The legend and the truth

To travel is amazing. Is cool. Is exciting. But to travel is also tiring and exhausting. Now that I’ve been back for a month, I realize how tiring traveling can be. The fact of moving constantly, the fact that you have to readapt every other day and face new realities and new people can be tiresome. I don’t how many times I had to repeat my story. Where I’m from, where I’m going, why I’m traveling and so on. Over and over again. Everybody goes “Wow! I wish I could do the same!” and maybe they really mean it, but then they don’t do it. Maybe because they know deep down inside that to travel is actually a “job”, it takes a toll on you, like every other job. Maybe they know that it can be lonely, and that sometimes you feel lost and abandoned. That traveling is not just about money and meeting people and see cool stuff. Traveling is also getting to know yourself, testing your limits. And sometimes it is scary. Sometimes you don’t know if you’ll make it, you don’t know what you’re going to eat that day, or if you’re even eating at all, you don’t know where you will sleep and who you’ll meet. Of course it’s all part of the adventure and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in this world, but sometimes we all need to stop and make home even if for a couple of days. We all need a little consistency, for some peace of mind. And then your feet start to itch again and you’re ready for your next adventure, for your next connection, your next flight. Now that I’ve been back for a month, I feel the urge to move, to pack my bag and go. I’m nervously checking the flights and I’m already thinking about my next trip. I have this need to meet new people, see new places, eat different things. I need to feel free, to be out in this world, the travel bug had infested my body and there’s no cure. I just need to travel. I can’t explain the adrenaline that rushes through your veins when you arrive in a new place, when to talk to someone new, when you have to face a new problem in a strange land and you manage to solve it. I really miss all that, and even though I love my family and I like to spend time with them, the call of the wild is stronger. I left this instinct sleep for a few years but now that it’s awaken again there’s no way to put it back to sleep. I watch the pictures from my trip and I’m back there, with the sounds, the smells, the breeze and my heart starts to long. I have to be patient and wait just a little longer and I know it’s for a reason. But it’s really hard, I’d take the first plane out if I could, but I’ll try to calm myself and use this time to organize better my next trip. I’m like the scorpion from the tale, it’s beyond my control.

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The end is the beginning is the end… 

And like everything else this trip has also arrived at its end.  I left Goa with a bitter taste in my mouth as I knew that I was not coming back. At least for a while.  Arrived in Mumbai in the morning I went to my host house.  Rintu is a nice guy from the north east of India that has moved to Mumbai for his studies and has not moved back.  He smiles from down the road,  a nice and honest smile that makes his round face shine.  He looks more Indonesian than Indian so I tell him but he confirms that he is Indian.  After a shower and a quick chat we have breakfast in his place and then we take a bus to go to the train station to go south where the historical area is.  Mumbai is a big city but I like it more than Delhi. The weather is much nicer and people seem more relaxed.  Rintu takes me around,  we walk for a couple of hours and I’m in owe of the beautiful crumbling buildings,  remainings of the British era.  I take a lot of pictures as usual and the heat is quite hard to stand after a while.  So we decide to go for lunch at a local unnamed restaurant where we have thali.  My last one… 

I was on the mood for beer so after a shower and a quick nap for dinner with Rintu we go for beer and food at a place nearby his house.  The following morning we wake up early but we’re both very lazy so we chat,  have breakfast,  we take tea and chat some more and only at 12 o’clock we decide it’s time to go out.  We go to a mall nearby (India distances) where we meet a couple of Rintu’s friends and where we shop the ingredients for the dinner that I’m asked to cook.  Brunch was nicely offered and cooked by Rintu so for supper is my turn.  I happily agree as cooking is always a pleasure to me.  I cook spaghetti with vegetables in tomato sauce and Rintu is very satisfied. We chat some more and then it’s time to head out to go and get my 3.00am flight to Venice.  

Parting time is a difficult moment for me. Although I know it’s good for me to go home it’s still very sad.  These last 2 days spent with Rintu and his friends have been very good and made me think of all the good things I lived during the last 7 months and all the beautiful people I met along the way and that it will be be hard for me to readjust to “normal” life back in Europe,  a lifestyle that I’ve often longed for during these months but that at the same time I don’t feel mine anymore.  In India,  in Asia people are maybe less “civilized”, trash is very common in the streets and hygiene level is not what we know.  But people seem more carefree,  happier,  they dress in color and talk to each other.  Once again Asia has been a good school of life for me.  I learnt so much of myself,  of the world,  of the fact that I call myself open minded but in the end I’m prejudiced and racist as those that I judge.  I have tried to get rid of all the conventions acquired during my life in a privileged society that considers itself better than the eastern society (unknowingly most of the times) but where we’re all stressed and grey,  where the colors we use to wear in general reflect the status of our souls,  grey and black.  A friend of Rintu just got back from Paris and complained of the fact that people look sad and angry and they dress all in black (comment made also by a friend from KL). 

