Tuesday, August 11, 2009

SE Asia Adventures #8 - Stateside Return & Pictures

Kings, Queens, and Jesters,

Greetings from Chicago, USA. Whoah... I've never written one of these from the states, so even typing those three letters seems strange. I know this concluding update is long overdue, but certain things happened in the final weeks of my trip that led to this being delayed. Most notably, I focused the pen to my leather-bound journal rather than keyboard strokes and enveloped myself in the tree-soaked hills of Thailand and Laos rather than her far-less scenic internet cafes. My only ask from each of you is that if you've read some/most of these, please let me know. I've found that my friends know they'll hear the stories in person so they don't read the emails as often (and they're long as hell haha), but many of you I don't know well apparently read the travel tales so please reach out and I'll make sure you're more directly included in future sendouts. And of course if you've followed things thus far, please visit www.PencilsOfPromise.org to find out more or make a donation or get involved in the movement we're creating...

The final 3-4 weeks of the trip consisted of time spent in Northern Thailand's Chiang Mai and Pai. Activities included playing with baby and massive tigers at the Tiger Kingdom, many waterfall swims, hot springs, foot massages, delicious pad thai, meditation, late nights at The Rooftop and Rockers bars, and many miles logged on a solo motorbike riding through the mountainous region. To say I fell in love with Pai is a large understatement, it's just a tremendously special little town with a powerfully positive energy that I highly recommend each of you check out.

In Laos the agenda was dictated by Pencils of Promise matters, which included many, many muddy village visits across remote regions of Luang Prabang province, several great meetings with Education Ministry and other government folks, and lots of intriguing conversation with my buddy Kevin Slemp who met up for several weeks. My third visit to the country only reiterated how strongly I feel about the land of a thousand smiles and no dollars... Oh, and we have a finished school in Pha Teung that looks awesome and our first Lao coordinator as a resource on the ground for any of you that want to visit and check things out! We also spent three days at The Gibbon Experience, which is a series of 21 zip lines and 5 shadily-built but large treehouses several hundred feet above the Bokeo province national park canopy. For several magical days and nights we literally lived in the treetops, gliding hundreds of meters across valley ravines all day and sleeping in a treehouse 250ft above the ground with 6 others, completely unsupervised and only accessible through a 300m zipline. Mindblowingly cool stuff.

I'm flying through the final weeks' itinerary because as usual with these trips, one of the most profound experiences is always the time spent at home afterwords. There's no doubt that the greatest culture shock of each trip isn't found in some third-world town, but in the return to America where nothing and everything seems to have changed all at once. I've now been stateside for long enough to have made the visits to water my roots- Connecticut, NYC and Brown University. In each place I've been recentered through the love of family and friends, which can now really be meshed into simply "family". Many thanks to each of you for being as amazingly awesome as you are. I now find myself in Chicago doing work to build out the PoP network and enjoy a weekend of Lollapalooza music, with the time and energy and clarity to write this final email containing a few trailing thoughts:

- NYC is an absolute animal. She pulls and twists and slaps you in the face with everything you could ever want... but if you don't have the ability to occasionally say no, she's going to eat you alive. I unfortunately haven't found the ability to say no yet.

- We have everything in the United States. This is by far the greatest country in the world, and completely deserves the reference as "the land of freedom and opportunity"... the only thing we often lack, myself included, is the awareness of such gifts in our everyday life.

Lastly, when I began my trip in March it was the hottest time of year in Laos, and while riding my motorbike I'd often pass tiny fires along the countryside. Small plumes of smoke drifted aimlessly from the soil into serene air on every hillside. This wasn't slash and burn agriculture, it was simply arid conditions leading to brittle wood and leaves catching fire. When I returned to Laos in July the monsoon rains had already been cascading across the countryside for weeks, and the once barren fields were now exploding with greenery and goodness. Everywhere I looked I saw the emergence of new life and growth in familiar locations, facilitated by the consistent thunder and rainfall.

Now that I'm home it's struck me how important both the fires and the rains were to achieving what can only be described as organic harmony. Both enabled a natural process of cleansing, which simultaneously empowered future growth in each area they touched. The fires burned out the clutter of the lands, which perfectly captures what the first half of the trip did for me mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Once those unhealthy elements had been removed, the rains of new life showered both the countryside and the journey... stimulating new thoughts, new friendships, and new beliefs. Now that I'm back stateside the fires and rain have been quelled for a bit, but fortunately they've seeped through the soil and with each new day I can only hope that they sink deeper and deeper into the roots.

Still walkin' down the many roads,

Pictures from the Trip- PoP On the Ground 1, Laos & South Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, Borneo & Indonesia, Nepal, Cambodia, North Thailand, The Gibbon Experience

Key Trip Statistics
Days- 124
Song of Note- "One Time" by Justin Bieber. Signed by my genius brother off Youtube and soon to be the biggest star in the world, jump on the wagon for the ride. You don't have to be a teenage girl to acknowledge how talented he is... but if you are one prepare to subscribe to Tigerbeat Magazine. Go Scooter Go.
Album of Note- "In Rainbows" by Radiohead. For a long time I've acknowledged Radiohead's epic status among true music heads, but didn't get it. This sucker opened up that door for me, and there's no turning back. The most textured music I've ever heard and felt by probably the best band on the planet. If there's one thing I can leave you with, it's to buy this album and make it the soundtrack to your days.