Mountain Meditations: Jeongbal-san

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As i’d mentioned in a previous mountain meditation post about Bukhan-san, Jeongbal-san is a small mountain close to where i live in Ilsan. As i had also previously mentioned, i don’t consider Jeonbal-san to be mountain-climbing because it’s too small; it only takes about 15 minutes to get to the top and it’s along fairly nicely laid out paths. However, even though i don’t consider Jeongbal-san to be mountain-climbing and therefore mountain meditation – you’re literally at the top before alpha waves can be generated and you can sink into a meditative state – because i climb Jeongbal-san to work out at their incredible outdoor workout gym, i consider it to be a workout meditation. As i had mentioned in my meta-mountain meditation on Bukhan-san, there are many forms of meditation, in fact, if approached in the correct manner, everything can become a meditative ritual, and so, Jeongbal-san is my workout meditation.

MEDITATION IN ACTION – THE WORKOUT MEDITATION

There are probably many people reading this blog (or, perhaps just you, my only reader :) who workout, or do some sort of physical exercise, whether it be running, walking, biking, alpine walking, skiing, boarding, yoga, soccer, basketball, etc.  and you probably already know that it is a form of meditation in action, or you may refer to it as being in “the zone”. Whatever it’s called, that is what drives you to do it. Of course, there are other goals, like losing weight, or overall physical health, but in the end, i believe that most people stick with their chosen form of meditation in action because of that incredible feeling of being “in the zone”, what some people call “runner’s high” due to the release of endorphins and perhaps other hormonal goodies, like dopamine, serotonin and epinephrine.

Is it addictive? Yes. I can personally tell you that I am addicted to the mental calmness that comes from working out, walking, and mountain-climbing, a calmness and sometimes even euphoria that i denote as meditation. Even traditional Buddhist/Hindi seated meditation can result in euphoria. Enlightenment is described as a state of euphoric transcendence.

The outdoor gym on Jeongbalsan

SOCCER ENLIGHTENMENT?

But, as with traditional Buddhist/Hindi seated meditations, is Enlightenment reached? Do we realize the meaning of life? The essence of the universe? Well, i’m not sure if it’s as profound as that, or rather, i’m not sure if it’s as wide-ranging as all that. Perhaps some people achieve Enlightenment when they run, but for me, when i walk, or climb a mountain, or work out, I have realizations about my personal life, or insights into some problem i’m having, or a project i’m working on, or some sort of scheduling conflict, or an idea for a story, or something to do on my next date with my beloved. Small things, perhaps, but useful and meaningful in my life; what i call slivers of Enlightenment (or perhaps “shivers of Enlightenment” as i sometimes literally do shiver when i get these mini eureka moments).

HOT YOGA!

I remember when i used to do Bikram yoga (a form of hot yoga created by Bikram). In the beginning, i was just struggling to stay in the heat. Then, i was striving to learn the postures (asanas). After i had somewhat mastered the heat and the asanas, i was able to go on auto-pilot and the voice of the instructor would fade into the background, in fact, everything would fade into the background and i was “in the zone”; i was meditating, and i would come up with the most wonderful ideas, or solutions to problems in my tutoring job, or in my Master’s work (by the way, i received the parchment for my Master’s degree today! A piece of paper, but nonetheless, it made me quite proud :)

I began doing Bikram yoga because i was having constant neck and back pains from my job as a computer operator. My sister introduced me to it. She quit, but i stuck it out, because i realized it was actually working to heal my back and neck. I will eventually blog more about Bikram yoga and the changes i made in my lifestyle because i did it for three years and i had some wonderful a-ha moments not just for my personal life, but also philosophical insights based on each asana that i will post up on my blog. The reason i brought it up now was that at the time, i thought that yoga was the only way to have these a-ha moments, you know, since it’s Eastern and esoteric and all, in my mind it was some kind of fount of knowledge, and it is, but i realized that it is not the only fount.

MEDITATION IN ACTION REQUIRES THREE THINGS

Somewhere in my philosophical meanderings, i had also delved into Buddhist meditation and as i mentioned in my Bukhan-san meta-mountain meditation, for Buddhists, meditation can also be in the most mundane of activities, such as cooking and cleaning and running. Thus, as i branched off from yoga to body-building, i approached it with the same concentration, silence, and discipline i had brought to yoga.

If anyone can translate this, please drop me a line. Thanks!!!

CONCENTRATION AND SILENCE

Many people workout with their friends, talking and having a good time. That’s great, but to me, that’s not a workout, not just on a physical level, but on a mental or meditative level. I was seeking the same meditative state that i had achieved in yoga, and to do that i needed to be alone. As well, some people work out with earphones blaring music. I can understand that. It’s actually a way to create silence by blocking out external noise, but for me, i like to also be aware of the people around me. For me, meditation is a balance between inner and outer worlds.

DISCIPLINE! SORRY, BUT IT AIN’T EASY

And finally, discipline. To achieve a level where i could actually meditate during yoga, i had to go faithfully 4 -5 times/week. Only then can you master it enough for it to become automatic. In yogic philosophy, you learn that yoga was actually created to train the body to be still so you could meditate. Many people think it’s the actual physical exercise that counts, probably because they want to lose weight or something. In fact, that’s what i thought since i wanted to de-tox and strengthen and stretch my spine, but as i began to master yoga, i realized that the true value is in the end, the final asana, the rest after the full cycle of asanas.

That was when we “reaped the benefits” as one of our instructors would say. I think he was talking mostly physical benefits and there are those, (and as other bodybuilders and athletes may know, it’s the rest after the exercise when the body is repairing and building that you actually gain the benefits of exercise), but i actually began to look forward to the mental benefits, the eureka’s, the a-ha moments, but in order to achieve that, i had to master the physical aspect, and hence the discipline.  

THE PAIN AND THE GLORY OF BODY-MOLDING

In order for body-building – actually, i refer to it as body-molding (i’ve heard it also referred to as body-sculpting and that’s a great term, but a bit pretentious, so i made up my own term “body-molding”) – to become meditative, i had to master the weights and machines, learning how to use them, i had to learn the various exercises and how to do them properly without injuring myself, and i had to move through the initial self-consciousness as you think that everyone is staring at you when in reality they are busy doing their own workout. I also had to get through my initial experiences with  pain. Sure, there is always pain, body-molding is about pushing your body to the point of failure so that you feel the burn, you feel the pain (especially the next day OUCH), but in the beginning, the pain, like the heat in hot yoga, is a burden, a distraction. When you get used to it, it subsides into the background. And then, you are free to go into auto-pilot.

