She says she tries to stay happy regardless of how bad the world news is. He asks if she is insensitive to other people’s pain. She answers, “Empathy doesn’t have to include stupidity. No one else’s suffering is going to decrease because I also suffer. Whether it is someone else’s misfortune or my own, being miserable about it is not going to help—and the only things that matter right now are the things that help. It seems more productive and helpful to sharpen my ability to have happiness come from inside, rather than having it being dependent upon the environment. If I accomplish that, and someone feels me radiating happiness and catches a little bit of it, that seems to make more sense than my catching someone else’s fear or despair. Also, every person in the clutches of fear or despair provides a victory for the assholes that purposely manipulate our information and emotions in order to trigger crippling negativities and profit by them. I will not comply. They can’t have me. I have me. The Universe has me. Most of the living things on Earth have all my devotion, time, money, effort, attention, concern, and love. My teachers have me. My beloved friends and family have me. The assholes cannot have me.” www.fearlesspuppy.info
Before heading to the Stupa, my breakfast sitting in the front window of the hotel brings about the same heart-swelling buzz today as it does every day. Most repetitious things get boring quickly, but I can’t imagine this feeling ever losing its flavor. The joy and goodness radiating from the people walking by on the street continues to astound me. This is too powerful to just be my marijuana and cigarette withdrawals—and it is a lot more fun. I have had both minor and major league withdrawal symptoms from various substances before. None were joyful, and even the most severe ones were rarely as powerful.
Clouds of devotional smoke offerings melt into the overcast sky as monks distribute blessings at the Stupa. This is day three of Losar. The thousands of prayer flags strung to the Stupa are being replaced. The past year’s flags are usually burned in ceremonial fashion when the new ones go up. These flags are of different sizes ranging from a few inches square to gigantic. Most have a picture of a deity on them. Each has a prayer printed on it that is associated with the picture, often in the form of a mantra or little story. “Prayer” isn’t really the right word to use here. “Aspiration” would be more accurate. Again, Buddhism doesn’t look for any god living in the sky to accomplish feats for humans. No god of compassion is going to drop a thunderbolt from the sky into some evil jackass and turn him into a saint. The idea with the flags is the same idea mentioned previously in regard to the mantras themselves. By focusing on the symbolic deity and the literal mantra or story on each flag, a person absorbs that quality and actually becomes, to some extent, its positive message. It is sort of a commercial for goodness, which is a product everyone here is looking to buy. The flags are also thought to send these aspirations out across the world as they wave in the breeze.
In addition to the usual reverence practiced on the grounds, people are singing and dancing in circular groups on and around the Stupa itself today. Sherpas climb precarious steps to the upper levels where the public is forbidden to go. They carry massive piles of multicolored prayer flags on their backs. These are strung from the top of the structure to points around the lower levels as the singing, dancing, and blessing below goes on all day. Garlands of orange flowers are strung around the entire girth of the structure at different levels, and the few spots left unpainted on Day One are now covered with white wash. Monks chant, drum, and trumpet from the main temple facing the Stupa, as well as from the second tier of the Stupa structure itself.
What The F**k Just Happened?
As all this goes on, I am involved in some things that are very, very strange. Actually, I’m not sure just how much I am involved. Yes, I’m physically present, and am no doubt seen by passersby as being involved in the incidents. But although my body is here, it feels a lot more like something passing through me is directing my participation in these incidents. Things similar to this must have happened to you at some point in your life. Have you ever done something, and when it was over felt more like you were carried through the process as opposed to walking through it all by yourself? Have you ever worked on something, then sort of found it completed instead of feeling as if you had personally completed it? I have written full chapters at night and awakened in the morning without a solid memory of writing them. I read them, like them, but only bits, pieces, and a few phrases look familiar. It feels as if someone else has written them and just used my fingers and computer to accomplish the process. Several other folks have described similar instances to me, so maybe the following incidents are not so unusual!
I take two herbal muscle relaxer capsules (Passion Flower) and a 600 mg. ibuprofen for back and hip problems before going to the Stupa on this Losar Day Three.
A very unusually crazed guy is ranting by the benches of the pigeon section as I approach it. Several people are scared off the benches by him. A half dozen dogs are barking wildly and approaching him. For some bizarre reason that still escapes me, I go sit down on the bench right in front of him. I wave off the dogs and tell them out loud, but in a quiet voice, to calm down and that everything is alright. It seems the herbal muscle relaxers are doing their job well! Much to my surprise the dogs back off for a minute or two. It is long enough for me to commence an “I love you”meditation and project it at the guy that is screaming in my face in the Nepali language. He keeps screaming and the dogs go back to barking and approaching. I keep smiling with a glazed stare while silently throwing love at the man, and gently waving the dogs back a few more times while all this is going on.
After five minutes of this, the man calms down, smiles at me while pointing to the Stupa and says in broken English, “Guess should walk around.” He wanders off and the dogs relax. I snap out of my meditation. All I can think is “What the f**k just happened!?!” A few locals are staring at me as if they are thinking the same thing. The nearest I can come up with is that the energy of the monks, nuns, and Stupa used me for a few minutes to do what needed to be done. As this thought crosses my mind, one of the dogs winks at me. The wink sends a blissful but spooky shiver up my spine. Folks in the old neighborhood in Brooklyn used to have a very colorful saying when faced with a situation so baffling that there is nothing sensible to say about it. “I didn’t know whether to shit or turn purple.”
Before I have a chance to get up and walk off, two boys, each about ten years old and both on one bicycle, start riding around the benches. They both look like they haven’t taken a bath or washed their clothes in a month. They are boisterous enough to shake up the dogs. The Stupa is not a place where loud beggar kids riding bicycles usually hang out. Kids acting like these are usually on the street where I live, and the other “spokes of the wheel” streets that branch off from the central hub that is the Stupa itself. The hub itself is a serene area that rarely sees the kind of action that I have seen there during the past few days. But the kids are cool and fun to be around. They remind me of the wiseass I used to be as a teenaged beggar on the streets of New York City. We start playing and talking. One at a time, they pop wheelies for me and I applaud them. I again seem to calm the dogs a few times, but they keep coming back to bark at the kids every minute or two. They are not at all used to this kind of disturbance on their Stupa grounds! After about fifteen minutes of play, I give the kids two hundred Rupees (@ $1.75 US), a grandfatherly smack on the ass, and tell them to bug off and go get some food—reminding them that they should not be disturbing dogs in the Stupa area, or anywhere else. Much to my surprise, they listen and leave the grounds. Again I am left with the thought, “What the f**k just happened?” Again, locals are staring.
I head out of the Stupa grounds, but the fun isn’t over yet! Thinking maybe some food will level me off, I stop into a noodle shop. It is about halfway between the Stupa and my hotel, on the same side of the street as the hotel and across the street from the Thar Lam monastery.
I walk into the noodle shop and find only one available table. It is backed against the front wall a little too tightly for a big guy like me to fit into either of the chairs jammed under it. At this point I’m so disoriented that I have a little trouble pulling the very light-weight table away from the wall. A stocky woman yells at me in a rude voice, “It is simple!” Dolma is the woman’s name. She is the owner, fierce, and obviously tired and overworked. She goes to sit down at the far end employees table for twenty seconds, yawns, rubs her eyes, then gets up to work again. Without any thought of doing it arising in my brain, again on some kind of automatic pilot, I do a love meditation and direct it at her. It is a very similar situation to the one involving the ranting guy at the Stupa benches. Within a few minutes, she seems to calm and perk up a bit. A monk that has just finished eating goes over to Dolma to pay for his noodles. Catching her eye from the other end of the restaurant, I wave, make a wagging no-no sign with my index finger, and then point at myself to indicate that I will pay for him. She says “Good!” loud enough for me to hear it and then explains to the monk. He thanks me on his way out.
By the time I’m on my way out, the lunch rush is over and the place has calmed down a bit. As I go to pay and leave, Dolma invites me to sit at the employee table with her and the others. She gives me some free and very tasty tea. We talk for a while about life, America, and a few other things before I leave.
Heading down the street toward my hotel, I notice that my Love mantra has become a “What-the-f**k-just-happened?” mantra.
