Friday, October 31, 2008

Book Review: One: Essential Writings on Nonduality, 2007

This slim volume collecting excerpts from some of the world's well known sacred texts and enlightened writers makes a simple point, that awakening to our true nature is not a process or experience bound by culture or theology.

Most of One's selections are quite short, ranging from 5-10 pages, and are served with up with introductions setting time, place, and context. If the title and the introduction hadn't already clued you in, it very quickly becomes obvious that sages of ancient India to the script writers of the popular film series The Matrix all have an identical message to convey, that conventional reality is only surface reality, the mind like a movie screen on which fleeting images of light are projected. What lies below, the real reality, can never be described, is approached through humility and abandonment of all conception and striving, and leads to loss of self, the dissolution of I into God, the union of subject and object – enlightenment, rapture, nonduality.

While the religious writings (including selections from Hinduism, Buddhism,Taosim, Native American animism, mystical Judaism, Christianity and Islam) are interesting enough, it's the book's latter half that has the most direct appeal to the modern reader. In it, writers working in such diverse fields as the arts, psychotherapy, and education present perspectives of their professions informed by nonduality.

Most of the selections should be fairly comprehensible to anyone with a decent secondary education. The introductions go a long way in helping explain concepts and expressions used in traditions the typical Western reader may not be familiar with, for example in Hinduism or Buddhism. Ironically for a collection issued in the US, I found one of the densest and least penetrable texts to be of a Christian enlightenment experience.

This is a wonderful book for a new spiritual seeker, or an old one who hasn't been exposed to the well-trod paths winding through other corners of the world. Reading it may help us recall that, despite differences in language or ideology, our quest for awakening is after all is a quest to be fully human.

One: Essential Writings on Nonduality
Jerry Katz, ed
Sentient Publications, 2007


A thirst that cannot be quenched by answers

The most touching and meaningful selection from One came for me in the most unexpected text, a selection from a longer work on modern education. While the apparent focus is on children, author Steven Harrison is clearly addressing the adults, all adults, those with or without children. He begins with observations about the behavior of three-year olds, who seem to never tire of asking “why?”

We often mistake this behavior of the three-year-old for that of someone looking for answers. We have usually forgotten what this state of profound curiosity is really about. As adults, we inhabit a concrete world of relative certainty, and we assume that this is what the child is looking for.

This is why you shouldn't trust anyone over three.

Young children are simply curious. Learning something doesn't fulfill their interest. This thirst cannot be quenched by answers. They want to know more, regardless of what they have found out so far. Their question in life is their life.

We can't answer their question.

We can, however, join them in their question. That would require us to abandon all our answers. We might lose track of time. We might not get anything done today. There may be no point to the question at all. The whole thing may be totally pointless, like a game without a score, without a conclusion, without a . . . winner.

Maybe it's time to get some structured play going, with rules and some competition; after all, that is what these kids are going to face in life. Why do they want to spend so much time just playing?

Or, we could teach them that there is an answer to most questions and when there is no answer, then it is time to do something else besides ask these incessant questions. Over time, we can teach them to wonder less, to give up their questioning more easily, and to accept answers as conclusions, and then they will be well prepared to go to school. After school, they can live a productive life. And we can get back to what we were doing, which is no doubt pretty important.

And what if this questioning was cultivated, not quenched? What is the potential of a child whose curiosity knows no bounds? What would become of us as parents? What would become of our answers? What would become of the world?

We seem apprehensive of our children and their relentless drive to discover, their unfettered energy and clear eyes. Have we lost this quality so completely in our lives that we have forgotten its value? Will the world we have constructed withstand their gaze?

If we do not give our lives over to this drive for discovery in our children and in ourselves, if we restrict our children to the answers we have already formulated, it leaves us with one simple question.


