Sunday, November 6, 2011

Update From Oz

Hello All,

It is time for a fairly mundane update on my travels for all of you out there simply wondering where I am and what I’m up to :-).

I arrived in Australia in the beginning of September. My first major destination was an intentional community called Bellbunya.

(View from one of Bellbunya's garden)

There have not been many new intentional communities forming in South East Queensland in the past few years because the legal and financial climate has deteriorated a lot since the 1970s when many communities were started. It is hard to get permission to have more than one dwelling on a property, and land is much more expensive. Bellbunya is one of the few new ones, and they have an interesting financial structure to try do jump around the hoops and negotiate the big questions like what happens when someone wants to leave, and how to arrange for people without much money to have access. My time here was mostly to learn about the whole intentional communities situation, having never actually lived at one before.

And I got to take that learning theme to the next level by accompanying some lovely Bellbunya folks to a conference about intentional communities in Northern New South Wales. The conference was held at a fairly large intentional community, with something like two hundred people, called Bundagen.

(House made of mud bricks, Bundagen)

Bundagen is set up into little hamlets, and surrounded by amazing old forest. The community initially started in order to purchase and save the forest, with the realization that to actually protect it people must live there full time. And find a way to do so in co-operation with the forest. Since the initial colonization the forest has become a national park and also they have secured the nearby coastal region as a marine park. The beach is breathtakingly rugged, with roaring surf and an enormous, long, rocky beach.

At the conference we discussed a wide range of issues, like how to get along with people in the community. This seemed to be a top challenge for intentional communities in general. Even a representative from one which spent 12 years in legal battles trying to secure their space said that getting along internally was actually their primary challenge, not the legal battle. Yikes. It makes me wonder if we are really barking up the right tree with this intentional community thing. I heard stories about the beginnings of communities, their alternative school systems, history of the movement in Australia, continuity challenges (including an aging population) and more. I particularly liked the reflections on what an intentional community is supposed to be; I see the promise of an intentional community as creating a space for experimentation in living. A kind of bubble where radical things can happen. A sort of safe space.

Of course an intentional community can also be seen as people coming together simply to address the basic issues of life; affordable housing, decent food, sensible school system, and good work. None of these are very well organized in mainstream society, after all.

Next, I spent time at the radical and lovely Peter Maurin Farm, populated by a bunch of anarchist Christians who belong to the Catholic Worker Movement. When I saw their farm advertized in the WWOOF book as an anti-military, anarchist and Christian place Tolstoy came to mind. I just had to visit :-).

(Peter Maurin Farm house)

In the past, I’ve found the anti military activists to be most radical and I was not disappointed this time either. Shortly after my arrival I accompanied my new friends to an anti military demonstration outside Ennogera Military Base in Brisbane to protest the tenth year anniversary of Australia’s attack and occupation of Afghanistan. We sent solidarity messages to an Afghan youth organization, and held a vigil for dead Afghanis and Australians, closing the day by blockading the entrance to the base, ending in the arrest of 5 people. The event was blacked out by the mainstream media, and you will not hear about it just about anywhere but here.

(Andy getting arrested)

The media blackout occurs with all events involving the name Jim Dowling in Australia. Just ask the naive new reporter who tries to do a story involving Jim. For example, about that time he and some friends marched into the most secure military base in Australia, clipping their way through the fence to sit on the roof of one of the buildings inside. The the military got quite rude after noticing the citizen inspection team taking photos with their flash camera at night... The team was inspecting the base for illegal activity as it was reported that they were murdering people in Iraq. All collected evidence supports the initial suspicion. Actually, it’s bloody obvious. Just ask the person walking through puddles of innocent blood in Baghdad. Incidentally, this same person took a stroll into the base and showed up in court afterwards in the same bloody shoes. Bloody peace activists.

But before we all get depressed, let’s move on.

And indeed I did. Onwards to witness some other (loosely associated) Catholic Workers in a protest of the hoarding of wealth in Brisbane. One of the most visible hoardings is the collection of real estate. Specifically houses which a landlord owns, and being too rich anyways to bother renting them out, simply leaves them to rot while others sleep outside or work their ass off to pay exhorbitant rent. Rent, which is of course driven up to rather unreasonable levels by the practice of landlording and usery in the first place.

