Monday, August 28, 2006


Last week, my sickness waned, strengthened then waned again. After my two sick days, my short working week (back to 3 days) was frenetic including a Friday which would be a record (effectively 6.5 hours of teaching in a 7.5 hour period). My weekend was a rollercoaster with highlights of having friends over for dinner and putting my first set of lentil plants into my mother's garden where I hope they'll take root and do what they may (I hope they produce lentils but anything would be nice to watch). The aftermath was that I was back to health and ready for a new week.

However, work-wise, Monday and Tuesday have been disastrous, with my company responsible failing to set up the lesson schedule for me this week, and then her getting sick for the first two days of the week, thus cutting off contact and leaving me without any work except to ring people left, right and centre to piece together the situation. But that is work-work, finding more time on my hands, suddenly re-planting the kawakawa, coprosma and minature horopito in the front lawn. Upon hearing that a high was over the country to stay for a few days I washed almost every washable item for my bed and clothing and it is now hanging gloriously from the line. Since my elderly neighbours putting lawn clippings in our rubbish bin (long story), I created a compost area with discarded branches (a true compost bin, as the branches will compost in the end too). I pickled mushrooms, worked out the problem with my mum's computer and had another friend over for dinner. So I have managed to convert my workless time into concrete outcomes.

Having people over for dinner is rather easy when you have a place of your own. "Xin, shall we have Paul over?" "Okayyyy". And it was done. Resource consent is not difficult at all.

Monday, August 21, 2006


My back is finally almost right.
My ankles are coming into stability.
My weight has come down.
I have been sleeping well again...

And after all those victories, I have been knocked over by a nasty cold, which I think is my first of the year. It is my first sick-day this year. Sick days immediately hit my income which is always a consideration. Irritating for me is that this week at my new company I was to do evaluations for two new students which immediately increases my hourage there. But these things are all unavoidable and the best option is always to allow rest to overcome the lurgy.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Process and Ritual

I have been reading a lot of books lately. I have read large portions of The Science of Realization (one of the Hare Krishna books that they try to get you to buy on Queen St), ripped through the Sutra of Weilang and now have started Vigil of a Nation of a much lauded Chinese author Lin Yutang.

The Hare Krishna book was very interesting for about the first half. The author (the dour looking master you may see in pictures related to Hare Krishna stuff) outlines the system of Hare Krishna thought well and argues in a sophisticated manner. I appreciate the simplicity of the system, it is much more logical than Christianity's convoluted logic (with all due respect to Jesus). His zeal to prove Kare Krishna thoughts leaves a lot of dogma explained to my satisfaction. Interestingly, a few correspondents argued with him quite successfully on some points and these letters are included in the work. I'm interested in getting a Bhagavad Gita written in natural English.

My interest in that was wiped away by re-infatuation with Zen. As mentioned, prior to finding the Sutra of Weilang, I already had it encroaching on my mind. Now, I am interested in getting all I can on buddhism. It is perhaps the sudden relevance to some mundane thoughts that bring it so strongly to mind. Let me take you back to 1999 March/April at Wellington when I was on the Organising Committee for NZ Motivational Seminar. It was the beginning of a burst of philosophical thought in me that took me to Taoism. I was there in the kitchen cleaning na incessantly building pile of dishes and finding the simple process of cleaning to be a great pleasure. I felt so pure just doing this routine over and over again. The realisation that there was no such thing as boredom or meaninglessness was probably one of the most profound that I have had and still influences me strongly.

Life, especially keeping a home, is process. Everything is process. And thus everything is Zen. We hosted some friends for dinner last night. Making chapatis was great. Cooking was pleasure. Organising the house was a wonder. I was having far too much fun before the guests had arrived.

I remember my amusement when I first saw the Japanese tea ceremony, one step after the other, after the other. I despised the arbitrariness of each step. Watching it though, in Drawing Restraint 9, was beautiful. I realised it was a process.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

A Zen / Dao metaphor like this: You are in a boat in a lake, suddenly you notice a boat being sailed directly toward you. You yell at the person, but it keeps coming closer. You curse the sailor and have a case of boat rage when it eventually hits your boat. Now consider what you would do if the other boat was empty i.e. it was just drifting with the wind. There would be no anger. You wouldn't curse or wish pain upon anyone. You'd just do your best to avoid it. And if it did hit, you would focus on what is important – saving yourself and recovering your boat.

It is an allusion to being dispassionate when someone does you ill. The point being, if you do meet misfortune because of someone else, you should just treat it as fate, that the other boat is empty and do what you can to improve the situation, rather than being angered by the action. Zen is big on detachment.

Last Thursday there was a wonderful moment to test this out. Some individual(s) decided to go down Marsden Avenue smashing passenger windows, opening them up and searching them for valuables. Zu, our reliable car, was caught in the devastation and gained the car equivalent of a black eye. I hadn't realised it till a neighbour knocked on my door while I was making dinner. To be honest, on hearing the news and seeing the resulting mess, my blood pressure hardly rose. I was quite detached and peaceful.

