Best Laid Schemes

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft aglay.  -Robert Burns

This quote as written by Robert Burns and later quoted by John Steinbeck, describes how I felt when rainy season hit Thailand early. I knew the rainy season wasn’t normally for another month and thus the risk of flooding and excessive rains was minimal. The Suan Mokkh Meditation Retreat, which was to take place starting on April 1 near Chaiya in Southern Thailand was canceled on account of severe flooding. The story of how my plans shifted goes as follows.

After my train is canceled Monday night, I wake up at WE Bangkok Hostel and start planning how I am going to make my way towards Suan Mokkh Monastery. I first check the Monastery’s website in the morning, and they have a notice on the home page indicating that they are unaffected by the flooding. Unfortunately, trains, planes and some buses have been stopped that would have otherwise ventured southwards. Only the tourist buses are stopped because it’s not economical to charter a bus that tourists won’t want to take because laying on the beach sounds less glamorous when the beach is already underwater. I go to the Bangkok South Bus Terminal and purchase my bus ticket that is scheduled to leave in the evening.

Around 3pm, I’m double checking that the bus is still leaving, that the weather hasn’t worsened too much, and that the monastery is still unaffected. Now, on the monastery’s home page, I read, “The April 2011 Retreat may get canceled.” This felt like getting wait-listed in that I wasn’t sure if I should keep pursuing it or if I should already start moving on. Because of the word “may” in the sentence on the monastery’s website, and because I feel I am a relatively optimistic person, I took my chances and made my way to the bus station, all the while checking the website to make sure the update hadn’t changed.

Fast forwarding to 6pm, I get to the bus station early because I do not know exactly where to go and don’t want to miss my bus. Immediately at 6pm, everything stops, people stand up, and the national anthem is played on the loud speaker. I also stood up, but at the time I had little idea of what was transpiring. I grab some dinner, meet a couple Thais also waiting for the same bus, and make myself comfortable for the 10-hour journey when I get to my seat. I have not always been so lucky, but the bus I picked for this journey had a great chair that reclined almost 70-degrees. However, about 10 minutes into the trip, before I try falling asleep, I check my phone one last time to see if anything new was posted on the monastery’s website, and I read that the meditation retreat has been canceled.

suan mokkh screenshot

I spend a minute or two frustrated and disappointed, and then remember I’m en route to the middle of a terrible tropical storm and it might be 24 hours before I could get back to Bangkok, assuming everything went relatively smoothly. I consider my options. The cost I paid for the bus is now a sunk cost and there’s no reason to pay for a return bus if I don’t have to. I decide to make a fool of myself by roaming the moving bus tripping over seats and bags until I get to the driver. Eventually, I communicate that I want off the bus, and I trip my way back to my seat to get my backpack as the diver pulls over on the side of the highway. I get my things, get off the bus, and am now somewhere near Bangkok in the middle of a highway. Considering the situation, I don’t feel I’m doing too badly.

Within an hour, I get to the Northern Bangkok Bus Station, which I learn is called Mo Chit, find a bus to Chiang Mai, and board another bus, which is slightly less comfortable and heading North. After sleeping decently on the ten hour bus ride, I arrive in Chiang Mai about the time I would’ve arrived at the monastery, get my barrings, find a place to stay, and figure out what there is to do. As any feel-good story should end, I find that there are a couple monasteries near Chiang Mai, research them online, and learn that one has meditation courses. I try emailing and calling with little success. I get over there, ask around, and eventually sign myself up for a week long retreat starting on Monday, April 4th.

I now will experience Northern Thailand for several days, not be torrentially rained on, and will still learn Vipassana Meditation. Sometimes initial plans are not the best laid schemes.

Flooding in Southern Thailand

It’s decision time here in Thailand.  The monastery with the best dates and a meditation program that best fit to my level of practice has now been affected by the flooding.  The rain is supposed to start letting up tomorrow, but the question remains if I try to get down there and take my chances.  Flights are cancelled, trains are cancelled, and now all that remain are buses.

I tried taking a sleeper train last night, but it was cancelled at the last moment.  Apparently, other trains took off this morning, so I am not sure if my train was cancelled for purely weather-related reasons.  Trains, now, however have all been cancelled today that originate in Bangkok and head southwards.  Upon learning my train was cancelled last night at 11pm, I found some other people wearing over-sized backpacks looking as lost as I was, and we rallied to find a good hostel and spend the night in Bangkok.  The Hostel we stayed at is called WE Bangkok and the people were very friendly and the accommodations very clean.

I have considered my other options, which if I am unable to attend this meditation retreat, will probably consist of going to northern Thailand and into Laos for a couple days.  I have to make sure there are no travel visa issues.  Both areas are supposed to be spectacular as I’ve heard from all the people I’ve run into during my trip.

