Saturday, May 31, 2008

In which I beg

By the way,

Law student-to-be requires summer job through end of August. PT/FT, anywhere in GTA. Extensive experience in writing, communications, administration, social justice, sales, customer service, event co-ordination, ice fishing, and Sanskrit. Will work for minimum wage OBO.

You may recognize my name because of my more successful brother, Mark...

Have pity, world. If anyone's looking for some summer help, or knows anyone else who is, please drop me a line. Surely someone out there has a restaurant...

Been away a few days

Walking, being social for a change, etc. I know, I'm as surprised as you are. Four days ago I met Connie, a girl from Mississauga, totally by co-incidence, in this little Tibetan lunch place, we ended up hanging out that whole night and most of the next day - she'd found a place in Bhagsu, a few km up the road, that had avocado sandwiches. That night we bumped into Kelly and David, when Kelly heard me talking trash about a book he'd read recently. All it took was him eavesdropping my dropping the word "narcissistic" and that was that. 5 hours later, realizing that Connie and I might now be locked out of our respective hotels due to the late hour, we all stumbled out of the only joint still open in McLeod Ganj, this neon monstrosity called McLlo's, the menus of which have a bizarre full-page photo of Pierce Brosnan eating what we think was an omelette and giving a very suave thumbs up. Connie left the next morning but I spent the next 48 hours hanging around the Yanks. Those were some great folks - the kind of people who open the conversation with a story about an ex, make a joke about murdering someone, then jump right into nuanced arguments about your religious and political beliefs. (Okay, that was all just Kelly.) I've basically been laughing my ass off and talking about the primaries for four days - amazing. Yesterday we hiked to Triund, which might be Tibetan for "little patch of grass on the top of a pretty big mountain." Beautiful, I know it was, but underwhelming; mountains don't look like they used to, and that's how I know that it's almost time to come home.

Unfortunately, I lost Connie without getting/giving emails, which is too bad. Unforeseen circumstances. David I'm keeping - I'm very happy to have met him. The next time I'm in New York, I'll be visiting. He'll be at Columbia for another few years at least... Ph.D. in Political Economy. Can show me around the city once I get into that NYU program. Cough.

The Yanks took off this morning, so I'm on my own again. Where has the time gone? I only have three days left here before I have to head for Chandigarh to catch my train to Delhi, that stink-hot people-bog. You know, McLeod Ganj is really only about 3 streets about 500m long each, dotted with hotels, restaurants, and shops, and when I first got here, I was happy but couldn't understand how anyone could spend two months here. Now I feel like I could get through that time easily. I ran into Momo again today - the girl I took the bus here with. She's changed her mind, she's staying for a month. She says the community pulls you in. I don't disagree. Everyone here is just friendlier and... better. Just better.

So now I'm thinking: what is it that I'll want to take with me? Something in scarlet and saffron, to remind me of the monks' robes; something forest green, something slightly iridescent. A string of prayer flags, and something in silver.

And something for you!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

I keep meaning to tell you

In the restaurant attached to my hotel is a poster. It is a custom-printed poster. In a column down the right hand side it reads: "Green Hotel: Where the World Meets Tibet, Where Tibet Meets the World." The rest is covered, in a grid, with flags of nations from around the world, labelled, and beside each flag, a few coins from that country are taped to the poster. I gather that these have all been left by travelers who Met Tibet at the hotel. There are probably 50 or 60 flags, from everywhere - South America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, North America. The poster and coins are behind glass.

There is a small band of white space at the bottom, left (I assume) so that more flags and coins could be added when appropriate. And so, drawn up clumsily in marker and taped to the outside of the glass, are a few more: Turkey, Columbia, and one with no label.

Red background, quarter-circlet of yellow stars around one larger. In rough marker, and the coins are there, this small gesture of sympathy and hope.

I started thinking, maybe there's still time to do all of this right.

You scoundrels!

No one told me the Bouchard-Taylor Commission report was out!

