Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mother Tongue - Bill Bryson

This is one of my more interesting references for my Masters´ Dissertation.

I know Bryson enjoys a large following, and a number of people kept recommending his books to me. I eventually got round to reading Notes from a Small Island and although easy to engage, it didn´t take long for him to irritate like a bad dose of haemorrhoids and his humour as predictable as a last minute goal for Manchester United.

However, Bryson does come up with a lot of interesting stuff on the English language, if rather poorly organised in his approach. A few favourite tidbits include: -

The revised Oxford English Dictionary records some 615,000 words,
The German equivalent boasts about 184,000 commonly used words and the French version just 100,000 words.

Onomatopoeic words also diversify with a cultural spin. For example, whilst English dogs “woof”, French dogs say “ouá-ouá”, Italian mutts “bu-bu” , “muang-muang” in Korea and “wan-wan” in Japan.

Shakespeare used 17,677 words in his writings in which one tenth had never been used before.

My favourite chapter however, is on swearing.
There are no native swear words in Japanese, Malayans, most Polynesians and American Indians.
High order insults include:
“Devil” in Norway
“Turtle” in Chinese
“Your Mother´s ears” in Xoxa tribe, South Africa
And “camel” in French

Arse, fart and tits were all in common usage by the 10th Century

An Act of Parliament in 1623 made swearing illegal in Britain, and in 1649 the law was extended so that swearing at your parents could become punishable by death.

The Independent newspaper was the first British paper to print the word c*nt (without the asterisk) in 1988.

Blessings from Karmapa - The Hip-Hop Lama

The Karmapa leads the black-hatted sect of Tibetan Buddhism dating back until 1110. He is often regarded as third in the hierarchy of Lamas, only surpassed by the Panchen and Dalai Lamas. In his 17th incarnate, the current Karmapa fled Tibet in 1999 and now lives about 20 kilometres out of McLeod Ganj in Sidhpur at the Gyuto Tantric Monastery.

The monastery is both modern and beautiful, with an outstanding mountain backdrop.

Mhue and I went to receive his blessings today. These are readily available on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2.30pm. Please call 94182 94401 to ensure he is “at home”. A taxi can take you directly for RS300 from McLeod Ganj´s bus station and the return should be RS250.

Private audiences can be arranged as well, but a minimum of 5 days advanced notice is required.

There is a massive puja going on in the main temple – strangely filled with plenty of yellow hats. The chanting is deep and rich and accompanied by a crescendo of bells.

Due to the Puja, Kamapa gives blessings in a side room to the right side of the temple compound. There are around 250 of us wanting blessing today. Although all ages, women out-number men by almost 3 to 1. Again, security is tight, with complete body searches, x-ray machines and a ban on bags and cameras.

At 2.33pm the Kamapa appears. He is young (26), tall and has a strong and assured presence. I´m at the back of the first aisle as we are shepherded across into the atrium. He lightly touches prayer scarves, brought by almost all disciples, and hands out traditional threads. The line moves fast and within 20 seconds i´m in and out of the room clutching my thread. I did have a few probably inappropriate questions for him, but it certainly isn´t that kind of meeting.

Like all high Lamas, the process of finding their successors (reincarnates) is always a fascinating procedure. Many clues are often left from the preceding Lama (in this case a letter was left behind from the 16th Karmapa, just one month before his tragic car accident).

A number of auspicious dreams and events took place around the birth of the new reincarnate including the sounding of conch shells, strange birds, unnatural rainbows and the appearance of three suns claimed to have been witnessed by many nomads in Eastern Tibet. The boy came from a life of rural Tibetan yak-herders and was entered into a monastery. He was not formerly identified as the Karmapa until he was eight years old. More details of this story can be found at

His appointment as the Karmapa reincarnation was with the Chinese government´s approval and thus when he escaped to India, he was viewed with suspicion by many and spent the first few years under virtual house arrest. However, the Dalai Lama has taken the young man under his wing, and has now made a big impact on the Tibetan community. His name has gone forward as a potential figurehead successor to HHDL. He has recently been labelled “His Hotness” by the Washington Post and the “Hip Hop Lama” by The Times, due to his love of his i-pod and war games on his computer.

