18 September 2017

My Thoughts on the Land of Golden Pagodas

While the Shwedagon Pagoda, Inle Lake and the temples of Bagan are certainly amazing sights to behold, there was nothing that really took my breath away in Myanmar. With long, arduous overnight bus journeys between each major location and steep, sometimes hidden, foreigner admission fees, 12,000 kyat (+$10) and 25,000 kyat (+$20) just to enter the Inle and Bagan areas respectively, Myanmar feels like a well-oiled tourist money grabbing machine that results in a surprisingly expensive travel destination. Especially, when modern shopping malls with the likes of Hugo Boss and KFC, are situated a mere couple of stops away from almost slum-like living conditions.
Although it's true that Burmese people are extremely kind and helpful you can't help but feel the majority is financially motivated. Obviously, the tourist areas are packed by those who are simply trying to get as much money from you and it's almost impossible not to get mobbed and ripped off once you step off the bus by taxi drivers. Once you head out off the beaten track the culture of kindness truly shines through.
The only thing that truly stood out to me is the unique culture. Witnessing two very stereotypical old men, one of Indian descent and one of Eastern Asian descent, standing side by side on the old, rickety circle train in Yangon, both donning the traditional longyi, conversing loud enough for each other to hear above the plethora of yelling food vendors making their way up and down the train carts, was certainly extraordinary.
Finally, with all of the turmoil happening in the Rhakine state and the Rohingya people, I half expected to witness some form of tension in Myanmar. Rather I witnessed young students and Novices bearing the Rakhine state flag on their bags, clothing, and even with face paint, in support of the people. While I'm not denying that the unfortunate events are happening and that there is tension, I was simply taken aback by the openness of support for the controversial issue.
All in all, unfortunately, Myanmar has not massively impressed me. It has always been a country on my list and while the sights of Inle Lake and the temples of Bagan helped to redeem it, ultimately, you can't help but feel that the money grabbing nature of its government and the people have tarnished the intrinsic value of the country.

Luke T.

2 September 2017

Philosophy and Buddhism

I recently wrote about existentialism and modern day life. While I know little about philosophy, knowledge based on the Great Political Thinkers module I took during university, the fantastic YouTube channel The School of Life, subsequent follow up readings, having lived in Laos for over a year and a half, and working almost exclusively with Buddhist Monks and Novices last year, my interest in Buddhism has grown exponentially. As my time in Luang Prabang comes to an end I decided to cut my hours down at the hospital and spend my free time learning more about Buddhism.
My comparisons between philosophy and Buddhism were largely sparked by conversations about Philosophy with Monk Anthony. A newly ordained Monk who reminds me a lot of myself at his age trying to figure out what I want to do but also questioning everything we are told.

While discussing the merits of various thinkers, links were constantly drawn to Buddha and the teachings of Buddhism. Plato’s cave allegory was linked to Buddha achieving Enlightenment, Descartes’ ‘cogito ergo sum’ and the concept of the non-self, Camus’ absurdist thinking and Buddhist focus on the present. The most incredible part of our conversations is when you look at how old Buddhism is and its increasing relevance in today's society.
When I began my travels I never anticipated becoming interested in Buddhism, or any religion for that matter, yet I was drawn in by its practical, applicable teachings and practices. But rather than let me, a walking cliché (a Westerner preaching about the benefits of Buddhism after living in Asia for a short time), explain what it's all about, I spent some time making a short film project all about Buddhism in Laos.

Luke T.

21 July 2017

An Experience Shared by All

Last year I wrote a blog questioning peoples’ motives for travel and my own disdain for the word “tourist”. Originally, I wanted to title the post ‘Why I hate travelling alone’ but divulged into a pretentious post about tourism. Read it here.

I have never truly enjoyed travelling alone, hence why in the past I sought out volunteering organisations and made my way around the world. But for a long time, I wasn't able to place my finger on why. It was only recently upon watching one of 'School of Life's' incredible videos, where I realised it is related to our inability to convey the particularities of our emotions related to the experience in great detail to each other.
Arguably, it is much more pleasurable when you can enjoy the moment with someone else rather than in isolation. The reason being, that on your own you experience the event and simply move on. Sure you can savour and appreciate the moment, but moments are always fleeting. As described in the video, we attempt to translate our experience in words but it rarely does it any justice.

