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Plaekwiwek Dhamma Center And Chaing Rai

It’s been a very eventful week here in Thailand. We celebrated our time with our host families at a farewell party at the ecolodge on Friday night where we ate, danced, performed our Thai speeches and rousing renditions of “Wagon Wheel” and “The Elephant Song.” We also lit floating lanterns, “loy gratong,” to bring good luck to our group and our host families. We said a tearful goodbye to our host families the next morning; some of the host families were especially distraught at our departure, like Olivia’s host mom, Mae Pen. This homestay will stay embedded in our hearts forever.

We piled in to vans and headed back to Chiang Mai for some rest and relaxation. The next day and a half was spent visiting the Sunday Night Market, eating fried bugs, shopping, visiting a “fish spa,” catching up with friends and family, and getting a brief introduction on Buddhism from Phong, Reilly, and Diane to prepare us for our time at the Dhamma Center. We arrived at the Center 3 days ago after meeting our very knowledgeable Australian guide, Laurie, who has been teaching us about the Buddhist way of life. On our first day here, we had a glimpse of the border line between Thailand and Myanmar (Burma), Phong’s home country. Laurie taught us about the turmoil that’s been happening in Myanmar for the past 70 or so years after a military regime took over and about the conflict between the country’s different ethnic groups. For many of us, it was shocking to hear about Myanmar’s violent history, which we’ve never learned about in school or heard about in the news.

On our second day at the center, we got up at the crack of dawn to join the monks in their morning chanting. The monks also taught us a method of walking meditation, which most of the group found constructive and very relaxing. After a quick breakfast, we drove with the monks to a village near the center where they’re in the process of building a new Buddhist pagoda. After a quick blessing from the Dhamma Center’s head monk, we assisted the villagers by hauling bags of sand and cement up to the site of the pagoda. It was a good workout! The villagers thanked us for our help by giving us lots of snacks, including cookies, gooseberries, and tiny oranges. We went back to the Center for our first “Dhamma Talk” with Laurie; he gave us more in-depth information about Buddhism and then showed us some meditation techniques. This morning, we were invited to attend a ceremony celebrating the opening of a new temple; though we couldn’t really understand what they were saying, Laurie explained that being part of the ceremony gives one good luck. We have all really enjoyed our time at the Center and are looking forward to the adventures to come in the next week!

Greetings from Chiang Rai! We bid our farewells to the Dhamma Center last Friday. The day before we left the monastery, we took a vow of silence for the better half of the day. The purpose of this was to reflect on what Laurie and the monks had taught us during our stay at the center. Most of us took the day to journal, read, meditate, and explore the grounds. We all gained an insight into the ways our minds work, especially in a situation where you cannot communicate immediately with others. This day of silence made us more mindful of the thoughts that precede our actions and the way we interact with others.

The following day, we took the long and winding bus ride back to Chiang Mai. There, we all enjoyed a rest day. Some of us went to the Saturday market outside the city gates and met up at an wildwest-themed saloon to watch Chris attempt to eat 4 racks of ribs, beans, and fries. If he ate all of this in under one hour, the meal would be free. Unfortunately, he did not prevail, and 590 baht was spent that night.

We just arrived at the Mirror Foundation last Monday. After our orientation in the morning, we immediately got to work. Our mission is to build a wall along the side of the main access road to the Mirror Foundation. Every year during the rainy season, the river floods and undercuts the road. This wall will protect the road from further damage. For the past few days, we have been digging holes, twisting wires, mixing cement, and breaking a sweat! Although the work is tolling, we all feel a sense of reward at the end of the day. We look forward to the rest of our time here in Chiang Rai!