Posted on April 26, 2015
Stepping out onto the verandah, a strong feeling of déjà vu sweeps over me. I breathe in the early morning air of the sleepy fishing village of Tai O, the sound of the water inviting me out to explore.
The purity of silence only a pre-dawn sky can provide, accompanies me as I walk down a path toward the shore of the South China Sea.
A restless purr of a yellow cat holding sentry duty catches my attention, she gives me a quick look-over before closing her eyes and nodding approval to pass.
Clearing the path, I continue down along the shore of the Tai O Heritage Hotel.
Sleep last night was worthless. The building kept whispering stories and secrets to me from a century long ago. Words with a personal ring, the whispers of long-lost friends.
My mind races at the possibilities, whether I am a dreamer caught up in a turn-of-the-century drama, or whether the history of this place holds a reality I am now just becoming aware.
Standing on the shore, I expected to see a fleet of Chinese junks flying the flag of a renegade pirate; a flag supposedly designed by myself. To my relief the shore is empty and I chuckle at the thought of what I would have done if it wasn’t.
My dreams of the night, vivid creations of the rich history of this place.
Crouching down, I pick up a stone and toss it out into the water as I hear a faint foghorn of a ship out on the horizon. I have finally made it to one of the oldest and most secluded areas of Hong Kong.
When I first arrived in Hong Kong almost two decades ago I had targeted this fishing village to be one of my first adventures, but time and life got in the way.
She is an old fishing village, one that has definitely seen better days. Today Tai O is more of a hangout for older people in their 70s, desperately holding onto the good life of saltwater and the sea.
Younger souls fresh in their 20s and 30s are also around, looking lost amid a modern world that has little room for the craftsmanship of fishermen.
Above me is the old police station, an outpost of the Hong Kong and British maritime police, where officers actively protected these shores from centuries of pirates and smuggling.
Stories that fueled the dreams from last night, still reverberating in my mind as I begin walking down the road ~ returning to a place I have long forgotten.
Less than twelve hours ago, Tai O was just a figment of my imagination, a chaotic myth of the old days of Hong Kong. I now find myself walking effortlessly under an early morning sky as if I were born on these streets.
I walk with purpose, with an understanding of what I am looking for even though my mind is filled with confusion.
The memories are fresh. The old stilt houses, the planks leading from one neighbor to another and the wild activity that made up a day.
Blurred images of friends laughing and enjoying the serene atmosphere of the night, forgetting the dangers that filled our hearts every evening as we’d head out to sea for work.
Work. Not quite the type of work that would make most families proud, but work nonetheless.
The police station in Tai O is no longer here, having shut down over fifteen years ago, but the building still stands just as it did when built by the British in 1902. Now a beautiful building, fitted out by the Hong Kong Heritage Conservation Foundation to become the Tai O Heritage Hotel.
I smile at the thought that at least I have a more comfortable bed than those who spent a night in the holding cell a century ago.
The building was home to one of the territories first colonial police stations guarding the western border between Hong Kong and China, and holding pieces of history that are now all but forgotten.
Reflecting back on the dream that woke me during the night, I wonder if it is a reminder of the role I filled as a noble Hong Kong policeman serving this village more than a century ago?
The answer to this question is obvious to me, as the sense of nostalgia tells me this definitely was not the case. I was living a darker, very different life.
I realized this the minute I arrived at the hotel. The electricity I felt as my fingers brushed over the nine bullet holes embedded into the security shutters on the main floor of the hotel, telling me this was not just a chance meeting in Tai O.
I admire the historians and renovators who kept the original shutters, damaged and scarred but holding a place in time at the police station. Trapping the memories of those days gone by.
Years earlier, there was another piece of violence all but forgotten. A firefight on these shores more than one hundred years ago. Faded shots and screams still echoing in the air. The ghosts, waiting for my return, now stand alongside me as I walk these streets. The voices of my dreams earlier tonight are with me once again.
I weave through the different paths, looking around aimlessly for something I once called home. Familiarity is all around me, but I am very out-of-place.
There is an urge for me to call out names and shout good morning in a strange Chinese dialect I have never heard before, much less spoken.
- The water.
- The houses.
- The sea.
The strong smell of shrimp paste, dried fish and scallops fill the air and tell me a story I cannot quite remember.
I am trapped in a time and place, where there isn’t a clear definition between good and bad. Where answering the question of how to make a living was never considered. Just one path, one fate.
A life, where evolution of the soul and mind did not come easy, if at all, unlike the freedoms I have today.
Caught up in the spirit of adventure on the South China Sea; a pirate’s life. A fantasy of many young kids growing up in those days. Romanticizing life in way only a child can, inevitably to be disappointed in its reality.
Decisions made from necessity, poorly thought out and running with a band of marauders between Tai O and Mainland China, a life of survival with no way out.
The excitement of the chase, the beauty of the culture and memories of her many smiles, all combine to justify the clash between lifestyle and philosophy. The stories and secrets whisper to me yet again.
Words that did not make much sense back then, even less so now.
The ending of this dream is not a surprising one. Over a century ago on these very shores, violence ended my story. The image strong in my mind. Of myself, a dying man.
My final thoughts questioning if somewhere, somehow in another time or place I could have travelled down another road.
History is this great mirror able to show us a different time, different place and different potential in us all as we find our way in life.
I see a faint image of a wife and child standing alone. A twinge of sorrow fills my heart, my eyes moving to a basket of dried shrimp she’s holding, igniting another memory from so long ago. Their whispers silently fading away as they bid me adieu.
We are all more alike than we could ever understand. Rich or poor, young or old, the vast differences we see on the surface means nothing.
Build a life worth living, so when the inevitable day of death arrives, we know our life was one fully lived ~ a life worth dying for.
