Friday, June 18, 2004

Meal Conversations in Pune and Bangkok

Meal Conversations in Pune and Bangkok

The last time I had a good conversation about Indian religions was with my ex-colleague from India, Shailendra, many years back in Pune. Pune is a quaint city located in West India, surrounded by beautiful hills and boasts of a pleasant climate. Even though I only stayed there for a night, I remember being captivated by the quiet charm of the place.

With any of my other friends, our conversation would have revolved around the the 3 'W's: work, women and wine. But That night over dinner with Shailendra we talked animatedly about famous religious personalities from India like Vivekananda, Yogananda and Sri Aurobindo.

The next day Shailendra--knowing that I'm a great admirer of Gandhi--wanted to show me the historical Aga Khan Palace where the Mahatma was put under house imprisonment by the Britishs, but unfortunately it was closed for renovations. I had only one day and couldn't sample some of the other sights in Pune. But I was grateful to have had the opportunity to step foot into the cultural center of the Maharashtra state.

Pune is also famous among neo-hippies as the location for the Osho Meditation Resort. Osho is of course the late Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the disgraced sex guru who had and still has a huge following in the West. As a matter of fact, I do know at least two Indonesian friends of mine who are captivated by his teachings.

I suddenly recall Pune because I happened to have lunch here today in Bangkok with a new acquaintance, Jeff--a towering six-footer black American guy. He reminds me of Michael Clarke Duncan's character in the The Green Mile. Like the prisoner-cum-faith-healer character in the movie, Jeff is also a bit of a mystical person.

He told me how Yogananda's book, Autobiography of a Yogi influenced him a lot when he first read it as a sixteen-year-old teenager. I too am a great fan of the book and have read it at least twice and even listened to an audio version of it. Over lunch, our conversation ranged from Madame Blavatsky to Chinese acupuncture.

It was a welcome change indeed from the usual banter among male expatriates here about the charms of Thai women. And it gave me the perfect subject to blog on another Friday night alone in Bangkok...

Creepy Crawly Cuisine

Creepy Crawly Cuisine

I've seen fried insects being sold by some street vendors in Bangkok. Haven't bothered to try them yet but I must say, they look kind of delicious. I wouldn't mind sinking my teeth into a mouthful these crunchy bugs.

Those that I have seen look like locusts but I've read that there are other varieties that are popular too: bettles, silkworm pupae and ant eggs. I've read that they have even been canned and sold in supermarkets. Fancy having some Campbell Mixed Insect Soup?

Those locusts sold in the streets are fried to a crispy brown and I'm sure with the right sauce, they'll go well with a cold Singha beer. If you find that disgusting, let me tell you something that I've read from the book The Damage Done, by an Australian guy, Warren Fellows about his twelve years of incarceration in a Bangkok prison.

Caught for trafficking heroin in the late seventies, he was subsequently put behind bars in Bangkok's notorious Bang Kwang prison, a.k.a. Bangkok Hilton. What he went through there--if everything he claimed in the book is true--was many times worse than what the Abu Ghraib prisoners suffered. It was hell on earth.

There the prisoners--half-starved and under-nourished from their meagre daily ration of dirty maggot-infested rice--had to rely on cockcroaches as their source of protein. They actually reared and fattened these cockcroaches with rice in their "farm" under the floorboards. Every now and then they would open the boards, scoop up some of these creepy bugs in a can; pound them into a mash, and with some oil and salt, ate them raw!

Mashed raw cockcroaches anyone?

Wednesday, June 16, 2004



I can be quite good in my line of work if I bother to spend a greater portion of my time focussing on the subject. But unfortunately I have too many diverse interests--way too many things vie for my attention, at times even threatening my sanity. So throughout my entire "career", I've been able to work out a formula where by spending just enough time, and acquiring just enough knowledge in my field, I can pass as a reasonably competent IT professional. I can then spend the rest of my time pursuing other more interesting subjects--those that I normally write about in my blog.

Fortunately (or unfortunately) IT is so full of hype; and most people in the industry get by by knowing the jargons. As long as you make an effort to go slightly deeper than that, you'll do reasonably alright. But all the irritating buzzwords and hollow hype gets to you after all while. Most of the time they are intended to make simple things sound complicated. You have to treat it like a game sometimes. If you can't beat them, join 'em.

