Thursday, May 1, 2008
Apple pie On Buddha's Birthday
Apple Pie on Buddha’s Birthday - By Tamarra Kaida
Bowing Boy/ Bangkok
The elevator door opens onto the 10th floor of the Asian Hotel and reveals a teenage boy bowing deeply to us. He is wearing a dark oversized jacket and a white shirt. His pants hang on his bony hips like drapery. He is bowing up and down while we stand stuck in the opened elevator doors, mesmerized. Each time he bows his right hand jerks up to adjust a thin black telephone microphone which is anchored behind his right ear and extends to the front of his mouth.
The on the go constant communication with others not in sight seems to be the desired form of relating among teenagers no matter where they live on this wired planet. He is not talking to any one at present. He is wearing the mic phone just in case some one calls him. Mic phones and I-pods have become fashion statements, which are suppose to enhance the wearer’s status through technological hipness. Unconsciously, we have all started to yearn for upgraded bodies. Can human robotics be far behind? I have read that a secret phone imbedded in a fingernail is already in the works in China. Somehow a mic phone is too incongruous an apparatus to be part of a low pay, late night job at a 3 star hotel in Bangkok. It must be the boy’s personal communications device of choice.
“Kapun kap”, states the boy on his fourth deep bow. Finally, we snap out of our enthralled state and mutter “good evening” then push past the high tech bellhop greeter and follow the arrows directing us to the café. We exchange looks and burst into suppressed giggles.
“What was that all about”? Asks Paul.
“ Hospitality, Thai style”. I reply.
“Let’s go back and see if he does it again,” says Paul slyly.
We take the stairs down one flight push the button for the elevator and ascend to the 10th floor once more. The doors open and there he is, bowing to us again. We bow to him, “Kapun Kap.”
Paul grabs my arm and pulls me along behind him, as we round the corner we are already in hysterics.
Is this real? Or did we just happen to wander onto a TV sitcom set in a shabby Bangkok hotel with more affectation than quality? I wonder aloud.
“Is there a bowing boy on every floor”?
“No, just the 10th”.
“Because of the café”?
“Because of the café.”
The café is empty except for the two of us. It is a lonely place decorated like every bland restaurant in any city in America. The waiter would rather be somewhere else and I don’t blame him. The café is a generic attempt at modernism and is painfully plain. We order a scrambled eggs and tea. Safe. Inexpensive. Boring. Below us Bangkok blinks its myriad lights and cars flow on the strips of elevated highways like glowing toys. It is a sad, beautiful and lonely night. We, humans, have succeeded in removing the blackness from the night but we have lost the camaraderie of shared firelight.
We are alone with our machines as company. Radios and Televisions attempt to fill in the vacant sense of loss that hangs in the stillness of public spaces. A 1980’s Prince croons softly “ You’re a sexy mother fucker….” over the unseen speakers. It is a good night for absurdity to take precedence. We eat in tired silence. The waiter brings the check. We pay and head back to the elevators. At the end of the long beige and brown hallway is a long wooden table empty of any purpose whatsoever. Behind it slumps the bowing boy, sound asleep. The telephone mic askew next to his left cheek, his mouth open.
Without exchanging a word or a look we take the stairs so as not to waken him.
It is very late and we have an early morning flight to Kathmandu.
The photographs show Nepal to be an ancient mountainous land in habited by orange and red-robed monks, colorfully dressed women with broad smiles and armloads of necklaces, ear rings and ornamental decorations fit for fashion magazines. The text below the pictures proclaims it to be a land steeped in tradition and spirituality
The guidebooks refer to it as the ‘rooftop of the world’.
Some of the highest mountains in the world rise from Nepal’s soil. Mount Everest, in neighboring Tibet, once a forbidden icy peak accessible only to the bravest and most ardent mountain climbers is now a climber’s thoroughfare. Men, women and children come from all over the world to climb in the Himalayas. It is the ultimate in bragging rights, since Sir Edmund Hillary made the first assent in 1953. There have been others; the first woman to climb Everest and recently a legless man wearing high tech prostheses has achieved the feat. For the trekkers there are five, ten and twelve day treks offered by a variety of wilderness companies. Then there is hang gliding and river rafting. It is all here and everyone who has ever watched a National Geographic Special on Everest yearns to come to the Himalayas. Many do.
Paul and I are not among this set. We are not on a tour or a trek. We are here because it is vaguely exotic, famous for its monasteries and easier to acclimatize to than the higher altitudes of neighboring Tibet. And most significantly we were supposed to meet up with a Russian friend who dropped out at the last minute. Katmandu has a laidback hippie mystique that promises mysterious spiritual adventures, we hoped.
It is also the kingdom, where just 4 years ago, the young crown Prince disgruntled by his family’s refusal to let him marry the girl of his dreams, dressed up in army fatigues loaded several rifles and pistols and shot most of the Royal family during a reunion cocktail party in the palace.
There has been much unrest in Kathmandu and various political factions frequently skirmishing. Lately things have been quiet and so the trekkers and seekers have returned. The hotels are almost full. The streets and restaurants are busy with locals and travelers alike.
We are here too.
Here on this street corner snared in traffic, honking cars and a half dead cow hobbling across a jammed crossroads. The palace is behind, ugly high metal gates. There are street kids in rags lying on sidewalks or begging. There are men with vacant eyes roaming the crowded roads looking for anything that could improve their lives. Bechak drivers push their way past uncared for dogs that snarl at passers by. There are just too many people in too small a space.
A mix of races, religions and nationalities populates Kathmandu. Refugees from neighboring Tibet who have settled in for as long as it takes to free Tibet, Indians who have spilled over the adjacent border as well many ethnic tribes indigenous to Nepal. It is hard to tell who is actually Nepalese.
