Let’s Chill Like the Buddha – My Day Off in Paris

 

Chill out! said the Buddha

Chill out! said the Buddha

“Why can’t you just chill out?” said the Buddha, his face calm and steady before me.  It was my day off in Paris today after a long week of work, and I had big plans.  Big plans, I tell you!  I wanted to cram way too much Parisian activity into a weekend, starting with visiting the Guimet Asian Art Museum.

By the time I arrived there, I was a sweaty mess.  I had walked way too fast because of the limited time to see the Buddhist sculptures exhibit before seeing a friend.  I huffed up the stairs, bought my ticket and then ran into a slow-moving tour group.  Move out of my way, I have to see some Buddhas!

Of course, the Buddha’s peaceful face mocked me.  How can I possibly enjoy the gorgeous Angkor-era Buddhist statues and bas reliefs in this gorgeous museum when I’m rushing around?  I couldn’t possibly enjoy the moment.  Traveling isn’t about ticking the boxes and cramming a gajillion activities into a weekend. It’s about exploring the moment and soaking up the culture and everyday life around me.

So for the rest of the day, I abandoned my to-do list..  After drinking tea and eating yummy macarons with an old friend, I explored the Marais, the hip shopping area with small windy roads, and I got lost.  Gladly.  I did manage to find Place des Vosges, a bustling park, and I read a book and watched a group of teenage girls munch on cheese and crackers as they gawked at boys nearby doing the same.

 

Place des Vosges, Marais

Place des Vosges, Marais

I’m reminded again of how I can get so caught up with doing it all, seeing it all. that I miss out on the main reason why I enjoy traveling:  to explore a new place and to live in the moment.

Well, tomorrow’s a new day!  Off to bed…will keep the Buddha’s calm face in mind.

 

 

 

 

When The Bus Broke Down in Tibet

Prayer flags

Prayer flags

The bus slowed to a halt.  Then it lurched forward and coughed black fumes and stopped again. I was finally in Tibet and yet, our bus had officially died only twenty miles from the airport.  It seemed like we were never going to get to Lhasa.

A few Tibetan men with lit cigarettes dangling from their chapped lips stepped off the bus.  Their jackets were worn and faded by the sun, and lines of thread dangled from the frayed hems of their pants.  They squatted by the side of the road and played cards in the dirt.  The driver pulled tools from a box under his seat and immersed himself from the waist up under the hood, banging and twisting things.

I needed to go to the bathroom and I wasn’t sure about leaving.  The bus could get fixed any minute now.

I peered out the window to find the driver’s legs still sticking out from under the hood.  His friend tossed a part of the engine up and down in the air, higher and higher while his buddies laughed.  Tools were scattered all along the front of the bus and obviously, this was going to be more than just a short stop.  It was already afternoon and night would soon be coming.

Getting off the bus was like trying to walk up a crowded escalator.  Every seat was occupied, with three people crammed into the two-seater seats.  Others, who spilled into the aisles, brought their own wooden stools while carrying bags, live animals and fruit on their lap. I stepped over them and passed torn brown suitcases held together with string. Near the driver’s seat, live chickens, bound by their feet to a shabby straw basket, squawked.

When I stepped out, the sun’s intense rays glared down on me, cooking my black hair so my head was hot to the touch.  It did not really occur to me before that being at such a high altitude meant being closer to the sun.

The dirt road stretched out as far as I could see, and as I walked, I admired how smooth and bare the landscape was.  The sky was a brilliant deep blue, the kind of purity in color that I first discovered in my kindergarten paint set before learning of other shades like baby blue and peacock navy.

There were no houses, animals or people in sight.  The bus was a tiny speck at the bottom of the road and up ahead was just a straight line.  However, when I passed a bend in the road, I discovered a small wooden shack. I made a bee-line to it, each step of the way as excruciating as the next.  My bladder was going to burst.  A small outhouse was just off to the side.  It was a tiny concrete box with no doors and two holes in the ground divided by a waist-high wooden partition.  I ran in.  Relief.

