Sunday, June 28, 2009

290609

Gone, soon to be!

Sucking Her dry,
Killing the whales,
Consuming ourselves,
How smart are
We?

Unevolved,
Gun-toting monsters,
Blind to Thee;
We!

Running about
Chasing the almighty dollar,
Forgetting Mother Earth;
We!

Nothing matters but consumption,
Distraction, a
Contraption;
We!

Gone, soon to be!


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Friday, June 26, 2009

260609

'Here at all?'

I want to live!
I want to die!
I want to ride far,
And not at all!
I want to climb high,
Then sink very low!

I want to love!
I want to hate!
I want to be great;
To be nothing at all!
I want to see!
I want to hear!
To be healthy,
To be ill,
To write a Will,
To leave nothing at all,
Just disappear!

Then when I'm dead and gone,
Will I have been
Here at all?


'Great about humanity?'

Humanity
Bereft of!

Hating each other,
Killing each other,
Lying to each other,
Stealing from each other,
Torturing each other,
Stingy with each other,
Arguing with each other,
Unconscious of each other,
Causing endless suffering!

Tell me, what is so
Great about humanity?

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

250609

Here is 'Singularity' as described by Shakespeare:

"Property was thus appall'd,
That the self was not the same;
Single nature's double name
Neither two nor one was call'd.

Reason in itself confounded
Saw division grow together..."

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

220609

Saturn Twice!  (continues)

Tian Chi ('Heavenly Lake') National Park, Xinjiang, A.R., China

The next morning, somewhat rested I was happy I could still walk!  The effects of cycling up to Tian Chi in one day (110KM) lingered in my old bones!  In retrospect, however, I wasn't in the physical condition I should have been to tackle such an effort.  Now, in 2009, it would be less of a challenge (and I'm three-years older)!

What amazed me, as always in China, the number of people swarming around like bees!  Buses came and went bringing a never-ending stream of Chinese tourists.  This pristine mountain lake developed like a 'Disneyland,' with tour boats, restaurants (one floating), Kazaks hawking horse rides, and handicraft shops ('Sell, sell, sell, everything you stand for!').  So over developed, this National Park, our Kazak camp had the latest compost toilet (only one I've seen in China).  People were everywhere, walking, coughing, riding horses, taking pictures, eating, sightseeing, yelling, screaming, spitting!  I hadn't known what to expect, but it wasn't this Disneyland atmosphere.

The first morning, we walked to the foot of the lake, where all the development has taken place, where the cable car lands from below.  We decided to continue walking to a Taoist Temple perched on the side of a hill across an inlet.  Of course, boats ferried people back and forth, but I'm always for walking, exerting, (even though tired from the previous day)!  'Use it or lose it!'

The path to the Taoist Temple had been 'carved' out of a hillside and sheer rock wall.  But, the Chinese are amazing at any type of construction, particularly concrete  -- they can make anything.  They have 'armies' of people who work for little and like ants.  At some point the path was just a wooden 'shelf' bolted to the rock wall, some 10 meters above the azure blue water.  This 'development,' however, made for an easy hike to the Temple.  Always with what is perceived as 'bad,' there's a little 'good,' and vice versa.

The Temple overlooking the Lake was majestic.  I would have liked to move in, but of course impossible.  It wasn't like the Asura Buddhist Monastery in Pharping where guests can rent rooms.  Out front they had a huge bell, the ringer a log you swung to strike the bell.  Li Jian obliged, and a low reverberating sound carried across the water. Of course the monks were selling all kinds of things.  As I mentioned earlier, everything costs in China, even the toilet!  And for sure for tourist 'attractions' like monasteries.  Any kind of attraction you're going to pay a 'hefty' fee!

We made the mistake of paying for a boat ride, as it was too much for too little.  I don't think it lasted 20 minutes, basically out and back, for 100RMB / $12U.S. each.  'Slam bam, thank you ma'am!'  You get 'fucked' all the time in China (by the Government)!

I wonder sometimes what Chairman Mao would say to all of this, as vehemently opposed to capitalism?  Of course, they have a response reconciling the two worlds, but 'bullshit!'  Mao's motto was, 'Serve the People!'  Now it's, 'Serve the Government!'

We took to hiking around the Lake, getting away from the crowds.  Every time we went further and further, until one time we got all the way to 'base camp' at Bogeda ('Heavenly Mountain'), its snow-covered peak 5,545M / 17, 865 ft. high.  It was our best day in the Park, we saw more sheep than people!  We also had to ford several streams going and returning.  I remember we walked a log over one.  Returning we found ourselves trapped on the wrong side.  We surveyed, going both up and down stream until we found a span we thought we could jump.  But, I had to throw my backpack over to Li jian, as I was afraid with it on my back.  Then safely on the trail side, we spread my 'space blanket' down on some grass and had our picnic lunch.  With the River flowing right in front of us we fell into a reverie (Li Jian falling asleep.).  It had been a perfect hike!

Back in 'civilization' we walked down to the village for dinner.  One of my favor foods in China is 'polou,' or a Uyghur rice pilaf cooked with lamb (the lamb I take out.).  Of course, in this part of the world (Xinjiang, or 'Uyghur land') they have plenty of it.  Of course, Li Jian, like all Han Chinese, prefers noodles.

One day we rode our bicycles up a steep road behind our camp.  Not far up I discovered a most amazing modern building, looking like it had been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  It turned out to be a hotel (with no guests) -- such contrasts in China.  Further up the pavement ran out and we were on dirt.  But, over the top we discovered an idyllic scene.  In a pastural setting, a small grass basin, sheep grazed.  Sheep are 'eating machines growing wool.'  The serenity of it all made me sit down and contemplate living there (or atleast someplace just like it).  The scene mesmerized me.   A couple hundred meters away was another Kazak yurt camp.  I made a note to stay there if I ever returned to the Park.  One reason to return... To see if I could crank all the way to the top in one day!

I, via the 'Lonely Planet' Guide, had read about a place on the Lake where you could camp.  We'd passed it a couple of times, but had never stopped.  One day we did, and glad for it. It was set up to cater to foreign backpackers, and besides a little English, there were picnic tables.  Li Jian even had the woman cook 'polou' for me, but it took forever, the rice.  I remember meeting some other foreigners there, and it's always nice to have a sophisticated conversation.  If there's anything I miss living in China it's sophistication.  But, who would understand?

Coming to our close of our stay at Tian Chi National Park, I felt mixed emotions.  I would have been happy to live up there where the sheep grazed, but I knew I had to move on.  'The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.'

Unexpectedly, we had a our Kazak 'yurtkeeper' try to pull a 'fast one' on us.  When we booked from Urumqi, the rate was 100RMB per. Now, about to 'check out,' he demanded 200RMB per.  I said 'no way!'  Li Jian was perplexed.  They argued.  Neither budged.  'Kazak, no good man!' Li Jian yelled, as he entered the yurt.  Visibly upset, he didn't seem to know what to do.  I recommended he go to the Park police.  He indicated that they would be no help.  I shrugged, not having any other idea except, 'slipping out the back Jack!'  We slept on it.

The next day they argued again.  Now, Li Jian was really pissed off.  Then he disappeared.  When he returned he was with a policeman.  The policeman essentially told our Kazak 'yurtkeeper' to charge us only 100RMB per as agreed.  Chastized, his demeanor changed after that.  To compensate, however, I gave him an extra 100RMB for the hot water, etc. his wife had brought.  This made him smile and all seemed to be forgiven.  So, we departed having 'dodged a bullet,' and without a ruckus.  It's always good to compromise, as the best is in the middle!  'The Middle Way,' Lord Buddha called it.

It was all 'downhill' after that, and whereas the trip up took 13 hours, this trip back, going essentially downhill, took only 9 hours.  Out of the Tian Shan you're in a desert called, 'Gurbantunggut Shamo.' I remember a 'herd' of camels crossing the highway.  Ironically, I learned more about camels living in Xinjiang, China than at any other time in my life.

But, then there was the time in Libya when I shipped a young camel to New York City...

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

200609

Saturn Twice!  (Continues)

My China...

'My China' begins west of Lanzhou (Gansu Province), Chengdu (Sichuan Province), and Kunming (Yunnan Province)  This is basically western China.  You can have the rest of it (eastern China) as, congested, polluted, disease-prone, low, green and wet (mosquitos), and little sun (note Han Chinese people don't really like direct contact with the sun, whereas I crave it).  Of course, when I first arrived in China, I didn't know. 

I came to China for several reasons, hoping to combine them into some kind of synthesis that would make sense.  First, I thought it might be a good place to launch www.makemagictogether.com (my idea of a 'virtual' artist's community).  Secondly, my bicycle 'Pilgrimage to Mt. Kailas,' and lastly to partake of the culture which gave birth to Taoism (as I had become a Taoist monk in Nepal).  The first two required action, but I wasn't sure how they would fit?

The Beijing Olympics, coming up in 2008, gave me a potential opportunity (to promote a new business).  I had a relationship with the American broadcaster NBC, via Dick Ebersol (the Chairman) an old colleague.  I got an idea to supply bilingual production assistants for the Olympic Games in Beijing.  I had even devised a television series, in which candidates (for the P.A. jobs) competed in a 'College Bowl' type format (questions about the Olympic Games).  We went to Beijing to meet Dick's minions, the people that arrive early to do all the ground work.  But, later when NBC wouldn't sign a contract I bowed out.  So much for old friends, we forget.

At that point I decided to head for Mt. Kailas (in Tibet).  So, one day I got on a train and departed Shanghai.  It was a long ride to Chengdu, where I planned to get on Ms. Fiets, and ride up into Tibet and Mt. Kailas.  I met a charming Chinese couple who could speak some English, thus making the 24-hour trip more interesting. 

Arriving in Chengdu (low, wet and green) I noticed it had started to rain!  But, what we faced exiting the Train Station that evening was more like a torrential downpour (you were drenched within minutes).  I had booked a room in Sim's Guesthouse, which seemed to cater to backpackers and cyclists like me.  They only problem, finding it.  My friends tried to help me get a taxi, but none of them knew where Sim's was located.  Finally, my new friends had to go.  So, there I was laden with baggage, dripping wet, and with no ride to Sim's.  What to do?  When the going gets tough, the tough get creative!

Spying a police station I carried my luggage out of the rain, and went inside.   I was greeted by four uniformed policemen behind a counter.  Luckily one of them spoke some English.  I'm sure they must of thought I was pretty stupid, as I didn't even have Sim's telephone # handy.  I think I assumed a taxi driver would know where to go no problem.  I got an idea, however, as I knew Sim's had a website.  Of course, they had no Internet connection in this little sub station.  But, the policeman who could speak English gestured to follow him.  I wasn't sure what was happening, but they put my luggage inside, and I followed them into an one of their police cars.  We drove to a Net Bar.  I was slightly amazed by all this, as it would never happen in the U.S.

