Lesson 1- Being Remembered: Montreal to Hong Kong Pt.1

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There was no joy in my heart as we left Montreal for Hong Kong late Tuesday afternoon. Just a closed eyed fist clenching oblivion, like when I was a little girl on a roller coaster, and I couldn’t wait to get on the ride, and then once on, I just wanted to scary parts to be over.

When you are uprooting everything you know, love and understand to move across the world, you can’t really afford to think about it too much – you just do the next thing that is right under your foot, not even looking much past your toes.  My friend Jacques, while he was dying of cancer taught me about “doing the next right thing”. It’s a tactic I use in my head to keep myself from imploding emotionally.

So –  leave at night – get through the line ups – get on the plane – don’t look out the window cause I’ll cry – let the plane take off (what’s the alternative?) – up in the air…close your eyes.

Its a one hour flight from Montreal to Toronto, then 15 from our connection to Hong Kong. Ouch.

Arriving in Toronto at 11:30 in a sleepy airport with only a few hundred Asian travellers, closed stores and dark hallways was a part of airport life I had not yet seen. Like a city tucked in for the night – I felt like a trespasser.

At the time I thought that the terminal for Cathay Airlines flight to Hong Kong had more Asian people in one single space than I had seen – in a long time.  Everything about Asian cultures to me seems crowded.   I had already been to China, the first year they opened to tourists…it was a very different place then.  I was very young, maybe 15, and my father was the only parent who joined us on a high-school field trip. It’s one of my favourite memories with him, because he was the only parent who came and we had such a terrific time together.   My school mates in the private international boarding school I attended were mostly from all over the world, didn’t get to see their parents very much so my dad was “the cool dad”. He would arrive at school with a trunk full of groceries and delicious things for all of us, he took us out for dinners and “real food” (not mystery meat form the cafeteria)  He attended my soccer games, called, wrote me letters, an for my 16th birthday rented two school busses and surprised me by secretly bussing half my school to another town for a party in a beautiful hotel restaurant. I think I was abit the envy of the other kids, but he loved all of us, and they felt it.

During our time in Asia, dad had become very good friends with my soccer coach and our school’s chemistry teacher Mr. Chen.  I remembered Mr. Chen during my flight; patient, kind and probably the only teacher that had not had a reason to get incredibly angry with me at some point – I wasn’t exactly the easiest kid in the world. I found them both entering my mind during the long flight; in a fresh way – not the way you think of people so long after they had died and the memories of them have dimmed to a sad grey or some faded sepia that takes the poignancy from the joy of the moments you live with them, and only leaves the sadness of loss. I saw them with a joyful vibrancy that allowed me to relive the happy feeling of the moments without the tugging at my heart.

Now, I saw my father again in  vivid Technicolor – struggling up the great wall of China with me. The Wall had not yet undergone renovations, so the road was broken and  treacherous. He was always dragging his enormous video camera, panting determinedly, recording every moment.   More memories, ones that used to make me cry for longing, now make me smile. I see him again, on a bridge over a pond, in a small village in surrounded by little girls at a Chinese orphanage who saw a “fat silver hair’d man” as a person of affluence and wisdom. “Lucky Buddha!” They called him – I’m sure he loved that more than anything.

He would kneel on the ground and tell them stories in a language they didn’t understand somehow they understood the intention of the story and would watch quietly wide eyed in rapt attention.  I had bought a guitar at a pawn shop in China and we would travel in schools and to children to sing songs – Old MacDonald Had A Farm seems to be a universally known ditty. We even met Dick Clark who joined us for some of this fun.

During our first time in china, Hong Kong was like a break for us.  The New York of Asia – in a time where I cared about what I wore, and enjoyed the vibrancy of night life, music, dancing and fun- Hong Kong had all of that to offer. Because China had only opened it’s doors that first year to tourists, the hotels and places we stayed on the Mainland were abit rough to say the least. Little gangs of cockroaches, scary bed sheets, and there was no chance in hell I was putting bare feet on the ground. Food always seemed to still have a face on it, eye balls as delicacies, and wormy things for breakfast – Hong Kong was a break – it had pizza! I cherished these great memories with my friends in the New York of Asia. I was returning to a place that was once brand new – the Royal Garden Hotel had just opened that long ago year of 1983. Now, 31 years later, it was older – like me- and was undergoing some major renovations – like me.

