I'm so happy to tell you that my "globe-trotting friend" Michael Graziano is back from another extraordinary adventure abroad and once again, he's very kindly letting me share it with you here! If you've been reading this blog for a while, then you already know that Michael shared his amazing trip to Hawaii and his picture-perfect trip to New Zealand. This time, he headed off for three months to Thailand, with a side trip to Cambodia, and his pictures (taken with his trusty iPhone) are just as jaw-droppingly beautiful as ever!
At this point, you might be wondering, "How on earth does this guy afford all of these awesome adventures that go on for months? Is he a millionaire or what?!" Well, first of all, he's working for room & board during these "vacations." But I love the real reason he's traveling the world: A dear friend who was his elementary school teacher in Connecticut passed away and left him an inheritance (she had no children), divided with two other former students whom she'd kept in touch with through the years. In elementary school, she taught Michael how to make a pinhole camera. It seems so poetic and poignant that all of these years later, he's using her generous and extraordinary gift to take once-in-a-lifetime pictures of the world far and wide.
The following quotes are Michael's updates from Facebook, and all of the photographs in this post are his, taken with his iPhone (all used with his kind permission, of course!).
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January 13, 2016: "Day 3 at the New Life Foundation outside of Chiang Rai. We are awoken by a quiet gong at 6:00 am each day for meditation or yoga at 6:30. I completely slept through it the first day. The morning mist is quite magical and worth waking up for."
January 14, 2016: "I will teach my first yoga class in Thailand early tomorrow morning in this open air pavilion. We face the east looking out over the garden so the class can watch the sun rise."
January 16, 2016: "On Sunday, there is no formal meditation or yoga so I was able to sleep today until the glorious hour of 6:45 am. The mornings and evenings are chilly with temperatures falling into the 50's but the days are warm and sunny, reaching the 80's in the late afternoon. It is quite extraordinary how being somewhere tropical in the winter elevates my mood. It's as if my base level happiness switch is raised by 50 percent."
January 20, 2016: "Every morning we are required to do a couple of hours of working meditation which is mostly physical work, such as gardening, making mud bricks, building houses--done a bit more slowly and mindfully."
January 23, 2016: "Sending some late afternoon sun and warmth from Thailand to my East Coast friends in another Snowmageddon."
January 26, 2016: "We've had a couple of days of solid rain and cold, very unusual for Thailand. Buildings don't have any heating because it's a tropical climate so everyone is bundled in several layers of clothes, hats and gloves or wrapped in blankets, even indoors. The daytime high was only 48 degrees. Just a couple of days ago it was 85 degrees."
January 28, 2016: "It's the last sunset before going silent for a week starting tomorrow. I am joining a 7-day insight meditation retreat with about 30 others. I've thought about doing a vipassana retreat like this for the last couple of years. It's held in silence the entire time so no talking, no texting, no emailing, no Facebook until February 6th."
February 6, 2016: "Morning has broken and the silence is broken. The silence was relatively easy, the meditation less so. Sometimes the body ached, sometimes the mind wouldn't stop moving, other times I got sleepy or bored. But my senses were incredibly heightened and there were some strong moments of clarity, release and insight. I am glad I can now talk again!"
February 6, 2016 (later): "It continually surprises me who I most connect with on my travels. Jessy and Olivia are 20-year-old students from China. We had lots of laughs here before they returned to Shanghai. They had never done lip syncing before so I taught them how and we performed together at an open mic. They had never heard of Motown so we did "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" by Diana Ross and The Supremes. And yes, we sang into spoons. Things are very low-tech in rural Thailand."
February 10, 2016: "I am fascinated by the yellow silk cotton trees that line the property. They have no leaves so looking at them in silhouette, they appear almost dead. But their branches are covered with buds of flowers that blossom after hitting the ground. These are used to create the mandalas that appear every day before the morning community meeting."
February 14, 2016: "On Saturday I left the countryside for the city of Chiang Rai, about a half hour song tau ride away. Visited local temples. Went to the night market. Ate interesting local foods. And bought some Thai pants to teach yoga in."
February 20, 2016: "Took a field trip this afternoon to the kitschy White Temple. Michael Jackson, Elvis and Batman are included on the shrine walls inside. Over-the-top!"
February 22, 2016: "I begin another silent meditation retreat today. This one is only 5 days long. So no speaking, reading, listening to music, emailing, texting or Facebook until next weekend. Namaste."
February 27, 2016: "I have just finished my second silent meditation retreat in a month. This one was easier to slip into coming just two weeks after the last one. Lots of psychology and neurobiology included in the dharma talks this time. And it was led by two folks from Dharma Punx NYC. Interesting to make a connection with people from my own backyard across the world in Thailand."