(example of hoarded wealth)

Fortunately there is a neat and obvious direct action way of protesting this situation, and it is as timely as it is simple: Occupy. Those of you aware of recent happenings in Madrid and Wall Street understand my allusion to timeliness. The particular house I witnessed the occupation of had been sitting empty for eight years. The squatters lived there for a month before being unceremoniously tattled upon by a real estate agent living next door. At last contact the squatters now live on the lawn of Post Office Square, in the middle of Brisbane.

(Tent village, Post Office Square, Brisbane)

My time in Brisbane was also an excellent opportunity to explore the community gardens, dumpster diving scene, some backyard urban agriculture and a food distribution agency called Food Connect.

Although Post Office Square is an excellent location, only the shortest walk to the finest bars and shopping in Brisbane, and the rent is quite affordable, I found the buildings to impinge excessively upon the sky.

So, I have moved to my most recent location near Stanthorpe, at 900m and a fair bit further inland than Brisbane. The landscape is much prettier, dominated by those poems written upon the sky: trees. I much prefer these to the concrete sky-caves of Post Office Square. Besides, the vegetables are much fresher at Symara Organic Farm.

(Symara Organic Farm house)

This is actually the first time I have been on a real, producing, market garden since leaving Everdale about two years ago. It is a good change. I have been looking for quite some time to be in a situation where there is a semi decent work situation. By that, I mean one which fulfils the three basic requirements of good work: overcome the ego by working together with others in a common task, use and develop the faculties, and secure a decent material existence. As simple as these criteria may seem, they are actually rather difficult to achieve in this day and age. Market gardens seem to come closer than most places. There’s something about actually being involved in the outside economy that is encouraging. I suppose knowing that someone cares about your work enough to pay some decent money for it is nice.

The couple running Symara are quite involved in the food system here, creating a rural local food system as well as supplying to a interesting organization and “farmer’s market” in Brisbane. So it’s a good place to learn for a while about a section of the food system in Australia.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Blog Post Generic

The following is fictional
I last wrote about my time in Koh Samui, Thailand. That was about three months ago. Since then, I’ve been back for more meditation at a monastery in Thailand. It was inspiring. The best thing that Thailand has to offer. In between, I drank. I partied like I have never before, in the best place to party in the world. Entire islands dedicated to drum and base, rave style parties. We danced all night on the beach and watched the sun come up. Swam in a green, glowing ocean. It was -just us-. The young people. The partiers. We owned the island. We ran the island. All night long. We fought off monkeys and found isolated beaches to play rugby on with coconuts. We drank until we puked and meditated the next day, then bounced cities to the other side of the country to find another island where the alcohol was even cheaper. Climbed palm trees to get coconuts and didn’t care about the wounds we got from it, even when we were sober again. We scored MDMA from people who couldn’t speak English. We took cocaine for the first time. We closed bars, went home with the managers and scored with girls we hardly new. Slept on the ceramic floor in brand new apartments that seemed abandoned, and dragged ourselves over to straw huts by the beach in the morning. We rode in the back of trucks. Worshipped the sun. Danced in the rain on the road and at concerts where we were the only people. Ran on the beach through the waves, and the rain and the sunset. Got seasick. Got homesick. Got over it and looked for another adventure. Met hundreds people we’d never talk to again and and handful friends who would remain with us forever. We looked for Nirvana. Found, love, companionship. Despair. We flew by the seat of our pants, not knowing if we were going to make it, not knowing where we would sleep or eat. And loved it. We dreamed. Wore flowers in our hair. Chasing along the edge of the cliff, we were alive. Life was fun, a blast. An adventure, a celebration of spirit. And just the beginning. We went to the other side of the world to find a new way of living. To rediscover the old ways and build some sort of hybrid, or something completely, utterly, new. To see stars we’d never seen before.To run and jump and play with animals we’d never met before. To swim in the ocean that we’d never see again. Love, James

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Just Let Go Part 1

Part 1
The Island of Coconut Trees
By James Douglas, July 1, 2011.

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Make yourselves comfortable and prepare for a true tale of a spiritual journey in a far off land...

Imagine yourselves in a cosy little bungalow, on the tropical island of Koh Samui, Thialand. The name itself, meaning The Island of Coconut Trees, suggests a cute little paradise. Or at least a paradise after the Hollywood definition...

I live here in a palm leaf and banana hut on the sandy cove known as Lamai Beach.