But one thing is easy to grasp. Kathmandu is above all a capitalist enterprise. Everybody is hard working and trying to get ahead by hustling the main source of income- tourists. Everyone is a salesman or a hustler or a con man or a tour operator or guide or flute hawker or a pashmina shop owner. Everyone’s’ brother or cousin can get you anything you may or may not want. One my third day in the Thamel district I stand on the busy street trying to remember where that great shop with the paper-thin silk shirts is located. A silk shirt awaits payment and pickup if only I could find the exact shop. “Mooka Silks?” I ask several locals. Everyone gets involved. They all scratch their heads, and then ask, “What is the telephone number?” Addresses are not much help as few buildings have numbers and usually every thing is referred to by something better know in its vicinity. “Is it near the Kathmandu Guest House or La Dolce Vita Restaurant or the Pilgrim Bookstore?” they query. “I don’t know the address just the name of the shop. I say this over and over. The bechak (pedi-cab) drivers offer me rides even though I have explained I don’t know where the shop is It was near here yesterday or so I remember More and more locals huddle around me like cartoon vultures, staring, muttering among themselves but unable to help me. Then, an enterprising young man offers to save the day for the American madam in distress. “You go eat at this restaurant, he points to a cafe that has lattes, cappuccinos, and home baked goodies in plentitude and variety. I will help you. I will look for the Mooka Tailor shop and bring you there later. He is so persuasive, so kind, so self assured that I do as he tells me. I realize there will be a fee for this service but this Johnny on the spot has figured out how to turn Madam’s problem into his profit. He is also skilled at the game of making you think he is doing this out of the kindness of his heart and the money is incidental, which most certainly it is not. But this opportunist has turned an hour of just hanging around into revenue. This is the type of capitalist hustler who has made America the economic success it is. He is a smart street con he employs his cousin in the earnest effort to locate the mysterious shop. He shows up just as I sip the last of my double latte. Together we whisk off in the golden chariot with the torn canvas hood. Mooka Silk is only a side lane away from where I thought it was. My Lancelot accompanies me into the shop and tells the owner that it is his fault that this lovely madam could not find him as he neglected to print the establishment’s phone number on the deposit receipt. Suddenly, everyone is apologizing, explaining, begging forgiveness waving his or her arms and asking me to sit in a chair and have a cold drink. It is a comedy of errors par excellence. Eventually, I pay for the shirt depart the shop thanking everyone for his or her kindness. “Namaste, Namaste” we say to each other.
Once outside, the performance is knocked up a notch by my shopping escort, complete with sentimental sighs and dramatic hand wringing. As my hero accompanies me to my hotel in his cousin’s tricycle cab, he tells me how difficult it was for him to find the shop. How many places he had to ask, how he has to send his sister and her daughter to school and how ill his mother is. I listen and listen and know that as each relative is mentioned the fee for the good deed has doubled, tripled and quadrupled. We arrive at the Utse Hotel in a few minutes. “How much?” Twenty-five dollars,” he says looking at the ground. My jaw drops. Then he says, “How much you want to pay?” We bargain, numbers are brought up and then countered. I pay him far more then I wanted too but I am too tired to bargain anymore.
Later, I realize the cheap shirt made of paper thin silk from India cost twice the price I would have paid in the States. This guy could sell anything to any one. And even though I have been conned by a facsimile of attention and kindness I can’t help being impressed by the charming fellow.
Kathmandu is one glorious hustle after another. There are no postcards depicting the seamless beauty of it. You have to see it for yourself.
After two days of temples, markets and tourists shops we are yearning for trees, sky and quiet.
We book a three-day bus trip to Royal Chitwan National Park where we will see the unusual Indian rhinoceros and maybe a Bengal tiger. Crocodiles are guaranteed! It is on the tourist trail. It is authentic in the sense that all the visitors do get to ride through the dense jungle on Indian elephants, pleasant creatures that tolerate 4 large westerners stuffed into a small wooden playpen contraption on their backs. Four elephants lumber into the woods each guided by a local boy whose job is to spot other animals, primarily the armor-plated rhinoceros shown in the resort pamphlets. The boy is also responsible to get everybody back to the jungle lodge with enough photos in their camera to make them feel they got the best-shot possible. The brochures show a luxury bed suite and a big blue pool. None of these images fit the Island Jungle Resort we are at, although it is good enough and the location on the Narayani River is picturesque and cool.
A fellow traveler named Bill is very American looking but is actually from Toronto and currently lives in London. Bill is heavy set, has an overhanging gut and closely cropped hair like a Marine, which he is not as he makes his living making sure office building windows are straight when they are erected. It’s all about level measurements and plumb bobs.
Bill is traveling alone but it is evident that he would like to be traveling with Akiko, a pretty Japanese women in her late twenties who is also traveling alone but seems to be having a lot more fun than Bill who is pissed off about everything. He was expecting a vacation with some luxury and nice scenery.
Bill is eager to tell us about his various travails thus far. And when we arrive at the Island Jungle Resort Lodges he quickly gets on his cell phone and calls the tour operator to complain about the rooms. There are no fans, electricity is only on until 8 pm and then you have to make do with kerosene lamps. About one half gallon of hot water is available upon request when the solar panels have been working all day. The lodge cabins, dining hall, bar and lounge the latter overlooking the river, feel like a camp for grownups as there are nature trails, bird watching walks along with the exotic elephant rides and the dug out canoe crocodile citing excursions. Some of the local flora and fauna are labeled with Latin nomenclature hand printed onto metal tags stuck into the ground before each plant or bush.
Bill wants a gin and tonic and a refund. After a few minutes of agitated pacing with his phone to his ear he returns to our wooden bench and proudly informs us that he has gotten the tour operator to refund half his fee. Since the trip is only $110 for 3 days it seems picayune. And yet, I know this sort of thing is exactly what happens to reasonable people who find themselves in a poor country and expect high living standards. Paul casually states that they don’t have enough energy to run everything. No one is sure if this is some kind of concerned ecological energy saving attempt or more probably the whole resort was built on a shoe-string budget and the owners are not completely sure of what they are doing except they want to make money.
The Island Jungle Resort is not too bad in my estimation and all the other guests seem eager to play together. If you get lazy and don’t show up for one of the scheduled activities a smiling boy appears at your cabin door to re-invite you to go to the 3 pm elephant river-bathing event.
Akiko, and a trio of French boys all climb on the elephants in the river. They stand on the elephant’s backs, push each other over the sides and get squirted by the elephants. And of course, they all get their pictures taken by everyone else that is standing on the shore smiling with pleasure at the fun time the kids are having. The French family is absolutely perfect. The mother is pretty, slim, dark-haired, stylish and naturally outdoorsy. The children are exactly one year apart and lineup in height levels of 2 or 3-inch differences. The father looks like a nice Dad who also makes enough money to take his brood to Nepal for an active vacation. C’est normal.
I watch them interact and wonder if their lives are as good and as lucky as it seems. Will the brothers remain friends for life? Will the attractive parents stay together or is a divorce to be part of their story?
Paul takes a few minutes of video footage and includes the lovely Akiko who we already like as she has quit her job as a medical lab assistant and is traveling on her own through Nepal, Tibet and India. I ask if she gets harassed because she is a lone woman traveler. She says no, she always leaves before that starts. She is very polite and very Japanese in her shy mannerisms.
