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Laos: Culture, Conservation, Service, Summer 2011


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Today I'd like to share the stories of a couple of people I've met along this journey. As the cast of characters continues to grow longer and longer, I realize that my experience is dictated just as much by the people I meet as the places I go.

The first is Cresa, a woman part of the group met with for an interesting conversation one morning while in Vientiane. She's currently living in Laos, working with an NGO called Clear Path International which works with rural development and mine clearance in southeast Asia as well as Afghanistan. Having lived in the region for quite a long time, she was able to facilitate a fascinating 2 hour discussion on her organization, as well as answer many of the questions we'd struggled to answer on our own. Cresa was an invaluable resource for many of our ISPs.

Paul is a British man we met during our stay in the dharma center. He stood out immediately as one of the only other western participants, or 'Falang' as the Lao might term us. Our group approached him and began conversating with him during mealtimes, and he proved quite an interesting character. Paul has been in Laos for almost 6 years teaching English and music, and has a Lao wife and child. Alex and I quickly bonded with him over his passion for music, especially jazz, funk, and soul. As a saxophone player myself, the conversations flowed easily. We had many conversations with Paul, lingering in the dining hall for easily an hour after many of our meals.

The people we've met along the way will stand out in my memory just as vividly as any of the sights we've seen. I'm grateful for the conversations we've had, and all of the knowledge I have acquired during them.

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Laos: Culture, Conservation, Service, Summer 2011

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Cresa and Paul

Robert Kutrow,Laos: Culture, Conservation, Service, Summer 2011

Description

Today I’d like to share the stories of a couple of people I’ve met along this journey. As the cast of characters continues to grow longer and longer, I realize that my experience is dictated just as much by the people I meet as the places I go. The first is Cresa, a woman part […]

Posted On

07/31/11

Author

Robert Kutrow

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Hi Friends and Families,

Laos called in today to let us know that the lone internet place in their town was out of service today, so you can expect more Yak Yaks posted tomorrow. They said the trek was an all-around great experience and the group is really exceling on all levels. Students have entered the "expedition phase" of the course meaning that they are taking increased leadership over arranging travel logistics and activities. All is well in Laos and more news to come soon!

Dragons

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Laos: Culture, Conservation, Service, Summer 2011

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Back from trek!

Dragons,Laos: Culture, Conservation, Service, Summer 2011

Description

Hi Friends and Families, Laos called in today to let us know that the lone internet place in their town was out of service today, so you can expect more Yak Yaks posted tomorrow. They said the trek was an all-around great experience and the group is really exceling on all levels. Students have entered […]

Posted On

07/30/11

Author

Dragons

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We are writing you from a meditation retreat here at the Dhama Center. The students are on their second day, grappling egos, with legs folded and eyes closed. Last night we had the most profound group discussion of the course. The conversation started with the foundations of Theravada Buddhism and then went on to questions of self-awareness and what it means to be a good person. This is truly an evolved group of teens. We have the rest of today and a few hours tomorrow morning here in meditation and contemplation before we head out into the jungle for a service project with the Wildlife Conservation Society. In other words you won’t be hearing from us until July 30th. The group is in good health, with the exception of a few bug bites, not much is slowing us down. We love you all and will report in after the service project.

Team Lao

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Laos: Culture, Conservation, Service, Summer 2011

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Sabaidee modtukkon

Brett,Somsanid,Emily and Mandy,Laos: Culture, Conservation, Service, Summer 2011

Description

We are writing you from a meditation retreat here at the Dhama Center. The students are on their second day, grappling egos, with legs folded and eyes closed. Last night we had the most profound group discussion of the course. The conversation started with the foundations of Theravada Buddhism and then went on to questions […]

Posted On

07/25/11

Author

Brett,Somsanid,Emily and Mandy

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Hello to our friends and family,

I write this Yak from Vietiene as monsoon pours down outside. It has been an eye opening day visiting COPE, an organization here in the Capital of Laos where we gained an intensely deep understanding of the Vietnam War...or the American War as they call it here, and the lasting effects of the millions of cluster bombs our country dropped here thirty years ago.

It is with this in our minds and hearts that we enter into 4 days at the Laos Dhamma Center for a meditation retreat. This will give us a rare opportunty to feel into the essence of non-violence and explore the roots of what manifests as violent activity...attachment and desire. After that we will travel onto do several days of trekking and service work in Nam Kading National Park. There we will work with our hands to help preserve this beautiful landscape by working with the Wildlife Conservation Society to maintain and mark trails. We will emerge on August 1st so please do not worry if the Yak board or emails go silent for a spell. If there is an emergency, we can contact Boulder directly. Until then, no news is good news!!

Thank you for your continued support of this once in a lifetime experience!!