Lamai Beach, view from my hut

After a long and wearisome journey from the northern provinces I am pleased to settle into such a quaint little hide-away. Upon exploration I have found that there appears to be an entire village here almost entirely composed of bars. The people here appear to subsist mostly off of beer. Surely Gulliver himself has not come across such a strange place as this. Even the street signs proclaimed the strangeness of the experience.

Yes, it was an odd day indeed. I think Alice would agree.

But what followed, friends, was even more strange and wonderful.

The reason I came to Koh Samui is not for the more commonly persued Sex, Sun and Sea, but rather to explore the rich philosophy of the Buddhist monkhood. These monks are said to hold the secrets of Happiness, to have a deep knowledge of the nature of life and indeed of nature itself. They are willing to share their centuries old knowledge with those from far away lands who come to seek it.

Those of us assembled here to recieve the teaching on Koh Samui meet in Utopia Hotel (a little bit SW down the road from the Laguna Resort, different from the Utopia Resort). The owner of the Utopia Hotel is actually the person who has donated land for the Retreat Center, and she will be bringing us bread for breakfast every morning :-). We are guided into the mountain by a helper of the monks. The group of us are taken far back into the jungle, among the palm, cashew, and banana plants. None of us have ever been here before nor will we likely ever return.

Finally, we arrive at the Retreat Center for the Development of Light Hermitage. It is up on the mountain where a few monks live in the forest, with only the bare essentials of life (Website: ). We are greeted by friendly helpers and what they have in store for us is laid out:

For the next six or seven days we will:
Wake up at 4:30 am
Eat only two meals per day (before 12 noon)
Not speak
Sleep on plywood with a thin plastic mat and wooden “pillow”.
Eat only vegetarian food, and no intoxicating drugs
Intend to refrain from all killing, including scorpions, snakes and mosquitoes
Meditate for about four and a half hours per day

And, hopefully, love it :-).

On the evening of the 20th we were given an introductory talk, then the silence began, continuing until the afternoon of the 6th day. It seems that the schedule changes a bit with every retreat, but for days 2, 3, 4, and 5 we basically have the schedule as laid out on the website. For day 6 they change the schedule and take us in the back of a truck to a meditation garden on a different part of the island in the afternoon. We return to normal society after lunch on the 27th.

One of the things I was concerned about was sitting for a long time. Most westerners, especially men, have difficulty sitting on the floor for extended periods of time. However, since this meditation retreat is meant for westerners coming for the first time to a retreat, they have dealt with this issue admirably. We sit for no more than 30 minutes at a time, alternating walking and sitting meditation. In the beginning there is a talk about postures which I found very useful.

This retreat is shorter than a normal Vipassana retreat (usually 10 days). It seems that in order to practice insight meditation one first has to practice concentration meditation. So, the focus of this retreat is concentration meditation, with only some introduction to insight meditation.

Before I move on to describing more of what we went through during a retreat, I’ll just add a few details about being prepared, for those who find this page with the intention of going on the retreat:
-I suggest to bring a long sleeve shirt, mosquito repellant and a flashlight separate from your cellphone because they like it if you give in your cellphone, computer and any other fancy electronics to the safe before the retreat begins. No photographs are allowed during the retreat except for at the very end when there is a group photo. Hence I have no photos of the beautiful meditation hall to show you :-).
-“Fishermen pants” (loose fitting simple pants with an odd little string to hold them up, good for sitting for long periods) seem to sell for about 1500 bhat in Lamai Beach. This is a total rip-off. The meditation center sells some tshirts and fishermen pants; 120 bhat for a tshirt and 150 bhat for fishermen pants.
-You are asked for a donation at the end of the retreat. It’s given in an anonymous envelope (well, you can put your name if you want). The idea is that you pay for someone else, as someone has paid for you. Honestly I’m not sure how much it costs them to conduct the retreat and they don’t say anything about it so this logic is a bit sketchy. Whatever.

Sorry I can't manage to write this whole post like a story :-).

Thursday, June 16, 2011

You don't have to go home...

...but you can't stay here.

Which is fortunate, because as discussed I haven't much of a home, really :-).

I'm kicked out of Nepal, but I suppose that's fine. It's time to move on anyways. I have been in Nepal for 10 months. So it's time to say goodbye to...

All the beautiful plants I never understood.

