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Is History Being Made or Repeating Itself?

April 28, 2003

TWO DAYS AGO, the bank started a rumour about there being no kyat (Burmese currency), so that initially the kyat value will go way up. The likelihood is that so much new money will be printed up that very soon the kyat will decrease so steeply, it will be worth nothing. People are lined up around the block to collect their kyat from their accounts, but the bank is only allowing a certain amount to be withdrawn each day. Inflation is stupendous. Already it is 700/1100 kyat to the Canadian/US dollar, as compared to 216/340 kyat per respective dollars two years ago. The price of everything goes up, but wages stay the same.

The difference in development between states is remarkable. Chin State, in northwestern Burma, borders Bangladesh and there is ‘one road in and out.’ Kachin State, in northeastern Burma, borders China and has numerous roads and much more industry. People here are very worried about a Chinese takeover. The Chinese control many businesses, and they have more money and more manpower than the Burmese (majority and ethnic minorities inclusively). The Chinese control many industries, including logging and gem trading, and the fear being they will make the States barren and do it fast. The Kachin want to regain some power over industry, but it is not clear how to do so. Indeed, locals are likely to do the same as the Chinese, but at the least, more slowly due to lesser means – of technology, resources and manpower.

There are huge and seemingly imminent conflict resolution/transformation needs here. People – especially minorities or “nationalities” – want respect, power, a voice. Ethnic minorities have no say in anything. The government can say no, the leader of the National Democratic League (NLD), Aung San Suu Kyi, can say no, and the minorities – no small percentage of the population – do not get a say. Moreover, there are many divides between but also within groups – differences based often on age, religion, and ethnicity. Today’s youth, fueled by this lack of power, want to fight. The elders, remembering a similar up rise and subsequent slaughter in the late 1950’s-early 1960’s, do not want to fight. With far less people and resources than they even had decades ago, a gross and sweeping defeat (and repeat) seems certain. And youths do not speak up in the presence of elders. Communication and therefore consensus clearly seem blocked in ways. The Kachin Independent Army, too, is ready to fight against people trained and equipped to fight, and they would lose the very little ‘power’ – literally hydro and electricity, as well as money, voice and lives – they have now. The idea of surrendering would mean giving everything to the government, and many believe to the Chinese too, given their monopoly on businesses here in Kachin State. There is mounting unrest due to overarching oppression and political and religious entwinement. Infighting – among, youth, Baptists, or Kachins, for example – poses a great challenge in the minorities’ fight to have a voice.

I met with three conflict resolution workers here in Burma whose efforts are to promote ‘non-violent action’. Violent action would be the very quick demise of all minorities, as right now perhaps it is just a slow one. The traditional Kachin way is toward immediate results: ‘act now, think later’. They held a peace building conference last week in Yangon with “Ethnic Nationalities” leaders, but admitted it was disappointingly basic and that the general terms of ‘mutual respect’ and ‘conflict transformation’ were not grasped. The sense is that the concept of ‘conflict resolution’ is synonymous with ‘surrender’ to many.

How to dissuade people from fighting who feel they have little to lose by fighting, yet feel to not ‘act’ would be to lose all?


Regicide in Kathmandu

June 6, 2001

I LEFT NEPAL on May 23, 2001. I had been over there for eight months. On June 1st, just eight days after I left, King Birendra and nine members of the Royal family were killed, including his wife, Queen Aishwarya, daughter, Princess Shruti (24) and younger son, Prince Nirajan (22). Initially, accusations fell on their eldest, Crown Prince Dipendra, due to a dispute at the Royal Palace with his mother that evening regarding his choice of bride. The Queen was said to be fiercely opposed to his choice, and the prince was outraged at having to choose between the marriage and his right to the throne.

The Nepalese were fond of the king who worked hard to implement democracy in Nepal’s political structure. The queen, on the other hand, had a nasty reputation and was greatly against such democratic efforts. Kathmandu (KTM) is teeming with rumours about the queen plotting a scandalous overthrow of the king whereby the Crown Prince would take over the kingship. I have neither heard nor found any verification for this as of yet.

The Nepalese majority was fond of Crown Prince Dipendra and refuses to believe he is responsible for the outrageous tragedy. Most who attended Eton with the Crown Prince, speak of him as a nice, friendly person. But there is also talk of him selling alcohol illegally and having a tendency to violence. One of late King Birendra’s cousins who was at the Royal Palace the night of the shooting remains injured in hospital and unofficially testifies that it was indeed Prince Dipendra who was the shooter. Notwithstanding, and armed with a belief in the Crown Prince’s innocence, many have stormed the streets and raged outside the Royal Palace in attempts to learn, trying to get, demanding to know: the truth.

