Friday, February 27, 2009

A love of postcards

Sometime in my teens -- probably around 15 -- I started collecting postcards. It wasn't a conscious decision, it just happened. In recent years, I've tried to curb this tendency because I feel I can't "do" very much with my collection. I've framed a few, but most just sit around in boxes.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a blog devoted entirely to postcards! Vintage ones from France, with little snippets of information attached to each card. How wonderful. And here I am joining Marie Reed's Postcard Friendship Friday with 2 recently-added cards from my own collection.

This one's an attempt by a small European nation to express with humour its frustration at being mistaken for a much larger country half-way across the world because of the similarity in their names.

The card copies Australian road signs warning of the possibile presence of kangaroos. But the Austrian postcard carries a very different message!

And this is a postcard from Australia -- of a wallaby, which is like a small kangaroo, with a baby peeping out of its pouch. Adorable, isn't it?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Haydn on a Bamboo Organ in the Philippines

Once a year a small church in the Philippines hosts a bamboo organ festival to celebrate the church’s unique organ made almost entirely of bamboo – 902 of its 1,031 pipes are made of bamboo and the rest of metal. Musicians come from different parts of the Philippines and abroad to play on the organ.

This year, I went with my family to listen to Austrian organist Christian Iwan play the works of Haydn, Kerll and Scarlatti. We sat in the old stone church, which dates back to the early nineteenth century. The walls are made from volcanic stones and the ceiling is bamboo.

For more complex works by Mozart and Bach the organist, and the audience, moved to an auditorium in a newer wing of the church complex so that Iwan could play on a “normal” organ with metal pipes. I guess this means the bamboo has a limited range; but it has its own distinct and beautiful quality of sound. And the old church is the perfect setting for the music.

The bamboo organ has an interesting history. Housed in the St. Joseph Parish Church in Las Piñas, one of the 16 cities that make up Metro-Manila, it is believed to be the only bamboo organ in the world. The organ was built in 1824 by Father Diego Cera, a Spanish missionary and the first parish priest in Las Piñas. It took 8 years to build this unique organ (1816-1824). About 60 years later, in the 1880s, the organ was damaged by a typhoon and an earthquake. The pipes were put away and remained in storage for nearly a hundred years. Then, in 1973, they were shipped to Germany to be repaired. The fully repaired organ returned to Las Piñas 2 years later.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Globalization - some questions

First off, let me say that I am not against globalization. I believe that all human beings are connected (or “interconnected,” as Buddhists say), so how could I be against a connected world? I am not.

On the contrary, I think globalization doesn’t go far enough. It is restricted to global corporations, global production and global trade. It does not apply half so well to human values or the hearts and minds of people.

While global corporations employ people all over the world, they do not employ them on the basis of “equal pay for equal work.” In fact, one impetus for globalization came from the fact that production costs are lower in countries where workers can be more easily exploited. Even at middle and senior levels, nationality and race is certainly a factor – though not the only one – in compensation packages. At the highest levels, ability and experience appear to be the deciding factors – but probably not the only ones.

Moving on to the second part of my question: why does the concept of globalization leave our hearts cold?

Recently, desperate men from Myanmar’s much-abused Rohingya minority were picked up by the Thai navy attempting to land illegally in Thailand. The Thai navy beat them up, then threw them onto rudimentary boats (little more than rafts) in their injured state, and pushed them out to sea without food or drinking water.

Three boatloads of Rohingya men are still missing, but 6 have been picked up in other Asian countries. One of these countries is Indonesia, where the men have been given medical treatment and temporary shelter. But the Indonesian government said it would send them back to the hell that is their life in Myanmar, where they are not allowed to own property and have no civil or human rights. (The government has now softened this stance in response to pressure from within the country – see below.) Read about the plight of the Rohingyas in a recent reports by the Associated Press and in the International Herald Tribune.