***If you missed the Introduction to the book that will be titled Temple Dog Soldier and contains the above chapter, or would like to see several other chapters that are available for free online, go to the Puppy website blog section at www.fearlesspuppy.info, or check out fearlesspuppy at WordPress.com, or send email requests to email@example.com. This is a book in progress. You are reading it as it is being created! Just like you, I don’t know what the next chapter is going to be about until it is written. As the Intro will tell you, this is a totally true story and the only book ever written about an around the world voyage being made by a corpse!***The books Fearless Puppy On American Road and Reincarnation Through Common Sense by this same author are also available through the http://www.fearlesspuppy.info website, as are free sample chapters from those books. Very entertaining tv/radio interviews with, and newspaper articles about, the author are also available there. There is no charge for anything but the complete books! Author profits from book sales will be donated to help sponsor an increase in the number of wisdom professionals on Earth, beginning with but certainly not exclusive to Buddhist monks and nuns.
In spite of the beauty and history, the friendliness of the people, and what may be the most inexpensive cost of living on Earth, it is time to leave Cambodia.
After a week or two in Nepal to break up the long trip, Spain is the next goal. The cost of living is bound to be more expensive in Spain, but I speak the language enough to carry on basic conversations with the locals there. The frustration of conversations ending with a first smile instead of beginning with one can cause devastating loneliness, even in a strong-minded traveler. A sixty-eight year old person is isolated enough when going around the world alone. Most individual world travelers are much younger. They are zip lining and night clubbing. The older ones usually travel in tightly knit tour groups. Not being able to speak with locals hammers a big, uncomfortable nail into communication’s coffin and can put a damper on an otherwise joyful trip.
On To Nepal
You may remember my friend Neil from the Netherlands, described in an earlier chapter. Before leaving for home, he advised me that help getting through customs and security at the Siem Reap airport was available through his connections. He sets it all up from Holland by phone. I get a ride to the airport in a Lexus from Neill’s Cambodian business partner, and am guided through check-in and customs by one of his friends that works at the airport. Neill continues to be a godsend, even from several thousand miles away.
It is great flight with wonderful crews on Silk/Singapore airlines. A Nepali couple fill the two seats next to me on the second plane. They are very sociable. We speak for hours as if we have known each other for years. Dayal and Orina live in Pokhara, about five and a half hours outside of Kathmandu. Oddly enough, their city has just been highly recommended to me. A good friend in America with Nepali traveling experience emailed just the previous day to say that, considering my health concerns, I should leave Kathmandu as quickly as possible and get to the lakeside Himalayan beauty of Pokhara. I tell Dayal and Orina to expect me within a couple of days. They are very happy about that and looking forward to my arrival.
A Terrible Beginning To A Wonderful Experience
Kathmandu, Nepal has the certified worst air quality on the planet Earth. Oxygen has color and texture here. The temperature is currently running between thirty and fifty degrees colder than Cambodia. I reserve a hotel room near the famous Boudhanath Stupa, and am guaranteed three times in three different emails from the manager that it has efficient heat.
When I step off the plane after the all day trip from Cambodia by way of Singapore, a hotel representative and driver are waiting with a sign that says, “Mr. Tenzin. Mandala Hotel.” So far, so good. Upon arrival at the hotel, I find that they have no heat in the rooms. The manager is gone for the night, so there is no way to confront him. It is too late to get anywhere else. Being out of options, I crawl into bed figuring death is imminent but at least my exit will be peaceful. Death ignores my invitation and sends suffering to take its place. All night shivering while fully dressed replaces sleep. Fiery anger with the dishonest manager is brewing in my cauldron. Anger is almost always poison, but in this case it may have raised my blood pressure enough to save me from illness.
When the manager that sent me the “we definitely have heat” emails comes in the next morning, I give him a massive tirade of shit and feel no guilt about it. It is loud and severe! Employees are staring around corners and folks look in from neighboring shops to catch the show. The word “fuck” is used more times in this five minutes than I have used it in any other five minutes since my early teenage years in Brooklyn. I tell the guy that if I die from this episode, Italians from New York are going to visit him. To his credit, he finds me a hotel with heat and has his people help carry my bags to it. The Pema Boutique Hotel is what I pictured the Mandala would be like. It is heated and clean. They are both about the same price, but the Mandala has cost me a lot more in terms of health problems and aggravation. It takes two days and gallons of hot tea to thaw out my lungs and get rid of the chill.
There are valid reasons why this situation is so serious. For the first time since twelve years old, I haven’t had any ganja for four days in a row. This has me more than a little tweaky. The forty-two hundred feet altitude and 30some degree low temperatures here would be a shocking change to anyone’s system compared with the sea level altitude and 70some degree lows that I just came from hours ago. These problems are piled on top of jet lag and the ever present fact that doctors had already labeled me a walking corpse a full year before starting this trip around the globe. The in-room heat most Americans take for granted is a real concern here in the third world.
The situation is well remedied in the next venue. If you are ever in Kathmandu, do yourself a favor and stay at The Pema Boutique Hotel on Phulbari Street. The place is as nice as any in the Stupa area and the staff is incredible. I’ve been in hundreds of hotels, motels, and hostels during my life, but never at one staffed with better people than those working here. Nikky is the manager. He does everything possible to insure the health and comfort of his guests. Power went out in the whole ten block Stupa area and Nikky spent a half hour rigging up the heater in my room with extension cords and batteries. Wangmo is Nikky’s sister and seems to be the hotel’s administrator. I immediately take her presence as a good omen for a few reasons. She is kind, honest, clever, and has a giant Beatles sticker on the front of her computer.
The food here is good and the service is great. This is due to a fine cook and wonderful staff that is fronted by two very special people. Bishnu is the young lady usually at the front desk. She is lovely, efficient, speaks English fluently, and has a patient smile that never fades. Passang is the 20some year old go-to guy. He is the main waiter in the restaurant, the room service person, and the main housekeeping person. He works fifteen hours a day, six days per week, without ever losing his happy, personable, pleasant attitude. I think of him more as a younger brother than a hotel staff member. The staff is rounded out by Tashi and several other young ladies. Each is as beautiful in character as they are in physical appearance.
Daytime In Magicville
With the preliminary disaster behind me, I step out into a spiritual paradise. The giant Boudhanath Stupa is in the middle of it all. A Stupa could be very loosely described as a dome-shaped Buddhist monument containing holy relics. The word Stupa is literally translated from the Sanskrit language into English as “heap.” Stupa structures actually pre-date Buddhism as burial mounds for relics as well as people. There are many levels of symbolism associated with the structure. All the earthly elements are represented. The building has a solid square base that represents earth. The hemispherical dome represents water. A cone shaped spire above the dome represents fire. There is a lotus parasol and crescent moon at the top representing air. Giant eyes painted on the dome represent the all-seeing wisdom ability of Buddha. The nose represents Nirvana, the liberation from suffering. It is in the shape of the Nepali character for the number 1, signifying universal unity. A whole book could be written about the various representations and interpretations of Stupa symbols! Perhaps the most important of these is that Stupas are considered to be a representation of the enlightened mind of all the Buddhas.
The Boudhanath Stupa is thought by many to be the mother of them all. Many folks feel there is a magic in the structure itself. Others feel that the building’s power stems from generations of human energy being fed into it. Reverence, devotion, prayers, and aspirations have been inspired by and fed into this structure for over a dozen centuries—and not just by visitors, pilgrims, and local passersby. Many spiritual professionals wearing robes live in the several monasteries surrounding it. They have been on the job for their entire lives. There is no denying the intensity of the structure itself, the intensity that radiates between the building and its devotees, or the energy that permeates the entire surrounding neighborhood.
On the grounds are a few hundred people, nearly a third of them monks and nuns, walking around the structure in a clockwise direction. Many of them are working rosary prayer beads and reciting mantras as they walk. A mantra is a short phrase containing the message associated with a particular deity. Continuous repetition of this phrase not only instills its qualities into the person speaking it, but is simultaneously directed toward the benefit of everything alive. For example, “Om Mani Padme Hum” is the mantra associated with Chenrezig, the deity of compassion. Continuous repetition of it fosters compassionate tendencies within the person pronouncing the phrase as well as sending those tendencies out into the world. There are varied opinions about which end of this equation is actually in play. Some think that a compassionate energy is actually projected into the atmosphere in the manner of a positive spell being cast. Others feel that the person pronouncing and absorbing these positive thoughts then passes the benefits on to the world through their actions, which are upgraded due to a strong association with the mantra’s message. The evidence I have seen supports the possibility that both opinions are true to at least some extent. To exactly what extent may depend upon the length and depth of experience, and the strength of motivation, in the practitioner.
I join the walk around the building.
