And on the other hand...

Click here for The Yin Side where the other half of me holds forth!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hong Kong, Gateway to China

Well, not any more really, it IS China.  Moved through Narita and HK International with a tsunami of people--sloppy-looking westerners, Hasidic Jews, women in burqas and saris, Buddhist monks--to efficiently turn up at this hotel where I am wide awake at  3:30 a.m.  I could be reading: from HNL to Narita,  I studied my  little volume of 77 easy Chinese characters (wait, I saw them all at the airport, and some calligraphy too) and moved on to a novel I picked up in HNL. What possessed me to buy a $25, 975-page book about gothic cathedrals to carry on this trip?  For the past year I have been pretty much immersed in Chinese fiction and Taoist classics...I come to the Middle Kingdom to read about Gothic cathedrals?  It's an Oprah book, The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Folett, that I think was recommended to me by a friend.  Didn't see the Oprah stamp of approval until after I bought it.  

The only other Oprah book I've read (that I know of because of that seal of approval) was Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth which kept me occupied, also at 3 a.m., during Hurricane Jeanne in Florida a few years ago.  I was staying in a decrepit roadside inn that I liked to call the Motel Viet Nam, a revived Florida classic motel run by Vietnamese immigrants. My father made the reservation for me: "You'll like them, they're Chinese," he said, " you can speak Chinese with them."  "They're Vietnamese, Dad,  and I don't speak Chinese."   I read the Chinese story, The  Good Earth,  with a mini mag lite while the wind was ripping the roof off the not too-well-restored Vin Mar Motel.  Next  morning, Miss Saigon made green tea for us all --including the 24/7 drunk who looked exactly like the aged Robert Mitchum and bunch of Cuban construction workers--in a big Mr. Coffee pot with a portable generator in the parking lot because the power was gone...for four days.  

Even though I never will have need to stay at the Motel Viet Nam again, I still send the proprietors a card at the Lunar New Year.

I don't expect to spend much time with the Gothic cathedrals (having other temples as destinations) and will probably just lug this tome around and finish it at home.  Today's in to Kowloon on the train, buy some toothpaste (you always forget something) and pay homage to the Bruce Lee statue that has been erected at the harbor.  

I sure hope there is no da feng/typhoon (that's big wind, and I know the Chinese characters now) on the way.  There was one that passed through just a week or so ago, giving Hong Kongers much excuse to stay inside and drink.  But if there is a storm brewing  I am prepared...with an Oprah book and plenty of batteries for my mag lite.

Sybil--I hope to post some photos (dependent on internet access and the time to upload and process them)...perhaps the first will be one of the bronze Bruce will have to do because I didn't get a chance to get a picture of the ultra attractive and attentive Japanese flight attendant on the HNL-Narita run.  Ah, business class.

And speaking of da feng, I see on BBC that Mr. Bush is rushing to New Orleans with the troops. Good excuse to miss the convention.  Kind  of like how the earthquake sent me to Wudang instead of Qingshenshan.  

Half an hour left on my internet access charge--need to send some emails. 

Next stop, Xi'an.  That  means Western  Peace.  I know the characters!

Saturday, August 30, 2008


I'm sitting in the ANA lounge in Narita (much improved since the last time I was here) where there is free wireless internet access. Great flight, the 777 is a nice plane, at least in upgraded seats. great start to this trip (even if the plane did have to return to the gate in HNL to "adjust" the load.  Who's gonna argue with that. Business class is worth it! Lots of decent wine flowing, edible food, even if the Chinese stir fry was offered with forks.  I suppose I could have asked for chopsticks, but even the Japanese were using forks, and when else do you get REAL cutlery except in business class.  Ultra attractive flight attendant, Japanese man, who was charming and attentive.   Now on the ground, can't find the nail salon, where I hoped I could kill a couple of the 5 hours I have before I go on to Hong Kong.  But nice toe nails are really the last thing I need to worry about in Wudang.   

No place looks more like a model train layout than Japan from the air.  Tidy trees, nicely spaced and lots of golf courses.  And the flow of people in the airport is just fascinating, so I think it's time to people-watch.

Next stop, Hong Kong.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Celebrating Change of Heart-Mind

In less than 24 hours I should be boarding the plane for my "Celebrating Change 2008" tour. No, it's not political, it's personal. Even though all the campaign politicking, at least of those Yang Democrats (as opposed to the Yin Republicans) of which I have managed to avoid about 99 percent, seems to be making an issue of Change. It's in the air. And isn't it always. Change, as natural and inevitable as it is, is full of surprise, too. (Didn't Sen. McCain surprise us with what'shername. A little yang in the yin.) Change is never finished.