Karmapa enjoys huge popularity, most especially with Tibetan Yuf and young (and not so young) Western females who harbour somewhat illicit desires. Karmapa´s photos out-sell HH Dalai Lama portraits and the ever increasing photo-booths around town.

Karmapa is undoubtedly a face for the future in the Tibetan conflict.

The Karmapa - taken by Aubs in March 09

Friday, October 30, 2009

An Eye and a Lens on McLeod Ganj

The days in the village continue to be filled with warmth and beauty.

I seem to find myself doing almost daily koras around the Dalai Lama temple and back garden - although i´m reserving all 108 prayer wheel spinning for "special" occasions. Please note i will do reasonable requests.

There are plenty of cows and their dirt on the path around, but it never seems to put off the series of beggars.

This woman is a regular at the top of the steep incline. The lighting is gorgeous and so is she. Having given my coins out already (Mr Toothy is still situated at the bottom of the hill), I know it´s going to cost me a Rp10 note, but as i hope you will agree, so worth it.

A special day for me to look forward to tomorrow. I am heading down with Mhue for an audience and blessing with Karmapa Lama at his monastery in nearby Sidphur for what i hope will be another Ketchup exclusive. As head of the cool Black Hatted sect of Buddhism, he is seen as an important part of the triumvirate in Tibetan Buddhism hierarchy. Not least due to the abduction of the Panchen Lama.

Mhue has met Karmapa twice before, and indeed K. met him as a toddler in Tibet. As the only High Lama accepted by both Tibetans and the Chinese government, Karmapa is very much the future of the Tibetan freedom movement. It should be special to spend time with him.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pakistan at War

Both LJ and myself hold a deep love for Pakistan. It was one of the best kept secrets in Asia. The situation there today is horrendous.

I recently blogged on my 10 favourite cities. How i left Peshawar off the list, i really don´t know? Boasting probably the oldest market on the planet, some stunning architecture and magnificent Pakistani hospitality, it´s a photographer´s and adventurer´s paradise.

The continuous bombing is disturbing – something is clearly well out of order if Pakistani Muslims are killing other Pakistani Muslims.

Of course the Americans continue to fracture this region. Check out the latest from this year´s Nobel Peace prize winner.

LJ´s Paki Bros in Hong Kong reckon it will be off limits for 50 years.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Power of Prayer Wheels?

C, is a cyber-friend i met through Big C about 18 months ago. She is a Buddhist living in Mexico. Her mother has been very sick recently, and last week C. had to fly to London to be with her mum.

Yesterday i dedicated a full 108 prayer wheel spinning kora around the Dalai Lama´s back garden and temple to C´s mum. I have only ever completed all wheels once before.

a fellow spinning pilgrim

It´s really strange, but i get a huge buzz from the experience, an almost cocaine-like rush inside of me. I feel so internally strong and powerful. I haven´t experienced such a state of euphoria for a long time and feel completely empowered.

On my return home, i send C a brief message telling her of my experience on the kora and to let her know that i am thinking of her and her mother. She writes back almost immediately. Her mother has been given all clear from her tests, feeling so much better and she can leave hospital almost immediately.


section of the 108 prayer wheels

Editor´s Add On: It was revealed today that Andre Agassi had a similar experience, although elicited through the use of crystal amphetamines.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Drunk with a Monk

I haven´t caught up with Mhue, my Vietnamese Monk neighbour for a while. Yesterday evening, i get a telephone call from him requesting to come over.

I pile all my articles up, and he arrives at my door in ten minutes with a half kilo carton of Quoc Anh Vietnamese coffee sent specially from his sister. Its very dark, very strong with a chocolatey flavour.

Mhue has been away on a meditation retreat for the last 10 days which explains his absence from the Dalai Lama teachings.

He refuses both the coffee and the green tea, so it´s out with the last bottle of lemon chelo: It´s only after the second glass that i remember the Bailey´s, with a hint of chocolate mint, i bought in Delhi duty-free. He is keen to taste it. The combination is lethal and we are soon in fits of laughter. Too nuts! I´m pleased it´s him who has to get up at 4.30 for meditation the next morning.