The sound of monks chanting, blowing giant ceremonial trumpets, and beating drums seems to be coming from everywhere. It is. There are temples in all directions. The air is thick with an electrical vibration of elevated consciousness and compassion that I can physically feel as a swelling in my heart. It also feels like I am walking in slow motion as if through deep water, but with a lightness and lack of labor. This otherworldly experience seems out of my control. It is overpowering enough to draw tears from my eyes. A child brushes against me. According to his father’s watch, I have been walking around the Stupa in a trance for an hour. There is no way to tell how many times I have gone around it, but the crowd has grown since my trance began. A sea of people from around the world, many clothed in outfits that match the red-wine colored robes of the monks and nuns walking with them, flow around the Stupa structure. They are both engulfed in and creating the massive vibration, like the current within a river.
The flow of people that surrounds the Stupa is itself surrounded by a ring of shops. Most of them deal in Buddhist artifacts, masks, paintings, and Nepali souvenirs. Streets feed into that ring of shops from every direction. Like the spokes of a wheel, they branch out to create the neighborhood.
I float up to one of the rooftop Stupa-view cafés in the primary ring of shops. There is no way to be sure whether or not it is the same one filmed in the Keanu Reeves Little Buddha movie. Imagination tells me that it is. A strong cup of coffee there helps bring me back to Earth a bit—but certainly not altogether.
Love and Medicine For Breakfast
I will try to describe the rest of the Kathmandu experience in terms that are as grounded as possible. I don’t want to sound like a person whose LSD experiences never wore off. But the truth is that the baffling energy of the Stupa and the folks that frequent it spreads throughout this whole neighborhood and doesn’t seem to ever fade or weaken. The Pema Boutique Hotel is only a few blocks up one of the adjoining streets that act as spokes in the neighborhood wheel with the Stupa as its central hub. If you are anywhere within that wheel, you are engulfed in and become part of its motion, as it seems I have.
The next morning starts with the breakfast that is included in the price of the room. It might be the best breakfast available anywhere. Guests are offered a choice of American, Chinese, or Himalayan breakfast sets. I go with the flow and pick the Himalayan. It contains more food than one person could possibly eat and includes porridge (oatmeal) with honey, nuts and raisins, tsampa (a traditional Himalayan barley flour dough), a scrambled egg, a bit of well flavored spinach, Indian bread, mildly curried potato soup, fruit juice, and the option of cappuccino, coffee, or tea.
I eat seated at the front window counter of the hotel with a full view of the action on the street. The folks passing by are a very beautiful collection of humans. Besides the regular type of physical beauty, many seem to have a glow or radiance about them. Many are working their prayer beads and reciting mantras on the way to the Stupa. An old lady walks by with a limp. I project Medicine Buddha mantras in her direction.
There is no way to tell if the old lady feels it, but it feels so good to me that I continue to do it toward everyone walking by on the street. About halfway through breakfast, it clicks in that most of the people already look healthy. They don’t really need Medicine Buddha! I had been listening to the Beatles singing All You Need Is Love on the computer in my room while getting ready to come down for breakfast, and so switch the mantra to the “Love, love, love” phrase from the song.
Yes, folks, I realize that an ex-junkie from Brooklyn, New York sitting in a window in the middle of Asia casting love spells on everybody passing by in the street sounds a little fucking nuts—but that’s what this neighborhood can do to a person! And the more you think about it, the less strange it sounds. Being in a war zone will likely turn anyone defensively violent and keep them in a constant state of fear. The nicest of people can turn into a raging beast when life-threatening danger is in the air. Being in Stupaville fosters the attitude of projecting positive energy at any and everything that is alive. This sort of thing only sounds weird to most of us because we have spent much of our lives being on guard, stressed, and competitive instead of loving, comfortable, and cooperative.
The positivity in the atmosphere is largely, but certainly not solely, about the influence of all the monks and nuns in the area. Every one here, not just the spiritual professionals, is warm, friendly, and helpful—even when it doesn’t involve any obvious profit for them. It is also very apparent that the girls and women seem less nervous around white men than they are in Cambodia. Maybe this is true because they have seen more of our spiritually oriented gentlemen, and less of our bombings and sexual tourism.
But as much as I love Nepal and want to see more of this country, it is time to go. It is very chilly and wet at this time of year, the concrete buildings radiate the cold, the electricity cuts out often and takes the heating systems with it, it isn’t altogether safe to eat a salad, the air quality is as dangerous as the weather, and there is no access to the dietary needs, vitamins, medicinal supplements, and other resources necessary for an old ailing Westerner to stay alive. Spain has constant sunshine, warmer temperatures, more reliable electricity, healthy Mediterranean food options—and I speak enough Spanish to hold a conversation with locals. I will certainly miss what, in less than a week and in spite of all its material shortcomings, has become my favorite place on Earth. It would be wonderful to return in the warmer season, but for now it seems like this old man’s survival is dependent upon getting to some warm sunshine and greater resources. If I had discovered Nepal when eighteen years old, my last fifty years would have been spent right here. But old age brings with it a degree of physical fragility and restriction, as well as the wisdom to recognize and obey it. A person in my condition may go to sleep here and, if the electricity cuts out during the night, might wake up with a long painful illness—or not wake up at all.
PUT A DOUBLE LINE SPACE HERE IN THE ACTUAL BOOK
There is a distinct line between courage and stupidity. I am going to erase that line. Those two commonsensible paragraphs above about leaving immediately for Spain were written last night. They still make a lot of sense, but I can’t bring myself to leave Nepal. Every time I walk out on the street, my brain experiences a joyful explosion and I start laughing at nothing just from being around the people here.
Of course this Stupa neighborhood is a particularly consecrated area, and likely unique within Nepal as well as being unique on Earth. Even the rest of this city is probably quite a bit different. The Stupa is universally regarded as an international treasure, is a certified World Heritage landmark, and one of the holiest places in the world for Buddhists and Hindus alike. Besides that, it is now Losar (Tibetan New Year) week—so the vibe is likely stepped up even a notch further than usual. Every time the thought of leaving pops up, I cry like an abandoned baby. Part of that feeling, and the rest of my personal emotional circus, is no doubt the result of not smoking ganja for an entire week for the first time in fifty years, culture shock, and all the other variations in life that are being dealt with. But there is a lot more to it than that. Every day I go out and kiss the sky like Jimi Hendrix. Every night I punch up plane and hotel reservations for Spain, but can never bring myself to push that last button and finalize them. Whether it is a case of courage or a case of stupidity, I’m going to be here a bit longer. If I die before finishing this book, or even the next section of it, know that I love you and have loved being able to write for you. This will be true no matter where in the world my body gets left behind. But this feeling, like all feelings, is a little stronger here in heaven.
PUT A DOUBLE LINE SPACE HERE IN THE ACTUAL BOOK
Today is Losar, the Tibetan new year. It includes going to temple with family as well as public festivities. The Tibetan New Year’s celebration lasts for several days. When I hit the lobby for breakfast on this Losar Day One, Nikky, Wangmo, and much of the hotel crew, along with several of their family members, are present and dressed like royalty. They are even more smiley and sweet than usual, if that is possible. The streets are lined with people in their finest and most colorful regalia. If Walt Disney was still alive, even he would stand back in awe of the spectacle.
My positive-energy-projection-toward-the-street shtick is being done from the front window counter of the hotel without even thinking about it anymore. It happens on automatic pilot. After breakfast, I head toward the Stupa and watch as the entire massive structure is painted. This happens every New Year’s Day. It has been cold and raw since my arrival in Kathmandu, but even the sun has come out in force for this festive occasion. So have folks from all over Nepal and the world. A 20some year old named Milabuddha sits next to me on a bench by the Stupa. He is from another part of Nepal. Mila starts a conversation and then takes a selfie of us on his phone. The friendliness of the people here continues to astound me. It will be very interesting to travel elsewhere in Nepal and see if this friendliness is a national habit. Being in the Stupa neighborhood is somewhat like being in church. Visitors are on their most noble behavior.
But for the thousands of people that actually live here, their most noble behavior is way of life—and the animals on the Stupa grounds are just as amazing as the humans! A couple of dozen dogs, by far and away the most conscious, mellowest, and sweetest animals in the world, surround the Stupa. They seem to belong to no one and everyone. These canines seem more human than many actual biological humans. They also seem to have a sharp intelligence, a kind of radar and sense of premonition.