Posted on March 31, 2015
From the moment I awake, I lie silently and listen to the calling of the universe to determine the type of day ahead, because every day has its own personality. Some mornings are overwhelming, blasting with the sound of horns and a declaration of chaos. A day that can zap the life out of the soul, and the only bright spot is thinking of the good tomorrow may bring. Other mornings, the universe whispers and the day arrives quiet and serene. I am able to spend the day deep in thought, piecing together ideas and by night my life resembles some type of order. Then there are mornings like today, when the universe offers a connection that seems very personal. A feeling of confidence floating between secrets and knowledge: an invitation for adventure and a day to push the envelope. I roll out of bed as the sun breaks, brew a fresh pot of coffee and wander down to the water. Breathing in the morning air and looking up at the mountains, it is impossible not to wonder about Ellinor. There is nowhere else in the world my troubles melt away than here on Hood Canal and the Skokomish wilderness. It is here my consciousness pervades a deeper level of reality, a connectedness to nature. Many people have such a place ~ a place of solitude that brings out an instinctive feeling of inspiration. Perhaps it is love. A need for a deep association with the world etched into who we are as individuals. I cannot help but smile as I think back to a quote “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” – Carl Sagan (Cosmos) My smile turns into laughter, as Sagan’s words reaffirm the relationship I have with Ellinor. She belongs to me as I belong to her. At the quantum level we are one. Nature holds something true and intrinsic within our souls; a beauty that burns deep within our cells. Writers and poets have long written sonnets about their affairs with nature, and recently leading physicists have joined in with new theories and experiments to show we have relationships far beyond what our minds can fathom. At the quantum level we are made up of subatomic particles, and what a story these particles have to tell. Physicists are uncovering the magic of these subatomic particles and their incredible gift: their connectedness and ability to communicate with other particles instantaneously and over unimaginable distances (spanning our universe). This phenomenon, called quantum entanglement, is not new – but recent experiments and theories have cracked open this door even wider, which is as exciting as it is mysterious. Quantum entanglement quite possibly wraps all of us together where everything in the universe is connected to everything else. Scientists contemplating a spiritual side of nature, and theorists spinning their minds trying to comprehend what this all could mean.
“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.” ― Carl Sagan
For me, I imagine within my heart is an electron connected to every Roosevelt Elk walking through the wilderness, every salmon swimming in the Skokomish River and every foothold leading up to the summit of Mt. Ellinor. So on this beautiful day, how can I possibly be thinking of quantum entanglement, especially while standing here on the shores of Hood Canal looking at Ellinor only thirty-miles away? I am here because I believe Ellinor has reached out to me to visit her once again. Once a year, I take a pilgrimage to her peaks to rejuvenate my soul and recharge my spirit. It sets my mind right; the rush of the climb, the beauty along every step is the easy answer why. I am aware of the Unrequited Love of Ellinor, which makes my return perhaps even more special. No expectations, no great planning, just a great hike that in the end leaves me speechless. I’ve been hiking Ellinor as far back as I can remember, summiting her and exploring the peaks of her neighbors. Each time, on my descent I felt both spiritually complete and physically spent. I must admit that even prior to my hike today the jealousy of never seeing a mountain goat, somewhat common around this part of the Skokomish wilderness, flickers in me every now and then, but my faith holds true. Ellinor will grant me this moment when the time is right. Standing here, three days into the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Goat, I have the idea that Ellinor has brought me to her to make this year special. The weather is perfect. The summit is easily accessible this early in the year due to light winter snowfall, and I am ready to strengthen my relationship with her and all that is around me. Waking this morning to Ellinor’s subsonic whispers of the day’s possibilities was perfect. I drink the last of my coffee and walk along the waters of Hood Canal, content in the solace she has offered. Being out in nature makes it easier for me to imagine we are all just bags of stardust, particles billions of years old cognizant of everything in the universe. The idea of these particles able to communicate over billions of miles instantaneously, though, is tough to grasp but fun to dream about.
- Does a form of consciousness exist at the quantum level?
- Does intuition receive information via quantum entanglement?
- Do the strange results in quantum physics in regards to observation link us to Eastern philosophy and deeper levels of consciousness and illusion?
Looking up, I see a familiar set of eyes for the first time. These incredible mountain goats seem surprised to have me hanging around the summit, but they share Ellinor with me. Feeling a rush of adrenaline amid the setting sun, I ponder at what the universe and Ellinor is teaching me. I suppose it is just the simple thought to enjoy life and keep listening to nature. Hear the words of the universe and begin to think of “we” instead of “I”. Everything is “we”. We are interconnected in a way that is obvious, made up of the same material: stardust. The difficulty of this connectedness lies in the depths of the links and attachments we have to the universe and to each other. It is a bit overwhelming. Jumping around the boulders, following these impressive mountain goats I am thrilled this day has finally come. A day I expected, and perhaps that is why it is here. Why I am here. The majestic confidence these goats have, somehow clinging onto the face of a cliff with their hooves when all looks lost is impressive. I feel a bit foolish thinking that finding these mountain goats on today’s climb within the first week of the Year of the Goat has some significance, but then who is to say it doesn’t. The universe works in mysterious ways, and as with the secrets of Ellinor, the secrets of quantum physics are many as well. It is exciting to hear of physicists discussing the results of the same particle, appearing in different places at the same time and opening the possibilities of the manipulation of space-time. The mysteries of quantum entanglement, these connections possibly holding information we can only dream to uncover. The déjà vu we feel, possibly a flash of past experience or emotion from the subatomic level. Perhaps most important to me as I put on my headlamp, pack up my gear and prepare to descend the mountain, is the idea that we never truly die. Pieces of me will carry over. The connectedness throughout the universe gives me confidence, and perhaps some state of consciousness imbedded in my subatomic particles will keep my spirit alive.
“We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.” ― Carl Sagan
Consciousness, I imagine, is a vital part of the universe. Perhaps not in the way we understand human consciousness today, but in a different form. I suppose when my time comes, I will find out. The world of physics is a world of magic with so much to learn. Accompanying physics is the magic of philosophy. One of the tenets of both Buddhist and Hindu philosophy is the idea that everything is energy, dancing in form ~ a dance with the continuous weaving of the form and the formless. Such a poetic description can double as a definition of quantum entanglement as well. A description physicists today are telling us very well may be reality. Until then, it is good to be with Ellinor. It is good to accept that we may all be a part of a scary-large family. Work hard, play hard and be good. And listen to what the universe has to say.
“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” – Joseph Campbell
Posted on February 27, 2015
A small sparrow was weaving her way down along the tree line, darting in-and-out of its branches before quickly changing directions and taking a steep dive over the riverside grasses. With a slight shift of her body she then swiftly rose again, up over the treetops.
