Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pouring in Paradise

26 Jul'10 - Chalong Bay, Phuket. Photo by S. Kern (Lifted from Facebook).

27 July 2010 - Phuket, Thailand.

It’s been raining and I’ve been packing.

I'm crawling through the sludgy sadness of leaving Phuket, but then [bxA] emails from Beirut get me excited to go there again.

Still, transition is not exactly easy. Alyssa and I call it the slumps. Reminds me of that camel I learned about at the ashram – the one that carries our karma to the next place while we fly too quickly on airplanes. This is another great reason to sail.

19 September 2009 – Lebanon. House where we did 108 sun salutations.

One of the emails from Beirut came from a friend I met at a yoga thing in the mountains doing 108 sun salutations for peace. Her email said, “I have a running mental list of ‘must ask Ali’ questions, which includes everything from the meaning of life to what sort of suitcase is best for world travels.” Oh dear. I was hoping she could tell me.

I suspect the answer is the same for both: travel light.

2 Jun'09 – Jbeil, Lebanon. Alyssa’s and my stuff accumulated at beach flat.

Everyone knows I don’t know how to do this – literally or figuratively.

13 September 2009 – House party in Beirut where I met Sandra.

Thus, I emailed Sandra, another great friend I met in Beirut – the one who rightly told me not to buy the return airplane ticket. We hadn’t connected in ages when I wrote her a couple weeks ago:

“I desperately need some of your mojo! I'm packing up my house in Phuket to head to Beirut for about 3 weeks. I am such a clutter bug, Sandra. It is shocking. I could give you examples but you would think I'm insane. If you can spare a few moments to give me some guidance on packing, moving and the absurdity of saving things, I would be forever grateful.”

The first line of her reply was:

“The only thing worth saving is yourself.”

Hmmm. Okay, sure. It sounds logical. Doable. I only need to save myself…

July 2010 – Phuket Packing.

…and my Sivananda yoga book, book bag and t-shirt …and the Williams windbreaker that kept me warm during night watches for three months on sailboats …and the world map Alyssa & her mum covered in hilarious post-it notes…and my King’s Cup shirt …and the beautiful kurti Dipti gave me in Chandigarh…and the two Phuket magazines I’m in…and the Panto poster someone had the cast sign for me since it was my ‘acting debut’…and a stack of handwritten journals…and…and…and…

Sandra meant I should save myself and all these things, right?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Slaughter Fodder

May 2010 – Sri Lanka. Chicken farm in a tiny village on the outskirts of Colombo.

22 July 2010 - Phuket, Thailand...counting the days:(

I almost never read books. I buy them constantly, start them often, but finish them only on rare occasion. Oddly, two of the few books I’ve read this year included ominous references to one of my most haunting obsessive compulsive thoughts.[bxA]

Bangkok Days (2010) by Graham Greene (atop my pocket map of Bangkok).

I was enjoying the tales of hapless farangs in Bangkok Days until I got to about page 83 when the protagonist’s feckless friend takes him to Roong muu, “the city slaughterhouse, buried inside a mixed Thai-Viet slum: only these impoverished Catholics could kill animals, an act forbidden to the Buddhists who happily ate their flesh...

“The killing of animals is secretive in Bangkok…I noticed now the slaughterhouse workers idled around the low, metal-roofed buildings with the look of men who are stoned and who will be killing pigs with hammers all night long. To get them through it they are said to take drugs...”

At the shrimp warehouse, “McGinnins put a hand to his ear and said, ‘Can you hear them? The shrimp are screaming. Boiled alive, and no one cares. So much for Buddhism.’”

Dec’09 – Bangkok. Schoolgirls praying atop the Golden Mount Buddhist temple.

* * *
Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day begins, “When it came to concealing his troubles, Tommy Wilhem was not less capable than the next fellow. So at least he thought…”

Seize the Day (1957) by Saul Bellow,

On page 84 Tommy was walking through downtown New York to pick-up tickets for a baseball game and, “…on the walls between the advertisements were words in chalk: ‘Sin No More,’ and “Do Not Eat the Pig.’”

A paragraph later, Wilhem was at the stock market gambling to win money to pay his debts.

“The old fellow on the right, Mr. Rappaport, was nearly blind…He was very old…and if you believed Tamkin he had once been the Rockefeller of the chicken business and had retired with a large fortune.

May’10 – Sri Lanka. Inside the chicken house.

“Wilhem had a queer feeling about the chicken industry, that it was sinister. On the road, he frequently passed chicken farms. Those big, rambling, wooden buildings out in the neglected fields; they were like prisons. The lights burned all night in them to cheat the poor hens into laying. Then the slaughter. Pile all the coops of the slaughtered on end, and in one week they’d go higher than Mount Everest or Mount Serenity. The blood filling the Gulf of Mexico. The chicken shit, acid, burning the earth."

Jan’10 – Siem Reap, Cambodia. KFC in the town center.

“And Wilhelm thought this was the way a man who had grown rich by the murder of millions of animals, little chickens, would act. If there was a life to come he might have to answer for the killing of all those chickens. What if they all were waiting? But if there was a life to come, everyone would have to answer. But if there was a life to come, the chickens themselves would be all right.”

