Wednesday Wisdom :: ‘I don’t have enough time to meditate!’

‘I don’t have to meditate’

‘Do you have time to feel like crap?’

– Gabrielle Bernstein

The Asian Destination :: I don't have time to meditate!

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The 2nd Year of The Ramadan Tent Project

I was blessed enough to experience the magical community spirit of The Ramadan Tent last year.

The Asian Destination:  The Ramadan Tent

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Spiritual Sundays :: Where actually IS God?

 So this might be a bit controversial..

Where is God?

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Chai & Chats with: Iqbal from Desi Desciples

“People can’t take a brown person seriously in hip-hop”

Chai & Chats

 Read The Asian Destination’s exclusive interview with Iqbal from Desi Desciples.

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We’re surrounded by angels.

Whether you believe in a religion or not, people surprise us.

Humankind is kind when we least expect and sometimes angels walk amongst us in human clothing.

Acknowledge the beauty of our species.

We may be so diverse, so different yet fundamentally we are all the same.

We want to make sense of the world, we want to figure it all out. We want answers at the same time as trying to relish this crazy, weird and wonderful opportunity we have called life.

Embrace the adventure and appreciate the angels when they choose to cross your path. xo

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Light up, Lift up and Don’t be afraid to SHINE

So, we’ve spoken about this before. The fear of ‘shining’. What does this mean? What does this entail?

A Christian friend said to me at her local church service today, this theme was also discussed.

What often amazes me is that at their core, so many religions share fundament core values such as love, peace, hope and an ultimate faith in the ‘divine source’. The term ‘religion’ often just acts as a means of different people reaching their own ‘enlightenment’ or ‘path’ and if that path helps maintain their faith, brings them closer to a sense of meaning…then what is the harm in that?

I thought it was apt to discuss it here, given that today is officially Diwali, the Festival of Lights, in the Hindu calendar.

As a child, I was painfully shy. I would still classify myself as ‘shy’ though age, experience and wisdom has helped me to spread partial wings and leaving a shell that remains, if I ever need it to retreat to.

One other thing that happened as I was growing up is that I became scared to ‘shine’. There may be some people that can relate to this. We don’t want to appear different; we would rather hide in the shadows and be a ‘sheep’ than step out into the unknown and embrace the things that help us stand out, even if it was to the detriment of our own success. I was scared of being unique.

Diwali is a time for rebirth, rejuvenation and reflection. It reminds me that we don’t need to wait for the new year to make a new resolution (however, today is obviously convenient because The Festival of Lights symbolises new beginnings anyway…!).

Why?

Because each and every moment is a moment of rejuvenation, an opportunity to change. Though obvious, the idea hit me again today and emphasised one important point.

So many of us are victims to making ’empty promises’. You know what I mean:

When ‘x’ happens….I’ll do ‘y’

We wait for ‘the perfect time’, we make up excuses and dim our light.

STOP. Today is your day to ‘Face A Fear Everyday’. Today is your day to not ‘shelf your light’ but in fact to shine your light.

Embrace what you have to offer the world, we’re all different. Be proud to be unique.

Feeling blessed, overwhelmed and grateful at The Ramadan Tent

Yesterday evening, I went to The Ramadan Tent, situated in the grounds of The University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Set up by Omar Salha, a SOAS alumnus, this Ramadan Tent welcomes Muslims to break their fast for Ramadan by serving iftar, the sunset meal.

The Ramadan Tent

News of the Ramadan Tent has travelled fast. One of my good friends learnt about it through her flatmate and now both volunteer there, helping in the iftar preparation and disposal, and ensuring that everyone feels welcome, and is accommodated with food and a place to sit.

Muslim or not, it does not matter. Committed volunteers have made this special iftar possible and welcome the public during Islam’s holy month, regardless of religious, socio-economic or political background making it truly an event that brings old and new faces together.