The Happy Heart: Changing the Heart of Education
Steven Harrison 2002

Road work in Kathmandu

Last weekend I was in Thamel, the tourist area of Kathmandu, and ran into one of those typical Nepali scenes that make you chuckle – or shake your head – and reach for your camera. A group of young men, greased and blackened by the fumes of boiling tar, were trying to lay new blacktop in one of the area's busier intersections. While they had an impressive Komatsu roller for pressing and smoothing, they didn't have any fancy technology for mixing or heating the tar, just a barrel and a fire, nor anything but an improvised bucket for spreading. What they lacked most, though, were a handful of barrel-chested men with sticks to keep the street closed so that they could do their work properly and uninterrupted. As it was, people were walking, riding, and driving over freshly laid, still steaming blacktop.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Happy Tihar

Yes, it's yet another holiday in Nepal, this one celebrating the goddess Laxmi. It's known as the Festival of Lights and is celebrated in India as Diwali. Besides the annoying sound of firecrackers, the holiday is typically associated with garlands of marigolds and strings of small lights adorning buildings and streets, much like I remember Christmas in the United States. And like at Christmas, people gather in groups to sing, though here the groups are most often teenaged boys and girls. We had two of them visit our guesthouse yesterday to stage small cultural variety shows with folk and modern song and dance from Nepal, Tibet, and India. In return, the audience offers enthusiasm, applause, and their coin.

The audience is invited to dance in the finale

Now that October is nearly over, so too are the holidays. The Nepali government is promising to start serious work on a new constitution. Stay tuned.


Apple seed

I never ate one of these until it was offered at the Ananda Yoga Center. Since then, I can't get enough. I have some every morning with my yogurt. I once tried finding some in Japan, but all I came across was some very expensive juice.

They supposedly have positive effects on heart disease and high blood pressure. The name "apple seed" is a literal translation of the Latin. In Nepal they are called "anar," a word borrowed from Persia, where the fruit is thought to have originated.

Know what it is?


The season of fear

As an American overseas, I am often asked by the non-Americans around me at this time every four years to explain the US electoral system. That's not as easy as it sounds, as most any American who has tried can tell you.

I am also asked to offer my opinions on the candidates or the issues. This used to be easier to do, but as I get older (and perhaps a little wiser) I notice that even things we regard as everyday facts are not always so easily or clearly understood. That is, they are not as factual as they appear at first glance. How much more so opinions based on those facts?

I usually try to beg off whenever I'm asked. Ironically, this piece appeared in this morning's newspaper and I found myself nodding in agreement (though would offer that there is plenty of ignorance to share among us all).


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Week 5: Settling into a groove

My first few weeks in Kathmandu I moved around quite a lot and was involved in a number of activities outside school. This past week I began at last to settle into a routine, drawing at school in the mornings, painting in the afternoons either at school or in my room. Evenings I spent reading, or listening to lectures (I'm continuing a series from Bhikkhu Bodhi on the Majjhima Nikaya, as well as starting Matthieu Ricard's Happiness).

That means there is not a lot to write about. Which is fine, really. I think most of you coming here do so for the pictures more so than the words. So here are a couple, my latest completed painting and one I will begin working on this weekend, both examples of the auspicious symbols.


The real life of monks

When they're not chanting or otherwise memorizing sacred texts, they live much like we do. Here's one of my friends and classmates killing virtual Al Qaeda agents in a virtual Iraq.



You may recall a recent post about a series of dreams in which I'm off searching for something I can never find. I've had dreams since then, but the most I can remember are disjointed fragments. Last night, though, I had a dream in which I went off on a search – and found what I was looking for.

I was somewhere in Japan trying to go home. I remember being with mom and dad and Mutsumi at a bar. The owner was showing us his karaoke menu and presented us with a copy of a bill from a previous visit. The rest of this sequence seems lost and I next found myself on the road with two backpacks, one large, one small, at the bus stop in front of a family restaurant.

Mmmmm . . . frozen cow flesh prepared and served by freeters.

Checking the schedule, I found I had time for something to eat and so left my bags at the bus stop and went inside. The place was mostly empty. I sat in a corner and placed an order. I asked what time it was and found that I had missed my bus. I was upset. I wanted to get home, change out of my clothes and relax. I sat down again to wait for the next bus and was reading a newspaper when a group came in. The restaurant was empty but they sat down next to me. In fact, one woman sat so that her leg was touching mine. I became upset and asked why in this large, empty place she had to sit on me. The group moved off and one of the waitresses engaged me in a conversation about coffee. Didn't I have some? What did I think? Yes, they made some of the best coffee in the business. I checked the time and saw that the next bus would be arriving soon. I paid my bill and went out to the bus stop and found my bags missing, leading to a frantic search over several blocks. I returned depressed, unable to find them, only to discover that my bags had been moved into the restaurant by one of the employees. They had been there all along. If I had only thought to ask.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Happy Dashain

Last week Nepal celebrated its biggest annual festival, Dashain. I heard from Mutsumi that she attended a Dashain party organized by Nepalis in Fukuoka. Me, I visited my Nepali family for a blessing and a tika.