* * *

There’s no escaping it on the internet either. I love reading the Fighter Guy’s blog because he captures lots of things about Phuket that I notice too, but then he has all these totally inconceivable observations and experiences I’ve completely missed. Check out his post on cockfighting in Thailand.

* * *

Is there a life to come? Will the chickens be all right?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Why Am I Here?

2010 - Phuket, Thailand. Water buffalo 'mowing' my lawn.

20 July 2010 - Phuket, Thailand.

I was home most of the day sifting through piles of papers in preparation for my Phuket departure in ten days. [bxA]

This is the round-trip ticket from Beirut to New Delhi that Sandra told me not to buy last September. We were eating eggs for breakfast in Hamra and discussing our uncertain futures. She said a return ticket was too limiting, a safety net I didn’t need. I pondered for quite some time that my life had reached a point where my one big fear-based safety net was a plane ticket back to Beirut.

I do love safety nets so I bought the return ticket. Sandra was right, of course. I forfeited the ticket when it expired in March and recently bought a new one-way ticket to Beirut for early August.

2010 - Phuket, Thailand. Sunset at Nai Harn beach.

It’s fun being out in the world with no particular place to go and no particular reason to leave once I get there.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Fisherman & the Investment Banker

Phuket, Thailand. Fisherpeople crabbing along the beach near my house.

12 July 2010 - Phuket, Thailand.

I’ve spent many long slow lazy hours strolling down the beach watching all the fisherpeople live their lives along the Phuket coast. Lately I’ve also reconnected with my banking friends and heard many stories about life back in the ‘real world.’ It reminds me of [bxA] a parable a friend of mine (NK) shared with me during my banking days in Houston circa 2003:

An investment banker was taking a much-needed vacation in a small coastal village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. The boat had several large, fresh fish in it.

The investment banker was impressed by the quality of the fish and asked the fisherman how long it took to catch them.

The fisherman replied, "Only a little while."

The banker then asked why he didn't stay out longer and catch more fish?

The fisherman replied he had enough to support his family's immediate needs.

The banker then asked "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"

The fisherman replied, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my friends: I have a full and busy life, you see."

Dec’08 – London, England. Financial Buildings in Canary Wharf.

The investment banker scoffed, "I am an Ivy League MBA, and I could help you. You could spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats until eventually you would have a whole fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to the middleman you could sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You could control the product, processing and distribution."

Then he added, "Of course, you would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to the city where you would run your growing enterprise."

The fisherman asked, "But how long will this all take?"

To which the investment banker replied, "15-20 years."

"But what then?" asked the fisherman.

Dec’08 - Canary Wharf, London. Advertisement for Financial Times.

The investment banker laughed and said, "That's the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You could make millions."

"Millions? Then what?"

July 2010 – Phuket, Thailand. Fishing village a stone’s throw from my house.

To which the investment banker replied, "Then you would retire. You could move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your friends."

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Sitting in Singapore

Singapore Riverbank. Sculpture by Aw Tee Hong shows a prominent merchant
Scotsman mediating between a Chinese Trader and a Malay Chief.

10 July 2010 – Singapore.

I’m at the Changi airport waiting for my flight back to Phuket and thinking, man, I should have been blogging these past several weeks. Everything is so different now.[bxA] Job prospects, plane tickets and wedding invitations have got me jumping all over the place. Looks like I’ll be traveling a little bit longer.

Singapore started as a visa run but turned into something entirely unexpected, which makes me think visa runs aren’t so bad after all.

July 2010. Air Asia check-in counter at Phuket International Airport.

Changi airport reminds me of the last time I was in this airport - which was the first time I was in this airport and part of that Stalker Effect story I never finished blogging about. I was on my way from New Delhi to Langkawi to sail to Phuket last November and…well…I got on the plane in India knowing full well that my passport was no good. The airline had even given me a courtesy call to reiterate the “NO FLY” email they’d sent me. A real live human being at the airline warned me not to go.

I went anyway. Made it through the airports in India and Sri Lanka just fine but Singapore said no way and half-heartedly suggested I’d be deported. A really nice guy at the transfer desk who sat next to a really mean girl at the transfer desk offered to call immigration in Langkawi to see if he could get them to make a concession for me. Problem was, it was early morning and Langkawi wasn’t answering the phone. I spent an hour wandering Changi Airport contemplating the existential implications of the imminent question: deported to where?

July 2010. View from the Singapore Flyer (on a clear day you can see Indonesia).

I’d enlisted the positive vibes of the angels, Alyssa, and a super cool psychologist from Michigan who was in India studying the teachings of Sri Sri Paramahansa Yogananda. He advised me to simply not contemplate a Plan B. Sure enough, the airline eventually let me on the plane to Langkawi where I climbed aboard Sirius and sailed to Phuket for what I thought would be two or three weeks. Here I am eight months later flying back to my home in Phuket.

This time I really am leaving Phuket at the end of July (inshallah) and just like this Singapore trip reminded me, there is no telling what will happen next.