Walking the path – meditating with monks in Burma

After chaotic India, I was thinking about doing something a bit more calming during my time in Burma. As the birth place of meditation, it seemed that this was an obvious choice of relaxing activities. By chance, I had met a guy in Cambodia who told me about a Buddhist centre he stayed at just outside of Yangon. It was a bit more alternative, and I liked the unlikeliness in which I had met him, so decided to pay the place a visit.

My guesthouse owner wrote for me in Burmese the name of the area I was trying to get to, and I boarded a local bus. On the bus ride I met a software student from the local university. She said her dream was to be a DJ in a club, and she was just getting a degree to make her parents happy. She was very curious as to where I was going, and why I wanted to learn about meditation.

Never struggling to find a monk.

Never struggling to find a monk.

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Lollipop moments

Welcome to 2015. I’d like to kick the year off by sharing a story, a Lollipop moment of mine. A Lollipop moment is a moment where someone said something, or did something, that fundamentally made your life better. If this is the first you’re hearing of this, I would encourage you to watch the 6 minute TEDx video below.

It feels like a long time ago since my last trip to Southeast Asia, I guess a lot has happened in the year gone by. I remember strolling through the ruins of Angkor Wat; trekking the rice paddy ridden plains of Sapa, and sailing the beautiful vistas of Halong Bay, pondering what to do with my life. At the time I was thinking about smaller, more trivial things, like whether or not to sell my house or switch jobs. It wasn’t until an unlikely day in Malaysia that I started to think beyond the mundane.

Monkeys on the steps at Batu Caves, KL

Monkeys on the steps at Batu Caves, KL

On a one-day stopover in Kuala Lumpur on the tail end of my SE Asia trip I found myself at KL Sentral, waiting on the platform for the train to take me to Batu caves. It’s quite easy to spot other travellers in an Asian-dominated city, and as such I found myself chatting to a friendly American by the name of Jared. We  boarded the train and quickly realised that we were headed to the same place, so I was introduced to the 5 other friends he had made in his dorm room that morning. So there we were: three Americans, a Chinese girl, an Irishman, an Aussie and a Kiwi; instant travel buddies, exchanging stories and ideas about life. We had a fun day touring the caves and lunching in Chinatown, floating around the plentiful KL malls, with equally plentiful Air Conditioning. We were all quite keen to see the Petronas towers at night, so we headed to KLCC via the underground mall complexes. 

It was on one of the lower levels of a mall, waiting for the girls to finish their toilet stop that a life-changing conversation was struck. Astounded at the idea that these people were travelling for months and years on end, and confronted with the harsh reality that I was mere days away from being back in my comfortable office job in Wellington, I remarked at how jealous I was that I couldn’t do the same. Jared didn’t blink, and responded.

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My job, my house, my cat, my life. Duh, Jared, come on. How can I leave all of that? At the time this genuinely was how I felt, for some reason I didn’t see my life as something fluid, that I could change and mould. Perhaps in a way I even saw it as giving up on all the things that I’d worked hard to achieve.

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Jared continued, “You’re still young, and if you want them later, they will all be there when you’re done living your life.” It was as if someone had just lifted the shades off my eyes, and I could see everything clearly. Those things I’d worked so hard to acquire, the things in my life that I considered high value, they didn’t make me happy at all.

Petronas Towers, KL

Petronas Towers, KL

There’s something about travelling that makes you more honest. Perhaps it’s the lack of familiar surroundings, or the extension of comfort zone, or being on a break from normal life, I’m not exactly sure. But I noticed it, a lot, and not just with myself. Everyone I met would tell me their entire life stories, and share their deepest hopes and dreams with me. I feel like I formed stronger relationships than I have back home with people I spent a day with, people I’m still in touch with and will continue to be into the future. I was more honest with myself and with others than I have been in the last 10 years of my life.

Those words, “Do they make you happy?” Continued to stick with me after I got home from my trip. A few weeks back into real life I decided that enough was enough. I made a pact with myself to finish doing up my house, and to sell it. To walk away from my wonderful job and to leave Wellington, at least for a while. The world was calling to me, and I had to respond. I set myself a goal of September, 2014. I achieved this on November 21, as I said my goodbyes and boarded a plane bound for LAX with nothing but a suitcase to my name. On Monday I’m heading to Thailand, and beyond the first couple of hostel nights I’ve booked – who knows. I wonder if I will ever be as free as I am in this period of my life. I have no responsibilities, and although I don’t have fleshed-out plan for the future, I feel very much in control of my life.

