Tuesday, May 30

Guitar Troubleshooting

I've been trying to get my guitar fixed since I arrived in China. I've been also trying to get Javad's guitar fixed for some two months. Both have been sitting in my home, collecting dust and irking me. For a time, I went out and looked for places to get it fixed, asking many friends to help me find a guitar repair shop. After a few attempts, my desire did not decrease, but my actions all but disappeared. I did that thing we probably all do sometimes, where we get stuck on something relatively small, and deem it insurmountable.

Yesterday, I went out to the Music Conservatory with my new friend, Crystal. There are tons of music shops in that area. It turns out this area is a 20-minute walk from my home! We went into a few stores, each of which informed us that they cannot complete the repairs, recommending that we go to another spot in Shanghai, somewhat far away.

My guitar: one of the tuning knobs is broken off, and it needs new strings (I've been to lazy to change them myself)
Javad's guitar: has an awesome buzzing noise, which I have been unable to locate, and also needs new strings.

After the failure to find a repair shop, Crystal simply went to get some super-glue. I came home, glued the broken knob back on, changed the strings on one of them, and located and fixed the buzz. Three months of annoyance, taken care of in one pleasant evening.

I was telling Eric when he was here about the concept of "seeing the end in the beginning". In "The Seven Valleys", Baha'u'llah explains that when people reach a certain level of spiritual growth, they no longer makes this mistake of being frustrated at the guitars: they see the end in the beginning, and "because they see the end in the beginning, see peace in war and friendliness in anger " (Baha'u'llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 15)

In this case, it simply means that with this level of spiritual growth, I could have been grateful and happy while the guitars didn't work, knowing that it served a purpose, or several: for me to learn to take care of it myself, to gain confidence and patience, to reach out to different people, to make this new friend, etc.

People having grown beyond this ability to see the end in the beginning, "the people of the Valleys above this see the end and the beginning as one; nay, they see neither beginning nor end, and witness neither "first" nor "last." Nay rather, the denizens of the undying city, who dwell in the green garden land, see not even "neither first nor last"; they fly from all that is first, and repulse all that is last." (Baha'u'llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 15) ***

In this case, it would be a blissful experience all along, both before and after fixing the problem. The issue wouldn't have even been a problem at all!

So as I was telling Eric, I keep noticing instances of all three in my life:
- not seeing the end in the beginning (the guitars)
- seeing the end in the beginning (my job at NewBeat, my new friendships, and much more)
- seeing "not even 'neither first nor last'" (not as easy to pinpoint, since it's so integrated into my life...)

So I'm sort of straddling these different stages of spiritual growth.

The whole experience with the guitars last night put me back in touch with the words of Piersig in "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". It was really delightful working and making things better with my own two hands.

Actually, today and this week I'm teaching some of the children about hands and fingers - such magical things. I think it was Nikki who once told me how she occasionally will just stare intently at her own hands, marveling at their power and beauty. Humans are truly a noble and beautiful creation!

*** The quote goes on: "For these have passed over the worlds of names, and fled beyond the worlds of attributes as swift as lightning. Thus is it said: 'Absolute Unity excludeth all attributes.' And they have made their dwelling-place in the shadow of the Essence." (Baha'u'llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 15)

Sunday, May 21


I've noticed that all the praises I'm receiving all of the time is starting to get to me... I tend to not initiate conversations much, so others do, and when they initiate conversations, they ask about me, which tends to bring up impressive things about my life, which leads to (sometimes excessive) complements. Furthermore, since I'm always looking for opportunities to practice my Chinese, I get several compliments about that every single day.

Obviously, I need to learn to flip it around and focus the conversation on my interlocutor. As a matter of fact, anytime I've been able to talk with my friends about themselves, I've been very moved myself!

