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Published: March 7th 2020
We know we love this island for its beautiful beaches, especially the quiet sunset cove reef we are lucky enough to actually live on during our time here. And we love this island for its spiritual and laid back 60’s vibe. At least, that is the story on the west side of the island where we reside, where yoga studios and vegan restaurants are plentiful, and kirtan chanting and djembe drumming every night at sunset is the norm. By contrast, the southeast side of the island features party energy, focused around the phases of the moon: from the major event full moon parties, to all facsimiles thereof: quarter moon parties, half moon parties, waterfall parties, etc. It is estimated that twenty to thirty thousand people attend the famous full moon party each month, coming from all around the world. Different strokes for different folks. We are west side yogis.
We have chosen to study for the past three years at a spiritual university - which exists only on this island - and offers a curriculum of 24 levels of Hatha Yoga, along with a diverse collection of workshops in Metaphysics, Kashmir Shaivism, and Tantric yoga, to name just a few.
However, we arrive uncertain as to what classes will be offered this term, as the school is still struggling with low enrolments after a scandal rocked it in 2018. However, the program coordinator, recognizing that we are returning students here for only a short period of time, arranged a special program for me so that I could take two levels simultaneously in the first month, and a third level the second month, for which I remain very grateful. Normally it takes one month to complete each 32 hour level. Over the two month period we spend on the island, I am able to complete another 3 levels (96 hours) of hatha yoga instruction, one of which afforded me a Red Sash Degree. So now I have a Degree of a very different sort, which I am quite pleased to acknowledge, as it recognizes that I had completed 250 hours of yoga studies. Stan was also able to continue his daily classes as his course was being offered, and attended his classes regularly every day during our time here. It was a busy time, with much learning and much knowledge to enhance our practices and perspectives over the upcoming months.
However, I cannot complete a blog entry about our time in Thailand without an update on the Thai language learning experience, which I of course wrote an entire entry about shortly after we arrived. Well, it goes like this. I had hoped this year to begin learning how to read and write in Thai. My teacher said it was feasible, and it looked like we might begin early in my second month. But then, in one class, when the expression “don’t do like that” came up, my teacher spontaneously began to search for a popular song which had that phrase as its chorus, and she shared the youtube video in class. I immediately liked the song, and decided I wanted to learn it. Well that took care of at least one of our classes. But then she introduced me to another artist, whom she said was even more renowned, when I mentioned I wanted to learn music that everyone would know. So there went another couple of classes. I must point out here that learning a song in Thai requires several steps: First, transcribing the Thai script literally into whatever you think it sounds like in whatever language you happen
Fresh Coconut Happiness
It’s the little things . . .
to be working with (in this case, English), as you are making up your own spelling rules. This may sound like freedom, but it means having to remember later what phonetic guidelines you decided to use so you can read what you wrote. Second, it requires creating an English interpretation of the lyrics that remains true to the lyric without necessarily retaining the literal translation, which often would not make sense, as word order in Thai is of course not the same. Lastly, it involves figuring out the chords and putting it all together.
Learning the first two songs was relatively easy. Lyrics were manageable; chords basic. That is, relative to the third song, which is another entire story. But it was the third song that stole my heart, and made me completely loose interest in the first two. And the third song was ridiculously difficult, but I had to learn it, because it was a song, my teacher said, that all Thai people would connect with; that all Thai people would love. She said it would make them cry bittersweet tears of joy. And to have it performed by a foreigner, in their language, would make it even
Sticky Rice @ the Saturday Night Market
Black sticky rice, cooked and served in a bamboo stick. Completely and totally biodegradable and environmentally friendly.
more special. It was a song about the 9th King of Thailand, King Rama IX.
A brief bit of background is required here. In 2006, during my first trip to Thailand, I had the privilege of being in Bangkok when it was the King’s birthday. My son Tanner was with me. Together we attended a celebration for the King, held on the grounds of his palace. There were several million people in attendance - this is not an exaggeration, for their were masses as far as the eye could see - all wearing yellow shirts, because yellow is the colour for Thursday, the day on which the King was born. We were literally in the midst of a sea of yellow shirted, joyous humanity, singing songs to show their love for this King who had ruled his people with sixty plus years of kindness, compassion, generosity, ingenuity, hard work, and love. He was, and still is, loved and revered by his people, even though he died four years ago, in 2016. He was the longest reigning monarch in the history of Thailand.
It was a great privilege, and a great challenge, to learn this song. The lyrics were
a bit difficult, but the chords were impossibly hard. No chance that I could pull off the song in that key with a bunch of flats and diminished chords I never play. So I had to transcribe it, without the assistance of the internet. This gave me the opportunity to apply the music theory I had studied in a real situation. I told my teacher I expected her to cry when I sang this song, even if she had to fake it, cause it was going to take me so many hours of painstaking effort to put it together. Not just to learn it, but to embrace it.
The song is titled “His Picture Lives in Every House”. It is a conversation between a young girl and her mother. She is asking her mother why this man’s picture is in their house, and why she prays to him every night. Her mother answers that she prays to him every day, because he is our angel on earth; that we have food, and this life, because of the hard work he did for us all his life. And we shall never forget. As the girl grows up, she sees all
around her evidence of how hard he worked to make life easier for his people, and realizes that, when life gets too hard, it is his picture on the wall that gives them the strength to carry on. The chorus of the song is “His picture lives in every house; rich or poor, far or near. His picture lives in every house, filled with love and respect, coming straight from the heart.” Anyone who has spent any time in Thailand will know that every business, no matter how small, and every residence, has numerous pictures of this King on the walls.
I tried to include a video of my performance of this song, but the file is too large. Instead - and even better - I am including a youtube link to the original song video, which is quite beautiful. I choked up when I first watched it, even though I could not then understand a single word. You are ahead of the game on that now. ? Enjoy.
And that is why the mission to begin to write in Thai this year was abandoned. On my last official class of 2020, my teacher briefly introduced me
to the 44 consonants and 33 vowels that I would be faced with next year, and handed me a grade one level writing booklet to begin practicing the script, if I wish to do so before we resume again. And I know what a daunting, but exciting, adventure that will be, learning to decipher this code. But the sacrifice was well worth it. I did indeed embrace the song. So much so that I performed it over a half dozen times, and on at least four of the occasions someone of Thai ancestry was choking up with emotion in my audience. It was an honor and a privilege, and I would not hesitate to add another song for the King to my repertoire next year. There are many written for him from which to choose.
But even with five hours of yoga study in the schedule every day, and several hours of Thai language instruction per week, we still managed to check a few things off our Koh Phangan to do list, as the photos attached will indicate:
*every day we enjoyed an early morning 2.5 km walk to the village. Kudos to Stan for his excellent knee
*we walked to the popular sandbar in the ocean and enjoyed a beer at the nearby Freeway Bar
*we checked out the delicious food at the Saturday night market in the port town of Thong Sala
*we frequented the Sunday night market in the fishing village of Chalakum, a 20 minute bike ride from home
* we briefly checked out the Pachomama Music Festival on the island; one of many yet to be discovered.
* we took in a record number of beautiful sunsets, most often right from our favorite deck chairs at our little resort, every one accompanied by a comment on how stunningly beautiful this part of the world is, and how very lucky we are to be here, with me, asking Stan the same question every sunset: “ Have I told you how much I love it here?”
And we do. Koh Phangan is indeed a beautiful bubble of bliss. We are sad to leave, but this sentiment is a tribute to the good times we have shared here, and we always contend that it is better to leave a place feeling sad to go, than happy to get away. We look forward to our return next year. But now, we move on to our next destination, Bali.
Thank you for your interest in our travels.