With my pants still wrapped around my ankles, I hobbled out into the daylight; I couldn’t bear the stench any longer, and my eyes were starting to water.  As I bent over to pull up my pants, I heard a gasp from behind me.  I whipped around and tried to cover myself with my hands, but it was too late.

I had just mooned my first Tibetan.

She was a short but sturdy woman in her 30s with a full balloon-like dirt-brown skirt and a cream colored shirt.  Beautiful turquoise beads speckled her thick black locks. She carried a homemade broom made out of straw in her hand and a plastic dustpan in the other.

“I’m so sorry!” I exclaimed.  “I was just leaving!”

She eyed me up and down without any expression on her face.  And then  she repeatedly pointed towards her emaciated vegetables and then again at her outhouse.  Her face displayed not a hint of animosity but more curiosity with a slight tinge of fear in her eyes.  Her mouth was reduced to a tiny red dot below her nose.  Maybe she didn’t know how to take me since I was a foreigner but I looked Chinese.

I finally extended my hand out, but she didn’t shake it.  Remembering something I read in my guidebook, I clasped my hands together and bowed my head, the traditional gesture to greet a Tibetan, especially when entering a temple or someone’s home.

Then she smiled, showing her little brown stubs of teeth.  We laughed nervously, and I pulled out a bag of peanuts from the airplane for her.  She pushed it away from me, still maintaining her smile.

We stood there for several minutes grinning and nodding, until finally, I waved goodbye to her and began walking back to the bus.  Down the path, I turned around and she was still at the top of the road, waving away until she looked like a tiny grain blending into the background.

This excerpt is from my book THE SAME SKY – Chapter 4 Sparkler.  For more excerpts, click here.

 

Be Kind and Let Go

My niece Cassidy

My niece Cassidy wrote “Be kinder.”

My 11-year old niece scribbled down “Be kinder” as her #1 New Year’s resolution.  The next day, her father promised her a guinea pig and she was so excited.  “You know what that means, right?” I asked.  She paused, blinked and said, “Yeah, I better be kind.  I really want a guinea pig.”

She asked me about my #1 New Year’s resolution.  “Let go more,” I replied.  “Every day.  And be kinder.”  She giggled and said “Hey that’s mine!”  Then she got serious and asked, “Only at the beginning of the year?”  and I laughed. Should we be kinder and let go and all that stuff every day?

When my husband and I traveled to Turkey in August for our one-year anniversary, we met an American couple also celebrating their anniversary:  50th! They were a cute couple who still held hands.

“What’s your secret?  Any advice?” we asked them.  He was quiet for a few seconds and then said, “I think you have to let go and accommodate.”  She nodded and said, “Our first year was the hardest.  And we’ve had our ups and downs but I think the first year is tough because we were still trying to figure each other out.”

I agree.  Our first year has been fantastic yet hard work — lots of traveling, talking and evenings in watching movies.  We’ve been learning more and more about each other.  It’s like taking a university course on the other person and not realizing that the course doesn’t ever really end.  But the midterms can be hard.

In 2013, I asked a number of people what their best piece of advice on marriage and here’s what they said:

-don’t sweat the small stuff

-be honest:  sometimes he can cook a better omelette than you

-after a fight, no matter what, let go of the anger and hug

-you don’t have to always be right

Notice they all fall into the same categories of “be kind” and “let go”?  And I’m convinced that apart from the usual New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and exercise more, people essentially set goals that also have the same themes.  We all want to let go more, be happier and treat each other better.  Hard stuff but it’s so worth it!

One quick story before I sign off:  years ago, I came across a Tibetan monk who shared that the greatest pain we feel is when we hold onto anger, jealousy and expectation.  He reminded me of the Buddhist philosophy that we are like the water that flows around a rock in a fast moving river.  You can’t get stuck – you have to keep going, let go, move on and believe that things are meant to be as they are.

What is your New Year’s resolution?  Write it down…I’m curious to know.

The guinea pigs arrived today!

My nieces got their guinea pigs today!