The morning air lifting her higher and holding that crispness of winter that she found so refreshing. It was the same bite of cold that sent all her friends south, leaving her alone.
She chirped happily remembering how her loneliness was quickly replaced by the call of adventure. To explore the winter world and its forbidden culture.
The beginning of this quest happened during her migration south, when she became enchanted with the most graceful and serene bird she had ever seen, the red-crowned crane.
The mythical status of the crane was well-known in her world, a symbol of longevity and peace: the prince of all feathered creatures. Until now, their secret world was impenetrable, for as a lowly sparrow such a life was impossible to imagine…until fate intervened.
As was often the case, she was again late and had to wake up early, prior to daybreak, and fly to catch up with her host of sparrows heading south.
She darted around the landscape but could not avoid the feeling her life was about to change. She rounded a bend within eyeshot of her host when she became drawn to the frostbitten dew below; glittering as dawn’s rays were captured in frozen prisms along the river.
She saw this as an invitation of adventure; the chance to create a new path and without hesitation she slightly arched her left wing and veered from her patterned route and soared into a new world.
“They thought that it would be a disgrace to go forth as a group. Each entered the forest at a point that he himself had chosen, where it was darkest and there was no path. If there is a path it is someone else’s path and you are not on the adventure.” – Joseph Campbell
Amid the fog, an impressive red-crowned crane was enjoying his quiet morning. The frost and fog along with the thin shield of ice along the riverbank had made fishing for his breakfast much easier, so after eating his fill he had time to appreciate his surroundings.
He had wandered far from his friends, uncommon for red-crowned cranes of his stature but he did not care. His mind drifted off to a very strange sight, a simple sparrow balanced on a low-laying branch mesmerized by the frozen dew crystals dancing with the morning sun.
While normally a common sight in autumn, he knew a single sparrow perched along the side of the river in the dead of winter was a very, very rare thing.
With a grace he had only recently acquired with age, he danced along the water as if he was the Gene Kelly of the avian world, and called out to the sparrow, “Why, little sparrow, are you resting here along the riverbank as winter takes over the land?”
“You should be well on your way south, along with your friends…”
The sparrow looked up and smiled, “I was, but then I saw this river and the beauty of winter so alive this morning that I thought I would stop and join you.” She opened her throat as to sing a song, but an unexpected shiver interrupted this plan.
The crane looked at the determined sparrow, and said “when I saw you careening through the trees, along the grasses and then skimming over the river, you added rare elegance on a cold winter day…”
The sparrow tweeted happily and briefly the crane thought if birds could blush, this sparrow would look more like the fabled red robin, aglow in feigned embarrassment.
The crane looked into the proud eyes of the sparrow and saw the strength he long admired: a species of bird famous for the fact they would rather starve themselves to death than be bred in captivity.
The sparrow started singing, and the crane could not hide his admiration for the great spirit of this little bird.
As she took off for another quick flight, the red-crowned crane thought about her feathers. Like all sparrows, her feathers were simple and unadorned and fall flat in comparison to other birds, especially the red-crowned crane. Guiltily, he caught himself looking at his reflection in the river.
Humility, such an honest and great trait to have he thought to himself.
As the sparrow alighted on the crane’s back, the crane turned and shook his head slowly and added, “this winter weather has turned for the worse today and seeing as you are only in a light coat of feathers this is not a good thing…”
The sparrow, looked up and was a bit shocked at the increasing chill even with the sun coming up, and merely nodded and fluttered her wings.
A seed of despair entered her mind as she thought about her decision to break from her host, but it was quickly erased with the possibility of the day.
“What you say is true” shivered the sparrow, “I do not fully understand why I did not migrate, yet it does not matter as that moment has passed. Rather, it is our talk and experiencing this winter-wonderland I aspire to…” and quickly she took off in flight to warm herself before resting onto the crane once again.
“My days are filled with song, flight and freedom which makes every day an adventure.” The sparrow chirped and sang proudly, “and while true we are rather insignificant in the avian world, we are rewarded with a richness of life most can only dream.”
The crane smiled at this energy and sang too, although knowing his voice was no match for that of a sparrow.
A sharp chilling wind whistled down the river, and the two birds looked at each other. “What I will do this winter is what I always do. I will share with you my song, my spirit and make do with what life brings my way…” the sparrow gracefully stated.
The red-crowned crane whooped and pranced around, and for a moment the sparrow felt humiliated, scolding herself for even considering why such a regal bird would create even a little time for her.
She took a deep breath and set off into the cold wind to find whatever destiny lay ahead when the crane began to speak.
“To spend such time with a living creature such as yourself, someone with strength, vitality and perseverance seldom found in this world would be an honor for both myself and my friends.” mused the crane.
And as he spoke those words, he struck a pose as if he was courting the queen herself!
The sparrow laughed, and sang a song sweeter than any crane had heard before. In return, the crane broke out into a little jig, not caring how ridiculous he looked. This caused the sparrow to sing even more beautifully.
“There may be mythical stories about us as we keep to ourselves and our population is few compared to sparrows…” the crane spoke breathlessly, “but in the end we are all brothers and sisters.”
The song of the sparrow took on a different tone, and the melody changed as the beak of the sparrow started to chatter a bit more as the icy northern wind swooped in.
The crane laughed, not an unkind laugh, but an admirable one at the courage and spirit of this little sparrow. In front of her stood a brutal day of winter, a day that would certainly lead to her demise, yet she was still full of hope. Inspiring.
The little sparrow flitted around the crane and swept its right wing just over the water causing a ripple…before returning, shivering to his shoulder again; hope and honesty in her eyes.
“Little sparrow, come with me back to my home and you can bathe in our hot springs and dine on our fine grasses…”
Seeing a small sign of relief on her face, the crane added, “your song is angelic, enough to turn any bone-chilling winter into a warm cup of tea…and may I ask in return you teach us your songs of life so we may dance and sing ourselves throughout this winter and learn more of your wonderful world.”
Such words were music to the sparrow’s ears as the cold was quickly making both flight and song difficult. She smiled and tucked herself next to the crane and together they parted~ to make it through the cold of the winter and into the glow of spring.
*** This story was partially inspired by an old Burl Ives children’s song The Robin my twin sister Kim and I used to listen to over and over again when we were young (and for my Mom’s patience for letting us do so). Also it reflects the debate in China of choosing a national bird, with both the sparrow and red-crowned crane being the top choices.