Jared has spent a lot of time travelling the world, and recently spent 2 months in India, one of which was spent training as a Yoga instructor before heading home to California. It wasn’t until two weeks after he got back to California that he was in a bad traffic accident, and unable to walk for 8 weeks. My brother Rick has a fitting saying for this type of thing, “If you’re born to be shot, you won’t drown.” It really makes me appreciate how short our lives can be, never fully in control of what happens next. So living for the now is something that I need to do, at least for a while. I told Jared how much what he said had impacted on my decision to leave New Zealand. Just like Drew Dudley, he had almost no recollection of the conversation, and encouraged me to document it for him. I hope to one day inspire somebody else to do something that makes them so happy.

Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, DC

Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, DC

One windy week in Wellington

It was a hectic last week before departure. Dinner invitations were abundant, as were coffee dates and lunches, trying to find the time to fit people in was a bit of a task. It’s probably the first time in my life that I’ve actively kept a personal calendar, and planned my days out by the hour. Between the family parties, work parties and friend parties, I managed to eat some fish and chips, and drink some nice coffee.

Family goodbyes

Family goodbyes

Since I moved out of my house, I’d been living at my sister Beth’s house. It’s been super fun living with two teenage girls, and gaining an insight into what it is like to be a teenager these days. I can spot the differences to when I was their age; mostly I think this is based around social media. I overheard one specific kitchen conversation between Abbie and Bekah which tickled me greatly.

Bekah: I’m going to change my profile pic this Saturday afternoon.

Abbie: Why this Saturday?

Bekah: I think that’s when a lot of people are on, so I can get the most likes.

Me: ???

Abbie: Oh, right. I changed my picture one weekday morning and only got 60 likes.

Bekah: Ha, shame.

I thought this was super funny. Esepcially given that none of my facebook posts get even 60 likes.

selifes-1

Abbie also likes to take selfies on my phone

A few weekends ago, I went on a boys trip with my brother, brother-in-laws, and their respective sons. We had an awesome time at the bach in Foxton – eating, cruising around the sand dunes and throwing the rugby ball around. For some reason it’s not something that we ever thought to organise before now, so I’m really glad it was brought about by my leaving. It was a super fun weekend.

Beautiful New Zealand

Beautiful New Zealand

 

Burying George and Ethan in the sand

Burying George and Ethan in the sand

It was so lovely to spend my last week in Wellington catching up with people that are important to me. Sorry if I didn’t make it to you, it doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It just means that I’m forgetful and reactive 😉 I’ll miss you all greatly, don’t forget to bug me for Skype calls!

I’m finding it really interesting not having a job at the moment. It’s a freedom that I’ve never really felt before, as the last time I was unemployed I had no money and wanted a job. I can’t wait to see how I feel about that in a few months, or a year from now. But for the moment I’ll just continue to enjoy my first Thanksgiving in sunny California with Alexa, and explore the freezing NYC until I head to Asia in January. Stay tuned for what will hopefully be some mouth watering updates.

Growing down

10 days ago I moved out of my house. It was exciting and exhilarating, with undertones of sadness; I guess it’s never as easy as you think to let go of something you worked so hard to achieve. After spending the past month getting rid of virtually everything that I own, moving was kind of a breeze this time around. I’ve rid myself of a mortgage, a home, and all the things required to fill it. A lot was donated to charity, friends and family, with some bigger ticket items being sold at rock bottom prices. All in all, I feel a lot lighter than I did one month ago. There’s been something very liberating about cleansing my life of material possessions, I’m so interested to see how I feel about that a year from now.

There was of course one thing that was very hard to let go of, my cat, Boots. I never actually liked ginger cats until I picked him up in the SPCA and he started purring and licking my nose. It was the start of a special relationship which saw him sleeping in my bed every night (with his head on the pillow, thinking he was a human), running up to greet me every day after work, and randomly attacking me when it was raining outside. He’s quite the character, and I was fortunate enough to have a few offers to house him.

He’s also incredibly photogenic, let me prove it.

Boots

A number of people have asked me about whether or not I thought I’d done well out of owning a house, and whether or not I would do it again. I myself was skeptical around whether or not I would have been better to have rented a place and saved money instead of paying a mortgage. A quick tally of numbers suggests that renting would have been a much more cost efficient option, but it wasn’t until I delved a little deeper that I found it wasn’t really the case.