However, time does prove us all wrong. After telling Xin about it and her telling me she was too preoccupied to come home immediately to help deal with it, my peace was shattered. It is hard to empty the boat when it is someone you love. Obviously I still have some cultivation of my mind still to go until I am peaceful when my expectations are dashed by a person close to me.

I've always been a calm person – I thought I had to learn to show anger more or people won't take a grievance seriously. Once, when Vanessa unilaterally controlled the fate of a certain photograph, I wanted to show anger because considering it was a mere photograph, it was hard to make such a small issue an issue something worth protesting about. So I went through all sorts of rather artificial actions to express my disappointment and frustration. It was hard work getting angry, and it was for no result greater than harming a friendship.

Is expressing anger in any situation productive to a relationship or friendship? It is hard to imagine. If one can be dispassionate and accepting, but honest to express their qualms or disagreements it would seem to be a better course, if they can help it.

For me, today has been great. I have done my dream of "A thousand miracles before sunrise" (waking early and getting into doing so many little tasks). My rubbish collection was a little late but all other tasks were done. I resolved most of the smashed window problem (just need to call someone on Monday to fit it). I hosted some friends for morning tea and the hummus I made after that is a beautiful colour and doesn't taste half-bad. I have prepared my first ever batch of naan bread (another indian bread) which needs to sit for a couple of hours before being cooked in a hot oven. Can't wait!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


This year there has been a surprising number of landslips and mudslides reported in the media. Most of these are caused by agricultural techniques to raise livestock. Land is deforested to create grazing land and roots of trees that usually support the land are removed hence the higher risk of gradual erosion and sudden slides. This produces externalities to many parts of the community. I can remember from my youth many rivers being brown, and that is the way it is for many towns. As the silt accumulates, as the river floor rises, the river can no longer be held by its banks, which have to be built higher and higher.

So who is responsible? The farmers who often inherited the treeless legacy, or consumers who tend to overlook the responsibilities associated with consumption? What is a responsible course?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Reflections on my way to work on the bus

At a bus-stop shelter, you'll often see marker pen graffiti on the glass. I started scratching it with my nails, with limited and messy success. I picked up a wet leaf, and surprisingly it came off with ease.

You can't tell a book by its cover it's mostly true. But as a ship bears flags of its purpose and provenance so do people tend to be revealed by appearance. However never take an aphorism to be true just because it is an aphorism. Just as you wouldn't rely solely on appearance as definitive evidence of a person's nature. Truisms are weeds to the logical mind.

Across from me is a man who boarded the bus at the same stop as I did. He had been singing audibly at the bus-stop, and in the lack of company in his vicinity, has been talking effusively in a quiet voice several rows ahead of me, to himself. His readable cover might be that of a person with dementia, or perhaps just a little eccentric. Both conclusions come from my mind only - nothing compels them to be true. He leaves the bus with his business satchel slung over his shoulder, just as I might. I sing as I walk to the carpooling point too.

Man, the photo for the TV1 drinking age survey advertisement has two of the fakest smiles you'll ever see. As I write this, several row behind me, the girls in the back-row start discussing the drinking age. Psychic networking?

The background song in my mind as I write is Thom Yorke's "The Clock". I had heard it for the first time on the radio (Radio Live, the only commercial station I have found any interest in of late, 100.6FM - although I've never listened to the main hosts) - it sounded like an incessant whining drone - a song I was surprised to be hearing on the radio. Now I have the CD and suddenly its unique beat has created its own imagined music video in my mind. I can picture Thom beating a bongo drum (not unlike Andy Kauffman in Man on the Moon) even though its an electronic song with a dead serious face as he wails against the Clooooooock~ It's a beautiful song.

The bus almost pulled into a white sedan trying to squeeze by at speed before the bus came out. I wouldn't have notice if it weren't for the same girls behind swearing in shock in a loud voice. I'm too busy writing in amongst the mental drumming.

A man is patting his thighs waiting at a crossing. Is it Ka Mate? He dashes across opportunistically, before the signal.

Tim Allen is the Shaggy Dog, In Cinemas April

(Inuit) Exeunt

Monday, August 07, 2006

Cleaning and Zen

Cleaning and tidying are interesting activities. There can be actions which are cleaning explicitly and deliberately. Like when you plug in the vacuum cleaner and motor it around the house. There can be incidental cleaning, like cleaning the bath while you are taking a shower. There is habitual orderliness, which is the prevention of the need of cleaning. If you don't dirty things, they naturally don't need cleaning. Somehow, for me this recalls two Zen Buddhist poems.

In a temple where the Fifth Patriarch of Zen taught there were two promising student, Shenxiu, who was something of an academic and Huineng, a 'barbarian' from the South of China. Shenxiu was admired by others and was widely expected to become the Sixth Patriarch. The Patriarch himself decided that there should be a competition to write a poem that describes Buddha-nature. Shenxiu wrote:

The body is a Bodhi tree,
the mind a standing mirror bright.
At all times polish it diligently,
and let no dust alight.