After that a few of us from art school met in Bhaktapur, where Jiwan hosted us for for evening. This picture was taken at a small shop like a convenience store, this one selling ice cream. From left to right we have an American, Tibetan, Japanese, Bhutanese, and Nepali. Quite an assortment, eh?

While in Bhaktapur we ran across this bus, which I can only imagine belongs to The Modern School.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Mad about MD

I've been obsessed over the last month with Minidisc. Admittedly, it's a strange obsession, especially as I've been a Minidisc user for more than a decade and never had this kind of preoccupation with technology since I was first introduced to Macintosh back in 1985. I find myself these days hanging out at the Minidisc forums, reading posts about the quirks of SonicStage (software that allows the Minidsic to interface with the computer), ogling photos of Minidisc units like teenage boys do pictures of Jessica Alba, looking at online shopping venues for bargains on old Minidisc player/recorders, and making Minidisc compilations.

I thought I'd forever given up on Minidisc in favor of flashdrive music/media players. The latter seemed more convenient, allowing drag-and-drop copying from the computer without the need for the Minidisc's proprietary software, as well as much greater storage capacity than Minidisc's maximum 1GB. I bought one such player before going on my Shikoku pilgrimage but found it was not as convenient – nor did it provide as good sound quality – as Minidisc. I put that down to the manufacturer and model of my player, though, and not the entire format, and was before leaving for Nepal browsing Fukuoka retailers for a better flashdrive player. I found what I thought I wanted but then began the process of reconsideration before spending the equivalent of a few hundred dollars – do I really need this? ¥30,000 for a new player, versus ¥1500 for 3GB of rerecordable blank Minidiscs (in addition to the 3GB I already owned, plus all the files I'd be carrying on my laptop). I took the practical option, put away my desire for a new toy, and dusted off the one I had.

I'm not sure what led me to The Minidsic Forums. I'd been there the year previously to ask a question about a software problem, but this time around I think it was probably just an idle day at the computer. Maybe I was cleaning up old bookmarks in my browser. For whatever reason I stopped by and began perusing the topics and found myself drawn to the news items, which are in short supply these days as Sony is the sole remaining manufacturer of a product that has very narrow appeal, mostly for those needing a high-quality portable recorder, and to a number of what you might think of as Minidisc dead-enders, guys (mostly guys) who post to the MD forum with statements like:

  • Anyone who thinks MD is "useless" doesn't understand how to use MD.
  • MD will still be in use long long after your virgin career is forgotten.
  • Long Live Minidisc!
  • ATRAC or Death!

I found much to like in their passion for this mostly forgotten technology. In their confident embrace of the proven and their stubborn unwillingness to buy into their latest trends, this unlikely clan of audio geeks now find themselves using a product which has a bit of retro-chic. Check the auctions at Ebay or Yahoo Japan and you'll see that many of the older player/recorders chalk up quite a few bids.

As I got caught up in their defiance of the iPod and their proud declamations of loyalty, I found myself reliving memories of my Minidisc glory days. My first machine was a bookshelf component system, the Aiwa XR-H3MD, followed shortly thereafter by Sony MZ-R50 Walkman, both purchased soon after moving to Fukuoka in 1997, back when a connection to the internet was through a dial-up modem and downloading one mp3 might take a whole day. While the technology wasn't yet available for instant delivery of music, email allowed music fans and Minidisc owners to exchange lists of CDs and arrange MD trades delivered through the post office. Little communities of MD traders existed within genre specific web forums, like the seven of us at the Contemporary Jazz Forum, one each from Australia, Japan, Germany, Croatia, Venezuela, and two in the US. For a couple of years I sent out packages to at least one of these guys weekly, and got as many in return. There was also a Yahoo Groups list of MD Traders, a website called the MD Traders Post, and bootleg trading newsgroups, all of which served as conduits for making contact with fans of every variety of musical genre and interest. A fellow in New York used to send me compilations of Arab, African and Indian music; a friend from the UK sent BBC radio documentaries; I traded concert recordings of Springsteen, U2, Prince, Oasis, The Verve and Kula Shaker with collectors from all over Europe, North America, and Asia. Besides enriching the post office and building a library of what I guess is about 500 MDs (at least 75% from trades), I also had a chance to visit with several of my fellow traders, including Larry in the US and Rainer in Germany, and one - Luis from Venezuela – had a chance to pay a visit to Japan.

