Thursday, December 30, 2010

beginner at being a beginner

For a very long time, I earned a living by doing something that I've been doing for a long time. Through a lot of trainings and experience I naturally became good at it. Do you know that “auto pilot” mode, where one can smoothly handle a wide variety of situations without needing to think? That was the case for me most of the time. Even if I needed to think, that was often because I needed to calculate the options, not a need to come up with a really novice solution.

Then I decided to quit that all together to start something entirely new. That entirely new thing had nothing in common with what I've been doing all along. It was difficult in many ways, but mostly because I forgot what it feels like being a beginner at something that matters. Learning, trying to retrieve that new information, grasping the tweaks, finding the gray shades when all that I've learned was black and white... But maybe most importantly accepting that I am a beginner and by definition there is a long path of learning ahead of me. That not all learning is smooth, fun and has immediate positive results. Somethings depend purely on experience and accumulation of knowledge and without them, one can just be “average” to start with. That some patterns are very deeply etched and it takes more than a one-month intensive training to shift.

I'm learning to teach yoga. I've always known that how I practice yoga on the mat is a pure reflection of how I play in life... Now I am also discovering that how I play in life is a pure reflection of how I teach. I cannot teach beyond my limitations, so I constantly need to expand and to transcend all the while I am struggling to be a beginner. It's mostly exhausting. Yet in rare occasions that I can pull myself a little back and look at it, then it feels good. It's very empowering to be able let go of somethings and have new beginnings, however awkward they may be initially.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

dubai lessons - part 2

Before I left Dubai in August 2009, I decided to store my items, thinking that I'd be back in a few months, to find another corporate job, rent a place and get back to “normal life”. The warehouse guys came to pack and told that my items would take 18 cubic meters of space. I barely had any furniture besides a sofa and a bed, so it meant that I had 18 cubic meters of stuff. Stuff of all sorts like useless kitchen gadgets, accessories, cables, notebooks, coin collections... and of course clothes, shoes and bags, heaps of them... I had closets full of t-shirts that I didn't even have time to wear even once. Shoes that still had the price tags on. I regularly had to buy extra shelves to be able to store shoes... That of course didn't change the drama of “Oh, I have nothing to wear to the office today”every morning.

I had a hole inside. I thought if I stuffed it with shoes and dresses, the hole would be mended and I would be complete. I kept buying, I spent with a vengeance, I thought it was my right to earn so much and to spend so much because it was my reward for putting up with the work life and nicely playing my role in it.

I kept shopping, I owned more stuff but it didn't help with the hole. I didn't feel complete. Quite the contrary, the discrepancy and the frustration felt bigger and bigger every day. In order not to notice the discrepancy, I shopped more. That's how I ended up with 18 cubic meters of stuff. Then for another year, I paid a really high rent to make sure that my stuff was well taken care of in an air-conditioned warehouse. Ironically, all the time that precious18 cubic meters was sitting in a warehouse, I was happily living in Bali with one bag full of clothes and books. 10 months passed that I didn't need a single thing other than what I already had with me. Slowly I started to realize that the need didn't come from the actual variety of t-shirts or the number of shoes that I had. It was a distortion of my perception.

It is difficult to turn the attention inwards, to notice and to admit an emotional hole. It is painful and the roots go way beyond a single shopping spree. So I had chosen the path of least resistance, to keep my attention outwards, and to buy stuff, assuming that they will make me a better person. Through yoga and one breath at a time, I started to realize that it all came from within, so it had to be completed also from within. To own and then to be addicted to that ownership wouldn't really solve anything.

I realized the true meaning of the quote “things you own end up owning you”. I had stuff sitting in a warehouse and costing me, as well as taking a lot of my mental energy how to best get rid of them.  It's idealized a lot in self-help books, however in reality letting go is not really easy. At one level, it gives freedom, but it also makes one feel really naked.

I still managed to offload the things I owned. The crescendo of it was the Dubai Flea Market two weeks ago, where I managed to sell all my clothes, shoes, CDs, gadgets etc. All items of addiction were gone within a frame of few hours. I didn't make a lot of money, but the feeling of liberation and buoyancy at the end was worth it all. The day after the flee market, I packed the remaining bare minimum, to be shipped. The new volume? 157 kilograms and only 0.7 cubic meters!

The lesson? It's hard to pinpoint one single thing. There was a time that I owned a lot but didn't feel complete. I'm still far from feeling totally complete – whatever that may mean. At least I realized that the feeling of being whole and centered has nothing to do with the amount of stuff I gather around me. Quite the opposite, the more I can let go; be it obsessions, shoes, dysfunctional patterns or money the more I feel secure, strong and “whole”. This feeling of security and strength is far less tangible than a retirement fund or a steady income, but it comes from being able to trust myself and only myself.

Monday, December 20, 2010

dubai lessons - part 1

I'm a single child and spent a lot of alone-time reading books when I was growing up. Socializing with flesh & bone humans was the least of my needs. In our tiny and very independent household, it was highly appreciated to be self-sufficient and asking help was something only needy people did. So I grew up with some defects in my sharing,helping, receiving cells.

During the Vipassana, there were evening talks about killing ego, genuinely being able to ask for help as well as being able to offer help for the sake of the other person, without boosting your ego. It touched a really deep place. It helped me realize how delicate and inter-connected our behavior patterns are; My inability to receive help fed my illusion of self-sufficiency (It is easier to believe that I am so capable that I don't need help, instead of saying “I don't know how to ask for it”). Whereas in reality, I was probably constantly searching for someone to lean on. Again, because I thought it was only the weak or needy people who needed assistance, my offers of help didn't come from a genuinely altruistic place. I probably liked helping people because it made me feel superior/better/more able in one way or the other. (Ouch, even writing this twists my guts and makes me feel horrible)

Last 5 months, I have been at my neediest. It was like a boot-camp for my ego. I didn't have money, a home, car and the brains to deal with the variety of difficult situations that I've been into. So I constantly needed to ask for advice, money, food, a bed and whatnot. It was like the life of a Buddhist monk in a very capitalist city that has no monks. (Oh well, I still could keep my hair and wearing nothing but an orange robe would be an immediate criminal offense in Dubai.)
Having very little and asking for help was ok in Bali but in Dubai where everyone is rich, able and powerful (or under the illusion of being rich, able or powerful), it felt like hell.

It was so much and too intense for me. There were days I simply felt tired because I needed to ask so many things from different people. The most difficult was when I needed anything from my parents...

It's way too early and too pretentious to say that I've learned my lesson, passed my exam and ready for the next grade. The roots are too deep for me to reach within 5 months only. Yet, looking back, I at least start to realize that my ego had nothing but rough edges and Dubai was my coarse sandpaper.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

dragging my feet

I've been contemplating on this blog entry for weeks and weeks. So much has happened that's worth writing. Then again, so much has happened that drained my energy and writing was the last thing I could possibly do...

Back in June, when I applied for a tourist visa to Dubai, the Immigration said that according to their database, I already appear in the country with a valid residence permit, so they cannot issue me a tourist visa! From that point onwards, everything about Dubai went extremely slow or terribly wrong or both. All the corporate positions I applied froze for no reason, it was summer so I never had enough yoga students, I got the stupidest traffic fines, et cetera et cetera... About two months into my Dubai adventure, I seriously started thinking if all these are signs that Dubai is no longer the place for me? There was a major gap in my resistance-free, easy flowing life in Asia and all the hassle and hardship that I was facing in Dubai. I chose to interpret all that as a learning towards persistence because I've always been the one to give up at the first sign of difficulty. I thought that I spent two months planting the seeds for a new life and I should not leave before seeing the blossoms. Oh, how things went so downhill after that...