Despite a brief flirtation with drinking during my undergraduate days, alcohol has never been a narcotic of choice. It´s been ages since i last drank more than a couple of drinks. I feel guilty for corrupting my loving friend/brother.

We agree to meet up today after his English classes to locate a dongle and Internet package for his snazzy VAIO lap-top.

Mhue never eats out so i am very happy to treat him to soup and hummus at the exclusive Chonnor Lodge.

I ask him about his monastic background. He describes himself as very angry as a child and found tranquility in religion. He begged his mother (his father died during the US – Vietnam war) for several years before she consented to his ordination at thirteen. His younger sister was ordained at just 6 years old.

Mhue - a drunk monk

Having now completed my resubmission for my thesis proposal, my Masters studies are now in full flow as i hit the Literature Review; an area i understand well. Long may this continue!

Monday, October 26, 2009


I have often been asked what is behind my somewhat unusual life-style choices. There are several factors that may have contributed to this. After all, surely my very name can only have led to a somewhat eccentric existence?

One major contributing factor is my place of birth and formative years growing up in Watford. No disrespect, but Watford, a north-west London suburb, is a place you know you gotta get out of. Strangely, not too many of my Primary and Secondary peers seem to have managed to escape judging by Friends Reunited.

It´s difficult to describe Watfordonians, but maybe “ Barry from Watford” can give you a taster. This link is totally absurd – many thanks to Dr Gloves for passing it our way. Running through them this afternoon whilst working on my lit review was a surreal experience.

As The Clash famously asked, “Should I stay or should I go?” A real No-Brainer!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Wistfullness and Serendipity in the Village

I am becoming increasingly aware that after 15 months my time in McLeod Ganj is coming to an end.

Whilst i have had itchy feet to head to my mammoth African adventure, I know i´m going to miss McLeod Ganj big time. Warm, sunny and dry conditions prevail, and now the Dalai Lama teachings are over, all is quiet and unhurried in the village.

Even when i´m having a difficult time, either emotionally bleakness or with study hassles, my life here is full of magical experiences which i endeavour to appreciate to the full.

I have blogged before about the musical brilliance of Kristin Hersh. One particular track “Krait” is currently a huge favourite and has been playing constantly for the last two weeks on my MP3 player. I´m blasting it on my regular kora around the Dalai Lama´s back garden, when one of the residents of the nearby Jambalang Home for Elders greets me on the path with the exchange of the traditional Tibetan “Tashi Dilek” and indicates he wants to listen. I turn down the volume (for it really is blasting) and pass it over to him.

My new found friend must be well into his 70s with classic wizened features and crusty wrinkled old high-altitude skin. He plugs the headphones into his ears, immediately his eyes lighten and his eyebrows rise up. He is clearly delighted at what he hears. His smile spreads from ear to ear, and he jigs about like a young animated lepricorn on LSD. Another Hersh convert. His happiness is totally infectious.

I´m busy sorting through my stuff and selecting just a few choice items to send back to the UK for storage. My dissertation should be completed in draft by the end of December, and I am likely to head to UK to seek support for the 4000 word data analysis and conclusions. It will also enable to catch up with my parents who will be resident in Nice during the winter months. If all goes to plan I will fly out to Israel in January as the starting point of my 12+ month over-land African trip. You can download Krait and other tracks from her cyber project, Speedbath by clicking here.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Watching Watford FC in India

What bliss for me today to watch a Watford FC football match on Indian TV Sports Ten channel. A match played last night, Watford scored four in a rout of Sheffield Wednesday. Although i predicted a difficult season for The Hornets, there is just a few points that separate the Boys from the top of their division. Long may the run continue.

I did Watford Football Club a bit of a disservice in my previous Watford FC blog by claiming it was only famous for having Sir Elton John as a famous fan. There are other famous connections that might ring a bell.

One of the most famous is the legendary football manager, Graham Taylor. He began his managerial career at unfashionable Lincoln City before moving to Watford in 1977. He stayed for 10 years taking Watford from the 4th Division to runners-up in the Premiership to Liverpool in 1983 and the FA cup final a year later.

It has to be said the football wasn´t always pretty, but it was effective, exciting, and well, you always love it when you´re winning! He is worshipped at Watford and recently returned to the club in an advisory role.

