Archive for April, 2011

Reflections On Southeast Asia

Traveling is an amazingly revealing time and experience in a person’s life. From sitting on top of a sun soaked hill surrounded by olive trees and rose bushes in Tuscany, and realizing that traveling is a possibility; to kayaking through a silent lake and indigenous forest alone, below towering glaciers in New Zealand, and seeing how magnificent the natural world can feel; to attending a small German wedding and knowing that despite language I can understand the vows taken, and the condolences and sympathy shown to me by strangers and new friends. I have been moved more times during my journeys then I could ever explain or find comparisons for. Perhaps that is why when I had the idea of the RAvolution, I knew it had to contain travel. Never did I imagine that I would be moved or impacted as deeply as I was by the places I visited in my time in Southeast Asia.

I left for my trip through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos with few expectations, which is unlike me, but I went there with an open mind. Or I should say an open mind is what I thought I left my familiar world with. There was so much I had to learn and how much I did learn. I learned as much about myself and the world and its complexities in a brief respite of travel as I did in the past 18 months, and before that 32 years. I came home a more confused, humble, grateful, and enriched person. I saw so clearly in the contours of these different cultures and countries how simply I arrived and how the places along the journey were making such profound influences on me.

If the news that came in the middle of the night from 6000 miles away that my mother had died changed my world, then it was as sudden, shocking, and disorienting as the phone call from my sister. I felt in that split second the world stand on end and stop on its axis and then as suddenly as it seemed to stand still, it started again but this time in the opposite direction. Later a good friend told me it was life pulling the rug out from underneath me, and indeed it was. I can see the difference between me before that moment and after so clearly. A person who fell asleep believing in a certain order and reliance in life and the existence of the universe – a world imperfect yes, but possible of the dreams I continued to hold onto; I woke and had to adjust in that split second and the many days and months that followed to a future, a life pattern, and a world order that stood on end to everything I believed in before that night. I had to grow up in an instant, I had to grieve the dreams lost as much as the mother who died. And I had to realize how inexplicable, unpredictable, and unimaginable life can be.

If this awakening to a new awareness seemed to happen in the shocking split second of being jolted awake, then my trip was the opposite. I grew as much in five weeks of travel as I did in the 18 previous months of living without my mother. But it was not a split second catapult into a new reality but rather a slow and gradual journey to a new and fuller person. I felt that with each day my eyes were further opened, and it was as if the wonderful people I met along the way so gently peeled back each layer of sheer gauze, which I had previously looked through. With each experience and each moment I could see the silhouette of what my former self would have perceived and rushed into labeling and addressing, and I could see as the veil was lifted the way there was so much more to understand. I learned to accept the way life and the world is so much more complex, expansive, and unknowable in each filter I felt fall away.

I had to see the narrow tightrope of life and death as we passed a bus accident in Cambodia and saw corpses lay along the road as they tried to save lives. I had to face my preconceived notions and fight not the guilt of what I thought I might feel from a war fought in previous generations, but rather see that the guilt I tried to run from was guilt of being born to the fortunate circumstances of life in America. I had to see that the world I still held onto so deeply filled with old folk songs was a lifetime ago and not even true then. There are no simple answers. In a world where people earn as little as $30 a month I had to take every concept and see that a single person no matter how well intentioned could not possibly perceive and try to resolutely solve any problem bigger than opening their own eyes. I had to learn to humbly accept my inadequacy and see that at best what I could do was pay attention and try harder not to understand but just to see and be moved.

And I was moved. I was moved in the places where I saw history in the remains of a world changed; I was moved in the places I could see history will eventually come crashing through; but mostly I was changed by the people. I was changed by the way I had to see the world adjust to this new more complicated and less sure existence. A place where my own hopeful optimism wasn’t enough and I couldn’t break out into song like Nurse Nelly in South Pacific. I had to see how life might continue to morph and expand, how it might never seem clear just when I think I have a grasp. But mostly I learned how pointless it was to even try to figure it out. Life is harder sometimes than it seems. People are always stronger than we think, both of ourselves and others. The smallest bit of generosity or the attempt to understand or share ideas can go so far. The world isn’t so different and there is no need to travel far to see or say that, but sometimes it is easier to see the simplest things in a foreign place.

And in this new place of seeing the world as greater than the narrow image of my preconceived hopes or dreams there is room. There is room for change. There is room for growth. There is room for flaws. In the 18 months since my mother died I began to see the world not as a strict black and white but for its many levels and layers of gray that exist. And then I went to Southeast Asia and gray seemed as inadequate a range of color as my emotions or my ability to convey them or relate. On my travels I learned that even gray was too narrow a lens. I learned in my travels to see the world around me for the black, white, gray, and the many new layers of brown, along with a splashing multitude of glorious rainbow hues. My world, and indeed myself, are richer for the experiences of the trip, for meeting the people along the road, hearing the stories, from feeling wordless in the simply confounding world that I found myself in. I am grateful for the places I saw, I am grateful for the people I met, but mostly I am grateful for the experiences that helped me grow up in the face of a changing world.