Within the next few weeks I got seriously sick due to stress, had a mistreatment that increased my pain, had a big car accident, lost my car, lost a lot of money and got so broke that I could only afford 4 bus tickets and one meal every day. Then another corporate job opening popped up; I thought it could be the perfect opportunity for me to fix my finances. Deep down, I could not bear the idea that I needed to get back to corporate life but thought I had no other option. I felt powerless. 3 days before I needed to fly to UK for my final job interview, my visa application got rejected for a very stupid reason.

It finally flashed; I was no longer meant to be in the Middle East. The interpretation of everything that happened as a a test of persistence didn't really work. It took me many months, a lot of money and a lot of health to figure that out. I was fast becoming the person that people spoke in only checklists. Instead of simply asking how I was when they saw me, people had to go through a list to make sure that I am ok, “how are you today, any injuries from the accident, are you still taking your antibiotics, did you have any students in your class today?” I used to feel fantastic all the time and this radiated to the people around me. At some point in Dubai, I turned into this fragile and unlucky being who always had to be checked and taken care of. I didn't like it a bit...

There are no absolutes, rights or wrongs in life decisions. Even things that seem like a momentary lapse of reason, lacking common sense or plain stupid happen for a reason, don't they? What makes them precious is probably our interpretations of it. It's really easy to blame things on fate, live the life of a drama queen feeding on misery and continuing to live in the past. There's also the option to learn your lesson and move on. Dubai was my lesson on many things but mostly humbleness and the importance of friends.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I've been badly bitten by the “Bali bug” about 13 months ago and I can't seem to stop itching. Even 3 weeks before leaving Bali, I was showing withdrawal symptoms, such as insomnia, irritability and random bursts of tears. The irony of it was that clinging to something and missing it all the while still experiencing it was completely against everything I liked about Bali and my life there.

The withdrawal symptoms were temporarily relieved when I was in Bangkok and then in Istanbul, but they came back even stronger as I spent more time in Dubai. It was a lot of stress, hardship and constant frustration. Of course none of these symptoms of helped with relieving the itch of the bite. Quite the contrary, things continued to get worse. It took me 5 long months to realize that trying to put up with unhappiness would not actually help with anything. So I took the plunge and decided to live in Bali. It was the biggest and the boldest decision in my life, yet at some level it was so easy. The itch stopped as soon as I make that decision, so at some level it feels right. Yet at most other levels, things do not feel any more stable than a steep, slippery pathway covered with ice. All I know is that it's my decision, hence it cannot be wrong for me.
We'll see, we'll see...

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Starting with my Reiki initiation years back, I tried to pay attention to the order of things around me. I realized that if I was starting something good or wholesome, somehow the things ran smoother, the doors opened easier. On the contrary, if what I'm doing wasn't eventually good for myself of for the others hurdles, delays and hindrances would start to pop up.

I would know that simple, tried and tested actions are good for me or not. It's common sense to know that lying, back-stabbing and gossiping will eventually hurt me or someone else. But how about starting something entirely new? There was a time that I was completely exhausted by my corporate work and decided to start up my own consulting company. In a country where bureaucracy is famously complicated, things ran thunder speed and I received so much help from people around me. Even before I had time to worry whether I was doing the right thing, the company was established and clients were coming in. It was impossible to predict how well I would do before I started, but the signs gave me the encouragement that I was doing something right.

Since I came to Dubai about 6 weeks ago, things have been going very slow. Things get lost, key people leave on 3-week vacations, papers don't get signed, you name it. At some point I was drained and wanted to feel bad and sorry for myself. I wanted to whine and bitch and point fingers. I couldn't... Because it was almost funny how things completely outside of my control were going wrong as much as they could. 

Then I started thinking; for the last few months I was seeking signs where I should be. Dubai felt right in some ways and horribly wrong in others. The signs were not really clear before I landed here. But recently they were as loud as a Metallica concert and I was still not getting it. I kept pushing and pushing with not much luck. So was I really not meant to be here, was there another place and another plan for me? I felt relieved to reach this understanding and shared it with a few friends. They had a totally different perspective. They thought they were the challenges  sprinkled along the way to demonstrate my persistence to stay here and to teach yoga. They added that far from being some divine signs, the delays I was experiencing were related to the usual slowness of Dubai summers. They said that if  I quit now and leave Dubai, I would have never really given myself the full chance, that I would have given up just before the crack of dawn.

When it comes to viewpoints, there is no absolute right or wrong. There's only what's right for me. I don't know what's right for me so it's confusing. I've been a quitter at the first sign of resistance for most of my life, so really what I'm going through can be a “test” of how much patience and perseverance I've accumulated. Or it can be a reminder that I need to be kinder to myself, not push for things that feel abrasive and  wrong for me.

Deep down, I still don't know where I want to be now and what I want to do, so I keep seeking external signs. I had the slightest hope that putting all that down in writing would help me organize my thoughts and lead somewhere. It didn't really work this time.

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Monday, August 09, 2010

corporate "security"

If you ever worked in an international corporation, or known anyone who worked/works there, you would know that it comes with a shiny bunch of perks other than salary. Depending on the location and the industry, the benefits can be anything like shuttle buses, valet car parking, all-day free drinks, paying full tuition fees of your kids, dry cleaner on the premises and 24 hour emergency hot line. Plus you get discounts on many things because your corporation has deals with other corporations. The bigger the corporation gets, the more the benefits are. It takes care of you in so many ways, almost like family. Yet again, the  bigger the corporation gets, the more it resembles an over-protective mother. It handles everything for you but once you call quits to your cubicle, you are like a fish out of the water. You need to pay the tuition for your own kids, make your own travel arrangements, buy your own mobile, take your car to the service by yourself, etc etc... It can become quite overwhelming. For years you lean your back against a solid wall and now you need to stand up on your own two feet.

I've read quite a few theories about this. Some say that corporations offer these perks to attract the best talent in the market. I'm not sure if really talented people are attracted by dry cleaning services.

Some say these are benefits to ensure that you dedicate all your time and energy on your work. When your attention is not interrupted by when you need to change your winter tires, you can be be more productive in your work. Maybe; then again that makes me wonder how resourceful you can be when all you think and do is predefined by a single-page job description.

Some say that by taking care of all your needs, the corporations actually take away your self-reliance. Spending 12 hours in an office for your office work and have other people take care of your “actual” life can eventually be quite addictive. Once your are used to the illusionary ease of having things done for you, it's difficult to get your hands dirty and do your own things.

At some point, you may start hating your job or your boss. Yet you start working even harder and look more dedicated. You don't know what else you can do if someone notices that you dislike your boss and you're fired. As the hate grows, the mask thickens to cover it up. This is a deep dissonance, which creates an even deeper frustration.

