Friday, July 06, 2007

Big Mouth

A couple weeks ago I talked about the silent treatment. In a separate posting I talked about the book, The Four Agreements. Today, the combination of the old adage ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything,’ and the first of the four agreements ‘Be impeccable with your words’ come to mind.

I’m a chatty person – to put it mildly. I like to talk. It’s not so much that I like to hear my own voice as it is a matter of wanting to stimulate conversation. I’m not very concerned about the topic conversation, so long as there is conversation. However, I sometimes think I should be a little more attentive to the topic.

Referencing a third posting regarding Old Age, I talked about Israeli backpackers. I knew when I wrote the entry that I would probably offend. When I, myself, first heard about this phenomenon, I was rather skeptical. I thought I was hearing some anti-Semitic slander. However, anyone who has encountered this situation knows that it is a very real deal. I wasn’t meaning to offend anyone, I was trying to make a point about an un-harnessed mind. Unfortunately, I lost a few regular readers as a result. It makes me feel bad that this happened, but I wont retract my words; politics are just not for me.

This is nothing new to me. Both in writing and in person, I have offended people. I have often lost their interest and appreciation. Yet, I do not seem to be willing or able to curtail my uber-candid speak. It is the razors edge all over again. If I were to hold back on my opinions, as uncomfortable as they may be, I would feel I was not being true to my nature. It is, in part, my candor, which assists me in gaining the trust of others; people who work with me know that I will cut through the bullshit very quickly to arrive at a sound conclusion.

Over the years, I’ve been burned many times by this part of my personality. I have also gotten a lot of miles out of it. I’ve tempered my tone and words (a great amount of thanks to my infusion in Canadian society) yet I still do not hold back.

Is it necessary to sugar coat my words in order to be impeccable? Or can I be the straight shooter that I am as long as I make it clear that I am striving for the ideal and not for comfort?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Hitch’, Gates, Slim, Kumari

I never really knew much of Christopher Hitchens. I’ve heard his name a couple times but I’ve never considered much of what he has to say one way or the other. His book, God is Not Great, apparently is causing a bit of a stir.

I’ve never really knew much of Kumaris (literally translated from Nepali as ‘virgin’). I might have read about Sajani Shakya, the Kumari Devi of Bhaktapur, but I’ve never considered any form of worship for this current incarnation of Taleju. Apparently, Kumari Devi tainted her goddess blood by visiting the United States of America. She’s been dismissed.

I’ve heard of Gates and Buffet, but I’ve never heard of Carlos Slim, the richest man alive with a net worth of $67.8 billion. I don’t think very often of the net worth of these people – I’ve read books by and about them, mostly because I need to stay current, or at least sound like I have a foggy notion of who’s who. Apparently, someone has noticed that Carlos Slim wore a plastic watch.

People find things offensive. They fired Don Imus for opening his mouth one too many times, but no one surveyed radio listeners to find out how many people simply tuned into another channel, a channel more palatable to their own perspective. Is God great? Or is God not great? Is this a decision you want to leave to Mr. Hitchens? Has Taleju left the body of Sajani Shakya? Should faith in Taleju be suspended until a more submissive and less adventurous vessel is found? Should I pity myself – my poverty – because I can not spend an unjustified $9.7 million on a jet?

We have to make our own choices in this life. We have to accept the choices that others make. If a person wants to be an anti-theist, that is their prerogative. As a committed practitioner of my faith, I must accept other’s choices or I must abandon my own belief that the onus is on each individual to carve out their own position. If someone or something helps out along the way, so much the better.

If organized religion is deemed evil by your neighbor, allow them to avoid it – until they find a different viewpoint, it will indeed remain evil in their mind. If a goddess transgresses from the age-old way, maybe it is time to rethink the age old way and not the goddess. If a man, after 13 years of being the wealthiest becomes the second wealthiest, has anything changed? Has anything changed for you? Is your faith shaken? Stirred?

I once heard a story of the Buddha who taught that if you meet someone and they tell you your religion is inferior, you should agree with them, smile, and continue on your way.

In the Laos language there is an expression, Lao de jao. I hear it quite a bit. It means It’s up to you. It’s up to you, Mr. Hitchens, to decide what you want to do. As for me, I will make my own decisions.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Retrograde is one of those funny words. It has a meaning, but in some contexts the meaning is not exactly accurate. There are several definitions of ‘retrograde’. Essentially it means “moving in a backward direction”

I first started hearing the word ‘retrograde’ in the mid-1970’s. In Boston, Massachusetts, the Cosmic Muffin, a radio personality, did a daily astrology forecast. Often, I would hear him say the words “Mercury retrograde”. I liked the sound of it, but I didn’t really know what it meant until years later. ‘Mercury retrograde’ means the planet appears to move in backward direction.