Jeongbalsan Outdoor Workout Meditation Video

Jeongbalsan Resting after Workout Meditation Video

NON-THINKING THINKING

And then, working out, or body-molding, or walking, or mountain-climbing, or running, biking, boxing, basketball, football, what have you, becomes a meditation. You are in the zone. Inside and outside are in balance. Thoughts come and thoughts go.  In fact, your brain turns off as beta wave function slows down and alpha waves flow out. Slivers of Enlightenment shiver you, but not because you are actually THINKING, but because you are NON-THINKING and thus allowing yourself to become one with the Infinite Creative Force (IFC) that i mentioned in my Bukhan-san post. That is the true fount of wisdom, the source of inspiration, “the zone” twilight or otherwise, the Unus Mundus, the collective unconscious, and yoga or seated lotus meditation doesn’t hold a monopoly on it. It can be achieved by any form of meditation in action. There are numerous paths up the mountain and they all lead to the peak. 

Mountain Meditations: Bukhan-san

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I’d never climbed a mountain before. I guess living in Toronto can do that to a person, as Toronto is one of the flattest cities around – except the Prairies, of course. Come to think about it, Toronto is rather dull geographically speaking: no mountains to speak of, no oceans (we’ve got Lake Ontario, one of the so-called Great Lakes, but come on, it’s just a lake!), no deserts, no jungles, no savannahs, no steppes, just a couple of forests with some squirrels and birds, and the occasional raccoon or pigeon in the inner city. And so, it was with some awe that i discovered that not only is the Korean peninsula bordered by the sea on all three sides that do not connect to China (which is what saves it from being an island and preserves its peninsula status), but it is literally dotted with perhaps hundreds of mountains. 

Having come from a non-mountainous region, I didn’t even consider that these mountains could be climbed. I mean, I’ve seen documentaries and movies about mountain-climbing, and i had a friend who used to do indoor rock-climbing, but for some reason, it never occurred to me that i could actually go and climb the hundreds of mountains dotting the Korean landscape. To me, mountain-climbing was something one did in Tibet, usually on a mountain called Everest, or perhaps K2. Well, that’s the damage that too much television and movies can do to you: it estranges you from reality!

The reality is that in the very city in which I’m currently living, Ilsan, a suburb northwest of Seoul, there is a mountain about 5 minutes’ walking distance from my first apartment, called Jeongbal-san (the suffix “-san” means mountain in Korean, similar to the English Mount, or Mt.). In my next post, i’ll be blogging about Jeongbal-san, which i don’t consider mountain-climbing as it only takes 15 minutes to reach the peak. No, i didn’t really climb a mountain until my brother’s girlfriend took me to Bukhan-san, north of Seoul.

BUKHAN-SAN

“Buk”means “north” and “Han” refers to the Han River, the main river that flows through the heart of Seoul. At 836.5 metres, it’s quite an impressive mountain, especially to me, a kid from Toronto.

First view of Bukhan-san

Bukhan-san took us over two hours to climb. As well, there aren’t the pretty little trails that lead up Jeongbal-san. At the base, we started off on some of those pretty little trails, but they soon petered out leaving us with nothing but bare rocks.

One of the pretty pathways. I like how they respect the tree and didn't chop it down

We literally had to use our hands and feet and climb like monkeys.

Pretty daunting when you don't have ropes or gloves

Some people had these hiking poles, but i don’t see what use they could have been. Gloves, on the other hand (or both hands, if you please) would have been nice, but novice climbers that we were (mountain virgins), we didn’t have gloves. I’ve since climbed another imposing mountain, Dobong-san, 739.5 metres (what’s with the 0.5 metres?), and i did it without gloves. I’ve decided not to buy gloves, but it’s getting cold and i’m rethinking that strategy.

For those of you who haven’t climbed mountains, or gone rock-climbing, it’s a pretty adrenaline-pumping experience. I mean, it’s not like a walk in the park or something. One careless step and you could be dead or paralyzed for life.

It's no joke! This is dangerous! If you fall, there's nothing stopping you!

I’m not sure if I’m scared of heights, or if it’s just a normal, healthy reaction to the prospect of death, but sometimes when I turned around to take a picture, my hands would start sweating and my heart would pound. However, I tend to think this fear is normal, as it didn’t stop me from reaching the peak of Bukhan-san and it doesn’t stop me from continuing to climb mountains.

THE METAPHOR OF MOUNTAIN-CLIMBING

The interesting thing I found is that the stereotype of climbing mountains as some sort of metaphor for taking on life’s challenges and reaching success is true, but on more levels than just the surface one. Yes, there is the upward aspect of it; like most of life’s challenges, it’s an upward battle. And yes, the peak is like a goal that one is trying to reach in life. And yes, it is difficult and you will be afraid, and sometimes you will want to stop, and some people do and they may look with regret at the peak they never reached, but they will not, for the life of them, climb up any further.

But, there is more to it than that. As I was climbing, I realized that there are many paths up the mountain. Just as in life, people take whatever route or path that suits them, and it’s ok, for all paths lead to the peak.

There are many paths up or down a mountain

Also, I realized that mountain-climbing, as with most challenges in life, is a solitary thing (as Conrad says in his novel “Lord Jim”, or rather, as he has his narrator Marlow say, “We live as we dream, alone.”). Yes, I did go with my brother and his girlfriend, but as we started climbing like monkeys, clambering our individual routes over the rocks, there was little chance for talking or socializing, except for the occasional pause to rest (i guess that’s like meeting up with friends for a meal or a drink and talking about what we’re doing with our lives). 

On one of my breaks, I looked up at the sky, thinking how much closer i was getting to it

MOUNTAIN MEDITATION

Climbing alone also resulted in a super-concentrated focus. Everything else fell away from me except the mountain and my hands and feet. I found that i didn’t even have to think about where to put my hands and feet; they just found the places they had to go. I was on “auto-pilot”, and in this trance-like state, there was a calmness within me that was neither inside nor outside, neither here nor there. Athletes and psychologists call this “the zone”, a state of effortless perfection, where everything falls into place. Artists call it being inspired by the Muse, Taoists call it “effortless effort”, and Buddhists and Hindi gurus call it “meditation”. As i climbed the mountain, i realized that mountain climbing was mountain meditation.

The essence of meditation: the outer world and inner world in harmony

PSYCH 101

Freudian psychiatrists might say that actions that allow you to go into auto-pilot reduce the super-ego, and thus allow your id to surface. Jungians might say that your consciousness, or persona, subsides and your subconscious, or animus/anima, emerge, including contact with the Shadow. Cognitive scientists would say that what is happening is that by engaging in some sort of repetitive action, you go on auto-pilot because your beta brain waves diminish in intensity and your alpha brain waves increase in intensity, thus allowing you to achieve an almost dream-like state, aka meditation.

Are rocks the brains of the earth and if so, do they have brain waves? Is that an earthquake? When the earth dreams?