It feels easier to get used to a negative environment as compared to stepping out and taking responsibility for your own life – relying on your own capabilities. At the end of the day, when you look around which one do you see more? Corporate slaves with grayish faces, complaining all the time about their work yet boasting about their 5-star tropics holiday last summer, or content people who are firmly on their own feet, not dependent on some other source to take care of them for all their neediness? Come to think of it, who actually needs valet-parking, unlimited free coke, discounts at car rental and 12 different lunch menus?
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Saturday, July 31, 2010

the doctor said

Recently a friend injured his knee badly and the doctor said the only way to “make it as good as new” was surgery. Deep down, he is not ok with the idea of going under full anesthesia and having all the sensitive nerves and connective tissues in his knee touched by surgical equipment, but he is anyway trying to get a date for surgery because the doctor said so.

Another friend was told by her doctor to drink two glasses of cow's milk every day because her bones are brittle and has a risk for osteoporosis. She hates the taste and feels like throwing up every time but still drinks it religiously because the doctor said so. She didn't even ask if there are alternative ways to get calcium and now suffers every day.

It's amazing how we can surrender our health and well being into the hands of a person who barely knows us beyond out weight, height, heart rate and symptoms. Once we tell our complaints to a doctor and s/he prescribes us something, we believe that everything will be magically fixed from that points onwards.

We are in an era where everyone's getting more and more control freak. Think about the way we order food; “I want the mushroom omelet, but no mushrooms and only 3 egg-whites please”???  More and more people in offices are saying that they would rather do all the work themselves because they find it difficult to trust their team members. We want to know exactly how the chef cooks our food and how it will be served. We need to feel in charge what people do and how exactly they do it. Yet when it comes to taking charge of our own health we don't even move a finger beyond dialing the doctor for an appointment – let the doctor or the prescription pill do the rest. We are completely desensitized to what our bodies and our inner wisdom tell us, yet we obey everything the doctor tells because s/he is supposed to be the expert. Worse is when masses of people follow the “one-size-fits-all” advice that is coming from the charismatic looking doctor who appears on the evening news. Go figure...

It's my body, my health. There are no spare parts and I can't really go and buy a newer model if  I screw this one up. Why not just take good care of it to start with? Then listen to what it says and make adjustments accordingly? Having lived with it all my life, I should have a pretty good idea when and how things happen to my body. What contribution would I expect from someone who just met me 10 minutes ago or who sees me only when I'm sick?

Most of us try to assume more responsibility in our work to manage a bigger budget, wider geography, increased number of subordinates... Why not start with taking a bigger responsibility of our body, health and happiness and see how that works for a change?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

been there done that

by Kevin Lyons

Haven't you been hearing that a lot lately? Thirty something, sophisticated and well-traveled people have been using this term more and more... Safari, pyramid-hopping, bungee jumping, scuba diving, mountain climbing, ashram living, fitness boot-camps you name it... I got curious and looked up for the dictionary definition, which is “To have experienced the topic under discussion, to the point of boredom or complacency”  I can't remember how many times I heard a conversation where someone is saying for example “I am planning to climb Kilimanjaro this summer” and the other person automatically responding “oh been there done that, I've actually been to all the mountains in Africa, and I will do Everest summit next year.” What a perfect way to kill the enthusiasm of the person who opened the subject! If you like, replace climbing with scuba, photography, cycling, that will give you just more examples of the “been there done that” bunch.

Doesn't it also show that  we live our lives like a big list of action points? Books like “1000 places you must see before you die, 100 things to do before you are 30” sell like hot cupcakes. We like to have a list to be checked off, an action plan to be fulfilled, something quantifiable that we can measure our “success” against. Often times, unfortunately the quality falls through the cracks.

In Bali, I met some backpackers who were visiting 10 different places in 3 different countries in 15 days , because this was their travel plan for 2010. Wow! I wonder what can I observe about the culture or absorb about the life in such a claustrophobic schedule? For sure I would be an expert of airport securities and duty free shops. The photos I put on facebook would be fabulous, and the “cities I've pinned” map on tripadvisor would look handsomely populated. Next time someone tells me that they are going to x country for their holidays, I can say “oh been there, awesome place” But have I really been there?

If, within 4 months I watch all the films listed on “100 movies you should see before you die” book, would I really become a film mogul? Would I be a happier person compared to anyone who never watched those movies?
More importantly, would I die as a more complete person?

Monday, July 26, 2010

1980 Ankara, 1985 Bydgoszcz, 2010 Dubai

I grew up in a time and place that it was very rude to boast about what we have and to emphasize our differences. It was the pre-eighties era, where consumerism hadn't yet hit Turkey. (Any of you grew up in Turkey remember the Yerli Malları Haftası?) Eighties onward, the foreign influence was strong and we fell in love with anything exported; be it cheese or cars. Showing off, which was once rude, lost importance and slowly became an object of just “tsk tsk”. Somehow towards the early nineties, it became very uncool not to own a pair of Levi's 501 and Timberland shoes. We thought those items gave us an identity, whereas in reality those 501's were stripping us from our unique identities. I must add that were not the most flattering cut for our wider thighs and smaller butts. Yet we were desperate to be a part of the clan that owned the American jeans and the shoes. We started to think that owning the stuff produced in another part of the world would give us their lifestyle.

Then I was lucky to spend a few weeks in Poland, while it was still considered as a part of the Iron Curtain countries. I was young, yet could still remember the effort my Polish peers showed in order to look different. Teenage sense of fashion coupled with communist resources didn't really result in  what one might now call “Vintage” items. I remember that at the end of my visit, I gave all my plastic earrings and fluorescent-colored accessories to my friends and they couldn't have been happier.

Now I am in Dubai. The strong and closed culture plus the influence of religion prohibits showing off. In its original form, this is a very considerate tradition to avoid showing off if you are rich and feeling embarrassed if you are poor. All men are supposed to wear the same starched and sparkling white dishdashas and the women should be wearing the black abayas. If you are a guy and you're supposed to wear a loose fit white dishdasha, there's very little left to express yourself with. Hence men around here invest insane amounts for their wristwatches, mobile phones and cars. They are the ultimate and most visible expressions of your status and how much you have. Women are luckier! in terms of being able to differentiate themselves. Shops have started selling custom-made Swarovski-studded heard scarves, ladies wear bright green Christian Louboutins under slightly-shorter-than-it-should-be abayas, I won't even mention the handbags and gold plated mobiles. What was one of the most striking stories for me was women calling artists to their homes to have a 100 $ make-up and then going to the mall covered in niqab (the face veil, which only leaves the eyes open).
photo from
photo from

I am not criticizing anyone, nor do I think this is hilarious unlike most foreigners here do. Quite the contrary, I find this very very heartbreaking. Covered head to toe and being allowed almost no contact with others, anyone would get desperate to attract attention to their individuality and uniqueness. I am not sure if all of the locals * around here buy very expensive cars, hand-made Italian bags or Tom Ford tailor-made disdashas just to show how rich they are. Maybe some do, but I am sure there's a good bunch who just want to express themselves – and those luxury items turn out to be only immediate means available. Imagine 81% of a city's population is composed of expatriates who have little or no knowledge of the local customs hence go around in loud groups, wear skimpy clothes and have no issues openly hitting on the opposite sex. Then in your own city, you are minority, being exposed to a very sudden flux of foreigners who tend to do everything differently and often against the culture. How much would it be possible to ignore the influence and to protect your customs? What else would you do to discover your identity?

I don't have an answer. A lot of factors seem to be intertwined; sense of identity, feeling unique, being able to “own”... And all hitting up in the last 20 years or so. I know quite a number of locals who feel stuck between the tradition and the contemporary, I can only hope that they find their own paths, whatever that may be

* Locals as I used above don't refer to Emiratis only, it's intended to refer to all GCC nationals (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Oman) 
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Saturday, July 24, 2010

present moment – part three

Talking about delay of gratification, made me think of religion. I am no expert on the subject but that won't stop me from blabbering about it.