The Nepali villages, where kids harass you for money and chocolate, which is annoying at first. But once you realize they just want to interact with you and that's all they know how to do, ask for stuff or say hello, it's OK. Goodbye to the Nepali boy who asked me for chocolate, and when I asked him back said, simply, "No, I haven't any chocolate," as if he would share it for sure if he did. The village full of both subsistence farmers and gangsters. The gangsters who carry swords and like Puslar motorcycles the best because they look fierce. The gangsters who would steal your last penny and not know what to do with it after they have it, who used to wear Britney Spears tshirts or maybe still do. The tax office which you have to bribe if you want to pay some tax. The bus which you have to ride on the roof of, but it's OK because that's the most comfortable place anyways.

Goats! Always so cute and tolerant of being tied up all the time. You could chew through your rope in a minute if you bothered, but you never really seem to bother.

To the newly planted apple trees. I'm proud of you and I think you're safe now that the rain is coming :-). And the comfrey too.

To the Annapurna Sanctuary. You're not as famous as Everest but I think you're more beautiful and I suspect so do Korean people. You're more accessible, more sacred and more dangerous, for better or for worse. This photo is my third an final visit :-).

To all the great people I met whose homes I stayed at, who gave me advice. Who taught me what I came to learn and also what I didn't.

"Thou hast made me known to a friend whom I knew not. Thou hast given me seats in homes not my own. Thou hast brought the distant near, and made a brother of the stranger.

I am uneasy at heart when I have to leave my accustomed shelter; I forget that there abides the old in the new, and that there also thou abidest..."- Tagore

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Way Of The White Cloud

I cannot help but notice that there are many travellers like me. As I reflect on the idea of having roots and a sense of place, I have to wonder why I haven’t persued this idea. Wendell Berry, Thoreau and others write convincingly about sense of place. They say that it’s important to stay in one place. To build something good there. To connect to the ecosystem and the society in one place.

So why, then, have I do I travel so much if I am so inspired by these writers? What is it with us? We who travel, and may be tired of it in many ways yet continue. Do we share a common identity? Will we become an archetype, like the Flower Children of the ‘60’s? The Drifters of the New Millennium?

I imagine that we are the baseless ones. We are the internationally homeless. We drift through the world looking for a home that we will probably never find. Tramps that drifts between countries, being kicked out from one, then another. Bumped along like a bum being run out of town again and again. Without legal status. Without the “right” to work. For every new destination there is a time limit. We are told, “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here”. The only reason I'm even allowed into countries at all is because I am given protection from The Canadian Club that, in my heart, I don't even recognize.

For people from North America, we come from a race of invaders. Where I come from was stolen from others generations ago. Awakened to a sense of justice, what place then can I legitimately call my home? Northern Turtle Island is my original place. But I know that it was stolen from someone else. I know that the race of people that I come from were allowed to stay on conditions that they have since violated.

I can’t convince myself that just because time has passed since the theft, that the issue is moot. I can see that the people who allowed Europeans to stay are not happy with their presence. The struggle continues.

I am not welcome back to Europe except for a visit. Even if I was, I do not belong there. I am not familiar with the space. I have no family there, no history that I know anything about. I have never been to England, Scotland, Estonia or Ireland.

Perhaps I could seek a real invitation from the indigenous groups of Turtle Island. Ask if they could make an exception for me, so that I can stay, even though the race of people I came from have broken all agreements of their stay. That could be one way to find a legitimate home. But I am embarassed. How can I ask after hearing the story of Looking Glass? How can you ask to stay in someone's house when your relations have killed their sons and daughters?

This is my lot in life. These are the cards I was dealt. To be without a legitimate home. As they say in Nepal, Ke Garne? What to do? What to do if I have no home?

Look for one, I guess. Or not.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Story of Robert Chandler

--fictional account follows--
Robert Chandler was a father, husband, and valued friend. He was killed in a car accident two days ago, March 27, 2073 when his car was driven off a cliff near Tansen, Nepal. The driver survived with only minor injuries. Robert will be greatly missed and is survived by his son, age 9, and loving wife.

The following document was found on the desk of Mr. Chandler after his death.

I am laboring under an enormous weight. I refuse to carry this burden any more. I must write down my story, although even a clear account in my journal must be risky to my personal safety. I can no longer keep this a secret.

For the past three years my son has been suffering from a skin disease which we are unable to diagnose. This past Easter he died of liver failure. I can't help but feel a connection between my work and my son's death.

My name is Robert Chandler. I'm a agricultural researcher for Corporation M. For the past 15 years I have been in charge of a research project which I proposed.