By the early 00's CDR had become more widespread and a large number of new traders quickly arrived in the trading venues. At about the same time the internet started picking up speed and it became possible to share files through Napster and its offspring. The camaraderie of the MD community began fading away and Minidisc began to look more and more like a soon-to-be extinct and orphaned technology. At the same time I was beginning to get so much promotional material through my radio job that I didn't have much need to continue trading and so my recording was reduced to making MDs for my Walkman, which went with me nearly everywhere, everyday.

In fact my one constant travel companion, with me even when Mutsumi couldn't be, has been my Sony MD Walkman and a box of discs. The MZ-R50 went twice to Europe, on my first visit to Nepal, and on several journeys to Thailand and the United States. This unit was later replaced by the MZ-R909, which you might remember was lost last year in a funeral procession in Kathmandu, where I made an immediate replacement purchase, the MZ-NH600D. Many travel memories are closely associated with music played through my MD Walkman, including the Brand New Heavies on the bus ride from Kathmandu to my job posting in Baglung, walking the streets of Madrid with Los Amigos Invisibles, Keiko Matsui, Rick Braun and Dave Koz on the train across Germany to the Czech Republic, bouncing through Seoul Airport to Oasis, dancing to Prince on the Dragon Guest House roof, and most recently enjoying a glass of wine with White Snake in Bangkok Airport.

I suppose many people have similar stories to tell about their Minidsics or their iPods or whatever bit of technology they use to carry their music. But what to make of this recent fetishistic behavior? Why am I all of a sudden, more than a decade later, suddenly interested in different makes and models of MD players? Why the sudden interest in owning more than what I can reasonably use on any given day?

It must, I've concluded, be part of the process of adjusting to living in Nepal again, the process of learning to live with less, the process of again turning the attention away from consuming. In reaction, the mind is flailing about looking for an object on which to fixate, some “thing” on which to direct its acquisitiveness. It was recently abetted by my move to a room with 24-hour internet access, giving me the ability to visit MD related websites morning, noon, and night. Just yesterday, though, I moved back to my old home at the Dragon and was able to have a refreshingly uninterrupted night's sleep. From here I have no connection to the internet and so when my mind might otherwise pull me toward the MD forums or perusing MD auctions, I have no way to satisfy that particular urge and redirect my energies elsewhere.

And that is a welcome relief. Not only because I realize this attraction is a waste of energy, but also because I can now direct the mind to something more interesting and more fruitful, like tackling the 1000+ pages of the Majjhima Nikaya, which I 'd like to finish before leaving for India in mid-December.

In the meantime, if anyone wants to send me their forgotten and no longer used portable MD player/recorder, I would be very happy to relieve you of your junk. I'll even pay postage. Send me an email (at fukuokajeff_at_gmail) and I'll reply with my address.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

The path of Saraswati

Part of my experience at Ananda included a bout of diarrhea, a bacterial infection delivered to me most probably through H20. I made the mistake of drinking the center's filtered water, which I found out only later was not boiled, and ended up having to visit the Nepal International Clinic for an appropriate dose of antibiotics.

It was there I had the chance to meet Dr Rishi Bashnyat, the American-trained son of the Clinic's founding physician, and the one who related a bit of Hindu folklore. Rishi shares an interest in thangka painting and was impressed with my decision to choose a financially under-rewarding path. Among Nepali Hindus, he explained, we are taught to worship Saraswati, the Goddess of Wisdom and Learning. If we choose to worship her sister Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth, we may get rich, but we will likely never become wise. That is because Saraswati knows the way of the world. She knows that those seduced by acquisitiveness rarely search for wisdom and so she leaves them be. She does not chase after them. Laxmi, though, is quite a jealous goddess and those who choose to follow Saraswati will most always be pursued by Laxmi. Perhaps you see the point – follow the path of wisdom and money will follow.

During my free time at Ananda I was painting a yantra, a kind of Hindu mandala. Quite coincidentally, I was painting a Saraswati Yantra.


Ananda Yoga Center (Kathmandu, Nepal)

Having returned from temple painting in Thanguan, I returned to school and found myself warmly welcomed by my classmates. I also found that I would have little time to study. Saturday would be the first of a nine-day holiday.