Posted on January 31, 2015
As with the morning sun, slowly I rise out of bed and slip on a new day without a sound.
The scents of algae, spices and humidity rise above the fading dreams of last night and I savor the moment. Looking out at the pre-dawn sky I prepare my coffee, anxious for the day to begin.
Wandering down a path, I climb into a thin, carved out teak boat and push-off from the dock. The silence of the morning respected by all. The soft whisper of the breeze is music as I work my way over to the west side of the lake, and under the morning light the fishermen come to life.
Rare are the mornings when it seems as if I’ve stepped back in time, so when such moments arrive I relish the feeling.
To be a part of a culture, even if only for a short moment along the periphery, I drink in the lore of the ancient art of fishing here in Myanmar.
Gone is the clamor of modern society, replaced with the soft millennial sounds of water lapping against the hull and the rhythmic stroke of oars. Breathing in the morning air, my lungs fill with the earthy aromas floating around the life of a fisherman.
Mesmerized by the beauty and rhythm fishermen around the globe seem to share, thoughts drift to my home town and the benefit of growing up in a rural area with the abundance of nature.
Mountain lakes, streams and rivers feed the imagination at all times, none perhaps more potent as when having a line cast into the magical world below the surface of the water.
Mysterious forces lay beneath the water capturing the imagination, matched by the tranquil calmness above.
Dipping a hand in the water as the teak boat glides into the morning fog, my mind wavers between questions of the depths of oceans and the cosmos, to the more enrapturing thought of her smile and what possible future could be in store for us.
There is something about being on the water. Trying to understand the aquatic world beneath while untangling the knots of life above.
The great leviathan lurking beneath, the one we chase every time we go out on the water. Does it even exist?
Perhaps it is a kindred spirit, there to help and straighten out the kinks in our lives so as to set our minds at ease as we enjoy and celebrate this thing called life.
The Fishermen’s Lore ~ there are many sayings and stories, most involve the idea of chasing one’s own “white whale” to the dismay of others. The unique decision to pursue, when hope is lost and those around shake their head perplexed as the angler once again heads off to be on the water.
The lore of the fishermen, off to chase the elusive is a common thread we all share in the everyday pursuit of our own unique dreams.
In a place such as Inle Lake, located in the Shan State of Myanmar, it is easy to connect with the philosophies of the east and their own interpretation of what lies beneath?
How the ancient sages used the art of angling to explain the art of life: “fishing without catching any fish” is how one should live. Learn, contemplate and develop patience.
Immediately this has me thinking of Santiago, the protagonist in Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, who went months without a catch until the day he met his leviathan: the marlin he battles, respects and in the end calls a brother.
The fishermen’s life can be a salty, tough and a poor existence…but still a life I cannot help but romanticize.
The life of fishermen is anything but simple; wishes for a greater life for their children along with the increased burden society places on their craft can make for difficult days.
Yet the artistic solitude of the craft must be admired, especially for those who fish in an “effortless way” reflecting a life we all chase. An artist always alert, thus able to refine their art of angling: through practice, contemplation and patience.
A recipe to perfect any craft and pursue any dream.
As the morning passes, I see hardness in the work but a companionship as well. It is the echo of words from ancient sages who discuss the purity of understanding both yourself and what you do. A mix of understanding, when combined makes a life complete.
The beauty of such philosophy is to become a master of yourself and thus your craft.
When the art is slowly mastered, hope evolves into confidence and creativity ~ allowing the mind to flow.
Modern philosophers and educators believe the same; sprouting the idea that 10,000 hours of practice is necessary for anyone to become a master in one’s craft. An idea worth building a life around.
The late afternoon sun burns away many of the hopes and dreams of catching the elusive white whale we were chasing today, but all is not wasted.
We find enough to make the day a success and while there is no other choice for these fishermen but to head out tomorrow, there is another night to dream and to imagine what may become.
To fishermen around the world, who live according to their own code and accept the cycle of life: to struggle, to endure and then redeem their existence through the art of angling.
Watching them mine the value out of life, passing their knowledge from a lifetime of work. The angler is the everyman, the archetypal representation of who we are and who we wish to be.
Taking the narrow, rickety plank leading back to my room, I drag my gear and listen to the crackling call of the eastern great egret echoing through the trees and over the water. This small room sitting on stilts over the lake; another place of solitude allowing me to wash away a bit of the day ~ just enough to welcome in the evening.
Looking into a cracked mirror, exhausted I turn on the tap and splash cold water over my head and breathe a sigh of relief as dinner and a cold beer lie ahead. Hearing the laughter from the dining hall, I let out a small chuckle as well, I am at peace.
I smile knowing that soon a perfect shade of darkness will engulf the lake, ensuring that the night once again will loosen more knots as I drift off to dream.
Posted on December 20, 2014
Violent winds swirl the dark, ominous thunderclouds overhead. The pounding waves crash onto the rocky shore and the roar of the Pacific Ocean makes its intention clear: thrash anything in its path.
With electricity in the air, I am oblivious to everything except the power coming my way as rain beats against my face, sucking me into the depths of the storm.
Ever since I was young, the powerful forces of storms, especially on the Oregon Coast, have held a rare type of electricity for me. Electricity that excites my soul and eliminates any trace of fear I may have.
Chasing the idea of becoming one with the storm. Not just to see the power unravel in front of me, but to physically feel this rare electricity.
The past three days I’ve experienced a different type of feeling.
Walking along the Tacloban city coastline watching the sunrise, I am beginning to understand the other side of this “rare electricity” I feel when Mother Nature unleashes her fury ~ the distress and chaos she creates.
Understanding why hearts quicken to a point of exhaustion when thunder clasps and wind and rain fill the sky.
Understanding why there is no glint of excitement in the eyes as a storm brews, instead only an endless sadness: a mix of memories and dread.
The eyes of the children of Tacloban carry terrifying memories and fear from last year; introduced to them on November 8, 2013.
This was the day when super-typhoon Yolanda unleashed her fury on the quiet city of Tacloban in the Philippines. On that dark day, more than 6,000 people died. 11 million lives were directly affected, 5.9 million of those children.
As I stand here this morning on a beach outside the city, surrounded by a special kind of darkness found only within the hour of dawn, my mind drifts back to that day one year ago.