The goal of our company is to control the world food supply. In 2058 I was working in a laboratory testing genetically engineered foods when we discovered that some of our corn was extraordinarily susceptible to a variety of diseases. As if it had almost no resistance of it's own.

I began to formulate in my mind a way to apply this discovery. A simple proposal suggested itself to me almost immediately:

If we could engineer a corn which spreads its pollen all over the world and weakens the immune system of all corn that it cross-pollinated with, then people would need to purchase our chemicals to provide a sort of artificial immune system protection.

However, there is more. If we were able to sufficiently weaken plants, then, instead of providing chemicals to protect them expose the plants to a particularly voracious disease, then we could destroy all of the corn in the world. We could then move into the market by presenting the only corn that can still survive the now ubiquitous disease.

In the beginning, our genetic infection technique was my focus. But actually, the idea of the disease was perhaps even more powerful. We could genetically engineer just one resistant type, one immune-sytem-destroying type and one special disease. With a small product set we could dominate the world wide market. Everyone could be within a 5 minute walk of a Coke, and a 2 minute walk of some of our corn.

We decided to start with corn, then move on to rice, wheat and soybeans in that order.

We decided to focus on corn because we could focus in some of our most controlled territory; the United States. Also, because the pollen from corn is spread in the wind, we could combine the genetic infection with our new disease and thereby have a two-pronged strategy. It was an easy win, compared to other crops. Wheat, for example, would have to rely heavily on only one prong, our disease, since genetic infection to weaken the ability of wheat to resist disease is more difficult to perform on wheat. Wheat is not wind pollinated which means we cannot easily infect the wheat from the outside. The same applies to rice.

My team and I began purchasing land around the world to found research stations. We purchased over twenty farms and began building. Within two years we had completed our basic laboratory facilities in all of the sites and our work had begun in earnest. We decided to have a broad geographic distribution for our research so that we could produce a disease that would function well in every climate. In some regions we would mutate/tweak the same disease to make it applicable, and in some we would create entirely new strains.

Within five years of beginning our work we had our first disease and paired resistant corn. We had also perfected the infection corn. For the disease we actually chose three different agents in order to have a variety of angles to attack with. Our most dramatic and effective was a stalk rot caused by the fungus Colletotrichum graminicola. We could attack the entire plant (stalk and leaves) with one effectively designed organism. Because it typically causes damage after corn pollination, the crop failure would be more dramatic. A disease which strikes earlier gives people more time to cope. We wanted people to receive a shock. We wanted peopl to experience hunger so that they would not hesitate to adopt our technology. We were able to develop a weaponize the fungus into a tough spore which could survive transport and provide a high infection rate.

As part of our development of the disease we searched the world for resistant varieties, to destroy them. The literature of the conservation movement was very helpful in this, having documented the arcane species that still exist. The records of seed banks were also useful, telling us who was given seed so we could track it down. We conducted some "accidental herbicide releases". People mourned the loss of these varieties and hit back in small ways but in general did not understand the significance of what what was happening.

The corn loses it's resistance after two generations; in this way we protected our technology from theft. More diseases, for other crops, were in the research pipes but were not ready for reliable release.

We began to launch the project.

The first year, we planted the corn itself on our own property, and carefully protected it's growth with a variety of chemicals and netting since it is unable to protect itself. We used wind generators to place the pollen well into the atmosphere. Twenty release sites were more than we needed, but it was easy and we wanted to make sure that we achieved full coverage.

The next year we released our disease. Genetic infection only affects the child of the infected corn, so it was necessary to wait one year until the infected child was planted. We released the spores starting in January, 2068 in Guatemala. According to the seasons we released in each of our sites at the appropriate time; in Nepal, India, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, United States, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico, Canada, Japan, China, Egypt, Tanzania, Norway, Britain, and Sweden. We set up auxiliary distribution sites in Spain, Turkey and organized airplane distribution over many areas.

It was more successful than we ever imagined. People starved. They were desperate. Powerful countries like the United States lost their entire crops. People came to us and begged for a solution. For years we had been preparing people that GM foods were potential solutions to diseases. They quickly looked to us for help. We told them that we could help and they thanked us with all their heart. I remembered the story of the naked bird. This bird who huddled for warmth in the hand of Stalin, who had plucked the bird's warm feathers off himself.

We sold our corn at a greater rate than even we had anticipated. The psychological effect of the dramatic failure made people so insecure that they clung to the only hope they could find; our product. They over-purchased seed. In the first year we did not have enough seed to meet demand. We apologized and promised more seed next year to those who were the most loyal customers.