MEDITATION IN ACTION

You may have noticed this when you’re doing something monotonous or something you’ve done a thousand times before, like driving or doing the dishes; as long as you are engaged in some task that allows you to go on auto-pilot, you’re ready for some meditation. Of course, some forms of meditation are more dangerous than others (like driving and mountain-climbing), which is probably why Buddhist monks have developed relatively safe forms of meditation. Besides the well-known seated meditation, there are other forms of meditation, called meditation in action, such as walking meditation, and as this self-professed non-Zen Buddhist monk (but really, what is a Zen Buddhist monk? Just a shaved head and simple robes? If meditation is not just seated lotus position, can a Buddhist monk simply be a shaved head and simple robes?) says, in rule #10, “Make cleaning and cooking become meditation”. In fact, as s/he states in rule #6, “Develop rituals.” If one follows the twelve simple rules outlined by this self-professed non-Zen Buddhist monk (how Buddhist s/he already seems in this humble self-negation!), then everything becomes meditation, everything becomes ritual, including running, as the author of these 12 rules states is her/his meditation in action.

The world is meditation

EXTREME MEDITATION

In fact, even for those “real” Zen Buddhist monks with shaved head and robes and wooden clogs, there are extreme forms of meditation. For example, the Japanese Tendai Buddhist monks of Mt. Hiei run ultra-marathons that would seemingly kill a person as a form of meditation. These ultra-marathons (that word doesn’t even do justice to what these monks must do) must run for 1,000 days over a span of seven years for distances starting from 40 km/day for 100 – 200 consecutive days/year, and towards the end of the seven-year meditation, up to 84 kim/day for 100 consecutive days! That’s two marathons back-to-back in one day for 100 consecutive days!

Furthermore, they do this without the benefit of Nike running shoes or all that running gear that clogs up our stores. They wear monk’s robes and wooden clogs, which reminds me of the Tarahumara natives of Mexico who run on makeshift sandals, and run on a diet of rice, miso soup and tofu (think about this the next time you dig into your steak, thinking that will make a man out of you!). As well, there are all sorts of rituals to be upheld during the run. For a full description of this extreme form of meditation in action, check it out here.

Imagine running up and down these mountains for 40 - 84 km / day for 100 - 200 days straight!

EVERYDAY MEDITATION

Like the humble self-professed non-Zen Buddhist monk, I try to make everything i do in my life a ritual and form of meditation, if not worship, from cleaning, to cooking, to eating, to making/drinking coffee, to walking, to shopping, to taking the bus/subway, to working, to writing my blog, to working out, to smoking my evening cigarette (yes, non-Zen Buddhist monks can smoke!), to making love, to talking to and being with my beloved, to playing the piano, to gardening, to yoga, to dish-washing (one of my favorites!) and most recently, to mountain-climbing. Although not as extreme as the monks of Mt. Hiei (Hiei-san in Korean :), I have dedicated myself to climbing a different mountain surrounding the Seoul area every weekend, for the next four weeks.

THE MOUNTAIN MEDITATION RITUAL

There were originally five mountains surrounding Seoul that i wanted to climb every weekend: Bukhan-san, Dobong-san, Surak-san, Gwanak-san, and Cheonggye-san. I chose those five because they are of significant height. I have ordered them in descending order from highest (Bukhans-san at 836.5 metres down to Cheonggye-san at 620 metres). It was purely coincidental that my brother’s girlfriend took us to climb Bukhan-san, the highest mountain first, for I hadn’t even thought about my weekly mountain climbing ritual in descending order…but, really, are there such things as coincidences, just random chance occurrences? Isn’t life really ordered if you think about it? If you meditate on it?

There is meaning in everything. Meditation is just plugging into that meaning

SYNCHRONICITY

Perhaps, Jung was right in his concept of synchronicity, although i think he was a bit tame and pulled back from the full conclusion: he states that synchronicity doesn’t compete with the scientists’ concept of causality. He cautiously (perhaps with respect to his physicist friends, Einstein and Pauli) accepts the veracity of causality, but posits that there might be another form of ordering events according to meaning rather than cause.

I, however, would push the concept of synchronicity to its fullest conclusion and even say that there is no such thing as causality, only synchronicity. I think causality is a mere subset of synchronicity. When pushed to this extreme, synchronicity is too weak, or polite a word to describe what I mean, for it has the connotation of two things just happening together. No, what I mean is something much deeper than that. It is akin to what Jung and Pauli call Unus Mundus, or One/Unified World/Universe. It is the Big Picture, the Universal Meaning, what some call God, Yahweh, Allah, Buddha, Brahman, the Infinite Intelligence, the Grand Scheme of Things, Divine Providence, Destiny, Fate, what I call the Infinite Creative Force, or ICF for short. Well, i guess we can forgive Jung and Pauli for calling it Unus Mundus and stopping short at God, since they wanted to skirt the issue of God as it was a thorny issue back then for many scientists and philosophers.

THE BIG PICTURE

So, skirting that issue, we move on to no accidents, just the failure to see the Bigger Picture. Was i meant to climb these mountains in that particular order? The question has no meaning. I’m doing it. And, Bukhan-san was my first. There was a gap of three weeks between Bukhan-san and Dobong-san, the second on my list, because i hadn’t yet established that the timing of the ritual would be weekly, but also because other things came up, like helping out with a debating club, moving apartments, and cleaning new apartment and doing laundry, all of which were fine forms of meditation in their own right. However, the weekly ritual of mountain-climbing soon became apparent as my life settled down into simplified ritual. I do it on the weekends because during the week i have other forms of meditation, such as walking, taking the bus/subway, working (private tutoring), going to the library, shopping, cooking, cleaning, etc.

META-MOUNTAIN MEDITATION

I suppose it is only fitting that i started with the highest mountain and worked my way down, rather than starting with the lowest mountain and working my way up. Bukhan-san has turned out to be a meditation on meditation, a meta-meditation, where i meditate on what it means to mountain-meditate and determine its ritual. The prefix “meta-” derives from the Greek word “meta” meaning “after, beside, with, among”, and was used to denote Aristotle’s Metaphysics as simply being written “after” his Physics. However, Latin translators read more deeply into this and since the Metaphysics deals with those things that are seemingly beyond, or above the physics of the physical world, such as the existence of God, the prefix “meta-” came to denote any subject that was deemed “beyond”, “above”, or “higher” than the subject to which it is added.

Thus, meta-math would be the subject of math that is higher than math in the sense that it establishes the terms or rules of math, rather than actually doing the math. Or meta-music would be music theory, or meta-…well, you get the picture. So, Bukhan-san, being the highest of the Seoul mountains, above and beyond the other mountains is appropriately a meta-mountain and therefore, inspires a meta-meditation, or a meditation upon meditation.