 All organized religions describe a form of heaven and hell. If I obey by the rules of that religion without any questions (doubt is usually a sin!), I will end up in heaven. What's very convenient is that heaven will come just after I die, so I won't have to spend sometime in this world working on my fear of death – possibly the deepest and the biggest instinctual fear we all share. Some religions are pretty descriptive about the steps to follow between death and heaven, while others leave a little more room for imagination. And if I don't obey by the rules and become a sinner, I will burn in hell.

 I've never heard of anyone who's been dead, experienced heaven or hell and came back to tell about it. Experience aside, there's no evidence that it even exists. There's a possibility that all that scenario is the product of a smart and creative priest who knew the soft spots of the human beings an used them to keep us on track. Essentially almost all the sins described by religions are bad; I agree that we should not steal, lie, harm others, etc... I just don't understand why I have to obey them fearing “hell” after death, a place that no one has first hand experience of. 

Throughout our lives, we observe countless examples how people are rewarded here and now when they do good deeds and how they get punished when they engage in actions that we call sins. People who have dedicated their lives to helping others and refrain from harming have an inner calm and satisfaction in their lives. Cheaters are rarely happy in any of their relationships and spend so much effort trying to cover their lies, that life can become unbearable. Greedy or gluttonous people are very unlikely to feel a moment of peace and contentment, spending a life trapped in an inner hell of dissatisfaction. These are oversimplified examples but I  think they give the idea. I can lead a happy life when I do moral things and mean no harm to anyone else. Although it may be in somewhat different forms, this can be experienced by anyone immediately, without waiting for some unknown time and place after death.

Why then do we keep craving for heaven and fearing hell while the life that we breathe, cry, laugh, learn, love in it passes with every minute? Shouldn't we try to make something good out of this one instead of blindly investing in the next one that we don't even know to exist?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

should I stay or should I go

I was very happy in Bali, I guess it was self-apparent by the fact that I intended to stay for 3 weeks and ended up spending over 7 months there. Every morning I woke up with a feeling of bliss. At the end of each yoga session I thanked to be in Bali, to be aware and to experience whatever was going on around me. For once, I was in touch with myself and I felt every bit of thing; be it pain, jealousy or joy. I found my little paradise, the place that I belonged. Yet sometime around March, it became clear that I had to go back to Dubai in June in order to take care of the stuff I left behind. That decision made me feel depressed for an entire week; I guess sense of responsibility doesn't really agree with me.

I was trying to convince myself that I acquired a lot of different approaches and skills in Asia, and being in Middle East would be the ultimate test of how much I had really internalized them. Would I be able to keep my cool in traffic, would I be able to maintain a spiritual approach when everything around me was so materialistic, would I be able to pass shopping and say “I don't really need this”. To some extent, I even felt a sense of mission; Dubai was where  I seriously started practicing yoga and felt the seeds of change sprout. If I could help just one more person in Dubai get in touch with his/her true self and feel liberated, I would feel as if I paid back and then return to Bali with a feeling of contentment. (No, I don't expect everyone to be liberated by means of jumping on the next plane to Asia and meditate all day like the statue of Buddha)

Here I am in Dubai for the last two weeks and things are really super difficult. Police fined me for driving an unregistered car and I cannot register my car without an employment visa. So I am pretty immobile. I try to get a job but apparently I forgot how slow things can be during summer in Dubai – nothing moves. My tourist visa is about to expire and I just figured that I can't renew it, so unless something miraculous happens I need to leave Dubai in 2 weeks and cannot re-enter for another month. Did I ever mention that life here is also ridiculously expensive?

Every day I try something new to ensure that I can stay here. Latest by the next day, I find out that option would not work. As dramatic as it sounds, I feel as if all walls are closing on me. After all the carelessness and freedom in Bali, no wonder life here makes me feel claustrophobic. Every day, I take sometime to convince myself that this is what I have to go through.

Artist Name: Hajime Namiki Title: Banyan Tree
I'm pretty sure that if Gottama the Buddha lived in 21st century, he wouldn't have bothered fasting for months under a banyan tree to feel misery and suffering. He would have probably chosen to live in a soulless metropolitan city to accelerate his enlightenment. Yet every day, a voice in me says “why bother, haven't you learned to love and to protect yourself? Give up struggling, know when to quit and just go back to Bali”. Every day turns out to be a constant repetition of internal dialogues such as;
- oh I feel so trapped in Dubai without a car, job and money, it's good training for my ego / Why do you suffocate yourself with such barriers when you can be in Bali smelling incense?
- I will try a corporate job once again, this time equipped with the patience from meditation and mental flexibility from yoga / Why do you keep banging your head against the wall, hoping that this time the wall might be softer?
- I want to help people but they are so out of touch with themselves I don't know what to do / Why bother and waste your energy in the world's most materialistic city when Bali is full of people who know what they seek?

Both voices are mine and both have valid points... I still have to decide after hearing them both. I wish there was one correct answer and if I really thought hard, I would have it figured out. I'm generally happy to sit back and let things flow in their own course so that I can avoid making any decisions. But this is a time that I need to decide; knowing that only I can make it and it'll be a big one.

Monday, July 19, 2010

may all beings be happy

This is how we end each Vipassana meditation session, we wish that all beings in this world would be free from misery and feel happy. It's called Metta meditation and it's integrated to Vipassana trainings. I've already had that training twice during the previous trainings. However in my third sitting in Thailand, I noticed that I have a strong blockage to say “may all beings be happy”.

 There are two people in my life who had hurt me deeply. I've spent considerable time working on why I made myself vulnerable to these  people and what was the lesson I needed to learn out of my encounters with them. (I believe that no person in our lives is random, everyone is around either to remind us, teach us or to learn form us.) I thought I've already released a lot and let go of my pain. I knew the scars would always be there not to constantly remind me of what happened, but more to act like blue ribbons I received for passing with the highest marks. Moreover, I always perceived myself as a very kind and forgiving person who would never hold grudge against others. Yet there I was sitting, unable to say “may all beings be happy” with a knot in my throat and tears in my eyes. Those two people kept appearing in my mind and I realized in shock how I wasn't really ready to wish good things for them. Whatever happened has happened ages ago and currently I am a very happy person. So I don't know if it was a bigger shock to realize that they still hurt me or that I discovered a vindictive bitch in me.  Well as much as I didn't like it, it was there and apparent to me for the first time.

I wish that was the only discovery I had on the subject. Coming back, I had a lot of catching up to do with friends and this of course involved a bit of gossiping too. I came to know that one of those people whom I couldn't wish well was actually going through a very miserable period in his life. Ohhh, that was the moment in which the bitch in me felt so relieved. That relief was immediately followed by a deep feeling of sympathy. Only after coming to know that he was not happy, I could feel for him, wishing him to be truly happy and be relieved from his pain. What the hell did that mean? Was I trying to put an unconscious cap on the happiness of other people? May all beings be happy as long as they are not happier than me? Or may all beings be happy only after I wish them to be happy? Or people who hurt me are allowed to be happy only after suffering for a certain period of time? I still don't even have a clue, none of these create a buzz in my gut, so there's a possibility that it comes form a more deep-rooted or evil place than I could see. I don't like this, I now find it very hard to say “hey, this is who I am so let's celebrate the evil in me and hug her every morning to make up for the time lost that I wasn't aware of her existence”. Blah

Saturday, July 17, 2010

present moment – part two

Things that I've always taken for granted and never questioned recently started to have a totally different perspective because I began to discover “staying here and now”.