It truly was a special feast. Sustained by charitable donations, it was so inspiring to see so much food being provided for so many. As we sat on the ground around long mats acting as tables, it felt like a large family picnic was about to start. There was a sense of community, a sense of belonging and a feeling of togetherness. The homeless sitting amongst students and members of the public, no prejudice or judgment was placed. Each person was treated as part of an extended family.

Ramadan Tent

Before the call to prayer and breaking the fast, a speaker is invited to speak. Yesterday, Omar had invited Jehangir Malik OBE, director of Islamic Relief UK to talk. Malik reiterated how wonderful it was for so many people from across London to come together in the spirit of Ramadan. In a recent Huffington post article, Omar mentioned how not only did he hope this Ramadan campaign would challenge some misconceptions about Islam but also bring communities together.

Similarly, Jehangir Malik also feels that Ramadan Is a Time to Break Down Barriers, Not Build Them Up’.’ Having just completed a trip to Syria, his words had a lasting impact on me and I could tell on others too. Here we were sitting down, surrounded by a family we’d only just acquired, being provided with food and water whilst there were so many across the world struggling for just one of these basic privileges.

Dates were passed around to eat and symbolized the beginning of iftar. A change in the wind during the call to prayer made for a magical atmosphere. Despite not being Muslim myself, it was as if the summer breeze whispering around us had somehow cast an invisible spell, connecting everyone there. It did not matter what religion you were, where you had come from or what your economic situation was.

Ramadan Tent

As people, we were all the same; we all hoped and prayed for a world that we could feel proud to live in, we all desired an end to the suffering of those less fortunate and we all wanted to leave our positive mark in some way or another. It was an overwhelming and inspiring moment.

My friend told me how, on one occasion, due to the increased popularity and interest in The Ramadan Tent, there had not been enough food to accommodate all guests as well as committee volunteers. In this instance, volunteers refrained from eating to ensure every single other participant had food in front of them. Bearing in mind, the majority of these volunteers had been fasting themselves, it was moving to hear the extent of their charitable duties.

I have an immense sense of respect for those that are fasting during Ramadan. It requires dedication, commitment and perseverance -it is only when one is tested that one realises their true potential.

Ramadan Tent

Many are all too aware of how the media can misconstrue or demonise Islam and as a result alienate communities. This event however, as Omar hoped it would, disputes Islamic misconceptions and teaches non-muslims about the core values of Islam. There were times during yesterday’s iftar that I could not say a word. There was a spell I did not want to break. I felt proud and privileged to have experienced such sharing, generosity and sense of community. I left feeling happy that this was such a positive opportunity for others to appreciate the true spirit of Ramadan.

Ramadan Mubarak to all those participating!

Love, respect and blessings,

Ana at The Asian Destination xo

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like Celebrate Being ‘Unique’

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Destination: Vietnam

Destination: Vietnam  Read all about Luke (L), Oliver (O) and Alex’s (A) Vietnamese adventures, as they share their stories with The Asian Destination. From seeing Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body in Hanoi, tasting snake and scorpion, to helping a taxi driver in Hanoi cure his hiccups – they have done it all in Vietnam.

 Areas of the country I visited:

O: -South Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon); Nha Trang (beach resort)
-Central Vietnam: Hoi An; Hue and surrounding areas in Thua Thien-Hue Province; Quang Binh Province (including Dong Hoi and Phong Nha Caves); Quang Tri Province (Dong Ha)
-North Vietnam: Hanoi; Ha Long Bay

L: Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Ha Noi, Ha Long Bay, Hoi An, Hai Van Pass

A: Most parts of Vietnam, from South to North

Photo: Luke Keller

Hue – Photo: Luke Keller

I stayed/travelled around for:

O: 6 weeks (and then for a week almost a year later).

L: 2 months (ish).

A: 6 weeks (twice).