A white one sits himself in front of the bench that me and Milabuddha are on. A man walks in our direction and starts to approach a woman two benches away with his hand out. The man looks more hungover than hungry. He has an air of snarling surliness about him that I can feel from a distance. He isn’t doing anything loud, crazy, or even noticeably different than other folks—but to me the energy radiating from him seems to stand out like a sore thumb within this otherwise serene atmosphere. The white dog feels it too. He bolts up and darts himself between that man and the woman on the bench. White dog barks as if his master’s house is on fire! The man backs off and walks away quickly. The dog continues to bark at the ornery man’s heels for twenty yards or so until both are well out of range of the benches. White dog then simply lays down silently by the Stupa. This creature seems to be in a meditation, as do all the canines in the area. These animals lay around as if they are reincarnated saints that have earned the right to relax in heaven for a lifetime—unless there is a situation that calls them to action.
Several hundred of the most well fed pigeons in the world have their own corner of the Stupa grounds. Locals sell grain to visitors who spread it around for the birds to eat. Any form of caring for any form of life is considered a source of blessing here.
While I’m sitting on the second floor deck of a temple building facing the Stupa, a monk comes over to talk with me. He tells me that the crowds are a lot thinner than usual for Losar this year due to the Corona virus threat. We speak about how this is just one link in a long chain of well-publicized pandemic threats that included Swine Flu, West Nile virus, Henta, Bird Flu, SARS, and so many others. I guess out loud that these maladies may be largely manufactured, or at the least exaggerated, by the media and their associates that profit from public fear. These human vultures know that scared people will pay blindly for imaginary protection from manufactured enemies. Folks in Cambodia had also complained about the sparse tourist traffic this year. They also blamed it on the disease scare (as well as on the potentially volatile political situation there). For whatever reasons, tourist traffic in Asia seems to be way down this year. The merchants, manufacturers, people who count on visitor fees and contributions, cab drivers, and so on are all suffering the result.
On the way home, I stop at Thar Lam Monastery to visit the temple that sits halfway between the Stupa and my hotel. The monks are having New Year’s badminton and volleyball tournaments! The adult monks are playing as the elder and child monks cheer from the sidelines. I sit down near a few elders to watch and am immediately approached by a young black dog with markings that make it look as if it is wearing a white necktie. The dog licks me until I fall off my seat on the narrow curb, and keeps licking as I lay on my back on the ground. The monks are laughing at me almost as hard as I am laughing at myself. The dog seems to be laughing too.
Midway through the game, I go into the temple. It is, as most of them are, a beautiful structure with a gorgeous interior composed of giant iconic Buddhist statues. The walls are painted with scenes from the historical Buddha’s life. There are offerings of yak cheese, cookies, fruit, and many other goodies stacked everywhere in obvious preparation for a later ceremony. After a short solo meditation, I head back to the hotel with a big smile on my face and the love of fearless puppies in my heart.
Much of humanity thinks that a power beyond itself will drop from the sky to help save our species. Few people are coherently concerned, consciously aware, dedicated, motivated, and common sensible enough to realize that the only way our planet will become a better planet is if we each individually put in the mental work necessary to become better people. I may be in the ten square block area of Earth that contains the highest concentration of people that are aware of this fact. There is a palpable density of love and goodwill here that is fostered internally by individuals. This internal mental work, this fostering of goodwill, is not done as a self-serving mechanism. It is motivated by and done on behalf of the entire human community. It is extremely powerful—and it seems that even the animals are involved in the process.
My experience of being here is akin to that of a thirteen-year-old baseball fanatic who has suddenly found himself living in a bed-and-breakfast planted smack in the middle of the Cooperstown Hall of Fame. I have spent almost all of my life in America. In America, many people who see soldiers in uniform approach them and say, “thank you for your service.” The soldiers are considered heroes worthy of respect and admiration. My heroes are not professional killers. My heroes are professional altruists that dedicate their lives to producing saner, kinder, more compassionate opportunities for everything that lives on this planet. My heroes are walking on the streets of Nepal, and I have a campsite in the Hall of Fame.
***If you missed the Introduction to the book that will be titled Temple Dog Soldier and contains the above chapter, or would like to see several other chapters that are available for free online, go to the Puppy website blog section at http://www.fearlesspuppy.info, or check out fearlesspuppy at WordPress.com, or send email requests to firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a book in progress. You are reading it as it is being created! Just like you, I don’t know what the next chapter is going to be about until it is written. As the Intro will tell you, this is a totally true story and the only book ever written about an around the world voyage being made by a corpse!***The books Fearless Puppy On American Road and Reincarnation Through Common Sense by this same author are also available through the http://www.fearlesspuppy.info website, as are free sample chapters from those books. Very entertaining tv/radio interviews with, and newspaper articles about, the author are also available there. There is no charge for anything but the complete books! Author profits from book sales will be donated to help sponsor an increase in the number of wisdom professionals on Earth, beginning with but certainly not exclusive to Buddhist monks and nuns.
Country Bus To The Capitol City
Time for a six hour bus trip through the country side. This will bring me from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, the capitol city of Cambodia. Phnom Penh is where the American Embassy is and where US passports get renewed. That is this week’s mission. Most countries require that your passport have at least six months left before it’s expiration date, or they won’t let you into their country. Mine is close to that six-month line, and it will soon be time to travel. The winter season of highs only in the low 90s is nearly over in Cambodia. Lordee knows how hot it’s going to get after that! As I understand it, the same stifling humidity sticks around but the temperatures go up.
I Have To Stop Smoking That Stuff For Breakfast!
Do you want to hear a funny story? It won’t seem funny for a page or two, but the punchline is hilarious!
The trip to Phnom Penh starts with the usual Southeast Asian tweaks. My ride is scheduled on a big bus with a bathroom in it. That costs twelve dollars instead of the nine dollars that the regular bus would have cost.
Shuttles to the bus station pick folks up at certain hotels, but not at apartments like mine. I take a tuk-tuk to the bus station and am told by the friendly desk lady that the bus will be around in forty minutes. An hour later, a van shows up. Turns out that we are at an auxiliary bus station and the van is taking us to the main station three miles away. Upon arrival at the real bus station there is another van waiting for us. I ask where the big bus with the bathroom is and am told by the receptionist that it is broken. They brought the van to replace it. There are exactly eleven passengers waiting and exactly eleven passenger seats in the van. There is no crowd of travelers waiting disappointedly for the big bus. I have obviously been sold a ticket for passage on a vehicle that never existed. Now my nearly seventy-year-old kidneys are packed in a van like sardines along with eleven other full-sized humans (including driver). The option is to wait twelve hours for the next scheduled fully equipped full-size bus, which is certainly not guaranteed to be one! I hop on board while giving the customer service person a ration of shit, and immediately feel bad about that. Snapping at folks on the job is something I rarely do and am never proud of. No matter how screwed you get by a company, getting nasty with an employee rarely helps.
Within twenty minutes of leaving town, the trip improves a bit. Lower population in the outlying villages accounts for a slight improvement in both air quality and the amount of trash scattered everywhere. There are more bicycles than motorbikes in rural Cambodia, and only a few tuk-tuks in the two or three larger towns between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.
The landscape is not really jungle. It is more like rice paddies and savannah. It looks like Central Florida in the US, as well as much of Africa as seen on National Geographic. Most of the houses are built on stilts as protection against flooding that often results from monsoon rains. A lot of fields, big cows, horned bulls, and water buffalo are surrounded by bushes and trees. The animals graze in the wide open fields where rice must grow at certain times of year. There is very little sign of a crop now and no apparent cultivation going on. The massive amount of food growing in the wild may delete the need for much cultivation of other crops. There are no tractors or other mechanized farm equipment around. If there is any plowing done, the water buffalo must do it. Cattle are everywhere! They are in the front yards of houses, in the fields, and on the road. They seem to think they own the place. Several short van stops are necessary to allow horned behemoths to shuffle across the road at their own pace in front of us.
More shops than logic would dictate a need for line both sides of the road, but they aren’t shops as a Westerner knows them. They are handmade tables and shelves constructed of tree branches tied together with twine. These are shielded from the sun by giant beach umbrellas. They hold everything from fruit and clothing to gasoline for motorbikes that is sold in old quart whiskey bottles. There are a few temples scattered throughout the country side, but rural Cambodia seems nowhere near as thick with them as Siem Reap.
Many countries are represented by the passengers in our van including Germany, Ireland, Australia, and several Asian countries. I sit next to and speak with a lovely couple in their fifties from Denmark. They have several reasonable questions to ask an American. “What is with all the guns?” “How do intelligent people vote for someone like Donald Trump?” “What is going to happen there?” Susanna and Kurt voice more concern than scorn for the US.