In reality, it is not that a planet is moving backwards, it is an “illusory planetary motion created by the orbital rotation of the earth, with relation to other planets in our solar system.” (

Mercury, the planet, is mainly associated with communication and travel. Often, when Mercury is retrograde, things go a little haywire. Packages get lost, contracts go belly-up, misunderstandings abound during this period. Many people get frustrated with their lives during a Mercury retrograde period – it typically lasts about 4 to 6 weeks. While some things go astray during Mercury retrograde, other things go quite well. One of the beneficial aspects is reconnecting with old friends. Mercury retrograde is an excellent time to reconnect with old friends.

And now, today’s story begins…

Leaving New York City was very difficult for me. It was home. My friends were there. My career was there. My life was there. However, I felt inside me an emptiness that I felt could not be filled in the confines of Brooklyn. So, I decided to make my way around the world to see if there was a spot that suited me. So far, I am halfway around. This week is the four year anniversary of the beginning of my journey. I guess don’t like to move very fast.

One of the reasons I’m taking my time doing this is that I’m not a stamp collector – passport stamps that is. Instead, I like to sit in the same cafĂ© for a month and see the daily routine around me. I like to settle into a place and learn about the people and the cool places and the people who pass through. Along the way, I meet people and they become friends. It’s rather unconventional, but my friends are scattered around the globe. I hope, when we’re all very old, it will be as easy as catching a subway to go from Hong Kong to Vancouver. Or maybe it will be from Venus to Mercury that we travel at light speed.

The other day, I received an email from a musician friend of mine. He and I met in 2001 via a random phone call. He had actually called to speak to the person I was subletting an apartment. Ever since that one phone call, he and I have been very close friends. It turns out we are distant cousins. I was very happy to receive his email. He is continuing his pursuit of music (he’s a dyed-in-the-wool rocker) and his band, Needless Junkie, is doing well. The most excellent bit of news I heard (and here’s where I’m going to make a point, so pay attention), the bass player in the Band, Matt Holt, is still winning his 10 year fight against leukemia.

Matt is one of the many inspirations in my life. When I first met Matt, it took me a while to be able to comprehend how a person fighting such a deadly affliction could be so positive and even keeled. As I got to know him, I learned a big lesson about following your heart. Matt, also a died-in-the-wool musician, loves to play guitar. He’s quite amazing on the lead guitar, although he plays bass in the band. I don’t think Matt has filled his head with misguided aspirations. He stuck to what he loved; music. I think, in some ways, this has helped him with his struggle.

I like to think, that I, too, am sticking to what I love; writing. Possibly it is partially by the inspiration of Matt Holt, that I have the courage to take these risks and live comfortably with the outcome.

How about you? Are you comfortable with how you spent your day? Do you remember to keep in touch with your friends? The past is gone, yet we can continue build on those foundations to live a rich and wonderful life.


Does this board make my tail look big? 

My plans for today had to change.  Originally, I planned to head out of the city to visit my friend’s relatives.  My friend had prepped for the visit.  They are extremely poor – no light, no food, only a shack, sheltering the parents and some children.  I’ve seen this type of thing before, but, for some reason, I had a certain apprehension.  I am very close to my friend.  It breaks my heart to see her relatives hungry.  I search for ways to help without insulting dignity.

About a year ago, I met my friend’s sister; the wife of a farmer.  She too is very poor.  In her home she has a mat, a charcoal grill, a small jar of salt and a nearly empty bag of rice.  She also has two pots for cooking.  In the corner, there is an old fashioned rifle where the gunpowder is poured down the barrel, tamped and a plug is dropped in afterwards.  That’s pretty much all I saw.

We visited for about an hour or so.  She was cooking dinner for her family.  Dinner was a handful of rice and two tiny pieces of chicken.  A generous host, she offered me a piece of the chicken and some sticky rice.  I could not accept it – my belly was full from a marvelous meal earlier that day.  She was one of the many kind and sincere people I have met in Laos and her abject poverty was shadowed by her happiness and her show of love for her child and sister and her openness to meet her sister’s friend. 

