Andheri is a neighbourhood of northern Mumbai, just past the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, a beautiful wood-panelled facility where white paisleyed pillars gently swirl up to the ceiling covered in a pattern meant to resemble the feathers of a peacock, the national bird of India.
I had been in Mumbai for four days and was standing on the roof of an office park in Andheri, looking out at the surrounding hills. Green trees grow tall making the hills look like lush jungle, even though underneath that canopy are millions of people, a tangle of traffic, and blocks and blocks of factories. Andheri is home to the SEEPZ Special Economic Zone. Every factory here in these 100+ acres are building products that can never be sold in India. The building I stood on held software companies, all providing services overseas. The pattern of greenery was occasionally broken by the pastels of a slum complexes, boxy rooms stacked upon one another, each a different colour, all clinging to the hill. 40% of Mumbai’s 18 million population live in slums.
I have been thinking of this very impressive New York Times photo essay of Kashgar, and how it has changed in the 15 years since I visited. Kashgar is an old Silk Road city in the westernmost reaches of Xinjiang province in Chinese Turkestan. A friend and I had crossed the Taklamakan Desert on a 36 hour sleeper bus journey where we were given bunks in the front (since the back is where the goats and chickens went). We used Kashgar as a base to travel up the Karakoram highway, through the breath-taking Pamir Plateau, to the Pakistani boarder checkpoint.
In those days, the city was divided by the main road, with mostly Uighur communities in the north, and Han in the south. After days of eating mutton, we crossed the highway to the south to have some “Chinese” food for a change. Our beautiful hotel used to be the Russian Consulate during the days of the Great Game, romanticized by one of my favourite authors Peter Hopkirk. I remember walking through the old town, the narrow streets and clay multi-story homes transported me back to a different era… something like 1001 Nights. According to the Times, these buildings are being destroyed by the Chinese government as the state increases the surveillance burden on the Uighur population. Even 15 years ago I thought Beijing’s presence was overwhelming. The People’s Square, where there was a Nowruz festival being held with all sorts of Uighur folk dances, is overlooked by the second largest statue of Mao in all of China. We saw government propaganda written in the Uighur Arabic alphabet on wide red banners strung across overpasses. That was nothing compared to what is happening now. Watch and listen to the photo essay and see what Kashgar has turned into, and read this Twitter thread by one of the journos for some behind the scenes material.
James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time (1963) contains two essays. The first, a letter to Baldwin’s teenaged nephew, served as inspiration for Between the World and Me which I extolled not only for the content, but for Ta-Nehisi Coates’ inspirational writing skill. It is like a finger pointing at the moon, and I am glad for Coates directing my attention to all that heavenly glory. “My Dungeon Shook — Letter to my Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of Emancipation,” written in the early 1960s is still relevant, and not surprisingly, influencing many young Black people today.
The second essay, “Down At The Cross — Letter from a Region of My Mind”, is much longer, and an elegant rumination of the black politics at the time. I particularly enjoyed Baldwin’s visit to the home of Elijah Muhammad — the anxiety of the experience is palpable — and Baldwin’s analysis of the Nation of Islam’s approach to the Civil Rights Movement. The book is undeniably an American classic, and Baldwin’s skill as a novelist and playwright shines through.
Near the end of his argument, the following passage particularly stood out to me:
World Cup, which was brilliant, and motivated me to start tracking La Liga, in addition to my beloved Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League ⚽
read 50 books, including a lot about Asian history (not just Japan, but China, India, Tibet, Southeast Asia). Really taken an interest in what is happening on continental Asia these days. So interesting! 🌏
was even able to re-read a few books, which never happens ♻️
discovered Murakami Haruki (read 3 of his books) 📚
only watched 30 films (a third were rewatches). My all time favourite of the year: Bao 🥟
Now that my teaching is done, I plan on writing more in 2019. I haven’t set a goal yet, but likely the topic will be on Asia. Kinda think I might be going back to my Coming Anarchy roots. I will be in India next month, and Japan in the summer. So there will be at least 2 travelogues.
2018 was big for me. It feels like a new beginning. Here’s to 2019! 🥂
Here is the concept: what books have changed your life? I am not talking about your favourite books, or comfort food books that you have re-read over and over again (ahem… Harry Potter series), or even books that you recognize are a masterwork (eg Invisible Man or The Handmaid’s Tale) and deserving of praise. I mean books that, looking back, you see the ingredients for who you are today; books that are waymarkers for your life, turning points that you can say there are distinct periods before and after the book.
Some caveats: self-help books (like Getting Things Done which was transformational for me) don’t count, even though they will motivate you to take action. That also goes for books that inspire you to do (more of) an activity in the short term, like write (eg. Stephen King’s On Writing or Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler).
Lastly, I think we should skip over non-fiction books, like history, politics, and biographies. A person often reads these kinds of books with the intention of changing how they think about things, or at least further refining their thought. I think we should limit this to fictional works, which though may be written to affect the reader’s heart, due to the individual’s present life circumstances of which the author can never know, can often do so incommensurately.
So, if you will indulge me in my little game: which novels have changed your life?
