a story to be told

POSTCARD #257: New Delhi temp: 38° Centigrade (100.4° Fahrenheit): Too hot to be out in the middle of the day, stay indoors, everything is internalized, giving way to the illusion. Lucky to have this comfortably cool room – two ceiling fans spinning in the half darkness of noon-day filtered light. This old house was nicely designed; corridor goes around three sides of the room with large window at the front, looking through the corridor space, out through a second window to the garden – and same at the back.

Enclosed in a room inside a room, lost to the ‘real’ world, we choose the window of Netflix – a story to be told about me and the Netflix illusion getting to know each other here in Asia, where I’ve been resident for 30 years, a Scot married to Jiab who is Thai. I’m distanced from the Western cultural model, a part of my past surgically removed, and all immigrants will know how that feels. Nowadays, the best audio, video devices have made it here to this part of the world and raised to a level equal to, or higher (some would say), than the Western model. So I bought myself a large, flat-screen TV, and stepped into sound and color.

Getting emotional, just listening to the sound of Western voices conversing in the mother tongue – the familiarity of it quite strange. Sudden recall of whole pieces of my life, forgotten until that moment. I’d get quite tearful about just seeing the streets, the traffic, and the easy pleasantness of it. The pace and the way things move along, created for TV by the director and advisors from the political realm, those unseen, propping up the Western model of the world as they see it.

How wonderful to have all these generous close-ups of immaculate faces, portraits, talking heads, good-looking news anchors in Breaking News. Ordinary faces are extraordinary on TV shows, super-ordinary, the face is an act in itself, head swings, facial gestures, lovable laughter and dentistry, cosmetics, lighting – more than enough, and all these nice interiors, a gallery of created spaces with artwork on the walls. Everything looks better when it’s framed, presented with image enhancement, studio lighting… my room as a selfie! Smile please! Take another one, smile click.

I’m falling in love with it more and more each day but I’m also somewhere in a story of the past in a black-and-white world, sad shades of grey. The irretrievably lost, a la recherché du temps perdu. A part of me died while I was away, I’m back there now just in time for the funeral, and relatives I’d forgotten about, greying and smaller than I remembered, look at me as if I were a ghost. I am a ghost, an actor in a movie, playing a part so well the audience believe it’s real. About this, unknowingly we accept, and to an extent engage with. The skill of the illusionists, the politicians, or anyone with the gift of the gab, convincingly dressed for the part, standing against a nice backdrop and there you are.

The story I’m in is different from but similar to those of migrant populations from Europe who came to the US with their belongings and heritage of things past. I went in the opposite direction, back to the places all those young and able-bodied left behind. Similar in the sense that now they’re hidden in the background, like me, off-stage or behind the scene. But theirs was a story of hardship and endowed with the sharp intelligence of living on the edge. The great great grandmothers and great great grandfathers of today’s success stories in the West, you could say. In two generations the memory of the old world is completely gone, death is a vanishing trick.

Today’s refugees and migrant workers are waiting in the wings, with their own stumbling through a colonial and demolished past, singing their songs about forgotten things out of time and place. Ready for the next re-build… another story to be told.


Photo: Siam Paragon Mall in Bangkok the day it opened, December 9, 2005. I walked into a glass wall, split an eyebrow and there was a lot of blood. Not serious but it looked bad and, uncharacteristic of the Thais, no one came forward to help. I had to find my own way out of the place, clean up in a washroom and get a taxi home.

voice-over

IMG_3377POSTCARD #198: THAILAND: Arrived in Bangkok, then a small propeller plane to Hua Hin, 41 mins flight, ninety miles down the coast. Unaware of the Brussels bombings we walked on the beach, no people anywhere, where’d everybody go? Came upstairs to our room on 6th floor, switch on TV and there it was; the Brussels Bombings filling our hotel room from nearly ten thousand miles away. We were stunned by the coverage; BREAKING NEWS, coming to you live from CNN Center in Atlanta. CNN reaches the whole of the US, and as far West as Pacific Islands and Japan. Then the other way from Atlanta, all countries in South America broadcast in Spanish and Portuguese, East through Europe in all languages including Arabic and the whole continent of Africa. On through Asia to Australia who are so far down-under, the rest of the world is up-over to them. CNN facilitates this news and within minutes, the bombs in Brussels are exploding all over the world.