Bill keeps trying to strike up a conversation with Akiko but she just nods at him and becomes invisible behind the language barrier. Bill is not into jungles, canoes, or crocodiles. He would prefer to be on a beach drinking gin and tonics with lots of ice. There is not enough electricity at the Island Jungle Resort to produce ice.
“I think I’ll head out of here for Goa as soon as this trip is over,” he informs us. I say all the nice polite things that are supportive of his decision.
More likely there is more wrong in Bill’s life than a miss-planned vacation. Everything about him is needy and sad and I wish I could fix it and I know I can’t and so I avert my eyes and focus on the German couple dressed entirely in black. The tall young man, Gunter from Cologne, in his early thirties, is ether an artist or a musician. His skinny girl friend is blond, moody and smokes one hand-rolled cigarette after another. Gunter speaks English and is heavily tattooed on almost all the surfaces of his body except his face. He wears a black tee shirt that advocates anarchy versus lethargy and complacency. Everything about him is a sign, a thoroughly postmodern person. He is intelligent and had traveled in Tibet when he was in his early twenties. He did it the hard way and is still proud of it. The girl friend makes zero effort to smile or communicate. We are obviously too old or too American to interest her. It is hard to be happy if you are already tired of everything on earth at the age of 23. She is on this trip because Gunter wanted to go. Obviously, it is the only way to be with the pierced and inked man of her dreams.
A middle-aged couple from the Middle East, possibly Turkey, sticks together and avoids excess conversation with anyone including each other. I can’t help wondering what made them decide to visit Nepal. What are they looking for? What are we all looking for that we can’t find in our own countries?
At 4 pm we climb an elephant-loading platform and squeeze ourselves into the wooden seats. It is not comfortable as your legs just dangle off the sides. Branches, vines and twigs have to be watched for as we suddenly find ourselves in the trees. In a few minutes the boys separate their elephants from the straight-line procession and head into dense jungle. There are shouts and calls. Suddenly the boy who is guiding our elephant lets out a blood curdling Tarzan call and we are looking directly at a bulletproof rhinoceros that has been quietly chewing a bush and is annoyed at this sudden disturbance. The two creatures stare at each other and I can feel the elephants hide quiver. He is ready to show the rhino who is the boss. I would rather the elephant chose to play coward and just back up a bit. It is the rhinoceros that blinks and turns his back and departs down a small path into the brush.
Our elephant boy driver is tugging and shouting commands and finally the elephant obeys. He spots a mother bear and two clinging cubs hanging off her sides. She heads for a stream and the boy urges the elephant to follow. Everyone is snapping photos as best they can. I am doing this as well but I don’t know why as it is too far to really get a good image and the light is fading and flash is already necessary. The boy is relentless. He gives another piercing yell and the other elephants show up. Now there are 4 elephants and 16 tourists surrounding this terrified mother bear and her cubs. We decide this is ridiculous and put our cameras back into our camera bags. We start to pull on the elephant boy’s shirt. “No more, let’s go back. This enough, we got photo enough.” The bear slips into the woods and the elephants turn and we walk back to the loading platform. We climb off and when we touch ground. I vow to skip tomorrow morning’s elephant ride. I start to think that I should become a rabid animal rights activist, as I like animals more than I like most people. I settle for writing a carefully worded letter and placing it in the suggestion box.
Crocks and Tigers
Cruising for crocodiles is far more relaxing than nature walking on a mosquito riddled trail. I lounge in the dug out canoe and take photos of the two boatmen while Paul joins the hikers. We pass a mound with a cross on the banks of the river.
“What is that”?
“Man who got killed by tiger last year,” answers the front boatman.
“Oh yes, one come to camp last week”.
“Yes. Big boy tiger”.
This information disrupts my idea that this is a sort of set up Zoo Park where tourists ride off every evening and gawk at the same two rhinos that we spotted the day before.
Maybe, the exotic other that we crave in one form or another is not just a tourist attraction, but also the real thing, and actual danger is part of the package deal.
I wanted to spend Buddha’s birthday in Lumbini where he was born. Lumbini is in southern Nepal near the border with India, but every one said that the better place would be in Bodanath just outside of Kathmandu. The deciding factor to scratch Lumbini was the idea of another 7-10 hour bus ride on switch back roads.
Bodanath came highly recommended by our Bali friend, Carmen, who lived in Kathmandu for a year and spent most of it in a small monastery run guesthouse in Bodanath
We take her advice and find the Shechen Monastery and the clean and quiet 20-room Rabsel guesthouse with outdoor garden and vegetarian restaurant. It is a secret hidden place that is inexpensive and friendly. Most of the other guests are international travelers. Two French women in their fifties add the French tinkle to the mix of lively conversations taking place in the garden. I ask if it would be possible to talk to a Buddhist monk as I am writing about Buddha’s birthday in Bodanath. The waiter returns and says there is an English-speaking monk who will meet me at 4pm and permit an interview.
“ That was easy”, I say to Paul, “considering my readership is a bunch of art friends and reluctant family members.”
Hey, don’t question Fate!
You think this is Karma or something?
Yea, something… like that.
Interview with a Monk
At 4 pm, Paul and I are introduced to Acharya Chenwang Samdrup Gurung of Shechen Monastery. He declines any drinks and presents me with a DVD of the movie Himalaya. Acharya is an energetic, friendly 26 year-old monk who has just passed his major philosophy exams and has started assisting in public talks to lay people in the plaza near the Bodanath Stuppa. He will be speaking at 6pm and can only give me an hour of his time.
The dark shading of his hairline is visible on his closely shaven head. His skin is the color of honey on wheat bread. But it is the energy I notice right away, as it is both gentle and viral. He apologizes for his poor English and says he wishes it were better. His English is good enough to have a conversation and that is all I want. He tells me it is Karma that we should talk together and he is honored to meet me.
I am surprised by this comment but also inexplicably flattered. Could I actually have some karmic history with a monk? Or am I just ratcheting up my self-importance with a desirable story?
I start with a series of prepared questions.
“How long have you been a monk”?
“Since I was nine years old”.
“What made you decide to become a monk”?