The flight from Toronto to Hong Kong is 15 hours long. You are in the air without really standing or walking or moving.  My ankles swelled to about 3 times their normal size, and I began to remember stories of a woman about my age dying in mid flight of a pulmonary embolism that had accumulated because of lack of circulation.  Great.

The female flight attendants, John and I noticed, all looked like beautiful dolls. Perfect shiny skin, smiles and sweet faces, gentle and attentive.  I have to say – our North American airlines could take a serious lesson from Asian airlines.  They put us to shame.

The food was delicious, the service was incredible and since there is a TV right in front of your face, there was a plethora of mindless movies to choose from – mostly Asian (no lack of Bruce Lee) and notably (and happily) very little American viewing.  This was my first taste of life without American influence.

For 15 hours we slept, woke, slept. Shifted, stretched, grunted – its like being in a fever – you don’t quite remember the time passing like a foggy haze. My neck cramping head bobbing open one eye position – checking the flight status on the screen – 8 hours left to go. Ugh.  8 hours – a full work day, is the worst part. Its the endless part which seems like an infinite and impossible amount of time when you’re stuck in a tiny 2 foot space squished between your snoring husband and an Asian lady who wont make eye contact with me but keeps putting her head on my shoulder to sleep.

AND SO….My lessons in patience began, and as I would soon come to learn – and certainly patience would be the focus of my time in Hong Kong.

Miraculously the flight ends and we arrive in Hong Kong.  It’s 5:30 in the morning, and still dark over the city.  They have built a new airport – in the late 1990’s, which is the size of a small city.  The old airport was an epic landing – supposed to be the scariest landing in the world between the insanely crowded buildings on Hong Kong Island.  I was grateful for the less freaky landing I must say.

We unfold our bodies, everyone grunting and stretching trying to make a impossible mad dash for the front doors.  The Flight attendants routine “Thank You…Thank You…Thank You….” as we leave the plane. They still look perfect.

We are there for sunrise, and John’s work mate – Rodika and I chat excitedly about all we will see.

This was Hong Kong waking up.

I had no real idea what day it was.  We had left on Tuesday – and now it was Thursday – where did my Wednesday go?   John, I had to remind myself, was here on business and had a meeting later that afternoon. This was our first taste of the “Chinese work ethic” – which is something like “all work and no play all day every day”. Relentlessly hard working people – everything about Hong Kong culture, we were soon to see, is geared towards doing business.

The Royal Gardens was still as beautiful as I remember it. A Center garden atrium, hotel rooms overlook the interior, glass elevators and a piano player every night. Stores inside that I would never shop at – Rolex, Dolce & Gabanna, Versace.   I was happy to see things had not gone downhill since I had been – it felt exciting for me to bring John and his co-worker to a place I knew and remembered with such fondness, allowing me not to feel so displaced from my family.

Because I went to an international school, and thanks to the benefit of social networking, I had been in touch with two old school friends before I left, who had moved back to Hong Kong after high school. We had travelled together during springs  breaks and I really liked these guys, so we arranged lunch and drinks.

I missed dinner the first night with Johnny, only because I didn’t know what day or time it was. He was a sweet friend who I had gone on spring break with to Florida when we were younger.  I had always liked this guy, and when he suggested we get together for drinks that first night, I was excited. I felt like a kid again – going out after 9:30 just for fun.

I met him and his lovely wife Linda downstairs at the RG and we walked a short  ways away to find a small cafe for drinks.  The city was quiet – although stores only close at 11 each night, a store keeper explained to me that the rents were so high they couldn’t afford to close.

