Monday, July 28, 2008


Here in Goa i'm having a smashing time.
Met a couple very very cool guys from Dallas.
We've been checkin out the area, cruising around and exploring on their rented scooters.
Lots of rain here, but today was quite dry.
Checked out Old Goa, where lots of old Portugeuese architecture and cathedrals were amazing.
Last night we got lost driving in circles on dirt trails in a bloody forest
looking for a beach bar which we finally found.
Got quite drunk.
Also got the puff fix i was looking for from some other patrons
(now good for the next couple years).
And we had mad rad conversation.
Good shit.
Tomorrow i will split for my course at the world's largest Vipassana centre.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sai Yonara

Well that was kind of an anticlimactic visit to the man whom many equate w/ God.

But oddly enough, it's almost exactly what i thought would happen.

To sum up. Visiting the Sai Baba ashram was kinda weird for the following reasons.
  • Sai Baba is now in a wheel chair
  • thus he doesn't mix up w/ the People so much anymore
  • if he comes out at all
  • and sometimes he comes out in a car
  • ( a modest one)
  • and people get all focussed on the car like the paparazzi
  • that feels weird
  • But mostly life there requires a LOT of waiting
  • because he MIGHT come out
  • no books or entertainments allowed
  • you must practice your patience
  • or meditate
  • 4 + hours of sitting around/day
  • Mulitiplied by the 4000 (by my estimate) expectant individuals
  • = a lot of wating

Patience is important, yes. But i was seriously thinking about other ways we could all be using our time.

But still, i stayed there for 4 days and feel good about it. Why? 'Cause:

  • it felt right
  • i didn't have many mindblowing connections w/ anyone, but i did have a few good conversations
  • with other former skeptics
  • who concurred about "the feeling" they weirdly got to lay eyes on Mr Sai Baba
  • but mostly it felt right

Ok it wasn't at all the crazy mind evolution that it was the 1st time i went, but i didn't expect it to be. i just wanted to pop in and say "hello" and i did.

Somebody there gave me a Sai Baba book w/ the cheezy title Master the Mind and Be a Mastermind, which isn't a great read or anything, but it does make me feel a wee bit guilty about my intentions of toking at Goa. Ah well, you win some you lose some.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Take 2 on the world of Sathya Sai Baba.

i came to see him 9 yrs ago and it was a pivotal moment in my life, when my logical rational mind was reluctantly but necessarily giving up my Faith in Atheism.

9 yrs ago, i came to his ashram and had mind-blowing conversations with almost everyone i bumped into, and even with Sai Baba himself i had experiences which went beyond Newtonian physics.

This time around, i come to see him with no real purpose except to pay my respects. I haven't seen him in a long time, and maybe will never have the chance again.

I feel that seeing him is comparable to seeing Jesus Christ when he walked the earth.

But this time around, my experience has been rather boring. Haven't had any wild connections, and not too much mind-bending conversation. Also, there's a LOT of waiting around for him, and he appears a lot less than he used to.

As i told one man this morning, "I feel ok. Good even, like Sai Baba is saying that I don't need anything from him right now."
"But what if he specifically called you here for some reason?"
"Well, then I'm still waiting to see it. Maybe in 20 minutes or tomorrow i'll see why he called me here. And that'd be great. Or maybe i won't. And that'd be great too."
i don't know if he dug my response so much.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Matrimandir