An extended break seemed like a good opportunity to do something besides painting, something I wouldn't otherwise be able to do while school was in. So that same afternoon I set out in search of a yoga center that could take me on short notice for 5-7 days.

The tourist area of Thamel has a number of walk-in studios, but I was looking for something a little more serious, a little more intensive and extensive, a place where I could live, breathe and eat yoga for a few days. And that's what Ananda Yoga Center seemed to offer, a residential center located away from the commercial neighborhoods and run as a non-profit institution, suggesting the owners are more interested in teaching than in making money.


After a phone call to the center I was told no one was currently in residence and that I was welcome at anytime. A one-week all-inclusive stay was 13,000NPR, approximately US$178 for what turned out to be a half-day program of chanting, asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), and nidra (a relaxation technique).


The center sits on the west edge of the Kathmandu valley, just beyond Kirtipur and Chobar, in a quiet residential and farming area.

The view from Ananda

As in most of Nepal, people here go to bed around 21:00 and rise between 04:00-05:00. Minibus service is available on the road immediately fronting the yoga center and will take you to the bus park at Kalanki or Ratna (in central Kathmandu). There is a small village near Ananda with what looks like a few small shops selling necessities. A larger village with the nearest pharmacy is about a 20-minute walk down the hill.

The road to Ananda


The main building is a three-story structure with the yoga studio occupying the entire third floor, well lit by near floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides. The first two floors are rooms for residents, several with private squat style toilets and running water, a couple without.

Rooms are simple but clean and include beds and a low table appropriate for use while sitting on the floor. Some rooms have throw rugs. Because I was the only resident I had a room to myself, though most appear to accommodate 2 to 3 people. The first room I occupied was on the first floor on the side of the building and a bit damp in the evenings, so on request I was moved upstairs. All rooms have screens on the windows, but also have at least one window that cannot be shuttered, which might make for a chilly room in winter. Toilet odor was more noticeable on warmer days; you might like to bring along some incense. Showers are cold water only, though I was told hot water could be boiled on request (which I might have made had the temperatures been cooler).

There was plenty of insect life around the center, but I did not find nor hear of roaches or ants. Lighting is adequate, there is at least one electrical outlet in each room, and the center offers internet service over one computer and a rather slow dial-up modem. There is a small library of texts mostly on Yoga and Hinduism and the center takes a daily English-language newspaper subscription. There are no restrictions on what you may bring with you to the center (such as media players, computers, books, or your own food supply). The resident dog is completely nonthreatening – and quite sweet.


A day after I arrived more guests began showing up. There were five of us by the time my week was up and nearly everyone commented positively on the food. As in much of Nepal, there is little variety outside the standard lentils, rice and curry (dal-baht-takari), but there is plenty of it and rather tasty as well. In deference to foreign clients, there are three meals a day (rather than the standard two for Nepalis), including a breakfast of fruit and a stiff, sweet wheat porridge. The center serves no meat, but seems willing to cater to reasonable dietary needs on request. Because the weather was fine during our stay, we took all our meals outside.

Be sure to ask about the water. Urban Nepalis typically filter their own, but often do not boil it, which was the case at the center during my visit. Mineral water is provided for guests. Make sure you determine which is which.

The program and instructors

During my stay there were three types of activities, each overseen by a different instructor. The morning began with an hour of mantra chanting directed by the yoga center's guru, Shiva Giri, a 53 year old Brahman who has been operating Ananda Yoga Center for 18 years and who studied in India with Niranjanananda Saraswati of the Bihar school of yoga. The morning services are attended by many members of Shiva Giri's extended family, so even if you happen to be the only resident, as I was for a day, there will be plenty of people around to help carry the chants.

After a 30 minute break, asanas, the physical postures most typically associated with yoga, were taught by Shiva Giri's 23-year-old daughter, Gangha, who has been studying yoga with her father since an early age and has completed teacher training in India.

Later in the day, just before lunch, a young man of approximately the same age, Surya, conducted one hour of pranayama, or breathing exercises. Surya is from the neighboring district of Kavre and beyond approximately four years at Aanada Yoga Center with Shiva Giri, I don't know of any other qualifications. Mid-afternoon we met with Shiva Giri for yoga nidra, a deep relaxation technique, before a pre-dinner hour of asanas with Gangha. There are two rather large gaps in the day, from about 09:00 – 11:30, and again from 13:00 – 17:00 (with 30-40 minutes of yoga nidra).

