26 August 2014

Inflexible

I am peeved.

I have returned from a session with my tailor – or I should say my now ex tailor – where I was being measured up for some new work shirts. Mr. Ting is not my original tailor. I have only been with him for the last couple of years after the retirement of Mr. Chen – who tailored for me for many years. Mr. Chen made several beautiful suits for me, and a number of very nice shirts.

Mr. Chen was eighty years old when he retired in 2011 - after more than sixty years in the tailoring business. He was dear old fellow and I thoroughly enjoyed his companionship and his great professionalism.

I sought out Mr. Ting two years ago when I needed some more shirts made. They seem to wear at the collar and cuffs after eighteen months or so and even though I am pretty much a slob – I do like nicely tailored shirts. Before moving to Asia I was quite content with off the rack shirts and suits but there is nothing like custom made outfits. They contour the body and not only feel more comfortable but they look quite nice as well.

I only wear white or light blue shirts made from pure cotton. Don’t ask me why on the colour front – it is just my personal taste. The pure cotton thing is essential though here in the tropics. They allow the body to breathe but are also quite effective in cooler climates that I occasionally encounter when doing stints in Tokyo, Shanghai or London.

Places that have winter.

I miss winter sometimes.

Being hot all the time is better than being cold all the time but variety is the spice of life and I strongly suspect that the constant heat and humidity I live in is a major contributing factor to my ever-increasing madness.

I think I am perhaps losing my mind.

So I am in need of some more business shirts. Not only are some of them a bit worn but also they – like many of my clothes - seem to have mysteriously shrunk. Or is it shrank? Shrunken? Shranked?

Such words confuse the fuck out of me at times and getting the correct tense makes me – well tense.

I need to chill out.

It is the madness.

Anyway off to Mr. Ting I went after work and despite having all my measurements on file he insisted on doing the whole tape measure thing. From armpit to wrist, from the throat to the waist, around the neck – and so on.

It takes forever.

There are also many choices to be made on the design of the shirt. For example I like a pocket and I also like pleats on the rear of the shirt. I want my cuffs to have buttons but also the option to wear cufflinks. I don’t wear cufflinks very often as they are a bit like my sock situation – one of the pair seems to mysteriously disappear and I have a little box full of single cufflinks.

It pisses me off.

When I was telling Mr. Ting about my shirt design requirements he made a peculiar tutting noise when measuring my girth.

“Why do you tut Mr. Ting”

I enjoyed the poetry of saying that.

“You are fatter than the last time you were measured Mr. Peter Sir” he replied.

“I most definitely am Mr. Ting – but please do not allow too much for that for I am taking some quite determined measures to reduce my fatness”

He tutted again.

“Tut me not Mr. Ting” I retorted.

“I am making headway”

“Alright Mr. Peter – I will allow just a little bit extra at the waist then”

I let that pass.

I think I need a couple of months to rid myself of my waistline. I blame my surge in weight on ten days in the US a month ago eating cronuts and drinking incredibly nice red wine with my best mate Berty.

The discovery of the cronut was particularly devastating.

It is a cross between a donut and a croissant and is absolutely delectable. My appetite was enhanced in the US was by doing things I cannot speak of here – lest the Singaporean government read about it and then come to arrest me.

They will then cane me, hang me, shoot me and set me on fire before sentencing me to life imprisonment.

I wouldn’t want that.

Neither would my mum.

Whilst he was scrawling down my measurements and showing me his finest white and light blue cotton material I asked Mr. Ting why it was that on men’s shirts the buttons are on the right side of the shirt but on women’s shirts the buttons are on the left.

In a most Singaporean manner he simply stared at me and said nothing.

I am quite used to this and take it as an ”I don’t know”

It irks me.

Both the staring and the button thing.

So I started messaging some people to see what they thought. It was a little foolish of me to message some of the English – for they are generally a foolish and a not particularly bright race of people – but I had a gut feeling it was an English thing and they may have invented the shirt.

I received some immediate and of course ridiculous replies. A couple of people suggested that it harked back to the Victorian era when women were ‘dressed’ by their domestic help and having the buttons on the left was easier for them. I dismissed this immediately as I know that men were also ‘dressed’ by their butler type dudes – so that didn’t really make sense. One of the English advised me that it had something to do with drawing a sword from a scabbard, which was equally nonsensical.