February 29, 2016: "The vegetable garden here is bordered by annual flowers. About 60 percent of the food we eat is grown on property."
March 3, 2016: "The light over the nearby lakes is beautiful just after sunset. Reminds me of one of my favorite songs by Jonatha Brooke and The Story."
In the gloaming, oh my darling
When the lights are soft and low
And the quiet shadows falling
Softly come and softly go
When the trees are sobbing faintly
With a gentle unknown woe
Will you think of me and love me
As you did once long ago?
March 5, 2016: "Visiting the city of Chiang Mai for the weekend. No, the monks are not praying. They are on their mobile devices. Even in Thailand. I miss the rotary phone."
March 8, 2016: "Only one day left for me at New Life Foundation. One last yoga class to teach. One last morning meeting where I'll say goodbye to new friends. It's been a wonderful experience. Next up is Cambodia."
March 10, 2016: "Made it to Cambodia where it is dog-days-of-summer hot. Well over 100 degrees."
March 13, 2016: "Got up at 4:30 this morning to meet my tuk-tuk driver, Hooch, to watch the sunrise over the largest religious monument in the world, Angkor Wat, built in the 12th century by one of the kings from the Khmer Empire. It was impossible to get a photo capturing its grandeur. Angkor Wat is considered the 7th man-made wonder of the world. Built in the classical style of Khmer architecture, it is surrounded by a huge moat, covers over 500 acres, rises almost 700 feet and took 30 years to build. Being here, it's hard to imagine it was built almost 1,000 years ago."
March 14, 2016: "I visited the Bayon Temple which sits in the middle of the ancient Kmher city of Angkor Thom, which had over one million inhabitants during the Middle Ages at the time when the population of London was just 50,000. Built in the late 12th or early 13th century, it represents the baroque style of Khmer architecture as opposed to the classical style of Angkor Wat. Its signature is more than 200 huge smiling faces which appear at the top of the towers."
March 15, 2016: "I visited the picturesque Ta Prohm temple outside Siem Reap. Built in the late 12th century, it is one of the few temples that's been left in the same condition as when it was found, with trees growing out of the ruins and roots holding up walls."
March 17, 2016: "I have left Cambodia and its incredible temples and kind people and returned to Thailand. Just took a long tail boat to Railay Beach where I will be for the next couple of days."
March 21, 2016: "I went hiking in Ko Lanta National Park this morning. After climbing down to the beach in the photo below, I found Scottish friends Nicky and Martin sitting on a swing. Such a sweet surprise--I didn't even know they were here! After hellos and hugs, they gave me a bottle of water to quench my thirst. The beach monkey below had other ideas and decided it belonged to her."
March 22, 2016: "I am loving watching the Thai monkeys on the rocky beach."
March 26, 2016: "Easter Sunday. Got up early. Watched the sun rise over the bay at low tide."
March 27, 2016: "There is almost always a boat nearby the Thai beaches where I've spent the last couple of weeks. Headed to the mountains and jungle of Koh Sok National Park today."
March 31, 2016: "To celebrate my birthday, I took a ride on an elephant and took a ride in a boat to spend the night in a floating bungalow on Chian Lake. The bungalow was bamboo. The boat was wood. The elephant was named Cell Phone."
April 3, 2016: "The lotus flower represents spiritual rebirth in Buddhism. Growing out of the dark mud representing suffering, it emerges clean and beautiful representing enlightenment. A lovely metaphor and I'm always happy to see these flowers each day in Thailand."
April 3, 2016: "I am coming up on my final days in Thailand. My travels last year in New Zealand and Hawaii were a mid-life attempt to let go of things that weren't serving me anymore. This year's journey was about looking at what I want to keep and develop as I enter the next life phase. I didn't find all the answers but I feel I'm closer, so it's a good time to head back. Still, I am anxious. New York City, as stimulating and wonderful as it is, can be a hard and dark place, especially during times of transition. Better soak up the light here while I can."
April 5, 2016: "Heading to Bangkok today. Sleep for a few hours. Then an early plane back to NYC. A few long travel days. I hope to keep up the yoga teaching as I look for a full-time job upon my return. I love working with beginners and with people who think their bodies "can't do yoga." Small group classes at my apartment and private sessions to start. Off to the taxi to the boat to the plane..."
Well, I don't know about you, but I feel a LOT more relaxed after that vicarious trip to Asia. Thanks so much, Michael, for letting me share your beautiful and always thoughtful adventures!
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© 2016 by Joy Sussman/JoyfullyGreen.com LLC. All rights reserved. All photos and text digitally fingerprinted and watermarked. Please do not use any photographs without asking me first for permission at JoyfullyGreen.firstname.lastname@example.org and then clearly linking back to this site with photo credits. All photographs and captions within this post are the creative property of Michael Graziano. Site licensed by Creative Commons.