Inside everything came to a screeching halt when we appeared, two Chinese policemen and one foreigner ('loawei').  I suppose everyone thought it was a raid!  I was quickly given a computer, and within minutes I had Sim's telephone number which I gave to the English-speaking policeman.  He called Sim's and handed me the telephone.  Seems after all of this, it would be difficult to pick me up.  I should have changed my plans at that point, but after some pleading (actually I bribed them with money), they said they'd come.
So, back to the Train Station we went.

I had to wait, I don't know how long, but finally someone from Sim's showed up.

Sim's turned out to be a pretty 'cool' facility but in a poor location (next to a vacant lot which had become a swamp).  My room was on the second floor, in an old wooden structure (very unusal for China).  The bathroom was outside, but not far.  The showers were too far, and not all that inviting.  But, Sim's had a bar, restaurant, laundry room, computers/Internet, and just about everything you could want. They locked Ms. Fiets, still in her box, in their luggage room, and I took to walking around the neighborhood.

Nearby a large Buddhist Temple called, Wenshu.  I must have walked the crooked streets around it a dozen times during my stay, but never went inside (visited many before).  What I was looking for was a computer shop, and an ATM/bank.  I finally found both.

I forget what my computer problem was (I had a Toshiba laptop), but I think it had to do with uploading pictures from a CD (still using film back then), and the fact the English software couldn't understand Chinese.  And the Chinese people working in this shop never really understood (because I really couldn't explain in Chinese).  I finally brought the computer to demonstrate, and we figured it out together.

One day, just outside this shop, I ran into a European couple travelling on a tandem bicycle (very unusual).  They invited me to a party at their Guesthouse ('Cozy' something...?) where they were staying.

So that night I walked over to 'Cozy's Guesthouse' to discover cramped quarters but a friendly Chinese host! The place was crowded with backpacks, bicycles, books, luggage, furniture, drying laundry!  I soon discovered, via the European cycling couple, a robust group of travelers who had cooked a western feast, including beer.  They invited me to join them.

One of the women was named Cheryl, I'm not sure from where.  She was married to a German man named, Kai.  I don't think I've ever been impressed so quickly with two people in my life.  Before departing that night I'd offered Cheryl a job!   Cheryl's the kind of woman, that no problem fazes!  She had orchestrated this dinner with such aplomb it was poetry in motion.  Disparate people came and went, but it was like we were 'family' having gathered for a reunion.  I departed with some sadness knowing I'd never see any of them again (and haven't).  Departing, the Chinese owner ('Mr. Cozy') chastized me for staying at Sim's.  I told him the next time I'd stay there at his place.

A postscript to the dinner at Cozy's:  Cheryl and Kai, now living in the Phillipines, still communicate with me via email.  I have gotten the feeling they are Christian missionaries, but I've never confirmed.

After a couple of nights at Sim's I was informed I'd have to move.  I had only told them two or three nights, and someone else had booked the room.  What to do?  The one single room I'd spied was occupied, so I had to move into a common room sharing with another guest.  This turned out to be unpleasant as small and the Chinese man snored (of course)!  Luckily he departed after the first night and I was left alone.

I visited the Qingyang Gong Taoist Temple, on the northwest side of Chengdu.  I don't know how I got there or if I went with anyone, but I remembering having to pay an entrance fee.  Nothing is free in China, nothing!  'The Temple' is a large complex of buildings, and took time to wander around, all yin/yang and trigrams.  But, a better description:

"The Qingyang Gong Temple is one of the most famous Taoist temples in China. It was originally built in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), a period when Taoism was flourishing. Most of the parts of the temple that remain in existence are restorations from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), including Sanqing Hall, Doulao Hall, Hunyuan Palace, the Eight Trigrams Pavilion, and Wuji Palace.  Beside the altar of Sanqing Hall stand two eye-catching bronze goats, which were said to be taken from Beijing during the Qing Dynasty. One of the goats is actually a strange creature with a mouse's ears, an ox's nose, a tiger's claw, a rabbit's mouth, a dragon's horns, a snake's tail, a horse's face, a goat's beard, a monkey's neck, a chicken's eyes, a dog's belly and a pig's thighs.  Every part symbolizes one animal in the Chinese Zodiac. It was said that these goats were the spirits, and can cure any ill body just by touching them."

And so, of course, I patted them, these two bronze goats which are said to symbolize Lao Zi (father of Taoism)!

This didn't help me a couple days later, however!  I was walking in Chenghu, enthralled with large mural ADs on the side of a building.  I was transfixed with these ADs when my shin crashed into an unforgiving piece of rebar someone had built across the sidewalk.  I fell over it, breaking my fall with my hands, but the pain, memorable!  Bleeding, I walked on trying to ignore it, but cursing whomever did such. 

One thing about China that's different from the West... It's a version of 'caveat emptor,' or 'Let the buyer beware!'   There is no public concern for your safety!  If you get hurt it's your own fault, and you have no recourse (as in suing for damages).  There are few warning signs of any danger (ahead).  If you slip and fall, tough shit!  If you get killed, you were unlucky!  There is little sympathy for anyone beyond immediate family and friends.  It's a tougher/colder culture than the U.S. Although the average Chinese person has been friendly, warm, helpful and generous to me.  Maybe because I'm an older 'foreigner' ('laowei') riding a bicycle.

But, there really is no discernible public courtesy in China.  'Out there,' you're just another 'piece of meat,' in somebody's way, or a potential 'mark' to rip off.  They will push their way in front of you in line, as there's such competition for space/time!  Ironically, just the reverse is true in private (when you're introduced). There's much 'kowtowing' (Confucian in origin) to those they think are important and can help them. In the West isn't it just the opposite, where we try to be courteous to strangers, but not always so much so with our own friends and family?

My plan had been to cycle from Chengdu up into Tibet, but for some reason it didn't seem feasible at the time.  What beckoned was Xinjiang, A.R., and a Lake, Tian Chi (near Urumqi).  Additionally, I'd always wanted to partake of Kashgar on 'The Silk Road.'   I figured I'd cycle up to Mt. Kailas from the west, from Kashgar.  So, I decided to take the train to Urumqi, an even longer train ride (36-hours).   I wisely booked a 'hard berth' this time, no 'hard seat' torture for me ever again!

I don't know how, but I met a Chinese man on the train who turned out to be an English Teacher.  Of course, Chinese English teachers are always interested in talking to native English speakers.  He turned out to be a good guy, who I'm still friends with to this very day!  He was on his way to Urumqi to visit a relative.  He gave me my Chinese name, 'Haqi' which meant at the time, 'Happily riding my bicycle everywhere!'  He bought me dinner in the dining car.  He translated for me, when a Chinese person inquired.  We became friends.

As the train glided through Gansu Province, the terrain changing from green to brown, and I remember getting happier and happier.  To the south, the Qi Lian Shan (mountain range) with its snow-capped peaks.  Then before and after Hami (in Xinjiang, A.R.), a stunning desert terrain.  In Hami I got off to partake of the dry, warm weather.  I suddenly felt 'at home,' having grown up in Tucson, Arizona.

Hours west of Hami the train began its climb up and over a 'finger' of the Tian Shan (mountain range).  Then after a few tunnels, we were down on the northern steppes, passing a large lake to the south, and entering the outskirts of Urumqi, the Provential Capitol of Xinjiang A.R.

In Urumqi, James (his English name) helped to me find a hotel.  It wasn't much but I didn't have a choice.  Inexpensive at 50RMB / $7U.S. per night, the common bath was down at the end of the hallway.  The worst part of it was the noise, the guests, working-class Chinese, partying, drinking, smoking, yelling and screaming at all hours!  But, there's always something a little good, in a something 'bad,' and vice versa.  I met a life long friend in this hotel, Li Jian, a young Chinese man.

One day we passed each, as he had an 'office' on the same floor (the 3rd).  He said 'hello' in English and I responded ending up in his room.  He, liking beer, offered some, and we tried to communicate as he knew little English.  He was there for his company, actually living/working in Hubei Province (the one that surrounds Beijing).  His company manufactured batteries for motor bikes.  I assumed he was there selling or opening a store.

One day I got him on a regular bicycle and we cycled around Urumqi.  Then when it came time for me to cycle up to Tian Chi, the Lake that had beckoned me, he wanted to join me.  I wasn't sure he could, after looking at the bicycle he'd borrowed from a friend (pretty sad).  But, one day we set out on what was to be a memorable trip.

I had looked on a map several days prior and figured it was a two-day trip (as it's nothing but up the last half (40KM).  We departed early in the morning, threading our way out of the metropolis.  I forget the name of the town north of Urumqi, but it's about 30KM distance.  Here was the first problem with his bicycle.  Luckily, we quickly found a repair guy, and not far off the highway.  The next problem was a pedal coming off his cheap Chinese bicycle.  We were dealing with it when a group from the Xinjiang Elder Cyclists Group passed.  Some of them stopped to help and inquire as curious about us (older 'laowei' and younger Chinese guy).  They too were headed to Tian Chi.  I thought this was a bit of luck, that we might joing them.

Later we finally caught up with them and we had lunch together in town, about halfway, and where you turn south to go up into Tian Chi National Park.

After lunch, I remember we passed some of them resting in the shade, I thought the others were ahead of us.  But, we never saw any of them again.

At this point we started going up, the grade increasing.  And as luck would have it Li Jian's bicycle pedal finally came off for good.  We walked for awhile pushing our bicycles, me now realizing I'd been somehow 'suckered' into going all the way in one day.  The Elder Group had made me think it was possible.  But, now they had disappeared.

I told Li Jian, he should take a bus, that we'd meet up at the Park entrance.  And it wasn't much further that one stopped only 100 meters in front of us.  He ran and caught a ride, throwing his bicycle on top of the bus (standard procedure in China).  Now alone my ride got more interesting the higher I cranked, but at the same time more difficult.  It was slow going.

After an hour or so I finally saw a huge Government building, which I knew meant I'd finally reached the Park entrance.  Wrong!  But, at least I found Li Jian waiting in a large parking lot (where there were many buses).  Seems this was where the long-distance buses parked, and you had the option of walking the road, hiking the hill, catching a smaller bus, or taking a cable-car up to the Lake.  I think there were taxis too.  Of course, I wasn't going to give up, as our goal was only 6KM more (something like 110KM total).