I quite like the Victorian era fashion and way of living though and would have enjoyed being a part of the gentry. I would have enjoyed saying things like ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ and ‘come hither’ and may in fact attempt to bring it back in my conversations in the office. The not-particularly-bright English with whom I work could pick it up.

Fuck.

I think my madness is creeping in again.

It is difficult to keep it at bay and I shall turn down my air conditioning a notch.

When Mr. Ting had finished his staring I said, “Mr. Ting I would like you to make these shirts with the buttons on the left hand side. I want them made in a girl-buttoned fashion”

No one can actually tell the difference when the shirts are worn.

“Cannot,” he replied

“Cannot?” I asked.

“Cannot,” he repeated.

“Why not?” I enquired.

“It is man shirt”

“It will still be man shirt – just with girl sided buttons” I retorted.

“Cannot”

“Alright let’s do this then. I want alternative buttons. One on the left side and one on the right side all the way down the shirts”

“Cannot”

“It will be a new fashion craze that could make you very famous Mr. Ting”

“Cannot Mr. Peter”

“What the fuck Mr. Ting? It is not such a difficult thing to do”

“Cannot,” he very annoyingly repeated.

As a general rule the Singaporean is a very inflexible creature. I encounter it all the time and it is terribly frustrating. For example when eating out one may order a Caesar salad and ask to hold the anchovies. Or perhaps request that a meal that comes with vegetables be served instead with a salad.

One will generally receive either a very long Singaporean stare or a resounding “cannot”.

It can be countered with an imploring “can” but it will have no effect

They are an inflexible lot.

In a rather compulsive and possibly rash moment I sacked Mr. Ting on the spot. I cancelled my order of shirts and advised him that I would seek out a tailor who would make my shirts with either girl-sided buttons or even better, alternating boy and girl sided buttons.

I will probably have to find an Indian tailor who will do this for me.

Yes I know.

It is my madness thing.

It is the incessant heat and humidity I think - and a withdrawal from cronuts.
  

24 August 2014

Been there. Done That.

The French call it déjà vu.

Its literal translation in the English language is ‘already seen’ - however it is more than that really. It is an experience of having experienced something before.

Or someone.

Even though you haven’t.

Experienced it.

Or them.

It is a strange and somewhat eerie phenomenon that has on occasion afflicted me. I am sure that most people have. Well I am not sure but I suspect that they have.

I am not very sure of anything nowadays.

Anything is possible.

Everything is possible.

I have been to places where I have had an uncanny feeling that I have been before. The first I can recall was when I was a young adult – such a long time ago – going to Copenhagen.  It was in my days of carefree travel.

Those were the days.

I went to the famous and most beautiful Tivoli Gardens and I just knew that I had been there before.

Even though I hadn’t.

I walked around with a very distinct feeling of familiarity. There are a lot of meandering paths in the Tivoli gardens and I knew what was around each corner. I remember that it was like being in a semi dreamy state and that I was confused. At the time I wondered whether it was something I may have read about but as I reflect even now, I knew that I hadn’t done any reading or research on places. It wasn’t my thing back then – nor indeed is it really now.

I like to travel and explore and the joy and mystery of discovery is a part of the whole travel experience.

There have been other times and places since then as well. I remember having strange repetitive dreams about buildings and little villages. These are disjointed and blurry as many dreams are – but in several cases I can recall simply gasping as I recognised these places when I arrived. Tiny details that I could not possibly have known about were retrieved from some deep dark recess of my mind.

There have been people too.

I meet a lot of people in my work and in my life and I am a social animal.

I talk to strangers all the time.

On a very rare occasion I will instantly connect with someone. It might be because we have similar views or likes but to me it seems more than that. It is as if I have known them before. I know how they think, what they like and what they dislike and I find that we will complete each other’s sentences.

It is strange.

It is uncanny.

It is a bit disconcerting but it is nice.

It is very nice.

I have discussed such things with friends before. In the sorts of conversations that one has over dinner with large groups. I love these types of philosophical discussions. I love any sort of intellectual dialogue where there is debate and a swapping of experiences.

I love scenarios where the subjects include a “what if” line of questioning.