Emily, Somsanid, Mandy and Brett

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Laos: Culture, Conservation, Service, Summer 2011

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Slipping out of contact for a bit!

Brett, Mandy, Emily, Som,Laos: Culture, Conservation, Service, Summer 2011

Description

Hello to our friends and family, I write this Yak from Vietiene as monsoon pours down outside. It has been an eye opening day visiting COPE, an organization here in the Capital of Laos where we gained an intensely deep understanding of the Vietnam War…or the American War as they call it here, and the […]

Posted On

07/21/11

Author

Brett, Mandy, Emily, Som

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I woke up on the last morning of the homestay to the sound of rain hitting the tin roof and falling off the banana leafs. While i packed my bag and got ready to leave, i tried to think of what the homestay expierence had taught me . Of course there were the obvious things such as a deeper understanding of the culture, daily life, and typical foods; but the lessons I found to be the most important were those not so easily seen. Staying in this tight knit village I was reminded of the importance of community, I observed an abundance of trust, and I learned ways to connect with others that didn't involve language. These are the lessons that i will remember and take away with me. It's these ideas that i will connect with and share with others.

I am ever grateful to those who taught me these things.

And the best part is that my "teachers" didn't even know they were teaching me. After the short amount of time i spent in this village, i feel rejuvinated and more in sync with the world around me. I can only hope to take this new found insight and wisdom i have been given, take it with me, and spread it to others.

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Laos: Culture, Conservation, Service, Summer 2011

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Open Doors and Open Hearts

Desiree Samler,Laos: Culture, Conservation, Service, Summer 2011

Description

I woke up on the last morning of the homestay to the sound of rain hitting the tin roof and falling off the banana leafs. While i packed my bag and got ready to leave, i tried to think of what the homestay expierence had taught me . Of course there were the obvious things […]

Posted On

07/19/11

Author

Desiree Samler

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My personal homestay has gone through many alternations; the first being was I like to refer to as "The Double Homestay". Well, I haven't actually called it that yet, but it does sound promising.

So this experience started with a 3-minute journey across the Mekong. Yes, it was a journey, despite it's short life. And even with the shaking legs upon shaking boats, "everybody safe". I was one of the first dragons to reach those far off shores of Ban Singman. Immediately, I was handed an ear of corn from a potential homestay mae. Apparently, this was also the time that these mothers started calling "dibs" on us. Biggest fear? Being the last one picked. I can only imagine that last mother sighing and saying, "FINE! I'kk take the one that looks like that Lao pop star..."

This fear didn't become a reality, but I was the last one given my homestay family. I have been told many, many times that at that moment, I looked as if I "won the lottery". But honestly, how could I not be excited when I was told of the newborn baby in my family?!

We created a parade down the main road of the village; us, new children, and them, new mothers. I followed until I met my path, a mixture of dirt and mud, that went off to the right. Welcome home! "Jao su nyang?", I was asked. PHOENIK? Imediately, my mind races to a place in Iowa, where the voice of my own cousin is calling me the same name. I find it ironic, actually, how that little piece of my American family travelled along side me for those 8000 miles.

Now, I've seen infants beofre, but this baby was no infant. 7 days old? No, more like twently-seven minutes. It's too small to even form a cry.

Over the course of the first 24 hours in the village, the tickle in my throat evolves into a full on sore throat. Classic. I mean, no big deal for me but this baby? I don't think it's newborn immune system could fight off my "falang" germs. Lovely Leah was kind enough to agree to a switcheroo. I felt guilty that she was just thrown into the mix of my sickness because I thought this move would not only jeopardize my homestay experience, but now her's too! It didn't seem fair.

However, it's worked out better than how I expected. And maybe these second houses are where we both belonged in the first place. I mean, it only seems fitting that the Vermonter stays in the house with the "MAPLE LEAF Brings more happiness" glasses. But now, I've been given the opportunity to see two different ways of Lao life, despite the families being neighbors. Even with the new time limit, Leah and I were both able to form connections and memories with these second families.

But more importantly, I've now watching two different channels of Thai soap operas with two different sisters (:

See? The Double Homestay.