It’s good to travel abroad,  I know.  And at every trip I realize how much I don’t know about life and about myself.  Landing in Paris to catch my connection to Venice I shed some tears.  I’m happy I will soon see my friends and my family but I know already that I will miss these last months. I will miss the train rides,  the colors,  the food, the smile on people faces,  the interest that people have shown towards me (although at the time it was really annoying having to repeat over and over the same things).  I will miss my portable wardrobe and the excitement to try a new restaurant,  to visit a new city.  It will take me some time to grasp the entire experience that I lived in the last months and probably when I’ll see the whole picture I will be taken aback.  In the meantime I will try to enjoy my family and my friends that although miles away have been with me the whole trip.

Vipassana (or the wanderous mind)

(DISCLAIMER.  The following words are just a reflection of my experience and feelings regarding vipassana.  I don’t mean to pass in any way a judgment on vipassana and people who practice it

I did it.  Well,  not really.  I started it and I left after a few days.  It was just not for me.

I entered the gate a little nervously as I felt like an aspiring monk entering the gates of the monastery.  But I was sure of what I was doing.  I really wanted to experience this thing of which everyone who done it before spoke wonders. Registration was quick and uneventful (although they took our passports,  as per law,  and told us to leave all our important things,  money,  phone, credit cards in the locker and it felt a little like a kidnapping) and we were showed to our rooms.  First deception.  In the webpage it was indicated that we would have a double room but instead I was given a bed in a dorm with other 30 beds.  OK,  no big deal,  I slept so many times in a dorm,  I’m not here on holiday so it’s OK (kinda…) 

At 6pm we were served dinner and after that we were to go to Dhamma hall for presentation and there again another strange thing happened.  We were given our seats and we’re supposed to stick to them for the entire time. No free sitting … Strange,  but again,  no big deal. 

Presentation over we did some meditation and I realized that my back was suffering.  I thought to myself that it was normal,  it would get used to it. Time to bed. 

The morning after we wake up at 4 am,  time for some toiletry and then meditation from 4.30 to 6.30. My back was soar so I was shifting position every 5 minutes,  no much concentration was possible but again I thought it will pass.  At six comes the next surprise.  An excruciating chanting in Sanskrit (or whatever the language is…) from a seemingly dying man.  Here an example. 

At the beginning I laughed but after 5 minutes I was going mad and wanted to scream ENOUGH!!! Thankgod I refrained myself.  At 6.30 the whining was finally over and we had breakfast.  A little break and some napping.  At 8 we were back in Dhamma hall.  More meditation and more shifting position,  more chanting and it was time for lunch.  At 11am.  One hour break and at 1pm back to meditate.  My back was already screaming in pain but I wanted to resist.  It was my duty because I had been accepted and took some else’s place so I had to stay.  Some more meditating,  suffering,  shifting and chanting later and it was tea break when according to the website we were to be served some fruit juice or a piece of fruit.  But arrived to the dining hall all we found was a fluorescent carbonated soda that I would never even dream of drinking in real life.  But that was the dinner,  no more food until next day so I got my bottle and drank it to the last drop.  Some more sitting,  chanting, suffering later it was time for an explanation video in dining hall.  

It was supposed to help us during our journey in vipassana but the audio was so bad I got only half of what was said.  At 8.15 pm we were back to Dhamma hall and at 9.30pm we were in bed.  

The following day was the same thing only I managed to have a low chair to help with my back problems.  And it did help – my back – only now it was my neck that took all the pain.  And the second half of the day I started to question myself and to wander if that was really what I wanted.  But I decided to take some more time and see if it got better.  But I was not able to concentrate and “work” properly.  I started to see what in my opinion was wrong with the situation. 