That was about five years ago. It became clear that our strategy had worked; we owned corn. Not only from a legal, but also from a technological point of view. Nobody else was able to produce seeds at all. Some small groups dissented, and blamed us, coming close to the truth of what was going on. But for the most part we were hailed as heroes who saved the day. Governments looked to us to provide protection in the future, and gave us enormous amounts of money and support to develop further "improved, resistant plants" with our GM techniques.

My company moved from being a large multinational company to being a deeply entrenched, needed, socially valued institution. I was well rewarded.

By completely dominating the corn market and excluding all competitors we made more money than we had ever made before. Next, we moved on to rice. With our new-found social and economic power we colud shut down competitors and were better able to create the diseases we needed. Again, we had enormous success, this time dominating the East. Our wins in corn had previously focused on the West.

One by one we continued in this way, our main limiting factor being the production of our new varieties. We expanded aggressively.

We are in the process of creating a new strategy for our next step. This strategy is old now and were it not for the front companies and public information campaigns that we carefully maintain, it would be obvious to people that we have deliberately conducted the situation. We must change our strategy for future. Or, at least that's what some of my superiors say. I am convinced that the bird is so cold and unable to think that it will never realize what is going on. Part of me just didn't think this would work. Now that it has, what I have done transfixes me with horror. I have been naive, foolish. A boy with genetic toys who taught something to the Beast.

Approximately half of the world's food now belongs to us. It future we expect over 90% of it to belong to us. When we reach a threshold of 96% then we will begin to consolidate our political power and move from our current form into more of a government role. We will develop our own international military and co-opt the police functions of the countries we operate in (every country).

Before I close, I should clarify that I live and work in Nepal and am using the Buddhist calendar. The year in the roman calendar is 2018; our first release was in Jan., 2012.

Under threat of death I have never written such a frank, and open record of my life's work. But I feel driven to it now. Seeing the slow and painful death of my son, which all the money in the world could not stop, I have, for the first time, wondered if what we are doing is not too big for us. If this sort of activity is not too big for men entirely. I wonder if we have foolishly played God.

Robert Chandler."

Friday, March 4, 2011

James and the Good Workers Vs. The Beast

In this classic tale of David and Goliath, James enters into the City of the House of Wood to battle for his freedom and sanity. Be warned, dear readers, that this tale is not for the faint of heart, the young or the easily corruptible. Prepare thineself for a true, blood-curdling tale of madness, robbery, corruption, lies and murder in a far off land.

Character list
The Beast - The State
The Good Workers - Nepal Permaculture Group
The Greedy - Corporation M

Day 1 (11th day of Falgun, 2067)- Journey Downwards

The plum trees are in full bloom and the honeybees are taking full advantage of their opportunity. The sun shines with its full cheerful gaiety upon the land, reflecting off the ripening wheat and warming the reclining cows. Children play in the street with simple toys and the farmers are working their fields. Such a calm and lovely scene is laid out before me, but I cannot stay here. Darker things call me away from such peace and plenty.

Today I journey alone to the City of the House of Wood, where The Beast resides. It is a region where dogs and men alike go mad like leaves falling from a tree. The air is not fit to breath, and the water not fit to drink. It is not a place fit for man nor beast. However, I have business there. I must ask The Beast for protection and pay tribute to avoid its wrath. To continue my travels and eventually return home I must travel through areas that The Beast controls, and I must negotiate an uneasy peace with it.

-later in the day-

I have left beauty, friends and work behind and endured my transport in a steel cage into the heart of the dark region. I am afraid but my heart remains stout. I have faith in goodness to protect me. In the next few days I must engage in a battle of wits and endurance with at least one hundred people who would gladly take my all and leave me starving and naked on the streets. Yet, these are only the minor demons whom lie in my path. They possess nothing like the power of The Beast, but are dangerous still. I have already encountered many of these minor devils on today’s travel. I have remained unscathed, at least with regard to material being. Among them, I escaped a shapeshifter pretending to be a student studying English. I have previously been injured by a similar one, but I am wiser now for it.

I have found shelter and food which, although insipid and poisonous in the long term, will keep me alive for now.

Day 2 - Depression

There is a shortage of water for the humans in this valley. In the dark of night people must clamber over each other to grab at the meagre flow that the Masters deliver to them. The Rich and Powerful take all they like with electric pumps while the Poor and Wretched must compete with each other for a trickle from the public tap.