“This interesting story. Very funny. When I was 7 or 8 years old I live with my family in small village in mountains, in Mustang region. People live there like in 18th century. I take care of animals, yaks. I already a shepherd. One day an uncle from my mother’s family come to our village. He is dressed differently from us. He has a shirt and tie and he talks in a better way. Later I say to my mother, can I be like the uncle. No my mother told me. He is educated and you are not. He lives in Kathmandu and has a government job. But I want to be like him I cried. The next day the uncle was to go back to Kathmandu. In the early morning I stole his suitcase and took it to another village. My family found me later and my father has big talk with me and brings me back home. But later my father says I can go to Kathmandu with my uncle. My brother is put in a monastery and I in a regular school. I am unhappy as I am outsider and children make fun of me. I see my brother’s life was happier so I want to be a monk. I asked my parents and they said OK. I became student of H.H. Dilgo Khentse Rimpoche, who was the teacher of the Dali Lama and head of the Nyingmapa Sect of Tibetan Buddhism. He took me and I see there is a karmic connection to this high monk. So the impossible become possible.” He laughs loudly and happily, and then continues his story.
“He cut my hair; give me new name, Gyurme Ngedon, new clothes, new identity”.
“What is life like for a young monk, what do you do, what do you study”?
“I studied in elementary school at Shechen Monastery for six years, grammar, Tibetan language, Buddhist history, Tibetan history, at age fifteen I moved to the training course. There I learned about Buddhist rituals dancing, chants, and music. After 2 years in training course I move to Buddhist philosophical college near here. I studied ten years there. This year I will graduate at the teaching level or professor”.
He sounds proud of his achievement.
And sees I am impressed, sits up straighter and continues.
“At seventeen I started learning the Sanskrit language. The head of the monastery asked me to go teach in Nepalese. I was not good in the Nepalese language. But he tells me I must give Buddhist teachings to the lay people in the Nepal Buddhist community. I learn and later I translate high lamas who come to Bodanath to give talks. They speak only Tibetan”.
“How did you learn English”?
“Oh, just here and there. I want to study more so that I can translate to English from Sanskrit. Translate books and give teachings to others. I am a learner. Someday teacher”.
I smile, and look directly at him as I change the line of questioning.
“What is Happiness to you”?
He lurches at the question. I can sense his eagerness to get into it.
“Actually happiness is simple. I am happy if I take a sip of juice because it relieves my small thirst. This is little bit of happiness”. He looks directly at me and says, “All sentient beings want to be free of Samsara and to help others is my happiness. If we can renounce our ego then there is less suffering. Meditation is the key”. The answer sounds learned and predictable even if true.
“What kind of meditation do you do”?
“There are many levels of meditation. Level one is mind concentration. Level two is compassion and level three is visualization on emptiness.
Buddha is very heavy. His body turns into rays. When I meditate on his image. He is heavy so that our minds don’t blow everywhere like paper blown by some wind. First you concentrate for 10, 20, 30 minutes, once you can concentrate for one hour then you move to level two, compassion. Our mind is like a king and our bodies like a servant”.
Paul breaks in with a spontaneous question.
“How do lay people take in the suffering for other people? We see people who are hungry, sick, begging on the street. As westerners we want to run from this, we don’t know how to help without becoming overwhelmed”.
“We have to accept Karma. Every sentient being is working toward happiness. We all want to be free of suffering. But we do not have the knowledge on how to get happiness. Poor people want to get money so maybe they become a thief. That is not the correct way. He is hurting others by stealing and making more bad karma. Your mind has to be pure mind to give others happiness. In the world there are many beggars, it is the result of their previous actions. We need to feel compassion. Oh I can help this person even if all I can give him is my compassion. You must look within and give what you can”.
“Have you experienced Nirvana”?
“If you remove the differentiation between people you like and people you dislike then you may reach nirvana. If you cannot remove differentiation, then you will never reach nirvana. We have to have compassion for all sentient beings, think of them as your mother. Your body is like a guesthouse and the mind is like a guest. Our mother has helped us, fed us, taught us, and loved us. When you are free of differentiation you treat everybody with the love for your mother. Think of them as your mother.
God is one but manifests as many things. We are Buddha seed but obscured by our egos. We can clear our minds by practicing meditation. Like wind that clears the clouds from the sky. Buddha cannot remove people’s suffering by himself. We are ill with attachments, ignorance, and ego. These are the four roots of our suffering. When we die we have to leave behind our wealth, property, friends, and body. All we take is our Karma, good and bad”.
I can’t help noticing that like a good politician the young monk has avoided answering the direct question. At this moment we are sitting at a table for four in the shaded patio of the restaurant. Others are involved with their own conversations but I am aware of an American man sitting just behind the monk and directly in my line of sight. I cannot ignore him. He is straining to hear every word. Suddenly I feel compassion. I want to be inclusive. So I get up and say, would you like to join us? I noticed you are interested in our discussion.
“Oh is it that obvious?” asks the man who quickly joins our table and introduces himself as John from San Francisco. He has been part of a Buddhist meditation group in the Bay area and is in Nepal with them.
“I couldn’t help over hearing and I want to clear something up. You see”, he says to the monk, “in America we don’t all love our mothers the way you seem to here. So, that is a not a good example about love and compassion as many westerners can not relate to it.” The monk is perplexed.
I feel the monk’s unease. His head sinks into his shoulders, his eyes look at the wooden table. John continues to explain ideas westerners have trouble grasping. He launches onto ego issues and how he has been working on these. He has lost two marriages and several friendships to ego but now he has a handle on it and feels he is progressing in his meditation practice. Paul and I exchange instant looks of disbelief and dismay. I can see that I have made a big error in judgment in my invitation. The flow of our conversation has faltered. The monk becomes defensive. John does not notice this. He talks on and on.
All of the energy is draining from the small circle we had created. To try and move the discussion onwards I ask what is the difference between Zen Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism. As I ask this I realize it is a stupid question. Too academic and one I am not really interested in at this moment. But John and the monk go into it and John is eager to show off his erudition and the monk’s English skills grow weaker as his confidence is undermined. Finally, the monk stands and says he has to go. I thank him and make a donation to his monastery. I ask if it would be possible to visit his village in the more remote Mustang region of Nepal. “Would you be interested in taking us to your village?” “Yes”, I can do that,” and he gives me his email address. His cell phone rings and he excuses himself to take the call.
While I shake hands with the monk John responds to my question, “Oh I think there are a lot more rituals more deities, more ceremonies in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen is down to the bones. I look at John and wonder if he has any idea of the effect he has had on the group. I am struggling with compassion and failing miserably. It is over
John takes a sip of his tea and says, “They have a hard time teaching westerners because they don’t understand us.”
