the south of France, an effortlessly beautiful human who radiates positivity and sunshine. We spent our evenings swimming in the pool, studying, wandering the Night Bazaar and drinking avocado and mango “Sweet Sunrise” shakes.

Ruben was the only boy on our course, a masseuse from Spain, so he had a head start on the rest of us. He could barely understand what our teacher was saying in her Thai accent, and would look around the room at the rest of us with a quizzical look on his face. She would tell him to do something and he would nod slowly, fully uncomprehending, and then they would laugh and speak the language of massage, talking with their hands and their bodies. Not in a weird way.

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The Team

And Dot – our sweet little pea of a teacher. She is the same age as my mother and I truly felt like she was our mum for the past two weeks, guiding us through the teachings with a cheeky little smile on her face, allowing us to indulge in nap time, and sitting us down for “talks” after the lunch hour, when we all felt a bit sleepy and weren’t ready for massaging just yet. Every morning and evening we sang together, chanted OM three times and did a short meditation. In the afternoons she would talk about traditional medicine, thai culture, how to read the stars, how to lose weight (which she was mildly and hilariously obsessed with, even though she was a tiny human), her favourite colours (gold and yellow!), massage, yoga, temples, the list goes on. At the end of one particular afternoon towards the end of the course, when Kay had just finished massaging me, I fell into a deep, body-stoned dream where I could hear them all talking but I couldn’t move my body. This is what a full day of bodywork will do for you. Dot also spent half an hour one day braiding my hair in the most delicate way, and I felt like a princess.

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Princess Hair
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Me and Dot

Dot would come to the Eco Resort where we were staying every evening to “do her exercises” in the pool – she wore a little unitard and a swim cap and goggles and would peel a mango and sit eating it on a chair by the pool, her pre-swim snack, swinging her legs back and forth like a child, completely involved in what she was doing, every action a meditation. She inspired me to lead a life more simple and focus on the little things.

So now I have finished my course, I am officially certified to give a 2 hour thai massage to a normal human being, and I feel very well stretched.

I’m amazed at how similar thai massage is to yoga. I knew they would complement each other, so its been great to learn how they go hand and hand. Thai massage is a little bit like “passive yoga”, where the masseuse does most of the work and the receiver just lies there like a dead weight, their only task to relax as much as possible. Learning the energy lines in our bodies and the acupressure points on our hands and feet has given me a more informed view on how our bodies are truly wired to heal themselves. Every part of your body, inside and out, is connected intrinsically with another, which explains why holistic medicine is the way to go – we can’t isolate any one part of our body or brain. Healing comes from the whole. It also reaffirmed my suspicions that meditation and mental serenity is the most important thing. We can heal our body through our mind, and our mental state has a direct effect on all of the systems in our body.

Before each massage, the masseur does a prayer, wishing for the happiness and eradication of pain or illness in the body of the receiver. If you as the masseuse are feeling on edge, nervous, irritated or distracted, the receiver will feel that and absorb your energy, even if their eyes are closed and they are half asleep.

Likewise, if you’re the masseuse and your patient is in an emotional state, stressed out or radiating nervous energy or anger, you will feel that and come away from the massage feeling a little off kilter. You have to learn to protect yourself from the energy of the patient, whilst also being able to read it and act upon it. You make your massage a meditation – focussing only on what you are doing, the contact between your body and the receiver’s, radiating compassion and warmth through your hands (and all the other parts of your body used in thai massage – knees, forearms, feet, thighs, anything!), leaving your anxieties and preoccupations at the door. Much like when I teach a yoga class, I find it is the best way to forget yourself and become completely immersed in what you’re doing. Theres no space for anything else. The massage becomes a meditation in motion, a practice of yoga through touch and connection, a mindfulness practice.

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Hippie Central 

There was also a lot of talk on bowel movements and menstruation which was cute and fun – certain series or “families” of massage techniques can’t be done if a woman has her lady time, and there are also certain movements that can help with digestive disorders which was quite helpful for those of us that have been travelling in Asia for some time – the stomach massage was the one I was most nervous about, but proved to be wonderful for my stomach. Our stomach and all of the inside soft lines of our bodies (inner thighs, inner arms, chest)  can be incredibly sensitive, and we hold a lot of emotions here, so we learnt how to balance stronger pressure on the outer lines with a more gentle pressure on the inside lines, listening to the breath and the reactions of the receiver.

So I’ve come away from two weeks of training feeling full of information and some lovely new friendships, and really hoping to do more training in the future.

I didn’t take many photos these past couple of weeks, we were all too sweaty and dishevelled all the time (no changes there, really). I’ve included some from my trip to Pai, a little hippie town north of Chiang Mai which is just heaven.

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Pai Canyon

The next adventure is as of yet unknown – I’m taking my time in Chiang Mai, exploring street foods and little alleyways, weighing up my options and planning our retreat in November in Chanthaburi, Thailand. I’ve been tying myself in knots thinking about what I will do after my course, then avoiding thinking about it, simply because the unknown can be scary and overwhelming.  But it also can be a blessing – I can do anything I want. Sometimes its good to slow down, take stock, and think about what I really want to do next, not just the first thing that comes up. It seems to me that when I get very clear on what I want, its a lot easier to see it. On the other hand, sometimes I don’t know what I want until I’ve got it, and it looks so incredibly different to anything I could have imagined. Hmm.

That’s the joy and the wonder of life. Predictably unpredictable.

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Beautiful Chiang Mai

Anyone who wants to be my Thai Massage practice victim, get in touch.

Rosie Posie xx