Monday, January 30, 2012

Word vs. Zen

After reading the following paragraphs from Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig, I got a sort of enlightenment:
"[...]The term logos, the root word of ``logic,'' refers to the sum total of our rational understanding of the world. Mythos is the sum total of the early historic and prehistoric myths which preceded the logos. The mythos includes not only the Greek myths but the Old Testament, the Vedic Hymns and the early legends of all cultures which have contributed to our present world understanding. The mythos-over-logos argument states that our rationality is shaped by these legends, that our knowledge today is in relation to these legends as a tree is in relation to the little shrub it once was.
[...]One finds that in the Judeo-Christian culture in which the Old Testament ``Word'' had an intrinsic sacredness of its own, men are willing to sacrifice and live by and die for words. In this culture, a court of law can ask a witness to tell ``the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God,'' and expect the truth to be told. But one can transport this court to India, as did the British, with no real success on the matter of perjury because the Indian mythos is different and this sacredness of words is not felt in the same way."
Suddenly so many things became clear. I could finally find an explanation for some of the most puzzling cultural differences between West and East (especially where the mythos is mainly of Hindu, Buddhist and Taoist origin). For those aspects whose existence I've known for so long but for which I couldn't find a root. We - I mean westerners - give great importance to our word, our promises, the truth. Asians value these things as well, of course, but in a different way. And they probably value other things even more. Else, how could we explain the never say no culture, or all the incongruent behaviors that Asians can naturally adopt so that no one is forced to lose face?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Worthy of a general - Bangkok, Thailand

Fortunately in Bangkok one doesn't have to witness only ghastly shows like this. If one keeps his radar tuned and has patience he'll be able to enjoy a number of amusing and instructive little scenes.

A Korean tourist has just bought a Phat Thai, one of those cooked at the edge of the road, on a large tilted fry pan set over a gas stove and served on styrofoam trays. When he still has a third of the portion left one of those old men who collect empty bottles of beer to make a few bucks draws near him. The Korean moves aside to let him pass and then starts to wolf down what is left of his Phat Thai. Using the chopsticks with perfect skill he shoves elephant-like quantities of food into his mouth, holding his breath, letting out flooded engine-like sounds, dropping fragments and leaning forward to prevent his shirt from getting soiled. A disgusting scene. But why is he doing that? Don't tell me that he's going! He can't do it!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Jumble of thoughts/16

- I don't have much time to plan my future, I'm pretty busy dealing with my present.

- I don't give a damn about the money I squander, it's for the time I waste that I can't forgive myself.  

- Or, on a similar note: if you have enough money but you don't have time...suddenly money becomes worthless.

- "Only details"...did you just say only details? But that's exactly what counts. Without details we all look alike.

- Being cheated by a talented genius is alright, by an ordinary bastard is not!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The post I didn't want to write - Bangkok, Thailand

This is a post I'd rather not write. In fact I spent hours trying to erase the memory of the following facts, but I can't. The intensity of the sensations I felt smashed me inside. I have to document everything.
It's yet another example of the blind violence that can explode all of a sudden in a country where one quickly gets used to meet affable, smiling and tolerant people, and that precisely because of this contrast when it roars in front of us with the power of a Himalayan avalanche it upsets us, scratching our soul with sharp claws.
It's late at night, I'm strolling on a busy Bangkok road, I skirt a foreigner who has just rejected the advances of a pushy ladyboy, the usual things. Then I change my mind: it's not yet time to go back to my room, I turn around and start to walk in the opposite direction. When I pass a makeshift bar on the curb I spot the same ladyboy who is discussing with the bar owner. There's a commotion, some slapping, then the ladyboy is assailed by all the members of the staff: a total of two women and a man.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Funny signs/4

I often come across some funny signs, billboards, notices and labels. When it happens I always make sure that I don't leave the spot without a photo. I'll post them here a few at a time.

I was walking in downtown Moscow when I noticed the sign...and I had to slow my pace down (Moscow, Russia)

The license plate must have cost the guy more than the car (Moscow, Russia)

Keep walking...(Moscow, Russia)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The bank commission riddle - Bangkok, Thailand

I've hardly ever used traveler's cheques. The first times I came to Thailand I used to get cash with my European credit/debit cards. Of course the issuing banks were charging me a few euro commission, but the fees applied in Thailand were very cheap (20 baht, about 50 cents of a euro). Then, one after the other, like the victims of a virus that having undergone mutation has become deadly powerful, the local banks started to apply a 150 baht rate (almost 4 euros), basically doubling the amount extorted by the diabolic chain of the service suppliers. To let me withdraw my money. I tried the Ayudhya bank, the Siam bank, the Kasikorn bank, the Bangkok bank and many others: the same disproportionate commission was applied. When I asked explanations at a branch the employees told me that they couldn't do anything about it: the measure was part of a law passed by the Thai parliament, extended to every bank in the country.
Accidentally though, I found out that the UOB bank - with parent company in Singapore - was still charging the old 20 baht commission. According to the explanation that I had received these guys were to be considered impudent outlaws, shameless rascals, reckless pirates! That's precisely what made me like them: I continued to use their services for months. Unfortunately one day their immunity from the contagious disease that had already hit the rest of the national banking system vanished.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

When a crucifix becomes trendy - Bangkok, Thailand

While the debate over religious symbols keeps raging in Europe - ladies veils, where and how? Crucifixes in school classrooms, yes or no? - in Thailand the latter are often used as slightly bizarre fashion accessories, like colored contact lenses and fake dental braces.
In Bangkok you often come across a girl who wears a crucifix hanging from a nice silver chain or a hippier leather string over her sexy shirt.
"How come, aren't you a Buddhist?" I once asked one of them.
"Sure! My crucifix is here..." she said as she was touching her pendant with a fingertip. Then, after shifting her finger a few centimeters away, hinting at her heart, she added: "but Buddha is right here..." 
Do you have a mystic debate to solve? Go to Thailand...

Photo by nathangibbs (CC)