The review

Because I found Shiva Giri's family so open and genuine, I feel a bit uncomfortable offering criticism. But they are, after all, running a business. They are asking for your money. So you should know what kind of experience is being delivered. This is, of course, a summary of my experience only, though the main conclusion was corroborated by a fellow participant.

Surya one day said to me that yoga can't really be taught, that what we do is remind each other of how to do things. I assume by this he meant that the basics – the postures and the breathing techniques – are really quite simple. So simple that anyone can do them on their own. But in being together we can observe each other and point out errors or aspects that need additional effort or attention. Practiced together, the method is essentially self-correcting. As far as the exercises and breathing are concerned, this is a fair way of viewing the process.

Where teachers can help is in tying the exercises together, explaining why things are done in a certain way, how the exercises inform each other, and the ultimate purpose in doing them. In other words, being able to convey the philosophy of yoga. This was, to my great regret, the one thing missing from Ananda's program. It seems Shiva Giri thinks it is enough just to go through the motions without offering context.

Anyone who looks into yoga soon discovers that the postures are really a means to an end. Many western practitioners like to believe – and sometimes assert – that yoga is not a religion, and through semantic slight-of-hand that may be true. But yoga is most certainly a spiritual practice. The exercises are intended not only to maintain physical health, but to help the practitioner develop close attention to his or her own body, the vehicle through which we experience life. The practitioner in effect is exploring the universe through his or her body with the ultimate aim of experiencing the merging of self and object.

None of this was discussed at Ananda, a lost opportunity for students new to yoga. I think Shiva Giri might have liked to. He said that he enjoys discussing spiritual issues and rarely tires while on the subject. Unfortunately, his linguistic skills are not up to the task and he was forthright enough to say so himself. He was also quite self-effacing when it came to titles and it seems he has retained a critical attitude. Many people call themselves gurus these days, he said, but in fact few are. Even though a teacher is typically referred to by his pupils as Guru-ji, he insisted he was not. And when questioned about the seeming miracle powers of yogis and sadhus, his reply was that in every story there is most always a grain of truth that has been exaggerated beyond proportion by the practitioner, his students, or the public.

Shiva Giri

At minimum Shiva Giri should be giving an overview of the history of his yoga school and making sure each visitor to Ananda leaves with some knowledge of its founder and most important teachers. Shiva Giri studied in the Bihar school, a syncretic movement of recent origin about which I had to learn through a book from the center library. There were pictures of the school's two most prominent gurus posted in the yoga hall, and their names were mentioned a couple of times, but I suspect few people leave with their names on their tongues, and maybe not even in the back of their minds.

Altogether I was not disappointed in my week at Ananda Yoga Center. I met some wonderful people, learned some new asanas and pranayamas, improved my flexibility and balance, finished a painting and a book in my free time, played with a beautiful dog, and found lots of colorful insect life to photograph. It was a relaxing week, though I would have preferred a more heavily structured program with not only lots to do, but lots to think about.

Ananda Yoga Center is great place for those who want a relaxed yoga regimen without being bothered by philosophy, or who are looking for a quiet stay while in Kathmandu.


Still searching . . .

The last couple of weeks I haven't had any memorable dreams, perhaps because I've been living in unfamiliar places, first the yoga center and then the room at Flavor's. I've now been back the Dragon for two nights and have only fragmented memories of dreams.

But when I first got here, I had a series of dreams that were amazingly consistent in imagery and theme - searching for something in a marketplace, being separated from Mutsumi, having to go to a higher place, cultural disorientation, and frustration with an unfulfilled quest.

The first such dream was in Thanguan, sleeping next to the temple in a room made of stone held together with clay mortar and roofed with beams of raw logs covered in thatch. My feet hung over the wooden frame bed made for the short statured Nepalis. In my dream I found myself far away in North Carolina, a state I have visited on a couple occasions, but not one I know a lot about, nor have any great aspiration to visit again. But there I was in North Carolina in a large shopping mall. I was alone and I was looking for something that had been left in a coin locker. I don't know what was in the locker, nor why I needed to find it, but I went round and round the mall looking high and low. I never found anything and woke up feeling exhausted and frustrated.