I must find new shelter for tomorrow, although this place is physically secure I cannot sleep here. The Twin Demons of Incompetence and Ignorance torment me with loud machines during the time of no sun. I have brought defenses against such noise but it proves insufficient. I curse myself for not bringing a more powerful defense.

I am forcefully reminded that this City is not a good place for humans to reside. What madness brings men here? Depression knocks on my door.

Today the deputies of The Beast have tried to corrupt me with the trident of demands of bribery, threats and sweet offerings. They have refused me protection for my requested of 90 days, apparently to punish me for my allegiance to the Angels of Honesty and Truth. Instead, they have agreed to grant me 60 days of freedom in exchange for a great number of these tokens they so crave. This is better than their threat of only 30 days and I accept the outcome of this contest. I must return to their concrete sky-cave in 60 days and again brave the hazards of this region.

Today I endured the Den of The Beast with all limbs and sanity intact. I have found new shelter and prepare for maneuvers of the morrow.

Day 3 - Trickery and the Long Arms of Corruption

Things are going as well as I can hope for them to go, given the darkness in the world.

Yesterday I walked through the Valley of Death. I saw the heads of the dead and their bodies cut into pieces. The Flesh Eaters who reside here will consume the lives of others to keep themselves alive. I am not afraid because I know that my political connections prevent me from being a target of the Flesh Eaters.

Today I go North to exchange currencies and create a talisman for protection against The Beast.

Yesterday, at the House of the Good Workers I discovered that The Greedy and The Beast are acting together more closely than I thought. Their coordination means more danger for all of us.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Brief Trip Through the Nepali Countryside - Part 2

Bike Trip continued!

Aside from a near death experience from almost running over a banana on the downhill, curvy part, the bike ride to Pokhara was very nice. Moving from the countryside to the city, we traded saying hello to children every three minutes for saying no to touts every ten steps. Beds were more than 2 cm thick.

I’m mostly going to skip over Pokhara because it’s not so interesting. We stayed in the tourist area, Lakeside, which is one of the few places in Nepal that hot showers exist and you can order food other than dhal bhat, (the national dish, lentils, rice and side dishes) chowmien and momos. It’s a nice rallying point to head into the Annapurna Conservation Area to see the mountains up close.

We began our short trek by buying some warmer clothes, and along the way picking up a Thangka artist who agreed to show us the way for 700Rs/day ($10/day), which is a pay cut for him of about 300 Rs/day. But you can’t paint all the time.

Here’s our guide Dhawa Lama and I. His last name, Lama indicates his cast and explains how he came to be a painter; his parents taught him.

Donkeys! We walked into the Annapurna Conservation Area for three days to a place called Poon Hill. Poon Hill is 3210m high and allows a nice view of the mountains so it’s a popular destination. No vehicles can get there through the stone path so donkeys are a favorite mode of conveyance for concrete, food, or whatever else has to go up and down. Donkeys have been a bit of a theme in my life lately, in fact at the time of our hike I was in the middle of reading (for the second time) Travels With a Donkey by Robert Louis Stevenson.

View from our hotel room, Ghorepani. It’s a 1 hour walk up to Poon Hill from here.

Made it!

View from the base of the lookout tower. I took a soil sample from here.

Sunset from the top of the lookout tower. It’s all downhill from here :-).

Good Night and Good Luck
Reporting to you from
Namo Buddha Agricultural Research Center

Concerning a Brief Trip Through the Nepali Countryside- Part 1

Hello all!

It’s time for another installment in The Strangest Dream :-). This time we’ll sashay forth mostly in the photoblog style. This entry is posted in two pieces because it's especially long-winded.

On Nov. 27, my dad arrived in the Kathmandu Airport. I was there to meet him and whisk him away to a hotel on the edge of Thamel (the tourist neighborhood) where he could recover from his 36 hour flight and 13:15 hour jet lag. In the cab on our way to the hotel we planted the seeds of our plans for the next 6 weeks; how about biking to Namo Buddha Resort, instead of taking the bus?

So, after a few days of rest we bought some bikes, hired an overpriced guide and set out to bike through Shivapuri National park, past the various military outposts guarding the rim of the Kathmandu Valley and back into Kathmandu, staying in the Buddhist section of town. I really got the feeling there that it’s a more sensible place than the rest of the city. More quiet, better run in a thousand subtle ways. But we didn’t stay here long. We picked up our bikes again and went to Nagarkot,

Where the most sensible thing to do is stare at the mountains and wrap yourself in blankets. So that’s what we did! More of those mountains later :-).