The meta-mountain


Sometimes I look at maps

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In a previous post, I had talked about the joy and beauty of Getting Lost. Well, getting lost is a great and wonderful thing, but if i was constantly getting lost, i wouldn’t get places and sometimes i do want to get somewhere. Usually, i know how to get to where i want to go, but since moving to Korea and living in a city i’ve never lived in before, i now usually, if not always, don’t know how to get to where i want to go, so that’s where maps come in handy.

Since i’m new to Korea, and haven’t been gainfully employed yet, i have a lot of spare time on my hands. I mean, i work out, i study language acquisition theory and other English as a Second Language (ESL) methods to try to develop an innovative curriculum for my brother who wants to open up his own school, and i climb mountains, but aside from that, i’m pretty free, so i do a lot of walking. i’ve found my walking can be divided into daytime walks and night time walks. i find that my night time walks are where i just wander around, probably because everything is closed after 11 pm, except for nightclubs, bars, and 24-hour convenience stores, all of which are not really worth walking to (although walking to a 24-hour convenience store can be useful, but since there are so many, it’s pretty much the same as random wandering about).

My daytime walks, however, tend to have more of a focus, perhaps even what you may call a “goal” since most things are open during the day so there are many destinations to choose from. Usually, what i’ll do is stand in front of this huge map of Goyang (the city and surround area where i’m living) and decide on a place to go to.

This stands in a large public square just 10 minutes from my apartment

In this particular instance, i decided to check out the Cactus Research Station, since i’ve grown some cacti in my lifetime (i actually went through a cactus phase i’ll tell you about when i blog about my plant growing interests). On the map, you can see a glare from the sun in the upper left corner. Beside the glare, there are some large letters that say, “Ilsanseo – gu” and right under that is the Cactus Research Station.

Here i come baby

So, once i scope out the place (i also did the Kintex Conference Centre, but i probably won’t blog about it, although i will probably post some pics), i just start walking in the general direction of that place. The place from which i start is called Lake Park, the green-wooded area near the bottom right corner. My apartment is just across the street from the park (too bad our view faces the damn parking lot!) Although all man-made, Lake Park is quite beautiful in its own artificial way; it reminds me of a huge, carefully manicured garden.

However, if you notice, the map isn’t exactly to scale, so little did i know what i was in for. After over an hour of walking, i still hadn’t reached the place and i began to despair, when i finally saw a sign:

I’m still coming for you, i swear!

That gave me renewed hope, but if you look carefully, you’ll see that the damn sign doesn’t mention how far the place is. So, i kept walking and walking and another hour passed. I’d been walking for so long that i was actually in farm country.

The only thing that kept me going was the occasional sign that promised that the Cactus Research Station is indeed coming up. Eventually, i almost gave up. I seriously thought about turning back and going home. I mean, I had been walking for over two hours and it would be another two hours back home and i was getting hungry.

I decided to ask somebody where the Research Station was just to see how close i had come before giving up. I spotted a gas station attendant and tried to ask him where the Cactus Research Station was, and since my Korean is terrible, he couldn’t understand what i was asking, so i just pointed to the picture of the sign on my smartphone. He looked at the picture and nodded. Yes, smartphones really are smart! He pointed to the next intersection. I couldn’t believe it, but it was true. I was there!!!

Man, am i glad to see you!!!

And, i wasn’t disappointed. This place was a serious cactus research station! Greenhouse after greenhouse filled with rows of cacti, and a real research station with a lab and everything. I started to take some pictures, but it was like trying to take pictures of Mount Everest with a toy camera, the scope of the cacti was just too immense!!! Well, they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Then, a video is worth a thousand pictures. So, without further ado, i just started to shoot video.

Here you go….there are two parts. Enjoy!

Part One

Part Two

 

By the way, in the second video, i mentioned the art of pumpkin carving posted by another blog called Chicquero. You gotta check this out: The ART of pumpkin carving.

Getting Lost

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Back home in Toronto, while I was working on my Master’s degree, around the time that I was partaking in the Amherst writing method group where I first met my love, but before anything had happened or before I could even imagine that anything would happen with her, I would take my bike out at around midnight and just ride around my neighborhood. It was summer. I remember that the writing group had started in the early weeks of June and ended in the early weeks of August; yes, it ran for eight weeks and we met on Saturday’s in the afternoon. During the week, I would go back to the daily grind of tutoring students in English – that’s how i supported myself – and, of course, completing the courses for my Master’s.

I don’t know if it was the heat, or the loneliness; I used to live with my grandmother, but she had just passed away that year in January, just four days before my birthday. Yup, happy birthday. Anyway, I would come home at around 10 pm from tutoring, my last tutoring session usually ending at 9 or 9:30 pm, I would cook myself something, eat, and then hit the computer by 11 pm. From 11 pm, I would partake in online discussions, or do some online reading, or work on assignments, and then at around 1 am, I would shut off the computer or close the books, grab my bike – a rusty old mountain bike someone had left at my parents’ motel – and off I would go.

At first, I would just ride around my neighborhood, perhaps for half an hour, but eventually, I would wander off further, sometimes riding for an hour or more. By around 2 – 3 am in the morning, the streets are totally empty. All the lights in the rooms of the houses I would pass would be off, except for the odd night-owl who was up late, perhaps working on their Master’s degree, too, or sitting absorbed in front of their tv’s ghostly blue glare. Sometimes there would be outside lights. I realized how much energy we take for granted as many people leave on outside lawn lights, sometimes for security, but more often for aesthetics. The only sounds I would hear would be my tires on the road, automatic sprinklers, and the odd car or dog barking. If I ever encountered somebody on the road, I would be as startled as they because I would often ride with my shirt off. If they were female, I would hurry off in the opposite direction, as a half-naked man on a rusty mountain bike would be the last thing they needed following them at 2 am in the morning.

MODES OF TRANSPORTATION

At first, I knew where I was going; having lived in the neighborhood for almost twenty years (off and on, with stints in Montreal, Korea, and many, many places in downtown Toronto), I was quite familiar with the area. But, I realized that knowing an area didn’t only depend on the length of time that one spent there; it also depended on the mode of transportation one used to get around. Driving a car, although quite convenient, actually limits your vision and restricts your scope, as you are bound by the roads and laws of the road. As well, unless you drive with the windows open, you can’t smell the cool, night air, or hear the soft sprinklers. You may as well be sitting at home watching a tv show of the roads going by; that’s how closed off you are from reality. (I remember there actually was a show like that on City-TV, a Toronto-based tv channel, which would run from 2 am. It was just live footage from a video-cam mounted on the dashboard of a car that drove around downtown Toronto. It was accompanied by music. It was like driving around, except that you could fall asleep and not kill yourself or anybody else. Hell, I guess you could safely drink and drive!!) That’s why if I’m out driving, I try to maintain contact with reality, so I have this habit of driving with the windows open, especially at night. The only time I stop that is when the temperature dips below -5. I even do it when it’s raining, although it’s probably bad for my tweeter speaker which sits right next to the front window and gets wet.