I feel very lucky that i was able to get inside the Matrimandir structure, which wasn't even listed as an option on the tour day itinerary. But Jackie pulled some strings, since we were rattling on about meditation already. But i didn't really get what it was about 'til i got inside of it.
i actually think it looks kinda tacky from the outside, but inside it's another world. 1st you walk up this ramp into the bottom 1/2 of the sphere. Everything is white. you take white socks out of a compartment and don them. The whole place is so f'ing quiet and pristine i was afraid to touch anything.
Two spiral walkways wind up through the globe to the top room. Refracted sunlight lights up the walls with glowing pink. It's weird, there's no way to identify which side of the sphere the sun is on. I felt like i was in some zen sort of Epcot Centre.
Then we went into the top room. I couldn't believe it. The temperature was weirdly cool. There was a strange echoey quiet. The only light source was a sharp shaft of light piercing down from the top of the sphere, into a crystal sphere in the centre of the room, after which it proceeded down through the bottom of the structure to the ground. Meditation spots were spaciously arranged. Cylindrical pillars stretched up into the spherical space.
Sorry, you'll never get the feel of the place from this description, but it was totally INTENSE. Everything was so meticulously arranged and so pristine. I was afraid to sit down. Never before have i ever been in such a powerful architectural space before. This place really inspired a sense of awe and perfection.
The closest thing i've seen might be Daniel Libeskind's Holocaust Tower. That was also quite powerful, but a lot more depressing. Therefore, i vote for Matrimandir.

Auroville: intentionality and experimentation, and definitely a work in progress

Now i know i'm usually all against tours, but this one kinda fell into my lap, and it was perfect. Basically i spent 8 hrs with a man who'd spent 30 yrs in Auroville, and he was totally cool, and we did whatever i/we felt like, and he answered all my questions, and we waxed philosophical quite often.

9 yrs ago i met a couple peeps who came from Auroville, and i was fascinated to learn of this experimental community where people were living in treehouses, trying to live without money, yadda yadda.

The town is named after Shri Aurobindo, an Indian guru, who along with The Mother, conceptualized and created Auroville.

Their charter explains it a lot better than i do:
  • Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville, one must be the willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.
  • Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages.
  • Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantage of all discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring towards future realisations.
  • Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual Human Unity.
Ha, but talk is cheap! Where's Auroville really at?

Jackie (my middle aged French tour guide) talked at length about the huge changes and growth which Auroville has seen in the last few decades.

About the people:
I asked him what percentage of people here are aware of the writings/teachings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. He looks at me in surprise. "100%! Why would anyone live here if they don't believe in these ideas? They might visit, but they would never stay."

What about the money? "I am French, i love cheese, so now they make cheese here, and i love it. But you must have money." He considers how people need to make a living, and money itself is not so bad. But his most poignent comment is about how before, Auroville was a few people who couldn't fathom the limits, eager to work, help, in any way possible. "We had no money, no motorcycles or cars, no houses. Now we have all of these things, but we are less happy."

Another gem: "Before there were two camps in Auroville, on opposite sides of town. People had to make the trek by bike or foot to reach the other camp. But if something happened, we all would know in one hour. We knew everything that was happening. Now we have motorcycles, phones, radio, internet. But if your neighbour dies, you might not learn it for days."

Anyhow we got on super well, and i got to milk him for details on taxation, population control, education, environmental issues, decision making policies, citizenship, life after Auroville, food production, trade, and much much more. All in all a very edjookayshnil time.

So is Auroville a...success? Hard to say. It does offer a lot, and Jackie comments that people who leave Auroville often return. It's not a bubble, nor does it try to be. But it is definitely a little microcosm of a town with unique problems and issues. The shared spiritual focus unites people in many ways, but sure doesn't eliminate differences in opinion. I do feel that Auroville is a powerful example to the world in many ways, though i am curious to find that i have no desire to join it. I kinda feel like we all live in the full-sized Auroville, though most of us don't know it.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Perils of Mumbai Transit

I forgot to mention this before, but here's the mad fact for the day. In Mumbai, roughly TEN people are killed by trains EVERY DAY. Yes, that's what i said. "More maybe," said my friend. Disbelieving i checked Wickiedia. 3500/yr, they report.

This is a major issue in causing train schedule delays.

But you often see people hanging out the doors. Sometimes on top. i couldn't believe it when my train pulled into the end station and a whole crowd of people disembarked, and jumped down into the adjacent tracks, to climb out on the other side. It was pretty hilarious. So long as a train doesn't pull in and smash in people's skulls.

In my favorite book of all time A Fine Balance, a train rider says, "Why does everybody have to choose the railway tracks only for dying? No consideration for people like us. Murder, suicide, terrorist killing, police-custody death-- everything ends up delaying the trains. What is wrong with poison or tall buildings or knives?"