Of course you know by now that any time an article vaguely addresses race, you wade into the comments section at your own risk, but if you're feeling adventurous (and have a shovel handy) this one's a doozy. If you go quickly, you can get all the way to page 3 before the inevitable invocation of FREE SPEACH MAN to justify their bigotry by someone who clearly has no idea how free speech works - like how it stops the government from putting you in prison for being an asshole, but doesn't stop your fellow Canadians from telling you to shut the hell up when you really ought to.

Still waiting on one solid example of Canadians being forced to 'cater to the whim of every new immigrant.' They chained me to their golden palanquins and force-fed me rotis, I swear! I didn't drink all that sake till after.... *

Here, I made you all a StupidityQuilt from the comments on that article:

Special asshole mention to Justme7, for this:

This is all too funny. In 100 years the overwhelming majority of people in Quebec won't be of French decent or Catholic - but they might speak French.

I know there's an outside chance he's not talking about immigrants from French-speaking Africa, but.... but I can't think of a way to finish this sentence.

I'm glad the Bouchard-Taylor commission basically told everyone to chill the hell out. (I'm trying not to use the f-word so much anymore, but it's just so hard sometimes.) It's a response worthy of its commissioners, who are both respectable intellectuals.

I would, however, like to draw everyone's attention to one minor point in the article: the PQ, unlike Charest's Liberals and the Dumont ADQ (really? are we still listening to him?), are waiting an extra day before making any public statement on the commission's findings. I know a single day is minor, but this is bullshit. Other than Mario 'the Q is for Quack' Dumont**, the PQ whole has been one happy bunch of mud-slingers in all this reasonable accomodation crap. Fine, it's mostly them agitating for a QC constitution, but what a hideous political maneuver, waiting to see what statements the other parties give first - and, more importantly, what the reaction of the Canadian public is. Shame on them; je me souviens, Mme. Marois.

To sum up:

Yeah! 'zactly. Quebec totally needs a Charter to let all them immig'nts know what Quebec's all about!

Oh wait, here it is, except that it's all full of this bullshit about equality and opportunity.

We need, like, one to protect French Canadians specifically!

Oh wait.

*Actually, this situation would be fine with me.

** The quotation marks key isn't working on this keyboard. Scare quotes for all! .... yeah it's driving me crazy, too. Sorry.

Friday, May 23, 2008

It's a good day today

Feeling all connected and stuff. Got to the Tibetan Museum today, a really wonderfully well-put-together archive of Tibetan history pre, through, and post-invasion. (Oh, that prefix, "post," you rascal, you never tell the truth.) It was extremely affecting.

I'm amazed by the depth and duration of the freedom struggle. Under immense brutality and oppression, in a country where "legal action" means something very different than it does in Canada, people have been organizing and demonstrating and resisting for more than fifty years. Multiple generations - people born twenty years after the Dalai Lama left Tibet - fighting the same battles, facing the same hostility. I read a first-hand account today of a nun who, with six other nuns, knew what would happen when she planned a demonstration outside her convent in Lhasa: they peacefully demonstrated for 15 minutes, then were arrested, beaten by the Chinese police, and sentenced to 7 years in prison. During this time, she and the others were regularly suspended by the wrists, denied food, kept from sleep, and two of her 6 companions were raped with electric probes. For 15 minutes of peaceful demonstration. 7 nuns outside a convent. Millions of Tibetans, over the last half century, have made the same choice. Millions more have fled their homes, over the highest and most dangerous mountain passes in the world, rather than say (at gunpoint) that they denounce their spiritual leader. Believe me when I say that seeing all of this in photos is much more effective than in writing.

We're all finding our way back into history, aren't we? We lost the thread for a while. The Cold War ended and we weren't sure where we were going. I wasn't there, not really - too young - but it's the feeling I grew up in. All that is different now, or at least it should be. I flatly reject the concept of a "post-9/11" condition - I am one of the many who believe that the rights we should have had on Sept. 10 2001 are no different than the ones we should have today, and by "we" here I mean everyone, everywhere - but if there is a single change in our collective awareness, I think this was it: we got pulled back down onto the timeline, where everyone else was all along.