I stare at him dumbfounded. I am about to give him a piece of my mind when Jennifer from John’s group shows up and he jumps up to hug her.
Paul and I retreat to our room. I am agitated and outraged. “Who does that ass think he is”, I bark as soon as the door is closed. “Just because he spends a couple of hours sitting on a cushion in some meditation hall in San Francisco doesn’t make him an expert on Buddhism. Did you see how he took over?”
“Why did you invite him to join us”?
“I don’t know… I guess I returned to the teacher role and wanted everyone to participate and learn together. Or something… I think I saw his need and I wanted to give him what he wanted.”
Paul dramatically pantomimes playing a violin.
“I know, doing unto others as you would have them do unto you doesn’t always work”.
“Where in Buddhism does it say that”?
“ I don’t know and it probably doesn’t. It’s the mixed up blend of beliefs I try and get by with. But there is a lesson in this encounter. The monk didn’t like his authority undermined. John just had to show his erudition. He had to correct the monk’s lack of knowledge about American’s attitudes towards their mothers. He has read a lot about Buddhism and he had to show off. The monk gave examples he has heard in lectures by his teachers. He is a student and has student experiences”.
“What is the lesson”?
“Well, It must be that if we could stop the differentiation between the monk whom we liked and the American jerk that we didn’t like that we would be half way to Nirvana”.
We sit on the edge of our twin beds, quiet. After a few minutes Paul says, “Let’s go to the stuppa and see what’s going on.
Tomorrow is Buddha’s birthday. They must be setting up”.
On the path, which leads to Bodanath Stuppa, we pass several shops selling jewelry, pashmina and even a tailor who sells cloth for Buddhist robes. It is chilly and I am drawn toward a large maroon pashmina like the ones the monks wear. The shopkeeper wraps me up in the shawl. I feel safe and special. Like I did when my father took me on walks and enveloped me with his big sweater. Paul pays the man and we continue. The thing about all of the holy places I have ever visited, be it Lourdes, Fatima, or many Hindu temples in Bali, is that one can always do a little shopping on one’s spiritual path to the sacred site. Commerce and religion are tourism’s happy bedfellows.
The Bodanath Stuppa is the largest and one of the most holy Buddhist shrines in all of Nepal. It is surrounded by many monasteries and attracts serious Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims as well as western tourists of various religious persuasions.
Every evening from 4 to 8 pm visitors, pilgrims and locals walk around the circular white dome with the spooky painted eyes at the top. The stuppa is said to hold a bone from Buddha somewhere inside the center. So, the Tibetan Buddhists are like Catholics who worship the remains of saints and build churches and reliquaries around mortal remains. There are prayer wheels around the base, which can be spun by the touch of passing hands of pilgrims. There are incense and candles in various locations on and around the stuppa. The Tibetan prayer flags flutter in long strands from the top layer of the white cake like structure to all sides of the surrounding plaza.
Ringing the stuppa are shops and stalls selling prayer beads, antiques, pashmina shawls, and Tibetan singing bowls. Spices and powders sit in large sacks on the doorsteps of shops and hallways. Restaurants are on the ground and several stories up with a view. Every private house has become a guesthouse. We are drawn to the New Orleans Café, which has a three tier glass cabinet displaying deep-dish apple pie, black forest cake and blueberry muffins.
Beer, French wine great pasta, as well as buff steak is available. This must be a hot spot cafe as there is a monk sitting at his laptop and doing email. The girl from France is eyeing the designer jewelry case on the glassed in sidewall. I order latte and Paul chooses a double cappuccino plus lemon meringue pie as the apple is all sold out. We eat and watch the pilgrims walk. We note the monk with the crutch and the old woman whose feet hurt and the trio of Indian girls dressed in jeans and high heels trotting around the stuppa for the fifth or the sixth time. Some are just walking in a distracted manner and chatting with each other. Others purposefully spin prayer wheels and finger their 108 bead rosary strands. It is a social as well as a spiritual event.
May 2 is Buddha’s birthday. There are heaps of flowers, piles of candy and fruit offerings. Each shrine holds piles of burnt incense, candles and small fires. Red powder covers some of the statues. People climb the stuppa for the view, to have their photo taken with the city rooftops behind them and to meditate. Some are there for private requests and there is more then one prostrating monk circumambulating the stuppa. They wear a thick dark cloth aprons to protect their clothing from becoming threadbare. They put their palms together, drop to their knees and continue into a full face down prostration. They raise, stand up press their palms together and then repeat the prescribed steps while chanting and remaining in meditation. Some Tibetan pilgrims do this for several hundred miles. The amount of physical exertion required for these acts of devotion is astonishing. It is humbling to witness several monks make their way around the stuppa 108 times. This is the number of beads on a string of prayer beads. The Catholic Rosary is a derivative of this ancient Buddhist practice for stilling the mind
Paul and I each have a string of wooden beads and we silently chant. Gradually we make our way to the top layer of the stuppa. Close to the top a pair of painted eyes on each of the four sides, watch all the pilgrims and visitors. There is an almost carnival feeling to the site. At night the distant lights of Katmandu look lovely. The myriad arrays of prayer flags flutter out prayers onto a needy world. Paul and I walk and push one bead after another and chant “ohm mani padme hum” while placing one foot in front of the other. We circled the stuppa seven times and now feel calm and peaceful.
“ Now what”? I say? Paul points towards the New Orleans Café, where the deep-dish apple pie is to die for. Later we sleep in our beds and the dogs barking in the wee hours never wake us.
Post Birthday Blues
One of the reasons I wanted to visit Kathmandu was to soak in the spiritual vibrations. Bodanath just a few miles outside of Kathmandu is the only place, which affected me spiritually. The morning after Buddha’s birthday Paul and I walked through the stuppa enclave. A band of beggars accosted us next to a store which was playing Buddhists chants CD’s. Inexplicably, I started to cry. I sobbed and sobbed into Paul’s shoulder and we stood like that for several minutes while everybody went about his or her business. It hit me like an onslaught of woe. Yes, yes, I thought. This is Samsara. Life is suffering and ignorance and doubt and pain of all kinds. And maybe we are reborn into this arena to suffer and hurt and love and hate until we can finally stop. That’s the basic deal the Buddhists offer. Heaven and hell is what we reap right here on the bricks and mortar of this earth. But it seems intolerable that so many live in poverty degradation and abuse. Karma is such an unsatisfying answer. It makes me feel ashamed of my personal good fortune compared with most of the people in this wretched city. It dosen’t feel like Karma, just better luck.