If you haven't read it yet, i strongly recommend it. When you pick it up, it's hard to put down. i'm rereading it now, which is pretty crazy while in India, and all the richness and tragedy is in yr face.

It's Getting Hot In Here

Low's of 27.
Highs of 37.
Hardly a cloud in sight.
Shit, so much for monsoon season.

But it's not so bad. It was worse baking in the train to Chennai, where the seats and walls were busy toasting bread.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Don't Get Married Indian Style

After a 28 hr train ride, where i struggled with Indian names and faces and relations, passed out from 37 degree heat, and accidentally dropped my glasses down the toilet (but luckily (veeery luckily) the train was stopped at that moment, so i just grabbed them out of my own shit from under the train); we arrived in Mumbai at 5am.

Wedding preps and events began that morning, starting with an engagement ceremony. The couple weren't officially engaged yet, apparently, 'cause this swami dude needs to be involved. The couple had only been in each other's presence for 15 minutes previous to this day, though they'd talked on the phone at length. Arranged marriages are still more popular than i'd thought.

I was able to talk about things w/ the groom at length on the train ride over, and it was cool to hear his view about fate, compromise, and the importance of family relations.

Much to my surprise, indian Jain weddings aren't the same as western weddings. Here's some things i noted.
  • people don't pay much attention to whatever words of song the holy man is leading with. People wander in and out, have a smoke or a nap, kids crawl on and off the stage, even the groom or bride have side conversations in the midst of things.
  • if 600 people come to the wedding, there is no need to meet everyone. The wedding isn't to make the couple happy, it's to make the families happy. Weirdly, what this means is that more than 1/2 of the attendees only attend the buffet meal part of the wedding and pbly don't even see the bride or groom. This is considered normal. Seriously.
  • no drinking
  • The vast majority of people will leave before the actual wedding. If 600 people came to this wedding, maybe 60 stayed to see the "wedding". Maybe 30 stayed to the end of the ceremony (myself included). Why, you ask? Please see the itinerary below.
1. Engagement ceremony. The man stands around for a long time. Eventually a group of women come, holding a veil before the bride's face. They stand around for a long time. Eventually they shuffle to the stage. Traditional/symbolic gifts are given from each family. Holy man guy sings some songs and says some stuff that nobody can hear. It all takes a long time.

2. Veg meal #1. People in India will also complain about the food.

3. nap time.

4. the Party. The groom is decked out like a maharajah. He sits on a white horse. A band of drummers, horns, keyboard and singer bust out some traditional and bollywood style tracks. People are coaxed to dance. Money is waved in the air over dancers. The procession goes down the street to another hall. i bust out the only Bollywood dance moves i know, which were very well-received.

5. the Arrival. Everyone stands around for a long time. Then we go to a hall where the bride is waiting. Some people on stage talk (nothing is miked), and then maybe 2 hrs worth of photos are taken, w/ different groups lining up with the conjugal couple.

6. Dinner, as served by friends and family on the bride side. This is after 23:00, btw. Some servers are shockingly pushy trying to literally shove sweets into the mouths of the guests.

7. After midight: the wedding. The holyman talks and sings a bunch. He lights a fire on the stage. Smoke proceeds to irritate everyone's eyes and lungs. The couple walks around the fire 7 times, each time symbolic of something like, "I will always respect your family" or "I will always give you all of my money." Apparently not all vows are kept.

8. It's not over yet, because... the bride has stolen the groom's shoes! And he must negotiate to get them back. This monetary issue can be a real headache at some weddings. This time around they came bk for roughly $75 CDN.

9. Bed time. Everyone's completely knackered. It is now 4 am. The marital couple will not likely consummate their wedding this night, but will wait until they are more comfortable with each other.

Everyone slept for about 1 hr before heading off bk to the train for Mumbai, this time including the bride. She will now embark on a new life, in a new city, living with her husband's family, looking for a new job.