Riding a bike is a bit less convenient, but a whole lot more free as you are not as limited by the rules of the road, eg. you can go the opposite way on a one-way street, you can do a U-turn, and you are not limited by the road: you can go on the sidewalk, you can even go off-road and ride into a park or down a ravine or wherever. But, the bike still has its limitations, ironically because of the very thing that makes it more convenient than walking/running: its wheels.  (And thinking back to the car, what makes it more convenient than a bike is exactly what makes it less free: its four wheels. Yes, this is definitely leading somewhere!).

That brings us to walking/running. Definitely not as convenient as a car or a bike, and yet so much more free. No rules of the road really bind you, except for jaywalking, but at 2 am, there’s not much chance of being hit by a car, or being arrested for jaywalking (god, i hope not!). As well, you can go where no bike can go, eg. over fences, into gardens, forests, and even empty buildings. Now, to get back to the convenience versus freedom thing (and many of you may have already jumped to the conclusion), the very thing that makes walking/running so inconvenient, i.e. lack of wheels, reliance on feet, also makes it more free, in fact, the most free of all the three modes of transportation.

A PHILOSOPHICAL INDUCTION (YAY!)

Thus, to draw a philosophical induction: There is an inverse relationship between convenience and freedom. The more convenient – and also include: easy, quick, secure, and COMFORTABLE – the less free it is. Sounds a bit like life in general, don’t it? Well, I guess it’s up to you how much you think an inverse deduction we drew from three modes of transportation can apply to life in general, but at least give it some thought.

Now, to get back to my original point about riding my bike around at night (yes, i’m getting lost in this blog about getting lost – i would consider myself clever if i was doing it on purpose, but it’s totally unintentional, i assure you. Somehow when i start writing these things, i always manage to go off on some tangent. Believe me, I edit out the stuff that is REALLY off topic, but i keep some of the stuff in because the tangential is usually the most interesting. As i was saying, getting to know a place depends not only on how long you live there, but also what mode of transportation you use to get around. In fact, I would say that the latter is perhaps even more of a factor because you can live in an area for over twenty years and yet never really know it, until you change your mode of transportation. After i started riding my bike around, I found nooks and crannies in my neighborhood i never knew existed in the sheltered driving seat of my car.

Also, the hour of transportation is important as people are less inclined to go off-road during the day when the presence of other people inhibits them (or, the long arm of the law, YIPES!). However, at 2 – 3am at night, there are less people and cars around, and i think i saw a police cruiser once in my two months of summer night time bike wandering. This isolation from people can be lonesome, but it is also a freedom from eyes, depending on your perspective, allowing you to do things or go places you never would if you were constantly under the daytime glare of other people’s eyes. How many people would dare lie on somebody else’s lawn and look up at the stars in plain daylight? It not only allows you the freedom to do this, but it also gives you the opportunity to meet fellow creatures who are out enjoying the freedom of the night.

IN ORDER TO FIND BEAUTY, ONE MUST GET LOST

Once while I was riding, I was startled by a fox that came out on the side of the road. Geez, i had never even seen a fox in real life and to see that they lived right here in my neighborhood under my nose was incredible. What was even cooler was when he/she trotted beside my bike for a good twenty metres. Now, I know why people swim with dolphins. That feeling of communicating with a fellow living being, although with four legs and not two, or two flippers instead of two arms, is incredible, especially when its on its terms and not forced upon them by some petting zoo or something. It was then that I realized that in order to find beauty, one must get lost.

What i mean by that is that one must be willing to go off-road, to disentangle oneself from the confines of the law, from the restrictions of the streets, from those signs telling you to slow down, to limit yourself to 40 km/hour (30 miles/hour, i think, for those Americans out there), to stop for pedestrians, etc. Now, I’m not one of those deranged anarchists that want to get rid of all street signs (aka laws). I realize the importance of public safety, and one day when i am blessed with children of my own i want the reassurance that there are strict laws and street signs in place that ensure the safety of my beautiful children.

No, what I am saying is please leave those street signs alone and leave those laws in place, but every once in a while, perhaps when the rest of the house is sleeping, slip outside into the cover of darkness, and for god’s sake don’t take your car keys because they will jangle and wake your spouse or parents, and starting the car will wake your neighbors and by then you may as well announce your own funeral. And this is not to mention that inverse law between convenience and freedom we deduced up above. If you’re seeking some sort of freedom, what’s the use of taking your damn car?

SLIP AWAY INTO THE COVER OF NIGHT

No, stealthily sneak your bike out of the garage, or better yet, start walking. Feel the cool night breeze. Smell the grass and flowers and trees (yes, trees have a scent, i swear it). Listen to the soft sound of sprinklers, or the occasional disruption of a car that someone didn’t leave at home. See the homes of people and wonder, as i often did, at the lives they house. You’re outside now, looking in. How does it feel? Perhaps a fox will run beside you for a while, before running off to do whatever it does. Or, perhaps you will hear a dog howling in the distance. Do you feel like howling? Go ahead, NOBODY is there to STOP you. HOWL, because, my good friend, my fellow trotting living being, now, you are truly ALIVE. Isn’t it beautiful?

The only thing holding you back is fear, but i promise you, there is beauty just around the corner...

Passion and Poutine in Montreal

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My love would often joke to me that our lives revolved around three things: sex, food, and sex…no, just kidding :) but really, the three things we absolutely love doing when we get together are having sex, writing/reading, and eating great food.
Sex, well, we’ll get to that one later, i promise!! ;)  As for writing/reading, i already mentioned on my About the Blog page that my love is enrolled in the Creative Writing Program at Concordia University in Montreal, and me, well, i’m working on this here blog, you see, haha? (ok, so i’ve been doing a lot of texting with my students so my writing style is reflecting this trend at the moment, but it’s just a passing phase, i sweeeaaarrr!!!!)

WRITING AND LOVE GODS

I first met my love in a writing group, a prompt writing group, based on the Amherst method. I will blog about prompt writing and the Amherst method later in another post, but let me just say it was one of the best things i ever did, not just for my writing but because if i hadn’t gone there, i would never have met my love. We would sometimes talk, she would initiate the conversations, and i would shy away because she was in high school and i was, well, i was doing my Master’s degree and that even late in my life. For the curious out there,  let me just say that there are 24 human years that separate us (that makes 106 dog years! thank god we’re not dogs. or even worse still, cats as 24 human years works out to 113 cat years!)