It sinks in like a dead stone that I know nothing and that I believe everything and nothing and that I wish it were otherwise with all my heart, but it isn’t. I want what we all want deep down; that the world be a better place.
A man in a long gauzy Indian shirt and white pants walks over and says. “She is overcome with memories and emotions.” He states to Paul who is still comforting me in our tiny patch of privacy. “You would be able to control your feelings better if you meditated,” He tells me. I am sure he meant this as kind advice but I resent his interruption and blurt out, “I don’t want to control my feelings. Leave me alone.” We turn to leave and bump into two more beggars who fall upon us with dramatic sorrowful eyes like extras in a Bollywood film.
Again I am tested in my ability to show compassion and to not differentiate. There are no private moments in Kathmandu. Everything and everyone is an opportunity for yet another lesson. Indians like to give advice. We give the beggars money and scramble into the first taxi we see.
Hotel Utse we tell the driver who is a young skinny kid who seems to have learned how to drive last Wednesday and has never been in the nations capital just 3 miles from Bodanath.
The kid heads down rutted alleys slips and slides out of muddy potholes the size of bathtubs. Suddenly, he stops in front of a pile of large rocks someone has put at the end of this alley in order to keep cars out. There is no way to back up. So the boy gets out and moves few rocks. They seem heavy. He pushes and prods. Two women come up and watch him. The old lady yells something at him in Nepalese. He is sweating grunting but he has moved enough stones to get by. He gets back in, guns the car over one of the stray stones and escapes onto the main street. The old lady shouts. He gets out of the car and hurriedly replaces a few of the disturbed stones. The barricade is restored.
The car inches into the traffic jam of trucks, motorbikes and buses and so we sit for ten minutes until someone lets our car through. Everyday is a battle in Kathmandu. Traffic lights would clear up the problem but that would mean spending government money on public services rather than corruption. Life is excessively hard in Kathmandu.
Back in Thamel
Paul goes to the Utse Hotel, which has become our home base in Nepal. He is going to book a bus trip to Pokhara, a place of relaxation with a large lake and never ending views of the snow covered peaks of the Himalayas. I head for the bookstore. There are many in Katmandu. This excites me, as bookstores in Ubud, Bali, my adopted hometown,
are mostly second hand or Periplus franchises. The storeowner is hidden behind a desk piled high with copies of large photographic books on Tibetan landscapes, Mount Everest, Tibetan tribes, Tibetan folk dress and exotic jewelry on the necks and wrists of beautiful girls with warm smiles and almond colored skin. Above these there is a 12-foot high wall of shelves reachable only by a wooden ladder. Books on Buddhism and Shamanism beckon me. How can there be so many books when nirvana can only be attained by direct enlightenment. And of course, at least a dozen books about or by the Dali Lama, each of which has a pleasing photo of His Holiness on the cover. The Dali Lama has done more to bring attention to Tibet’s plight for independence from the Communist China. He is a holy man with a good understanding of necessary marketing tools that help his cause. In an ironic twist of fate the Chinese leaders are beginning to figure out that Spirituality sells and that Lhasa can be museum site for Tibetan Buddhism. I wonder if Lhasa will one day become an Asian Venice, sans canals a place that tourists visit but locals can no longer afford to live in. I hope that time is along time away.
The romantic hippy quest years are long gone and the omnipresent trekkers have taken over. There are more discos and bars and far less hash to be found. The Northface clone shops displaying nylon cargo pants, fleece mountain jackets, hang next to the colorful cotton baggy pants geared to post hippies with nose rings and shoulder tattoos.
Katmandu is renown for adapting to the needs of the market place.
There are posters announcing talks by various monks, yoga courses, Nepalese Language classes and Thanka painting instruction. Tourist gourmet gift shops which also sell tastefully wrapped packages of Rhododendron organic tea, Rose hip tea, Nepalese high mountain tea green tea, white tea and scoops of ground red turmeric, purple lavender and green oregano. Kathmandu merchants are in step with the latest trends in tourist tastes and they are happy to cater to TV cooking show addicts who travel to eat and explore, just like Anthony Burdain.
The shop keepers and I chat about where I am from and about the freshness of the herbs and “no madam it is not possible to buy the fermented millet which is served in the Tibetan hotels but if I wish I can go with him to his friends place…. and maybe for a price I can get the beer making millet”. “Well,” I say, “my husband won’t be interested in an afternoon of millet hunting so I had better decline.” I buy 10 packages of various teas, five bags of pungent spices and two recipe books with black and white illustrations. “Great gifts!” I exclaim. Everybody bows and smiles. Happiness for only fifteen dollars US.
The Thamel tourist district has grown by leaps and bounds and Tibetan refugees have raised their families in tourist hotels and continued lighting candles and chanting each morning and evening. Several portraits of the Dali Lama grace the walls of the lobby of the Utse guesthouse.
The strange thing is that I get the sense that Nepal is a sort of second hand Tibet or a third hand India. What the hell is pure Nepalese in this miasma of commerce and accommodation? Kathmandu has done a remarkable job of moving with the times and supplies Western travelers with their hearts desire. Today that desire is trekking, eating and pashminas.
Paul has not phoned me to meet him for lunch on my tri-band international mobile phone. So I proceed to the next shop. Which curiously sells only hand blown glass hash pipes. There are rows and rows of green speckled and yellow ringed pipes in small, medium and large. The shopkeeper has a twisted arm and hand. Most likely childhood polio. But he is happy and friendly enough. He is grinning from ear to ear. WOW I say these are really pretty. I would love to buy one of these but what am I going to do with it, as I have no hash. The gnome like man climbs out from behind the counter and opens a secret sliding panel in the wall and pulls out a small plastic bag with a wad of hashish in a dirty newspaper. Wow! Is this real?
He nods still grinning.
Is it legal? I ask wondering if somehow I might be in some kind of entrapment situation.
No. He says.
I look in his eyes and see that he is wondering the same thing about me. Could I be a tourist narcotics agent sent here from Washington just to bust this poor stoned polio stricken shopkeeper?
How much for the pipe?
Ok. Sold! I put 400 rupees ($6.00 US) on the glass counter. He wraps up the contraband and I depart. Wow! I exclaim once more, to no one in particular. The legendary cheap druggy Kathmandu of the seeking sixties. has not completely died out!
Nothing beats breaking the rules for fun and excitement. For the next hour I am not an aging matron with packets of tea gifts in her plastic bags, but the hippy chick I was years ago with hash at the bottom of her purse.