Thoughts drift to a stunned family, who sat in their makeshift home as the seawater entered and refused to retreat.
My mind trying to imagine the panic in the eyes of every family member, as the power of the current made the threat of the rising sea even more terrifying.
And as the hours passed, the surge of water would rise to over six feet, easily destroying homes and buildings… and well before then, the family would have been swept away by the sea.
These are the eyes that are now teaching me. Allowing me to see a side of nature that can bring the strongest spirit down to its knees.
These eyes also inspire. Having seen what the people of Tacloban have done over the past year brings to life the words of William Barclay:
“Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing,
but to turn it into glory”
The people here have endured…
On this December morning, I find myself in Tacloban with Save the Children on one of those rare, magical experiences that life offers.
The visit has shown the devastation typhoon Yolanda brought upon this area and the great effort that Save the Children has made in rebuilding lives.
Trying to wrap my mind around what has happened here is almost futile, but I am learning.
The goal of this trip was to witness not just the rebuilding of structures, but also understand the post-recovery training programs. Programs to ensure lifelong change for the children, their families and communities.
- Training teachers and leaders of communities
- Supporting access to quality child care and development
And most important: teaching skills that can turn the hopes and dreams of children into reality.
The genuine smiles have tugged at the heartstrings throughout the past three days and seeing the recovery program has been brilliant. There is something special here, apart from the shared tragedy there is a kindred spirit that mirrors the beauty of the land ~ the people here are creating a paradise.
What has been done is incredible and with continued support it will become a miracle. I walk away from Tacloban inspired. The memory of sitting down and talking to these beautiful, young minds full of dreams is unforgettable.
This beautiful city along with Save the Children has made me believe there are such things as guardian angels.
Looking out toward the sea, I feel a touch of sadness as the sun rises on my last day in Tacloban. Turning and walking along the shore, I watch a man sitting in the bow of his boat working on a repair.
He gives me a nod along with a faint smile as I bring my camera up for a shot. He pauses, looks out into the distance and his lighthearted expression seems to take on a sense of melancholy.
I’ve learned that along this small section of the coast, everyone lost someone in the typhoon last year. Hunkering down in flimsy shelters with the belief that the waters that gave life would never be cruel enough to turn on them; to reach out and take life as it did.
Walking through town, there are heart-wrenching and strong memories everywhere.
Throughout Tacloban are gutted buildings, piles of rubble and stark reminders for all to see.
What is most painful and can seize the heart, are the small things that at first seem insignificant ~ until its significance hits. Another reminder of the lives lost during that dark day.
I try not to let my imagination and emotions get the best of me, but fail. I’ve read accounts of the struggles of the Tacloban community; families with wounds that will never be fully healed. Local photographer Orlando Uy captures many emotions of his city in his photo-blog “A Walk With My Camera”.
These memories are everywhere: pain multiplied by thousands, as loved ones were swept away. My admiration and respect goes out to the people here who live with these daily reminders.
The trauma and helplessness created by Yolanda now takes a back seat to the rebuilding of communities. The creation of a future for themselves and for their children.
It is stirring to see the locals understand the opportunity they have. To embrace organizations like Save the Children, helping lay the framework for a lifelong investment into their future.
The future of Tacloban is similar to the future of cities scattered all over the globe: it lies with the children.
During my stay, I learned the motto of Save the Children in times of emergency: “children can’t wait” as children are the one part of the population that are most vulnerable in times of turmoil.
Seeing the ability of both the people of Tacloban and the workers at Save the Children, there is no doubt that this area will quickly bloom with laughter and happiness.
Witnessing the effective use of donations, my faith in human compassion and spirit has grown even further. I’ve long believed that the greatest gift an adult can give a child is happiness.
In return, the greatest gift a child can give us all is a smile.
A special thanks to Save the Children ~ Hong Kong:
- Debe Cheung
- Queenie Mak
And Save the Children of the Eastern Leyte office in the Philippines:
- Joanna Watson
- Heidi Anicete
- Cielito Barceló
And to all the volunteers and field staff that took the time to accompany and review all of the work done in the Tacloban area over the past year.
If you are interested in learning more about Save the Children please click on one of the three sites listen below:
Posted on November 23, 2014
The concept of time is fascinating. From physics to philosophy, the notion of time is difficult to define.
From our normal existence in the world, we often define time as ‘fleeting’ in the sense there is never enough. Frustration builds as the majority of time is spent catching up on work…work that is always running further and further away.
The more worry about time, the less there is.
This has been the script for me this year. Just as I am ready to celebrate and enjoy autumn, this great season is fading fast.
Back in September, I noticed the leaves turning color. But instead of picking up my coat and heading out, I dropped my head for a quick analysis of work and business only to look up a couple of months later to find winter staring me in the face.
Pushing open the window, a gust of cold wind sends my work flying and a bunch of dry leaves swirling at my feet.
Where did time go?
With my work and leaves lying scattered at my feet, I realized I lost the best season of the year.
Autumn is usually the season when time slows down. Time to take in nature, people and the simple appreciation of life.
Hunting, fishing, football, photography, cycling or spending time on Hood Canal with family and friends; not existing in time, but actually “being time”.
The thought of “being time” is refreshing: to reflect on memories, create new memories and actively live and project our expectations of the future in ‘the now’ the moment when time stands still. This is what autumn has always provided.
To be with somebody, to be somewhere, to be doing something you love…these are the moments, a perfect understanding of our place in time, space and the universe.
Being Time, this is a feeling I envy right now. Sitting on the floor, sorting my papers…seeing nothing but incoherent words and riddles on these sheets of white reflecting past months of work, my eyes fall to a wooden carving I picked up in Kenya many years ago.
Autumn. Kenya. The trip when I first began defining time in a different manner.
Prior to leaving for the Kenyan city of Nairobi, I was out with friends and they all talked about the culture shock that I would experience, jumping from the modern city of Hong Kong to the much less developed world of the Maasai Mara.
There was some truth to that, jumping into the life of Nairobi was something different, but once into the countryside time slowed down and I synchronized with the culture around me. It was as if I had returned to a forgotten home. Being where I should be. Feeling alive.
As it turned out, I did experience culture shock, but it happened upon returning from Kenya to the modern world.