There was this long period where we thought nothing meant anything, that we could never hurt the world enough that it would come back on us. We were sort of floating in it, and we kind of stopped being able to see each other; these long years where we weren't talking about race, about class, about women or gays, or the uncountable brown people we couldn't name - how passe, to be a feminist, to eat brown rice, how old-school. The few voices shouting in the background, the butt of jokes, the slur returns as a major genre of popular comedy - nigger, paki, faggot, bitch, scheister, hippie - history itself becomes unfashionable, and suddenly that damned prefix "post" is popping up everywhere, telling us all kinds of bullshit we won't see through till later, if we see through it at all.

2001 called bullshit on all of that, I think, and everyone did one of the three things people can do when something seriously calls bullshit on the tidy narrative (or lack thereof) they'd organized their life around:

Some ignored it entirely.

Some dropped off the scene for a bit, staggering, came back knowing they needed to get in this more than they were before - those of us (yes, us, this is me) who hadn't yet figured out how they fit into the big picture realized there was no path they could take that didn't lead them into the center of this clusterfuck, that each step they take, in any direction, is a step forwards through time and therefore towards the culmination of the last century, the sum total of everyone's choices all over the world, and that they better get the fuck in there and start helping out where they can - not to save their own asses, or those of their loved ones, but because it's about fucking time we did. It's just our turn. We got ripped back into history, like I said, and now we know we were here all along, and always will be, so we need to start being smarter about it.

Some, those (often) with the most invested in all those bullshit "posts" - post-racism, post-feminism, post-colonialism, post-communism, post-responsibility, post-capitalism - initiated what can only be called The American Beserk. Here you find, among other things, the Patriot Act and its correlated bullshit, this suddenly renewed (or, I should say, suddenly legitimated) hostility towards immigrants, these mouthpieces on wingnut welfare unleashing this avalanche of crap on the rights of women, gays, minorities. A new, more aggressive phase in the American theatre of neocolonialism dressed up as development, or not: a war that could never be won, paid for with money and lives that will be horribly missed.

Maybe that's what this trip is really about, for me. I've looked around, I see where we are in our history... Canada, the States, Western Europe (to a lesser extent). I feel where I am in it, and I'm starting to see how I fit in, where I can go. And in all directions, I feel live wires tentacling out into darkness, hot pulses of white light sent shooting off every time any one of us moves. But I can't see where they go. Maybe this trip is about being able to follow just a couple of them, out to wherever they're grounded. This is where we are; where are you?

Plus I learned how to embed YouTube video in my blog posts, so, good day.*

*Yeah, I know, you just copy-paste the embed code. Quiet.

In this post, I hoot at Keith Olbermann

... and then wonder how he keeps his job.

You know, sometimes things just come to you. Today, it's phrases, which are going to become blog tags as I (hopefully) keep this thing going as a Canadian politics blog once I'm home.

The first is lifted shamelessly from the back cover copy on an edition I found of Philip Roth's American Pastoral: "the American beserk." Pictured above.

The second is from Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon, who puts so succinctly the question that plagues so many Canadian followers of the more baffling elements of American politics: "What's the evil to stupid ratio on this argument?" What indeed.

She brings it up in relation to the group hysteria and conservative pearl-clutching in response to the California Supreme Court ruling in favour of treating gay people like human beings, and points out (wisely) that the bullshit "states' rights" rhetoric only comes out when the states are doing a better job that the feds of keeping uppity your-minority-group-here's from gaining/keeping the right to thing-thats-totally-legal-everywhere-else-in-the-developed-world-here. This will now be the question I ask as regularly as possible of not-right-rhetoric on both sides of the border. It's hard to know what to hope for, in terms of answers.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

"No momo" no mo

My long weeks of trying to get momos from Indian restaurants are over.

I have arrived in Dharamsala, what feels like yesterday but was really at 5am this morning. On the long overnight bus ride from Rishikesh (via Dehra Dun), I met a lovely girl from Austria and an absolutely radiant man who was returning to his adoptive home - he fled Tibet 12 years ago.