The next night I was back in Boudanath, in my room at the Dragon Guest House, the same one I occupied last year, the one that now seems like “my” room in Kathmandu. And in my dream I again found myself in a shopping mall, this time in Japan, in what I believe was Canal City, an American-designed mall in Fukuoka city. I was with Mutsumi to see a movie. The theatre was on one of the upper levels and so we began searching for an elevator, a task that proved exceedingly difficult. We found one, but it didn't work. So we kept searching. Somewhere along the way I was separated from Mutsumi and alone I found at last an elevator that worked and that could take me to the appropriate floor. But when I got there I couldn't find the theatre. I asked someone in a uniform, a black man whom I took for one of the custodial staff (the scenery seems to have shifted to an American mall), but he didn't know where I could find it. In fact, he said the theatre had closed and moved to a new location. And that's the last I remember about that dream, except for the lingering sense of frustration at not being able to get to where I wanted to go.

Two nights later I was again in Japan. Mutsumi and Treya (a new friend from this summer) and I were searching for a wedding gift for Narumi (who was married a couple of years ago). We looked in shopping arcades, a large discount warehouse and a department store. We were on a deadline and had to be at the wedding within an hour. I was becoming anxious and panicky. At this point I asked a clerk where I could find designer or personalized kitchen ware. I was looking for unusual hashi. He took me (Mutsumi and Treya were off somewhere else) to an escalator, after which I had to ride a monorail-like convenience on which I met a 30-something Japanese man who spoke to me in rapid Japanese. When he saw I couldn't catch what he was saying, he switched to a lightly accented English and asked how I got into radio. At this point it was just the two of us but afterwards we found ourselves in a car (still traveling on the train) with 8 or 10 young Japanese men. One of them asked if the fellow I was talking to was the DJ Jeff from the FM station something-or-other and when he replied in the affirmative there were handshakes and high-fives all around for this Japanese Jeff. We arrived at our destination and all these people disappeared as I went in search of hashi. I was in a residential area that had developed a small retail quarter specializing in handmade products. I remember searching through the shops, and then waking up, again tired and frustrated.

Since then I can remember only fragments of dreams that play out the major theme of being frustrated in trying to carry out a task. I feel fortunate to remember these three so clearly, nice snapshots sent up from the unconscious. Now if I could only get a grip on what it is that I am looking for.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Tara (and slate pain)

Some days I really hate drawing on slate.

That was so on Monday morning, my first full-day back at school since arriving in Nepal. This week I've been working on Tara and was on Monday having a horrible time of it. You can't keep your hand pressed as closely to the drawing surface and as the slate is slippery drawing requires a much steadier hand. While it is technically possible to erase, if you do it more than twice it turns into an ugly mess. The slate is so unforgiving.

I was feeling better - and better rested - on Tuesday and by Wednesday I was making friends again with my slate drawing board. Still, drawing on paper is so less stressful. My painting assignment for the next week or two is to finish my set of auspicious symbols. One of my classmates insisted that as a second year student I should be working on canvas, but I'm quite happy to have the chance to warm-up on paper.

School is off again for the Dashain holidays from tomorrow and I hope to spend most of mine staying close to home, reading, writing, and painting.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Room with a view

I was seduced by the location, a chance to live next to one of Kathmandu's most famous landmarks, the Boudanath stupa. The 1500-year-old, 100-meter-wide, 40-meter-tall edifice has for centuries been a major pilgrimage site for Himalayan Buddhists. The area is steeped in history and suffused with a mystical air.

It's also quite noisy.

And I knew that before I moved into my room above the Flavor's Cafe & Restaurant, the trendiest coffee shop and eatery around the stupa and perhaps in all of Boudanath. Thousands of the neighborhood's Tibetan refugee population daily circumabulate the stupa, some reciting mantras, some just chatting with their friends. Their shuffling feet are the drone over which the three temples on the stupa circle play refrains of bells, drums, horns and chanting.

I thought I could live with this. I imagined something charming and romantic, but it turned out to be just plain noisy.

The restaurant closes at around 21:30, but it's maybe 23:00 before it quiets down. A number of the neighborhood's nocturnally active members make their way through the area on their way home, and perhaps the area's biggest temple bell is struck four times at 04:00. And within an hour of the bell a huge crowd is out walking around the stupa. Even with ear plugs, it was a restless night.

Of course, I've been here only one night and it often takes a few to adjust to new environments. But I think this is perhaps one that I will never get used to.