Friday, March 04, 2005

Finally, A Post from Char

For the last few days Roger and I have been recovering from India by lolling about at our favorite little enclave in Bangkok called the Shanti Inn (very similar to Key West Florida if you've been there). The guests are mainly European, a mix of greying hairs and young backpackers. The owners are a feisty Thai mother and daughter duo who keep Roger in line!

We don't make good tourists since we're not into shopping and wining-dining like we used to be but I'll attempt to write something from the postcard perspective. Roger is very happy since he has had two, two-hour massages. I've finally slept off the unidentified respiratory fun that decked me in India. We're now transformed into Shanti residents walking around barefoot in the 80 degree weather with Roger wearing giant cotton Thai fisherman pants. We have been sitting most of the day in the orchid-covered open air café drinking yogurt lassies, eating Tom Ka and watching the seemingly infinite variety of people go by in the busy street nearby. Our conversations are very profound, for example: "Want to do anything?""Not really" etc.

In India we were at Mirik, a little village near Darjeeling in northeast India, at 6000 ft. with Portland winter weather. It was VERY cold whenever the sun was not out so we appreciated our long underwear and wool clothing. Often in the afternoon a cloud would roll in and cover over and soak everything. Fortunately things have been 'modernized' since we were last there so we could rent an electric space heater which was nice when the electricity was available and which, I confess, to using for steaming our towels and underwear ("dry" is truly a foreign concept in Mirik).

In Mirik most food is what we would call 'home cooked' which means you have to allow time for them to cook it and often (it seems) to go out and buy the groceries. After about half an hour we would often see the cooks smiling and returning to the restaurants with loaves of bread, porridge mix, etc. But everything is delicious and the menu includes traditional north Indian (typically palak or matar paneer, nan, masalla tea), Tibetan (momos and tomtuk), Nepali (dal and rice) and somewhat Western dishes (like omelets). Since usually there were no events in the early morning we were able to sit around by the heater and eat a nice breakfast in our room every day before bundling up and heading up the mountain (a 15 minute or so climb for which Roger rented a cab) to the monastery. A US dollar is now about 42 Indian rupees. The cab ride was 40 rupees. The prices for meals were 100 to 200 rupees on average. Hotel rooms were 100-350 rupees a day. This all seems a 'bargain' us but you can imagine the annual income of most people we met. As one of the few Western guests at our little hotel we had the opportunity to get to know ourNepali host family and their teenage son who patiently provided everything from morning tea to room sweeping with a little whisk broom (we tried once to do it ourselves on the sly and got caught). No surprise that Roger is now building them a website!

Usually when we are in Mirik we are there with a big group of mainly French and American fellow Buddhists and are attending planned events like seminars -- but this time it was a very intimate, somewhat impromptu event in a monastery retreat center without translation from Tibetan. The teacher is unknown to most people because he has been in retreat in Sikkim for most of his life but if you're familiar with Tibetan Buddhism it was Gyaltsab Rinpoche (a heart-son of the Karmapa) who is roughly my age. Our main difficulty was finding out when and where things were to begin. One of our Tibetan friends arranged for his cousin to give us a grand tour of the buildings new since we were last here, to help us have an interview with the monastery 'abbot' and to help us find the other people we knew. However, the cousin didn't know we were coming because she had left her cell phone with her elderly mother who kept picking it up and speaking to it -- but without turning it on.

Since we were last here two years ago cell phones have taken over -- with towers on seemingly every hill includng one right over the monastery. It's especially odd to see a monk in robes walk by not chanting mantras but talking on the telephone!

After a few days to help recover from jet lag (the time is almost exactly 12 hours opposite day/night of Portland) and a breif excursion to Darjeeling to see friends there and buy tea, we participated in a 10-day ceremony preparing people for meditation retreats. It was a nice-size gathering of 50 people with, in addition to the 20Tibetans, 30 or so people from other countries. In addition to the 2 other people from the US, the countries represented included Tibet, Bhutan, Sikkim (India), France, Belgium, Taiwan, Japan, Canada, Sweden, Nepal, Australia, Israel, and Indonesia. There was no translation from Tibetan but with help from the one Swedish westerner fluent in Tibetan and English, and a list I brought along from a similar event in2001, I served as the "translator" for both the English speaking and theFrench people (I have yet to study Tibetan formally). Basically this meant drafting a list of what I thought was going to happen next and then checking afterward to see if I was correct. This is especially humorous since I only have a few words of elementary school French -- so, as each of my 6 or so French friends read the list I had written and burst into joyous exclamations at meeting a speaker of their language, I quickly burst that bubble!

