Meditation Retreat Part 1: Escape from POP House

Like all bad ideas, it seemed like a good one at the time.

Go to a retreat north of Bangkok over Christmas. Meditate with Buddhist monks. Learn mindfulness. Live simply. Unplug. Rest your mind.

I lasted a day.

One.

Day.

It wasn’t the cold showers, the 2 inch slabs of foam on the floor that served as mattresses, or the lack of stimulants. It wasn’t the no smoking, the meditating for five hours a day. It wasn’t the ‘no meals after midday’ rule. It wasn’t the ‘kill no living creature, not even a mosquito’ tenet and it wasn’t the people- as odd as they were. I’m not sure what it was- probably not wanting to become a Pod Person, but I’ll get to that part later. In any event, I escaped.

I fled the meditation retreat. On Christmas Day.

Yes, fled. Literally fled.

“Subject was last seen wearing a black Che Guevara cap, grey fisherman’s pants and a white T-shirt printed with a chihuahua wearing antlers…what’s that?…Uh, no, it’s not a Christmas shirt….well, I think they are just deer antlers attached to the…Yes, the choice of T-shirt is ironic given the date, sir. Subject is of above average height…”

This sentence may give you an indication of how much of a gigantic pussy chicken I am: I waited until everyone was in the morning meditation session before I snuck out.

I reasoned that an “escape” could be kind of fun. I was like a well-fed kidnap victim who had found the opportune moment to flee her captors before Stockholm Syndrome kicked in. I pictured myself darting down the road, backpack creating a camel-like hump on my back, iPod blaring Sabotage by The Beastie Boys. I would run, duck and crouch like an awkward ant.

Actually, if I ever have to escape anything, I want Sabotage playing in the background. I need to find a midget with a boom-box to follow me around until the opportune moment comes to blast that song. Yes, it would give up my position, but running and doing a forward roll to that bass line would be worth it.

I cracked the door to my dorm. Everyone was in the meditation room. I snuck down the stairs, furtively glancing over my shoulder. All clear. I hit the bottom step and hurried past the breakfast bar where I locked eyes with Phan, the leader.

Nananananananana Leader!

Shit.

I was caught like the dirty little sneak I was. I had no choice but to explain myself, and the conversation played out like a bad breakup. There was the it’s not you it’s me (“No! Phan it’s not the program, the program is fantastic, this is all me and my shit…”) the painful words you never want to speak but have to (“This is just *sigh*, a bit more intense than what I’m looking for right now…”) the knee-jerk conciliatory gestures (“No, you don’t have to give me a lift to town. I’ll walk. Really, I want to.”), the awkward goodbye (“Well…I best be off then. Thank you so much for your hospitality and everything you have done. Thank you, but I have to leave now…”)

It was hideous. I felt dreadful: he was so lovely he offered to drive me into town to save the walk. Well, I think that was the reason. Hopefully he wasn’t planning to bundle me in the trunk with a shovel and a length of rope.

Personally, I’d have preferred a furtive escape. It would have been more entertaining.

I trudged the 2km into town, found a 7/11 and, after a Snickers bar, a ciggie and an iced coffee; I was content. Sugar, caffeine and nicotine had given me more inner peace than five hours of meditation. Maybe I have simple tastes. Maybe I’m a stimulant junkie. Who knows. But, if you add ‘sex’ and ‘sleep’ to those three things, you have my five food groups.

I stood on a corner, like a demure prostitute, for fifteen minutes before a taxi drove past. The driver didn’t speak a word of English. Not one. Well, maybe one: airport. I showed him my Expedia confirmation email. He laughed. I tried to pronounce the hotel name, got a blank look.

I was feeling quite desperate, especially since the taxi was moving and I had no idea where I was being taken. Not back to the retreat. Please not back to the retreat.

I tried valiantly:
“Uh, Bangkok city?”
*Thai*
“Chinatown, Chinatown in Bangkok.”
*Thai*
“Bangkok…the city? The big city with vroom vroom, cars and lights and…lady boys and…oh, fuck…you have no idea what I’m saying, do you?”
Laugh. *Thai*
I slouch. Then, “Wait…airport?”
“Airport?”
“Ah! Airport! Yes, airport, please.”
“Airport *Thai*”
“Yes.”
Frown. *Thai*
“Um, yes.”
*Thai*
“Airport.”
*Thai*
It’s okay, if I can get to the airport, then I can get another cab to the city from there. Realistically, this is just like hitch hiking, except at the end I pay the driver with money rather than a blowjob.

I had better luck with the second cabbie, although a breakdown in translation made the conversation take a bizarre turn. For some reason, when I told him that I’d watched Muay Thai fighting in Phuket, he thought that I was a Muay Thai fighter. He thought I had fought in Phuket. You know, in the actual ring.
He was adorable: for the rest of the journey he called me “CC from Sydney, nickname: The Kid!” complete with shadow boxing and the associated swerves back into the lane. I didn’t correct him. CC “The Kid” from Sydney sounds like the sort of person who ducks and rolls to Sabotage, and I kind of liked that.

I checked into the hotel and tried lazy on for size. I gave myself a DIY pedicure (I know they are only $6 here, but I am mildly ashamed of the pig hooves that have attached themselves to my ankles). I decided to hit the 7/11 for cheap beer, which would be consumed whilst writing this. I had moisturiser on my feet with socks on, so I chucked on the complimentary slippers that are in my hotel room (yes, my reaction to a retreat that pared down the material in favour of the spiritual was to leave it and book a 4 star hotel. Whatever. I will be turning thirty-one-derful in it. I may as well celebrate the first anniversary of my 30th birthday by stubbornly refusing to age in style).

So, it’s Christmas Day in Bangkok and I am darting across a six lane road in grey fisherman’s what looks suspiciously like a pair of pyjama pants with paper slippers on.

In short, I legitimately looked like I had escaped from somewhere.

Which takes me back in time to Part 2…

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