We finally arrive in Phnom Penh. The Embassy is already closed for the day. After check-in at the hotel, there is still time to go find the vitamin store I had researched. As is the practice, I give the tuk-tuk driver the address and phone number of the target destination. He proceeds to get us lost for an hour and a half in a city that is much bigger, more polluted, and filthier than even Siem Reap’s worst neighborhoods. He actually drives around one particular block five times and calls the vitamin store four times. In spite of getting instructions from them during all four calls, the search continues. We finally find the place, only to discover that it was falsely advertised as a vitamin store and has nothing but protein powders in it.
The next day’s Embassy procedure is even more frustrating than the vitamin trip! Turns out they don’t actually renew passports in country but send them to America for processing, after which they get mailed back to Cambodia. This process is supposed to take two weeks. It could take much longer, and either way would include another unpleasant, expensive round-trip into a city that is way too big for my liking. It is February. My passport expires in October. I can still linger a month or two and have the necessary six months of passport left that is required to get into another country. It seems smarter to do that, and then deal with the passport renewal in a place where the process is simpler and things are more organized. I walk out of the embassy in the middle of the process, again feeling a frustrated irritability that, as a rule, is completely out of character.
Other tweaks, too many and minor to mention, happen in Phnom Penh. Siem Reap may have some problems but there are no folks standing on a main street in downtown with their pants around their ankles and junk to the breeze, staring blankly into space. Whatever happened to this poor guy seems to have also happened, at least in some small part, to the entire city. I have had enough of this place and figure to treat myself to a plane ride back to Siem Reap instead of taking that van bus again. My last night in the big city is used for a boring rest in the hotel room and making a plane reservation on the computer.
But the SNAFUs aren’t over yet! Ready to fly in the morning, I go to the check-in counter at the airport to discover that someone on the other end of the computer screwed up my reservation last night. I don’t have one, and they don’t sell tickets at the check-in counter. The check-in counter folks direct me to the purchase counter at the other end of the airport. I haul over there to discover that the one person on that desk is out to lunch and won’t be back until after my flight leaves. At this point, pissed-off has overtaken logic. I’m co-bitching to and with other travelers having problems, as well as everyone else within earshot.
This is rarely a good thing. Anytime I react badly to temporary external shit instead of dwelling in the eternal internal shinola, I immediately don’t like who I have become. But in this case, irritability pays off. An innocent bystander overhears the tirade and reports on a flight leaving one hour later on a different airline. I go to that airline’s sales counter.
The ticket costs three times as much as the other ticket would have, due to buying it so close to flight time. The guy I buy it from takes half an hour to put it together, pretty much listening to me alternate between barking at him and apologizing for my attitude. He finally gives me a typed piece of paper with only a flight number and time on it. There is no receipt to show proof of ticket purchase, nor any other information on the paper. Luckily there is a thick plastic window between us. It protects me from another bad reaction, and protects him from me. I strongly request an actual receipt and further instructions. He gives them.
Here’s The Punch Line
Everyone has to show a passport at the gate in order to finally board the plane. My eyes haphazardly drop into focus on the information in front as I hand mine to the boarding crew. I (please excuse the expression) about shit myself—then start laughing too loudly. Luckily, I am already in the tunnel going to the plane. If anyone in authority was able to see me, it would have appeared that a lunatic was laughing like a hyena at nothing. They surely would have called the men in the white coats to take me away.
The expiration date on the passport is indeed October, but not the October I thought it was. There is a little over a year and a half left until expiration, not just a half year. That October expiration is for 2021, not 2020.
This is all very funny, but also very embarrassing for me. I’m the guy who is always telling people how important paying real attention is. I am suffering a series of expensive and very aggravating malfunctions due to not paying attention to a simple and clearly printed detail. My eyes had seen, but not registered, that detail at least a dozen times during the past week.
It is even more embarrassing for me as the guy who always tells people that anger is pointless and accomplishes nothing. I have snapped at several people and made an actual asshole out of myself more than once during the past few days. Whether some of those people deserved it or not is no excuse for doing it. The heat, pollution, humidity, dietary variations, and the lack of ability to communicate are taking an obvious mental toll. In spite of all its good points, it seems that I need to get out of Cambodia soon.
There is another factor. I may have to stop smoking weed for breakfast, at least until I get away from this foggy brown stuff and back to the more clarifying green weed. Maybe that will improve the odds of making lucid observations and the better decisions that come with them. Now that it is over, my brainfart provided a good, long laugh—but not good enough to ever want to repeat such mental clumsiness, or the ordeals that result from it.
The Largest Temple Ever Built On Earth
Angkor Was is the largest temple ever built on Earth. It is actually an ancient city tied together by a complex of temples. It was built by Emperor Suryavarman The Second almost a thousand years ago as the state temple and political center of his empire. “Angkor” means “capitol city” in the Cambodian language. “Wat” means “temple.” It was rediscovered in the 1840s by French explorer Henri Mouhot. He said that the site was “grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome.”
The temple’s design represents Mount Meru, the home of the gods according to some adherents of both the Hindu and Buddhist faiths. Angkor Wat’s five towers are intended to recreate the five peaks of Mount Meru. The walls and moat below honor the surrounding mountain ranges and the sea. The tower above the main shrine is Angkor Wat’s highest point at nearly seventy feet in the air.
There is a Buddhist/Hindu fusion in Angkor Wat that seems to pay the two schools of thought an equal respect. There are Shiva Lingas and Buddha images within the same building!
A fifteen foot high wall and a wide moat protected the city, temple and residents of Angkor—but not always successfully. Much of that wall still stands. Inside this wall, Angkor Wat covers two hundred acres. It seems this area included the city, the temple structure, and also the emperor’s palace, which was just north of the temple.
The libraries, temples, and other buildings are all decorated with thousands of stone figures carved into their rock walls. These represent deities and heroic figures, many from the Hindu and Buddhist religions. They include soldiers, gods, and demons that are most often involved in warfare.
In 1992, Angkor Wat was named a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Chhum Chhaiya is my guide for this tour. He is also my waiter at the rare farm-to-table restaurant in the area, an English language student, and my friend. He also does volunteer work as tour guide for high school students from all over Cambodia that come to see their national treasure in Siem Reap.
Chhum tells me that the entire complex was built entirely by free labor—but not slave labor. Chhum makes his best effort at English language to explain that it was “believe labor.” Thousands of folks worked without pay for decades in the belief that the most noble way to spend life was in dedication and service to Buddha, Vishnu, their king, countrymen, and empire.
According to Chhum, giant stones were hauled by elephants from quarries many miles away. The elephants were able to pull these massive rocks because the rocks lay on bamboo rollers. Do you know how to make bamboo hold up to a several ton stone? Do you know how to pick that stone up and put it perfectly in place, once it gets where it is going? It seems the ancients did.
The area is, of course, too big to walk around—even if it wasn’t ninety-six degrees with the humidity nearly as high. Tourists hire a tuk-tuk for the day to drive them from individual site to individual site. The tuk-tuk waits outside each area while tourists climb through ancient structures.
This two hundred acres is very different from its cosmopolitan host city of Siem Reap. There is almost no trash by the side of the road. The air has a consecrated freshness to it. There are lakes, jungle, and monkeys. Angkor Wat it is considered sacred ground, and is treated as such by locals and tourists alike.
If this attitude was carried over into the city, the nation, and the planet, life on Earth would be much different for all of us. Unfortunately, precious little in any location on Earth is treated with the reverence that the ruins of Angkor Wat enjoy. My brother-from-another-mother Joe Fort (artist for the Fearless Puppy book cover) recently wrote to me, forlorn about the current state of the world. He compared our politicians and industrialists to biker bullies armed with chains, on the verge of beating a relatively innocent public to death. He hoped that people, especially American people, would arm themselves by casting future votes with increased heart and intelligence.
I do so hate giving bad news to good people! But it seems that we are past the point where arming ourselves with votes, or any other make-believe electoral effort, will help. You can’t beat a system that someone else owns from balls to bone. The owners may afford us the grand illusion that we are in control of the system we live within, but we have no power to influence any actual physical control mechanisms. Media, food, water, etc. are regulated outside of public domain. In addition, the owners and the system are co-involved in the process of killing themselves quickly—and unfortunately, perhaps taking most of the planet with them. Putting cooperative, much less combative, energy into the last gasp of a failing, suicidal empire seems like a misuse of potential. It seems that our energies are better spent putting together sensible focus and function in life. Actively building common sense always seems to work better than destroying evil. Results are more pleasant and last longer if achieved through positive means.