The first day of the ceremonies was especially cold with a cloud rolling in through the (yes, open) windows and doors like a magic smoke. It's difficult to put into words why it is so wonderful to participate in this sort of thing. It might seem boring to listen to Tibetan for several hours but it not at all like that! As usual, I am working on the puzzle of how to bring what is so profound about Tibetan Buddhism into our regular life without becoming too weird myself (maybe too late...). It's a transfer and application project that has become more interesting to me than technology. More on that later no doubt...

So, in closing, I'm not yet sure whether I'm going to Nepal on March 7th. All the reports from people I've met who live there or have recently traveled there say that daily life is much, much calmer than it appears from the news. The language program I'm attending wrote to me yesterday to say they are going ahead. I'm not sure of the email situation there because of the recent communications cut-off by the King of Nepal but probably I'll attempt to write a next update from either Nepal or from home after March 7th. Meanwhile, looking forward to seeing each of you soon.


Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Back in Bangkok

Safely napping the day away at the Shanti Lodge in Bangkok. We have a very small room, but it's air-conditioned and has a western toilet. Funny how one's sense of luxury changes as we get older. We arived at about 5:30 am and took a limo to the Shanti -- an extravagance that got us here quickly and into a bed as quickly as possible with the fewest unknown variables to deal with.

The rooms at the Shanti are a curious mix, but all very pleasant and inexpensive. The food in the open air restaurant is great and safe to eat. There are some, but relatively few western toilets. Like India, the bathroom shower is the entire bathroom. The walls and floor of the bathroom are tiled and the floors are sloped so that any water heads for the floor drain in one corner. A flexible shower head comes out of one wall for showers. The only problem is that the toilet seat gets wet unless you leave it up. A position I always thought was it's normal state, but Char has had other ideas until now. There's another little flexible shower head by the toilet. Thai plumbing does not handle toilet paper very well. I'll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions on the proper use of the second shower head which is mounted near toilet seat level.

Well, I'm going to check email and spend an hour deleting spam so I can read the important stuff. This is it for now. More tomorrow.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Leaving India

It's Monday afternoon around 3:30 pm and we just arrived in Calcutta from Bagdogra. Will spend a little over 10 hours here in the International terminal before taking a Thai Air flight that leaves at 1:45 on Tuesday morning.

Had a wonderful time in Mirik, taking meditation empowerments from Gyaltsab Rinpoche every day for 10 days. All of the ceremonies started after lunch and lasted until 5:30 or 6 pm. There were two days when they started around 8 in the morning. It felt very spacious and made it much easier on my knees. I took a cab each day to and from the monastery which is, I would guess, about 200 feet higher than the little town of Mirik where we stayed at the Hotel Ratnagiri.

Have lots of wonderful pictures of Eric going into 3-year retreat that I will put on the Internet as soon as I return to Portland. Eric was very emotional, but very happy as he brought up the rear of the procession of retreatants that entered the Shangpa retreat center yesterday, February 27. They finished paving the road up to the retreat center the day before they entered

Dedication of the new Monastery building was held the morning of February 25. A golden ornament was placed atop the highest point on this huge building. Monks were climbing and hanging from bamboo scaffolding to put the top piece in place. You'll see more when I publish the pictures.

Well, that's it for now. We'll be staying at the Shanti Lodge in Bangkok. There won't be any shortage of Internet connectivity in Bangkok.

I'll be back in Portland on Sunday, March 6, and will take Monday off from work to help recover from the jet lag.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Arrived in Mirik on Schedule

I'm writing this at just past noon on Saturday, February 12, in Darjeeling.

We arrived in Mirik, West Bengal, India on schedule a few days ago. Internet access is limited. Today we took a day trip to Darjeeling, and I'm happily established in Glenary's using their Internet cafe. Believe it or not, they're out of tea at Glenary's in the city whose name is synonymous with good tea. So I enjoyed some coffee and Char had a lime soda.

The flight from Calcutta to Bagdogra was uneventful. Char sat next to an Indian who lives mostly in Sikkim, and sometimes in Calcutta. He teaches yoga. They had quite a chat. There's something about Char that invites anyone and everyone to tell her their life's story.

We made the drive up to Mirik in record time. I swear it took just over an hour. An experienced driver (that means at least middle aged) didn't say a word the whole trip, completely absorbed in his driving. After the first few near misses of cows, dogs and people, Char and I settled back and enjoyed the ride. No one passed us the entire trip up the mountain.