We hugged happily like old friends, and right away he says

“Did you know Mr. Chen moved here again?”

My heart exploded. I couldn’t believe it!  Mr. and Mrs. Chen were alive and well! I had assumed he had died I guess because my father was dead – so this felt like such a miracle!  Johnny quickly dials his phone and within seconds the bridge of three decades disappeared and I hear Mr.c’s voice…

“Sir!!!”

“Marie-Josee?” – he was one of the only people that called me by my full name.

I hear his trademark laugh…

“You’re alive!!” I said.

“Well of course I’m alive…” he laughs.

We make excited plans like old friends to meet the next day with his wife and another old student friend.  We will surprised Derek who also had not seen M. C in so many years.

I have to say – my reunions were amazing. Mr, Chen was very sad to hear about my fathers passing – he was one of the only people in the world, I saw that had a real “friendship love: for my dad. Most other people just saw him as a business guy, or politician.  But here – he was a friend, and we talked about things I hadn’t talked about in so long, my heart was exploding with happiness. I felt so at home in this strange foreign place after this meeting.,

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Mr Chen an his wife took Derek and I to the Kowloon Bowling and Cricket Club, a beautiful private club on the island facing Hong Kong.  I must mention here that Hong Kong is a VERY small city. The most populated city in the world, everything is built very very tall, and on top of each other.  During the day, the streets are nearly impassable for walking.  You are regularly jostled by incoming walkers. Very few regular citizens have cars, public transit is absolutely the only way to go.   But at this place, in the quiet of the club, it was cool and quiet an spacious.

\Just like when I was young, Mr. And Mrs. Chen ordered food for us. Delicious crispy sweet and sour tofu, Mushrooms marinated in something unpronounceable and yummy.

“Remember sir…nothing with a face please”, I smiled at him

“I know, Marie-Josee, I remember you”.

It felt so good to be known and remembered – he felt like family.

He told me I was one of about 20 students that really stayed with him in his mind – I figure because I had a big mouth, but he seemed to remember me with pleasant memories. .  I felt so honoured to be loved by this fine man.

Mrs. Chen and I catch up, share pictures of our children, our grandchildren. How remarkable it was to share these things with them.

I have so much more to tell about Hong Kong, but  that will be for another day. I still need time to process the incredulity of it all. For this entry, I am happy to remember and be remembered by these beautiful people and memories.  The next few days before leaving for Melbourne, I explored Hong Kong deeply.  Remember – I am here on a self proclaimed pilgrimage – I want to understand the world, THE TRUTH – not from the perspective of America, Canada or Europe media, but from my own eyes, my own discernment and my own heart.

So, until next time…greetings from down undah….

Peace.

Airport Culture and The Dalai Lama

imagesED0G4VTXMid winter crazies – and once again a weird thing has crossed my path to break the dismal feeling of this season – this year…Australia. Really? Every  year this seems to happen, where I find myself by some bizarre circumstance in a foreign land.

The last time was Costa Rica. My house was being renovated for months and months and I absolutely had to get out of the chaos or go completely bananas.  My understanding husband (having me around crazy couldnt have been helpful!) helped me figure it out and I  booked a resort.  I hate resorts but it was the only cost reasonable way to do this. I was on my own in the middle of South America and there were serious learning moments, I tell you, when I questioned my own sanity. I was there for only 48 hours when my phone and money were stolen and I was harassed by all forms of man – the worst of them being an angry Canadian (ex girlfriend, done him wrong blah blah…talks too much.)   I kept the conversation short and moved on heading to my resort in a little white taxi with my guiatr and backpack, I looked like a total Canadian hippie.

He found me on the beach the morning after we arrived.  I was sitting in the rising sun playing guitar, and he arrived with his violin.

“This is gonna be fun!” I thought.

Except I was wrong.

He immediately offered to sleep with me if I would share my hotel room with him. Beware of gross men while travelling ladies.