My back was getting a hard blow from all the dullness,  the chanting didn’t mean anything to me (and I  bet I didn’t for the majority of people in the room …),  everyone was suffering from the sitting position as we were all trying to stretch as much as we could during the short breaks we had.  No physical activity is allowed,  nothing,  nada,  niet, rien, niente! So what about the old saying “mens sana in corpore sano“? According to vipassana even the physical activity is “bad” as it distracts you from meditation.  So the only thing allowed is to sit,  concentrate on your breathing and clear your mind.  And think about nothing. And I asked myself : what’s this?  What’s the good in this?  What kind of living is this? What’s the good I can provide just sitting all day and thinking of nothing?  If we were born to do NOTHING  the whole day we would be clams so… Why am I here?  I’m not condemning the entire meditation practice  and as a matter of fact I actually enjoy it for a short period of time (one hour is enough for me)  but 11 hours a day is a bit too much (again my opinion).  I know I’m an action-holic and I like to DO,  but I’m genuinely convinced that physical activity is the best practice to clear the mind and at the same time fix your body (as long as it is done in the right way).  Stillness is not a natural state,  everything moves, flows and evolves, nothing is immutable not even the rocks and sitting like a lotus flower the whole day cannot be positive.  Getting good shouldn’t necessarily go through suffering (and sitting in that position is suffering for everyone).  Listening to some incomprehensible chanting cannot have any good return on people if they dunno what it’s said.

I was expecting something else, I thought it was more like a free meditation place,  with some guidance provided by the teachers. I was expecting some real teaching on Buddhism,  I was expecting some guidance but the teachers  just limited themselves to sit and tell you to breath deeper if you could not concentrate.  It was all more like a military camp,  a dogma place where you are told what to do and you do it no questions asked.  That was really too much for me.  I don’t work like that. So on the morning of the fourth day I made up my mind and decided to leave.  I was not happy there and it didn’t make any sense for me to stay. I inform the teacher and what he did he just laughed at my face probably thinking that I was a weak mind and didn’t get the enlightenment, I was not a noble soul. I don’t care. Life is more than that,  people are around us to help us, to provide us of the security we all crave,  not to be ignored and not even looked at (because it was “noble silence” and no eye contact was allowed), they are not some pollution in our lives.  They are not there to “distract us”, they are not,  or should not be treated as ghosts walking around us,  the breeze is a good thing,  it give us a good feeling of fresh and relief.  It’s not a nuisance that mingles with our own breath (contrary to what the webpage says no walking meditation was allowed either).  Maybe I wasn’t doing it right,  maybe I wasn’t doing it for the right reasons, maybe I’m not enlightened enough,  maybe I’m not a noble soul,  or maybe I’m just too stupid to understand the real meaning of all that.  But I’m a very pragmatic person – some say I’m too pragmatic – and I don’t like to do things just because someone said so,  I like to understand what I do,  I like to feel I’m DOING something and if it’s good for me and beneficial for the society it’s even better.  Vipassana is the contrary of what I believe in.  I probably should have asked more questions before doing it but I don’t see this as a negative experience. Maybe I’ve been too ambitious,  maybe I should have done the 4 days course but I’m still glad I did it. My goal to do vipassana was to get to know me better and I do now.  I know what I want,  what I’m good at and what I’m not good at.  For me it is still a success. Know thy limits.  If people can really get a benefit from vipassana I’m more than happy. It’s just not for me.  Whatever works.  That’s what matters.  

I could do with the wake up at 4am,  I could do with the chanting (with a big effort)  I could even do without dinner (if you do nothing the whole day you don’t get that hungry) but I certainly couldn’t do with the sitting and suffering in silence for something that it’s no good for me. But again I don’t regret doing it.  Things are just things and what matter is the lesson you can get from them,  what matters is to get the good out of them and use it to have a better life and that’s what’ll I do.  Now I know myself a little better and I’m gonna use this knowledge to have (or try to)  a better life.  Things are for a reason and no matter what happens they are good because they guide you to the place you are supposed to be. 

 
If you want to know more:

http://www.joti.dhamma.org/

THE COURSE TIMETABLE
The following timetable for the course has been designed to maintain the continuity of practice. For best results students are advised to follow it as closely as possible. (but you’re really not allowed to do differently…) 
4:00 am Morning wake-up bell

4:30-6:30 am Meditate in the hall or in your room

6:30-8:00 am Breakfast break

8:00-9:00 am Group meditation in the hall

9:00-11:00 am Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher’s instructions

11:00-12:00 noon Lunch break

12noon-1:00 pm Rest and interviews with the teacher

1:00-2:30 pm Meditate in the hall or in your room

2:30-3:30 pm Group meditation in the hall

3:30-5:00 pm Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teacher’s instructions

5:00-6:00 pm Tea break

6:00-7:00 pm Group meditation in the hall

7:00-8:15 pm Teacher’s Discourse in the hall

8:15-9:00 pm Group meditation in the hall

9:00-9:30 pm Question time in the hall

9:30 pm Retire to your own room–Lights out

Summing it up : Malaysia 

Now that I’ve left Malaysia I see how much more westernized it is comparing to the other SE Asia countries.  

I’ve spent around 40 days in the land where number 4 is forbidden (4 and death have the same sound in Chinese),  where English is phonetic (teksi,  polis,  julai… Etc) and the currency has the name of a cartoon character (Ringgit). 