Huineng wrote in reply:

Bodhi is no tree,
nor is the mind a standing mirror bright.
Since all is originally empty,
where does the dust alight?

The latter 'won' and the Patriarch gave the ceremonial robe to Huineng. The poem itself is a favourite of mine, hanging on one of the walls in my home (as is Huineng one of my favourite characters of Buddhist history).

However if we are talking about the real world of cleaning, the theorising doesn't work. You cannot make your home clean by realising that cleanliness is an empty abstraction. I agree if Shenxiu when it comes to cleaning. My house is a bodhi tree, and the windows mirrors bright, we should constantly keep it clean and let not dust alight... lest we gain grimy corners.

Interestingly, after I started writing this (I saved it on Monday), I found the Sutra of Weilang at Jason's bookstore (only after browsing did I realise that Weilang was an old romanisation of Huineng's name (probably in Cantonese, which is apt because Huineng was Cantonese). Nice synchronicity and enough to persuade me to buy it.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Simple Joys

I had never eaten a chapati prior to my own making of one, nor had I eaten Essene bread before I made it myself. Learning something foreign and then mastering it is one undeniable pleasure and moreso when it is culinary and success can be gauged by your own sense enjoyment.

Chapatis come from the Indian flatbread family. My first attempt at this family were stuffed parathas, which Xin said was not cooked enough (but could not be cooked more). Disappointed, I decided to try puris (deep fried bread). That was very popular and tasted quite good. I learnt a few lessons from that. Especially the best ways to knead and how to roll them better. I tried a chapatti which, though biscuit-like, were well cooked and tasty and I managed to roll them up with newly-made hummus for Xinna in a small crisis. I immediately went for a tricky recipe and put blended spinach in the dough making a beautiful green. The taste did not match the beauty.

Each time, I was not completely satisfied with the result, but last night again I tried plain ones and suddenly it went perfectly. The expanded as they should – looking just like restaurant ones. It was a simple joy to make them.

Essene bread is an interestingly simple recipe. It has only one ingredient: blended wheat sprouts. I had a go at this several weeks ago and although the taste was interesting, I could not say that I liked it. I resolved to repeat the recipe with my own extra ingredients: ground almonds, cinnamon and honeysuckle honey. Again, it was much better. Alice and Mark (especially the latter) took to it keenly this morning. I am not yet satisfied I have a recipe to keep on advancing it, using the wheat sprouts as a base and change the ingredients and cooking time.

Interestingly, I have never made traditional leavened bread – something I will remedy at some stage.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Life changes, changes everything. Life makes the rules...

I've tried to be rather progressive with my routines lately. My mornings on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are now effectively set in concrete. I wake at 5:30am, make breakfast, water sprouts, transport potplants to window-sills, make Xinna a Daniel sandwich, brew a ton of tea and head out the door at 6:30am. I charge up Mt Eden rd at a brisk pace, entering Big King reserve within 5 minutes to be immersed in the minature, but pleasant, Dawn Chorus - sipping hot green tea and ginkgo from my flask. I plough up the mountain and back down again, greeting the likewise earlybird dog-owners who do their walking in the twilight before sunrise. I get to the pick-up point just on the turn of 7am and wait for my ride, doing a few stretches.

I like routines. If I had to turn bow down to any master, it would be to the clock (and if I had to bow down to a mistress, it would be Xinna). In the evenings likewise, I am drilled into a routine. Getting dinner underway and ready, while managing cleaning, updating lesson plans, sprout management, watching the news and downing tea by the time Xin comes back. Then to bed by 9:30pm (that's the target, which I often fail).

I have brand-new projects. I have officially started my morning rubbish collection on Saturday mornings. I have already made a new neighbourly friend, Lao Guo, a 70 years+ Chinese man who lives down the street. He accompanied me on my walk. After that, I return to make a sandwich (or two) while porridge is cooking. I do Taichi after that at One Tree Hill.

My sprouting activities have moved to the a more sophisticated food gardening, transferring successful broccoli and lentil sprouts to egg carton cups and a little soil. I know have 24 broccoli seedlings and 12 lentil plants growing, hopefully into whole plants.

I had a moment of realisation during the week. After Fiona left from picking up hummus and Xin came home for dinner, I suddenly realised this abode was in fact now my home, and was rather homely. I have gain comfort and rhythm - the necessary criteria for a homely feeling for me.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Middle East

I've never believed in Karma in a metaphysical sense but there is a lot to be said about Karma in geopolitics and life in general. The whole of human history is karma, its build up and realisation - and this is shown clearly in the Middle East. Looking at it historically, it is rather cringe-worthy, firstly the Biblical lead up, the Crusades of the Dark Ages, Zionism of the last century and the present day result. Karma is being inflicted on the civilians of the involved states, and karma is being built up again through the actions of both sides.

In the metaphysical world of karma, you reap what you sow, and this is what we'd hope would be true in the real actions of the world. To this of course we must ask, why do both sides unremittingly sow malevolence?

How do we solve the Middle East conflict? You can't. It can only be untied by the expense of lives and time while letting the bad karma be 'realised' and only then can peace stand a chance.