Love,

Ramona

 

22

04 2011

A Cyclist Is Born

It is hard to believe I have been in Salinas for only a week, and not the better part of a lifetime. There has been so much to do in a week and the difference in my life feels like such a long time should have passed. Anne and I wasted no time in getting me driving in the car, and with five days and 100 miles under our belts we decided with Beth’s help to tackle the next two wheels.

Friday afternoon under auspicious skies that had only hours earlier watered the green hills, and fed the abundant flourish of wild flowers that adorn the area, we hit the pavement, bike handlebars in hand!

It may have taken me more than 33 years to get to this point but it only took my two excellent teachers an hour (they claim less) to get me up and riding a bike around the neighborhood.

No training wheels for me, actually at first no peddles either, but we moved passed that part of the lesson in no time. Go figure Ra wants to ride and there is no keeping her from the open road!

The feeling of accomplishment the first time I did peddle and keep myself up was amazing. Such a rush to have something that for so many years you had to say with a slight error of hesitation you couldn’t do, and now to know that statement was falling behind you with the wind at your back.

I was in such secure hands with Anne and Beth running on either side of me in the first moments. And as I pulled out alone the first time and rode down the street I exclaimed my excitement “I AM RIDING A BIKE!!!!!” as two seven-year-old girls rode by. Their bikes were decked out pink wonders with streamers and bells and I could feel them look at me and think, well so are we. But the feeling of a 33 year old learning to do something new is such a rich sense of accomplishment I didn’t even take notice.

I continue my daily practice with wheels of every kind. We drive to Salinas, Monterey, Pacific Grove, and today the Highway. We bicycle around the neighborhood and today Beth and I took our first “long” ride to a nearby store.I become more self-assured with every turn (that counts for both the car and bike) and each goal met. I have found in my week, yes again it seems too brief, that while I may come late and I may have trepidations, no aspiration is out reach. With the right amount of determination, a lot of practice, patience, and work, and some wonderful teachers by your side, anything at any time in your life is achievable.

Love,

Ra (the new rider in the house)

For those of you who care – In one week I have driven approximately 200 miles and rode a bike approximately 6 miles!

Photos: 2 through 8 By: Beth

11

04 2011

Driving Days

I am back from Southeast Asia but the places I visited and the people I met are hardly ever far from my mind. I still feel so impressed, impacted, and inspired by my trip. There will certainly be more posts about my experiences and my adventures over there, and probably inspirations for years to come.

But now that I am back in California, we wasted no time in the next step of the RAvolution – getting Ra to be mobile – learning to drive and ride a bike! I have arrived in glorious Salinas, the land of John Steinbeck, surrounded by green hills, fields of growing produce, blue rolling waves of California’s famous coast, and purple wild flowers. While I am still getting used to life in the picturesque fertile valley that served as so many creative giants’ inspiration, Anne and I wasted no time in getting me started with what I am here to do – start driving!

We headed to the California DMV yesterday and after years of not taking a test of any kind I felt my nerves raise as the blood rushed to my head, about taking the written test I have passed twice before but never followed through with. I passed the test (whewww!) and we hit the road, with me saying “There is no time like the present.”

I drove approximately 20 miles yesterday, to and from dinner and around the neighborhood, and to put this in comparison that is probably more than I have driven with both of my other permits and my golf cart experience combined.

I noticed mid way through my trip to Asia that my feelings about traffic changed , and as they changed I knew that how I would drive and feel about driving had changed. I knew in the once imagined chaos that became familiar that my every idea of driving would be somehow altered. As we drove back into Thailand a month after leaving and my friend Justin said “Ramona you aren’t flinching with every vehicle, the way you did when we drove from Bangkok to Cambodia,” I knew that the changes that I had been feeling happen inside me as we crossed these various countries, intersections, and highways had made a very sincere transformation. I become less afraid in a month, not just of the oncoming cars or the ones behind me that might want to pass but I had also become more confident behind my own wheel of a car.

As I cruised down the interstate last night at speeds of 60 miles per hour, I realized how much Asia, life, and the RAvolution has taught me in a short time, and how much more I have yet to learn, how to park for instance, or ride a bike. But maybe that is what I am finding is wonderful in life and the RAvolution right now, the act of learning and trying new things, seeing life at work and seeing that work pay off on the road and in a million other places.

Happy Cruising,

Ra (fully permitted and ready to drive)

Picture 4 and 5 By Anne

06

04 2011

Losing My Heart to Laos, And Coming Close to Losing My Life in Laos As Well

Ahhh Laos what is there to say about such a remarkable and unspoiled gift of a country? I know, do whatever you have to do to get here in the next three to five years!!! Never have I been in such a breathtaking, magical, and deeply felt place; and never have I felt so in love with a place that is as of yet still so untouched and unspoiled! If Cambodia grabbed me by the throat and heart and required my love; Laos is the low key lover who is silent and intriguing from a distance, and is even more seductive in the low key way they steal your love without you even noticing it.