But, Lord, the last 6KM turned out to be a 'killer!'  The grade so steep we could only push.  By now, Li Jian was so tired he couldn't even speak.  When we finally partook of the Lake (a stuning vista actually) we were both exhausted.  There was still more, however, the day seemingly endless!  Li Jian found our Kazak Yurt camp (we'd booked in advance), but it was up yet another hill.  At least the road was paved!

By the time, we got into our yurt ('Kazak house,' the Chinese call them) I could barely function!  I stumbled around trying to make my special tea, I knew would help me recover.  Soon after that both of us made our beds, and I crawled into my sleeping bag.  Li Jian slept in the bedding they provide.

We looked at each other smiling, happily resting;  doused lights and fell asleep!

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210609

Heaven! (210609, Summer Solstice)

Longest day,
Darkest moon
In June,
What a tune
Nature's song!

Nothing can go wrong
Or right,
Like night
And day
Just changing,
Rearranging
Heaven!

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Friday, June 19, 2009

170609

Saturn Twice! (continues)

China... The 'Government's Republic of China' ('GRC')...

I had a student in the U.S., an acting student.  Her English name was 'Stephanie,' but she was born and grew up in Shanghai, China.  Beyond the acting class we became friends.  She told me if I ever visited China to contact here she would help me with whatever needed.  So, before departing for Shanghai I contacted her, of course, and told her I was on the way.

I'd been in China before, Hong Kong, way back when (but not really considered China), and Lhasa, Tibet (which is considered China) in 1999.  So, China wasn't totally new or 'foreign' to me (having studied Taoism).  But, part of the reason for going to China was that I craved a 'very foreign' experience.  I'd lived in Mexico and Europe, but basically they're western cultures.  I'd lived in Nepal, and it was decidedly different.  But, since 'English' had colonized India, it overlapped into Nepal.  All the shop and street signs in Kathmandu, are in English, and most Nepalese speak English.  So, even though I would label Nepal 'exotic,' because of Hinduism, it's still more western than China (its neighbor to the north).

China, isolated for so long and xenophobic to boot, is a completely different culture from the U.S. -- completely!  On the opposite side of the world from the U.S., you guessed it... Many things are 'opposite' in terms of thinking, living, habits, and customs!  Elements of life that have developed, with some continuity, for hundreds, possibly thousands of years.  They've used their own numbering system until very recently. And the language... Well, good luck learning how to speak or write Chinese!

We landed at Pudong International Airport (from Bangkok), to discover its as big and modern as any airport in the western world!  We walked for 'kilometers' (it seemed) before getting to our luggage (Ms. Fiets in a box).  Luckily, Subodh's neice was there with a friend to assist.  They commandeered a vehicle and drove us into Shanghai (maybe 50 KM).  I'll never forget seeing oleander bushes in bloom along the highway, and thinking... this is California.

They found us a hotel adjacent their school, the 'Second Medical University of Shanghai,' in Puxi (west of the Huangpu River).  Subodh and I ended up sharing a room together, his wife staying with 'the girls' in the dormitory.  It was reasonably priced (something like 200RMB per night / $30 U.S.).  Note, there are 5-star hotels in Shanghai where you can pay western rates ($2-300U.S. per)!

This was my introduction to Shanghai, this neighborhood  -- between Fuxing and Hefei Roads.  Shanghai Second Medical University straddled a busy boulevard on the west and Tibet Road was on the east.  This neighborhood, by the way, just south and in walking distance of People's Park, or 'ground zero' in Shanghai.

It was teaming with people, people, and more people, honking vehicles, hawking vendors, bicycles, motor bikes, laundry handing everywhere to dry (takes a long time in Shanghai) and the mass madness (pushing and shoving) that is unique to China.  Old men sat on folding stools, their pant's legs pulled up fanning themselves, groups of men playing Mahjong's or cards (gambling).  There was the sounds of endless chatter, laughing, yelling, screaming, bells ringing, honking, music, a cacophony of sounds unique to China!  I wonder now how I have survived?

I remember walking and searching for a net bar (to check email).  I had trouble finding one, because I didn't know how to ask.  But, finally, by chance, I stumbled into one. 

Net bars, 'dens of iniquity' in China, are interesting... They're usually dark, only computer screens illuminating the void.  But then there's lots of noise, young boys yelling and screaming as they 'kill' whatever 'villian' in whatever video game they're playing.  The cigarette smoke and ashes rising and falling, intolerable to me.  But, they cost hardly anything, as I remember maybe 2 to 4RMB / .50 cents per hour (but always a deposit required).  Many times, however, the keyboard, having been pounded upon, didn't work, or the mouse, the old roller ball, hardly getting you to where you wanted to 'click.'  Most of the people in these Net Bars were either playing games or watching a movie.  The Internet in China is not for communication or business, but for entertainment.  Me, I was there to check and respond to my email messages.

After the graduation of Subodh's neice (Nisha, by the way), we took the train to Beijing.  I'd never been there before and was happy to tag along with Subodh and company.  I remember the train ride was over night before arriving at the Central Station in Beijing.  Nisha, being able to speak Chinese (a requisite for Chinese Medical School) found us a hotel, out of the way, but good.

We did all the usual things tourists do in Beijing.  Tiananmen Square, where a Chinese man had his daughter demonstrate her English to me (he beamed when I complimented her).  I remember the big electric count-down clock to the Olympic Games (something like 1,100 days to go) on a building opposite the Square.  There was the iconic 'Heavenly Gate,' on the north side of the Square, where a huge portrait of 'Chairman Mao' looks down upon the masses.  We didn't tour the Forbidden Ciy, however, and I forget why... Maybe it was 'forbidden' at the time? Mao's Mausoleum is at the other end of Tiananmen Square.  But, I refused to go with the group as I would have had to check my backpack and then wait in a long line (sorry, Mao).  Waiting outside on a sidewalk I had a better time observing everyday Beijing life. 

One day we rented a vehicle and drove west (60KM) to the Great Wall National Park.  I enjoyed this, as out in the country and got to walk a portion of the Great Wall (pictures at www.cyclingpeace.org/gallery/).  

We also visited World Park (west side of Beijing), where other country's icons, like the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower, are in miniature.  But, I only remember the humid heat.  Actually, I was happy to depart Beijing.  I remember waiting in sweltering hear for our train at an outdoor 'restaurant' on the great plaza in front of the Station.  Then the mad dash to beat the hordes to our coach, and our compartment!

Riding a passenger train in China is an experience!  Be prepared for: pushing, shoving, loud music, spitting, snoring, coughing, food 'hawkers' up and down the aisle, clearing of congested throats, smoking in the vestibules and unclean washroom/toilets.  And this, if you buy a higher class ticket.

I once tried a 'hard seat' (third class) out of Chengdu on my way to Urumqi, a 24-hour trip.  First comes the stampede to the coach, as passengers compete for baggage space (the rack above).  Me, not being particularly aggressive, waited, but then some kind Chinese person helped me store my luggage up on the rack.  I was the only 'laowei' (foreigner) in the coach. 

My window seat was directly across from a mother with two young children.  Of course, the children were fascinated with me.  I was cordial in the beginning, but when they began climbing on me, I set them gently onto the floor.  The mother ate sunflower seeds, spitting out the shells onto my feet ignored her children and falling asleep.  The father (or male partner) sitting in another seat was little help either.  The seat backs are straight up, so it's difficult to find a comfortable position (thus the name, 'hard seat').  It was torture for me.  When the children become too obnoxious, I motioned to the 'husband,' to get them, and understanding my expression he took them to his seat (smiling).  But, by now I'd pretty much had it dealing with all the discomfort, and we still had another 18 hours to go!

I got up and walked to the center of the train where they have a train official (all of them are in uniform) selling 'upgrades.'  You can change your seat to a berth if they have any available.  And the good part is they compute the kilometers, and you pay only for the distance remaining to your destination.  A Chinese man who could speak some English helped me ask for a 'hard berth.'  They checked and said none were available only a 'soft berth' (more expensive).  I declined and returned to my hard seat.  But, amazingly, it wasn't much later that a train official appeared gesturing to me to follow him, and to bring my luggage.  Seems they'd discovered a vacant hard berth.  You can imagine that all eyes were on me as I left the 'hard seat' coach (never to return).

When we returned to Shanghai from Beijing (had a hard berth), my Nepali friends were 'short timers,' as having to return to Kathmandu.  In fact, they were taking Nisha back with them.  But by then, Nisha had introduced me to a Nepali boy, named Bhuwan.  He had another year to go before graduating, so he'd be around to help me (could speak Chinese as well).  He turned out to be a very good guy and helpful.  I took him to the only Nepalese restaurant in Shanghai, 'Nepali Kitchen.'

Since I needed a place to live 'Stephanie's father offered me a room in his office.  His office was on Dong Tai Lu (Road), in a high rise building.  Ironically, this was within walking distance from where our hotel and the school was located.  Stephanie's mother was so thoughtful of me too, as she converted her office into 'my room,' and this down to new slippers under my cot.  And from my 23rd floor window I had a panoramic view of southeastern Shanghai (pictures available at www.cyclingpeace.org/gallery/).  I'll never forget experiencing 'Spring Festival Eve,' in this room, the fireworks exploding everywhere outside my window.  I never got to sleep that night because of the noise was so loud (like a 'merry little war').  It went on all night long!

The first order of business to stay longer in China, was renewing my visa.  After discussing this with 'Stephanie,' her father recommended an 'F' (business) category visa, rather than 'Tourist.'  This good for six months, and you can renew once before having to depart the country.  So, they supplied the necessary documents from their company Gongming, and one day we drove to the PSB (Public Security Bureau) office (for our district). 

'Stephanie' did the talking of course.  But, after a time I could sense it was going badly.  'Stephanie' explained I was going to have to pay a fine, as I hadn't registered within the prescribed time.  Note, all foreigners have to register with the PSB if not living in an approved hotel (which does it for you).  And foreigners are supposed stay in approved hotels!  But, then for some reason 'Stephanie' switched from speaking Mandarin to the local Shanghai dialect.  Who knows why, but it saved me from having to pay the fine.  Turns out it's not only who you know, but what language you speak.  I got registered, which is the first step in the process of applying for a visa.  You have to remember the 'GRC' is a 'police state.'

Next step, we had to drive out to the huge, but new 'Immigration,' office/building with a name to remember (always so long):  'Shanghai District of Enter and Exit Visa Official Station, Pudong District, The People's Republic of China' or something to the effect.  But, wow, this was so organized and efficient (with all the signs in English as well as Chinese).  They even had a Cafe on the ground floor.