Crown Prince Dipendra, despite being in a coma, technically became the King of Nepal following his father’s death. His reign was brief, however, as yesterday, the prince breathed his last royal breath. He was succeeded by the next in line for kingship, his paternal uncle, Guyanendra. According to a reporter at The Associated Press, Kathmandu division, “King Gyanendra, the late king’s younger brother, issued a statement Sunday blaming ‘accidental firing of an automatic weapon’ for the deaths. Gyanendra did not say who did the shooting, but many people mourning the loss of their king found the explanation preposterous.” Gyanendra is known to be far less for democracy and more power-hungry than his brother, the late-King Birendra. There are suspicions that Gyanendra hae a role in the killings, indeed, possibly putting the Crown Prince up to it.

In addition to this, now-King Gyanendra has a son, Prince Paras, who has been called “an absolute monster,” by some. Last year, he ran over Prabin Gurung, a great Nepalese musician, founder and composer for the group, Himalayan Feelings, while reportedly driving drunk. Paras then ran back over his victim, ensuring his victim’s silence and assured by Royal immunity. Paras is then said to have threatened to kill the Chief of Police upon being told that he may be put up for murder charges. He is also suspected in a hit-and-run, a rape, and that his murder of Prabin is not his first but third murder. Moreover, Paras is now heir to the throne.

Nepal is on the verge of a civil war and the Royal family has turned against itself. It is nice to know that Canada’s Prime Minister has expressed sympathy and compassion for the ailing kingdom and her people. It is nice to know that Canada is not facing such political and social unrest and tragedy. It is a great misfortune, however, that we may never know what really happened that night at the Royal Palace; and worse, that the people of Nepal might never know the truth.

Ke garne? Jindagi ustai chaa. What to do? Life is like this.

Roger’s Celebration of Life

July 20, 2013 Calgary, AB

My sister Laura read first, a nice passage from Ecclesiastes about, ‘A time to live, a time to die; a time to embrace, a time to not embrace,” and so on. Then my sister Karen read from the Thessalonians. The priest, Father David, got up to read the Gospel, and my mother rose and read some Prayers of the Faithful. Cousin Vanessa, Aunty Lorraine and then my father each spoke in tribute to her uncle and their brother respectively. Before finishing, my father read three letters from people who had written kind words about Roger. The third letter, from my Aunty Raye, choked him up.

My mother has known my father to cry only twice – when his father died in the early seventies, and when Laura became pregnant at age 18, in 1990. I remember going into his den one school night evening. He always sat at his desk which faced west, as you could see down the whole street. On that night, however, he was sitting in his chair facing north, which faced the hide abed and a wall. I only saw the back of him, but the strangeness of his positioning was enough to know something was different, if not wrong, and I left as silently as I had entered. I learned later that he was crying out of worry for Laura and the difficulty now facing her.

My father said he thought about how good my Aunty Raye, who’s my mom’s sister, her husband and my mom’s folks, when they were still alive, always were to my uncle Roger, and that’s when the emotion came. To see your father cry is something. I usually hold it together until everyone cries or deals and then I cry or deal just after, but I felt my face distorting, trying to maintain composure without much success. Laura, Karen, my mom and I were in the first row together and my mom grabbed my hand. I wanted to go and put my hand on my father’s arm or finish reading for him, but my mother didn’t seem to move and I felt I shouldn’t either. And then, “Sandy, when you’re ready…” and I was up. After hearing and seeing my father break down emotionally yet beautifully, and crying with my sisters and mother, I then had to sing Cohen‘s Hallelujah. There had been some discussion about the appropriateness of the lyrics, but my other suggestion of Satisfied Mind didn’t go over well sonically. Knowing Cohen’s capacity if not flare for provocativeness, I said we didn’t have to do all the verses and it was decided I sing three of the seven.

This was my second funeral to sing at. The first was a year and a half ago, Saila Venus Hull, a peer, had suicided. The room was filled with 165 people, half of which were friends and peers, thirty-somethings. Luckily I played at the beginning, but surprisingly overwhelmed by the collective emotion in the room, I actually had to stop and catch myself and my breath in the first song, before being able to continue and get through four songs. I got stronger with each song and finished with the chosen song, Bob Marley‘s Redemption Song. But I tell you, to feel and see your 6’3” surfer ex-boyfriend and your 6’3” ex surfer roommate and many other guy and gal friends crying in their chairs… it is tough and it is something else.