But, as those of you who have ever fallen in love (or lust) know, you can’t stop the course of Mother Nature,or as good ole Rumi says on my About the Title and Visual Theme page, “Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love.” And so, when it came to the end of the writing group, i slyly left my car at home claiming i was trying to be good to the environment (this was true…ok, partly true. Another part was because i noticed that she took the subway and i wanted to take the subway together with her. For those familiar with the Toronto subway system (a link for those who are not), the writing group was at Broadview subway station, and i lived near Finch subway, which meant i had to go westbound and then northbound. The love gods were partially on my side: she lived near Royal York subway station which is westbound, so i had the delight of her company for a whole three subway stops. We talked as quickly as possible, or rather she did because she was a phenomenally fast talker – she’s slowed down a bit recently – and often we had to fight the screeching noise of the subway wheels grinding against the rails (why don’t they use rubber tires like in Montreal? taking the Toronto subway is enough to make you deaf), as well as a rush of people.

Is there a divine presence that guides those who are falling in love? Perhaps Cupid and Aphrodite are real? As i said, i secretly left my car at home so i could have a chance to talk to her on the subway and perhaps she knew this on some level because she would drop me hints that she knew i was older than her but that it didn’t matter. For example, once, when we were pressed against a throng of shouting teenagers, she whispered in my ear: “God, i hate teenagers,” which i thought was pretty funny since that’s what she was. Well, all you women out there probably know how dense men can be because i didn’t pick up on the import of that until later when i thought about that comment again.

Anyway, our relationship as well as our relationships with the other writers were progressing and on the day of the last class, one of the other writers invited everyone to a unique activity: every Monday or Tuesday evening, sorry my memory is a bit hazy on that one, a group of senior citizens would meet in a room at the Rosedale library and read plays out loud, each person taking a part. Well, my love and i somehow knew that this was it and we both agreed to. I had the vaguest doubt that she probably wouldn’t show up and my leaving my car secretly at Finch subway station and taking the subway down from Finch to Bloor for 30 minutes would all be in vain, but i consoled myself with the thought that perhaps i could network with some octogenarians (ok, i was desperate). Remember i was talking about Cupid and Aphrodite? I think they must have heard us, because my love called me on Monday to confirm…yes,  now that i remember her phone call (it was at around 5 pm because it was right after one of my tutoring session and i had just got into my car to drive home, so the timing was perfect – thanks , love gods :), i also recall that the play-reading was on a Tuesday evening).

i guess she must have had the same kind of doubts, but couldn’t console herself with the prospect of hanging out with some seniors. She asked me to meet her near Bloor subway station so we could go to the library together. She said her sense of direction was terrible, so i, being the gallant male with the reputed superior sense of direction agreed to guide her in my manly way to the Rosedale library. I found out a bit later that she actually had an iPhone with that fancy GPS navigation thingy and she probably would have been able to find her way; but then again, as i also later found out, she often got confused by that GPS thing especially in Montreal, so who’s to say what? Only the gods of love will ever truly know.

Needless to say, my heart leapt, and i was there at our meeting place in front of the Central Library at Yonge just north of Bloor, exactly on time (ok, i lie, i was about 10 minutes late), but thankfully, she was even later. She apologized profusely, and i said it was ok because i was scoping out a location for the writing group i wanted to start on my own, separate from David’s, but more on that later in my post on prompt writing. While waiting for Angelica, the girl in our writing group who had invited us, we talked. She talked about some guy she knew named Dean. She made him out to be some kind of genius, but i never did find out about him because i never got a chance to meet him. Angelica didn’t show up so we went into the room and they welcomed us warmly when we told them Angelica had invited us. They gave us copies of the play they were reading and assigned us parts. The play was a modern one with some sex, swearing and violence, and some of the members rally got into the swearing and sex with much gusto. It was funny and i really liked it. 

FINALLY, FOOD!

Afterwards, my love casually asked if i wanted to get something to eat. I wasn’t hungry, except in my heart, so i said sure, where should we go? She told me she was a vegetarian, and my heart did a little flop because i was almost vegetarian. Well, actually i am a “pescetarian”, a term my sister introduced to me, which basically means i don’t eat meat except for fish (I’ve recently added the occasional lamb and goat to my diet both for philosophical and physical reasons as i am molding my body right now and require huge amounts of protein, but i will post about body-building, or what i call body-molding later and my philosophy about killing and eating animals later). Being a pescetarian is quite challenging if you’re living by yourself and trying to save money by cooking, so i was interested in vegetarian/organic cooking and watched huge amounts of Food Channel and was constantly trying out a lot of recipes and trying to create my own recipe book. Anyway, i think i said something like, “Wow, me too, although i also eat fish (or, maybe i didn’t mention that part until later??), but i don’t know any vegetarian places near here.” She suggested a place called Rawlicious in the Dundas West north area, near Annette. 

Well, that was the beginning of our passion for fresh, organic, mostly vegetarian food. I guess we became what is known as “foodies”, although i hate those kind of labels. Not only would we search out good food, but we would cook each other food whenever we went over to each other’s houses. This was usually followed by sex, or preceded by sex, or sandwiched in between sex, so no wonder we began to associate the two. Ok, so back to Montreal. Since food was one of our priorities, one of our goals in getting to know Montreal better was to hunt out good food, especially since i was renting out single rooms in shared apartments through airbnb and found it uncomfortable to cook in someone else’s kitchen (although i did manage to do it once as you can see from my previous post “Ode to Montreal“. 

A MONTREAL BAGEL

We decided that there were two things we absolutely had to find in Montreal: one was a Montreal bagel. Thank the bagel gods we found St. Viateur – it was purely accidental, we were actually searching for another bagel shop and came upon St. Viateur because we couldn’t find the other two places. A funny thing actually happened when we first bought bagels there. We were so hungry that we didn’t bother going home, but sat down on a bench on the sidewalk just down the street from one of the two St. Viateur bagel shops, which are actually on the same street, just down from each other. The owner of the St. Viateur bagel shop happened to walk by and seeing us eating the bagels and reading the plastic bag they give you to store the bagels, he said, “I bet you can ask me anything on that plastic bag and I’ll know it.” Little did we know it was the owner, so we began grilling him. My love asked him the most difficult questions, like when was St. Viateur started and how many bagels do they make, etc. He answered them all and we nodded in appreciation and then he revealed to us that he was the owner. It was then that I recognized him from one of the Food Network shows in which St. Viateur Bagels was spotlighted. I shook his hand and said, “Great to meet you. Thanks for stopping by and making such great bagels,” or something like that.

AND OF COURSE, POUTINE!