In other words, as a global community, we are happy to exploit low-paid workers for our ends wherever we find them; but we will not extend a helping hand to desperate people if we don’t stand to gain anything from that. Nice.

How can the plight of such desperate men – not to mention the women and children they left behind – not touch our hearts? How many of us have protested in any way against Thailand’s treatment or Indonesia’s (initial) decision to send them back? Or tried to find out how we might be able to help the Rohingya, if not in Myanmar itself, then in neighbouring Bangladesh, where many of them find minimal shelter in very harsh conditions.

So much for hearts. Now for minds. How does the idea of globalization gel with the “us and them” attitude that is so common today throughout the world? Going back to the Rohingya refugees, Muslim organizations – and many ordinary citizens -- in Indonesia have appealed to their government to let the Rohingya men stay.

In response to this and other pressure, the Indonesian government has finally softened its stand and agreed to allow representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to meet the Rohingyas. Still unwilling to allow them to stay in Indonesia, the authorities now appear more willing to discuss resettlement in a third country.

One reason that has been cited for the attitudes both of the Thai authorities and Indonesia’s Muslim organizations is that the Rohingyas are Muslims. This is also cited as a reason for their ill-treatment in their native Myanmar. Thailand and Myanmar are predominantly Buddhist countries; Indonesia is predominantly Muslim.

I think this explanation may be somewhat uncharitable to the Indonesian people, but at least one of the Muslim organizations has pleaded for them because they are “our Muslim brothers.” This is a positive sense of community – but it is nowhere near a global sense of community. One has to wonder how this organization might respond to Buddhist or Christian refugees facing a similar plight?

And what about the Thai authorities? Do they see the superficial differences of race and religion, but not the underlying common humanity that Buddha, Jesus and Mohammad spoke about?

Can we be truly “globalized” if we can’t see that underlying common humanity?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

On Valentine's Day...

St Theresa's prayer:
May today there be peace within. May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in yourself and others. May you use the gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content with yourself just the way you are. Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.

Chinese proverb:
It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Life with my parents

My parents are currently on a long visit with my husband and me, and life is full of fun, insight, change…

They have visited us before, but this time is different. Largely because I work from home now, work much less than I used to and, most importantly, do work that I enjoy. So, being around them more, and being happier myself, I’m better able to enjoy their company and learn from the experience of living in a family again, this time as an adult.

Being with my parents for most or all of a day is giving me a clearer picture of myself too – I see, for example, that some days I just seem to wake up impatient, other days I’m relaxed and relate happily and with patience to all those around me. Sometimes I get stressed by work deadlines or other people’s demands on my time; but then, if I stop myself in my tracks and take a few deep breaths, I find myself smiling again. The days I do my meditation, nothing stresses me too much…

Helping my mother regulate her diabetes reminds me to do the things I’m urging upon her: exercise regularly, don’t allow your body to get lazy, eat well and in moderation, meditate, stay calm and happpy…

Helping my parents, both 83, to stay healthy brings me insights I can use in my own healing practice, especially in relation to caring for the elderly. This includes some down-to-earth tips like add a couple of blankets under them for extra padding when you do Reiki; and some more “elevated” ideas :) about leading a meditation session or using transpersonal therapy with older clients.

Because my mother wants to read the Bhagavad Gita with me, all three of us read it together on a regular basis and my husband joins us when he can. This gives me a chance to deepen my own understanding of this ancient Indian spiritual text and to absorb its teachings better. This, combined with the closer look at myself (see para 3 above), means I am better able to apply the teachings to my own life.

Oh and the fun parts. Having friends over more often so that the parents don’t feel isolated – as a result, of course, I’m more social too. I also find myself more open to having families over rather than more formal couples-only get-togethers...

Having lunch with family rather than with colleagues and casual friends (when I worked in an office) or by my lonesome (once I started working from home). Going out to coffee with my parents in the afternoons before getting down to a writing/editing assignment...