I started a bit shaky, I expected this. I put my foot down so it wouldn’t be too obvious, and knew I would be weak of air at the start, but knew it’d be alright. I misplayed two chords briefly but as I was finger-picking it wasn’t too obvious. I avoided eye contact and kept singing Hallelujah, Hallelujah. It was a good song choice sonically, and it was an apt time for all for us all to have some music salve. We watched a video of pictures that had initially been prepared for the release of Roger’s book, Take As Directed, which comically had a commercial sort of plug at the end saying where you could buy the book. And another moment of humour at the end when Father David said ‘Ralph’ instead of Roger. Nothing wrong with a bit of music medicine and comic relief no matter which occasion.

In 2000, I decided to go off to India and Nepal. , “Why would you ever want to go there?” Roger had asked me. His advice to me was, “Well, you know what they say: Don’t do anything stupid.” I remember my first thought was, Who says that? My next thought? What kind of advice is that? It sounded stupid itself, to me. But of course, I later came to think of his advice as exactly right – a savvy prescription for danger prevention. My Uncle Roger never missed a birthday, or an occasion to send a birthday card with good wishes. He personified family and the importance of keeping ties with loved ones. He showed us by example, by caring. This past April, my father brought Uncle Rog to see my trio play in Calgary. Before going on stage, he was asking me about my life, music and such. I asked him, “But tell me, how are you?” My uncle, known also for his sometimes pessimistic bent, and with one eye patched and seated in a wheelchair, looked at me and stated with a grin, “I think this is my year.” I knew, indeed, that this was an important year.

I read a book recently that made me consider for the first time, the possibility of past and many lives. One line I particularly liked was this: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Take good care, Roger, may we have many great lives and may we meet who we love again and again throughout our many journeys.

Gods, Past Lives & Self-Reflection: Family Camping Part Deux

I was reading about God,
and grabbed another drink.

Well, that’s camping with family for you, isn’t it? Or just the usual inquiring, seeking, drinking soul along the path…

On day four, I traded God for Catherine and past lives. I read over a hundred pages about Job, Shankara and Rumi, but I am overruling my want to finish things for to move onto another area of interest. I’ve never put any thought into past lives to be honest, but Weiss’ book is very empirical and very convincing. I finished the book in a day and a half.

Feeling my usual difference from my own family, lacking tolerance more for my kin than others (I pray this is just human nature!), I am really appreciating reconnecting with the Smiths and PJs.

Good People. You feel it and know it when in their presence.

Bacon God rises in the mornings here in the form of wafts and waves, and my dad moves everything around as if his castle or his own home. It is a second, summer abode for all of us, and some habits will never cease. There is an area for empties near the table, next to my parents’ tent, next to the creek. I bought a six-pack of beer yesterday, and put the first empty back into the cardboard box. I go to put my next empty away and dad has moved my beer bottle to another box with my niece’s gluten-free beer bottles and put some unopened Mike’s Hard Lemonades in my beer’s box. I put my day bag on the table bench long before breakfast or anyone using the table and I return from the bathroom to see my bag placed on a chair off to the side. Three times he has also moved my dry food bag. It is frustrating – I interpret it as controlling, having to have a hand in everything. I am like him in so many ways, and like things to be a certain way also, so I recognize I need to care less about these little things and learn to let things and people be more.

Self-trust and confident decision-making have turned out to be somewhat elusive, essential tools for me. Growing up, I too often sought my dad’s, and others’, advice. Now, after all the years of his double-checking, always going over things again after I or others locked the house or car door, or shut off the lights or stove, I am today still filled with -but fight- the sense that how or what I have done is insufficient or requires overseeing. My own issues, that I have carried forward, but are ever slowly dissolving.

I remember one time after my grandparents had visited, my mom stated, “I love my parents, but a weekend with them at a time is enough!” As we grow older, we become both more and less like our parents (a case in point for unity of opposites!). As long as we strive to be positive and authentic and have love be our primary action, then we and our interrelated world of family, friends, life, love and outdoors will only get better and better. At times this can mean a lot of effort, but it makes sense, and we’re all worth the effort.

Books referenced:
God: A Story of Revelation by Deepak Chopra

Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives by Brian L. Weiss, M.D.