Truth or Dare
I had asked the man behind the computer surrounded by books on mysticism and enlightenment if he knew of a good astrologer in the area. Without looking up he points to the bulletin board.
Then he remembered his manners and noticed me struggling with my armload of books on Tibetan Buddhism and Nepalese Shamanism.
Put those in that basket and sit down. He points to a wooden stool.
“You want a good astrologer? Or just someome one who will tell you what your future holds”?
“Well, I already know what is in my past so I guess the future is what I am interested in.” I say lightly.
He reaches into his wallet and pulls out a piece of paper, then he copies the information onto a yellow sticky pad sheet.
“ I don’t know if she is still in Bodanath but if you can find her she is the real thing.”
“Oh that is great as we are staying in Bodanath and maybe I can locate her.”
I stare at the name and telephone number.
At the Shechen guesthouse I ask the desk boy to call the number. There is no hassle. She is home, she can see me now. The boy will bring me after he gets one of the waiters to watch the front desk.
“ Ask and you shall receive,” kids my husband. “You go I’m taking a short nap.”
I follow the boy through several alleyways, across a street with a stalled cow in the middle of the road. Cars and motorcycles maneuvering around the sad looking animal.
“Why are the cows in the street”?
Because holy cow. Cannot kill.
“But isn’t it in a field eating grass instead of risking its life in traffic and causing traffic jams.
“ No fields in Kathmandu”.
He is right about that. There are hardly any trees except a few sacred Banyan trees on certain auspicious corners.
Holy cows wandering in traffic, Soothsayers who SMS messages on cell phones but no fields for cows who no longer give milk. The cows are holy but they are also abandoned and left to get by. Kathmandu is a conundrum.
My boy guide knocks twice on a door. A voice calls from within. He steps aside and motions I enter past a heavy woolen curtain, which must have been a blanket at one time.
The room is like a wooden cave. The walls are grungy from candles smoke and street dirt and time.
The woman sits at a small table. The air is heavy in the room. “Please, please, sit down. “I am Liana”, states the woman in the red and pink sari. She has a red painted spot on her forehead.
I introduce myself. We eye each other. I smile submissively. There is no doubt in my mind as to who is in charge in this cave.
She says something in Nepalese and a young girl appears from the shadows with chipped cups of tea heavily seasoned with local honey. The girl is about 13 years old and pretty. She also has a red dot in the space between her eyes, but she is wearing a blue sari.
We agree on a price for my future.
Liana takes a long look at me. Her brown fleshy face dominated by a strong nose is framed by graying hair pulled into a neat bun behind her neck.
Liana’s voice has a lilting rhythm common to Indian speakers of English. She is educated and aware. This is no small town peasant picking up a few extra rupees by flattering tourists. This is a woman you take seriously.
“ Let me tell you a story.” She says, smiling knowingly at me.
I wonder, “does she know about my obsession with Story? Why is she emphasizing the word story? ”
“The world is not made up of atoms but rather of stories. Am I right?”
I nod. She has just recited one of my favorite quotes by Muriel Rukeyser. Is she letting me know what she knows about me or is she letting me know that we are on the same page philosophically speaking.
“This is a karmic story. A true one you will recognize in the future.”
I blink but say nothing.
“Yes, you will understand in the future.” She laughs gaily and her exposed belly flesh jiggles. I become aware of her body, her smell, her enveloping energy. This is a tigress in a human body. Am I in the den of a shape shifter? Is this an X file story or travel tale?
‘Once upon a time, as you Europeans like to say. There will be a man and a woman who will love each other very much. I will call him John and her Samara. He will be tall, blond and have sapphire blue eyes. As kind and handsome a man as you will like to meet and he will own a bookshop in Kathmandu. At times he will take seekers trekking to caves and power places that are unknown to outsiders. He will be much loved and much blessed because he will have a beautiful Nepalese wife. She will have a lovely voice and her singing will be so sweet that birds will come to her window to listen and learn. Samara will excel at Indian cooking and prepare dishes that few remember how to make anymore. She will bare John two extraordinary children, a boy and a girl. These children will be very important in the future you will not see. They will be forces of good borne from an uncommon love that is a perfect blend of East and West. A Karmic marriage made in heaven.
Occasionally, outsiders who do not know of their blessings will feel sorry for John and Samara because all they will see was their obvious physical deformities. You see, Samara has only one leg, but she hops quite capably on her left foot and sometimes forgets to use her crutch. She is lithe and lovely and happy and so she is beautiful both inside and out. John has only his right arm, as the left one ends in a fleshy nub just below his elbow. This is how you will know them. There is no need for sadness or pity. They were born with deformed limbs and never knew anything different. They never felt sorry for themselves. Everyone understands it is their karma, something left over from a past life that needs to be resolved.
John is an only child of an English woman and Samara is born into a large and happy family of girls with parents who love and spoil them. John came to Nepal in 2000 when he was 5 years old. His mother is a photographer and a seeker. She will find her dream in Tibet but not for many years.
The boy and the girl must meet. The seed of love must be sown through their eyes. It will blossom years from now.
“ Why are you telling me this story? I don’t know these people?”
“ That is not important. It is important that you know their story and that they will have children who will be of importance in the far future.”
She pats my hand then asks me if I have any questions and tells me to drink the cold tea.
I just sit. I had questions about my little life when I walked in, but I cannot remember a single one now.
She takes my hand and says, “You must never forget that truth is superior to facts and to trust your heart.”
I nod. After awhile I pay her and back out past the curtain bowing and thanking her.
Once outside I fill my lungs with cold clean air and refocus. The boy asks me to follow him back through the maze of alleys and short cuts to the monastery hotel where my husband is reading a book in our clean quiet room.
Bus to Pokhara
We have paid extra to ride the luxury air-conditioned bus and the bus attendant gives us two front seats. Plenty of legroom and open view.
We settle into our senior citizen reward seats and watch the rest of the passengers climb on board.
It is a cool morning and I have pulled out one of my pashmina shawls against the chill. A woman climbs on board. She is in her thirties and has a spaghetti strap tea shirt that clings to her small perky breasts. She has a beautiful tattooed dragon snaking its way up her arm all the way to the cap of her tan shoulder. She is wearing bright orange balloon pants. Her blond hair is a messy mass of curls. Her limber body suggests that she might be a yoga teacher, but the cigarettes peeking out of her pocket imply otherwise.