We can't deny that the IT revolution has changed our lives tremendously. We cannot imagine a life without the Internet now. An Internet connection is becoming like an IV drip, and us, the information dehydrated patients. At the risk of sounding like a Luddite, sometimes I think we should sit back and rethink where we are heading. Are we getting our priorities right?

Perhaps a lot of the technology stuff out there is just snake oil. Even though I don't agree with many of the things that Clifford Stoll wrote in his book Silicon Snake Oil, I believe he does have a point. How much more "information" do we really need? How important is it for us to have to know instantly what is happening in some remote part of the world? What's wrong with reading about it in the morning papers tomorrow?

Do all that information we lap up so hungrily really make any difference? Do they translate to "knowledge"? What significant difference do they make to the quality of our lives? Perhaps it is just a natural consequence of our deep-rooted social instinct to "connect" with other people; so it doesn't really matter what kind of information we are getting, as long as we are getting a constant supply of it. And like food, the fresher they is, the better we like it. Is that why we enjoy reading other people's blog?

I have no answers to all these questions. I'm just tired. As long as I'm getting my daily information fix, I'm alright. And I consider having done my duty when I have deposited my daily excrement of junk info into cyberspace for the consumption of other poor souls like me. Like what IT geeks like to say, garbage in, garbage out. Happy reading and blogging!

Eating and Drinking Right

Eating and Drinking Right

I've been eating a bit too much Kao Phad--Thai fried rice--for the past couple of weeks. I am fond of it because it is not as oily as the Indonesian or Chinese ones and it tastes very good with the fish sauce. I've also developed at taste for ground red pepper--Thais love to sprinkle the stuff liberally on everything they eat.

I'm back to my routine of not eating breakfast. People always say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and you musn't skip it. But I normally don't really feel hungry in the morning. Furthermore, lunch is only a couple of hours away; it is usually not possible to avoid it because you always have to join your friends and colleagues.

I realised that two meals a day is more than enough for me. Most of the time we feel hungry because we think about food too often--it doesn't really mean that the the body needs the energy. If we can overcome this irrational craving for food, we can overcome many of our weight-related problems.

There are so many theories about eating right. Some believe in food combining; some advocate cutting down on carbohydrates altogether; some avoid eating read meat. There are others who choose to become strict vegetarians. To me, moderation is the best policy.

Well, I have my superstition too--I believe in asking my own body: Any discomfort that I feel is an indication that I have eaten the wrong thing or have over-indulged in certain food. I suppose when it comes to healthy eating, everyone is entitled to their own pet theories to justify their own eating and drinking habits.

Monday, June 14, 2004

No Pang, No Tang

No Pang, No Tang

I've been watching live telecasts of Euro 2004 on the local Thai channels; unfortunately they are broadcasted with commentaries in Thai. Found a workaround for it: BBC Radio 5 provides live commentary, which I could stream with reasonably good quality to my laptop through my apartment's broadband connection.

So last night, I turned down the volume of my TV and listened to live commentaries from BBC. Well, never mind if there's like a 1 minute delay between the Internet audio broadcast and the live pictures. At least it is better than nothing--live football is not the same without British commentary.

Euro 2004 soccer is going to be a big distraction for me. Too bad I'm also saddled with a lot of work this week. Even blogging is going to be tough. I think I will have to give many of the matches a miss.

I am also going to abstain from reading anything non-IT related for a while. Don't feel like I'm giving my optimum performance yet. Maybe it is a bit stressful and probably not mentally healthy for me to be treating work as some kind of "performance" which I have to be always at my best. But I don't have much of a choice. Not performing means I do a bad job, which directly affects my rice bowl.

Now that I'm self-employed, I cannot take things for granted. Survival is at stake here. Which was what I had expected anyway, when I decided to leave Jakarta. I wanted to feel the pang and tang of life again.

One could look at animals in the zoo as being privileged creatures--well fed and never having to worry about fighting for their own survival. But what pitiful sights they are--those pathetic creatures in their cages! They are but pale shadows of their real selves. Only in the jungle, does a lion realises its true splendour.