FullSizeRender (5)We wake up the next day and it’s the same thing, the assumption is that many people in the world haven’t heard the news yet. At breakfast there are developments that seemingly, we need to hear about, also in-depth analyses of what happened and why, with experts discussing it – showing the same footage with voice-over and the production beginning to take a particular form. But we can’t pay much attention to it, busy with getting ready for our walk along the beach. Understandable really, I think, being the only white guy here. Brown people over here and everywhere with black hair and dark eyes, who are not Americans but the majority of the world’s population, puzzled and a bit embarrassed by the CNN presentation. Inclined to ask what caused the extremists to do such a thing? Sorry but that’s the wrong question… CNN is broadcasting its opinion in all countries of the world, stepping into everyone’s lives and figuratively speaking blasting everyone with the aftermath of the bombings using the dismay, distress, and consternation as a vehicle to convey the consensus point of view.

My niece M who is 12, asks me ‘Why?” I have to provide a satisfactory answer, but the same ‘why?’ follows me and my explanation. Then the extended form: ‘but why?’ all the way through my reasoning as we get into the elevator and she stops asking only when we reach the bottom, running out and down to the sea. Our early morning walk along the sand, and again we are the only people there, leaving a trail of footprints and the only others are those of the birds, M running ahead stopping to take close-up photos with my phone and her ‘why?’ more concerned with why do the footprints look as if they’re embossed on the surface, relief sculptures, rather than hollowed in the sand, strange – once you see it that way it’s difficult to see it the other way.

M footprintsBack up to the hotel room and the show must go on. Intense music, bright red colors and talking heads appear. They seem to ask and answer questions but the dialogue has been scripted. Frightening scenes of devastation from an on-the-spot location in the danger zone while we are in a safe place at home, made to feel like voyeurs at the battle scene: ‘This is coming to you live’ yes but it’s an act, rehearsed, decided on by an editorial team  who take advice from those obscure unseen advisors making decisions, about how the facts should be portrayed.

The dialogue looks spontaneous, and informative (I’d like to be a fly on the wall of these studios and see how much of an act this really is), welcoming the invisible third party, that’s us, the part we play as passive listeners mesmerised by the act, struggling in a bewilderment of feelings, holding on to this induced attachment to TV that we’re kinda comfortable with anyway and only later realise that by passively acknowledging this version of events, we are committed to seeing it that way.

CNN is now established ‘in the danger zone’, with easy-to-understand explanations and we allow the hypnosis to deepen by passive acceptance of it entering our living rooms – George Orwell’s 1984 propaganda TV reassures the population it’s all being taken care of by those who know what to do, although the threat of it continues. We know there’s something happening, it’s as if it were orchestrated, quite obvious really, but somehow hidden. Curious why we allow it to be there, but we feel we’re already committed to the CNN point of view, and that rewarding, induced, comforting mind-state takes over as we fall into our places in front of TV.

IMG_2852The next day I go into Google and find it has a Wikipedia entry already. Still there’s the question: why are these Islamic extremists targeting us? Could it be that it’s the result of something we did to them? Sorry but there’s something wrong with that question. History is made by those who won the war.

I’d like to explain to M how this illusion is constructed but cannot. So I’ll just have to hope she’s has a good enough grasp of English soon so she can read this post sometime and understand it after I’m not around any more.

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Photos:  view from our hotel room at the top and the others are footprints made by a bird and M’s footprints as she studied the image on the screen that made it appear to be embossed on the surface.

9/11/2015: perception

September_14_2001_Ground_Zero_02A Buddhist Reflection: Survivors describe how, after the debris and dust settled, there was only blue sky where the twin towers used to be. It was as if the awful devastation hadn’t occurred, mind turns away… natural reaction, a kind of sleight-of-hand,  conjuring trick – one thing becomes something else, what is seen and what it appears to be merge together. Human beings have a deep familiarity with the illusion – everything we see, hear, smell, taste, touch is perceived. Consciousness of the world unfolds and thought rationalises how it appears to be. It’s this, it’s that, the illusion insists on being there until things hidden and obscured are revealed and we cannot return to the unknowingness of how it was before… ignorance is a kind of ignoring.