Back in the USA, amid the muck of company politics, petty jealousies and listening to the linear definition of time: the loud tick-tock of the clock signaling life is growing shorter.
Fortunately, I kept the rhythm I had found in Kenya and fell into a groove back in Seattle and later Hong Kong. Good friends, good work and listening to how time flowed naturally, rather than how it was measured on the clock made the days mine.
This ‘Kenyan groove’ took me back to my college days where my roommate, who was a brilliant philosophy major, introduced me to the works of German philosopher, Martin Heidegger.
It took Kenya for me to fully ‘get’ what Heidegger was saying, but he was correct: “we do not exist inside time, we are time.”
The only time we have is now, this nano-second of the present to live, where all we were and will be is defined within this perfect moment to shine. As Heidegger called it: “the moment of vision”
This concept of time is one of many theories, and helps me define the idea of being lost in a moment and having time stand still. Time is not this one-way sequential path to the end: a tick-tock of doom.
Time, instead, allows us to relive memories, actively experience and create expectations and dreams with which we float between the past, present and future. As silly as it sounds, time becomes what we want to be.
When I am lost in a daydream…or when a beautiful girl shyly smiles and nods her head, a sensation is created that alters time. It brings into play another dimension I could not begin to define, other than a perfect, subjective component of time that I would not change for the world.
Everything stops and goes, and I want to embrace all that I can get my arms around. Time simply does not exist in linear terms at these moments. It is emotional; the mind can run free, open up memories and take me places I can only dream. In a sense, I am manipulating time. I can do no wrong.
Kenya provided an important piece in defining time and its place in nature for me. Time is what you make of it and it only blooms with loyalty and honesty to yourself, to family, to friends and to your work. In this sense, it is the simple philosophy of nature.
There may not be a better place to appreciate time, autumn or nature than in my hometown of Pendleton, Oregon.
Autumn in Pendleton means the end of the harvest season, the beauty of putting in a hard day’s work. You look at yourself in the mirror at the end of the day, and see the dirt and character: badges of honor, to be worn proudly.
Pendleton, too, reminds me of Kenya…a place where standing out on the plains as the morning breaks, time stands still. Silence along with the electricity of the day that makes me aware I am flowing as one with time.
Time waits for no one, so to understand its value and embrace it for the potential it holds is key: the “moment of vision”.
Posted on October 5, 2014
Upon first glance, the sight of demonstrations in Hong Kong is enough to take the breath away: another crystallizing moment in the territory’s rich history. It is a beautiful thing to see; young and old united for a cause…especially one important as democracy and freedom.
Yet like Hong Kong history, the protests are just one of many layers of complexity.
There is a very symbiotic relationship between Hong Kong and China. Hong Kong is, and will continue to be, the Jewel of China. Both sides have prospered and both sides have benefitted, at times, in spite of each other.
With passions riding high in the territory, both sides can ill afford to miscalculate. Chief Executive, C.Y. Leung and the Chief of Police found that out early Monday morning (29-Sep), with their infamous use of tear gas.
Hong Kong has never had a true democracy. Under British rule, Hong Kong was far away from a democracy.
One of the lesser-known stories about the handover is that the Chinese government were the ones to initially introduced the idea of democracy to Hong Kong. This is where the complexities arise.
In 1990 when democracy became part of the Basic Law (The HK Constitution), spelling out that the Chief Executive would be elected by universal suffrage – it also contained the slightly ambiguous statement “upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.”
There is a very fine line being walked on both sides right now.
The issue in Hong Kong is that as China’s power and wealth has grown; there is this slight feeling that Hong Kong’s freedoms and liberties are slowly being compromised. This is a major concern. Yes, the strings being pulled originates from Beijing, but is this why Hong Kong should be worried?
Beijing is not the enemy; the enemies are the Hong Kong leaders who are willing sell out the soul of the city for the right price, forgetting their roots.
C.Y. Leung this is on you and your team.
Amid the passion and fear within the protest, it is possible for Hong Kong and China to have a tenuous but harmonious relationship. Basically the same one it has had for almost two centuries.
But to have this, Hong Kong needs true leaders. In the hearts of the majority in Hong Kong, C.Y. Leung has done irreparable damage and can no longer lead effectively.
It is also time for Hong Kong leaders to look in the mirror. Do you see in yourself the disgrace of the Chief of Police who reverted to the use of tear gas and riot police on that fateful Sunday night on 28-Sep? The night that tore at the hearts of the people of Hong Kong? If so, please leave.
For the people who built Hong Kong and through their sweat, tears and toil to make it into the greatest city in the WORLD, they deserve better.
People like C.Y. Leung and business leaders who are pro-Beijing for the sole/soul purpose of making obscene profits are our real enemy. I use the word “our” with pride, as a decade ago when I collected my Permanent Resident HK ID Card it was an amazing feeling; a feeling similar with the pride I feel today wearing my black shirt and yellow ribbon signifying voices need to be heard.
PEACE is the word. It is what the protesters want, it is what the people want.
To the student leader, Joshua Wong: from all accounts, you are brave and brilliant as a co-leader of this movement. It is important to listen to all voices in Hong Kong. Change needs to happen in peace.
You showed your age of seventeen when suggesting breaking into and occupying the Government Offices. I am grateful you stopped, listened to those with experience.
My hope is the people around C.Y. Leung can talk similar sense into him, and he will be a true leader and listen…and understand he needs to bravely vanquish his office.
World governments will continue their politics as usual, with satirist Stephen Colbert of the USA perhaps making the most astute political comment about the protests:“Think hard, China. You can either crush these protesters under your heel, or you can give them the rights you promised them, because whichever choice you make, America will still do business with you.” ~ Stephen Colbert
This is the harsh reality, even with the people of the world taking heart in the message, the spirit and voices of Hong Kong.
In the end, the outcome is up to the people of this territory. It is up to the leaders of Hong Kong to find their courage, to be the True Patriots they signed up to be. It is up to the protesters on the streets, and the people who are shaken by what is developing here.
For the leaders of Hong Kong, it is time to be the brave heroes that you can be. To follow your Hong Kong ancestors: be authentic like your Hong Kong sons/brothers & daughters/sisters who look to you for guidance.Hong Kong is united, The People’s voice has spoken… Voices will be heard, Their hearts remain unbroken.