I know we’d all like to think that our votes count, but results are scripted long before we get to the polls. This has been true since at least as far back as 1963 and in an almost-as-real sense, as far back as 1776 and beyond. It is not at all a strictly American problem! It was Hermann Goebbels of the short-lived Nazi empire who said, “It doesn’t matter who votes. It matters who counts the votes.” Political action on behalf of humane function is a noble effort, but the only chance of averting the seemingly inevitable collapse of humanity is a massive awakening among the majority of individuals that compose the human community. The most intelligent and historically successful method to fuel an awakening in Consciousness that accomplishes social progress is nonviolent noncooperation with oppressive forces. This requires generous, altruistic, and in places sacrificially heroic character strength by billions of individuals—not only all at once, but also one at a time. This is not going to happen. Very few people would even give up a cell phone to cancel their support of the demons that own the towers. Very few will ever stop watching manufactured traumas on TV, although these cause continuous adrenaline and cortisol rushes that shock the mind and central nervous system into a fear-based, defensive way of life. The greater contributions to personal mental health or the public good by our largely “selfie” oriented culture seem even more unlikely. I don’t mean to be pessimistic, but unless some massive tipping point in our way of life, sparked by a big change in consciousness, is reached by billions of individual humans within the next few years, it seems we are very much in a “smoke em if you got em” situation.
It won’t be the first time! Look at Angkor Wat! Look at the pyramids of Egypt! Even our present-day geniuses don’t know how ancient technology accomplished much of what it accomplished! Many civilizations that enjoyed a deeper intelligence and a stronger congruence with the rest of life on Earth have disappeared. They took most of their wisdom with them. There are a lot of empty libraries in Angkor Wat.
As Relates To America
Do you remember this paragraph from the beginning of the book? “Several friends who have been abroad lately tell me that there is no place else on Earth as morally bankrupt, lacking integrity, crumbling apart from the inside, and as intimidating and repulsive to its neighbors as America. There is plenty of evidence to support their claims but I still don’t like to believe them. I have to go see for myself. If it is true that no place sucks quite as badly as America does, I want to find out why. What are other places doing that we would benefit from doing ourselves? And more importantly, why are we not doing those things? What things are the other places doing that don’t work for them? Why aren’t they fixing their own messes? What are the ways people keep smiling, laughing, and loving life while fighting to repair a world that is mentally as well as physically ill, often disturbing if not disgusting, and may very well have a more severe terminal illness than I do? How do folks keep the fun happening in the midst of all the tragedy?”
I almost forgot it altogether! The present tense is always the place to be. After only three months on the road, America and that paragraph already seem like distant memories from a past lifetime. But since it is one of the reasons for traveling overseas, here is a comparison of America to Southeast Asia as I have experienced it so far.
America is more technologically and materially advanced, cleaner, and its citizens have more choice of and access to food, clothing, and shelter by far than here in Cambodia. The folks here work harder, put in longer hours, and yet many get paid so much less that their families don’t have enough to eat every day. Many cannot afford to send their children to elementary school for basic literacy. There is no free schooling here. There are many other factors, such as the brutal heat and humidity, that make life difficult in Southeast Asia. Nonetheless, Cambodians are happier, kinder, friendlier, in many ways healthier, and seem to enjoy life more than the average American. If I had to choose between living the rest of my life in Cambodia or America, I would choose Cambodia.
There is a feeling of camaraderie among the people here. Families are very close and the entire nation is something of an extended family. America does this at times, but it always seems to spring from an aggressive, combative motivation. Cambodians are not that angry or scared. Their motivation is constructive, not destructive. Cambodia is on the way up, not the way down. It can sometimes seem as if the nation is stumbling in the dark, bumping into things while trying to find its way—but it is moving forward. They are like Americans must have been during the pioneer days, before we became such spoiled little people.
We Americans often take our thoughts and emotions so seriously that meaningless episodes become big dramatic events. Cambodians have the ability to know that shit happens and everything is temporary. They know that very few things are actually important enough to get upset about. More importantly, they know that getting upset under any circumstances usually results in more harm than good. Cambodians work seriously at living well, but don’t take themselves seriously in the way that makes life a trial or burden. They have a sense of the tragic but know that life is generally to be celebrated, not mourned. Southeast Asians have a much better sense of perspective as far as knowing that the world doesn’t revolve around their individual desires. The misguided, artificially manufactured sense of entitlement that America suffers, and makes the rest of the world suffer, is not present here.
Cambodians also seem to have less animosity towards any specific group than the people in many other countries do. They may get irritable with foreigners on occasion and overcharge foreigners regularly, but they don’t seem to have any particular prejudice against Muslims, Americans, Africans, Chinese, or anyone else. The little bit of animosity that I hear directed toward foreigners is directed toward all of them, or at an individual tourist who acts like enough of a jackass to earn an irritable response.
“There is a bondage (humans have) to the Earth, and a release (from it). You don’t have to be quit of your bondage to experience the release. The two go together. This is a great mystical experience, where the individual no longer identifies with the history of his carnal body but rather identifies with the consciousness that informs that body. When you are identified with the consciousness rather than the vehicle, the suffering of the vehicle has nothing to do with the consciousness. You are free in bondage! Mythologically, the shackles fall off without leaving your wrists. (This makes one capable of ) joyful participation in the sorrows of the world. You can’t eliminate the sorrows of the world! Time involves sorrow. And if you are in the field of time, that is the experience of the carnal body. But that which is participating in this has another dimension, the eternal dimension—and it can joyfully affirm this.” Joseph Campbell
Let’s paraphrase and try to simplify this quote a little. We are all symbolically hanging on the cross where life meets time. Everyone alive deals with times of illness, difficulty, loss, trauma, suffering, and eventual death. When we can embrace the inevitable processes of life-and-time, and do it courageously with a smile and eyes open, we accomplish the clarity and grace that are spoken of by nearly all the world’s spiritual messengers. When we realize that in spite of all the bumps in the road, we can hit that road with an affirmative, positive attitude, the life we live takes on a dimension that is heroic. We become capable of joyful participation in our world, although fully aware of the inevitable suffering and death it entails.
“When the ego is capable of taking part in this crucifixion, then you are really in the Imitatio Christi and have achieved, I would say, the goal of the Christian message.” JC
Joseph Campbell spent almost his whole life in America. There are very few people in Cambodia familiar with him, or with the history or even the definition of crucifixion. Yet, so many people in Southeast Asia have a better grasp of Campbell’s message than most Americans do. Why? Is it the severe living conditions that color the Southeast Asian attitude? the Buddhism?
Maybe both. But there is more. The quality of attention paid by a student is in many ways more important than who the teacher is. It may be more important than any other aspect of learning. Maybe as Americans we just have too many distractions available to draw our quality attention away from our better teachers. So many brilliant minds with readily available wisdom and valuable knowledge are ignored. Even Nature itself often takes a back seat to some very meaningless, and in some cases very unnatural, habits and hobbies.
Technology and material advantage have helped humanity accomplish some wonderful things. Unfortunately, they have in many cases become fatal attractions. The addiction to them, as well as the all too frequent overdoses of them, often negate their potential advantage. We Americans so often watch other people living, working, loving, traveling, and so on in our movies and on our TV shows without doing any of that living, working, loving, and traveling ourselves. We recognize life as a fine restaurant but eat the menu instead of the food.The technology that was designed to enhance life has in many cases kidnapped and restrained it.
We are, in addition, distracted from our simple goodness and ability to focus on and enjoy a meaningful life by so much more than technology. Multitasking and stress have never been an accepted part of life in Southeast Asia. Many folks in the materially developed world think that if a person is not stressed out, they aren’t doing anything important. If a person is stressed out all the time in Cambodia, they are thought to be mentally ill, or an asshole, or need a nap. People here work hard, sleep well, and smile often. Neither the sedentary nor pressured lifestyles that often foster mental as well as physical disease have taken a hold here yet.
There is more natural environment and less artificially manufactured phenomena in materially deprived countries than in materially developed ones. In materially developed countries, Nature gives way to concrete and steel in a psychological as well as a literal sense. Concrete and steel are hard, sharp-edged, cold, and dead. Nature is usually softer, curved, warm, alive and welcoming. It is receptive to a human connection with it.
Maybe we Americans are too materially affluent and carnally happy to pay attention to much else besides being materially affluent and carnally happy? Does all that attention we pay to trivial byproducts of material affluence draw quality attention away from our emotional, psychological, and spiritual affluence? Has this all happened at the expense of the happiness we thought it would buy?