I was expecting a heavy Tibetan presence, but this is even more than I was expecting. I've barely seen any Indians since arriving here... the population seems to be almost entirely Tibetans (many via Ladakh), mingling with just hordes and hordes of foreigners, some of whom don't seem to feel like visitors here anymore. The expat community is pretty stable, as far as I can tell.

What's nice here is everything. The people here are by far the warmest of anywhere in India I've been. This morning, waiting in the square for our hotel to open, we bought Tibetan bread and chai from a street stall - and then were offered more, home-made, by a quiet girl in the crimson robes who'd been in a taxi with us, and whom we'd thought couldn't speak English. At 6am I was put into a bare but warm single room with an entirely unblocked view of the Dharamsala valley. I finished Ondaatje's "Running in the Family" with the windows open, smelling the morning fog and waiting for the restaurants to open. At 7 I was wandering the streets, mothers tugging their children along beside me, humanity piled on top of itself despite the stillness. Book shops, chai stalls, long narrow stores full of warm clothes, cafes putting out cakes and sweets I didn't recognize. The smell of real coffee. The valley right there. My mind gone quiet and no pictures popping up of personal car wrecks. A cautious, rich peace resounding around the cavern hollowed out by years of anger and loss.

I think it's too bold a comparison to say that I see a similar peace in many of the people here. Anyway, I haven't felt that fine in a long time.

Breakfast of tsampa porridge with banana and honey (okay, so I wish E. were here) and coffee. The restaurant had a copy of the official journal of the Tibetan government in exile. They are keeping a detailed and, I imagine, invaluable history of their unfolding conflicts; there were 25 pages of newsbrief-short reports of monks being arrested, peaceful protests broken up with big guns, spiritual leaders of communities being subjected to "patriotic re-education," which consists mostly of swearing oaths to China at gunpoint. NGOs informed that their communications with all bodies outside China were being monitored, and that any complaints - anything, actually, other than reassuring the world outside that all is fine, yes, the protests are dying down, thank god, the Chinese are handling it wonderfully - will become the subject of immense legal trouble. I bristled, and remembered an article I read in The Economist a few days ago: China making mining deals with the Congo, its own unprecedented growth, its search for resources sending it everywhere. It now consumes a third of all the world's steel. What are these people going to do?

Bittersweet, being here, but I feel at home. I need to learn how to stare directly at conflicts that seem impossible to win. We all do.

Monday, May 19, 2008

If you ain't got no money get your broke ass home

That was close... down to Rs. 600 in cash and unable to find a bank machine that would take our debit cards. I thought I was going to have to pack my shit up and drop my last rupees on a bus to Delhi and go home.

But no. We found a money-changer. No problems, no heartbreak.

This would have been an especially terrible time to run out of money. There's only 1 day left in my Dharamsala countdown! Tomorrow night is my hideous 14-hour bus ride from Dehra Dun. It takes a hell of a place to deserve a 14-hour bus ride on a North Indian government bus, but I think Dharamsala might be that kind of place.

My mom points out via email that I haven't updated in a while. I thought I mentioned that I was headed for a week to Gangotri to do a trek to the source of the Ganges at the Gaumukh glacier. Apparently I didn't.

Well, that's where I was, and it was even cooler than it sounds. I'm taking my sweet time this afternoon uploading some photos, so those of you with facebook can check it out. I'll email the link home as well.

The Himalayas are really something. I'd love to give you more detail than that, but I can feel a teenager's arsenal of hyperboles creeping in. I guess I'll stick to the facts instead.

Gangotri is a small town in northern Uttaranchal which is regarded as the spiritual source of the Ganges. There's quite a temple there. It's about 12 hours from Rishikesh by bus. The physical source of the Ganges is the Gaumukh glacier, which is about 19km past Gangotri. Gangotri is surrounded on three sides by rather large snow-capped mountains from the Himalayan range, featuring Shivling Peak and Bhagirath I and III (all around 6500m). We did a 3-day trek to Gaumukh, resting at the end of days 1 and 2 in the hamlet of Bhojbasa, which is really just a guesthouse and an ashram in the bottom of a valley. We stayed in the ashram. You meet interesting people in those. The kind of interesting that you put in scare quotes.... 'interesting.'