I was sitting with some friends in a cafe today where the subject eventually came to how much longer each of us wanted to stay in Dubai. One of the girls said she's actually had enough but she would still like to stay a few more years to secure a bit more money for her retirement. Retirement? Considering how young she is, that would be at least 30 years from today. Who can predict where any of us will be in such a time frame? Considering how fast life is changing, I wouldn't be surprised if the concept of retirement would be completely outdated in a few decades. Or if the Mayan prophecy is right, billions of us need to worry about being wept off from the earth sometime in 2012 anyway.  I can't imagine waking up in a city that I don't like anymore, going to a job that I am bored of and then coming back home to calculate my retirement savings. When I was studying psychology, we were always taught “delay of gratification” is a sign of healthy emotional development in kids. Simply what it suggests is that if you ask a child if he wants half apple now or one whole apple tomorrow and the child chooses to have one apple tomorrow, he is considered to be more emotionally mature than the child who wants half the apple now... What's wrong with wanting half an apple in the moment that I want to eat it as compared to keeping my mind busy all day with when I would be able to receive my apple is a mystery to me. To a psychologist though, I am sure this is a crystal clear indication that I am stuck somewhere around the age of 2.

A lot of people are unhappy with where they are, what they do and whom they are married to. They dream of the day when they will be able to relocate to a village by the Mediterranean, their kids will grow so that they can divorce their partner, or that they will be able to open that tiny cafe and bake cakes all day. They dream while the reality is happening here and now...

Come to think of it, how different am I? Sitting in Dubai, I am trying hard to get a corporate job that I don't want and will surely hate, yet trying to convince myself that it will provide me the money that would enable me to go back to Bali. I have a thousand fantastic justifications why this is the right thing for me now but deep inside even I don't buy my own crap. I may end up having some money, but I know that I will lose much more.

I wonder how much money is enough to buy my freedom and to feel secure?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

right here right now

“Stay in the present moment!” I must have heard this hundreds of times during my yoga classes but it never made much sense to me. Far from making sense,  it sounded Chinese. I have always been proud of my turbo-speed, multitasking, ability to switch between thoughts in a split second. What exactly the yoga teacher meant by saying “stay in the present moment” was a complete mystery.

35 years have gone by and there was never even a millisecond in my life without a background chatter in my mind. The background chatter would either be heavily criticizing the past; “i allowed him to take advantage of me / oh i should have just turned and walked away / if only i said yes then i would be ... now/ i wish i stayed ... Or it would be dreaming about the future “in my next job, i will be more assertive / when i travel to Asia i'll take a lot of photographs / i'll make sure that my next boyfriend will be more emotionally mature”... Millions and millions of thought particles either dwelling in the past or fantasizing wildly about the future. It was very tiring, every night when I went to bed I would be exhausted. Not because I did much or showed a lot of effort towards something. I was constantly lost among my thoughts and didn't have a way to stop them. Just as my legs would be tired if I ran all day, my mind was tired of a similar pace of thoughts rushing in and out.

At the age of 18, I tried Transcendental Meditation because someone told me that it gave him that millisecond window of “no thought”. There I was sitting in my lotus and constantly repeating “i'm still thinking, i'm still thinking, when will i have my moment of silence, oh the meditation time is almost over and i still didn't have my moment of silence... damn, maybe it'll come tomorrow”. Yeah, that was meditating a là Esin, and of course the extreme craving for a moment of stillness brought nothing but an even more chaotic and disappointing stream of thoughts.

About a year ago I went out with a friend; our plan was dinner followed by an opera. He would then continue the night at a club with his friends. He spent the entire time in dinner calling his friends to brag about getting the tickets to the opera, hence had no idea how much and how fast he ate. Then he fell asleep during the first part of the opera and then spent the second part sneakily texting to decide which club and what time. Poor guy enjoyed no part of the night, because he was constantly trying to make the perfect plan for the next hour. That observation was probably the first time I got a sense of what it meant to be staying in the present moment. Oh well, we don't always learn by positive examples do we? Sometimes an extremely negative experience in our faces would worth a million wise quotes.

That seed began to sprout very slowly. I don't know when and where exactly it happened, but about 6 months ago, I began to get a hazy sense of being present. I realized how much I missed the “now” when I was spending my time planning the good days to come.  I was in Asia, traveling, doing as much yoga as I wanted, meeting amazing people but my mind was stuck on when I'm going back and how much money I would have left by then. I had the time of my life, I was happy every single day, yet I was focused on something in the future that I didn't know when and how would happen... From that point onwards, slowly but very slowly I tried to let go. Whenever I caught myself planning for the future, I would say “i am blessed for being here, for experiencing whatever i am experiencing and for being aware of it”. It worked.

If I am really agitated, I would just close my eyes and focus on my breathing. There is nothing as “here and now” as an inhale and an exhale. It is always there, it is a constant flow yet each and every breath is unique. Sometimes I breathe very shallow, sometimes one nostril is blocked, sometimes an inhale is hot... Whatever it is, each breath is a gift and it is unique to the moment it happens. I cannot plan for the 5pm inhale, nor can I regret that an exhale last month didn't fully empty my lungs...

I am light years far from being a master of my mind, being constantly present. My mind is still like a dump site of all irrelevant thoughts, but what I am slowly learning is not to be stuck  with it. Even occasionally shifting my attention to only here and now, not dwelling in the past or the future is a major progress for me. What I've noticed is that on days when I can do that, I sleep so much better and feel rested with even a few hours of sleep. It's an interesting state of inner calm, that gives energy. It's definitely more difficult to do that in Dubai, where there are so many stimulants and barely time to close my eyes to feel blessed for being here, for experiencing whatever I am experiencing. I am hoping that it's only true that difficult things are more rewarding at the end.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

old city, new in old city

In one of my previous posts in January, I mentioned how much I enjoyed being in a city for the first time; opening my perception wide to soak in whatever that city can offer. However I just realized that being out of my turf for a while and then returning gave me a somewhat similar experience.

It was the first time that I was away from Istanbul for 9 months. Coming back, my perception of the city wasn't so much different probably because that's not a very long period for a rooted city like Istanbul to change. Yet I felt like a complete outsider. At the end of my first day, I had a headache because of all the second-hand smoke and political discussions that I was exposed to. All of us living around the Mediterranean have always loved discussing politics, I cannot remember how many spontaneous conversations I had with taxi drivers in Greece and Israel on the subject. But now, I wondered why people wanted to share their political views with someone whose knowledge was as outdated as the bronze age. I wasn't even interested but people didn't really mind my yawning and went on. It doesn't make slightest sense to me to spend all that time and energy on stuff that I cannot change. Especially the energy that goes into it; nobody seems to talk about politics without a strong sense of judgment, dislike and blaming.  And mind you, these are neither politicians nor party members, they are my friends who work in advertising, finance, arts etc

Coming to Dubai, politics seemed to lose it's #1 place into a general sense of complaint of heat, stupid jobs, incompetent bosses, bad driving, senseless regulations, just to give a few examples. It's sad to see that only a few people are fully satisfied with their lives here. I'm not saying that life in Dubai makes sense in all the ways. Quite the contrary, it can resemble to an episode of the twilight zone pretty often. Yet we choose to stay.