We left Hanoi behind in rain and cold and drove through the most picturesque Vietnamese landscape, like a water color painting on rice paper of hills descending into villages fringed with bamboo and water buffalo. We drove into the mountains on endless switchbacks that got narrower as the fog started to lay heavier over the ascending cliffs. On more than one occasion we came in screeching close proximity of other cars, trucks, and the unguarded side of the cliff.  The clouds hung so heavy it was like driving in the heavens when one can only see meters in front of themselves if that. We got out and walked across the border in such thick pea soup condensation where all we could see of the border was the small bobbing lights of the front desks. We spent the coldest night of my life in Lakxao, and that includes working outdoors in New York City in December. Did you know your inner organs could shiver– because I have felt my spleen and liver shudder from the cold! The next morning we woke up and had breakfast in complete candlelight as our hotel restaurant lost electricity, I am not sure if they had it to begin with. We ate warm baguettes with fried eggs smothered in sweet chili sauce and sipped coffee over candles, yes this may be one of the best ways to wake up and it somehow can warm the coldest hands and spleen.

Vientiane is a dream of a small and manageable capital- it is warm, laid back, on the shores of a river with parks, and stuppas, and temples beyond belief or the ability to count. It is cool without ever trying and is studded with caffes, French colonial architecture, its walk able, breathable, and our guest house had the most perfect courtyard with a garden and more places to just feel present in the face of the cities beauty. In the timeless streets of this small city one can immediately see themselves suspended between a century ago and any time up to today.

As we snaked our way through this green and lush country’s interior, we made our way to Vang Vieng and a once sleepy town awaken in the past few years to the young adventurers traveling through. It is still a sleepy town by all respects but in just one year the effects of the changing world that is Laos can be seen and are bemoaned. I took my first risk with my life when I went for what by all other respects would be a lovely walk through nature and into a few caves. Let me consolidate the story to say here when I say Laos is unspoiled we should read this as yet to have some safety infrastructures. I went with a teenager, if that, guided into a cave only to discover it would be a spelunking expedition that would force me to come scarily close with my safety as I slid down limestone, scaled rock walls, and shimmied up a bamboo pole to get myself out of the what ended as a 3 foot by 3 foot cave. It was thrilling and exhilarating to say the least, and stupidly enough I went to another cave the next day with the group. I kayaked down 10 Kilometers of the Nam Song River and sailed past some of the most primordial and splendid scenery I have ever been in the presence of. I kayaked in the company of herds of water buffalo cooling themselves in the river and past children who shouted “Sa bai dee!” as they dove from rocks into the cascading shores beside them.

And then there is the jewel of Laos, the crown of the journey I had been waiting for: Luang Prabang. When I first planned this trip it was to realize the dream of seeing Angkor Wat, and the rice fields of Vietnam, the coconut trees of the Mekong Delta, the temples and stuppas of Bangkok. It just so happened as I started to plan the trip that Laos came into the picture and the more I planned, the more Laos and Luang Prabang came up in every conversation, in books I read, and magazines and news papers I searched. I had little to expect of Luang Prabang other than that people loved this magical place and all swooned in description of it. Well here is what I can say; Luang Prabang did not disappoint, it can’t be put in words what this small and special place does to find its way into your heart and memory but it does. It could be any number of its plentitude of temples, it could be viewing monks in orange robes crowded into pickup trucks, tuk tuks, and mopeds. It could be the night market with the Hmong artists selling stunning crafts under gentle flickering lights. It could be the way a small historic city feels like home and the perfect fit from the first glance. I couldn’t start to say what is so perfect about this place but trust me it is. Like Laos, Luang Prabang is understated, modest, striking in its natural beauty, its deeply  felt in its every action and movement. I watched the sunset from Phu Si Temple with birds chirping, and the next morning I woke early with roosters crowing to make offerings of rice to the monks who snake through the city’s streets giving silent blessings in exchange for food. As I dipped my hands into warm sticky rice to offer to the line of monks that pass by each morning as the sun streaks the sky with first morning light I thought of each of you and gave my gratitude.

We spent two long days on the Mekong River sailing into Thailand and visiting a village I could never forget. As children scampered up sandy hills and showed us their town that could only be imagined as a page from National Geographic, I felt myself melt and become forever in love with this land.

We sailed into Thailand in a rain storm and came within 10 feet of an underwater explosion that our guide said was locals fishing by way of fire cracker or land mine, yes this is where we again could call this lucky to get out of Laos alive or where tourism is still a beginning industry. Laos may be one of the poorest countries in the world, and the most bombed country during the 1960s but it is the most honest, generous, naturally stunning places I have ever visited. It is being opened to the outside world and to tourists fast and in the next 5 years they are expecting to unveil a high speed train from China. For now I can say Laos stole my heart and captured my imagination. As I traveled back into Thailand and started to see the trappings of the fast globalizing and shrinking world it only made me feel more blessed for having spent this time in Laos now and not later. So let me end with this…Thank You Laos for opening yourself to me and letting me glimpse the beauty that lies within you. And to all of you reading this, the sincerest hope that you will be able to visit this place and experience all this country is, I promise you will be won over.

Love,

Ramona

03

04 2011