Sunday, 28 November 2010

Ancient wisdom

Since my last post I've been chilling out in Mcleodganj, current home of the exiled Dalai Lama. Although we spent some of our time her being sick (a sad but almost inevitable part of travel in a country like India) we've had some great times too, stationed in the foothills of the Himalayas (or Himalaya, as I've heard is more correct).

On the way back from the doctors there we got a stunning view of the Himalayas (Himalaya), rising like a white jagged wall, the tops piercing an emergent full moon. It was beautiful. We also had our first car accident - a low speed one at what seemed to be Saturday rush hour, where a car was pulling out into a busy street and hit my door as we drove in front of it. He'd be clearly at fault in NZ, but after some yelling outside our window, some hand holding and calming down, our driver moved on; it seemed it was declared that neither were at fault.

On one of our first mornings back into a little better health, we took a walk, thinking we were headed to the Dalai Lama's residence. We decided to go down the path where everyone else was going, mostly murmuring old Tibetans, hunch over, and prayer beads slowly filtering through their fingers. It was a magical place. A slight mist, piles of white painted rocks, carved rocks with Tibetan inscriptions, and hundreds of prayer flags in the trees. A truly quiet place for contemplation.

We rounded a corner, and there were monkeys, birds, cows and dogs; it felt like the Garden of Eden. we kept walking, past beggars, past mantra wheels, and back into reality. We walked passed a temple which we were unsure about, and went back up the hill. We missed the Dalai Lama's, but found a surprising place which was almost worthy of the millennia-old Tibetan culture.

The next day we set out again, and this time we found His Holiness's residence. Right at the end of the path, where we walked past. Inside were people lining up with green passports, getting large pink ballot papers, and placing them in big green metal boxes. The Tibetan Government, in exile after the Chinese took over around 1950, was having primary elections.

Inside the temple were mantra wheels, statues of Buddhist deities, and hundreds of volumes and ancient science, wisdom and scriptures. I always enjoy temples and churches, no matter which religion they are from. They are great places for contemplation and stillness, something we desperately need in modern, Western, atheist lives. If I could, I'd have my own local place, which I could go to every morning, or every week, and just do some meditation. Although the meaning and my knowledge of so much of this stuff is so limited, these places do inspire something deep within you - and it is especially amazing to see so many exiled Tibetans, striving to minimise suffering of themselves and others, but suffering so much under the Chinese rule that has tried to crush their culture, and take their land for its incredible natural resources.

It's also inspiring to see so much ancient knowledge and wisdom in a place like that. So much knowledge, unknown to us in the West, in New Zealand, and yet so much value in it. Maybe it possesses answers for us all in the modern age, an age when we desperately need to change course and stop taking from future generations. The Dalai Lama certainly thinks so.

Friday, 19 November 2010

From economics to harsh reality: my last week

So I finally have a chance to post - would love to show you my pictures, but will have to leave it till another time. I write from northern India, Dharamshala, where I find myself and my girlfriend Raven, after a week of travelling.

Since my last post I finished exams (just found I got an A+ in one of them, which is awesome), went to a Ecological Economics conference run by the Green Party of Aotearoa, and then shipped off to India (OK, flew. Sorry future generations.)

The Ecological Economics conference was an interesting way to spend time the day after my last exam (on more conventional macroeconomics) but I couldn't pass up the chance of seeing David Suzuki speak. He's an inspirational speaker, and started the conference with putting us within a bio-centric perspective. Instead of the economy, society and the environment being three interlocking, equally-sized circles, a more accurate model, he suggested, was one big circle, signifying the biosphere, and thirty million circles within it - one for each species. The human one though, takes up 40% of the area, and is rapidly expanding. Population and consumption of resources by humans has sky-rocketed almost vertically and many times in just 200 years - a tiny blip of time in the 150 000 or so years of modern humans. Although lost on some other speakers in the conference unfortunately, Suzuki also pointed out that 80% of resource-use is by the wealthiest 20% of the worlds population - a fact no leader of a wealthy country will freely admit. And so a few days later I was off to where the rubber meets the road in this reality - India.