For all leaders of Hong Kong, it should not be a secret now: Hong Kong needs democratic realists not dreamers. Leaders who understand the situation, and not those who spew rhetoric. Extremists on both sides do nothing but hurt Hong Kong.
Do not fight with Beijing just because “they are Beijing.” Instead fight for the betterment of Hong Kong, this is our problem, let’s resolve it.
It is true that protesters are on edge right now. Increased skirmishes and frustrated residents along with typical political tactics on both sides will continue to test these protesters.
Have heart. We are with you.
The greatest hope for all: the only tears to be shed will be those of happiness.
Posted on September 30, 2014
There are days where no matter how I get out of bed, every side is the wrong side.
Days where the dreary drone of jumbled words fill the mind and accompanies me as I sleep walk through the day. A day, regardless of what my calendar tells me, is a week of full of Monday mornings.
Since returning to Hong Kong last week, my typical day has been where eyes half-closed and stumbling toward the bathroom, the corner of the bed is somehow sticking out a ½ inch further than it normally does…and bam.
The day has me defeated within the first minute of waking.
Of course, when such days arrive, the first thought that comes to mind is that amused one we’ve all asked ourselves at one point or another: “why even venture further, just turn around and go back to bed.”
But it is always the second thought that keeps me moving: “Coffee…”
That first sip is usually what I need to get me out the door, and while I bumble and laugh myself through the day, I know such strangeness will be over when I crawl back in bed and travel to dreamland…
The minute I close my eyes, I consider it a start of a new day and there is nothing like a great dream for it to begin anew.
Now, if I had the power to control the plot of my dreams I would have to say the above quote comes pretty close to how I’d like mine to flow. A dream where I am a carefree spirit, loving the simple things and able to enjoy this realm where I can feel the pulse of life.
My dream takes me to a place in Hunan Province…among the TuJia minority, people after my own heart as their focus is on music, dancing and their wine: a culture similar in many ways to the spirit of the West. Relying on the trust and joy of friends and family, finding what is needed from the land and life so they can share their joy.
While in Hunan, I met up with a group of friends who perform shows about their TuJia minority culture. One night at dinner, among all the stories being passed around was the one where the leader of the troupe is given a hard time because he married “very late” at the age of 31 years old.
His reason was simple: “I couldn’t sing well enough…so no girl wanted me” and with his laughter he started the clashing of glasses of homemade moonshine…and looked at me smiling saying “really it is true!” beside him his wife smiling, nodded her head vigorously in agreement.
Nothing quite like Hunan spices and homemade firewater to wake-up the senses.
Waking up the senses. Feeling the Pulse of Life. The remedy for this dreary feeling I’ve had since returning to Hong Kong is one I have used before: simply sit back, become entranced and Let The Show Begin…
Watching the performance of my friends was simply mesmerizing. It is as if I stole a bit of their adrenaline in each act…and feel a bit guilty at this theft, but it is the good kind of guilt. For their gift to us all is an abundance of adrenaline and inspiration out there for all to take.
The feeling, the dream and dance, it is brilliant and a bit addicting.
There is a saying within the TuJia culture that goes something like this: “only through music and dance can one run away without leaving home.” Which perhaps explains why the people remain so close-knit, and why there is such incredible madness and passion when they perform.
Hunan, famous for their spices and hospitality, and the Tujia people whose culture encapsulates the carefree spirit of dreams and desires.
As I exit the show within my dream, the cool, crisp air of the morning greets me and gives me a deserved slap in the face. With the potential of the day ahead, and I’m ready to experience the best of Hong Kong and China.
My shorts and t-shirt once again have to be replaced with a more sensible business attire, but on the inside, the youthful spirit is back to see what else the world can bring.
Dreams are what we need to re-energize and understand that we’d be foolish not to enjoy the good things life throws our way. “Wine, women and song” is the simple thought the spirit of life brings to remind us who we are.
Here in Hong Kong, the hard work and dedication of its population to build a great life is the focus, but every now and then it is necessary to reassess where we are and pursue the freedom that life beckons. It is that jolt we sometimes need; a dream that jolts us awake as we fall, guaranteeing there will never be a dull moment.
The unconscious performer, lost in dream and taking us along for the inspirational ride.
Youthful spirits taking up a cause only their idealistic minds can fully understand… and it is more than just a performance, it is the essence of life.
Creativity is at the core of us all, and it is the mind of the young which allow us to evolve and build a better place.
Better for ourselves, for our family and for our friends.
There simply is not a better way to live than with happiness in our hearts, and when that inevitable day comes where it feels like nothing is going right, step inside a live performance and get lost.
Find again that fury which is the pulse of life.
Posted on August 28, 2014
Sitting along the shore of Elliott Bay, I often wonder what it would have been like centuries ago when Native Americans spent the summertime in Seattle. The Seattle summer with its perfect weather is special, so I imagine it would have been heaven on earth to see the sun setting on this land so long ago when the wilderness ruled.
Back in those days, getting outside and involved was not much of a question as physical interaction with nature was a part of everyday life. A hard life no doubt, but I would bet more satisfying too as everything you owned likely came from the things around you: animals, earth and community.
Animals and earth to feed and clothe, and a community to share, love, explore and work the land.
Not quite the same scene we have today, where two minutes “on-line” results in the delivery of food, clothing and most importantly the latest tech-toy delivered right to the front door without having to leave the house.
Products produced by factories scattered all over the globe. A crazy concept even today, something unthinkable a couple hundred years ago. Most everything I own I have no real clue as to its true origin.
Still, amid all this technology and social media shrill that drowns our senses from the calls of the real world, there are always reminders that take us out of this artificial shell and plop us down in the middle of life. Something to makes us reassess our obsession with material possessions.
The nudge of a wet nose from Man’s Best Friend, or driving through a mountain pass with the sun dipping below the horizon is just what is needed for us to get back to the basics. Back to the feeling of living.
The past few weeks have had me traveling around the Pacific Northwest with work, and instead of flying I made a point to drive; taking the more scenic routes and allowing myself a few more days to take in the sights.
My mind spinning a bit as I would try to reconcile life today with how it was more than 100 years ago. Getting lost in how different things are today made me wonder what the next 100 years will bring…and how foreign our time today will appear to our future selves.