But first! A peek into the industrial side of Nepal. By totally disregarding the advice of our somewhat incompetent guide we found a wonderful path through the Nepali countryside, past the brick making factories. Soon enough we arrived at Namo Buddha Resort ( where I cleaned up my work there before heading out for a longer period. Originally we planned to sell our bikes to NBR. But, the evening before we decided to bike to Kathmandu instead of take the bus. Such is the story of our trip, a series of last minute, but never particularly hurried, decisions. In my opinion we displayed some fine traveling pinache :)

Despite our smooth style, we didn’t hesitate to delve into the nerdier side of our natures. Here’s dad poking his nose into a walk-behind tractor/power unit on our way back to Kathmandu. These are popular all over Nepal, made in China. Water cooled, 9.7KW, 2 wheeled diesel. They are the mechanical workhorses for much of the nation. This particular one was attached to a trailer. Quite an economical substitute for a truck!

Two Worlds Meet in Bhaktapur Square.

This is a less myopic view of a square in Bhaktapur. To the right there are people cleaning their laundry in the public spring, clothes hung out to dry by tossing them onto the roof and there is an old temple turned into a cafe. To the left, at a different temple, a cow is looking for something to eat. In the upper right people are playing ping pong, and in the middle a motorcycle is driving through it all :-).

Upon our arrival in Kathmandu we set ourselves up in a rooftop restaurant and watched life in Basantapur Square, Kathmandu’s favorite UNESCO World Heritage Site. Complete with scam artists and play fighting street kids. This photo was taken by combining a pair of binoculars with a camera to create a poor man’s version of a telephoto lens.

By Dec. 19 we had escaped from Kathmandu into the flat, hot region of Nepal called the Terai. When people think of Nepal they usually think of mountains. But the Terai is as flat like the prairies. It’s far enough off the tourist track in some areas that people still remember how to be friendly. And the national parks are fantastic, with so many wild boars, crocodiles, deer, rhinoes and tigers wandering about you have to watch where you step. You’d feel terrible if you stepped on a tiger cub or something awful like that :-). This photo was taken at the river bordering Chitwan National park. These canoes are made of single trees, hollowed out.

Despite these lovely attractions, the Terai is subject to the usual vices of a fertile, flat area with abundant water; more advanced industrialization. There are more tractors, roads, vehicles, pesticides and people than other parts of Nepal. Here we can see a farmer spraying 2-4D, the world’s most popular herbicide. All of this Terai used to be jungle, until the threat of malaria was reduced by DDT applications in the 1950s. People moved in and the jungle was destroyed.

Nepal is a country where many farmers don’t even know that pesticides should be considered hazardous, and only half of them can even read a label. The most dangerous pesticides in the world, Class 1a, like parathion-methyl are officially banned, but used anyways. Personal protective equipment is almost non-existent and the mass of pesticides used went up by a factor of 2.5x between 2006 and 2007 (Journal of Agriculture and Environment Vol:11, Jun.2010, “KNOWLEDGE, PRACTICE AND USE OF PESTICIDES AMONG COMMERCIAL VEGETABLE GROWERS OF DHADING DISTRICT, NEPAL”).

Inside Chitwan National park though, you wouldn’t notice any of this, it’s pristine and beautiful. More dangerous are the Marsh Mugger alligators hanging around the river who eat everything, including humans!

Departing from Chitwan, we biked over the flat Terai for three days before coming to Lumbini, the birth place of Buddha. There was hardly anyone there! When we first went in to see the stone that supposedly marks the exact birthplace of Buddha, we were the only people. It wasn’t long ago that this birth place was re-discovered and confirmed. There are a huge number of stupas going up around the area, not to mention hotels and restaurants.

Pushing off, we took a lift from a bus up 1200m or so to Tansen.

Descent into White Lake.
Next to Tansen is what people call White Lake. Actually it’s not a lake at all, but the clouds sit in the valley in such a way that it looks like a lake covered in fog.

We descended into White Lake by bike to visit an “organic coffee farm” which was neither organic nor producing coffee as their main crop. However, it was attended to by some fun children who took us on a tour of their interesting farm. They produce enough coffee to offer a cup to guests while we talked to the man who owns the place about the reality of trying to make a living farming in Nepal.