After a brief and successful spell at Aston Villa, Taylor was appointed England manager in 1990. Inheriting a rather poor quality pool of players and hit by injuries and poor form to the infamous Gazza, England spectacularly failed to qualify for the US World Cup finals and resigned in 1993.

His reign as England manager was captured by a documentary television crew and was released as “Do I Not Like That?” which can found on Youtube. A fascinating insight to one of the most difficult jobs in the World. And Gordon Brown thinks he´s got it bad?

Reasons why Watford FC should be known

• Watford appeared in the 1984 FA Cup Final (my most magical moment as a supporter)
• Watford were runners-up in the Football League to Liverpool in 1983
• Liverpool and England legend John Barnes was signed by Watford as a teenager
• Graham Taylor The humbled England manager (1990 – 93)
• Luther Blissett is a name of an Anarchist group in Italy, is named after the Watford legend who I saw score four goals on his England debut at Wembley Stadium – although it was only Luxembourg
• Watford have a strong connection with international goalkeepers
1. Current England No. 1 goalkeeper David James used to play for Watford
2. Current Under 21 England goalkeeper Scott Loach also currently plays for England
3. Watford´s goalkeeper until last season was Matt Poom – ex. Arsenal and Estonian national team
4. Pat Jennings, the legendary Arsenal, Tottenham, and Northern Ireland national keeper began his career at Watford

Friday, October 23, 2009

An Eye and a Lens on McLeod Ganj

Today´s Sunset

Phwor! What A Stunner!

To be honest, I very rarely submit my photographs to competitions. Indeed i think i can probably count submissions on one hand.

Mind you, these days, you clearly don´t have to. I was approached by Scmap, Budapest to use a photograph of the Hungarian Parliament building, one of the most famous landmarks in this beautiful city on my Flkr account. Flattered, I can´t be bothered to ask about prizes or money. You can view the shot either via my Flkr account or see the photo from the online Scmap site.

More photos from Budapest as well as some more rural Hungarian stuff can be found by clicking here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hot Chocolate and Cheese

Regular reader of this blog will know that I have a great love of both Colombia and it´s people after four years in Bogotá.

Although not so far from the Equator, it is up on a high plateau in the Andes, at more than 2600 metres, so the evenings are always cold.

It was in the picturesque area of Usaquen in the northern part of the city, that i was introduced to hot chocolate and cheese. It took some persuading, but what a discovery!

Both the days and nights have been clear for more than a week – a first since arriving in Dharamsala. A very comfortable twenty degree plus temperature during the day, and ball-shiveringly cold at night. I´m sticking to my chocolaté con queso!

Check it out!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Teachings – Dalai Lama Style

I really enjoyed the lessons today. The sponsors of these three day teachings on the Four Noble Truths are the South East Asian Buddhist Society. They mainly consist of Singaporeans, so much of the teachings have been delivered in English rather than relying on the usual translator. Whilst very adept, the translator´s speed of delivery is too fast, and is sometimes difficult to follow.

HHDL has excellent English and can communicate skilfully with his audience. His humour permeates almost all his teachings, with fantastic anecdotes to exemplify his points in real terms. He delivers 2 hours per session and often completes two a day.

I have always particularly enjoyed his Q & A sessions. Questions from the audience vary considerably, from political, religious and social / personal issues. For example, today´s questions included the Israeli / Palestinian conflict, the neutering of cats and dogs, and dealing with an undisciplined son.

Dalai Lama gives some great answers, intelligent, relevant, humorous, and dare i say enlightened. His flexibility of mind is phenomenal.

A number of the speakers today are Han Chinese, and it is heart-breaking hearing their shame of their government´s decimation of unique Tibet – the country, its people and culture.

I´ve been playing about a bit with some new photographic software from Picasa, and have been re-cropping and tinting of my first photo-shoot with HH Dalai Lama. I hope you like the result.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Free Dhondup Wangchen

Last month, on 23rd September, Tibetans and other supporters joined in the “Global Day of Action for Dhondup Wangchen”.