The glacier itself is retreating, now, hundreds of metres per year. As you walk along the trail out to it from Bhojbasa, you pass rocks where people have marked "Gaumukh, 1935," "Gaumukh, 1966," and it's really shocking. When the town of Gangotri was founded (meaning within the last 3500 years), the glacier reached its edge. That means 19km of retreat in 3500 years. In geological time, 3500 years is a heartbeat. That's a mind-blowing amount of change. Additionally: if the markers are accurate, it seems that the vast majority of that retreat has happened in the last 150-200 years. Hrm, what happened 150-200 years ago?

Shameful, and painful. As we sat in the snout of the glacier, we could hear the ice cracking deep in its heart, ripping out through the crevices. Periodically, slides of ice and rock crashed down the side of the ice face. Really surreal.

Anyway. Some difficult travel later, we're back in Rishikesh, and having a recovery day before leaving for Dharamsala.

Up next: Dharamsala blogging!

Free Tibet indeed.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


I am exhausted, wet and tired, and my god do I love these mountains. Deep-down happy, even though my skin is freezing.

Also: guess who's going to York! The dream of the NYU LL.M. within four years survives!

And, bonus, no further ranting about McGill is necessary.

Now accepting your congratulations.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Greetings from sunny Darjeeling!

Just kidding, it's actually a dank fog-pit with no running water.

Alright, just kidding again, it's not that bad.* But we are surrounded my cloud, which makes it a little hard to tell you what Darjeeling looks like since we haven't actually, really, totally seen it. From the 20-feet at a time that I can see, it looks pretty nice. One half European ski village, one half Nepalese market place.

Again I seem to have ended up with more stuff on my mind that I have time or space to sort it out in. Also I spent like a half hour emailing Cindy, another 20 minutes on facebook, and this internet ain't free. So, quickly:

There is a burgeoning separatist movement in the greater Darjeeling area, wanting to become a separate state (possibly a separate nation... I'm just learning about this now) from West Bengal. I won't even pretend to know the history behind it, but I will say this: there's a pretty clear ethnic difference in the population of this area vs. the rest of West Bengal. Darjeeling feels totally different than the rest of India, which probably comes from its huge Tibetan and Nepalese (Nepali? God, that's embarassing...) population. Names here sound like "Kalimpong." Names in the south of the state sound like "Howrah" and "Malda." This morning, during our breakfast in a hotel restaurant, the owner of the establishment got everyone's attention and told us - loudly - about the blasphemes of a Calcuttan minister who'd just published an article in a major newspaper (government officials in this country seem to have unlimited access to publication in the major media outlegs) about how the Darjeeling separatists are wreaking havoc on the region, with strikes and violence everywhere, and warning tourists not to go there. He asked us to tell other tourists we meet what we've seen here - that there is no violence, that there are small strikes but nothing that stops the tourist trade. Completely surreal. We leave tomorrow morning for our 5-day trek along the Singalila Ridge, but we're supposed to have one more day in Darjeeling afterwards, for recovery. I'm hoping to use that day to figure out what the hell is going on here. Suspect it will take longer than that.

So tomorrow is day 1 of the trek. Day 1 involves 14km of hiking with a total ascent of about 1k. The next day is... well, one day at a time. How about that?

Bengali food is freaking amazing. A-mazing. Too bad our only stops in West Bengal were Calcutta (oops, Kolkata) and here. Tibetan food, apparently, is also incredible. Which brings me to my next point:

Dharamsala arrival countdown: 19 days!

Which brings me to my final point:

It's May! Wish me a Happy Actually Finding Out About Law School Month (Well, At Least York, But Really Who Cares About McGill Anyway, If They're Going To Be Jerks Like That)!

Gonna have to find a snappy acronym for that. Who's for tea?

* It really is dank, though. That part's true. Oh, and about the lack of running water.