I've been thinking about this quite a lot because this was my culture shock. I probably wouldn't have noticed this if I wasn't out for so long. Human beings are supposed to strive towards better (and therefore happier) but it seems that we build a very suffocating fence of complaints and judgments around our happiness so it does not grow up to its full potential. Why?

One possible reason that came to my mind was that we need to be heard, we need to receive attention. Since we are babies, we get more attention when we cry or have a sad face because it's an alarm of things not going as they are supposed to. Everyone hovers around when we are sick. Maybe some of never outgrow the need for this type of attention even when we are grown. Maybe we never develop the skills to seek a healthy dose of attention by means other than complaining. Hence we keep our unhappy masks on; we complain with an acute need to be heard and to be paid attention. Imagine a  random night out with friends you haven't seen in a long time, does the group spend more time listening to the one who says “oh it's all good, things are going fine” or to the one who says “in the office I work with the stupidest bunch of people who make my life a living hell every day”.

Complaining is a way to attract attention so that missing/wrong things can get fixed.  Most of those chronic complainers however are happy with things being  wrong/missing. If you actually try to correct things for them, they will either find a way to be unhappy with the new situation or will shift their focus to the next wrong thing, because the source of discomfort is internal.

I've been thinking a lot about this in the last 3 weeks and this was the only possible answer that I could see. I would really appreciate some fresh insight if you would care to share. What do you think? Why do we focus on what we cannot change and why do we keep complaining on things that we can change but do nothing about it?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

masafi souq al juma (masafi friday market)

I had enough of sneakily driving around in the city after midnight everyday and decided to get a little bolder yesterday to visit the Masafi Friday Market.

Being Turkish, I am very used to getting almost everything by the roadside while driving between cities. A trip from Bodrum to Istanbul gets me the best olives in Gemlik, honey in Marmaris, freshest nuts near Izmir. Most are sold directly by growers, in the trunk of their car or on a stall by the shade of a tree. So coming to Dubai was shocking; because of the harsh climate there was no roadside culture. No stalls, no mom and pop eateries, no locally grown stuff on a car trunk, nothing at all. After two trips with no food (you can only get the packaged boring stuff from the gas stations) I learned my lesson and started picnic-packing whenever I was going outside of Dubai. Years ago on my way for a day trip to swim in the ocean in Fujeirah I came across a roadside market. It was a colorful surprise among the curvy mountain road, lined with nothing but the desert. There were stalls on both sides of the road, selling fresh fruits grown mostly in the UAE and Oman . It was heaven; the fruits weren't flown 5000km from wherever, they were ripe and I was able to taste them before buying, even bargain a little. Afterwards, I never got the chance to go there again.

Yesterday, I drove about 175km one-way to get there. First surprise was seeing a road sign saying “masafi friday market 500m”. A great indicator that the place became more known and popular. 500 meters later, there was no need for more indicators. The once small and unorganized stalls now had  parking  in front of them wider than the spots in the Mall of the Emirates. Of course there were more shops and they looked pretty uniform. I have no objections to receiving better service but the real shock came when I saw that most of the fruit sold was also flown in from Syria, Turkey and India.

After 4 hours of driving in 45+ degrees of heat and blinding sunlight reflecting from the desert, I ended up buying Indian bananas, mangoes and coconut, Syrian cherries, Lebanese grapes and some local fresh dates; all just marginally cheaper than the supermarket price. The punch line was when my camera decided to stop working as a protest to the heat after only shooting 10 frames. I was really expecting to linger around for quite a while to shoot photos but apparently the camera felt more like taking the friday off. Still, I was very satisfied to be outside the city, seeing long stretches of desert and buying fruit from the road.

Would I go again? Yes, but only on my way to Fujeirah and in a season that my camera would not suffer a sun stroke.

Friday, July 09, 2010

fear factor

The only thing that I really and constantly missed in Dubai was my car and I was looking forward to driving it. As shallow and as materialistic as it is, car is a major attachment that I am yet to learn letting go of. Oh well, every yogini should be allowed her bit of materialism be it shoes, car or make-up :)

So in my second night in Dubai, the only thing in my mind was to get back in the driver seat and ride. (I can't drive in broad daylight because the car registration expired and police would impound the car if they catch me on the road) I started driving a little after midnight; I was curious if I really missed my car or was it constantly in my mind all these months because there was absolutely no way for me to have that in Asia. It turns out that I was still really attached to it.

Sometime around 2am, trying to follow a sign to the Sheikh Zayed Road, I ended up in a dirt path leading to a big constuction site in the middle of nowhere. It seems that the constructions still pop up unplanned in Dubai and they don't even have time to remove the signs before they completely demolish the roads. While I was trying to figure out how to get on the highway, I saw a worker walking in my direction. My initial impulse was to reach for the buttons to make sure that the doors are locked and the windows are up all the way. I immediately sensed the fear arising; something I haven't felt in a long time. Then I realized that fear was just an automatic response, coming from a deep-rooted pattern. The pattern which suggests that I am different and therefore I have something to protect from others; I am better and those who are inferior want to take away what's better or more from me... It was a moment of very shameful awakening.

In reality, I had nothing to fear. If anything, that worker who was just minding his own business walking towards the construction had more than me. He was legal in the country, had a regular job, a salary check and a purpose he was walking towards. Whereas I had no money, no job, no right to drive the car (because my driving license was no longer valid) and the car I was driving wasn't even supposed to be on the road. Why then still the fear response?

Especially in a country as safe and as strict as the UAE, it is unheard that a worker would attack a woman at his work site. I was no longer “better” and I had nothing to protect, however the response associated with it was still there... Why was I still hanging onto a pattern that was no longer relevant to my situation?

Living in Bali, it's easier to feel that I am one with everyone else and we are all different reflections of the same thing, whatever that may be. The real test of change is to feel that sameness in a place like Dubai where there's an abyss between nationalities, ethnicities, income levels, sexes and expectation from life.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

third Vipassana

I left Bali at the end of May and gradually made my way to Dubai, arriving just yesterday. I had a 2-week stopover in Thailand, because I felt that another Vipassana was a must before leaving Asia.

It turned out to be a good decision, those 11-day long silent meditation sittings do amazing things for me. I believe that there are “mental membranes” between unconscious, subconscious and conscious minds. The more I externalize my attention, try to seek satisfaction in stuff and do not take time to settle my mind, the thicker the membranes get. Corporate work, drinking, trying to keep up with social expectations and trying to please others have been my major membrane thickeners. As a result I lose touch with the reality deep down and things get distorted in my mind. Vipassana drills huge holes to those membranes, and things start to flow freely towards the surface. I remember things, I see the reasons why things happened, I understand how my mind works. I get in touch with the relativity of truth, my truth... Sometimes it can get quite overwhelming to see myself as it is; that I am not always the ever so sweet and innocent Snow White, in fact I am very capable of injecting poison into an apple before offering it to a Snow White. It's easier to believe that I am a result of randomness or consequences of stuff that other people do. I am commitment-phobic to men because of my father, I could not complete my masters degree because the dean hated me and did not give me a make-up exam, I am now broke because my last company fired me in a horrible way, etc etc... All these may be true or they may be a result of my exaggerated imagination, it doesn't matter at all. What matters is how I respond to such situations. Vipassana makes me realize that giving the power to the others/situations and pretending to be the victim is actually very comforting and easy. It's scary to take charge of my life and accept that I'm responsible for every tiny bit that happens in it. It's like constantly trying to balance myself on a pilates ball; the minute I think I got it and try to release a little will be the moment that I fall flat on my face. If I want to stay on top, I cannot afford to let things go auto-pilot.