Thinking about the various distinct phases of my 40 years in this existence, I trawled through the 600+ books on my Goodreads to see if I could determine the waypoints. However, the truth is, I already knew before even looking. There are only a handful (not sure if that is a good or a bad thing) that have left such an impression on my mind that I think of them often, even though many of them I have only read once. The candidates are below. Continue reading “Your life-changing books”→
(The following started off as a tweet, which quickly developed into a tweetstorm, so I decided to move it to the blog, for this is where longer thoughts belong, right?)
I have been trying to wean myself off of comicbook-based entertainment: Marvel TV shows and movies. I need to take a break from the bombastic — less super and more mundane. Stories about the connections between normal human beings. 1/6
Somehow I have found myself captured by “slice of life” anime shows. Haha! Trading one kind of drawing for another! But it is not so comparable. There is so much humanism… and without obtuse metaphor (Ironman’s armor is really the brittle carapace of Tony Stark’s ego, etc) 2/6
These shows deal directly with the emotional material: interpersonal relationships with family, friends and lovers; community values; building confidence and becoming a better person, etc. All at the level of the normal people and not cosmic beings. 3/6
At 5am, while the kids sleep, I drink coffee on the 24th floor balcony afforded a spectacular view of Waikiki Beach. It is meditative. I breathe in the ocean’s breath on my face. I have just turned 40. The vast ocean is my lungs, the waves my breath, slowly undulating. My computer and work are 4500 kilometres away. It has been six years since I have had totally disconnected vacation.
The mottled colour of the morning ocean washes up on the shore. The formative volcanic crater Diamondhead rises in the distance, imposing yet spent. On the water’s surface is a peppering of early morning surfers, at the mercy of nature. Under, are the dark grey blotches of dead coral, at the mercy of man.
Periodically I have openlyshared my costs of carsharing with our local OGO Car Share Co-op. This will be the last time, since OGO has joined regional carshare co-op powerhouse Modo. Although I love my OGO, I am really happy that this is happening. Congrats to the whole OGO team here in Okanagan, and I am enjoying the same great service under the Modo brand now. Though, I am a little sad that my driver id number goes from “9” to “19-thousand-something-or-other.”
Carshare has been excellent for our car-less family, and as you can see from the data above, extremely economical. We have been trending up as my kids get older and ferrying them to activities has increased,† but we are still about a third of the average annual cost of ownership for a vehicle in Canada. You should consider it as an option, especially if you don’t quite need that second car.
† With regards to the kids activities: it boggles my mind that many of our local community centers do not have door-step public transit service. Every community center should have a bus loop with covered bus stops, no?
It has been a couple of months since I have made an entry here — it is merely due to life keeping me very busy. I am working on some large projects at my day job (at which I was recently promoted to Director, Platforms & Technology), and in late December was offered the opportunity to teach a class at the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus.The course is Digital Citizenship, a sort of technology ethics course. It was a last minute emergency appointment, and preparation for three lectures each week has taken all of my spare time. Luckily I am team-teaching with a very talented friend, otherwise there is no way I could do it.
Once things begin to calm down in late March or April, I should like to get back to writing. I certainly want to reflect on my experience teaching, and I still have to write about my new year’s trip to Japan, including my stay on one of Japan’s holiest mountains Koya-san (see pics here). Furthermore, there are a number of book reviews I need to write. See you in spring!
At 6am this morning I quietly rose out of bed, padded into the bathroom to wash the sleep out my eyes, and then sat down on a cushion in front of the fireplace in my living room, surrounded by shadow and silence. Crossing my legs into a half-lotus position, I took a couple of deep breaths, and then settled into my morning habit… a habit I have been able to maintain for 100 days as of today.
At the very beginning of this year I set out four “goals.” I wrote these goals on my dive slate which hangs in my shower. One was to build a meditation habit. Kickstarting that habit was a reason I went on retreat at the Birken Forest Monastery this summer. As a side note, one thing I have learned about New Years resolutions is to not necessarily try to do them cold turkey. Give yourself some space to build towards the goal, and when the time is right, it will happen. Two of my other goals (learn more about Buddhism, and lose weight) have been successful. This year I have lost 20 pounds and so far have read 13 books on Buddhism, in addition to going on 2 retreats and planning my third for the year end. It might take a few months to get started, so don’t give up on your resolutions too early.
But back to the meditation habit. As you can see from the data, I have been consistent ever since that time at the monastery, except for one day: Aug 19th. If not for that, I would be at 135 consecutive days. But who is counting? I suppose I should not cling to the numbers… 😉
100 days is nothing compared to more experienced practitioners, but it is a milestone for me. Meditation has been a game changer in terms of stress reduction. But there are many more benefits waiting to be unlocked. Currently I only do the basic breath meditation for about 20 mins per sit. I sit at least once a day, and often twice. More recently I have been listening to some guided mettā meditations. I would really like to explore other meditation techniques, but I feel like I need access to a teacher. Spending time at retreat helped me get started (I first picked up Bhante G’s Mindfulness in Plain English 7 years ago, but only sporadically tried to sit, and only did so for very short periods) and in order to move to the next level, I am going to look for more instruction.