Escalators take you up to the Visa Department through an atrium on the Third Floor.  Here you take a number (from of a machine) and wait your turn.  Because Shanghai has a population of 22 million (plus many foreigners) you can imagine the size of the waiting room.  I think, after filling out the documents, we had to wait an hour.  When my turn came, 'Stephanie' went with me as these uniformed clerks speak little, if any, English.  We were informed to return in so many days to pay for visa (if everything in order).  Of course, you leave your passport with them.

Returning on the day as directed, we went to the ground floor (adjacent the Cafe) to collect and pay.  I don't know how much money China (other countries) makes from 'the visa business,' but considerable (millions, billions).  I forget what mine cost for six months, but hundreds of RMB (note at the time the exchange rate was 8RMB to 1 U.S.$).

For the next few weeks I investigated Shanghai on foot.  I didn't want to take Ms. Fiets out of her box, as I knew I'd be heading west soon.  I walked all over Puxi (western district), as far as Suzhou Creek to the north, The historic Bund on the Huang Pu River, and west into the 'hippest' part of Shanghai (Note, You can generally tell by the number of Starbucks available).  I discovered a western-styled 'health food' restaurant on Fuxing Road (operated by an American) called 'Zentral.'  I took to eating there, of course.  I discovered the Foreign Languages Bookstore of Fuzhou Road, the fourth floor all English books.  Generally speaking, Shanghai, is the most 'hip' of all Chinese cities because so many 'laowei' (foreigners).  Of course, Hong Kong, even more so but with western prices!

One day, 'Stephanie's' father, took me on a tour of greater Shanghai.  This in his latest Nissan automobile (had a backup camera and navigation software) -- such luxury.  Driving for hours I discovered how immense Shanghai is.  We drove way out east in Pudong toward the International Airport and the 'city' never seemed to end.  Shanghai reminds me of Los Angeles for many reasons.

One day we drove out to Hangzhou (100KM west of Shanghai) to attend 'Stephanie's Christian Church's baptism event in a country club pool no less.  I'll never forget how humid hot it was, as we stayed outside during this 'event.'  This 'country club,' was a western-styled development not unlike anything you'd see in Texas.  But, here in China these large single-family dwellings are called 'villas.'   And only the very, very rich can afford in China.

Since 'Stephanie' was working for a company in Hangzhou, she invited me out to visit.  The company, Apollo, actually had their headquarters in a town called, Deqing, north of Hangzhou. I took the train to Hangzhou then was picked up in a company car and they drove me up to Dequing.   I remember their office was up in a high rise building, an open room with the standard computer cubicles.   I met Stephanie's colleagues, particularly two young Chinese men, one named 'Leo.'  There were living in the company's guesthouse where I was to stay.

So after work we drove out to this guest house, though hectares of growing plants (the company was basically a plant 'nursery'), hilly countryside, tea plantations, and finally up a llittle hill to their 'villa.' It was quite a western-style villa.  I had an air-conditioned bedroom to myself.   The house had a computer room where I could get on line.  It had TV in the living room.  It had a western-styled kitchen (with refrigerator).  Everything was 'cool' except the outside temperature.  Actually it was the 80% humidity that got me!

But, in the week I spent there I got to learn, not only about their plant business, but about this part of China (Zhejiang Province).  I hiked through bamboo forests in the surrounding hills.  I learned about tea, how it's grown and processed.  I got to know the two young Chinese men.  I got to know China outside of Shanghai.

One day I got to meet the big boss who had an office at one of the Universities in Hangzhou.  He was as urbane and western, and spoke English, as anyone you'd meet in the U.S.

This was my introduction to China, eastern China (Beiing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Shenzhen), which is very different than western China!

I'll never forget telling 'Stephanie,' much later of course, that I was moving to Xining.  She said, 'Where's that?'  Shanghaiese are very much like New Yorkers (ethnocentric).  China ends for them at Hangzhou.  Beyond that is the frontier, the 'outback,' and wilderness to them.  To me it's 'my China.'




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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

150609

Saturn Twice!  (continues)

Kathmandu, 2004...

When I got Ms. Fiets back together again I started cycling around Kathmandu.  I wanted to see how things had changed in my five-year absence.  I first went to Thamel (tourist district) to see the places I used to frequent.  Of course, the Kathmandu Guest House and Pilgrim's Bookstore are still there.  I sat outside of KGH at an outdoor table and had lunch (very upscale as richer foreigners eat/stay here). 

I could never afford to stay at the KGH, but I remember trying to find a stach an English man had told me about, way up in the back on the third floor, under some eave.  I never found it, but another story.  My only other connection to the KGH was a friend's wife, whose father started and owns it.  Besides it he owns other hotels and very rich!  Also, there's a bicycle shop out in the courtyard (full of travel agencies).  I used to lock my bicycle there when shopping at Pilgrim's Bookstore (safer than out on the street).

There was a restaurant just to the right (north) of Pilgrim's that was called 'Northfield... something or other?' At least in 1998.  I took Marina there to eat lunch, one of our first dates.  Later, an Australian guy (Peter?) launched a bicycle rental/touring company in the courtyard, and this is how I acquired Ms. Fiets -- from him in 1999.

There's a outdoor restaurant directly behind Northfields, that few tourists know about (Its entrance on a side street.).  It has an interesting name... something like 'Desperation!'   It became my favorite place in Thamel, as more quiet (fewer tourists).  I use to purchase marijuana sitting at one of the tables.  When I visited it this time (2004) they had added a roof-top with tables, where you got a better view of Thamel.

Thamel, though, kinda crazy with Bob Marley music ('No woman, no cry!') blasting out of the CD shops, and hustlers everywhere ('Want some smoke?)!  This time, maybe my age, it was too intense for me.

I went by and paid my respects to Sonam Gurung (?), who operates 'Dawn to Dusk' Mountain Bicycle shop.  He's still in his 'alley' shop, probably the best bicycle mechanic in Nepal.  We have an interesting history, as he once tried to rip me off in Lhasa, Tibet.  But, he paid me back and we've been friendly ever since.

The only other place (in Thamel) I checked out was a coffee shop, with a Japanese name...?  A Nepali man had married a Japanese woman and had opened this business in 1999.  It was still going, but the couple had moved to Japan where their jobs support it.  Note, in 2004, the Maoist 'civil war' was still going on in Nepal, and thus fewer tourists (in Thamel).  The young Nepali apprentice in 1999, was now running the place.

Across the street the Utse Hotel, where Marina and I would meet to have lunch (as out of the way and not popular with tourists). Having lunch with Marina was like meeting with a KGB operative.

Then just outside of Thamel, the most famous and successful restaurant of all, 'Fire and Ice,' where most tourists go for pizza.  An Italian woman, who married a Nepali man, started this place way back when.  I learned she's moved on to India to start more of these (so successful).  I remember taking Subodh and his family there on his 50th Birthday (back in 1999). 

Of course, I cranked through Lazimat (upscale residential district), next door to Thamel.  I went by where I first lived (with the Rayamadji's).  It's seemed the same.

Over time what really changes is you, your perspective.  Places change, but not as much as your perspective of them.  Visiting someplace, a city, etc. after so many years is always daunting, as you try to remember... What was I like back then?  Why did I do what I did?  What was going on and why?

The old Bluebonnet Department Store was there (on Nepal Grungz), but now looking worse for wear.  It had opened in 1999.  Above it a Chinese Restaurant where I used to take the Rayamadjis for dinner.

Cycling back to Balkamari/Paten, you go through the 'throbbing/pulsating' heart of K-town, Rana Park on your right, turning left toward the Singha Durbar (Government offices), then right fighting more crazy traffic.  Nepal, as in India, drives like in the U.K. (bear left), just the reverse of the U.S. and China.  But, you get used to 'bearing left!'  What you never get used to is the 'honking madness!'

Then after a busy intersection, over the Bagmati River Bridge, bending left and up a slight hill.  At this point, because I was staying at the HVPN School, I took the fork to the left, dodging people, carts and dogs, through the old part of Paten (many Hindu and Buddhist temples). 

I think I stayed at the school a week or so before Subodh offered me a house.  This very near his new restaurant, Rato Ghar ('Red House').  I jumped at the chance, as just what I like:  small, ground floor, with a private garden, a telephone, and unexpectantly a 'house boy.' It even had hot water bathing (sometimes).  But, the tricky part was the well/pump (to the hot water heater on the roof), as the system seldom worked.

One day I was having lunch at the Stupa View Restaurant in Boudhanath/Kathmandu (where I lived in 1999).  Next to me was a middle-aged American woman.  We struck up a conversation.  She was looking for a job for her 'didi' (maid), as she could no longer afford or wanted.  Would I talk to this Nepali woman?  Of course, I said as I just moved into Subodh's house in Paten.

Her name turned out to be Gauri.  After I heard her story I hired her on the spot.  She had two children, one out of wedlock.  Seems her first husband, which she was forced to marry at 16-years of age, beat her.  She was finally able to divorce him, because of a sympathetic judge (actually unusual in Hindu culture).   She then moved to Kathmandu, where another man took advantage of her (Oh, woe be to these men!).  He got her pregnant then refused to marry her, as she was of a lower caste (told her his parents would never accept her)!  So, she had the child, now her son in a Kathmandu boarding school.

Gauri invited me up to where she lived near Pharping (a town some 25KM south of Kathmandu City).  So, one day I cranked up there, and quite a 'haul' as mostly uphill (took almost three hours).  She showed me where she lived in one room (in a house) and I met 'Sweetie,' her six-year old daughter.

Eventually, she helped me rent a room in the Asura Buddhist Monastery (in adjacent Pharping).  She knew the caretaker, a young woman.  This monastery is 'famous' because of Padmasambhava's hand print is in a rock.  Supposedly, he lived/meditated in a cave that the monastery is built around.  This before he travelled up to Tibet.  The thing I liked about living there was you couldn't drive up to it, you had to walk, climbing many stairs.  I had to leave Ms. Fiets at a restaurant down in the village, and carry whatever up in a backpack.

For some ridiculously low rate (something like $3U.S. per day), I got a furnished room (including one meal with tea delivered to my room), and with a view no less!  The view was of Pharping, the valley below, andthe hills beyond.  I could see Pulchowki, the highest (2K M) hill to the east.  Directly south, in the distance, the Dakshin Kali (Hindu temple). 