Hence why people are always too happy to bombard your feed with pictures of them at the beach or doing something adventurous. With the impact of social media and pocket sized cameras we try and share these experiences with everyone but it simply doesn't have the same profound impact.
We are only truly able to experience the same thing when we are there with someone. When it comes to choosing that person, heed Hemingway's words, 'never go on trips with anyone you don’t love.’

On that note, as I finish up my contract with the hospital next month, there will be some shared experiences coming soon.
Photos from a recent stay in an Ecolodge and trek in a Hmong village.

Luke T.

3 June 2017

Existentialism and Modern Life

With the recent accident rendering me incapacitated and homebound I spent a lot of my free time reading. Before falling into the trap of overestimating my reading ability and ordering a number of new books from Amazon marketplace, which, inevitably sit collecting dust on the shelf only to be picked up when the next accident occurs, I selected a few books from my tiny collection to finish. After finally completing my year-long journey of reading Fitzgerald’s’ ‘The Great Gatsby’ (I don’t read nearly enough) and Wilde’s ’The Importance of being Earnest’, I decided to reread ‘The Outsider/Stranger’ by Albert Camus, an author who has always intrigued me but never fully appreciated until now. I implore anyone who has the slightest interest in social commentary to read 'The Outsider/Stranger'. Although written over 70 years ago the novel is still as poignant and relevant to today's society.

This then led me down the deep rabbit hole of exploring philosophy and existentialism, focusing primarily on Camus and Montaigne, who largely lean towards the Absurdist school of thought. In short, Absurdists proclaim that the pursuit of understanding our existence is futile as the answer is unreachable and unprovable, rather, it is better to live the life you're given in the present and to the fullest.
While one can see this notion as being extremely attractive and liberating, living out one's desires with full disregard of the impending notion of death, one thing I would argue they neglect is the importance of the other.

In this modern time, it has never been easier to escape from others and live in our own worlds', fixated on what could be considered 'time-wasting activities', social media, computer games, apps, TV, Youtube. An absurdist would simply argue 'who cares?' Part of the absurdist notion is that no one can determine what the right or wrong way to live life is, not psychologists, politicians or society. Nevertheless, the notion of achieving and protecting happiness is an evolutionary trait in all of us.

Yet, in this new interconnected world where travel and communication have never been easier, everyone contains the power to bring this happiness to others. How you go about and to what extent you utilise this power will always be down to the individual. However, the first step will always be to commit the ultimate sacrifice of stepping away from our own worlds. While at first, that may seem difficult for many, you shouldn't underestimate the power of out of sight out of mind. It's surprising how less likely you are to check your social feed or play that game for 'just five minutes' when it's just a little bit more out of reach.

So delete that app, hide the bookmark toolbar, unsubscribe from that mailing list, turn off the notifications (all things I've done recently) and start living aware.

Luke T.

7 March 2017

Turn and Face the Strange

It’s been awhile since I have written frequent new entries to this blog, largely due to being busy in my new role at LFHC, and the minor incident leaving me with one hand incapacitated, but also because I’ve decided I want to change up how the blog is currently being used.

I've stated before that this blog was started purely as a way to relay stories of my travels to friends, family and those who donated towards my fundraising campaign. This blog will still be doing that but with a much more personal take to it.

Regardless of the content itself, it will never be impactful if it is only ever written haphazardly. In all of my writing I have always been very matter of fact, which, admittedly, doesn’t always make for compelling reading.
Creativity has always been something I have struggled with, possibly a result of too many video games and TV during my formative years.

On a number of occasions, I have relied on my photography to help guide the reader through my posts, allowing me to be a little lazy with the story telling. However, I now plan on ("plan" being the key-word) investing more time into my writing so I can create something that I am proud of. 

This does not mean that I wish to paint a false reality of life, something which social media allows us to do so easily. On the contrary, I want the blog to be even more honest and earnest.
I want to be able to look back at this blog in years to come not just to reminisce about the past (which may help with my memory problems) but to also understand my thoughts and feelings at the time, and to selfishly track my writing skills.

It will probably begin with a rocky start as I experiment with different writing styles, but like George Bernard Shaw once said, "Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything."

(See, already an over one-hundred-year-old thought-provoking quote, a staple to any half-decent tryhard blog).

Luke T.

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