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Laos: Culture, Conservation, Service, Summer 2011

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Two Families For The Price Of One

Phoenix Kenney,Laos: Culture, Conservation, Service, Summer 2011

Description

My personal homestay has gone through many alternations; the first being was I like to refer to as "The Double Homestay". Well, I haven’t actually called it that yet, but it does sound promising. So this experience started with a 3-minute journey across the Mekong. Yes, it was a journey, despite it’s short life. And […]

Posted On

07/17/11

Author

Phoenix Kenney

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I have really been enjoying my home stay experience so far. I have a "Meh" (Mom), "Po" (Dad), two sisters, and a brother. Spending time with my Laos family gives me a real taste of every day life in Laos. One of my sisters just had a baby girl (so I guess I am an aunt) and the whole village has been over at my house to celebrate! My house is always bustling with people laughing, eating, playing card games and loving the smallest baby I have ever seen. My family and I communicate with the few Lao words I know, but our connection is surely building. The other night we went through photo albums that belonged to the family and the one that I brought. It was nice to draw a conenction between my New York City family and my new Laos family. Every one is so nice a weloming. In my first few minutes with my new family I was able to hold the new born baby. As I held her, my "Meh" pointed to my nose and then to the baby's nose which made me know that I should "nuzzle" or "eskamo kiss" the baby. This little nose to nose touch was something that I would always do as a child, at home with my family. It was nice to do this little action at my new 5 day home with my new Laos family. In these next few days with my Lao family, I hope to learn this tricky card game that they continue to play where they randomly slap down random cards. (Hopefully I will learn why they are slapping down these cards.)

Okay, going to explore Luang Prabang!

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Laos: Culture, Conservation, Service, Summer 2011

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SoBaDee Meh and Po

Leah Newman,Laos: Culture, Conservation, Service, Summer 2011

Description

I have really been enjoying my home stay experience so far. I have a "Meh" (Mom), "Po" (Dad), two sisters, and a brother. Spending time with my Laos family gives me a real taste of every day life in Laos. One of my sisters just had a baby girl (so I guess I am an […]

Posted On

07/17/11

Author

Leah Newman

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"A snake doesn't know it's curvy nature, until it is caught inside a stick of bamboo," once said by a wise monk.

Why take yourself out of our comfort zone? It is a sense of thrill to recognize that I am anxious. To physically feel the mental discomfort in my body. I am more apt to withstand physical challenges, but something as seemingly simple as staying in a home with a family that knows no, to minimal english posseses a certain level of fear. A fear of not understanding, not being able to communicate. I always get a little anxious when being introduced to a group of people in which I do not know anyone; but that anxiousness is quickly overcome as we skip from small talk to actually conversing with one another, which thenleads to comfort.

But what happens when language is not available? As I sit in the living room, watching soap operas spoken in Thai with my homestay family, I don't really know what to do except to smile when they acknowledge me and laugh when they laugh. I'm sure they feel the language barrier as strongly as I do; however, it's more than that. I sense that they want to know more about me just as I have the desire to know more about them.

My homestay grandma sits on a little wooden stool outside our house during the day when there is nothing more to do than watch the world go by. I am sitting next to her right now on a little concrete patch outside the front door. The roof extends just far enough to shelter us from the gentle rain, more of a descending mist, that surrounds us. The scent of food preparation lingers in the air and she sits there with her chin contentedly resting in the palm of her left hand. I want to ask her her story. She glances curiously over at my notebook as I write. I am only here for the lesser part of 5 days, and it is already day 3. This is just an ignorant glimpse into my homestay family's life.

We communicate through facial expressions and gestures. I have never before witnessed such power in a smile and some laughter. It requires a lot of time and tedious effort to learn alanguage; and with eachphrase builds another rung in the ladder to surrmount the language barrier.However, there is something much greater than the language barrier that exists, it'sthe cultural barrier. You cannot cross the cultural barrier the same way as the language, it takes constant experience for learning. Instead of climbing over it, a deep tunnel has to be dug underneath it. It can get very uncomfortable underground in this tunnel, and may seem all too easy to turn around and emerge from the place where you started. There is much more trial and error in understanding cultural diferences than merely memorizing words and grammar rules. I have found that the dark ominous tunnel navigating its way under the cultural barrier has its moments of light; and although I may never make it to the other side, those sparce fragments of light have taught me how to understandin a way that words could never have done.

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Laos: Culture, Conservation, Service, Summer 2011

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There's No Key to a Door in the Language Barrier

Kaelyn Burbey,Laos: Culture, Conservation, Service, Summer 2011

Description

"A snake doesn’t know it’s curvy nature, until it is caught inside a stick of bamboo," once said by a wise monk. Why take yourself out of our comfort zone? It is a sense of thrill to recognize that I am anxious. To physically feel the mental discomfort in my body. I am more apt […]

Posted On

07/17/11

Author

Kaelyn Burbey

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Over the course of the last 3 weeks, I've formed an interesting rhetorical relationship with my instructor Brett. Our conversational odysseys cover an incredibly broad scope, from particle physics, local food, and the sizes of infinity to the ever-present hypothetical: what if humans had tails? He's shared much of his personal philosophy with me, and hence given me a feast of food for thought. I realized, however, that I'd yet to reciprocate this process: I hadn't shared much of my philosophy with him.