I was rather touched by the courage with which people accept the mores of their culture and religion. I wish the newly weds much harmony and happiness.

But i am also touched by my friend's comment from 4am last night. "If there is one lesson you learn from all of this, it's don't get married Indian style!"

The Streets of Mumbai

A word of advice.
When someone asks you if you want to ride in the car or on the back of a motorcycle, you might want to take the car.

But if you want to spend 20 minutes squeezing between trucks and buses and autorickshaws, trying not to crap your pants, worrying about how yr pbly participating in a "dangerous activity" which would forfeit your health insurance, and recalling the story a friend told you about how much blood was on the road when a motorcyclist wearing shorts hit the ground... then the choice is clear!

Note: Vinit assured me he was driving much more safely than he usually does. "When i'm alone, i'm a bit dangerous."

Saturday, July 12, 2008

I'm Not Frothing, It's Toothpaste

After posting yesterday i researched rabies.

  1. Many dogs in India have rabies
  2. More than 1/2 of world wide rabies deaths are in India
  3. Rabies has no cure
  4. If bitten you must take action immediately
Thusly, i freaked out, and ran looking for the nearest hospital. Which was (coincidentally) right across the street. i got a shot, some immunization booster pills (i had rabies shots when i was a kid), antibiotics, and ointment.

Good thing i got insurance or else i could be $12 out of pocket!

"There's No Such Thing As Bad Luck" or "Clotheless in Mumbai"

Let me preface this post w/ a comment a local student made to me when i asked him about Must Do's in Mumbai. "There's not a lot to do, but a lot of experience to be had."

Ok. No time now to go into detail about my tour of Asia's biggest slum. Afterwards, my friend Raju and i discussed luck a bit, hence the blog title.

Then i flaked out, and somehow forgot that the whole reason i wanted to get bk at 6:30 was so i could pick up my laundry. They close at 7:30. I remembered at 8. Tomorrow is Sunday. They are not open. I catch a train to Chennai tomorrow. Yay!

Tomorrow morning i will go shopping for pants and shirts and undies.

That's not bad luck, that's just life as me.

But then shortly after inconclusive banging on the laundromat door, i was walking past one of the countless dogs who laze around on the Mumbai sidewalks, and one nipped my ankle. Weird. No big deal, i just kept walking.

But then i realized that s/he actually broke the skin. That sucks. 'cause i shouldn't trust Indian dogs to be rabies free. so i washed w/ soap and water, and got some ointment on it.

i guess tomorrow i'll see a dr and get some antibiotics or something. what a pain in the ankle! Seriously. My thinking about it so much is making it throb.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Monsoon Season

When i was in India last, i thought that i would like to come bk during the monsoon season. Here's the reasoning.

1. Less tourists everywhere.
2. Less tourist industry everywhere.
3. Better room availability.
4. Cheaper rates.
5. Less tourists everywhere.

So here i am. it rains pretty much everyday off and on, and sometimes heavily. I am now the proud owner of an umbrella. But it's still pretty hot. 27-32ish. So asides from the fact that my guest house smells a bit dank sometimes, it's rad.

Take 2: India

Take 2 means that the last time i wrote about India, it nvr got saved or published. Such is life on an internet connection where it took me 1/2 hr to finally pull up an email from Heza. Take 2 also means that it's my 2nd time in India, the 1st being in 1999.

To sum up:
train from BJ to HK. 24 hrs of stumbling through mandarin w/ a Japanese guy who liked talking about alcohol and cigarettes. Nice dude.

HK now feels like the back of my hand, in a very nice way.

Flight to Mumbai. Met a man, Vinit, and we connected really well. So much that at one pt he asked me my star sign. Turns out that his bday is just 1 day previous to mine. Oh, them libras! He also invited me to his cousins wedding in Chennai, which is in a few days. Yay, Indian wedding! Jain, i think.

We will catch a train dn w/ 50 or so of his family members. i will not even be permitted to pay for my own train fare. sheesh. Then i will hang out in south india for a while, which is a-ok w/ me.