Kali, is the Hindu Goddess of 'wrath
!'  Remember the Blog/chapter about my Russian girlfriend (Marina) being so afraid of offending her?  Even the King, before being disposed, would come to Pharping to make periodic offerings at this Kali shrine.  So read/learn about Hindu Goddess Kali (from the Internet):

"Kali is a goddess of death, but She brings not the death of the body, but death of the ego. Nowhere in the Hindu stories is She seen killing anything but demons nor is She associated specifically with the process of human dying like the Hindu god Yama (who really is the god of death). It is true that both Kali and Shiva are said to inhabit cremation grounds and devotees often go to these places to meditate. This is not to worship death but rather it is to overcome the I-am-the-body idea by reinforcing the awareness that the body is a temporary condition. Shiva and Kali are said to inhabit these places because it is our attachment to the body that gives rise to the ego. Shiva and Kali grant liberation by removing the illusion of the ego. Thus we are the eternal I AM and not the body. This is underscored by the scene of the cremation grounds.
Of all the forms of Devi, She is the most compassionate because She provides moksha or liberation to Her children. She is the counterpart of Shiva the destroyer. They are the destroyers of unreality. The ego sees Mother Kali and trembles with fear because the ego sees in Her its own eventual demise. A person who is attached to his or her ego will not be receptive to Goddess Kali and She will appear in a fearsome form. A mature soul who engages in spiritual practice sees Kali as very sweet, affectionate, and overflowing with incomprehensible love for Her children."

I walked down to this Kali shrine a couple of times.  But, where it's located, down at the bottom of a gorge (or canyon) the years of visits (pilgrimages) had made it dank, and the water (of the spring) polluted.  Once I went with Subodh and our friend P.B. Thapa.  Subodh, being Hindu, took off his shoes and made an offering.

So, my life in Nepal alternated between living in Kathmandu and Pharping, cycling back and forth.  Going to Kathmandu all downhill, and the reverse returning.  I tried to stay in Pharping most of the time, but sometimes Kathmandu beckoned (mostly for shopping).

I don't know how I met Binay Bazracharya, but lucky for me.  He was the owner of the Clarion Hotel (not far from where I lived in Paten).  We became friends.  He enjoyed our conversations, thus when I would sit in his little lobby having breakfast he would join me.  Of all the people I've ever met in Nepal, he was the most 'enlightened' (Although P.B. Thapa a close second.).  He would allow me take a (hot) shower in one of the guest rooms (no charge).  If you ever go to Kathmandu, Nepal, stay at the Clarion Hotel (in Paten) -- it's small, out of the way, but authentic and reasonably priced (but not for the average backpacker as out of the mainstream)!

Within 100M of my little white house in Paten, was Subodh's restaurant Rato Ghar.  This became my place to eat, and ultimately my 'home' in Kathmandu.  Set back from the street behind another building, an old traditional-styled house, Subodh had transformed it into a garden restaurant.  Not for tourists really, but for Nepali people.  But, I came to love this place, mostly because of the people working there and the 'dhal bhat' (rice and lentel dish).   Subodh knows how to hire good cooks as he's owned many restaurants.  Strangely, enough this is where I met Michael Dukes, an American in Kathmandu adopting a Nepali baby. We've been friends ever since, even though he lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and me in China.

When in Pharping I took to hiking every day after lunch.  This mostly up into the hills and as far as the 'pass,' where the road leads out of the valley and eventually to Hetauda.  I had thought of cycling there, but the first time I tried, the road too rough for the kind of (road) tires I had.  Here, however, at the pass, was a little village where I used to have the spiced Nepali milk tea (I love!). 

Then one day I saw an unusual house on one of my hikes, this way up on a hill and west of Pharping (nice view of Pharping).  It turned out, after inquiring, it was owned by a woman from a European country, anyway that was the story.  So, later on one of my hikes I checked it out, meeting the woman.  I think she was from Germany or Sweden, but can't remember exactly.  She had started an organization, a business making clothing (she was a fashion designer of sorts).  She had a boutique in Kathmandu, plus a website (mail order).

Later on another hike I was walking on the dirt road and saw her with her Nepali boyfriend, driving their 'jeep' back to the house.  I wonder if she's still there?

One time, while eating in the restaurant where I kept Ms. Fiets (down in the village), I met a teacher who invited me to his school.  So, one day I rode Ms. Fiets up there to be warmly welcomed!  I got a tour of this horribly primitive school (looking like a rural school in frontier America, circa 1890).  They had nothing.  I made a donation.  The children sang and danced for me!   He begged me to return.  I never did, as too poignant!  Sometimes it's just too emotional for us having a soft heart!  What to do?  Well, you give where you can and pray God might lend a hand!

Then there was the Dutch hustler I met in Pharping (God knows how?).  He was ostensably helping a Nepali family (young boy), but it was all about helping himself.  He had fashioned meeting the King or the Prime Minister with some scheme.  But, he was interesting, living on the top floor of a tower-like hotel (in Pharping).  But, he shared his dope, so, did I mind?  But, I don't know whatever happened to him...  They come and they go...

Of course, when I was there in Kathmandu, Marina came to mind (speaking of going)... I wondered about her after our ill-fated love affair.  I'd heard she married the Nepali helicopter pilot, but he beat her up (and she divorced him).  Then the latest was she'd married a Dane and lived in Copenhagen.  She was a woman of many men, including me.

So, when I visited my friend P.B. who lives in Chabahil, not far from Boudhanath, I would make a point to crank beyond and out to Boudhanath.  Then  to my favorite hangout (in '98-'99), the Double Dorje restaurant behind the Great Stupa!  Their banana lassi's are the best in the world!  I don't know what I had in mind, but curiousity once 'killed the cat.'  Marina and I had had many a meal there together.

She wasn't there, of course, so I decided I'd write her a letter and leave it with the owner of the Double Dorje.  This I did when I retuned to Boudhanath.

Another time, maybe the third time I was out there, I saw her (as I've written before) -- amazing!  And right in front of the Double Dorje (what are the odds?).  She was walking back to her flat with another woman.  I didn't really get a good look, but I knew it was her (looking older)!  Of course, I didn't try to talk to her, as it would have shocked her speechless ('big awkward moment').  But, seeing her was enough for me,  knowing she still lived in the same flat, and still into the same routine (five-years later). She, no doubt, had become the 'Diva' of ...Danath!'

At some point I moved out of Subodh's little house, and into a room above the restaurant (Rato Ghar).  It didn't make any sense to keep paying for the house, as I was spending most of my time in Pharping.  But, if I had to stay overnight in Kathmandu, I had a room all to myself.  The bathroom was nearby, but outside through a door so low I was always bumping my head (and I'm not that tall).

I discovered, by chance, a restaurant/bakery directly behind Rato Ghar called Fuji.  it was owned and operated by a Nepali couple who'd studied baking in Japan.  I went there every morning when I was in Kathmandu, as had 'fallen in love,' with their 4-year old daughter, Brumika.  She would come and sit at my table with, 'Good Morning, Grandfather!'   I took many pictures of her (available to view at www.cyclingpeace.org/gallery/ (but you'll have to search for the 'album').  Additionally, their bakery goods are the best in all of Nepal!

So, life in Nepal, the second time around was good!  'No woman, no cry!'

I met many people Subodh brought to the restaurant, many of which were influential Government officials.  Many times, Subodh, P.B. and I sat around an open (wood) fire, talked about the Maoists and the violence going on outside the Kathmandu Valley.   They warned me about cycling 'out there!'

But then one day Ujwal and I, cycled out and over the pass on the highway going west to Pokara (second largest city in Nepal).  We got as far as Naubise, where we had lunch.  It wasn't that far, but no easy deal, as returning to Kathmandu you have to climb back up a group of steep hills and over a pass. 

Another time a group of cyclists, me and Ujwal included,  cranked up to Kakani, this organized by a bicycle shop in Paten (name ?).  Kakani is a hilltop village some 35KM northwest of Kathmandu.  I'd been there before in 1999 but in a taxi with Marina and Raisa.  It has a spectacular view of the Lantang Himalaya.  This bicycle trip, however,  was quite arduous as I remember.  But, I made it, not being the first to the top, but not the last either.  I remember the group applauded when they saw me coming up the hill.  We had lunch together, took a group picture, then glided back down into the madness of 'Dogmandu!'

Nepal is divided into three distinct 'geo-flora' sections (north to south): Northern Himalayan range, Middle Mahabharat range of hills (where Kathmandu is located), and Southern Terai (plains) belt (where they grow rice and mosquitos). 

Lumbini, where Lord Buddha (Shakumani Gautama) was born, is southwest of Kathmandu and located in the Terai belt near the India border.  In 1999, I took a bus down there to cover an International Buddhist Conference for CNN.  That cured me forever of riding on buses in Asia!

Sometime around March of 05, Subodh invited me to join him and his wife on a trip to Shanghai, China.  They were going to attend their neice's graduation from medical school.  I thought about it then accepted, as China beckoned!

In May or June, I forget which, the three of us boarded a Thai Airlines jet and flew to Bangkok, Thailand.  I remember seeing Mt. Everest out the aircraft window (to the north), its wind-swept peak as higher than we were flying.  Sitting on the border between Nepal and China, it was both a 'goodbye' and 'hello!'  This from the highest place on earth!

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

130609

130609

Saturn Twice! (continues)

After Noordwolde (The Netherlands) I decided it was time to move on... I'd pretty much 'done' the country after six months (cycling 4,000KM).  And my 'welcome' was beginning to 'wear thin' in Utrecht.

I chose to fly to Nepal, rather than cycle as I thought the normal southern route too politically unstable for an American.

I finally, after much research, decided on Ryan Airlines, as they had a direct flight from Amsterdam to Kathmandu, via Abu Dabi or Dubai (I can never keep these two straight.)

I cycled up to Schipol Airport (south side of Amsterdam) a couple times to check out, and finally purchased the ticket.  I remember paying something like $800U.S. for a 'coach' seat.

But, first I had to pack all my things in a box large enough to accommodate Ms. Fiets.  Luckily, I found such, in Huub Bloom's bicycle shop in Utihoorn.  Melvin brought it to Utrecht in his little automobile. It was huge as it had accommodated a new tandem bicycle.  There's a picture of this at www.cyclingpeace.org ('Gallery' - 'The Netherlands to Nepal' album).  

Melvin drove me to the airport, my last night in TN.  Thank God for Melvin, so many years my 'junior,' he's been a loyal friend.

In some ways I was unhappy to leave 'civilization.'  But, the Far East beckoned again.  I missed the Himalayas, and wanted to 'get high' after living below sea level for six months.  Additionally, the 'dope' is inexpensive and I could eat dhal bhat forever (but with a spoon).

The next morning, the sun coming up, I gazed out the aircraft window, and down upon Iraq.   There was a war going on down there thanks to the Bush Administration's deceit.  Having been in Viet Nam I was glad I wasn't involved in any way.

At the stopover (Dubai maybe) we had to deplane, and I bought something to eat inside the terminal (where we had be ushered).  The atmosphere reminded me of Libya.  Arab men wear the strangest 'costumes' in the world!

