« April 2012 | Main | June 2012 »

7 entries from May 2012

The World's Worst Buddhist

Daibutsu Kamakura pensive
The Daibutsu (Amida Buddha) at Kamakura, near Yokohama, in April 2004.
He looks in a pensive mood, which isn't very Buddhist of him.

If you must have a religion, Buddhism strikes me as a good idea.  By all accounts, it tries to unite the spiritual and the temporal, in a healthy way. 

Should one need the solace of prayer, one could do worse than meditate; meditation is prayer turned inward, rather than upward.  Regular meditation can increase physical and mental well-being.

Buddhist meditation focuses you on yourself, your mind and body.  Is this selfish?  Not at all.  In theory, such deep understanding of one's own being fosters both compassion toward others, and self-reliance.  

(All this compassion doesn't keep you from being a sexist creep, from time to time.  The Dalai Lama maintains that a woman might well become his successor—but she's gotta be a looker, since appearances count.)

So, without wishing to trade-in my broad-church atheism for an actual religion or nuttin', I took Buddhism out for a spin.  Not the whole thing, but a couple of Buddhist precepts.  January was to be a month of ditthi, viewing reality as it really is, not as we wish it to be, and sati, seeing things for what they are with clear consciousness and a sense of truth, as well as being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any cravings for more, nor distatste for what you have.  

IlovesmallstonesA meme piqued me to do it.  Buddhist priest and therapist Kaspalita, along with writer Fiona Robyn, declared that January 2012 become a River of Stones.  Each day, they encouraged readers of their website to write a small stone.  In their words, a short piece of writing that precisely captures a fully engaged moment.  If you read their work, you'll discover that the stones they write, are true gems.

Just what the doctor ordered.  Therapists and support groups tell me that a family like mine—where children were served generous helpings of emotional torture sprinkled with little jimmies of violence—will create adults with a distinct quality of mind.  We have trouble engaging in the moment.  Disengagement with the moment, after all, was once a tool of psychological survival.  The habit dies hard.

Kill it, though, I must.  So I set up a Tumblr for my River of Stones, and dubbed it Der Fluß aus Steinen.  Alert readers will have noticed a link to it on the sidebar.  Readers may notice, too, that it no longer appears.  I lasted eight days. 

It started smoothly enough.  I resolved to capture each stone in a photo, and write of it later.  On January 1, a Christmas three atop a crane on the Odeonsplatz caught my eye.  I imagined that the presents underneath would be Erector Sets for all the little cranes to enjoy.  Maybe Erector Sets were the crane equivalent of toy soldiers, or Barbie.  So far, so good.  Step one on the road to enlightenment.

DSC_4202 - Version 2
Eight days later, I cast a pair of weary eyes around the office.  Mindful of my surroundings and present in the moment, a full pencil sharpener loomed into view.   Should one iron the shavings, to improve the feng shui and attract positive chi, I wondered?   Not exactly On Walden Pond.

And so, mindful of my surroundings and present in the moment, I gave up.

I could never get the hang of these little moments of exquisite, poetic sensibility.  They're all terribly nice, but so what?  

Let's give it another go, right now.  Around me, I notice a number of things in the room where I sit.  It is a living room.  The prints on the wall hang slightly crooked; maybe they leaned together for a furtive smooch, and hastily composed themselves as I walked by.  

These pictures in mild disarray remind me of a Casanova caught in flagrante, who must dress fast to escape.  One could do a 5-7-5 haiku about that.

A lover revealed. 
He is not quite complete.
His socks took too long.

Talk about unmindfulness!  Not only did I fail to describe what sits in plain view, but I leapt to another, more interesting story, the likes of which I've never experienced in person.  (Call me a coward, I always hid naked in the wardrobe.) 

I chose imagination over observation.  Bad Buddhist!

Haiku purists take a dim view of all this metaphor and narrative.   High haiku must adhere to a strict rhythm—it needn't rhyme, because given Japanese grammar and phonology, rhyming would be too easy to be considered artful.  And it must stick to what the poet sees and hears. 

Matsuo Basho wrote arguably Japan's most famous haiku in 1686.  There have been hundreds of translations of these seventeen simple syllables.  Plainly put, the poem states there is a peaceful old pond, a frog jumps in and makes a splash. 

Call me a philistine.  Call me obtuse.  But...I don't get it. 

My Japanese friends (and my husband, to boot) assure me that I am missing a great source of artistic satisfaction, not to mention the serenity which comes from contemplating a moment of exquisite beauty.  Well, yeah.

I have a long way to go.

In the meantime, imagination provides both diversion and solace.  A certain amount of inserenity can pump you up, just as much as a good whiff of chi.    But you have to dodge a trap—living too comfortably in your imagination, rather than seeking comfort on the panet Earth.  Perhaps that's a discussion for another time.

Photo Friday: Walk

This week's Photo Friday theme is Walk, but in truth, the pictures sort of show a march.  We arrived in Hakone on a festival day in the summer of 2003.  The mountain town celebrated with a parade.  Her streets, though, are barely wide enough for a single car to pass: bands could march, at the most, three abreast.  And spectators got up close and personal with the musicians.


Wealthy, but Why?

Diamond dominoes, in a jeweller's window on the Maximiilanstraße.
They won't leave you much change out of €20,000

Europe, bless us, is in technical recession, and it looks to get worse.  But—touch HolzGermany seems to be doing OK under the circumstances .  (Probably because Germany pretty much engineered those circumstances in the first place.)