When I take the mortgage, rates, insurance, upgrades and income received (from renting a room) over the past three years, it’s double what I guesstimate that I would have spent if I were renting a place for the same period. Simple math would suggest that renting would have been better, but with the improvements to the house and capital gain, I actually walked away with about 80% of what I put in. Would I have saved this much money without the house? Possibly, but probably not. Having the mortgage meant I spent a lot less money on clothes, takeaways and going out. And I generally didn’t buy random things that I didn’t need (like a new car). As for whether or not I’d do it again… Time will tell. At this point I would say ‘maybe’. If I were to do it again, I would put more thought into how much I could rent the house for if I did not want to live in it.

So now that I’ve sold my house, quit my job and let go of my possessions, I’m in a sort of limbo period between old life and new. I still go to work every day, drive my car around, drink nice coffee and go to the Sunday market with my mum. But really I only have 25 days left of work, and 32 days before I get on a plane to LAX, to see a certain someone. The current chapter of my life will soon be coming to an end, and my new chapter book is only a month away. I’m crazy excited, but I’m going to enjoy my last few weeks living in Wellington; I’m especially looking forward to eating a lot of fish and chips, and drinking a lot of nice coffees.

Here’s a photo of Boots and I pretending to be cats.

Boots 2

Ticking boxes

Finally, after months of waiting and hard work I’ve arrived here, house finally on the market and three days out from my first open home. My todo list started pretty broad, and as any fellow procrastinator could guess, this wasn’t leading to successful completion. Following some helpful advice, this list was fleshed out into smaller tasks and I dragged myself away from the Dark Playground. Painting turned into components to sand, which quickly turned into organising some paid help. Gardening turned into, “Call Joel.” Which turned into organising a working bee with the family. Is anyone else seeing a pattern here? I guess my job has taught me the importance of delegation when you need to get something done quickly.

The painting was eventually completed, and the gardening was smashed out by my skilled family members over the course of a drizzly day. “Build a nice pathway,” Joel says. An hour later my handy brothers have composed a masterpiece, adding an entrance way into my now beautiful home.

Pathway

Rich hard at work.

 

 

The first week in the house I pulled up the carpet in the hallway, and ever since then I have been imagining how those Rimu floorboards would look sanded and polished. “But what about 60s cork board in the kitchen, and the lino in the bathroom?” I was constantly being asked. So up comes the lino and I get the floor man in for a quote. He advises to have it tested for asbestos, sure enough, he’s right. To my extreme fortune, my flatmate, Mike, is a professional asbestos remover, so he borrowed the gears and we set out to decontaminate the bathroom floor. For some reason we decided to do this after garden day at 8pm. At midnight we emerge, tired and sore, but victorious. The floor man had assured me there would be no asbestos under the cork in the kitchen, so the next weekend I got to prying up the board. Whoops, guess he was wrong.

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Old kitchen floor

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Hallway

 

Asbestos removal is actually quite straight forward. You take a bunch of plastic sheets and tape up doorways and cupboards to make the room airtight. You then donne masks and full body overalls and remove the asbestos into sealed bags. After the deed is done, an expensive multi-filter vacuum is used to clean up the dust, and then a solution of PVA (yep, just like the glue at school) is sprayed around the room like a mist to bind the fibres together. The PVA dries clear. After the bathroom experience, I had estimated about 30 hours to complete the kitchen. This time though, on the advice from the nice old man at Bunnings we bought a few tubs of Acetone (nail polish remover). Saturday morning my friends Liam and Gary pitched in, and together with Mike and I, managed to complete the Kitchen and toilet by Sunday night.

Mike and his gear

Mike and his gear


Fast forward through floor sanding, three coats of polyurethane, furniture moving, and a whole lot of cleaning, and I was finally taking a real estate agent through. She added a couple more things to my list, such as curtains in the spare room, to make the house ready for photos and open homes. The house listed on Monday and there’s already been four people through, the first open home is this weekend. Offers are being held off until September 3rd, at which point I guess I’ll find out whether my house is something that people want.

I’ve decided from this experience that I wouldn’t want to do it again. Not that I regret it, it’s been an interesting three year experiment. It’s more that I don’t actually enjoy DIY, or gardening, I don’t care about the same sorts of things that other people seem to, like curtains and light fittings. While I have an appreciation for these things, and can recognise good from bad, at the end of the day I feel like a house is something that you live in, and I can take or leave the rest. Home ownership is another topic entirely, perhaps I’ll write a post about that someday.

I’ll close with some before and after pictures of the house. Sad that I have no photos of the pink bathroom.

Lounge

Lounge

Kitchen

Kitchen

Bedroom1

Bedroom

Bedroom2

Bedroom