I wish I could see the look on the face of that first person who unearths a cell phone, TV, or computer in an archaeological dig of the year 5021. Will they ever figure out our gadgets—or how dearly we paid for them?
***If you missed the Intro to this third book (that the above piece is from) or the several other sections available and would like to see them, go to the Puppy website blog section, or send an email request to email@example.com, or check out fearlesspuppy at WordPress. This is a book in progress. You are seeing it here as I write it! And as it says in the Intro, it is a totally true story and may be the only book ever written by a corpse! I don’t know what the next chapter is going to be about either!***The books Fearless Puppy On American Road and Reincarnation Through Common Sense by this same author, as well as sample chapters by, very entertaining tv/radio interviews with, and newspaper articles about him are available at www.fearlesspuppy.info
New Year’s Day
Coughing, sneezing, and severe respiratory congestion are not as much fun as the holiday week celebrations would have been. I won’t bring my germs around the monks, children, or general public so, except for short food runs to local markets, I stay home. Two weeks of sudden isolation, after two months of whirlwind activity and immersion in a very strange culture, provides an interesting insight. It has come to light that in contrast to several other wonderful qualities, I can be an ungrateful pinhead. Many things that other people would regard as miraculous good luck are things that I have not been appreciating enough.
It seems that the deep gratitude from my experience with the chanting monks has triggered an even deeper train of thought. Not every car in that train is firmly on its tracks. This leaves me a bit derailed and uncomfortable with myself. There are obviously a few pieces missing from my puzzle, but I’m not sure what they are.
I prefer to be healthy but the illness gives at least one benefit. It lays me flat for long enough to trace the problem to a source.
It all starts with gratitude for being alive. I don’t have much of it. A severe bout with cancer pushed the envelope of death so far that the seams of that envelope tore open a bit. What I experienced through the cracks was beautiful enough to make verbal description impossible. I have had some trouble coming completely back to and thoroughly loving life ever since. This must be remedied! It doesn’t matter what is on the other side of this incarnation. If I am indeed going to be in a body for a while, a much stronger appreciation of what “alive” can mean needs to be rebuilt. I will have to stop referring to my body as a meat prison.
I also haven’t been grateful enough for the money my parents left to me. It will last at least another year and has already afforded me several years free of financial concerns. During that period, there were two books written. Travel was done in relative comfort and a lot of live music shows were enjoyed. There was an expensive natural treatment of cancer. Death would have been a certainty without the resources that the inheritance allowed.
After a lifetime of sub-poverty and homelessness, you might think I get up every morning and kiss pictures of my generous deceased parents. Such is not the case. The money, in my father’s own words, was his way of apologizing for the damage done to his children. Mother did far more damage to her children than father did, but was still too arrogant and narcissistic when she died to admit a similar motivation for leaving us her money.
I emulate some of my mother’s arrogance and some of my father’s weak character by spending any time focused on their faults, rather than appreciating their better traits and parting gifts.
It goes further. The real friends I have had during this life, the good people I have met, the places seen and things done, the current plentiful supply of food, the nice place to live, and so many other things are not being given as many “thank you”s as they deserve.
It makes me feel a little bit like a jackass. I am going to change that right now! A good first step seems to be a walk around the Dragon neighborhood on New Year’s Day. A walk with a much greater awareness of, and appreciation for, things that haven’t been given enough attention and appreciation recently.
I often start the day buying a coconut from the coconut lady a quarter mile down the road. She always smiles as she chops the top off with a machete and sticks a straw in it for me. She speaks to me in her language and I speak to her in mine. Neither of us understands a word of what the other one says, but we both have fun. We laugh at ourselves and each other. When I leave her today, I add a “thank you very much for your kindness and coconuts” to the end of our conversation.
Next stop on my New Year’s Day tour to reestablish gratitude is the Peace Café to meet Neill, a recent acquaintance, and his family. This bit isn’t much different today than it is on any other day. I am always thanking the Peace Cafe people for who they are, what they do, and how they do it. The place is an exemplary venue.
Neill De Kort is an exemplary human. He is a Dutchman whose family relocated to Canada when Neill was in his teens.
We ran into each other at the bank. I never had a bank account, in America or anywhere else, until I was over fifty years old. If my parents hadn’t left me money that needed to be processed through a bank, I still wouldn’t have an account. To this day I‘ve never had a telephone or driven a car, and have spent the past forty-five years without a bill in my name. Friends tell me to expect technical trouble throughout the twenty-first century because I haven’t adapted to the twentieth century yet.
The Cambodian bank requires me to have a telephone number in order to open an account. The account is required in order to get money sent from America. My funds are running low. The irony of beating cancer only to possibly die homeless and hungry on steaming Asian streets makes me giggle. The facts that it could happen because I don’t like telephones, and while having several thousand dollars in an American bank, makes me laugh out loud—for a minute. Then it makes me argue with the bank officer. Neill is in the bank and walks by us while that discussion is going on.
He comes into the conversation out of nowhere, intervenes, and gives the bank officer his phone number. I didn’t know that Neill and his Cambodian partner had owned a coconut farm here for years. He recently sold it and is now into Cambodian real estate on the side, although his main and more global business is textiles. That would account for the pull he has in the bank. They must handle a lot of his business. My account opened without any further hitch. Neill and I had never met. He just saw someone having a problem and became the solution.
Neill’s father was also in the textile business, so the younger De Kort has two generations worth of related business connections all over Asia and the rest of the world. Neill is six feet five inches tall. He is a twenty year student of boxing with arms the length of a giraffe’s neck. I’m guessing he has won more fights than he’s lost. This is also a very intelligent, resourceful, accomplished guy. We hit it off well after hanging out a bit in the bank and arranged to have lunch at the Peace Cafe so that I could meet his family.
We meet on schedule. Neill’s gorgeous Dutch wife is named Bo. The legendary Bo Derek, in her prime, was no lovelier. Mrs. De Kort is graced by blond hair, green eyes, and two beautiful preschool aged children. She is probably five years younger than her thirty-five year old husband.
We all talk for several hours. It is by far and away the best conversation I have had, with the most like minded folks I’ve met, since leaving New Mexico. Mister and Misses De Kort have both used Rick Simpson Oil, as I did for the cancer. He for asthma. She for Lyme disease. Both had positive outcomes. Both have gone through health and attitude changes similar to the ones I went through. We share many common ideas and mutual attitudes.
Sometimes you don’t realize how much you miss something until you get a little taste of it again. I do well by myself. My days are filled with activities that are mostly solitary. These activities are usually productive, or at least harmless. Some are very interesting. There is rarely a sense that anything important is missing.
But folks like the De Korts make me remember that a real connection with other humans is an essential part of being human yourself. I appreciate the differences in people—but it is always a booster shot for the psyche and a strengthening of the heart when we find someone else who is on same wave length. It adds just a little concrete credence to the “we are all one” thing. That phrase is very obviously true on certain planes of existence, but it usually gets more lip service than validation in every day life. Folks who can make it blatantly real for you don’t seem to come along every day.
The De Korts will be leaving Cambodia on January second. Loneliness is a feeling that does not visit me often, but I feel its potential lurking nearby. I resolve to get the hell out of the house more often and go to places where people congregate. This should increase the odds of finding more people like the De Korts. Inexpensive living and adventurous surroundings are wonderful, but the company of kindred spirits is like water in the desert. I have no problem being grateful for this. Kindred spirits make gratitude easy.
The next stop on the New Year’s Day gratitude walk is the Domo Café. The Domo is a three block walk down River Road from the Peace Café. I silently thank the sun for the light and heat, the folks passing by for being so beautiful, the people who built this sidewalk under my feet, and the river for giving life to all the trees on either side of it.
At this point I have to wonder if this is all a lot of pretentious bullshit running through my head and I am just plain full of crap. But gratitude toward everything in general, as well as many things specifically, has been away too long. A little overkill may be necessary to bring a proper appreciation of life back to balance. I thank the crippled dog a few yards away for using the riverbank as his toilet instead of this sidewalk, then head into the Domo for my muffin. They are sold out. I thank them for saving me from the sugar consumption and move on.
The pattern of thanking everything and everyone continues for a few more stops. Gratitude is still not coming readily enough for me to feel altogether comfortable with myself. I appreciate my good fortune, but the glow around the memory of near-death still overpowers that appreciation.
Sometimes gratitude takes an unexpected shape. The coffee shop lady is spaced out and gives me a cup with very little in it. I am grateful for the ability to stand up for myself and tell her so. Language problems and the feeling of being a guest can make it too easy to become a sheeple when one is in a foreign culture. She laughs at herself, apologizes, and fills the cup.