Wangchen, a Tibetan filmmaker, was arrested in March 2008 for a documentary he was making about the run-in to the Olympic Games. He had just completed filming an extensive series of interviews with ordinary Tibetans who had bravely voiced to camera their true feelings on the upcoming Beijing Olympics and the Chinese occupation of Tibet.

Those interviews were smuggled out of Tibet at great risk and have been made into a remarkable film, Leaving Fear Behind, which has been seen screened in more than 30 countries and which was secretly shown to journalists on the eve of the Beijing Olympics last year.

Wangchen remains in prison, having been tortured and refused treatment for Hepatitus B. He faces a trial behind closed doors, and a prison sentence of up to 15 years under the charge of “inciting separatism” and espionage.

Wangchen´s wife, is now residing in McLeod Ganj and is actively campaigning for a free and fair trial. More than 1000 postcards were signed and sent to Chinese Premier Hu Jintao calling for justice from Dharamsala residents.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bad Karma

Some strange crap has hit me over the last of weeks, which seems to have culminated in my Olympus Tough being taken from my back-pack at the Dalai Lama teachings yesterday. Ironically, it wasn´t even used at the temple photo-shoot for i stuck to The Beast throughout.

Bought from Hong Kong in May especially for my upcoming African travels, i got quite fond of it. Capable of underwater use i thought it would be great to use as i snorkel with whale sharks in Mozambique and Great White shark cage-dives in South Africa.

I also liked the macro-lens and in-house panorama features on it. Indeed, it was my sole camera on my summer visit to England.

Self-portrait in UK

I put a few favourites in tribute to some special times together which you can see by clicking here - the results were pretty good methinks. RIP with your new “adopted” owner. How bad is it to take someone else´s stuff in a Buddhist temple at a Dalai Lama ceremony? Someone may well be in for worse karma than myself. And that´s serious!

There are two days of Dalai Lama teachings, including the Four Noble Truths. I´ll be listening in at home.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Shooting the Dalai Lama (Again)

With Diwali crackers and fireworks being set off sporadically throughout the night, I don´t think i managed more than 2 hours sleep last night.

I´m out the door by 7am in clear weather and make my way over to the Main Temple. Security is nuts, and it takes me 20 minutes to clear the body-checks. Every camera lens is individually inspected and a complete pat-down of my person - and i mean COMPLETE!

Trying to find a strategic position for the arrival of His Holiness Dalai Lama, I park up right in front of a security barrier. Lobsang, my editor, is close by and he tells me I´d be better off on the other side of the central aisle, so i quickly scramble across. I´m not there more than five minutes when one of the Tibetan security guards comes over and moves me right into the centre. Sorted, i´m thinking - i have a completely clear view of the central arrival aisle.

Three minutes before the entourage arrives, a second Tibetan guard hustles me back from where i originally started, by which time there are huge throngs and it´s a battle to find a shooting position.

Taiwanese Delegation in Prayer

Dalai Lama normally meets and greets the class on his arrival into the complex, and takes time to stop and talk briefly. I guess, due to tightened security, he strides purposefully into the temple with just a brief wave to the huge Taiwanese delegation. He is up and past me within seconds, so i quickly make a dash upstairs to try and catch him again. On the second level he is surrounded by both Tibetan and Indian security guards (the latter waving enormous semi-automatic rifles). There is a huge surge and mass bundling, and HHDL has gone again.

The inner temple on the 2nd floor where the class is to be delivered is restricted for monks only, so myself and the three other press photographers head to the central doorway, zoom lenses at the ready. It takes almost an hour for HHDL to take his seat in the throne. Shutters run wild for about 20 seconds before he begins talking into the microphone. As soon as he addresses the audience, security come out and tells us that no more photos are allowed until the end of class.

With not much else to do, I take a few pictures of some of the pilgrims and then head downstairs and back outside on the temple courtyard to warm up in the sun and listen to the translation on my MP3. It´s much more relaxed outside, with Tibetan families enjoying a Sunday together. There must be more than 3000 people at the temple from across the World. As well as the Taiwanese organisers and delegations, there is are special sections for Spaniards, Romanians and Koreans.