Go Back: Family Camping

July 9.2013
Arrival was imminent. Lake Chelan State Park, Washington. This year marks the 30th anniversary of our family, the Smiths and the Parker Jervis’ (PJs) family going camping together, and the 29th year at Lake Chelan. Other families and friends have joined but I recall the first year I was seven, we went to three, maybe four, campgrounds until we found Lake Chelan. Chelan was full that year, but I remember thinking this place was perfect: no matter where I traveled to, I would always say here was a perfect place.

I have now been many places, about twenty-five countries, and it is still true. Perhaps because it is about family, about camping, nature, campfires, campfire music, sunshine, and tenting, reading, being outdoors and getting in the glacier-fed lake. It is tradition – always fun, always sunny, and now a legacy 30-years strong.

This is the first time I have made it down to camp at Chelan in about 18 years. I have no excuse. I have wanted to come every year but didn’t prioritize it. I had to come this year. It is one of those places where life makes sense. Just like when I am out hiking, life makes sense. No matter the differences between all of us here – we all love each other, we all love this place, camping and family. It is something awesome, chill, and in nature that we do together. And the night time campfire songs! Ghost Riders, Mule Skinner, The Gambler – my all time favourite has always been Jim Reeves‘ ‘Put your sweet lips, a little closer to the phone. Let’s pretend that we’re together, all alone. We’ll tell the man to turn the jukebox way down low. And tell that man, right there beside you, he’ll have to go.” No matter who did what original that made our old playlists – I will never accept that Nick’s voice on and version of them isn’t the best.

My sister Karen had a bathing suit one year that my mom made – a one piece with black and turquoise stripes on top and all black on the bottom. Well, she tanned through the thin turquoise stripes! Another year, my other sister Laura and I had to peel a whole layer of Karen’s burned back skin off. And one time Karen and I must’ve been playing tag or racing, and just up from the grassy three-tiered main beach area, there is a gravel parking area for the boat trailers and damn it if I didn’t slip on some loose gravel and my left foot slide, bringing me down hard and fast just above my hip onto the jagged pointy hitch of one of the trailers. First thing I remember is Karen holding me back up in her arms. It was always like that with her and I – we fought, but she was always the first one to have my back or take care of me.

We weren’t ‘sent’ to camp, we camped – as a family, as 3-4 families, one big grand Canadian group of high school principal dads and teacher moms, making the trek every year, for five hot and sweaty hours to eastern Washington. We reserve sites in January, right next to the bubbling creek, not too far from the washroom with three-minute token-run showers. In the center of the park, there’s a huge field that now has a children’s playground, a sandy beach volleyball court and a vast grassy expanse to play baseball, run, look at the stars, and an amazingly chilly glacier-fed lake to swim in or float around with a dock that’s just about too far given the cold temperature of the water. Happy hour is 5-7pm, a walk around the grounds for whoever’s willing around 8, fire rotates sites and starts around 9. At some point in the morning, my dad will be up and about and start singing, “Good morning to you, good morning to you!”. It doesn’t get much better than this.


Hannah & Nusa Lembongan

So I met Hannah from Germany at the Perama ‘office’ waiting for the boat to Nusa Lembongan. 25, long dark wavy hair, ripped jean shorts, grey 3/4 sleeve long-john shirt, left-handed, non smoker ten days now – except for one in Kuta. In checking out the yoga situation here, she met Mark: English chap, bleached blonde from real sun, he’s been in Bali off and on for four years, and for the last two. He’s a dive instructor and ecologist, he is nice, quieter, more genuine and more sober than the Aussies that have descended upon the Mainski bar where we are staying. Mark hasn’t had a drink for a week. Hannah and I played pool and had a beer, and when Mark joined, we split a $2 pack of Marlboro Lights and had two each.

Mainski’s bar at night is not bad, fun even, likely the place to be on Lembongan after sunset. There is a pool table with tiny balls and one working crappy cue. There is a ping pong table next to it and they air live performances on a screen above the bar of Amy Winehouse, The Rolling Stones, a Double Dutch Dj medley and Miss Piggy just cameo’d on the last dj mix tune…

This morning Hannah and I went to yoga, taught by Melanie who lives in New York but is a France native. We passed many locals – men near the shore, women behind the first row of buildings, tending to the seaweed which is 85% of the local economy and mainly used for carageenan. Hungry as I was after yoga, I have never been so happy about coffee and toast. I paid $1.50 for scrambled eggs and I was elated in the shade, sun hot by 9 a.m..