The very discussions that I have had on the déjà vu subject has been with my many Buddhist and Hindi friends in Nepal. Some of these guys are lamas and one is in fact a monk who is an incarnation of the Ranag Rinchen Buddha. His full title is Guru Ranag Rinchen Rinpoche and he is also known as the Dolpo Buddha – or simply ‘Guru’. To me he is just Rinpoche – and whilst I am not a follower or devotee of his, he has become my good friend.

Rinpoche is actually Taiwanese of birth and he divides his time equally between Taipei and Kathmandu. He is a healer and he has followers all around the world. His temple – or monastery – lies amongst a cluster of other monasteries known as Shey Gompa – and it has been the seat of his ancestors - called the Dolpo Shel-ri Rinpoches - for more than one thousand years.

The Guru’s monastery is in the very faraway region of the upper Dolpa and sits at about five thousand meters above sea level. Monks constructed it by hand on a narrow precipice and in some places it has been carved out of red rock.  It is located within a cradle of the Himalaya ranges and lies in the shadow of a sacred mountain named Shelri Drug Dra in the Nepali language – but is known as the Crystal Mountain by we Westerners.

I don’t know why.

Nor do I really care.

I digress.

I sometimes do.

The conversations I have with Rinpoche are always enlightening and delightful. I never fail to learn something and we always laugh a lot. On more than one occasion he has told me that the feelings of déjà vu that I have experienced are echoes of my previous lives.

Buddhists and Hindus believe in reincarnation. It is in fact one of the pillar stones of their faith.

The Hindu people refer to reincarnation as Punarjanma. They believe that our bodies are simply vessels but our selves – or our souls as the Christian faith describes them – go through an endless cycle of birth, death and then re-birth. The deaths and rebirths are called Samsara. The Hindu people refer to the soul as the Jiva - which they believe is eternal and indestructible.

Rinpoche explained to me that the manner in which a Jiva is re-born – or the vessel into which it next manifests - is dependent upon something called karma. I thought I knew what karma was but I think it is more complicated than my understanding.

Many things are.

In its very base form karma is what we do. It is our actions and our inactions. It relates to kindness and humility and temptation. It is the process of the accumulation of wisdom and recognition of the insignificance of things that are material.

It is the absence of desire.

It is a process of love.

My friend the monk told me that the Christian concept of heaven and hell does not exist at all in the Hindu or Buddhist faiths. People who are bad or evil or simply ignorant will be reborn in a lesser vessel than they previously were. In some instances their rebirth will be in the form of an animal rather than a human.

Rinpoche told me that the journey of life and the accumulation of wisdom is what generally described as a search for enlightenment. This is a complete understanding and acceptance that virtuosity is the purest form of being and that benevolence and solicitude are the ‘true path’. Achieving absolute enlightenment is a very rare and difficult thing but when obtained it is a form of pure divinity where the soul or jiva requires no vessel in which to live.

It is an absolute purity of essence.

I like the concept a lot.

When I asked Rinpoche whether this was being a god he laughed and said that gods were a pagan and Christian belief – and that man was responsible for his own destiny. He told me that the state of divinity was known as ‘Moksa’ and the final recognition of ones true self is called ‘Sadhana’.

I told Rinpoche that I thought that this very beautiful and he told me that he agreed.

I told Rinpoche this because I think it is.

Very beautiful.

I often talk to Rinpoche about matters of faith for I have little in the way of spirituality.

He doesn’t seem to mind.

We tend to talk about things that are both Hindu and Buddhist. Rinpoche is a Tibetan Buddhist monk but he has explained very patiently to me that in the mountain kingdoms of Tibet and Nepal the two faiths have co-existed for more than two thousand years. Many of the very ancient temples of Kathmandu that I so love are actually both Hindu and Buddhist. They are shared sites.

There is no other place in the world that such places exist.

The holy man has told me that whilst there has been much conflict in both ancient and recent times in Nepal – none have ever been for religious regions.

I like this a lot.

Many of the world’s wars are caused by religion.

Look at the Middle East.

Look at Ireland.

Man’s inhumanity to man is an abhorrent thing.

The guru Rinpoche is a master of a type of meditation called Vipassana. It is the fundamental principal of his healing powers and he teaches this discipline to his followers. On more than one occasion Rinpoche has offered to teach me Vipassana but I have told him that I do not think that I have the patience.

I find it difficult to even sit still.