When Germany does OK, Munich does very well indeed.  On a GDP-per-head basis, Munich ranks up there with bank-boated towns like Frankfurt. 

The average Münchener contributes 60% more to the Volkswirtschaft than his Hamburg or Berlin counterpart.  If the stats counted toney exurbs like Starnberg, the difference would prove greater, for sure.

Though Munich houses a modest million or so inhabitants, it is a city of corporate titans.  Alliance, Siemens, BMW, M*A*N, Airbus and scores of others are based here, with many more in nearby smaller Bavarian cities.  A brace of multinationals make Munich their regional HQs—McDonald's prominent among them.  Tech start-ups and media companies, as well as both Apple and Microsoft, operate out of the city.  A mammoth airport, a lively academic community, a refined arts scene, and an enviable sub-alpine lifestyle attract them.

But there's one curious fact.

Looking at the figures in the Wikipedia link above, why do Milan and Vienna do so well?  Not only does the average Milanese account for almost twice as much wealth than a Münchener does, he generates more than a Londoner, New Yorker or Tokyoite. And a Viennese does surprisingly well, too.

What gives?  I have my theories, but none explain why a Viennese should pump seventy-one thousand bucks in to the Austrian economy every year, when a New Yorker pushes only sixty-six through America.   Has it something to do with creative-class entrepeneurs?—A San Franciscan outperforms his counterparts in London and New York, but curiously, not Washington DC.  None of them match Milan, though, whose citizens are responsible for a whopping $88,000 of wealth each, last year.  That's a lot of shoes and handbags. Armchair economists, go wild in the comments.

Munich may not be qute as rich as some of its bigger counterparts, but it hasn't yet needed to pawn the silverware.  You might find those dominoes on eBay, soon, though.

Englished Up for the Cup

Ah, the British football fan makes friends wherever he goes, does he not?  

I was living in Japan for the 2002 World Cup, and recall how the city of Sapporo behaved as it hosted the England/Argentina match.  Car dealers removed display models from their forecourts.  Teachers made children play indoors.  Bars posted signs proclaiming No Foreigners Aloud.  Some closed entirely, and others even boarded up their doors and windows.

The City of Munich, like Sapporo, has imposed a public drinking ban for this weekend, as Bayern Munich hosts British team Chelsea for the final of the European Champions League.  Many publicans have shown some distatste for English visitors.  Ugo Crocamo, proprietor of trendy H'ugo's bar and nightclub said, “I will have 500 Bayern fans, I don’t want Chelsea fans here.” 

Chelsea supporters who wish to test his resolve should note that you'll find H'ugo's at Promenadeplatz 1 in the Altstadt, accessible from the Karlsplatz transport exchange via tram #19.  That's across the street from the Bayerischer Hof, Munich's swankest hotel, who might also appreciate your custom, as would the Mandarin Oriental (Neuturmstraße 1, also on tram route #19), where your team is staying.   You're welcome.

Munich police have adopted a relatively gemütlich approach to potential troublemakers.   The Polizei Präesidium reached out to Chelsea fans via their club, and will hold a chummy "Fan-Talk" in the bleachers behind their block of seats, fifteen minutes before the game begins.  "Conflict situations will also be resolved primarily by means of communication", says the aptly-named Deputy Commissioner Robert Kopp, "though troublemakers and offenders will be red-carded timely and consistently."  Trust me, you don't want to get a taste of their consistency.

From our perch across the river in genteel Bogenhausen, the game won't affect us much. Except to notice that it has generated a flurry of English language in the public media. 

Adidas took over the cement seats on which Müncheners cool themselves by the Stachus fountain.  Banners invited fans, in English, to sit amongst each other in harmony.

I noticed later that most of the banners which invited Bayern München fans to sit next to Chelsea fans had been removed, and the rest vandalised.  Perhaps Ugo has a point.

Note this rotating sign on the Prinzregentenstraße.  First, an English beer ad, aimed at Chelsea supporters, which reminds us that beer fuels your screams—screams of passion, screams of rage, screams of pain, screams of sorrow.  I doubt that such a sentiment would be allowed in a jurisdiction where its English meaning would matter, given the restrictions on what alcohol advertising can say.

And next, the local version.  Münchener Hell, under the Heavens of Bavaria.   Beer drinkers here seem to behave a little like the wine drinkers our British football supporters sneer at.

Chelsea fans, take a leaf out of the Bayern München playbook.  Relax a little.  It's only a game.

Ordnung ist das Halbe Leben 3

Please insert trays CROSSWISE

Please don't use.  It's still being tested!  Thanks!

It is sad that in a global company we must deal with such matters, but it seems that there are always people who do not know how WC-cleaning functions. Here is a bit of help. 
Figure 1. Totally Wrong. Figure 2. Wrong. Figure 3. Almost Right. Figure 4. Right.

Hands Spread Disease-Causing-Germs.  Correct Washing Protects. Hold hands under running water.  Pulverise soap* (*or similar hand cleaning substance) for 20 to 30 seconds. Also between the fingers. Then thoroughly rinse.  Dry Carefully.  Brought to you by the Us Against Viruses campaign, the Robert Koch Institute, and the Federal Center for Health Instruction. 

Please ALWAYS take a ticket or use your permanent-parker card!!  Vehicles with compressed natural gas propulsion should not be left in this garage.

Rule: The Complexity of Instructions must be in Inverse Proportion to the Simplicity of the Object to be Operated. (see also shopping trolley instructions here)

Respect!  No Place for Racism