Ho Chi Minh City - Photo: Luke Keller

Ho Chi Minh City – Photo: Luke Keller

Favourite monument/place that I went:

O: Ha Long Bay, but Hue Province had some incredible scenery too. War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh were also very stark and harrowing.

L: Bike trip from Hue over Hai Van Pass to Hoi An.

A: The ancient temples of Angkor Wat.

Photo: Oliver Reynolds

Photo: Oliver Reynolds

Describe Vietnam in 3 words:

O: Traffic, mountains, busy.

L: Bustling, different, vibrant.

A: Bustling, diverse, and serene.

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I wasn’t expecting to find…

O: Such a variety of food (e.g. dog, cat, snake, scorpion, monkey brain).

L: Oreos.

A: So many friendly people.

Photo: Oliver Reynolds

Photo: Oliver Reynolds

My favourite part of the culture was:

O: The people in central Vietnam (very friendly and helpful); also the rich history of fending off foreign invaders (Chinese, French, Americans, Cambodians).

L: The chaos of the roads!

A: The belief aspect of the culture was very intriguing to me. There is a subtle tone of Buddhism that is noticeable in the daily lifestyle such as ceremonies to honour their ancestors, shrines by every house, and bimonthly moon celebrations on the streets.

Hoi An - Photo: Luke Keller

Hoi An – Photo: Luke Keller

I would describe the people as:

O: Both wily and kind.

L: Proud.

A: Sincere, affable, and welcoming.

Photo: Luke Keller

Photo: Luke Keller

Photo: Oliver Reynolds

Photo: Oliver Reynolds

I was surprised by: 

O:
-How disgusting scorpion tasted/how nice snake was.
-The spectacular landscapes (some of the most impressive out of anywhere I went in South East Asia).
-Also how much litter and rubbish there was just dumped in some beautiful parts of countryside – a complete lack of environmental concern!
-How sprawled the cities are, just kind of merging with other towns through vast extensions of shacks and basic accommodation along the roadside; it isn’t clear where one city/town ends and another begins.
-How much poorer people who live on the outskirts are.
-How manic the driving is and how difficult it is to cross the road.

L: The amount of pro-American apparel.

A: How diverse the country can be. The people, the geography, climate, culture and even the language was diverse from the North to the South – even from city to city!

Ha Long Bay - Photo: Luke Keller

Ha Long Bay – Photo: Luke Keller

Something I miss about Vietnam now:

O: The weather, cycling around, the food!

L: The coffee.

A: The amazing iced coffee and coffee bars.

Pho Bo - Photo: Luke Keller

Pho Bo – Photo: Luke Keller

Any words of the native language I picked up:

O: O choi oi (Oh my heavens); o dat qua (too expensive); chi oi! (sister (girl older than you), come here); dep qua (very pretty); com cay qua (not too spicy); ‘mot, hay, ba, yo!’ (one, two, three drink); nam qua (too hot).

L: Too many to name and couldn’t spell them if I tried!!

A: Oi choi oi! (Oh my heavens).

Photo: Luke Keller

Photo: Luke Keller

Strange or memorable experience: 
O:
-Man on motorbike who followed me home when I was cycling asking if he could…’service me’
-Eating dog, scorpion, snake, monkey wine, eel.
-Seeing Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed dead body in Hanoi.
-Incredibly beautiful view on beach at Nha Trang (like tropical paradise stereotype)
-Very long and arduous night buses
-Trying to help a taxi driver in Hanoi cure his hiccups (“breathe in your carbon dioxide” I said; he didn’t take my advice)

L: One of the most memorable experiences for me was going with the children to the beach.

A: Drinking snake vodka shots, and monkey wine!

Photo: Luke Keller

Photo: Luke Keller

One thing the guide books don’t tell you:

O: Dogs and cats are horrible so try and avoid them; they’re not usually treated like pets in Vietnam.

L: Avoid Ha Noi.

A: Always give money and receive money with both hands.