The adventure of planning just the right outing for everyone. Something that’s fun for all of us. Where the parents stretch themselves a bit, but don’t have to over-extend themselves by riding up and down escalators all the time, or walking a lot in the warm weather of Manila. If we go to a mall, should I sit them down for a coffee first before taking them to a few shops? Will they enjoy the short walk to that nice restaurant in that pedestrians-only street? And will the nice restaurant be a good enough incentive for the walk to it? Where can we break our journey if we go out of town? Where can we go where we don’t have to negotiate too many steps? Can we seat them in a coffee shop while the husband and I do some more leisurely shopping?

Not having kids, I’ve never really had to think as a family before, only as one of a couple who age-wise and interest-wise are pretty well matched. When I was a kid myself, and lived in a family, I guess my parents did all the planning. I’m quite enjoying doing a major share of it for all of us now.

In the shadow of the Buddha...

Over the years, I have seen so many tranquill Buddha images in so many countries. The look is always different, yet always the same – a serene image that spreads a sense of peace in all those who gaze on it. Only the features change from region to region, as if the Buddha were becoming one with the host peoples...

Yet it strikes me that predominantly Buddhist countries such as Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia and Sri Lanka have seen so much violence over the years. Myanmar continues to bear witness to man’s inhumanity to man, and Sri Lanka has gone back to civil strife. Meanwhile, Thailand has shown an inhumane and decidedly un-Buddhist side by beating up hapless Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and pushing them out to sea in rudimentary boats without food or water.

I don’t mean to single out Buddhist countries. I am just sad that even living in the shadow of the Buddha does not make us – and yes, I mean us, the human race – more compassionate.

Nevertheless, these are all beautiful countries with fascinating histories and fabulous temples and Buddha images undoubtedly carved with much devotion as well as immense skill.

One country that has managed to remain peaceful is the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, which measures the well-being of its citizens not just through gross domestic product but also a happiness index! Perhaps it is that kind of prioritization that has allowed the country to avoid the violence of the rest of the South Asian region.

Well, I hope happiness, compassion, wisdom and loving kindness spread through our world through the teachings of the Buddha and the actions of those who follow his teachings (such as Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi).
Om mani padme hum.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Special Post for my Friends on Facebook

"Socializing is hard."

Monday, February 9, 2009

TRAVEL STORIES Wedding Party in a Tuk-Tuk

Last summer, my husband and I went for a family wedding to Verona, Italy. While there, we decided to make a side trip to Lake Garda, a beautiful and rather large lake surrounded by the Italian Alps. Beautiful country.

Wandering around a village by the edge of the water, we saw quaint cafés, a beautiful courtyard and a rather imposing castle. Just as we got to the castle, a wedding party came out of the castle grounds in merry mood. This was rather nice, of course.

What was more fun to watch was that the bride and groom, each licking on a gelato, then got into a tuk-tuk – well, I’m not sure what they are called it Italy, but you can see for yourself – decorated with flowers (like a “wedding car”).

Their bridesmaid got in the front with the driver and they made off in this three-wheeled contraption amid much waving and laughter.

I heard them speaking English, so (like us) they were obviously foreigners. I don't suppose too many Italians make off in tuk-tuks eating gelati after their weddings. :)

I was inspired to write this short story after visiting A Traveler's Library (see the post Most Romantic Destination).

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Mahatma Gandhi

January 30 was Mahatma Gandhi's death anniversary. Time was, we used to observe a two-minute silence in his honour every year. (If I remember right, the two minutes started at 11 a.m.) It felt as if all of India stopped for a couple of minutes to pay homage to the man who taught the world to use entirely peaceful means to stand up to violence and to overcome injustice.

This year, busy with my own life, I didn't remember until a day later. Perhaps I would have remembered if I were still living in India. I hope so...

Now, a day late, I pay my respects through this post to the Apostle of Peace.

To mark the occasion, here are 3 of my favourite quotes from the Mahatma:

You must be the change you want to see in the world.

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.

Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.