So yesterday, I spent the better part of my morning with my journal in my temporary village home, committing to paper the series of ideas, musings, and assumptions which form my outlook on life. After sharing it with him, Brett requested I post it to this board. Here's what I wrote:

My Philosophy: The Dharma of Nothing

The worldview to which I, personally, subscribe is one that has been termed 'Active Nihilism' by those with similar attitudes. I understand that the name implies paradox, and its nature is, indeed, intrinsically paradoxical. However, it parallels the all-encompassing paradox that is the human condition and life on Earth. It is only with the recognition of this most basic fact that I believe I can lead a successful life and forge a satisfying existence.

The essential component of my philosophy involves the explanation of how we, as humans, determine and shape the reality in which we exist. Each object, relationship, feeling, or idea we percieve is assigned a specific value; nothing in our world truly has an intrinsic value or meaning beyond that which we individually or collectively assign to it. This process of self and group valuation forms the fibers and building blocks which make up our society. As our fibers weave together and connect with those of the people around us as well as our physical environment, an enormous shared mental space emerges, along with the complex tenets of culture: religion, law, economics, fashion, the familial structure, traditional gender roles, ad infinitum.

This process occurs largely below the level of human conciousness, as our brains have evolved over the course of the preceding millenia to assign these values instantaneously. This is the primary function of that most powerful organ residing between our ears: to make sense of our perceptions on the spot, and shape them into what I can only describe as a manageable illusion imbued with arbirtary significance.

Once this, the true nature of our reality, is revealed to an individual, the psychological effects can be overwhelming. After arriving at this realization myself, I have continuously battled bouts of depression, disullusionment, and apathy as a result of my ideas. The universe seemed nothing more than a meaningless abyss, a suffocating vacuum cloaked thinly in a false reality of our own design. I rejectecd the societal values which the majority of the world's population agrees upon, and proclaimed myself a nihilist.

I quickly realized, however, that to wallow in this eternal nothingness brings only pain, misery, and sorrow. The role of a man in this universal void is to devote his limited supply of time and energy to those pursuits which he values most highly. Whether this be the consumption of knowledge, the mastery of craftsmanship, or devout religious practice, satisfaction can only be achieved through a life of application and devotion to that which one is fascinated, challenged, and consumed by.

Here is where the paradox comes into play: to many, it may seem foolish to cherish what one simultaneously regards as meaningless on a universal scale. In order to attain happiness, one must recognize the lack of total and universal truth, or a hidden, all-encompassing meaning, and re-design his own value system through a self-directed process. To paraphrase the film director Stanley Kubrick, "In a world of darkness, we must create our own light."


Robert Kutrow

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Laos: Culture, Conservation, Service, Summer 2011

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The Dharma of Nothing

Robert Kutrow,Laos: Culture, Conservation, Service, Summer 2011

Description

Over the course of the last 3 weeks, I’ve formed an interesting rhetorical relationship with my instructor Brett. Our conversational odysseys cover an incredibly broad scope, from particle physics, local food, and the sizes of infinity to the ever-present hypothetical: what if humans had tails? He’s shared much of his personal philosophy with me, and […]

Posted On

07/17/11

Author

Robert Kutrow

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    [post_author] => 39
    [post_date] => 2011-07-16 00:00:00
    [post_date_gmt] => 1970-01-01 00:00:00
    [post_content] => Every full moon night of the 15th 8th month of Lao calendar, is the day of Boun kao phansa (vassa) Buddhist’s lent day which is the time that monks have to hibernate in the temple by meditation and concentrate more about Buddhism practice and also most Lao males decide to become monks to make more merit within 3 months during the Boun kao phan sa, most of Buddhists people will be encouraged to practice to stay non- consumption alcoholic during the 3 months of Phansa(Vassa) .In the early morning 6:00AM students dressed up in Lao traditional clothing and went to the wat in Ban xieng men to give alms with the host families, all the people gathering the positive motion and peace smile to make merit during the monks walking in the roll around the wat to receive the alms from the villagers and praying all together, these are the process to make merit for good living and good karma, no matter what we offer to the monks but the most importance is how we offer. We must offer with the heart and willingly to make merit. It’s all about Karma. 

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Laos: Culture, Conservation, Service, Summer 2011

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Buddhist’s lent day, giving alms at wat xieng men

somsanid INTHONGSAI,Laos: Culture, Conservation, Service, Summer 2011

Description

Every full moon night of the 15th 8th month of Lao calendar, is the day of Boun kao phansa (vassa) Buddhist’s lent day which is the time that monks have to hibernate in the temple by meditation and concentrate more about Buddhism practice and also most Lao males decide to become monks to make more […]

Posted On

07/16/11

Author

somsanid INTHONGSAI

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