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Hello from your instructor, Parker!

Hello fellow travelers!

Very soon we will be journeying together in a country and culture probably very different from that which you have known.  We don’t know each other yet, but by the end of our trip, we will have shared so much– the thick and thin, ups and downs, hardships and joys of living together sometimes 24/7– that we will know each other as well as any human being can know another human being.  We will have shared the bonds of challenges overcome, hardships endured, memories shared, strange sights seen, far-flung places visited, and a ton of joy and laughter shared.

Myanmar!!! I hope that you are excited and nervous to explore that place as I am.  I trust that thoughts and dreams about early morning mountain mist, Buddhist monasteries, monsoon rains, and strange food have started floating around inside your mind.  You probably have a lot of questions: What should I pack?  What will my fellow travelers be like?  Where will we go and what will we do?

This Yak Board is the place for you to ask these questions and to get to know your fellow travelers.  I am Parker and, along with Siang and Nikki,  I am one of your three instructors for your Myanmar sojourn.  In the coming weeks, we will be posting our intros and important information to this Yak board, so keep an eye on it!  We eagerly await your introductions.  Tell us a bit about yourself, where you are at in your life, and what you are excited to learn, explore, experience, or study while in Myanmar.

A bit about me:

I grew up way out in the countryside— among the swamps, pine scrub, and crystal clear springs of North Florida.  I grew up with hundreds of acres to run around in; I didn’t wear shoes much, and we had lots of animals.  I went to a small free-play school in which we were given lots of freedom and responsibility with which to explore and find out what we liked.  At Dragons, we want to give you similar opportunities to find out who you are a person and what you are passionate about.

My educational background and experience is most deeply rooted in China where I have lived for many years.  But I have been studying and traveling extensively through the rest of Asia for the last twelve years too.  I have led nine Dragons programs in China, India, and Southeast Asia.  For the last two years I have been largely based in north India– living in India’s oldest, holiest city of Varanasi along the banks of the Ganges River and trekking in the Himalayas in Sikkim and Kashmir.

I enjoy slack-linning, reading, being silly, and getting lost in new cities.  Last summer I hiked the 2,650 mile-long Pacific Crest Trail, which took me five months and caused me to lose over 40 pounds!  I enjoy long-distance overland travel.  I once traveled overland (no planes allowed) from Indonesia to the United States by way of Eurasia via bus, train, and ship (including the week-long Trans-Siberian railway).  I’ve been to 48 states and I hope to travel to Idaho and Alaska soon.

I have visited Myanmar for a couple of days, so along with you, I will very much be a learner in that place.  Please be patient with me as I learn the language, the dos and don’ts, what is good to eat, and the thousand other things that one learns exploring a new place.

We will soon embark on our journey together. We will travel as a group that supports and encourages one another, but we will experience the music of the world as individuals. We leave behind the four square walls of the classrooms that we have inhabited for many years in order to go out into the world: to see and hear; to explore and question; to make mistakes; to learn, grow and laugh.

If you return home unsettled by what you’ve seen– having more questions and less answers– then I will consider it a trip worth taking.  Theravada monks sitting still in meditation; the cloud of gas fumes hanging over young motorcycle drivers working to support a younger sibling’s education; people casting votes, speaking up, participating in their newly democratic country which is quickly being opened up to the world.  These haunting memories make up the invisible side of our lives.  Some, even, will never leave you.

Throughout my travels I have come to identify two interconnected aspects of travel that I find crucial. First, when confronted by the foreign and the Other, we are newly attentive to the myriad of fascinating details that always surround us. Only by escaping our familiar environment and self-comforting routines do our eyes truly open and grow clear; our prejudices and narrow-mindedness become overthrown. The things that you think you know about the world will meet with new uncertainty. The traveler must confront questions and challenges that he would never see at home. Truly “the destination is never a place, but a new way of seeings things.” I ask each of you to begin your time in Myanmar with an open and curious mind, what Zen Buddhist master Shunryu Suzuki calls the Beginner’s Mind.  The more you are able to leave pre-conceived notions of Asia, and family, and society, and poverty and all the rest behind and experience Myanmar first hand– in the moment– the more you will get out of this course.

Imagine: you are sitting on a small diesel bus, going from one small Burmese village to another. You are surrounded by locals– maybe they are taking vegetables to market or seeing a friend or family member not seen for quite some time– they are chatting in a language you don’t understand; out the window is unfamiliar scenery. You are dirty and sweaty; maybe your stomach hurts a bit and you are tired too. And all of a sudden, a feeling of peace and serenity overcomes you. Who cares whether you are dirty or tired? What does it matter that your bag of clothes might just tumble off the top of the bus? There will be other clothes. In that moment, as your many worries and cares fade into the background, you become more attuned to the myriad of senses surrounding you. You are in the moment and present in a way that you experience but a few times in life. That is the second part of travel that I find indispensable.

Finally, I want to leave you with supreme gratitude for choosing to undertake this adventure.  There is so much that I hope to learn from you during our time together.  I look forward to getting to know you better and better as time passes.

Feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions (my email is below) or post your questions directly to the Yak Board.

Parker Pflaum
[email protected]