The above fully justified my plan to not plan, when travelling. How can pass that up?

Another typical Indian experience: synchronicity. 9 yrs ago on my 1st day in Mumbai i met a man who showed me around town and we stayed in contact for a while. 9 yrs later, on my 1st day bk in this city of 14 million people, i bumped right into him! he didn't recognize me at 1st, it was funny. i will have dinner at his house tonight and meet his wife.

As for India itself, i am very very surprised that it doesn't feel much different. i expected it to be all refurbished like BJ, but it ain't. Also, i kinda forgot how hectic it'd be here. It's like BJ but with goats and monkeys thrown into the streets, and instead of Chinese folk who peek at you out of the corner of their eyes, there's Indians who follow you aroudn and ask, "where you from? What is your good name? you want hashish? "

On that note, i should mention that i was hoping to have some "special cigarettes," since they don't exist in BJ. Here in Mumbai, it's constantly offered by dudes who seem greasy enough that they couldn't possibly be working w/ the cops. But it doesn't feel right.

Then yesterday i was at this stormy, blustery littered beach where crowds of Indians were hanging out. i met a few young lads who didn't speak much English, and after a while they offered me some hash. But i laughed to myself , cause honestly i could hardly think of a less chilled place to hang out. Mumbai and me wouldn't work well in any altered state, that's for sure.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

End of Year Report

As the school year is done and gone, and before i split for India, now's a decent time for a bit of reflection on my 10.5 months in good ol' China.

Things i Did
  1. Lots of touristy things, until i started finding the non-touristy things to do.
  2. Made a few friends.
  3. rode my bike around Tiannamen Square
  4. Performed the Beatles, Cub, Green Day, the Pixies, and the Velvet Underground w/ my students.
  5. As legislated by the BC curriculum, i ranted about eco doom and gloom.
  6. Started a weekly language exchange w/ the camel toe music teacher.
  7. Hopped on some mystery buses, not knowing where they were going.

Things i Haven't Yet Done
  1. Lots of touristy things, but i got time.
  2. Learn Mandarin. Ok, i can sorta stumble through a basic conversation w/ a cabbie, but not much more
  3. Become a master ping pong player (only 3 min clocked so far)
  4. The great wall marathon. Next yr, pbly. Ok ok, i'll pbly only do 10 km. Maaaaybe 21km.
  5. Understood Beijing. Only scratched the surface.

Things i Didn't Expect
  1. That i would eventually get sick of eating chinese food for every bloody meal.
  2. That the pollution would hide buildings 1km away
  3. That there would be so many lots of clear blue skies too
  4. That many people would be surprisingly knowledgable and open about things that they're not supposed to be knowledge or open about.
Things i Don't Like About China
  1. Car horns which are WAY louder than car horns in Canada, and used 300 time more often
  2. Toy whistles that double as bubble blowers. F'ing annoying
  3. Children's sandals that squeak with every step. Made that way. F'ing annoying.
  4. Terrible audio systems blaring out ads out of storefronts
  5. Pollution: air near the major roads can be thick, but on the side roads stupid 2-stroke engine vehicles can be ubiquitous.
And sorry, i will skip out on the Things i Do Like About China list. 'Cause isn't that what this whole blog's been about since its inception?

But i would like to say that China has other noteworthy shortcomings but they just don't bother me. Like the inability to let people off the bus before you get on the bus, and the angry pushing and shoving which ensue; the general disregard for traffic rules. etc etc. Everything here is a touch more frenzied than in Canada (a place where people seem abnormally polite, quiet, and law-abiding).

But you can't look at China for what it is, or compare it to the western world. You have to look at China in relation to China, and it has come a LOOOOONG way in a short time. It's a bit unnerving to think about the rapid pace of progress, which many people argue is too much too soon. i could take either side.

I am stoked to have more time to get to know this country, which i still feel is a pretty crazy place, but the craziness has definitely taken on a few shades of normalcy.

The work week'll do that to you.

Ok, nxt time i blog will pbly be from India. Take care of yrselves, and thx for reading.