I smiled. “Um no. Not what im here for. I don’t even really want to have conversation with you – never mind sex.  Plus I am happily married…”

I was calm when he told me I should feel privileged to have someone like “him” hitting on me. That I wasn’t exactly “the prettiest woman in the world”.

Oh brother…

He went away and all was well. Costa Rica was a blast. I left the resort and ended up in a magical place with horses, and Canadian and South American musicians whom I have kept in touch with and have since gone back to visit.

I love the unpredictability of travelling…and I love love love going to places that are totally different from what i know. it’s wonderful to see that you can exist in so many different contexts, with other people. You really learn about yourself.

Travelling has given me a certain amount of important knowledge and personal flexibility:images725J2IMY

– I’ll eat just about anything – except chicken in an airport, or sea urchin in China. Blech.

– I’ll talk to anyone willing to listen – even if we don’t speak the same language.

– I can sleep standing up

– I can find ways to entertain myself while sitting on a small 2×2 space for 12 hours in ways that would astound you.

– Junk food in airports tastes better than anywhere else in the world

– You will need a mortgage to afford eat in an airport

– all airport eating areas look like they were decorated by the Jetson’s.

The flight(s) to australia are very very long; definitely the longest I have ever taken in my life.  From Montreal we fly to Vancouver overnight – a six-hour flight.  Then Vancouver to Sidney will be a whopping 14.5 hours on a plane. Airplanes have their own culture.  Really when you think of it, an airport is the most BIZARRE energy to be in. A kabillion different cultures all mixed up into one place – every kind of variety of person you could ever wabnt to see is in an airport. Everyone is sort of together and disconnected all at the same time. harassed, annoyed rushing bag dragging folk from all walks of life, run hither and thither gate to gate – focused on the next leg of their journey.  people have no clue about their personal space in airports.  You get banged and bumped – quick apologetic smiles as people continue on the harried way.onaplane

for someone like me who lives a really quiet farm life – with the occasional extremely public performance nights – being in an airport with all those people and all those bundles of energy is exhausting. Not exactly a place that i feel “spiritually connected” – actually the opposite; airports make me feel totally ungrounded.  I guess that makes sense since we are all a bunch of people trying to get “up in the air”.

When I found out about Australia (only like a week and a half ago) I balked.  I was concerned about leaving the horses and so much heavy farm work in what I see as the worst cold winter in years (I think I say “it’s been the worst winter” every year). I am so grateful for my eldest daughter Meagan who will be coming to care for them. Still, I know how tough this will be for her. Mucking ten stalls every day, hyper horses to turn out, heavy bales of hay to haul.  Craziness.

But I know all this worry will magically go away once I cross those airport doors. It has to do with surrender and weird airport energy. A feeling of surrender and abandon once you pass through he front doors of the airport – because you realize that the next few hours (or days in my case) of your life aren’t your own really.  These people are completely in charge of your existence in every way, from your security, to food to being hauled into a giant piece of metal that will climb into the air 30,000 feet and, miraculously remain suspended for FOURTEEN AND A HALF HOURS.  OK, I am not a nervous flyer, but this to me, is simply unbelievable. So, flying can teach you about surrender.

Airports can also teach you about serenity – because if you can find it there my friend, you can find it ANYWHERE.

I wonder what H.H. the Dalai Lama does? He flies everywhere all over the world, and he is like 73 years old.  Makes me feel a little wimpy worrying about how my back is going to handle 14 and a half hours of sitting with intermittent spastic stretching in front of three hundred people who are doing their best to try to ignore each other. Have you ever tried stretching in the bathroom. Impossible I tell you.

If you travel enough you get to know certain things about certain airports:

– the six kilometer walk from the terminal to security and customs is TOO LONG everywhere – especially if you arrive late and are irritable and tired.

– Traditionally religious people often travel together usually in large groups with many small children. You see more single white male travellers than any other.  Japanese travellers usually have really nice luggage.  Just sayin.

– Airports in small countries have no real runways and landing is always terrifying

– The air in all airports feels strange.