Form and formlessness; there are planes, explosions and buildings disappear. The video running continuously on YouTube for 14 years, I know the sequence in detail. I also know how the mind habitually joins up all the loose ends of awareness input, interpreting reality, perception is interpretation. Now you see it, now you don’t… a technology that can break up the molecular structure of concrete, turns buildings to dust – hoover it all up, remove melted steel remnants and everything is gone. I try not to think about it anymore; war and disaster, samsara of violence, distress, pain, fear and that underlying sense that something about this is not what it seems to be… learning to live with that uncertainty.

Mind is powered and driven by TV news – forgetting that it’s just a presentation, a performance in the studio. Hair-styling, cosmetics, the newsreader is an actor reading from a script. TV news is a created product based on an event manipulated to get it to fit into media format. TV news producers create a scenario of righteous anger, Sodom and Gomorrah retributional justice; it’s all ‘their’ fault, not our fault, blame and guilt… complicity. The tendency to contract into self, ‘I’ caused it to be ‘wrong’ – no, I don’t want to think about this anymore, don’t want to dwell on anything sinister…

People living in war-ravaged countries (such as Iraq for example) know that when a traumatic event takes place everything changes. After the disaster, our surroundings are seen in a different way; in the aftermath of this truly catastrophic circumstance we come to realise that the smoke was actually dust. What we believed in before this happened disintegrates, a basic truth now included in our worldview… nothing is permanent – history taking place before our eyes. Fourteen years after the experience, some ease can be found in simply knowing the ‘terrorists’ created a shockwave that unknowingly opened a window of awareness to world attention.

Dependent on the eye and forms, visual-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as condition there is feeling. What one feels, that one perceives. What one perceives, that one thinks about. What one thinks about, that one mentally proliferates. With what one has mentally proliferated as the source, perception and notions resulting from mental proliferation beset a man with respect to past, future, and present forms cognizble through the eye (Majjhima Nikaya, I, 111–112).

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Photo source: Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:September_14_2001_Ground_Zero_02.jpg#/media/File:September_14_2001_Ground_Zero_02.jpg
[See also earlier posts:
9/11 2014,
9/11 2013
9/11 2012]
Related source: ‘Working with Perception’ by Ajahn Sucitto

 

improvisation

IMG_2123POSTCARD 149: Delhi: Mall architecture, astonishingly playful buildings, concrete and steel monuments and shrines to maya (sanskrit: illusion) – in Chiang Mai they even named a shopping mall ‘MAYA’. The population welcomes the idea; step into the illusion… air-conditioned, bright and colourful. More and more of these in Bangkok, over the top – a lightweight upbeat city culture, low labour cost and construction projects are ongoing. Something hopelessly inevitable about it careering towards the relentless consumer culture of the West – except that in the East, people are more likely to ‘know’ when they’re stepping into the illusion. Cultural tradition, awareness and vestiges of spirituality; besides, everybody here knows that if somebody is in the market trying to sell you something, it means you have the option to negotiate a fair price… not so in the Mall, and that’s why so few people go there.

The Mall culture affects only a small percentage of the population (sounds like a virus) and, I have to say I’m sometimes part of that minority; the need for essential things for devices, bookshops and a good baker. To get to our mall we have to drive out of town and the three-building complex is situated in an undeveloped area – there’s a fourth building going up at the time of writing. Construction site workers’ community nearby, chickens and goats in a hot dry, dusty landscape. Come off the highway, through a great winding turn of rough unsurfaced road, potholes and puddles of water and into the short entry, manned by security – car examined, mirrors held underneath, look in the trunk, the engine. More security at the entrance, metal detector and security guards carry out a full body search before you get in the door.

It’s as if the whole concept of consumerism is subject to scrutiny; not as easy as it is in the West to simply be ‘pulled’ into the Mall like a magnet and disinclined to escape from the illusion. For many people the whole thing seems impossible to change, situated at the end of the consumerist food chain, as they are, and trapped in that predicament. No alternative, we have to purchase the product because we can’t create it ourselves – so far away from the artisan, so far away from doing things ourselves. People believe they can’t improvise… forgetting that the whole thing is improvised… language is improvised, life itself is improvised. All the systems that are in place were improvised to start with, and even though we may be subject to skillful marketing strategies, there’s still the innate ability to be creative, to improvise, to invent, to innovate, to find a way out of the illusion.

These carnivorous marketing creatures have to be gently pushed into the background in order to bring what’s really meaningful in life into focus. There’s a lightness, a floating in the air… the open-endedness of the human situation, groundlessness.

“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we cannot cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves?” [Thomas Merton]

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photo: shopping mall Bangkok