Arrived in Mirik about 4:30 pm and ran into Anthony Kimple as we checked into the Ratnagiri Hotel. Anthony left for a few days in Darjeeling before heading to Japan. Char and I went right to bed upon arrival. Woke up a few times in the night, but got some much needed rest.

Took it very easy on our first full day in Mirik, hardly venturing out of the hotel. They now have a rather nice restaurant at the Ratnagiri. We went down for breakfast and watched the owner's son, run out to get what we ordered for breakfast. Since then, we've enjoyed early morning tea and breakfast in our room each day.

Yesterday, Friday, February 11, Ngodrip arranged for us to visit Khenpo Lodro Donyod. He was praying at the new Shangpa retreat center. Had a short, but very moving visit with him. He seems very changed since Bokar Rinpoche's death. Still a very inspiring presence.

Toured the new monastery and the Shangpa retreat center. Both are very beautiful and impressive. The new monastery building dominates the top of the hill now, dwarfing the old monastery. The new retreat center is almost finished. The retreatants have been assigned their rooms and are in the process of setting them up. Eric Triebelhorn is doing the three-year retreat here starting in a few weeks. Eric got one of the best rooms, right next to the shrine room with a great view (that he won't have time to enjoy). The room was locked, but I took some pictures through the vent over the door. Told Eric that we installed a web cam and would know when he was practicing. We'll bring back plenty of pictures of Eric going into retreat.

Saw Lama Lodro from San Francisco as we were touring the monastery.

Dechen Dawkins arrived the day before yesterday. We had dinnner with her and Eric last night at Sewong's house where they are both staying. We'll proably eat at Sewong's at Ngudrop's suggestion during the empowerments. Lot easier than going back down to the village. It's quite a hike, and my knees aren't up to it.

The empowerments will start a day late on the 15th, but are expected to end on time and we still plan to leave Mirik on the 28th. You will probably not hear from us again until after the empowerments.

Leanna from Salt Spring Island in Canada, forgot that she needed a visa for India and has been delayed. Char got an email from her telling us she is still trying to make it to India for the empowerments.

Well, I think that's it for this time. Don't expect any more until after the empowerments.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Night in Calcutta Airport

We arrived in Calcutta about 2:00 am this morning after a 3hour and 20 minute flight from Bangkok. Walked a few hundred yards from the International terminal to the domestic terminal in the dark. All the sleeping rooms were taken in the Domestic Terminal and we were assured that the rooms in the International terminal were all gone also. So we spent the night sitting in the terminal listening to very loud construction work at the other end of the lobby and breathing the construction dust that permeated the terminal. We were both remarkably awake.

As I write this it's about 9:30 am and we haven't slept since our naps yesterday afternoon in the Bangkok Palace Hotel. But, all in all, we're doing fine. We'll no doubt pay for this unexpected energy later today.

We're scheduled on a 12:10 Jet Airways flight this afternoon from Calcutta to Bagdogra. It's a short flight and then a several hour drive up into the mountains. I plan on going to bed early -- maybe as early as we arrive in Mirik.

Had a wonderful breakfast at the restaurant in the Calcutta domestic terminal. It's very slow, but the food is great. Don't go in if you have a plane to catch within 90 minutes. But if you have lots of time, it's a great place to have a liesurely meal.

It's been a fun and enjoyable trip so far. We're both fine and in great spirits. (Char made me say that.)

Monday, February 07, 2005

Arrived Bangkok, Thailand

The first leg of our journey has been completed. Safely arrived in Bangkok after about 24 hours of travel from Portland. A few hours layover in Los Angeles and a stop in Osaka, Japan on the Thai Air segment. Arrived Bangkok and took a private car to the Bangkok Palace Hotel.

We're spending a very quiet day at the hotel just to get used to the time change. It's 10:45 am local time as I'm writing this. We plan a short outing to the Shanti Lodge to arrange our hotel stay when we come back through Bangkok. Will probably eat lunch there, and then head back to the hotel for a well deserved nap.

Char was able to sleep on the plane. I got very little sleep, but am happy to be able to stretch out in a real bed.

We leave Bangkok at 11:00 pm tonight and head to Calcutta, where we plan to spend the night in an airport sleeping room before taking Jet Airways to Bagdogra and a car to Mirik.

Might not hear from us until we reach Mirik. I understand they have Internet access there now. If not, you won't hear from us unless we make a day trip to Darjeeling.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Ready for Travel to India

Final packing is underway. Char and I leave early Sunday morning, February 6. Will spend overnight in Bangkok, Thailand on our way to Calcutta, India. The cats know something is amiss. More luggage means longer trip. They'll be well taken care of while we're away.