Rather than teachings, HHDL delivers a religious ceremony - the Avalokiteshvera Initiation which is aimed at Tantric (high order) practitioners. I can´t follow much of the translations with 5 jewelled paths on different states of consciousness. I do find his suggestions on breathing; inhale others´ suffering and exhale love, pretty cool though and i´ll incorporate into my meditation sessions.

The toddlers and kids run around, and the Western devotees (with a large propensity of what we call in London “crusties”- all dreadlocks, facial hair, tattoos and facial piercings) sit in devoted contemplation. The session runs late, and i´m starving, but i´m desperate to try and grab a few more Dalal Lama shots. A Mitsubishi is led right up to the foot of the temple steps and HHDL is whisked away faster than an Ann Summers catalogue.

Whilst classes carry on in the afternoon, they are not led by HHDL, and i´m too tired and disinterested to return. No disrespect to Dalai Lama, who is an extraordinary human being, but it has all been somewhat underwhelming really.

HHDL continues his teaching in McLeod Ganj on the 20th for another 3 day teaching. He then flies out to Japan at the end of the month. It has just been confirmed that there will be yet another two day teachings on the 24th and 25th November in McLeod Ganj on Atisha's Lamp of the Path To Enlightenment (jangchup lamdron) at the request of Russian devotees. An additional bonus for Buddhist boffins.

my new FB profile photo and flckr upload - my fave of the day

I´m pleased to report HHDL appears to be in excellent health and his vitality, bonhomie and strong sense of humour remain undiminished.

A few additional photos can be found by clicking here.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Diwali Fireworks

It sounds more like Pakistan outside at the moment. Today marked the start of Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Light. Fireworks and crackers have been going off all night.

Similar to last year, Khalia, my landlord, invites all the residents to a feast of very sickly Indian sweets and set off sparklers, firecrackers and fireworks. It´s dangerous out there, especially as Khalia is somewhat drunk. Rockets are aimed (and indeed travel) in every direction. All the Tibetan monks and Korean and Taiwanese nuns join in the festivities

Not likely to get much sleep and i´m heading off with my camera at 6am in the morning for the Dalai Lama teachings.

Out on the Lower Balcony, Tibetan monks set off Diwali fireworks

Friday, October 16, 2009

Prayer Wheels

Prayer wheels come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The barrels contain mantras that are sent to the heavens. Like koras,(circumbulations around a holy or sacred site), these should always be carried out in a clock-wise direction. The largest wheels take some turning and are often turned either three or eight times.

There are over 500 prayer wheels scattered around the village of Mcleod Ganj and are spun by young and old Tibetans alike.

I shot the following brief footage at the main temple.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Lhasa, Fun-Fun and Big Alaskan Bears

To celebrate the arrival of the millennium, I wanted to do something special. Thus I headed to Lhasa for my first trip into Tibet. I don´t think i could have chosen a better destination.

Alright, it was bloody freezing and snows had blocked up all the main transport arteries in and out of the city, so travel was limited to the city and immediate surround. But when that sun came out (and it did for several hours almost every day), it was both fascinating and beautiful.

Only a few die-hard travellers selected Lhasa for the Millennium, and together we had a total riot. Of course i meet a lot of travellists out on the road, and share several special moments, but there are only a very few that i keep in contact with. One of these is Fun-Fun, a young British Born Chinese woman from Derbyshire in England who also decided to brave the cold in the middle of a Tibetan winter.

Fun-Fun is rather appropriate name for her, but Mad n´ Wild would be even more so. She has brought a tent along with and she persuades Theo, a lovely South African guy to head to the wilderness. There is absolutely no way i´m leaving the fairly ineffectual central heating.

We´ve managed to catch up a few times now, including watching the 2002 World Cup in a Hong Kong pub and one of just three friends that “braved the dangers” of Colombia to visit whilst i was based in Bogotá. Respect!

An engineer by trade, Fun-Fun works on aeroplane engines and is currently based in Seattle, but not for long. She faces a move down to Waco, Texas. A keen hiker and climber, she is making the most of her time in the north. She sent me some real beautiful photos of wild bears on her recent trip up to Alaska.

Many thanks to L.J. for helping sort out my blogspot account. Photographs can now be added after a couple of weeks break.