But the Change I'm thinking about more has to do with going back to places that are burned into my memory, those kind of memories that you can close your eyes and take a deep breath and be there. I don't usually like to revisit places, but there are a few that I have become fond of: Cedar Key and the Shell Mound Wildlife Refuge in Florida; Wudang; Hong Kong; Hana, Maui. I probably won't ever go back to Florida since my Dad died, and I could go to Hana any time I want.

But Wudang -- this opportunity created itself. I didn't intend to go back, but an earthquake changed my plans. Will they still have the silly Buddhist music playing in the speakers embedded in rocks along the trails? Will the street still be under construction, will the hotels be finished (there was one structure last year that was impossible to determine whether was coming down or going up.) I know the mountains will still be there.

And Hong Kong -- I haven't been there since 2001, the last of a string of visits since the mid-'80s. I was there for the handover, so I have seen both sides and I keep in touch with goings on there through blogs. I'm prepared for poor air quality: it's part of the last image in my mind, an incredible red sunset, poignant because I thought I might never be back. And indeed, because of change, it's likely to feel like a different place, even after just 7 years. (China is like that...eternally the same and changing before your eyes, a whirling taiji.)

But the real point of my tour is personal development, measured in how I deal with all those changes in the surroundings, in my body, in my "heart-mind." Heart-mind is a Taoist concept that I didn't quite get last year. Westerners separate heart and mind, that duality thing. But for the Taoist, it is one thing (xin), a blend of both and the center of our being. I hope to work on this in Wudang.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

96 Hours and Counting

Four days ahead of me to get ready to return to China.  Last year this time I told my boss I had "the opportunity of a lifetime" to go to a special place in China to study qigong, meditate, hike and generally mark the end of a 60-year cycle that was auspicious for a fire pig in the year of a fire pig.  My co-workers were variously puzzled or envious.

This time I have another "opportunity of a lifetime" to do the same thing...except marking the beginning of the cycle again.  After a year of studying the philosophy of the Tao, if not being so diligent in the practices, I am eager to hear the lectures again.  There were concepts that were new, foreign, and mysterious that I feel I have a better grasp of now.  "So explain that again, Teacher Hu, I didn't get it the first time."  I hope to savor the area and focus on the practices this year without the distraction of novelty and group dynamics that played out last time.

And how have I already changed?  

I have become very sensitive to time wasters. I can't sleep as late as I used to, and I don't want to. I am not dependent on the noise of TV, radio, music. (Although I've been watching a lot of Chinese movies, drama as well as kung fu.)  I can't keep up the the fashion magazines that used to entertain me.  Sometimes idle chatter in the office makes my eyes glaze over (but I am practicing compassion.) The olympics, the presidential campaign hold only passing interest. Maybe it all started with the recent disasters, since Katrina, the tsunami, the earthquake, death of loved ones.  This gives perspective.

At the same time, I am a better breather.  I am conscious, although not necessarily perfectly conscientious about, what I eat and drink.  I am calm and slower to emotional outbursts. Still haven't  conquered the monkey mind (otherwise I wouldn't be writing this) but I know that any effort is bound to pay off.  I have taken some small steps toward some larger goals, blogging, getting some postponed dental work accomplished, clearing out clutter in my home.  For the aspiring Taoist, that backsliding Episcopalian  in me still keeps me moving forward.  "Forgive me all the things I have done and left undone. "  Over and over.  My mentors include Thomas Merton, Alan Watts, Huston Smith.  I don't believe it is possible to  abandon and completely reject or turn our backs on the traditions that we grew up with.  We can look at them objectively,  but they will always be there trying to inform us, like any other emotional baggage we are burdened with, no matter what direction our spiritual path takes us.  And that's a good thing, that's what makes us who we are. In every Western Buddhist or Taoist there is the ghost of  a Greco-Judeo-Christian, and  certainly for every born-again Chinese Christian, the Tao, Confucius and Buddha are in the blood somewhere.  Probably Mao too. 

So, back to the Tao, recognizing that change is in everything, how do we progress?  What is progress?  Just a western concept.

So in the next 96 hours as I gather my things  and pack for for my next "Journey to the West"  I know better than last year what I really need with me and what I have within me.  As it turns out, I don't need so much really, and I have a lot.  

I'm not there yet, but I'm getting there.

Friday, August 22, 2008

We're Back!

I saw a kolea yesterday, Aug. 21, so they are back from Alaska.  Perhaps I was spiritually with them because I have been preoccupied with planning my own return to Wudang (China) and while many thoughts and blog topics have been on my mind, I just haven't posted.   I get my best thinking done during my morning commute; I should have a dictaphone.  Since my car radio was stolen in January, I have been without the noise of talk shows, campaign ads, information from left and right, and it is refreshing and peaceful.  I look forward to the quiet and have come to be one with the traffic.  Here's a Taoist thought: it is foolish to regard the traffic, or as the French call it, la circulation, as something outside oneself.  You are not only IN the traffic, you ARE the traffic.  I suspect that is how the kolea get to Alaska.