Then where and how does “letting go” come into this picture, I have no idea... How can I take full charge and then let things go in their universal flow is a total mystery to me. That seems to be another fine-balance on the ball that I haven't mastered yet. Tighten your muscles too much and you'll be tired too soon, let go of everything at once and you'll fall. Yep, it sounds perfect when I put it this way but I am yet to experience this perfection.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

ngaben (cremation ceremony)

Cremation is a happy event, something to be celebrated in Bali because it helps to free the spirit of the dead from this world. Interestingly though, the body of the deceased is not necessarily cremated at the end of the ceremony. In addition, the cremation ceremony does not necessarily take place immediately after death. The ceremonies are very expensive and most times, the family needs to save money before they can hold the ceremony. In some cases it may take 3-4 years before the body is cremated, and until then the body is buried. As far as I understand, there are also certain periods when a cremation ceremony can be held every year.

A few weeks ago however, there was a cremation ceremony in Ubud for someone who died about three weeks ago, which was considered to be quite soon. The ceremony would be followed by the actual cremation. Tourists were welcome and cameras were allowed as long as we respected the local dress code of sarongs and no bare shoulders.

The ceremony was said to start around 12pm, but preparations around the house of the deceased started as early as 8am. The street has been cleaned, bamboo platforms were built, the bull and the cremation tower were brought to the area. Around noon time, the crowd got bigger, with families of the same neighborhood  (banjar) bringing food and offerings. Also the Gamelan group of the banjar started to prepare to play music.  Again, when everything was ready, the ceremony started suddenly. Everyone was in a very happy mood, a lot of chattering and laughing and the pace of the entire event was really high.

We started walking from the house towards the Monkey Forest, where the cremation would take place. The cremation bull was leading; sometimes we were walking in a fast pace, sometimes even running. In crossroads, the people carrying the bull were turning clock-wise several times and often shaking the bull vigorously. I later learned that this was to shake-off any remaining evil spirits that might have been still around. In some of the points that we passed, they were spraying water on the crowd by hoses. 

It was the middle of the day, sun high up, humidity rising, the pace frantic, the loud Gamelan music almost hypnotizing and the crowd just too much... I was already overwhelmed by the time we reached the cremation area in Monkey Forest, I can't imagine how the local guys carrying the cremation tower must feel. Once we were in the forest, everything was placed at certain spots and preparations began. It was time for us tourists to rest, but the actual work for the Balinese attending the ceremony just begun.
There were many steps and each looked very detailed. First the cremation bull was opened and ladies with long hair approached, dipping their hair into the bull. It was quite interesting but so far, I never got a chance to learn what that symbolizes. Then the priest approached the bull and started the preparations; it had multiple steps all very detailed and requiring a lot of details. I was once again amazed how it was handled in a very organized and elegant way, all the while everyone was having fun and using this as an opportunity to socialize. It was really a celebration, not a mourning. Everyone smiling, greeting one another, men smoking in big groups and not even one solemn face, let alone anyone crying. The preparation around the bull took more than an hour, then finally the body, which was wrapped heavily in white fabric was lowered into the bull too. As the bull was closed one again, men started to set up the mechanism to ignite the fire. I learned that wood fire was used in past, and sometime for really big ceremonies (such as a member of the royal family) it sometimes took months to tower up enough wood appropriate for such a big event. About a year ago, a member of the royal family passed away and I was told that it was the biggest wood tower and the cremation ceremony ever in Bali. But nowadays things seem to get a little more practical and environmentally friendly; fire was ignited from 2 flame-machines attached to industrial-sized LPG canisters. Of course first the bull was insulated via metal panels to ensure that fire would not spread around.

The wave of the flames in addition to the midday heat was too much. Plus, all of us oblivious tourists who got too close to the fire to get the best photo shoot were covered in ashes due to a reverse wind... Once the fire lost its blaze and Balinese started spreading around and eating I felt it was also time for me to go. The whole experience has been new; see a lot of happy faces celebrating the death of a loved one, the impeccable Hindu ceremony a lá Balinese, the very welcoming attitude towards tourists and their intrusive cameras.

Lesson learned; to stay away once the cremation fire is ignited unless you are sure about the direction of the wind.

Monday, March 22, 2010

nyepi (balinese new year)

It's been so long since my last entry. I had a very interesting month, which beyond consuming me totally, was also very difficult to express in writing. I attended 2 levels of Cranio Sacral Therapy training with Leonid Soboleff which changed me at a very deep level. If ever I feel resourceful enough, I would love to write these experiences sometime.

Tuesday was the first day of the Balinese new year. The preparations and the celebrations started much earlier though. About two-three weeks earlier, the Ogoh-ogohs were already being built. Ogoh-ogohs are paper-mache monsters, representing the bad and the evil spirits coming down to earth. They are made in enormous detail and with a lot of decorations, and mostly the artists of each neighborhood produce them. Although I have seen a few little ones produced by little kids, looking no less spectacular than the grande versions. As far as I understood, each neighborhood raises its own funds through donations of the residents and then uses that money to make their own ogoh-ogoh(s). Ogoh-ogohs are meant to be scary and evil looking. On the second day of the new year, they are burned to represent purification of the earth from the bad spirits.

About a week before to the new year, some cleaning and offering ceremonies (the Melasti Ritual) were held by the beaches. A lot of fruits and flowers were offered to the gods. I was lucky to observe this ceremony both in Seminyak and in Candi Dasa on different days. It was more fun in the afternoon, when all fruits came back to the shore due to the opposite tide. It felt like the god of seas were offering something back to its believers.

Three days before the Nyepi, on Tumpek Landep another ceremony was held to purify everything metal. Originally, this ceremony was dedicated to weaponry, however nowadays more emphasis seems to be placed on other metal goods, such as cars and motorbikes. Oh well, any tourist spending 2 days here can see how important his/her motorbike is for the Balinese, so the transition from magical swords to bikes seem only natural. I was invited to pray in the family temple and make offerings too. The energy was just amazing, I could feel my palms buzzing. it was probably due to the unified field of energy on the island since everyone was praying at the same time. 

The day before Nyepi is when all the action takes place. Most shops and cafes closed early afternoon. We knew that on the day of Nyepi everyone would be home, observing silence so supermarkets and bakeries were raided. Traditionally one is not supposed to light a fire on Nyepi, which also means no cooking.

Prior to the festivities, I've asked at least 5 people when and where the Ogoh-ogoh parade will start. No two answers were the same. It wasn't only me, a few other friends also had no idea despite asking locals or long-time expats around. Finally one of my neighbors, who's been visiting Bali repeatedly for 20 years was able to give a satisfying answer. He said “Nobody knows the exact time, because the ceremonies have their own dynamics and they start when everything is ready”. Fair enough... Around 5:30pm a friend texted me to say that the ceremonies on Hanoman street were about to start. Armed with my camera, I walked there. I could feel the excitement in the air, most of it coming from the kids. They were all dressed for the occasion (later I figured that each neighborhood would have their “teams”, dressed the same way and managing the Ogoh-ogoh parade for their area.) In addition to the people carrying the Ogoh-ogohs there was the band playing the music, at least one person managing the traffic (mostly of the bystanders, as streets were closed to car traffic long ago) and two or more guys with long sticks, making sure that Ogoh-ogohs don't touch the electric wires during the parade by lifting the wires up by their T-shaped sticks. On the first glance, the whole ceremony seemed to spontaneous, especially with lack of timing or information. However there seems to be great effort and organization behind it.