It's very strange, yet enjoyable for me, to fly commercially (around the world) -- it's a form of 'time travel.'  One moment you're here, the next 'there,' and in a very short time!  And 'there' can be such a 'jump cut!' This was one:  one moment in cold, dark, wet, Holland, the next in bright, dry, warm Arab desert. 

Then we were off for Kathmandu, Nepal.  I remember seeing the desert shore become blue, it dotted with oil rigs in the Gulf of Hormez.  A left turn and we were over Pakistan, then and even bleaker western India.  Finally, the green hills of Nepal appreared, with the snow-capped Himayala in the distance.

I was familar with Nepal, particularly Kathmandu after having lived there for two years (1998-'99).  I had many friends to look forward seeing again.  Plus, it was the right time of year, September, as their big yearly festival 'Dai Sain' is all of October.  And the monsoon over with!

Landing in Kathmandu it all came back to me:  the squalor, the 'aromas,' the poverty, congestion, and pollution.  But, then again, many good memories too and some of my nicest friends live there.  'The wildest dreams in the land of Kew are merely facts in Kathmandu!' Or, as I grew to call it, because of the barking dogs, 'Dogmandu!'

My old business partner and friend Subodh Gautam picked me up at the airport and drove me to Balkumari.  Subodh and I had tried to launch a coffee plantation in Nepal in 1998, but it never happened for several reasons.  It did, however, make it 'easier' to get a business visa which I was able to renew for two years. 

Subodh, such a good guy, the perfect partner!  Besides being a lawyer he has owned many restaurant/clubs in Kathmandu.  Now, after so many years I've met and know his entire family.  Interestingly, my first 'home' in Kathmandu was in Lazimpat (which I've written about).  Where I lived with my host family, the Rayamadji's house, turned out to be only 200M from Subodh's place.  Now, back in Kathmandu, the memories started coming back... 

As we drove to HVPN school (in Balkumari, Paten), I noticed everything was more built up, developed, older (like us all) -- of course, more people!  C.M. and Vishnu were there to greet us!  It was a reunion of sorts.  I remember in 1998, my first visit they were only constructing the building where I would stay now.  I wrote an article about that day entitled, 'Mr. Yogi's School.'   But, in the interim it's been lost.  In the meantime, until I locate, read the following I wrote about the Hindu classic, the 'Bhaghavad Gita.'  I was introduced to Hindu philosophy via my friend and mentor, Dr. C.M. Yogi.

THE ‘TRUE’ MEANING…

Isn’t it interesting how questions go unanswered for years, if answered at all?  But, it seems to me that questions are always more important than answers anyway! 

Take for example one question which was asked of me at the Hindu Vidapeeth School, Kathmandu, Nepal in 1998.  It took until 2004, and a return trip to Nepal, for the question to be satisfactorily answered.

I remember the day so vividly, the first time I’d ever been to the Hindu Vidapeeth School (1998), invited by my friend and the headmaster, Mr. C.M. Yogi.   My visit, besides a tour of the facilities, included an assembly of the entire student body of three hundred.  I was treated to their performances of song and recitation, and finally a Q. & A. period at the end.  Of course, they were interested in an American, as they’d heard so much about the country I where I was born. 

One of their questions I’ve never forgotten, came from a young boy in the back of the auditorium.  He had stood up and asked, ‘Sir, what is the true meaning of the Bhagavad Gita’  Well, needless to say I wasn’t qualified to answer such a question.  I turned to Mr. Yogi, and whispered, ‘Help me out here,’ and he did of course.  I can’t remember how I responded, but I knew at the time I didn’t really know much about the Bhagavad Gita.  Thus, the question has dogged me ever since.

After my visit to ‘Mr. Yogi’s School,’ I went to Pilgrim’s Book Store in Thamel and bought a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, read it, but I really didn’t understand its ‘true meaning’ at the time. 

After living in Nepal for two years, I returned to the United States in 1999.  Of course the question continued to plague me, as I would tell the story to my friends in the U.S.—how impressed I was with the students at HVPNepal School, and particularly this young boy who had asked, ‘Sir, what is the true meaning of the Bhagavad Gita?  It’s like asking what is the true meaning of the Christian Bible?  Note:  Few adult Christians know!

Just recently I returned to Nepal after five years, staying in the guest room at HVPNepal School—a homecoming of course, the memory of my first visit still vivid! 

During one of my discussions with my dear friend, now Dr. Yogi, the subject came up as I reminded him of that day when I first visited HVPNepal School, the question asked of me, and how the answer has plagued me ever since.  Of course, this time his answer and explanation had meaning to me (sometimes answers, like good wine, take time)!  He said, ‘The Bhagavad Gita has been mis-interpreted by most.’

The next day, I returned to Pilgrim’s Book Store in Thamel, and purchased the, Yatharth Geeta, a commentary by Paramahans Swami Adgadanand.  Later I purchased The Bhagavadgita, translated by K.T. Teland.  Now having read both and understanding Dr. Yogi’s interpretation,  I think I’m finally able to respond to the young man’s question (some six years later)—as it was asked more for my benefit than his own.  Bless him wherever he is!

First, however, my own history with the Bhagavad Gita. I first saw the book in New York City in 1967, passed to me on the street by Hari Krishna devotees.  I remember I had the hardbound copy for years, but never read it.  No doubt I wasn’t ready!

Then in 1998, the question as posed by the young man at HVPNepal School… But, my first reading of the text unsatisfactory as I, no doubt, was still not ready to comprehend.

Then recently as an acting teacher, I used a story from the Mahabharat (from which the ‘Gita’ is taken):  ‘The Eye of the Fish!’  This depicts an archery contest that Arguna wins, as he sees the target like no other.  This is useful in making a point to actors:  We can’t hit the ‘bulls eye,’  (become a character), without ‘seeing’ the ‘target!’  Arguna, in the story, actually ‘becomes’ the target (‘the eye of the fish)!’  This is the kind of ‘focus’ an actor needs!
 
So, what is the Bhagavad Gita all about, this simple myth, that’s spawned, hundreds of commentaries, over fifty at least in Sanskrit and a book that has bedeviled me for years?  Why is my attempt to answer boy’s question even relevant?  ‘It is said that one who has known the truth of the Geeta is a knower of the Ved, which literally means the ‘knowledge of God!’ Thus the Gita, unlike its ‘parent’ is not concerned with the historical battle, or ‘sustenance of physical life, the propagation of social or religious conventions, rites or customs.’  As Dr. Yogi says, ‘it is not grounded in time or place, nor refers to any dogma, it is for any and all of any religion.’ Thus, it is a true myth (a story to live by) in my opinion!

Certainly, the Bhagavad Gita, is one of the most important myths in history, an episode of the great Hindu epic entitled, ‘Mahabharat,’  the following context described in The Bhagavadgita (translated by K.T. Telang):
 
‘It appears, then, that the royal family of Hasinapura was divided into two branches:  the one called the Kauravas, and the other the Pandavas.  The former wished to keep the latter out of the share of the kingdom claimed by them, and so after many attempts at an amicable arrangement, it was determined to decide their differences by arms.  Each party accordingly collected its adherents, and the hostile armies met on the ‘holy field of Kurukshetra.’  At this juncture, Krishna Dvaipayana alias Vyasa, a relative of both parties and endowed with more than human powers, presents himself before Dhritarashtra, the blind father of the Kauravas.  Vyasa asks Dhritarashtra whether it is his wish to look with his own eyes on the course of the battle?  Dhritarashtra, expressing his reluctance, Vyasa deputizes Sangaya to relate to Dhritarashtra all the events of the battle.

‘Then the battle begins, and after ten days, the first great general of the Kauravas, namely Bhishma falls.  At this point Sangaya comes up to Dhritarashtra and announces to him the sad result, which is of course a great blow to his side.  Dhritarashtra then makes numerous enquiries of Sangaya regarding the course of the conflict, all of which Sangaya duly answers.  And among his earliest answers is the account of a dialogue between Krishna and Arguna at the commencement of the battle.  This ‘conversation’ constitutes the Bhagavad Gita.’

Arguna, woefully lost, has no ‘stomach’ for the war he must wage, in his mind between relatives (family traditions), but in Krishna’s ‘mind,’ a war of a totally different kind!  Arguna (archer/warrior/student) most humbly entreats Krishna (teacher/God) to enlighten him on what might mitigate this ‘battle,’  his fear to fight such a ‘battle,’ and ultimately what will bring him happiness.

The following ‘conversation’ between Arguna and Krishna (excerpted from K.T. Telang’s translation) is by no means the complete ‘Gita,’ but my synopsis of such.  I recommend, if interested, you study the ‘Gita’ in as many versions as possible.  I have also omitted indicating if it’s Arguna or Krishna speaking, as Arguna (disciple) asks, and Krishna (Guru) answers:

‘Tell me what is assuredly good for me?  I am your disciple; instruct me, who has thrown myself on your mercy.  For I do not perceive what is to dispel the grief after I shall have obtained a prosperous kingdom on earth without a foe, or even the sovereignty of the gods.’

‘’You have grieved for those who deserve no grief, and you speak words of wisdom.  Learned men grieve not for the living nor the dead.  Never did I not exist, nor you, nor these rulers of men, nor will any one of us ever hereafter cease to be.  As in this body, infancy and youth and old age come to the embodied Self.  So does the acquisition of another body.  A sensible man is not deceived about that. The senses, O son of Kunti, which produce cold and heat, pleasure and pain, are not permanent, they are forever coming and going.  Bear them, O descendant of Bharat.  For, O chief of men, that sensible man who they afflict not, pain and pleasure being alike to him.  He merits immortality!  There is no existence for that which is unreal.  There is no non-existence for that which is real!’

‘ The states of mind of those who have no firm understanding are manifold and endless!’

‘What are the characteristics, O Kesava, of one whose mind is steady, and who is intent on contemplation? 

‘When a man, O son of Pritha, abandons all the desires of his heart, and is pleased in his self only, he is then called of a steady mind.  He whose heart is not agitated in the midst of calamities, who has no longing for pleasures, and from whom the feelings of affection, fear and wrath have departed, is called a sage of a steady mind.  For his mind is steady whose senses are under control!’

‘If, O Ganardana devotion is deemed by you to be superior to action, then why, O Kesava do you prompt me to this fearful action (to ‘fight’ the indwelling ‘battle’)?

‘I have already declared, that in this world there is a twofold path, that of the Sankhyas by devotion in the shape of true knowledge, and that of the Yogins by devotion in the shape of action (yoga to ‘yoke’ to the supreme).  A man does not attain freedom from action merely by not engaging in action, nor does he attain perfection by mere renunciation.  For nobody every remains, even for an instant, without performing some action.  Since the qualities of nature constrain everyone as there is no free-will.  But he, O Arguna who restraining his senses of his mind, and being free from attachments, engages in devotion which is far superior.’