– Airport bathrooms are always horrible

– Airport chicken will give you salmonella. Ok. Maybe not all the time – but if you don’t want to find yourself projectile vomiting all alone in +40 heat in a unwalled airport in costa Rica, passed out on the floor while people step over your prostrate body – then don’t eat chicken in airports.

– All airports are (now) filled with hordes of people who are not looking where they are going because they are all very very busy making last-minute contact to the outside world on their I-Phones to be in any way aware of their physical surroundings.  It seems like the Minute one enters an airport they are trying to find a way to be in some other reality. really, who would blame them? ( I wonder if H.H. Dalai Lama tries to meditate his way out of is body so he can tolerate the experience? )

baby_airplane_350w_263h3 Listen, anyone who has flown has had the crying baby experience, spoiled kid, dude who talks to much experience, the too much perfume lady, the sleeping on your shoulder drooling guy (ok maybe that was just me). Then there’s that crammed, crowded claustrophobic get-me-the-hell-off-this-plane feeling – but that only happens towards the end, because until then, you know you have no choice, so you surrender. you surrender tot he bevy of smells that assault you as you walk down the aisle. then in a few minutes when the artificial air is turned on, you wonder even more about where the smells went, and a new sort of vapid air replaces fresh clean earth air.  It begins to compress as the plane readied for take off, and a sort of insulated feeling comes over you, making you sit heavier in your seat.

Take off is my favourite. commercial-airplane-taking-off-and-high-resolution_227318

I know that statistics say that it’s the most dangerous part of the flight because if one little thing goes wrong in a certain 6 second window, poof – it’s all over. But really, that’s out of your hands once you have bucked that seat belt. Being nervous would be a waste of time.

instead you can enjoy the feeling in the pit of your stomach as the huge piece of metal curves upwards for the first time making it feel as though even your skin is being pulled downwards. Gravity falls on you like a comfortable blanket. And even at 48 I am like a little kid and always want the window seat.  Watching the world fall away beneath me is spectacular, especially if the plane tilts the direction I am looking and suddenly it feels as though we are being pulled up and down all at the same time.

The world is so incredibly beautiful from the air. Before you pass the cloud line you see where you live in a whole new way. So small, and part of some bigger piece of land always in some way.  Everything looks perfectly connected from the air – like we planned it like that or something.  But we didn’t. It just all ended up looking perfect. even the lands that aren’t touched by us, but by some unseen force that relegates the direction of things, it all seems to just fit perfectly.

I need to share these pictures with you…

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Flying over mountains is the highlight of any flight.  I flew over the Alps once in my life and I will never forget it.  They are  majestic and indescribable.  They are so high, that when you first see them you are sure they are part fo the clouds, rising often above like I suspect Mount Olympus would look, big enough to hold Zeus himself.  The white snow on top of the Alps is so white, it looks like it is made out of light itself, just shining like diamonds in the sun. The hard rock of the mountain so dense it held a bluish grey tint, not like mountains I had seen before that were more grey and dull, these looked like they had been painted stunning hues of deep midnight blues, I suppose because of the freezing of the ice at the awesome heights.alps

I didn’t get any time in Zürich, we had to transfer but made sure to stop at a stand to buy some freshly made chocolate.  I could see the mountains from the airport window.  They made me feel incredibly small but big all at once.

I’ve always wanted to try to pinpoint the strange experience flying to foreign places encompasses.  I know I am very lucky to have had these chance, and everywhere I go, I try to learn as much as i can about important things so I don’t lose the experience.

I’m very lucky. I think I have a karma that require seeing many may things. Since I have been very young, I have had chances to see most of the world – china, africa, europe, most of north america – even Alaska.  The two places “on my bucket list” which have yet to materialize are india and Italy. we’re working our way to the “I’s” 🙂 We will be greeted by +37 degree weather according to predictions upon our arrival. I fully suspect my skin to just simply fall off and I will molt like a snake under the vapid heat.

Australia is a new idea for me and i’ll let you know how it goes )

peace