Don’t Touch the Cobra

Don’t Touch the Cobra

This was the advice I received from the Buddhist nun, Ajarn Sundara, who visited our school. It was in response to my question about how to deal with a recurring thought.

‘Thoughts are like cobras in the mind. If you don’t touch them, they won’t hurt you.’ As odd as this might sound, it actually did make me feel better. Now when the thought comes, I don’t ignore it, but tell it kindly that I know what it is, and that I have no use for the thought anymore. To keep investigating it is like poking at a cobra. If I don’t bother with it, it will go away eventually. I have poked and prodded this serpentine nagging in my mind for too long now. 

I sense that the cobra is in the process of slowly slithering away. Without the cobra plaguing my mind, things are becoming clearer again. It feels like there is more spaciousness and more freedom to just be.

thumbs_IMG_5327Offering rice to Ajarn Sundara on Makha Bucha Day at Panyaden School.


Cycling Around Rural Chiang Mai

Cycling Around Rural Chiang Mai

The beginning of April is not the best time to be in Chiang Mai. It’s scorching hot, and the fields and mountainsides are being burned so smoke fills the valley. My friend Rahul happened to be visiting at that time so we decided to get up a bit higher into the mountains where it was marginally cooler.

cycling in the Chiang Mai countryside

hot and smoky in April

We ended up cycling around in the heat of the day. We were joined by a woman named Erin who thought it would be a good idea to have a hat. She was correct. We got our custom fitted Thai gardener style hats.

Making adjustments so the hat could fit my head

New hats with their makers

Thai garden hat modeling…it was a short-lived career

My plan was to go to a cotton weaving village…

…but we ended up in a hill tribe village instead. The sellers were eager.

…and young, “Hello 10 baht.”

Even though we ended up in the wrong place, and the added 10 or so kilometers made us extremely sweaty, it was a nice little detour. There are several different hill tribes up in this region.

bag wrapped mango trees

After cycling in the heat of the day, a cave was a logical cool off spot.

The next morning it was time to climb to the wat on the hill in Chiang Dao.

On the way up to the wat on the hill

The smoky view heading up….

…with some good Buddhist advice along the way

view down, temple in Chiang Dao

We ended up at this woman’s orchid garden

Even though it was sweltering, the hot springs were right beside the river. Heat up and cool down.

Although I adore Chiang Mai city, it’s a refreshing change to get out to the Chiang Mai province countryside.

Buddhist Kindness and Thai Superstition

Buddhist Kindness and Thai Superstition

A Thai colleague of mine noticed that I was wearing a Buddha necklace one day and asked if I was Buddhist. Our school follows a Buddhist approach, and I try to follow life with a Buddhist approach.

A few days later he stopped me on my way into school and showed me a Buddha amulet. “Suay” (beautiful) I said.

Then he said, “For you,” and gave it to me. I was touched.

With his limited English and my nit noy Thai he explained to me (and my bilingual Thai colleagues who translated when I didn’t understand) that it was a Buddha from the King. Inside the pendant there are 9 hairs from the King as a relic.

“Why 9?” I asked.

“Nine is the lucky number for Thailand,” my colleague Goy explained.

“Why is it lucky?” I wondered aloud.

“Nine is pronounced gao, which sounds similar to what means a step forward.”

I am now stepping forward auspiciously with my new 9 King haired Buddha amulet. Khap khun kha Kru Tee. I feel blessed, quite literally.

This is Where I Work

This is Where I Work

I knew Panyaden School was outside Chiang Mai, but I wasn’t sure how far. My friend Yaya had heard of the school, and was interested in seeing it after seeing pictures.  I could literally feel my blood pressure rise looking at the traffic on the way there and decided right then that there was no way that I would drive a motorbike. Yaya was driving her car. I knew that even though the steering wheel and the driving are on the other side, that I’d feel much safer with driving a car. Then I started to relax a bit…until I found out how expensive used cars are here.

When we got to Panyaden, it was still the October break, so no one was there but the security guards. They let us look at a few buildings, but no tour of the school. When I got out of the car, even though I’d seen pictures and videos, I couldn’t believe how beautiful the school was. There was also a serene energy there. I honestly got tears in my eyes thinking that I would be lucky enough to work at this amazing place.

Panyaden School

Parent Sala

Yaya in the Parent Sala

The Buddha



That night, Yaya and her friends, my friend Matthew and I met up and went out to Thai karaoke. Matthew was a great sport and sang before me. He and I both feel like we might have been Thai in a past life. He is also American, and he loves it here like I do. Certain outdated English language songs are very popular in the Thai karaoke circuit: ‘Have You Ever Seen the Rain’, and ‘Country Roads’ top the chart. Eventually, I trilled out “On Top of the World” by The Carpenters, which is a song that always reminds me of being on the swing with my sister Dory when we were children. We would swing so high we felt we were on top of the world, so we’d sing that song.