The other thing we absolutely needed to find was good Montreal poutine – vegetarian, of course, and that naturally leads to Patati Patata, located at 4177 St. Laurent, on the corner of Rue Rachel. My baby had mentioned it as a good spot and we just kind of came upon it one night while walking on St. Laurent north to my apartment at Mile-End. It’s a tiny little place with a huge lineup outside both because it’s so damn good and because it’s so damn tiny. As i said, my love had mentioned it before, but somehow it had slipped our minds and we weren’t really looking for it, but i guess we noticed it because of the lineup outside. We lined up and ordered poutine and two grilled cheese sandwiches. I think we were cautious because we weren’t sure if the poutine was vegetarian, but my love said, “At this point, I don’t care,” so that was that. (Sorry, baby, but i just found out that although the toppings were vegetarian, the gravy sauce is made from chicken stock…but, i know if she’s reading this that she’s thinking, “It was worth it.”  I won’t go into how great the food is or even the strange small aesthetics of the place as there are many many reviews that you can read online.

THE PASSION OF PATATI PATATA

No, the reason why i wanted to write about Patati Patata was because of the extraordinary people working in there. The restaurant (if you want to call it that, i would call it something along the lines of a food truck without wheels) has an open kitchen. You can see the cook furiously cooking to meet the demand. The host/cashier/waiter was all rolled into one man manning the front cash. Now, I’ve worked in many restaurants, both in the kitchen and out front. I’ve done dishwashing, prep cooking, short-order cooking, baking, and waitering. I’m well aware of the frantic stress of the “dinner rush”. I know what it means to be “in the weeds” I’ve both been super-stressed and seen people crack in the most strangest ways under the stress. For those who have never worked in a restaurant, you have no clue what it takes to get your food out to you during dinner rush. Well, it was dinner rush at Patati Patata even though it was close to 10 o clock at night. My hunch is that the dinner rush at Patati Patata is longer than that of most other restaurants. I couldn’t help marveling at these guys handling the rush by themselves, the cook’s hands flying when he wasn’t scurrying to the back to get some ingredients and sometimes, i kid you not, disappearing into what seemed like a rabbit hole to get some supplies. The front man took orders, waited and bussed tables (lucky for him there are only about 6 tables and and a couple of bar tables running along two edges of the place), and called out orders for pick-up as well as taking payments and making change. I have no idea how he kept everything organized in his head. As i said before, only those who have worked in a restaurant know what it’s like to try to endure the dinner rush and this is only playing one role, like waiter, or busser, or host/hostess, but to do all three at one time is begging for a nervous breakdown. But, somehow this man with his green bandana tied around his head was doing just that and he was not only pulling it off, but he wasn’t freaking out with stress.

CIRQUE DU POUTINE!

Watching the two in action was like watching some kind of strange extreme dance choreography where they moved and bobbed and ducked and spun without once bumping into each other. I heard a glass smash and i thought it was the cook, and thought it was excusable considering the circumstances, but it was actually one of the customers and in the midst of his incredible busyness, the green bandana-ed whirling dervish of a front man managed to find time to clean up the mess and actually reassure the customer who was apologizing awkwardly. We finally got to the front of the line and this magician in a green bandana looked at me calmly and asked me what i wanted. I ordered and he asked my name as though I were meeting him at a party or perhaps at a cafe. He explained that if i waited outside, when my order was ready, he would call out to me by name.

And he did. We waited outside for quite a while and to occupy my love, i asked her to get me a coffee. My name was called. I looked up and the green bandana-ed sprite looked straight into my eyes. I went in and got ready to pay. It was under $10, very reasonable for what we would find out was some of the most delicious food we had ever tasted. But, the magic moment was when he handed me my order in the brown paper bag. He did so with both hands, as though delivering some kind of holy grail. I reciprocated by receiving this food of the gods with both my hands, and then he looked me straight in the eyes, and said in the calmest, gentlest voice possible: “Thank you ____ (he said my real name), bon appetit and you have a wonderful evening.” It was as though in the midst of the insanity of the dinner rush, the world had taken a deep breath. I couldn’t believe how this man could not only keep everything under control, but actually take the time out to call me by name and wish me a good night, not in a rushed off-hand way, but with real feeling as though we had known each other for years. I was too bowled over to say anything except, “Thank you, I will.”

THE GURU OF ST. LAURENT

I walked out and my love was waiting with a coffee in hand. We walked a short distance to a parkette one block north , sat on a park bench and feasted. I couldn’t stop thinking about the two magicians of Patati Patata. They were a miniature Cirque du Soleil. They brought magic in such a small place, in such small almost unnoticeable ways. But, most of all, I thought about the guru in the green bandana. Some people may wonder if calling him a “guru” is a bit of an exaggeration, but there is no more appropriate word. If guru means master, if guru means teacher, then this man is a guru. Hemingway says “Grace under pressure”, but that’s only part of it. To be so involved in what you do, to be “in the zone’ like that is truly spiritual. The way i know this is because he kept his humanity, his love for humanity, by remembering my name, by taking that deep breath and wishing me bon appetit and a good night from the bottom of his heart.

In “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall, a great book that my love bought for me brand new only because i couldn’t find a pdf version online (i got Bruce Springsteen instead), and of course it wasn’t in second hand bookstores yet, McDougall talks about how physical hardship, such as super marathons make you a better person, citing the Tarahumara people as an example. He states that they are the most gentle people possible, except when they have their drunken orgies, and he speculates that it is because of their incredible running feats,  such as running 100 mile ultra-marathons. (Sorry, but I can’t find the exact page reference because i left the book in Canada).

Whether it be running an ultra-marathon, or enduring the stress and rigor of dinner rush at Patati Patata, the point is to do it with joy and focus because in the end, you will love both yourself and your neighbor and that love will spread, from one satisfied customer to another and from there, to the people they know. I hope to love what i do with such passion. I hope that my passion for what i do will make me a better person. I hope that my passion for what i do will let me love others openly and unguardedly. That to me is the passion of Patati Patata.

What is a teacher?

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“A teacher is someone who tells you something you don’t want to hear.” – myself – (yes, i know it’s strange to quote myself, but this is a quote i wrote down in one of my notebooks and if i had left it uncredited, you might wonder why i neglected to give credit where credit is due, so i’ve made it a policy to reference any source, even if it’s just little ole me).

Many people may say something along the same lines, especially if their idea of a teacher is that chemistry teacher they had in grade 11 who told them all those formulae and equations that they didn’t want to hear, and i guess that in a sense my definition does include those high school teachers since you probably didn’t want to hear all that stuff because it was new to you and so, if you had bothered to study it anyway, you probably learned something new (and promptly forgot it the next day!)

 

 

THE GRAND-PERE OF MONTREAL

However, what i had in mind was a teacher who isn’t necessarily in a school and designated as a “teacher” (although they can be). Let me explain. I stayed in three different apartments in Montreal while saying goodbye to my love which i rented through airbnb (a great and cheap way to travel and really get to know a place) because i wanted to stay in as many different places in Montreal as i could so i could really get to know the city. My first apartment was on Sherbrooke Est. My second on Rue Clark and Rachel, and my third apartment was on Avenue du Parc and Bernard in the Mile-End area.