I remember feeling quite poor that day.  Not because I have no money or because I am hungry, but because I have had too much.  In comparison, I have lived a life of opulence.  In my family also, there is a wealth of love and kindness.  In my family there are unbreakable bonds that will last through eternity.  We use the phrase “I’m starving” only as a euphemism – we have been very fortunate to not know true hunger.  In the back of my mind, as I sat there that day, I felt an incomprehensible feeling that somehow because of my fortunate circumstances, I understood nothing of life.  It’s hard to put into words exactly where that thought comes from yet it is an intangible feeling I will never forget.

Yesterday, in the news, President George W. Bush commuted the sentence of Scooter Libby for his obstruction of justice on matters of national security of the USA.  I think about the amount of money spent as a result of this one decision.  There were millions of dollars spent on media, broadcasting, and advertising.  There were immeasurable megawatts of energy spent on reactions to this decision – op-ed articles, analyst responses, heated discussions in pubs and think tanks.  It seems that poor Mr. Libby will still be out of about a quarter of a million dollars in penalties and suffers irrevocable damage to his career.

The people who I did not meet today, they don’t know who Scooter Libby is.  They don’t know who Valerie Plame is.  They have never heard of Joseph Wilson.  They don’t have a television with cable and CNN and BBC.  They have empty bags of rice and hungry children and they burn non-existent candles down to the very last thread of a wick.  The millions of dollars which were spent around one decision in the first world yesterday did not consider whether these people will eat tomorrow.  The turmoil and suffering and career devastation of this one person seems so out of context with what most of the world thinks about everyday; where will I find my next meal.  It’s times like this, I wonder why I bother to turn on the television at all.

I hope tomorrow to head out of the city to meet these relatives.  I am not sure what I should bring.  I’ve considered bringing a copy of the Bangkok Post or a video clip of Mr. Libby’s perjurous testimony.  Instead, I think I will bring some rice and some left over duck from tonight’s dinner.  As I sit in their home, I will try not to think about how badly Mr. Libby is suffering.  I will try not to think about how difficult it is to be a war time president or a whistle-blowing ambassador.  I will try not to think about a lot of things that seem so out of perspective when we are stripped of our comfortable and contorted first world values.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Cow Tits

Let’s get away from the whole Buddhism thing for a while. It’s become too heavy, too intellectual. I month or so ago, in an entry titled Equanimity, I spoke about a professor in university who spoke of being in the moment. One of the criticisms she had for me was that I would over intellectualize things. So, taking her advice, I need to take a breather from all this deep thinking and just lets some words flow.

Yesterday, I was invited out for dinner. Due to some language restrictions, the invitation was to eat barbequed cow tits. Over dinner, I tried my best to explain the words boob, tits, teats, and udders. I have never had udder before and whilst suspending the visual image of the invite, I found it to be quite delicious. Also the heart was good. The barbequed tripe was a bit too chewy for me. Tourists are not exposed to real Laos cuisine which is a shame because it is much better than most of the cuisine they see.

While eating dinner, an army of ants came to greet me and sample some of my sauces and meats. I wondered why my dinner companion did not attract the multitude of ants that I did. Can ants tell who is a falang and who is Laotian? I wonder. They certainly do have quite a sense of humor those ants of Laos. In addition to the six or seven thousand ants crawling around my table space, a nursing dog (most female dogs in Laos are perpetually nursing), came and rested her nose on my lap – big puppy dog eyes seemed to say ‘I’m starving and I have a family to feed’. Everyone had a good time, but I think the dog was a little disappointed that I was not much of a pushover.

Sometime during the course of the dinner, my thoughts turned to my brother. I think about the prospect of my family members visiting me here. Of all my relatives, I think my brother and my father would be the most suited to experiencing the real Laos. I think my mother would not last more than an hour or two. There is a level of acceptance required to be here, yet once that leap is made, it seems somehow more real than the aisles of Wal-Mart and the form mold chairs of Burger King.

Beyond the ubiquity of ants are the giant spiders in my home, the silly geckos who play hide-and-seek in the curtains, the insane driving patterns of the locals, the open air everything – markets, restaurants, beer gardens, barbers, and so forth. There is the oppressive heat and humidity and the guarantee that no shirt will stay dry either by perspiration or torrential rain. Each thing on it’s own is not so bad. Compiled into the overall experience, it can be overwhelming. As I keep telling people, it is not for everyone. For some of us, it is a slice of euphoria – euphoria for me, the ants, the nursing dogs, the spiders, the geckos. Maybe the cows are not so ecstatic or maybe I’m wrong… maybe they are proud that their sacrifice brings such gastronomic delight. Thank you, cows. You’re delicious. If the shoe was on the other hoof, I would happily give you my heart.