October 22, 2012

Finding Teachers Where You Least Expect. ~ Christine Martin

Five Lessons from a Chiang Mai Juice Lady

Recently, my husband and I made a life shift.

In June, we left our jobs as international teachers (our careers of 15 years), and decided to pursue other passions: life coaching, interior design, yoga and writing. After four months in North America, regrouping and visiting family and friends, we began our journey on October 4th to Luang Prabang, Laos. This is where we hoped to fuse our interests and create something new.

On our way to Laos, my husband and I stayed in the northern city of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Everyday for four days we’d make a juice stop at the edge of an outdoor local produce market. There, a vivacious woman, Elina, drew us in with her smile and charm.

When you meet a dynamic person, you know it within minutes.

This petite Thai/Nepalese woman beckoned us and every other passerby with a cheerful “hello,” letting us know what were the best fresh fruit combinations on her menu. She showed affection with her hand on my arm or shoulder, and she spoke to us as if she’d known us forever. Referring to her father’s nutritionist background, she offered personalized dietary advice: “You eat lots of carrots? Hmm, it’s not good for your liver.” She engaged and was engaging. No wonder the long wooden table in her shop was full at any given moment.

It was through her alarming openness that Elina unknowingly taught me some valuable things:

1. Give.

It’s good juju. Sitting across from Elina, there were small examples of generosity: free pieces of fruit, warm smiles, even a trip to the market to buy us a mosquito net. She shared: “I’m never in need of anything because as long as I give, others give in return.”

2. Energy is youth.

Picture a fit woman with happy eyes and a booming greeting. Sporting baggy Thai pants and a loose bun on top of her head, Elina’s energy was young and contagious. Her age? 47? 53? Nope. 60. Goes to show that age is really just a number.

3. Your body tells your story.

Society regards health with an eye on thinness, a glowing  skin, agile mobility. While these are good indicators, they don’t always tell the whole story. By simply placing her hands on my shoulders, Elina made a diagnosis: “You carry too much stress; you take on others too much. You can’t do it all.” After months at home with my family, I know that this is true. Although I feel I’m relatively healthy, I realize that I lack in meditative practices to help me relax. Mental and emotional health is manifested in the body, visible or not.

4. Bartering is the environment’s currency.

One would think that making a sale is important, particularly in a third-world country. In need of a yoga mat, I asked Elina where I could purchase one. She had one for me to trade…for rabbit food. While I don’t make it a habit of carrying this with me when I travel, she asked me to pay for her pet’s nourishment in exchange for the mat. Trading goods and services in this way does two things: it minimizes unnecessary consumption and offers a personal exchange with others.

5. Impermanence is inevitable.

After taking her photo, I complimented Elina on her beauty. She exclaimed: “No! I don’t need to be pretty. I want to be good energy, energy that goes back into the earth after I die. Because that is beautiful. We cannot stay the same forever. When we go, we are food for the plants. I think that is beautiful.”

In our society, we tend to hang on to things that change: our relationships, our past, our youth. Having a sense of acceptance that life is impermanent inspires a tranquility that we can carry with us on a daily basis.

It’s amazing how often life gives us teachers if we only engage from a place of curiosity. Sitting on a juice stand stool in Thailand is an example of just that.


Christine Martin has been an international educator for over ten years. She’s made her home in Colombia, Tunisia & Korea. Her passion is interior design/interior architecture and has recently completed certification in these areas. She enjoys travel, photography, food, yoga. She and her husband have made a huge life shift in October, leaving their careers and moving to Laos where they hope to never wear mittens and coats again. You can find her on twitter, her personal blog, or interior design site.



Editor: Edith Lazenby

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