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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Hi Tech Knapsack

Greetings from Bangkok, Thailand.

What??

Yes. I suppose it requires some explanation, so here goes.

I was actually planning to come after some 180 days in India, to renew my status. But my friend Fran├žois, whom Josh knew from Dharamsala, and who visited us in Tel Aviv, did need to go on a visa run. At first I was reluctant, but in the end, he proved rather persuasive.

In any case, being spiritually inclined from all the good vibes in Bhag Aviv, but not sure if I was ready for the discipline of the 10-day Vipassana course there, it seemed a propitious moment to do the same course in Thailand, where the format seemed somewhat more appealing. In addition, I knew that I could get a computer for much cheaper than in India. As I wanted to continue my journey, on and on, it seemed wise to get some gear to make a bit of cash so I could offset expenses. So off we went.

A few days were spent at a disappointing beach (Pattaya). Then to the course. Fran├žois ditched me after the first day, but no matter. The course was a revelation in self awareness.

There were about 60 participants, two thirds of whom were women. Almost all were Thais. There were about eight foreign women, and I was the only foreign man. The surroundings were idyllic. The food, totally vegetarian and truly fantastic, and among the healthiest I have ever eaten. We slept in dorms, and my room actually backed onto the bathrooms. So I could hear all that high-fiber goodness working on the meditators. From squeaks to gurgles to all-out roars, it was sonorously amplified via the porcelain acoustics. Down the drain it went, and to be sure, it was a fitting metaphor for the experience of ridding myself of all that shit inside.

Vipassana is essentially a meditation exercise to quiet the mind by observation of breathing and bodily sensations. The principle, which is non-sectarian, has you observe, without reacting, all sensations on your skin, bringing you to the very experiential realization that all things are transitory. That may sound a bit abstract, but when you live this insight, past hurts dissolve. Calm sets in. Anger dissipates. And together, this leads to quite a shift in perspective.

All this is done in an atmosphere of silence, since everyone’s experience is very personal, and it would spoil it to be yakking about it to the other meditators. That doesn’t mean to say there are no distractions. After ten days of total solitude, I had a coterie of imaginary friends. And there was a monk among the meditators who caught my attention, firing my imagination. He had Shiva tattoos all over his body, which I just couldn’t help noticing: The Monk Who Was a Hunk. On the tenth day, we were allowed to speak, and he turned out to be an interesting guy. I asked him if he had been a DJ or biker before becoming a monk, as I had imagined. Just a graphic designer; nothing like a bit of speech to shatter an image.

Now truly feeling enlightened in a most novel way, I headed back to Bangkok, to rampage. That done, and proving to be rather anticlimactic in my newly acquired loftiness, I bought a laptop computer. It took a whole day, in the truly amazing Pantip Plaza: five floors of hi-tech gadgetry to behold and bargain for. In the end, I got a great deal on an HP Pavilion Entertainment PC, which has provided non-stop fun ever since the purchase. Of course I negotiated a bunch of extras in the deal, the most important of which was a knapsack to carry the computer and ancillary equipment.

Thus an era comes to an end, for the Hi Tech Knapsack replaces the Bag of Culture. Tomorrow night, I fly to Delhi, to continue my journey, whose nature may have changed quite a bit now.

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