Tonight is one such example, when I took the opportunity by the horns, and started asking Touba about her life. It's fitting that I should succeed with her, since she lays the most compliments on me. Touba is the director of NewBeat (my school). She was telling me how she left Shanghai when she was 16, moved during the cultural revolution to a very poor town where she worked in a rice field with inadequate irrigation and no fertilizer. She ate very poorly, and lived a most simple life, quickly becoming a teacher for many children in her neighborhood, whose only payment was a little bit of food (vegetables or the like), sent by the parents. She lived in the town for eight years - until she was my age, at which point she moved to a larger town where she worked in construction - this time for 10 years. I only got some of the details of these elements of her life during the course of our car ride, but I have been most moved all night, on the verge of tears for being brought so close to such a powerful life experience. I have so much to learn.

We on the Bund

Eric was here visiting for a few days, so I finally made my way out to the famous "Bund" - a stretch of riverside walkways where one can get a great view of the amazing Shanghai skyline. My first (and so far only) trip there was on a typhoon night! (Chunks of this typhoon hit us from nearby.) So we had the bounty of having the whole place just to ourselves! (except for a negligible few people) Pictures are aweful, of course, since it was so windy, and there's not much sense in focusing on the skyline - so here's Eric and me:

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I'm thinking of making it a habit of only going to the Bund during terrible weather (read: great weather - in danio's book).

Wednesday, May 10

A ne pas manquer

Tool and Zero 7 have their new albums coming out simultaneously next week. I'm beside myself with excitement!

Fruit to Eat

I don't know about you, but I feel that any weblo post that opens with a picture of the great Robinson gains immediately validity.

So life has been as good as ever here in Shanghai, in case you were wondering. I'm thinking that maybe after a couple of years of me saying so on my weblo, you my reader will be able to assume as much without having to read my new entries.

That's not to say that life is devoid of challenges, but I honestly forget anything bad that might happen in the face of the beauty of this world. Admittedly, I've had a hard time today dealing with the fact that a 10-year stealing from someone's purse in the middle of a negligent crowd is a confirmation of the "mind your own business" attitude of the masses. But with the delicious new fruit that I cannot name in my tummy, and the ten minutes I spent on the street with a student from one my my classes, I can quickly refocus my consciousness on the good that I can do myself in this life, and as Radiohead says, "You can try the best you can/ You can try the best you can/ The best you can is good enough."

That said, I really wanted to tell you about my week-long vacation...

It turns out I didn't miss my students as much as I had expected (although my return to class this week has been a joyous and welcome event). Instead, I jumped right into the vacation with loads and loads of activities to keep me busy. Actually, the activities could be summarized in one word: socializing. Maybe there's a better word... It's amazing how many wonderful people I've met here. Almost everyone I've met is wonderful, actually.

The most vacation-like activity was my travel to Hangzhou, with Javad and Abby. This is supposedly one of the most beautiful cities in China, and people from all over go there to visit the West Lake, temples, mountains, the night market, etc. Although I did bring my camera, I decided to rebel and take no pictures. In short, I feel picture-taking takes away a part of my experience. The bulk of our time was spent having delightful philosophical and spiritual conversations over a meal or over coffee. We also hiked a little, did some sight-seeing, and spent lots of time at the amazing night market (this is where I bought the pants and hat from the previous weblo entry).

For some reason, this weblo entry feels uninteresting... Experiences pile up, and it becomes difficult to convey to my friends what I am living. I recently had a conversation about this with my sister. I spent four months last year living with her and her family. Over the course of said months, I felt that we were able to catch up to a great extent with all of the amazing journeys we had taken separately. Now, some four months after leaving her, it feels like of all that catching up already has to be done all over again!

Today Jacqui got two mosquito bites. Bad omen. Even worse is that Rainbow has left NewBeat. Well, she'll be around on Sundays, which helps, but it's still a big change for me: half of my classes were taught with her. Jacqueline and Michelle have been doing a great job since they started several weeks ago. We'll be getting another Chinese teacher soon, I hear. In the fall we might have a much larger faculty, as I hear we are really expanding our school! Times are a-changing! Tomorrow will especially odd, since Rainbow and I usually go off between classes to pick up some jen bin (my favorite Shanghai street food) from the nearby market.

Please excuse me - I have some fruit to eat!

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Action Figure

By popular request, some pictures of the danio follow. I will try to have some friends take some pictures of me "in action", as it were...

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