The next stop is the White Rose massage parlor. It is a strictly legit place where they always give a good rub and never approach clients to buy semi-sexual extras. Semi-sexual seems to be a good term for how far they go in the places that do offer such services. At six dollars for a well done therapeutic full hour massage without need to explain my sexual habits in sign language to a non-English speaking stranger, there is no problem feeling gratitude here either.
Speaking of sexual activity that is not my particular preference, it is time for another adventure! I have to get the clog out of my chest. A steam room is essential. It is among the best things a person can do for their lungs. Being prone to upper respiratory infections, like the one I have right now, I look in every travel spot for a sweat lodge, hotel, or health club with a steam room. Taking care of the lungs is even more important than usual in this city where most citizens publicly burn garbage that includes rubber and plastic while thousands of motorbikes pump additional toxins into the air as well.
My research shows that the only option for a steam room in Siem Reap is the city’s lone gay bathhouse. Gotta think about this one!
Within a minute’s thought, it turns out to be a no-brainer. This is no problem for me—and it shouldn’t be one for the other guys frequenting the place. I have no interest in sucking a dick myself, but I’m glad folks are having fun with it, if that’s what they want to do. No one has the right to tell another person how they should enjoy themselves. It takes a lot of the wrong kind of balls to tell people how they should live when those people aren’t hurting anyone or anything else. Many of us New York City basketball playing kids have carried a “no harm, no foul” attitude into adulthood as a way of life. It might be the best notion that growing up in Brooklyn gave me, and one of the few I decided to keep. If the rest of the planet shared this attitude, a lot of other problems would solve themselves. If the rest of the clientele in the bath house shares the “no harm, no foul” notion towards me, my experience will be pleasant and medically helpful.
It also seems logical that I am too old, unattractive, and worn for any gay guy in his right mind to hit on.
I go, and am right. The Men’s Resort and Spa is on a back street flanked by apartment buildings, a couple of temples, and a theater company’s office. The folks here are young enough to be my grandkids, and certainly looking for someone in their own age range. It seems peculiar how they walk around wrapped in towels, just staring at each other. There is no audible conversation and no visible participation. Something must happen between some of them eventually somewhere, but I see no actual interaction.
The steam room has eucalyptus. It does great things for my lungs. After three ten-minutes shifts, I silently thank the steam and the gay dudes, then catch a tuk-tuk back to The Dragon.
The Other Side Of The Coin
As is true with nearly everything else on this two-headed planet, the gratitude thing has tripped that trigger in my brain that looks at the other side of the coin. There is some tarnish on parts of paradise.
1— In general, gender equality has further to go in Southeast Asia than it does in The West. Part of the problem is the Cambodian male attitude toward local women who take up with foreigners, which resembles the mind-set of a horse with blinders on.
While it is true that some foreigners are here only for sex with younger women, this scenario only works because the older-men-with-money-keeping-young-mistresses thing has always been part of the culture here, and probably in most of the rest of the world too.
Many Cambodian males hide jealousy behind righteous indignation, prejudice, and sometimes even anger. Men in the company of their wives or girlfriends have occasionally stared at me with dagger eyes. They assume that because I am a white foreigner, I must be trying to buy or steal their women. As is true almost everywhere, media does its part to fan the flames of divisiveness and distrust. There are Southeast Asian soap operas on TV depicting evil, mustache twirling, devilish looking white men literally showering money on gorgeous, innocent, very intimidated looking Asian women.
But the local men here that assume the worst about tourists are not the majority, and they are not exactly knights in shining armor defending the honor of their maidens. Southeast Asian culture defines one of a daughter’s most pronounced duties as the care of her parents in their old age. It is not uncommon for a young woman to look for a man with money as a way of guaranteeing that she will be able to successfully fulfill that duty. “Arrangements” are as common as marriages. The practice of paying family support in exchange for devoted female company is not at all limited to foreigners.
It also seems that foreigner/native couples work out well for both parties, and the children that are usually involved. There are a lot of single women with children here. Almost every foreigner I know that is in a relationship with a local woman has at least one child attached to that relationship, and treats that child much better than daddy did. The foreigner usually treats the child’s mother better than daddy did as well. But the attitude of many Cambodians towards that foreigner, and even more so towards the woman he is with, is often far from warm and fuzzy.
2— Most of my Buddhist study has been done with Tibetans. In most cases, to enter the Tibetan Buddhist monastic order requires some very serious commitment.
In Southeast Asia, kids go to temple and become monks for a month as if it was summer camp. Most folks routinely spend a month as a monk in the temple after a close relative dies. An advantage to the Southeast Asian system is that it allows a much broader access to both foreigners and natives. I was able to live in a Thai Temple for half a year. That would not have been possible for a person like me within a Tibetan monastery.
A disadvantage to the Southeast Asian system is that, with the mesh in the net being so wide, more bad fish can slip into the organization. There are some monks with some very un-monk-like qualities.
I have never heard of pedophilia, homosexual or otherwise, within the Buddhist system. I should also say that, as in Catholicism, the majority of priests are well-motivated, morally admirable, and dedicated. But they are all human. Some falter. Instances of a Southeast Asian monk using his position of spiritual influence to take advantage of a woman happen occasionally. Much more often the trespasses involve money and business.
Although the following is just a rumor, it came from a very reliable source—enough so that I feel comfortable repeating it. If true, it is certainly not the first instance of corruption within the monastic system. Similar reports reached my ears every month or two in Thailand during my year and a half stay there.
The latest sad story involves a couple of humans in one of the Siem Reap temples. One head monk is reported to have stolen thousands of dollars from his temple. Most followers are poverty-stricken but the contributions from rich local businessmen, political hopefuls, foreign ex-pats, and even tourists can get hefty—especially by local standards. This head monk was fired, then cried and repented to the congregation. Instead of pressing charges, the congregation forgave and reinstated him. This will tell you something about Southeast Asian people. They often take that biblical, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” thing more seriously than most Christians do.
The other current rumor is of a deputy head monk who was caught stealing and was fired, but then reinstated by his head monk friend. He continues to own and drive a car, and operate a business out of his monk house. These are all definite no-nos for a Southeast Asian monk.
It may not kick you in the gut as hard as learning that TV’s saintly Cosby is a serial rapist in real life, but knowing that your spiritual guides can be as corrupt as your politicians isn’t fun.
3—This place is almost exactly on the other side of the world from East Coast America. This is true figuratively as well as literally. A lot of the differences are wonderful. Some just seem fuggin crazy. Communication is difficult. A lot of the problem stems from misinterpretations of language, but many communication problems happen due to conflicting interpretations of reality! Time and space themselves are looked at differently here. Any meeting arranged at a certain time has a very slim chance of actually happening at that time. Cambodians would be right at home in Latin America, as they seem to operate on manana time as well. Locals who speak English very well have told me such things as, “We will do it every Sunday, twice a month” and “I can do that thing but I cannot do it.” Either/or questions often get answered with “yes.” The folks here have no concept of north, south, east, or west. Really!
4—It is ninety-plus degrees and humid even during winter.
There are bags of garbage all over the place. This garbage is eventually burned and includes toxic materials within the ever-present smoke.
Much of the food is fried and much more of it is heavily sugared. Cambodia is still two or three generations away from Whole Foods Markets and increasing life spans.
Many locals look at a foreigner and see only money, not human. Charging foreigners more than locals is standard in many markets.
It may be safer, friendlier, and saner in many ways than most of the world. Southeast Asia is warmer during winter than almost anyplace else on Earth. It is less expensive to live comfortably here than it is to live at all on most of the planet. But some of the things that make up a paradise are blatantly missing. I love all the wonderful things that Cambodia and Southeast Asia are, but Pollyanna couldn’t pull off her act here.
I am usually very grateful for my ability to see both sides of any story.
Sometimes, not so much.
***If you missed the Intro to this third book (that the above piece is from) and would like to see it or other previous pieces, go to the Puppy website blog section, or send an email request to firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out fearlesspuppy at WordPress. This is a book in progress. You are seeing it here as I write it! And as it says in the Intro, it is a totally true story and may be the only book ever written by a corpse! I don’t know what the next chapter is going to be about either!***The books Fearless Puppy On American Road and Reincarnation Through Common Sense by this same author, as well as sample chapters by, very entertaining tv/radio interviews with, and newspaper articles about him are available at www.fearlesspuppy.info