In the wild, everything is more intense--the scent of prey, the thrill of the hunt, the pang of fear, and the sharp tang of blood. It's good to be back.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

The Fountain of the Mind

The Fountain of the Mind

Buddhists like to say that the untrained mind is like a wild monkey swinging aimlessly from branch to branch. The beginner who first practises meditation will find that his mind jumps randomly from one thought to another and it is so difficult for him to focus on just one thought--be it the breath or any other chosen object of concentration. For many Eastern religions, spiritual progress requires a mastery of the mind.

I am not exactly a regular meditator but I'm aware of the need to control the flow of thoughts in the mind so that we can focus better on the task at hand. Any kind of work requires concentration. If the mind is not concentrated, it simply cannot produce good work.

We can help induce concentration by reducing the physical distractions that surround us, such as TV, telephones, Internet and people. But we usually dislike doing so because whenever we cut ourselves out from the world, we feel very lonely. We prefer the comforting diversion of noise and conversations. In other words, we would rather have our minds be controlled randomly by the environment, because it is the easier thing to do.

After a lifetime of having our minds being let loose like wild monkeys in the jungle, it is obviously very difficult to regain control of them. The mind has become spoilt and even addicted to constant distractions. If we are not surfing the Net, we'll be scanning the TV channels, or randomly flipping through a glossy magazine. We want to latch on to things that amuse us and interest us. The mind abhors a vacuum.

So we treat our minds like vacuum cleaners, using it to suck in all interesting sensory input. Well, we can argue that without input, the mind will not learn anything. If we are careful and wise in selecting what we feed into our minds, we can grow.

It is quite true that our minds need intellectual nourishment to grow but if we only use our minds like a vacuum cleaner--even with a filter--we are only utilising half its capability. We are only capable of reacting to input. Our whole life then become a continuous sequence of stimulus and response. Nothing original ever comes out from our minds.

Which is why concentration and meditation is important. When we deliberately regain control of our minds, we disrupt that incessant flow of stimulus and response, and allow thoughts--creative thoughts--to flow out from the depths of our minds. I like to see the mind not as a dumb gobbler of input, but as a fountain, with an inexhaustable source.

When the mind is quiet and we deliberately allow it to focus on one thing, useful and creative ideas would spring out. The key is to create the right environment which would allow the mind to unfurl naturally like a flower.

The mind is by nature creative and is a constant wellspring of ideas. Unfortunately, like how we usually treat our environment, we tend to misuse and pollute this important natural resource, this divine fountain of the mind. And on those rare occasion when it does flow at all, what comes out is but a murky and brackish trickle.

Another Friday Night

Another Friday Night

Feeling lethargic the whole day after a tiring night out with my farang friend yesterday. Having had Thai food for the whole week, we decided to go for a Western dinner and somehow we ended up at the Hard Rock Cafe located at Siam Square.

There we finished a whole bottle of red wine, followed by vodka and gin. From HRC we adjorned to the popular CM2 bar at the basement of the Novotel Bangkok. And like many other trendy bars in Asia, the place is a "trading floor" for ladies-of-the-night: Singapore has Orchard Towers, Jakarta has BATS (Shangrila) and CJ's (Hotel Mulia Senayan), and I heard that in KL, the once respectable Beach Club is also gaining such a reputation.

These days it is almost impossible for a man (especially if you are a Westerner) to enjoy a quiet drink at a hotel bar without being approached by women. Men live in such a world of abundance, but when the pleasures of the flesh are so easily available, they lose a bit of their mystery and allure.

Don't know why, as I get older I am becoming more and more reclusive; I'd rather stay at home, surf the Net and sip some red wine. Sitting there watching the activities on the "trading floor", I wished I was back in the comforts of my apartment with my bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. The noisy band and the smoky environment made me feel extremely tired.

Luckily I didn't have to wait long; my farang friend managed to close his deal easily. I was happy to be able to head back alone to the sanctuary of my apartment. There I treated myself to a nice warm shower before crashing into bed, dead tired. Another Friday night in Bangkok, another blogless day.