Yoga’d up and full-bellied, I was feeling pretty good about my bargain find on accommodation until I realized the main female employee here seems to never smile and I noticed a male worker squatting, trimming the property’s grass with hand-held shears – not a huge area to tend but oy.

The sunsets are stellar. The ocean is shallow, either white sand or seaweed under the surface, fishing boats and fast transport boats anchored just off the shore, people trying paddle boarding, a parasailer in the distance, surf breaks afar, wind most of the day, coconuts and palm trees. There is an infinity pool, loungers, umbrellas, a happening (for a small island in slow season) bar with groovy tunes playing all day and night, cold small and large Bintangs in beer cozies and no one out of hand or ridiculous to change the view or atmosphere.

2 boats

As I take photos of the sunset and fishing boats, and catch up on my blogging, Hannah sits at the next table, responding after a while to a letter from her father who’s ‘not been a good father’ and ‘feels he should apologize but doesn’t know why.’ Also, she was in a long-term relationship with a man thirteen years older than her but a year ago returned from six months in Australia and ended it. Now she is considering taking up with a friend of three years. A couple of Bintangs and a few Marlboro’s later, she wrote fourteen pages and a couple of postcards. We each had pretty bad nachos and the bar shut down at 9:20pm.

5 hot sleeps left in Bali…

You Get What You Pay For?

Tribal taxi dance would’ve been fun. I wasn’t sure what we were in for. What we got was young boys from Ian’s taxi driver’s village, just young tykes practicing for the weekend’s gamelan ceremony, banging very, stupendously loudly, in fact, on bells made of differently sized metal bowls and a good 12 of them crashing their cymbals together.  The kids banged as loudly as possible and laughed a lot – it was neat to witness.

Then we went to Nyoman’s (the taxi driver’s) wife’s home for tea, followed by stopping by a neighbour village’s comical play – lots of laughs, who knows what they said.

gamelancomical play

I’ll be honest – I’m mostly low-balling here in Bali. Not always and no stooping, but I’m thinking about every dollar. I’ll eat a $3 meal and have a $3 beer instead of a $6 meal and no water or juice. I’m not really a juicer. When it’s come to massage, I’ve gone for $6 not $10 – Balinese massage was good, acupressure massage last night was better. So far my most expense gift is $12 (thought the space where there were unique head-tilted paintings by a local artist were on my first night in Ubud literally vanished, paintings, walls, brother-of-artist-vendor and all). Take out the I-can’t-afford-it, more-than-two-months’-rent guitar I bought and I’ve not spent a lot. The mani-pedi I wouldn’t have gotten – the pricing in the flyer was ambiguous, at least I misunderstood and straight up, I think she double charged me (this was not Padma Hastaa), unless everywhere else in town is cheaper. I’ve felt goofy with polish on, I smudged it right away and begrudged the whole thing briefly. And then the wax job – I recommend paying an extra few bucks. Nuff said.

I have downgraded every place I’ve stayed at. Last night in Sanur wasn’t my choice – Ian and I agreed on a place and at the last minute, Ian tells the bemo driver another. It wasn’t the cheapest either ($30) but I could have left. I thought to leave for the last three days, to leave Ian to his own trip. But good mixed in with bothersome — I stuck around until the day he was leaving Bali, longer than I maybe ought to have. Poor close, girl.

painted ladies

Is it worth the frustration to not be alone? When I’ve never been not okay being alone. Man, I have spent a lot of this life thus far on my own. This year’s been an anomaly, more courting and affection than most, though more drama and confusion too. If I can learn, feel, love, learn and not hurt anyone too much in my fumbling, that’s all I would wish for.

solo monkey

I have had some good luck as well: bought a $2000 guitar that has $3400 market value; had a great $6 acupressure massage (not sure if you can call it acupressure but she made my neck feel good!); had two sessions with a spiritual healer for $40 (her pricing was $65+); had an hour tarot reading for $50 (her pricing was $75); and I found a nice place on Nusa Lembongan online for $13/night (one website and at the place itself it lists the cheapest room at $33/night, and another site said ‘full’). I also met Hannah, a German, who’s sharing it with me for three nights and they didn’t charge us more. Same price as a meal. The beach, breeze, quiet and infinity pool are exactly what i was looking for. And for another travel mate, a chill European girl is super.