My current plan is to try to get on an overnight bus tonight to the monastery.  I already have my ticket, and I feel I am so close that it is worth a try because I do not know when else I might have the opportunity to take a 10-day mediation retreat.  If the bus is cancelled, can’t make it to the monastery, or the retreat itself is cancelled, which is now also an option as indicated on their website, I will turn around, and do my plan B, which really doesn’t sound too bad.  In the meantime, I would only burn about 24 hours on this adventure to see if I can get down to the Suan Mokkh Monastery before having to restart in Bangkok.

Today I spent playing in Bangkok.  After meeting Joel from British Columbia on Khaosan Road, we shared stories, took a Long Tail Boat Ride through the canals of Bangkok, and later grabbed some delicious Thai food washed down by fresh Coconut water.

Bangkok Long Tail Boat
Bangkok Long Tail Boat

My own “Eat, Pray, Love”, but not really

When I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” a couple months before leaving on this trip, it wasn’t hard for me to find some parallels between her adventures and what mine were hopefully going to become. Some of the more obvious ones include that we both would go to Indonesia and Italy, and I planned to meditate at a monastery. And I do not doubt that by the time I complete my journey, there will probably be other similarities I could draw.

Unfortunately and fortunately, our starting points were a little different. My trip would have probably been a bit different if I had been given a substantial publisher’s advance. I feel that this is almost like cheating because I feel that the budgeting that took place to make my trip a reality began well before I ever started planning and will continue after the trip is past. Budgeting was one of my bigger challenges because with enough money, the possibilities become almost endless. The part where I feel fortunate in our differences is that I am not divorced nor have ever been married, and I am not unhealthily off and on with someone as she describes her David.

Some similarities that I’m hoping for include having the opportunity to gorge on delicious food in Italy. I want to find that pizza that even though it falls apart when barely picked up, it doesn’t matter because it is so delicious when you finally get it to your mouth. I want to eat some meals overflowing with seafood and others that include so much pasta that I don’t even have room for dessert, which when the time comes I’m sure I can find a little left over space. After all, that’s why I’ve been told we have two stomachs—one big one for dinner and another even bigger one for dessert.

When I meditate, I wouldn’t mind experiencing some sort of similar meditative transcendence that Liz does, but I would happy with just being able to sit still for several hours without moving. This alone will be a great feat. And although I plan to go to a monastery where talking is against the rules, I hope to at some point in the trip meet my own Richard from Texas. I want to meet someone who makes me feel despite all that might be going on that everything is going to end up okay, someone who always has something positive to say even if it might feel a little backhanded, and someone who will listen to my stories and offer his two cents. I do need to make sure, though, not to end up with a nickname as bad as “Groceries”.

For the “Love” part of the book, the part that took place in Indonesia, where Liz finds her Brazilian lover, I feel I have to keep my mind open and see what happens. When I was talking to my grandma a couple months ago and we were discussing my plans for this trip, she had two tokens of advice that remain clearly in mind. First is to be safe and second is to find a nice Jewish girl. Both are very grandma-like things to say, and I’m not sure which of the two is more grandma-like. And I know that she will be happy with any girl that I’m happy with because of my many cousins (her grandchildren), several have married other Jews and several have not, and she loves all of her grandchildren-in-laws dearly.

So I guess in terms of this trip being my own version of “Eat, Pray, Love”, only time can tell. And in terms of me endorsing this book, I do admit to enjoying it, but only to the extent that I would visiting similar places and doing similar activities. I feel I may have liked it more knowing that I was about to embark on my own tale, and had the book not included so much about Liz’s inability to move on from her divorce and bouts with depression, I may have really enjoyed this book. I’m probably just jealous that I didn’t get a substantial advance on my own travel journal.

Up Next: Meditation

I keep asking myself what I am doing. I’m as inflexible as can be and love to talk, both of which will present just a couple of many challenges I will face at my upcoming monastery stay. Several days ago, the fact that I’m going to try to do this monastery stay became much more real and my initial reaction was fear. Would I be able to do it? Would I fail at the yoga? Would I fail at the meditation? Would I be too hungry from not eating between noon and dawn each day? Would I be able to get up at These questions kept coming and kept making me second guess my decision to do this.

I then realized that my reasons for doing this were not to do something comfortable and relaxing. One reason is to better understand another way of life. And another is to do something completely out of my comfort zone and see how I am affected. The worst case is that I bail for my 10 days are up, but that is far from the plan. I don not know exactly what will happen and how I might change over this week and a half, but I’m ready and excited to find out.