‘But by whom, O descedant of Vrishni, is man impelled, even though unwillingly, to commit sin?’

‘It is desire, it is wrath, born from the quality of passion, it is very ravenous, this sin.  Know that this sin is the foe in this world!  As fire is enveloped by smoke, a mirror by dust, the fetus by the womb, so is this enveloped by desire.  Knowledge, O son of Kunti, is enveloped by this constant foe of the man, in the shape of desire, which is insatiable.  Therefore, O chief of the descendants of Bharata, first restrain your senses, then cast off this sinful thing which destroys knowledge and experience (personal perception).  It has been said, great are the senses, greater than the senses is the mind, greater than the mind is understanding! What is greater than the understanding is that which I teach.  Thus, knowing that which is higher than the understanding, is restraining yourself, by yourself.  O you of mighty arms!  Destroy this unmanageable enemy in the shape of desire!

‘He is wise among men, he is possessed of devotion, and performs all actions by seeing inaction in action and action in inaction.  The wise call him learned, whose acts are all free from desires and fancies, and whose actions are burnt down in the fire of knowledge.  Forsaking all attachment to the fruit of action, always contented, dependent on none, he does nothing at all, though he engages in action.  Devoid of expectations, restraining the mind and the self, he incurs no sin, performing actions merely for the sake of the body.  Satisfied with earnings coming spontaneously, rising above the pairs of opposites (Duality), free from all animosity and equitable of success or ill-success, he is finally free!’

‘Actions, O Dhanangaya, do not fetter one who is self-possessed, who has renounced action for devotion. 

‘O Krishna, you praise renunciation of actions and also the pursuit of them.  Tell me which one of these two is superior?’

‘Renunciation and pursuit of action are both instruments of happiness.  But, of the two, pursuit of the renunciation of action is superior to the pursuit of worldly objects.  As an ascetic has no aversion and no desire.  The man of nothing at all, when he sees, hears, touches, smells, eats, moves, sleeps, breathes, talks, discards and acquires, he holds that the senses deal with the objects of the senses.  He who, casting off all attachment, performs actions dedicating them to Brahman is not tainted by sin.  Devotees, casting off attachment perform actions for attaining purity of the self.  He who is possessed of devotion, abandoning the fruit of actions, attains the highest tranquility.’

‘I cannot see, O destroyer of Madhun how just by devotion, you can achieve freedom?  For, O Krishna the mind is fickle, boisterous, strong and obstinate, and I think that to restrain it is as difficult as restraining the wind?’

‘Doubtless, O you of mighty arms, the mind is difficult to restrain and fickle.  Still O son of Kunti, it may be restrained by constant practice and indifference to worldly objects.  Devotion is hard to obtain for one who does not restrain him self.  But by one who is self-restrained and assiduous, tranquility can be obtained!’

‘Among thousands of men only some work for perfection, and even those who have reached perfection, only some know me (Krishna) truly.  I am the taste in water, O son of Kunti, the light of the sun and moon.  I am OM.  I am the fragrant smell of the earth, refulgence in fire.  I am life in all beings, and penance in those who perform penance.  Know me, O son of Pritha to be the eternal seed of all beings.  I am the discernment in the discerning ones.  I am the glory in the glorious!   Those who resort to me alone cross beyond delusion.  I am the mind among the senses.  I am consciousness in living beings!’

‘In consequence of these excellent and mysterious words concerning the supreme and individual soul, which you have spoken for my welfare, this delusion of mine is gone away.  Oh God!  I see within your body the gods.  I see you, who are countless forms, possessed of many arms, stomachs, mouths, and eyes on all sides.  Oh Lord of the universe, you are all forms!  I do not see your end, middle, or beginning.  By you is this universe pervaded, O you of infinite forms.  I ask pardon of you who are indefinable!

‘Of the worshippers, who constantly are devoted and meditate on you, as the unperceived and indestructible, which know devotion?’

‘Those who being constantly devoted and possessed of the highest faith, worship me with a mind fixed on me, are deemed by me to be the most devoted.  But those, who restraining the senses, who meditate on the indescribably, indestructible unperceived principle, which is all-pervading, unthinkable, indifferent, immovable and constant… They, intent on the good in all beings, attain me.’

‘As to those, however, O son of Pritha, who dedicating all their actions for me and holding me as their highest goal, worship me, meditating on me with a devotion towards none besides me, I come forward as their deliverer from the ocean of this world of death.

'Concentration is better than continuous meditation.  Knowledge is esteemed higher than concentration, and abandonment of the fruits of action, will acquire the tranquility desired! 

‘That devotee of mine, who hates no being, who is friendly and compassionate, who is free from egoism and possessiveness, to whom happiness and misery are alike, who is forgiving, contented, constantly devoted, self-restrained, and firm in his determinations, and whose mind and understanding are devoted to me, he is dear to me.

‘The destructible includes all things.  The unconcerned one is called the indestructible!

‘Lust, anger, and avarice, these are the three ways to darkness!  Thus, deluded by ignorance, tossed about by numerous thoughts, surrounded by the net of delusion, and attached to the enjoyment of external objects.  It is these (people) who are cast down into hell!’

‘What are the characteristics, O Lord of one who has transcended these three qualities?  What is his conduct?’

‘He is said to have transcended these qualities, O son of Panda, who is not averse to light or delusion when they prevail, and who does not desire them when they cease.   Who, sitting like one unconcerned is never perturbed by such, who remains steady and is self-contained.  To whom pain and pleasure are alike, to whom a sod, a stone, and gold are alike, to whom what is agreeable and is disagreeable are alike.  Who has discernment, to whom censure and praise of himself are alike, who is alike in honor and dishonor, who is alike towards both friends and foes, and who abandons all action (based on desire).

‘Those who are free from pride and delusion, who have overcome the evils of attachment, who are constant in contemplation of the supreme from whom desire has departed, who are free from the pairs of opposites (Duality), who call pleasure and pain the same.  These, the undeluded, go to that imperishable seat!’

‘O you of mighty arms, O Hrishikesa, O destroyer of Kesin!  I wish to know the truth about renunciation and abandonment?’

‘By renunciation the sages mean rejection of actions done with desire.  The wise abandon attachment to the fruit of all actions done with desire.

‘He who frequents clean places, who eats little, whose speech, body and mind are restrained, who is always intent on meditation and mental abstraction, who abandons egoism, stubbornness, arrogance, desire, anger, who is tranquil, becomes fit for assimilation with me.

‘The Lord, O Arguna, is seated in the region of the heart.  With him, O descendant of Bharata, seek shelter in every way.  By his favor you will obtain the highest tranquility, the eternal seat!

‘Destroyed is my delusion, by your favor, O undegraded one!  I now recollect myself.  I stand free of doubts!  I will do your bidding!’

Finally,  in an attempt to answer the young man’s question of six years ago… ‘to do his bidding…’ ‘What is the true meaning of the Bhagavad Gita?’ 

First of all, the greatest battle you will ever fight is internal (with yourself) not external (with others).  It’s the ‘war’ between matter and spirit.  And the battleground is the personal body, the mind the enemy, and where the ‘demons’ must be slain.  The goal, to attain God consciousness, or direct perception of this unmanifested ‘thing’ we call God.  This always being possible by its grace (unconditional love)!  All we have to do is seek it. 

‘Salvation,’ the concept, is found in all the religions of the world, and is discussed in some form in all the great holy books.  The common theme:  that salvation is possible in this life time, but that you must accomplish this yourself, when you are ready (open and prepared)!  Hinduism purports it takes many life times, as we work our way ‘up a ladder,’ so speak. 

In Christian terms it’s symbolized in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection:  ‘you must die of the body (ego consciousness) to be reborn of the spirit’ (God consciousness). And what makes this possible?   God’s grace (unconditional love)!

Yet, man, the unevolved and deluded, perverts this somehow into violence against others—as the solution (to their own lives).  Unconscious man projects evils outward and onto others, rather than doing ‘battle’ with himself—much easier to put the blame on others of course!

It seems to me in the year 2004/2061 (Nepali calendar), what we need is less fundamentalist religion (be it Hindu, Moslem, or Christian) and more love!  This to me is the answer to all the questions: more peace, less war!   Let us stop the violence (against others)!  Let us stop killing innocent people and children! 

What needs to ‘be killed,’ according to the Bhagavad Gita, are the demons in our minds (the real enemy).  And I would repeat this message to President Bush, Saddam Hussein, Tony Blair, Osama Bin Ladin, Sharon, Arafat, Putin, and all the rest of the so-called ‘leaders’ of the world, including the King of Nepal and the Maoists!  Perfect yourselves before fomenting violence against others!

This, my dear young questioner, is the meaning of the Bhagavad Gita, to me!  But, the  meaning for you; the ‘true’ meaning, you must answer for yourself!

Notes:

 I was lucky to learn from one of my intellectual mentors (David Carter ), many years ago, that myths are the great stories of how to live.  We cannot live without these stories to guide us.  Arguna here is referring to the literal foe in the literal battle (he fears to fight).  He is yet to learn of the real ‘foe!’
 
Of course, the Hindu/Buddhist idea of reincarnation.

On the subject of ‘Free Will.’  As a philosopher, this is one of the great questions left for me… Do we have ‘Free Will?’  After studying B. Spinoza in The Netherlands, I believe we don’t (my life an example).
 
When the word ‘sin’ is used, I am bound to quote C.G. Jung:  ‘The only sin is unconsciousness!’
 
See a motion picture entitled, ‘That obscure object of desire,’ by Luis Bunuel.  I call such, ‘Nature’s Joke!’
 
This is a very Taoist thought.

To me, ‘knowledge,’ as used here is ‘consciousness.’

This I take to mean giving up ego pursuits versus the pursuit of God.

The God of the ‘first cause,’ in the Hindu trinity (including Shiva and Vishnu).
 
Being a mountain climber (my original reason for coming to Nepal),  I know the highest mountain I will ever climb is ‘Myself!’  ‘Mt. Self,’ if you will!
 
I am reminded of C.G. Jung’s, inscription above his tower door at Bollengen (near Zurich, Switzerland):  ‘Called, or not called, God shall be there!’
 
The Hindus (via the ‘BG’) believe you must have a embodied Guru to become enlightened. I do not!  The only ‘Guru’ I have is the unmanifested being my Master, Lord, and God!



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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

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Singularity (#45)

I want to hear the birds!
I want a 'sea' of clouds, white against blue,
Wouldn't you?
Not man made things,
Destroying the world,
Himself a fool!