I was not meant to spend all that time there but I decided to extend my stay and take a massage course.  Kuala Lumpur is very cheap comparing to every other big cities I’ve been.  Food is extremely cheap and being multicultural by nature you can find every type of food.  I got stuck with Indian,  and with roti canai in particular (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roti_canai).

The population is composed by Malay,  Chinese and Indian for the majority.  Only a small percentage is made of foreigners (and there are many).  In Malaysia is difficult to meet people (as explained in my previous post)  but I still managed to meet a few very cool characters.  In particular my CS hosts.  The islands are beautiful places and in general pretty well preserved.  Tourism has not corrupted all yet.  

Every nationality is well integrated in Malaysian lifestyle but each of them keep their own specifics.  Chinese feel Chinese,   Indian feel Indian (as opposed to Malay)  but neither of them would like to live in their original country. It’s funny how they insist on the fact that they are this or that although their passport is Malay. 

I volunteered for 2 weeks in Oriental Heritage House and even if nothing went wrong I didn’t enjoy the experience (but the house is amazing!!! https://m.facebook.com/orientalheritagehouse/). I didn’t really learn anything and the communication with the management is very poor.  Also it is in a very quiet area but this means that you’re far from the city center and the public transport is very bad – as in Kuala Lumpur in general.  So,  since I was busy only in the mornings I decided to fulfill a dream that I had for long time and take massage classes in the afternoon. 

After a research in internet I decided to go to Wellness art training centre (https://m.facebook.com/well.ness.3158) in the very center of the city,  a few steps away from the famous towers.  It all started on a bit bumpy way.  I had discovered that my CC had been cloned so my bank blocked it.  Therefore I could not pay the entire price in one go and the management insisted that I had to pay before starting the class.  I told them I could not and if it was a problem I would just cancel the course.  They told me it was OK but the didn’t stop to send me WA messages asking me how I was and when I could pay.  So at one moment I told them that their attitude was very annoying because I felt they didn’t trust me.  And I understood that they don’t know me so why should they trust me but also told them that in Europe you can pay in two or three times and it was not an issue.  And the management replied that in Malaysia things are different.  And so I realized that even in the small things we have to be careful.  We all think in different ways and we should understand that something that is absolutely common for us it might not be for some other culture. 

If I had to choose one Asian country to live in Malaysia would be one of the candidates but honestly I felt a bit lonely there.  People told me that Malaysia is cool,  fold is amazing and places are beautiful.  And it is true.  But still.  There’s something missing that I cannot quite spot.  I still enjoyed my stay in KL and I loved my massage classes.  

I’m still in touch with some of the people I met along the way and hopefully I will see them again some day. 

The bubble 

So… Where to start… 

I’ve been in KL for more than one month now and I think it’s time for me to move on. The time spent here it’s been good,  a needed a little nest to make home for a little while.  Travelling is cool but it’s also tiring and every now and then is good to go back to the comfort zone. 

But yeah my time here is up.  I realized it yesterday. It took me time to buy the ticket to Cambodia.  And not only because of the problems I had with my credit card (yes.  It’s been cloned… but this is another story…).  It’s been difficult to make up my mind and buy the ticket because I was good here in KL,  I had a home again and it was nice to settle down in the everyday routine.  But luckily for me KL is not the place I wanna settle down again.  It’s a big city but still very human in a way.  The prices are honest (apart from the rent,  like in Barcelona basically) and the food is good.  But the dark side of it all is that people here are very busy, for real or not. 

It’s really hard to meet anybody,  let alone get to know them.  Via couchsurfing and other apps I got in touch with hundreds of people (not kidding) but I managed to meet only a few.  They’re all super interested in meeting with you but you can never get a date from them.  And when you finally get a date they cancel at the last moment.  Or you meet,  all goes well,  “let’s meet again ” but again never comes.  You have to organize with at least a couple of weeks in advance.  It’s true that distance here can be discouraging and that public transportation is awful but still… There is always something else in the middle. Commitment is a word that is not really taken into consideration in KL.  The enthusiasm is killed easily.  I feel like they are collecting chats or friends in CS or FB.  The virtual word is waaaaaay more important that the real one.  Even when people go out together they are checking their phones all the time.  There is always someone or something else capturing their attention.  They’re there but not really. I’ve wasted so much time and energy try to connect with locals and in the end I was so frustrated that I decided not to open any app anymore. 

I have only a few days left in KL.  Time to finish my classes (to be discussed in next chapter)  and then I’m off to Phnom Penh.  I’m really looking forward to visit Cambodia.  A change of scenery will do me good.