An Indian man and his brother squeeze past the young woman, who has chosen to sit across the aisle from us. More westerners in trekking pants and lightweight jackets scramble past us, dragging back packs. I drink some bottled water and close my eyes knowing this will be an all day ride.
Next, a blond scruffy seven year old boy with shoulder length blond hair and a red back pack scampers up and plops several candy bars and a game boy on the seat next to the hippy woman with the dragon tattoo.
He stuffs his pack into the overhead and tells his mother he wants the window seat. She obliges without uttering a word. They seem like brother and sister rather than mother and son. But that could be an aspect of their ability to travel together. Travel turns everyone into equals. It is easier to talk to people when traveling then in everyday situations. The boy turns to get past his mother and I notice his arm ends at the elbow.
More passengers walk past us toward the back of the bus and I turn to look at who is on the bus. There is no Indian family with a one legged girl and her three sisters.
The bus driver settles into his seat and talks to some one on a cell phone. The coach aid passes out bottles of spring water from a large cardboard box. Still, no Indian family. No one legged girl. The aid counts the passengers. There are two sets of seats empty in the sixth row of the bus. The aid closes the door.
“ Wait”, I say, to the aid. “I have to go to the restroom. Toilet…”
I push past Paul who is looking at me with discomfiture. “Didn’t you go earlier?”
“ I have to go again.”
I make my way to the lavatory and take as long as possible. I feel foolish, embarrassed. This is so silly, I’d better get back. I head for the bus and notice that a taxi has just pulled up and an Indian family emerges one by one and head for the bus. The last one is a girl with long black hair and a crutch. I climb on last.
This is a true story found only in the annals of travel and I now know that truth is superior to facts. And, that when you die you take only your story, which, some call karma.
Reflections on the lake
In Pohkara, Paul and I come down with food poisoning from the roadside café where we foolishly chose the chicken instead of the egg. We spend two days in bed at Fewa Hotel, the only guesthouse right on the lake.
The atmosphere is laid back, the staff is friendly and a little jaded by years of tourist exposure. The manager angles for extra cash by offering guided treks down the well-traveled road that can be walked by a blind man. We thank him, but decline. By now, we have a handle on the hustle. We know it’s cause and we know that it is the unspoken charge in any trip to a developing country. No matter what we feel our economic condition is, we are wealthy to the locals and they know it is up to them to get some of those riches from us as best they can. Some sell, some provide a service, some beg, some con with spiritual offers too good to believe, some wheedle and whine.
Eventually, we all want to get off the karmic wheel.
The lake is beautiful. The famous Fishtail mountain peak is covered in snow and only visible at dawn. The owner of the guesthouse is an ex-peace core worker who became a restaurateur. His ten-dollar a copy cookbook, Mike’s Breakfasts, contains recipes that he adapted from local cuisines. Also included, is the story of Mike’s journey from Michigan to Kathmandu. He currently is in America getting cancer treatments.
I am sipping green organic tea and reading Video Nights in Kathmandu. According to Pico Iyer the halcyon days of hippy travel were already over in the mid 1980’s when he arrived in Nepal. Iyer was interested in how the West affects the East, tourism’s commercialism corrupting local values and traditional ways. It seems to me that corruption on the political level is the biggest problem in Nepal. If the infrastructure were improved, if education were available to all, if medical care… well, life would be easier, better. People need permanent jobs rather than the strain and uncertainty of hustling tourists day in and day out.
I get up to check out the pie cabinet and bump into the mother and son from the bus to Pokhara.
“Oh hi,” says the woman.” Are you staying here?”
“Yes, where are you staying?”
“We are staying at a guest house run by the Indian family that got on the bus last. My son has made a new friend, didn’t you?” says the young mom as she tussles her son’s hair. She looks happy because her son has a new girlfriend.
“ That is terrific. And what is your name?” I ask the boy, hoping for conformation of the fortune-teller’s story.
“ Ace.” states the boy and pushes his hair out of his eyes with the stub end of his left arm.
“ Wow, cool name for a cool fellow!” I say. Realizing I sound like a patronizing old lady.
“Ok, we gotta go.,” says his mother. They depart through the gate and out of my life.
Ace? She named her son Ace. Not John. What is truth and what is fiction and can we ever tell them apart no matter how hard we try.
I select a slice of blueberry pie and return to gaze at the smooth blue lake.
Children walk up and down steep hills and small mountains just to go to school. Locals row past tourists across the lake on their way home. Wives leave their farmer husbands for fishermen. There is a Tibetan refugee camp not far from Pokhara. There are thousands of Tibetans whose whole lives have been spent outside their country. Story upon story is lived out in this scenic spot beneath the snow-capped Himalayas.
A life with meaning in a past is just as possible as a life of mere chance. I can’t help thinking that everything matters, that we are responsible for the mess we are in. The yearning for a transcendent spirituality gnaws at me. Maybe, just maybe, in some lifetime, I will return to Shechen Monastery and play this game of life in a wholly different way. Acharya Chenwang is certain that fate has brought us together. I like to think it is possible, but certainty is beyond my grasp. I am a Western woman mired in reason and prone to fantasy.
There are too many honky tonk joints crowding the scenic lake and I know we will never return to Pokhara. Nepal has joined the West in all the ways it should have avoided. The fast buck extracts a hidden price from the inhabitants. The Nepalese are masters at keeping up with the trends of Western tourists. And we like that even as we chide them for not remaining more ethnic, more authentic.
They too want to be able to visit a Shangri-la called Los Angeles or Las Vegas. Perhaps, they will discover the same sense of loss upon arrival in the golden land of their dreams as we have on their precipitous doorstep. We are natural roamers, seekers of dreams and greener fields. After all, we left Africa thousands of years ago, crossed over vast and varied lands, mountains, and ice masses, and spread ourselves all over the planet. We invented the airplane and accelerated the process of cross-pollination, for the good and bad of the earth. We want to see the world before it becomes homogenized by globalization.
In the evening we dine under the stars by candlelight. The national electricity conservation policy knocks out every lamp on this side of the lake at seven o’clock. Everybody is use to it but Western tourists who stumble about with flashlights and curse the darkness. Maybe the over- developed world can use less material light and more spiritual light. Perhaps, like in Nepal, there will be little choice in the matter as worldwide energy resources run out. I like to think that better scenarios are possible.
Tonight, candles give enough light to illuminate our fresh fish dinners. The Chablis is from California and we are told that Mike’s apple pie is something not to be missed in this lifetime.