From what little I can understand – and I do understand very little – Vipassana meditation is an endeavour to enter a trance like state where there is an absolute denial of ownership or judgment or memory.

It is simply a state of being.

Rinpoche has told me that the concept of desire is the biggest obstacle to moving towards total enlightenment. To achieve such a state man must go through many forms of suffering. Such dolor is called ‘Dukkha” by Buddhists and when achieved it will eventually lead to something called “Nirvana”. Nirvana is where the physical world and the physical body lose all significance. The word and concept of “Nirvana” is derived from the Sanskrit concept of “Nibbana”.

The literal translation of “Nibbana” is “vanishing” where the world stops and there is complete self-awareness.

Nice huh?

I think so.

So back to the whole issue of déjà vu and my discussions with the guru on this subject. I have told him of the strange connection I feel with Nepal and the fact that I felt a type of kinship with the country the very first time I went.

And every time I return.

It was an immediate and deep fellowship.

I have told him too of the similar type of connection I have always had with the ocean – and as with the mountains of the Himalaya - I have a sense of absolute peacefulness and imperturbation that is difficult for me to describe. I also tried to explain to Rinpoche the peculiar feelings of déjà vu I have described earlier in this writing - and I remember him nodding his head in a knowing fashion.

He does this often.

Nods his head.

He thinks these feelings of mine are simply echoes of my past lives.

I may once have been to these places that seemed familiar to me. I may have known the people who I feel an immediate connection with.

He thought I might once have been a sea creature too.

When I suggested I might have once been a whale he laughed and said that this was possible – but I could also have been a turtle.

I don’t mind either actually

I don’t mind at all.

21 August 2014

Hopelessly Lost

I am mournful and despondent.

I am sorrowful.

Such words don’t seem to do my emotions justice but they will suffice.

I am exhausted with worry.

I am fatigued with concern.

I can’t sleep.

My best mate Berty has had another seizure and remains unconscious in a hospital. The hospital is far away in the state of Nevada.

In the US of A.

I thought I had prepared myself for this event as Berty had a brain tumour removed some months ago. It was a big shock to all of us and an even bigger shock to discover that the brain tumour was a manifestation of a melanoma.

The melanoma was a grade 4 one.

I didn’t even know that melanomas had grades but they do. There is a scale from one to four with one being the least severe.

Berty’s melanoma is an untreatable one and the ugly fucker of a thing decided to first attack his brain and grow itself a tumour.

A big one.

I of course rushed over to be my mate’s side.

How could I not?

When I arrived he had a bald head and a very big scar that scared me to look at it.

I made him wear a hat.

He was released from hospital a couple of days before I arrived and I spent a week and a half with him. His bravery and his humour and his personality were intact and I didn’t cry very much in Nevada.

I never shed a tear in front of Berty.

I tried to be strong.

In fact we laughed quite a lot.

We reminisced about our youth and the crazy things we used to get up. We talked deep into the night or until his medications rendered him into a deep sleep. Berty remembered a lot more things than I did. Most of our memories involved the beach and surfing and girls. They were our passions when we were kids and when we were young adults too.

They are our passions still.

We used to drive Berty’s battered EH Holden station wagon up and down the coastline of Australia seeking waves and adventure. We took risks and had a carefree and flippant approach to life.

We were footloose

We were fancy free.

Even back then we both shared a sense of belonging to the ocean and we felt a responsibility to preserve it and protect it. We respected the waves that we rode and we were simply joyful whenever we were in the water. It was a type of liberation that was absolute and I can even now taste the salt of the water on my lips and feel the sun on my back.

I can hear the wash of the waves as they swept up the sand.

I can remember our whoops of joy as we caught big waves.

It is a bitter sweet memory now though for it was in those times that the sun bit into Berty’s fair skin and that fucker of a melanoma took residence in my mate’s body.

It skulked and it lurked and it loitered and then it lunged.

I hate it more than I hate anything.

I despise that my mate is in pain and his once strong body is now frail and weak. I abhor that his once sharp mind and his zest for life has been blunted. I loathe checking the messages on my phone and opening the ones that I receive from Dana – Berty’s most beautiful and wonderful wife.

I am terrified.

I am petrified.

I am dazed and trembling and I am shaken and sad.

I feel hopelessly lost.