India is one of the great emerging economies, with a high economic growth rate, a poor population overall, around one billion inhabitants, and an emerging wealthy class, taking more than their fare share. I arrived late at night in Delhi, after a day tour around Singapore, which also has a high growth rate, but is more wealthy overall. Four million people situated on a tiny island, with 90% housed apartments in the sky through a government scheme. It's a very clean and wealthy city, with a mind-bogglingly busy port, and an ironically interventionist, single-part government; ironic given it's incredibly high rate of economic growth. It was a great juxtaposition from the city we were about to find ourselves in.

We had heard Delhi was a horrible place from many different people before we got there, and we arrived a quite Indian man from our hotel to pick us up and take us there. The ride from the airport felt like a destruction derby - with less destruction, and more derby, but the car with the front bumper hanging on by a couple of screws, squealing around beside us, certainly increased the destruction side of things. They are incredibly skilled drivers, as we were to discover, weaving in and out of optimistically-painted lane dividers, fitting in as many vehicles into a small space as possible, and beeping to say "I'm coming through!" rather than relying on the silent and leisurely indicators we use in the West. Our room was nice - three star, and we quickly fell asleep.

Our first day was a bit of a walk to get orientated, around Conaught Place, near our hotel. Dogs, dirt, and toilet smell all through the street. Many an eager rickshaw driver, tout and salesman tried to sell us something, or convince us to use a "Government" tourist bureau. Lots of people complimented my beard before trying their tricks - the next day it was Raven's Indian dress she bought the day before to fit in more appropriately with the culture. Despite our best efforts we were screwed over a couple of times - something that gets easier to avoid the more time you spend in a place. I thought this was free market capitalism at its best - game theory of each person trying to screw over the other, especially as they don't think they will ever see you again in the vast city of millions. Needless to say it was quite horrible.

We got to the Red Fort and a Muslim temple on day two. It was also the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, where they sacrifice animals (best to read the link to get a less simple an naive account...). Coincidentally there were lots of goats being traded that day, and lead around the city to people's homes or wherever. We ate some spicy food and gave ourselves horrible stomach pains, and the next day got the hell out of there, to our relief.

Yesterday we flew into Dharamshala, and got a taxi to just north of it, Mcleodganj. Here the Dalai Lama resides, we're at the foot of the Himalayas, and everything is Free Tibet. It's a nice quiet place - slightly spoiled by all the rubbish and fast traffic through its narrow one-way roads - but it's great to be here. We're here for at least the next week, and the internet is surprisingly good, so you'll hear from me soon!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

I'm back!

So there's been a break in my blogging this year, but I'm back in action and hopefully more regularly! I'm going to India shortly for six weeks of awesomeness before Christmas, so shall endeavour to blog from there to tell you of my wonderful adventures.

I also went to Leonard Cohen's concert on Halloween in Wellington (recognise the faceless man in the low quality cellphone picture?). The third row seat was pretty sweet, but it didn't quite reach the heights of his first concert. Nevertheless, it was another amazing night from an amazing man!

Anyway, to celebrate nice weather, poetry, a new beginning and the shaky isles, here's a poem I wrote a few years ago:

Here's to another night

She's preparing for the night
A flash of her peach pink underwear
As she changes into a black dress
And puts on her yellow pears which hug a circle around the harbour

Houses clutched into her bossom
Hollowed into her mangled hills
She shows off her curves
Draped in seductive black against the grey blue sky

Her streets are crumpled
Cracked and peeling like bits of skin
I trust her - my friend, my lover
Walking on her solid, moving ground

Birds chirping, a still night
The smell of a breeze in the air
Relationships drifting together, apart
Around like evaporation

A strange day, drips of time
Leaking on people, on love
Thoughts winding through stars
Through lives going on

Wellington! she shouts
Then she grumbles at a passing aeroplane
The night takes all with it
We celebrate with a glass of harbour champagne