The message the sticker represented fascinated me, as I loved to wonder…in fact, I was more often in dream than I was running around nature. The message reminded me that dreaming and wondering is just part of the formula, and moving forward by doing and experiencing is how we complete the circle and find a happy life.
I still have this sticker and message, and more than ever realize how important this simple slogan is: to wonder, to dream and to go out and do. To create a unique path in life. For the most part, I imagine that people in history also followed this same simple line of reasoning.
A reminder that it is a never-ending process.
Wonder. Dream. Do. Happiness.
I suppose that the message on this sticker was a simple warning that if we spend too much of our time wondering what could have been? With the mind spinning to answer the unanswerable, “what if?” It is easy to get lost in the irrelevant past while new opportunities slip by.
Why sit wondering what it would be like, when adventures and experiences lie right outside the door?
It will be impossible to fully understand what Native Americans or frontiersmen of the past thought when they saw the dawn rise every day over Seattle hundreds of years ago, but I imagine it must have recharged them.
A perfect start to the day, a time to admire the land and contemplate what was to be explored and admired. With no TV or Internet to tempt and waste hours of a day, I would think it must have been exciting to be immersed in nature as a part of daily life. True, such a life would be hard, but in a sense also simple.
As this great summer winds down, I am left thinking that we will continue to push ourselves further away from this great land of ours, with the result of losing touch with the physical nature of living.
As we load ourselves up with processed foods and mass-produced ’emotions’ emitting from our screens, at some point we will begin wondering what could have been ~ what if we had moved forward and taken the advice from a 30-year-old sticker: Don’t Die Wondering.
Posted on July 31, 2014
There is an old saying I think about every now and then: “the grass is always greener on the other side.”
Not so much for its meaning of someone desiring something they believe would improve his or her life, yet in reality would not. Instead, it is because I think about where I am now, and the possibilities of what could be.
To dream of being in a totally different situation, wondering how great life would be compared to the current situation is intriguing. The mind is unrealistically focused on what could be gained, with little attention to what would be lost.
A poor example of this: my memory as a kid on a family vacation sitting at a restaurant for breakfast. I would always order the French toast and upon the arrival of the food, look on in envy as my twin sister’s stack of blueberry pancakes taunted me…those pancakes topped with whipped cream looked so much better than my wimpy French toast.
Didn’t matter that I loved French toast and it always tasted great, for I couldn’t think of anything else except my stomach growling with envy.
Fortunately, it never failed that my little sister would give me a small bite of her pancakes to make me happy (and also get a laugh at the whipped cream that would inevitably find its way to the tip of my nose), and life would be good again.
Such a simple memory, but one of many that demonstrates to me the endless possibilities the mind creates. Hammering home the moral of being happy with what you have and how ridiculous it is to have petty envy.
When positive thinking fuels the mind, things tend to work themselves out.
Over the years, I think most people come to understand it never pays to feel or act on petty-envy or the negatives that “the grass is always greener…” may inspire. However, I think envy in itself is not bad, as there is still a piece of this feeling that is worth exploring further: “positive envy.”
Comparing a situation with one that is perceived to be better can create a sense of hope; triggering a new dream to inspire. I find inspiration in stories, movies and photographs from all over the world, where I have this feeling of “the grass is always greener…” but understand I can create something similar in my life.
Positive Envy is the excitement at discovering something new from another source and creating a drive to move people up to a higher level (no matter how small).
My favorite definition of this feeling is this clip from the movie Vision Quest: seeing and experiencing something so spectacular, that it lifts the spirit to a higher level of existence. Once this emotion is felt, it is impossible not to develop a drive and try to achieve such a moment yourself.
There are many such vision quests in life, and for me seeing places I may never visit ~ but through photographs, videos and stories, it becomes easy to imagine myself creating a life there. Positive envy of someone experiencing such a different way of life brings adventure into my day.
As mentioned in an earlier writing, Let The Show Begin…, photography, music and sports are just two examples where inspiration thrives.
Recently, I traveled to Dongchuan, Yunnan in SW China and arranged a home stay; a perfect way to get a glimpse into the life of locals. There were a few older people I met who shared their stories, their struggles and mostly their simple brilliance of happiness that they had collected over their lifetime.
Sharing a part of their history, through their words I could imagine the very time/place/emotions to a point where it felt as if I had lived that life alongside them.
A very powerful feeling, and while I imagined how great it would be to experience such a place in time; what I appreciated most was the glimpse at the scope of possibilities of people everywhere.
Humans have a pretty incredible stretch of capabilities, and while the ideal of accumulating great material wealth is an overriding dream for many…it is usually those who seek a simpler route that find a greater sense of happiness.
A controlled environment tends to pull us all in one direction: “nose to the grindstone” seems to be its mantra, and it is usually led by a group of elitists restricting our freedoms.
To avoid this lunatic fringe that permeates politics and many parts of society, listen to the words of Joseph Campbell and enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Avoid the well-worn path as the road often traveled tends to entice and then subdue the spirit.
In all, I figure that while the “grass may seem greener elsewhere” we attach ourselves to where we are most comfortable. It is good to explore, to get out and see what is out there…but in the end, it is tough to beat home.
Even when things may look bleak, there is always a smile to brighten the day. I sat one late afternoon watching the energy of this old man, amid a group of locals sharing his stories. “I can’t afford to be sad because right now is all I may have…and I’ve been saying this for more than 10 years!” and he laughed which made everyone laugh.
If the time ever comes when I am missing all my teeth, I’ll accept it…but until then I will make sure to enjoy the feel of biting into a crisp apple during a hot day.
“The grass is always greener…” It is a difficult proverb to dissect, because there are so many ways to look at it. Here in Dongchuan, most of the people in this village dream of their children being able to live in Hong Kong (or any Chinese metropolis), as these cities have a higher standard of living.
I can understand this. These are significant dreams to have, and it can fuel positive envy: a flow of ideas that lead to a realm of unimaginable successes. Wherever the dream flows, a happy child is the real goal.
I suppose that is the magic of life. At some point in time, it is necessary for the soul to search and begin its own Vision Quest. To lift those around you to a higher level of happiness. What that quest is and where it flows varies greatly among us all.
With that said, sometimes the grass is actually greener, and if possible, worth checking out for yourself.