I want to feel the love of children,
Their smiles so true!
I want the loyalty of a dog,
The cleanliness of a cat!

I want the sun on my face,
A state of grace!
I want clear skies
Where nothing dies,
Or lives,
Only is!

Singularity (#45)

(Note:  'Nothing is good or bad, just the mind thinking so!'  Shakespeare)

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Monday, June 08, 2009

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'Saturn Twice!' (continues)

Utrecht, and The Netherlands

It was interesting living with three young Dutch men, and their girlfriends.  But, the place was so small it was a bit cramped (where we parked our bicycles they hung their clothing to dry you could hardly more). 

I slept in the living room (second floor) on a couch (as in www.couchsurfing.org).  The couch under a painting on which there was one Dutch word, 'Vrede!' which means 'peace!'  This was significant to me as on my 'Pilgrimage to Mt. Kailas,' is talking about 'peace' along the way.

But, this house was anything but 'peaceful!' as in 'young men.'  The youngest was into a music genre called 'Hardcore!'  This is 'head banging' music x10!  It was horribly irritating to me, but I was a guest in their house so I pretended to like it.  'Rave parties' were popular in TN when I was there, so he was attending them regularly.  You probably don't know what a 'rave party' is...?  Note, if you do you're under 40-years of age (or are 'hip').

I used their dining room table as my work space (a part of the 'living room') -- I'm always writing something.  The adjacent kitchen area wonderfully new/modern and had a dishwasher.  Young men, whatever persuasion, don't like to wash dishes.    I remember Melvin was particular how you loaded it.

They drank coffee in the morning then dashed off to jobs.   I had a leisurely time with my tea, fruit and muesli or soy yogurt.

While I lived there I tried to contribute by cleaning the house regularly, as they weren't charging me anything. 

I got to know Utrecht in the afternoons, cycling all over it and beyond (little by little).  It is a wonderful city, charmingly old as only Europe can be!  It has canals (of course), a University, a 'red-light' street (prostitution is legal in TN), an old observatory where I watched an eclipse of the sun. 

I even discovered 'health food stores,' in Utrecht where I shopped for my kind of food.  The kind of stores where can you buy soy yogurt, 'organic' brown rice, and other 'goodies?'  These you'll find only in sophisticated cultures like TN!  (Note, you won't find such in China!).  However, shopping in these 'health food stores' was expensive. 

Most of my monthly stipend went to food and dope in TN.  Even with free rent I was barely able to make it every month on the equivalent of 400E.  I think during the six months I lived in TN I ate in a restaurant less that a half-dozen times.

Marijuana is legal in TN!  TN so 'hip,' you could (I think the laws have changed since) buy it in what they called 'coffee houses.'  'Buy' the gram.  Good stuff too!  I thought this 'so cool,' as you'd go, and pick out what you wanted via a 'menu.'  I think the best called 'White something...?'  I forget what a gram of this stuff cost, maybe 20E / $30U.S.

But, in Europe they mix marijuana with regular tobacco and smoke it in a cigarette.  I don't like it as such, so I bought a pipe.  The boys thought it was strange that I'd smoke 'it' straight.  But, mixed with regular tobacco 'it' makes me dizzy.  To each his own.

Utrecht has a wonderful library, right on one of their main canals. They have an English section, where I spent much time reading/studying the Dutch philosopher, B. Spinoza.  I had an idea to make a video documentary about him while I was there.  Here's some background information on Spinoza, if you're not familiar:

"Benedict de Spinoza was among the most important of the post-Cartesian philosophers who flourished in the second half of the 17th century. He made significant contributions in virtually every area of philosophy, and his writings reveal the influence of such divergent sources as Stoicism, Jewish Rationalism, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Descartes, and a variety of heterodox religious thinkers of his day. For this reason he is difficult to categorize, though he is usually counted, along with Descartes and Leibniz, as one of the three major Rationalists. Given Spinoza’s devaluation of sense perception as a means of acquiring knowledge, his description of a purely intellectual form of cognition, and his idealization of geometry as a model for philosophy, this categorization is fair. But it should not blind us to the eclecticism of his pursuits, nor to the striking originality of his thought. Among philosophers, Spinoza is best known for his Ethics, a monumental work that presents an ethical vision unfolding out of a monistic metaphysics in which God and Nature are identified. God is no longer the transcendent creator of the universe who rules it via providence, but Nature itself, understood as an infinite, necessary, and fully deterministic system of which humans are a part. Humans find happiness only through a rational understanding of this system and their place within it. On account of this and the many other provocative positions he advocates, Spinoza has remained an enormously controversial figure. For many, he is the harbinger of enlightened modernity who calls us to live by the guidance of reason. For others, he is the enemy of the traditions that sustain us and the denier of what is noble within us."   Note, B. Spinoza has a 'connection' to Taoist thinking (read 'Tao Te Ching')!

Also, on B.Spinoza, something I wrote awhile back:  'Free will,' is an interesting question, whether we have it or not? When I was a boy, I believed the 'script had been written' for me. Later, I switched to the 'illusion' of 'Free Will,' or that I was responsible for my own decisions. Then in an older age, I realized it ('free will') is, in fact, an 'illusion.' But, these are just words! I'm surprised in the article, 'Free Will: Now You Have It, Now You Don't,' it never mentions B. Spinoza, the great Portuguese/Dutch philosopher. He said, No way, we don't have 'free will!' Ultimately, this is one of those 'mysteries,' that will never be solved. Why? We're trapped in the very words, 'free will,' the definition of each we each decide when we use the term.

The 'trick' in life is to get beyond words!

The Spinoza family migrated from Portugal, to Holland (circa. 1500+C.), where they lived in Amsterdam.  There's actually a 'Spinoza' street that I found, where his family had lived.  His father became a successful businessman, but the young Spinoza gave it all up to pursue his 'ideas.'  He supported himself by grinding lenses, and living an austere life (never marrying).  He was also prosecuted by the Catholic Church, the underlined ideas above what got him in trouble.

While living with 'the boys' in Utrecht I also had an idea to produce a video entitled 'Similarities,' in English, () in Dutch.  This to show how people are basically the same everywhere in the world, not so different!  The structure would include 'regular' people living in two different countries (in this case the U.S. and the The Netherlands), to show how much their lives are similar.  But, 'the boys' (in Utrecht) really didn't understand and the project moved with me...

Note, I'd like to produce a Chinese - U.S. version! I'd like to produce it in many countries actually!  Join me?  Send us video of your everyday lives, maybe we can make something out of it?.

After I was in Utrecht for awhile I started cycling further and further from Utrecht, first trying to find my way to Amsterdam.  I finally found it up the Amsterdam-German Canal (?).  In Maarssen (north of Utrecht), you cross over on a bridge, and this take the bicycle path all the way to Driemond, where you exit to a street/road that eventually takes you into eastern Amsterdam (via Diemen).  It's a fair distance, something like 40KM, and took me about four hours to get to the park (Vondelpark) in the center of Amsterdam.  Chris had first taken us to this Park one day of discovering Amsterdam via car/bus.  The Park became one of my destinations via bicycle. I discovered a lovely restaurant (Het Blauwe Theehuis (The Blue Teahouse)) where you could order coffee/tea, something to eat, and sit outside.  I ended up cycling to Vondelpark many times, a day's outing from Utrecht.

Of course, I checked out the famed 'red-light district' where prostitues openly display 'their wares' in picture windows (at street level).  One only has to 'window shop' for a prostitute in Amsterdam.  This, on my bicycle of course.

In fact, in the six months I lived in The Netherlands I cycled over 4,000KM, so many places I can't even remember now.  The only part of TN I'm not very familar now with is the southern part near Belgium as I never got down that way.

'Der Hague,' Melvin took me to on the train.  It's west of Utrecht on the coast, about a two-hour train ride.  He wanted to take me to a 'minature' version of TN in the form of a 'Disneyland-type' park called, 'Madurodam.'  It's all of 'The Netherlands' in a Lilluputian size!  Thus, in one hour you can walk around the entire 'country.'

From there we took a bus to the beach and one of their grand old hotels called, the Steigenbergen Kurhaus Hotel.  It has a huge domed restaurant I wanted to have lunch in, but way too expensive.  We walked through it and out onto the beach.  I needed a toilet so we stopped into a Spa.  Here I discovered a first, something I'd never seen before (or since)!  I thought I was hallucinating (too much dope) when it happened.  Upon using the toilet I flushed to notice the toilet seat rotating being cleaned by water jets.  I flushed again just to make sure I wasn't seeing things!  Excited I told Melvin who didn't seem all that surprised (I guessed this was nothing too new for a Dutch person.).  Note, these would be a big 'hit' in China (as they love modern gadgets).

Nearing the end of my stay in The Netherlands I got invited to visit Mr. and Mrs. de Vries (Melvin's parents).  Retired, Erik and Petronella built a home up in Noordvolde.  So, I cycled up there one day, the trip taking two (approximately 180KM north of Utrecht).  The first night I camped out in a campground about halfway.  Then the next day I had trouble finding Noorwolde.  Again, TN a difficult country to find your way around because so many roads, bicycle paths, and ways to get there.  I remember it was raining when I called them from a telephone in Noordwolde.

Note, it's always raining (or about to) in TN (the reason I couldn't live there).  Wet, wet, and more wet!

I think I stayed with the de Vries maybe three weeks.  I got to know this part of TN called 'Friesland.'  In Freisland (which goes into Germany) they even speak a different language than Dutch.  I also discovered a wonderful 'wilderness' ('Drents-Friese Wold') area, probably the only in TN, about 20KM northeast of Noordvolde.  This, where you could actually get out in the country and away from people. I cycled up there a dozen times.  I remember discovering a lovely place to eat in Appelscha.

You're much closer to WWII in Europe (TN).  Of course in Amsterdam you can visit Anne Frank's house (now a museum). Just on the outskirts of Noordwolde a monument (rock) on which were scultured the names of a B17 crew (Canadian) that had crashed nearby.  In Drents-Friese Wold there is the 'hideout'-museum of some Dutch underground that were caught and executed.  It's a cave-like structure where they lived, hiding for months from the German Army.  It was 'eery' to be inside this structure, preserved as it was nearly 70 years ago.

I'd always wanted to investigate (live in) The Netherlands.  After six months, living with the de Vries family, I had some idea about the country/culture.  But, I was disappointed never to visit the business/factory where Ms. Fiets (my bicycle) was produced ('born').  I did locate their business via the Internet in a town near the German border.  But, I never got there.  Now, so many years later I can't even locate their their business on the Internet.  They must have gone out of business!

Such is life, forever changing...

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