Photo: Luke Keller

Photo: Luke Keller

Other advice I would give to those planning a trip to Vietnam…
L: If you go to Ha Long Bay, don’t go on a weekend.

A:

-Take things slow and expect travels to take longer than expected.

-If you plan to go for 2 weeks, double it to 4 weeks, if you plan on going to 4 countries consider exploring 2 thoroughly instead. It’s better to spend more time in one place than to rush through and not get a feel for the country/ culture.

Photo: Oliver Reynolds

Photo: Oliver Reynolds

Would you go back?

O: Yes, definitely.

L: One way flight booked February 12th !

A: Already have! But maybe again someday.

Photo: Luke Keller

Photo: Luke Keller

Luke, Oliver and Alex not only travelled around Vietnam, they were also involved in volunteering for the charity, Hue Help, in the summers of 2011 and 2012. Hue Help focuses on improving the health, resources and future prospects of disadvantaged children in central Vietnam.

Photo: Luke Keller

Photo: Luke Keller

For more Information on Hue Help: www.huehelp.org

Follow The Asian Destination on Twitter: @theasiand &‘Like’ us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/theasiandestination

If you liked this post, you may also like to read: Destination: India and Destination: Bangladesh.

Destination: India

Visiting family & relatives, trekking expeditions & backpacking…
– Read about 5 different takes on India as The Asian Destination asks 5 different individuals, Sim, Katy, Zara, Lauren and Ashley about their unique Indian adventures.

Places Visited & Duration of Stay:
Sim (S): Punjab and Haryana for 2 weeks over 3 different years.
Katy (K): Travelled around for 1 month visiting: Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Goa.
Lauren (L): Delhi & then I went trekking in the Himalayas for a month.
Zara (Z): Travelled to Leh in the north of India, flew into Delhi. I stayed and travelled around for 1 month.
Ashley (A): Travelled around for 2 months visiting: Delhi, Pushkar, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Agra, Varanasi and Goa.

Favourite Destination:
S: The land on our farm.
K: Lotus temple in Delhi, cycling around Benaras University in Varanasi, also boat trips in Varanasi during a puja and on Lake Pichola in Udaipur.
L: EVERYWHERE. Except maybe Delhi – I wasn’t a fan.
Z: Taj Mahal and also the Lotus Temple, shaped like a real lotus in Delhi, was amazing.
A: Favourite monument: Taj Mahal; Favourite Place: Varanasi.

Describe India in 3 words:
K: Noisy, Vibrant, Dreamlike/Hypnotic/Mesmerizing – (the feeling when I would walk around temples/old building/gardens and just feel a bit light-headed).
Z: Colourful, Varied and Spiritual.
A: Overwhelming, Alive and HOT!

I wasn’t expecting to find…
S: McDonalds!
K: Quite so many cows!
L: Such a stark difference between rich and poor. It’s not something you get in England really. Also the difference between the cities and the countryside; the variety of landscapes makes you feel like you’re in more than just one country.
A: People outside fanning cows in 50 degrees!

My favourite part of the culture was:
S: It was relaxed, no clocks in the village.
K: The temples, the food, the colours (of the clothes, especially the lovely scarves!) Also the flowers everywhere.
L: The craziness, you don’t get it anywhere else.
Z: In Leh the people were so spiritual. We visited monks up in the mountains and I cannot believe how peaceful they were and so removed from the chaos of the world – amazing people. Also found the Buddhist religion very interesting to explore and it really opened my eyes to something completely new.
A: I loved the fact that the culture is still very traditional and unique.

I would describe the people as…
S: Interesting drivers!
K: Friendly (or maybe ‘insistent’ in Agra!)
L: Really warm, and willing to help out.
Z: Friendly, curious and generous.
A: Warm, curious and very talkative!