While staying at the last apartment in Mile-End, I would often walk down Avenue du Parc with my love because she had classes on Concordia campus downtown near the Guy metro. It was quite a haul, taking about an hour, but a beautiful walk in the glorious fading summer sun, passing by Mont-Royal and zigzagging through various peaceful residential streets, or hightailing it west on Sherbrooke Est. One day, early on in the stay, while exploring the Mile-End area, I was walking with my love down Avenue du Parc towards Bernard. Just a bit past the depanneur at the corner of Parc and Bernard, there are a series of open markets that sell fresh produce, much of it organic. The first one is operated by an Indian family and blares joyful, spiritual Hindi music. We had just passed that market when we were stopped by a tall African man with short-cropped graying hair. His eyes were bloodshot with drink and he extended a gnarled hand towards me.

I had to admit, he frightened me a bit because of the way he looked at me so severely. I didn’t have any change on me at the time, but I had a whole pile at the apartment. I probably would have mumbled an apology and just walked on by, but I had promised my dead grandmother’s spirit that I would donate $40 “to the gods” due to some stroke of fortune (i’m pretty superstitious that way), and so i signaled him to wait and said i would be back. I apologized to my love and told her I had to return to the apartment for a sec, but she completely understood, so I raced back home and grabbed about $6 worth of change and raced back, hoping he wouldn’t go far. Little did I know that Parc and Bernard was his “corner”. Anyway, I found him a little further down the street, and I said to him,

“Monsieur, as I promised.” and I poured the handful of change (actually two handfuls) into his hands. His face lit up in a smile, whether because of the sudden windfall, or because I had kept my word, I wasn’t sure, but thinking about it now, I think it was a bit of both.

The next day, I passed him again, and this time he recognized me and grinned and I grinned in return. Then, he raised his fist in salutation and I raised mine. He asked me, “Are you japonaise?”

“No, monsieur, I am coreen,” I replied.

He nodded, “Bon. I am from Senegal.”

I nodded.

“I used to be a professional, but something happened to my hand,” and he showed me his gnarled hand.

“What happened?” I asked, but he began to mumble something in a mixture of French and something i couldn’t make out.

I pretended to understand and took his hand in sympathy. I pressed some more change into it. He accepted it gratefully.

From then on, every time I would pass him, he would be glad to see me and I would give him money. There was a part of me, a cynical part that is perhaps in everyone, that said, “He is only glad to see you because you give him money.” And perhaps that was true, and so, I began to avoid him. But, one day, I thought to myself, so what if he is using my friendliness to get my money? What is so wrong with losing my money to him? I have so much in comparison to him. He has nothing except the clothes on his back which were not that warm. He stays in an ATM booth to keep warm. Does he even have a place to sleep? I didn’t know where he went at night when it got cold. I had a nice warm apartment on the Parc. I had a large comfie bed pluffed up with pillows. I had a small fridge packed with food and drinks. I could take a warm shower at any time, but most of all, I had my love who shared everything with me and kept me company and warmed my body and my heart.

Why couldn’t I give money to him? It was something that I didn’t want to hear, and perhaps most people don’t want to hear, but the reason I didn’t want to hear it was because it was something different from what I was used to. But really, isn’t that what learning is all about? Why bother to hear something we want to hear, something within our “comfort zone”? If we always hear what we want to hear, what makes us comfortable, then what have we learned? Nothing new. And if we learn nothing new, then why bother learning? In fact, if we learn something that is not new to us, something that is comfortable to us, then is that really learning?

THE SCHOOL OF LIFE

We sit there in our little warm schools and listen to our comfortable homilies, while the real world rages outside. Truth is not contained in some textbook. Truth is something that hammers at our hearts and minds, wanting to get in…if we will let it. And teachers? They come in the most unexpected forms and appear in the least likely of places, but you will know them by one thing: they will not lie to you with those warm and familiar words that comfort you like a pair of worn-in jeans. No, what they tell you will be something you don’t want to hear, something that makes you uncomfortable, something to make you stretch, or squeeze to fit into a new shape. Only in this way do we truly learn something.

On the last day of my stay in Montreal, I frantically hoped that I would see old grandpere (as I began to fondly call him) again. I finally found him and my heart leaped in joy. His face too lit up. I said to him, “Monsieur, today is my last day in Montreal. Tomorrow, I depart for Toronto.”

His face dropped. “J’ai faim (I am hungry),” he whispered.

I took his old, gnarled hand and pressed my last $10 into it.

“Can we take a picture?” I asked.

He nodded majestically and stood patiently while my love took the picture. 

Afterwards, we bid each other farewell. I often wonder how he is and I worry about him, especially now that the weather is getting colder. If anyone should pass by Avenue du Parc and Bernard Avenue in Montreal and happen to see grandpere, please give him some change from me. I’m sure you will learn something, too.

Ode to Montreal

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If Home is Where the Heart is…

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THEN LEAVING HOME MEANS LEAVING YOUR HEART BEHIND

On October 7/2011, I left my family home in Toronto, Canada, and boarded KAL flight no. 074 en route to Incheon International Airport in South Korea. My travels, however, had begun a month before when I went to Montreal to bid my love farewell. On September 1st. I took the bus from the Bay Street terminal in Toronto at 8:30 AM in the morning. I arrived in Montreal at 5:00 PM where my love was waiting for me with a falafel in hand. Our farewell would last a month. And then, I would board a plane at Pearson International Airport and leave my heart behind.

Sometimes words just fail me

Home?

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How ironic that the main page of this blog about leaving home is called HOME.

Where is that place? What exactly is HOME? According to good ole wikipedia:

home is a place of residence or refuge.[1] When it refers to a building, it is usually a place in which an individual or a family can rest and store personal property. Most modern-day households contain sanitary facilities and a means of preparing food. Animals have their own homes as well, either living in the wild or shared with humans in a domesticated environment.

Home is where the heart is

“Home” is also used to refer to the geographical area (whether it be a suburbtowncity or country) in which a person grew up or feels they belong, or it can refer to the native habitat of a wild animal. 

Your homes are killing my habitat!

Sometimes, as an alternative to the definition of ‘home’ as a physical locale (‘Home is where you hang your hat‘), home may be perceived to have no physical location—instead, home may relate to a mental or emotional state of refuge or comfort. Popular sayings along these lines are “Home is where the heart is” or ‘You can never go home again’.” – wikipedia -

I like that. Let’s repeat it: “You can never go home again”.

From my personal journal, dated Sept. 27/2011: 

“And stepping out into the bright Montreal sunscape, he realized he would never go home again.” 

Never is a long long time….