The next day I went to look at houses with a cute lady named Jim. I hope I end up renting a house she shows me, because she is so nice. I spent the majority of that weekend looking for places to live more permanently. One of the last places I saw was a cute place called Grace Boutique Guesthouse, right in the center of the old city, with a swimming pool for 300 baht (less than $9) a night. Sold…at least temporarily.

Jim, my Thai realtor

I had a hilarious, and lengthy tuk tuk ride on my first day to school. It should take about 1/2 hour, but it took an hour and 40 minutes.  I was incredibly embarrassed to be an hour late on my first day at school, but people get that it’s Thailand and sometimes things are hard to find.

I have worked at many schools and been to an infinite number of staff meetings. I have never worked at a school with a Buddhist approach, but I think I’ll be glad I do.

Here are the Panyaden principles that we talked about on day one will continue to discuss throughout the year:

I. Buddhist Apporach

II.Green School – environmentally mindful

III. Academically Competitive – Bilingual School and International Primary Curriculum

Buddhist Approach:

5 Silas (moral thing to do – practical)

  1. I will not kill or cause harm
  2. I will not take what is not mine to take
  3. I will be responsible and loving in my relationships
  4. I will speak truthfully and avoid and hurtful speech
  5. I will only consume items that bring peace and good health to my body and mind

Panyaden 12 Wise Habits
1. Using the senses wisely (Indriyasamvara) การสำรวมระวังอินทรีย์ (อินทรีย์สังวร ระวังรักษา ตา หู จมูล ลิ้น กาย ใจ)

2. Knowing the right amount (“Mattannuta”) การเป็นผู้รู้จักประมาณ (มัตตัญญุตา)

3.Not  harming ( Avihimsa)
การไม่เบียดเบียน (อวิหิงสา)

4.Being patient and tolerant (“Khanti”)
ความยินดีในกิจที่ทำ (ฉันทะ)

5. Desiring truth, knowledge and goodness (“Chanda”) ความยินดีในกิจที่ทำ (ฉันทะ)

6.Being truthful (“Sacca” )
ความซื่อสัตย์ (สัจจะ)

7. Persevering (“Viriya Chakriyanuyok”)
ความเพียร (วิริยะ)

8.Being generous (Caga) การเสียสละ (จาคะ)

9.Being kind and compassionate (“Brahmavihara”)
ความเมตตากรุณา (พรหมวิหาร)

10.Being mindful and alert (“Sati”) การมีสติ

11. Being calm and focused (“Samadhi”)
การมีจิตแน่วแน่ (สมาธิ)

12. Applying the mind skilfully (“Yonisomanasikara”) การคิดเป็น (โยนิโสมนสิการ)

I can’t think of better things to teach kids.

Here’s the school website:


The Canteen

We are given free breakfast and lunch everyday, and if it’s anything like the delicious food we had today, I’ll be thrilled. Good manners, health, and nutrition, no shoes in the buildings, all very logical.

Based on what the school values, and the staff members, I think it’s safe to say that I know I will love it here. And this is even before I’ve met my students. By the way, as of now should have 4 students. Yes, 4.

Thailand, I Love Your Beauty

Thailand, I Love Your Beauty

This title sounds like a bad pick up line, but it’s true – I unabashedly love Thailand. Where else in the world can you stay in a nice clean room with a bathtub in the center of the city, but on a quiet street for $8, have a lovely vegetarian Thai dinner in a restaurant for $1.85, then get an hour long massage for $4.80? It’s ridiculously good here in Chiang Mai.

Sometimes it’s the little artful ways things are presented. The beautiful textiles to tropical plants hanging, and tiny fish swimming in a bowl. Here are a few pictures to give you an idea:

Beautiful Thai silk

Flower arrangement in a bowl

This is a store in Chiang Mai

Then, there is simple and artful food presentation. The dishes pictured here cost between $0.60 – $1.25.

Fried tofu with corriander and spices in a completely biodegradable leaf bowl.

Vegetarian green curry with rice

Spring rolls being made

There are always the little elegant touches all around the city of Chiang Mai:

Elephant door knocker

Flower market

Golden wat and mountain view from a guesthouse in Chiang Mai old city

What makes Thailand such a special place is the people. Thai people are some of the warmest, gentlest people on the planet. Trying to speak a little Thai goes a long way. I am still a complete beginner, but I try to speak a little bit each day.

The little girl who was intrigued with me while I was eating breakfast.

The funny and friendly Jara, and Kapoon his dog, from Kavil Guesthouse. This is Kapoon doing the wai guesture (putting hands, or in this case paws, together in a prayer position when saying hello and thank you) Sawadee Khaa! Khap khun khaa! (Kapoon is a girl dog).

Then there is Yaya. She and I have had loads of fun together. She invited me to participate in this Buddhist celebration at Wat Sumpow and the lunch afterward.

Thailand is one of those places that surprises me everyday with just how warm and beautiful it is.

Suay maak!