I was surprised by…
S: How you could be in an area of extreme wealth and 30 seconds away, extreme poverty.
K: How kind the people were – we stayed with some distant family friends (I had never met) and they were so generous and welcoming to us. When we later went to Mumbai we were put in touch with some of their family there who then hosted us. This second family weren’t that wealthy, so their kindness to complete strangers was particularly touching.
L: Everything! How hot, dusty, smelly, manic it was. I was warned – I just didn’t believe it!
Z: The fact they eat spicy food for breakfast!

Something I miss about India now:
S: Playing cricket in the village.
K: Frequently being compared to an angel/Bollywood star/’Britney Spears’. The way people often seemed to speak in quotes/catch-phrases and there seemed to be lots of inspirational sayings around.
L: The smell, wierdly. My tent. The people I went with. My trip guides – we made great friends.
Z: The peacefulness of the Himalayas made it feel like a different world.
A: I miss the energy and how noisy and chaotic everything is. And how you never knew what was going to happen each day.

Any words of hindi/other Indian language I picked up:

K: I have now forgotten it all except for my Indian name, Tara Raj !(‘Tara’ meaning Star, ‘Raj’ meaning, Royalty)
L: Challo (Meaning, ‘let’s go!’) was heavily overused during my trip
Z: Namaste (Formal greeting/Hello)

Strange or memorable experience:
S: The trains, on time to the dot, why can’t we have that here?
K: Being told by our first tuk tuk drivers that, “To drive in India you need 3 things: your horn, your brake and your luck”. Encouraging!
L: The road signs along the way – ‘Don’t be a gama in the land of lama’? Whaaaat?! ‘After drinking whisky driving is risky’ – Very helpful stuff…!
Z: Getting abducted in a tuk tuk in Dehli. The driver thought it would be nice to take us to his family’s shop in a back street and tried to make us buy stuff!
A: So many but one that springs to mind is an evening spent driving a tuk-tuk!
(‘tuk tuk’ – also called ‘Autos’ short for Autorickshaws in India)

A misconception people may have of the country:
Z: That all areas are the same. The difference between Leh, up in the mountains and Delhi was unbelievable.

One thing the guide books don’t tell you:
K: The staring.
L: The smell, there’s nothing like it. And they don’t tell you about the Indian fondness for horns.
Z: You will never EVER be able to imagine what Delhi is like. I found it very difficult to stay there. It was absolute chaos and the poverty is unimaginable.

Other advice I would give to those planning a trip to India:
S: Go by train, you see a lot more.
K:
1. Telling your bank that you are going far away and may use your card still does not guarantee it’ll actually work, so best to take some sterling (more than £10 as it turns out I did).
2. Never go for a room without A/C!
3. Always settle tuk tuk prices in advance even if they misleadingly say you can pay “whatever you like”..this will ultimately not be the case.
4. Take water purification tablets with you.
L:
1. You’re going to get ill. Plan for that.
2. Gaffa tape is essential – you can fix anything with it, including tents.
3. Cake – however good it looks, it may not be!
A:
1. Don’t go in May unless you like being extremely hot!
2. Spend as much time as possible out on the streets talking with the locals and 3. Don’t be put off by long train journeys.. it’s the ultimate Indian experience!

Z:
Take a step back and take advantage of what the country has to offer you. I learnt so much over just a month. You really do take things for granted in the UK. It also teaches you that you don’t have to have money to be happy.

Would you go back?
S: Maybe, to Goa.
K: Definitely, perhaps to different places as the more places we visited and people we met the longer our ‘to visit’ list grew!
L: Yes, definitely.
Z: Yes but I want to explore different areas.
A: In a heartbeat!

If you liked this, you may also like read:

Destination: Bangladesh

Destination: Vietnam

Happy Durga Puja 2012

Happy Kali Puja & Diwali 2012

Celebrate being ‘Unique’

Chai & Chats with Roshni Chugani

A Slice of Asia – Coming Soon!

Thinking of visiting Asia?

The Asian Destination will be sharing some essential travel tips from those that have experienced the culture, food and people first hand.

Stay tuned!