The kids tried to paint on scary faces, however it seems that whatever they do, the Balinese kids always look cute. 

The parade did not start until sunset. Announcements were made in Bahasa Indonesia and also very thoughtfully in English about the ceremonies and the route of the parade. Then it started. The music, the fire, the shouting, the dance... It was a spectacular and most of the times, we felt it beating in our hearts. The Ogoh-ogohs were marching (or more accurately, being marched by their teams on bamboo platforms) until a certain point under the street light, then the one in the front was turning clock-wise 3 times and facing the Ogoh-ogoh behind, a dance representing the fight between the two started... When the fight was over, the two teams were continuing with the parade and the next two Ogoh-ogohs were replacing them. The energy and the spirit was simply amazing. 

It was the best new year celebration I ever had; I was free to walk between parades of different neighborhoods, could take as many photos as I wanted, didn't need to drink and eat senselessly and was surrounded by the spirit of the Island of Gods...

Talking about taking photos, this was one of the rare events that my good old Canon 40D disappointed me with its ISO capabilities. This disappointment increased further as a friend was able to shoot perfect handheld photos at ISO 6400 without any grain using his Nikon D700. This was the third time in the last 6 months that I've witnessed a Nikon camera having a better performance in natural-light settings. I am already convinced that Nikon does a much better job with flashes. Had I not invested so much in Canon L series lenses, I would have seriously considered converting to Nikon.

The celebrations ended around 10pm around the football field. After chatting with some photographers, I went back to my place not to leave it for another 32-33 hours.

During the day of Nyepi, everyone in Bali, including non-Hindu population and tourists must observe silence. Ideally, there are also 4 rules to observe; no fire, no work, no entertainment and no traveling. One should spend the day in silent retrospection, considering the sins s/he committed the previous year and what s/he ca do better in the new year. Isn't this a much better way to start a year, instead of waking in the middle of the day with a great hangover and an upset stomach?

It seems however that as long as they do not disturb the others around, the tourists are allowed to entertain themselves. I was also lucky that my family provided 3 meals for me on Nyepi. It would have been ideal to spend the entire day meditating, however I chose the “silent entertainment” option and watched 5 movies from my laptop with headphones. Looking back, I could have taken my brain out of my skull and put it in a blender instead, but I guess that wasn't a bad start for a first-time Nyepi observer.

Since there were no cars and no fires on the entire island on that day, the sky was so clear and so blue. The “no fire” option extends to the evening as no light, so except for the occasional candle or the flashlight, the whole island was in darkness. So especially the evening sky was amazing, we were blanketed by millions of stars.

A night of high-energy celebrations, followed by silence, clarity and darkness was simply a great experience. A few friends have escaped to Java as they did not want to be locked in their homes for Nyepi. I am glad that I stayed and would feel very lucky if I ever I can be in Bali again for future Nyepis.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

cabbages and condoms

This is the last entry about Thailand - better late than never. 

I've read about Cabbages & Condoms in the Lonely Planet guide and wanted to give it a try for good Thai food.  The place and the food was well above my expectations. It was quite pricey for Bangkok standards but well worth a visit for a dinner. I was especially impressed with the decorations and the ambiance and would like to share some photos.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

bangkok - by night

The highlight of the Bangkok experience actually came the day I returned from Vipassana. There was another fárang; Benny in our meditation group, who also needed to be back in Bangkok only for a day to pick up his passport from the Indian embassy. We shared the same hostel room. After 12 days of no contact with the outside world, I was hungry for some online time. Benny however was craving for some Falafel, followed by an Indie movie. What are the chances of staying in the same room with someone else who craves Middle Eastern food and even knows places to get good food? If anything, this was some good coincidence. We checked some movie theater schedules while discussing some Bangkok experiences, when at some point the subject came to the red light districts of the city and what they offer. Benny said that everyone in his country who visited Bangkok rumors about the “ping pong shows” (I later figured that it is a generic name given to the shows where trained girls shoot things like ping-pong balls, bananas, arrows etc out of their vaginas.) His previous attempts to find a club with such a show have failed. As crazy as it sounded at some point I found myself agreeing and thanks to the internet we identified the red light districts (there are 3 in this city) and noted down names of few clubs. It was surprising for me to find a lot of information on the internet on the clubs, the shows, ratings, scams etc, I thought all that sort of information would be more word of mouth or somehow publicly less available. I was worrying about the impact of a ping pong show on my recently cleaned Karma just hours after finishing a Vipassana course. One thing for sure however, was that it would be more interesting than some Indie movie.

After9pm, we headed out for Soi Cowboy behind Sukhumvit and started looking for the Long Gun club. A few people commented that it was one of the few scam-free clubs with reasonable drink prices. The whole Soi Cowboy was a shock to me. Too much light, noise, crowd, prostitutes, … Having more experience, Benny was pointing out which one was a real woman and which one was a “lady boy”. There was no way for me to tell the difference. I couldn't even stare for that long

We went in the club and were seated. There was already a striptease show on the stage. The girls looked bored and were more interested in watching themselves in the mirrors around the stage. It was very uncomfortable for me and for a long time I couldn't even look at the show on the stage, so I started scanning the audience. Realizing that I was the only non-Thai woman along the audience did not help me feel more comfortable at all. I tried to chat a little with Benny so that I would justify not looking at the girls but except politely responding to my questions, Benny didn't seem very eager to divert his attention from the stage. Seriously, why was I there? What on earth got into me so that I was in the middle of the most anti-feminist actions? Why was I watching women undressing and even worse, other men paying to see them do that? And all that just 12 hours after finishing a Vipassana course??? I asked Benny if we could leave and he answered “no way, I didn't come in here to see a regular strip tease, I will not go before I see the ping pong show” Ok then, all I could hope was that the show would start soon.

Around 10:30, the stage was prepared for the show and the waitresses started distributing balloons. Two girls appeared on the stage, totally naked. The show started with girls blowing whistles from their vagina. Then they were shooting little arrows at the balloons. I explained at great length to Benny how core muscles as well as mula bandha helps the girls to that... He seemed genuinely interested so I went on and on.. It was a very good way to keep distracted from the show. While I was babbling, the show ended with girls simultaneously shooting out bananas... Horray, it meant that we could leave now!
In memoirs of strippers or escort girls, I read that there would sometimes be women coming to such clubs with their colleagues or male friends and making fun of the strippers... I can't understand that... I cannot ever criticize them on the way they choose to earn money. I can't even know if it's their choice. It was just too much for me to be there, to be a part. I have to admit that I was curious about the red-light district action of Bangkok, but the whole experience was more of a discomfort for me and I was quite relieved when we were out of the club. Benny seems to have rationalized the whole thing by saying that sex shows and prostitution is a normal thing in the Thai culture and it's the Westerners who have a negative stigma to it... It's just too much for me to buy in.