An Eye and a Lens on Mcleod Ganj

In McLeod Ganj, there are plenty of beggars in town. Buddhist are seen as a soft touch i guess.

This guy is new in town. He sits all day behind the Dalai Lama temple with his big toothy grin and is making stable money on the pilgrim path. He is all to delighted to pose for me, and loves the result that i show him on the monitor.

G. my Main Man in England, laughed at me when i proposed putting together an exhibition of Indian poverty and disfigurement. I think it´s got real potential, although i would be wary of painting such a bleak picture of India, a country which has so much beauty to share. I´m putting together a few favourite shots of the genre and i´ll carry on my internal dialogue.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Day Before The Teachings, Disciples and Additional Security

It has been a strange day today. The electricity disappeared about 8am. Daily blackouts are pretty regular, but rarely last for more than an hour. My laptop battery lasted till 11.30am and put an end to dissertation writing.

Heading into the village the streets are totally packed. Lots of travellists, including several familiar faces join the huge throng from the Taiwanese Buddhist society. These Taiwanese delegations are almost all over 60 years old, wearing very formal clothes and large laminated name-badges. They are clearly in love with the village, babbling and twittering enthusiastically like our local roosting mynah birds.

Security has reached new levels here, The Indian army stalk the fence around Dalai Lama´s residence and the Main Temple site. I guess this is the last set of teachings in Dharamsala for the season and a final chance for studies with The Main Man. Press are now only allowed to attend on Saturday´s session, and Lobsang now has to submit two photocopies of my passport and provide an additional two photos. He tells me that the regulations surrounding the press have been further tightened.

Photos can only be taken when classes are not in session. If I´m lucky I´ll have about 15 – 20 minutes to try and capture the essence of him. Making it more trick still is that Dalai Lama will be inside the temple itself and it can be quite dark. ISO ratings will need to be pushed and the final results become grainy. The class on Saturday are for advanced Buddhist practitioners and i know i´m not going to be able to follow very much.

Fortunately the electricity returned at about 7pm.

Ed. Adds: In classic Indian/Tibetan style the photo-shoot is now at Sunday´s Teachings.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

World Cup Run-in

England last hosted the World Cup before I was born. Coincidentally, it also marked the only time England have lifted the trophy.

Unsuccessful in its bid to host the 2006 finals (made more painful as Germany were the eventual hosts of the tournament), England is bidding to host the 2018 World Cup finals. Other competitors for the 2018 tournament include United States (host in 1994), Japan (co-hosts in 2002), South Korea (co-hosts in 2002), and Mexico (1970 and 1986). Other bids that have never hosted the tournament include Australia, Indonesia, Qatar, Russia and dual host bids from Portugal / Spain (hosted 1982) and Holland / Belgium.

This week saw a visit from Jack Warner, vice-President of FIFA. For some weird political and geographic reasons, he is the man who holds up six of the 24 representatives who will make the final decision. 13 representatives need to agree on one host nation.

Warner is well known for his prickliness to England. Whilst complementing England´s love of football, its facilities, infrastructure and transport as well as acknowledging the quality of England´s premiership. However, he claims it is missing “something” – an unspecified x factor. He seems to prefer bids from Spain, USA, Russia and Australia.

This has been interpreted in England as “not playing the correct politics. These 24 representatives will need to be heavily indulged by all these bidding nations. What a job!

A government feasibility study on the English bid can be found by clicking here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Chako Paul City

Another classic story from The Sun UK: they report that

Tourism staff are being swamped with queries from Chinese men over a myth about a town populated only by 25,000 sex-mad lesbians.

The mysterious 'Chako Paul City' in Sweden was said to have been founded by a wealthy, man-hating widow in 1820.

A pair of blonde female sentries are said to stand guard at the town and men wishing to enter risk being "beaten half to death" by police.

News reports of the city have crippled China's internet providers as millions of goggle-eyed men read up on the town's rampant women and try to find out how to get there.

Foreign holidays are still strictly controlled in China but Swedish travel experts have been deluged with inquiries about the sexy city.

"I've no idea where this came from but it's not true," said local authorities' spokesman Claes Bertilson.

"It's hard to believe that you could keep something like that a secret for more than 180 years," he added.

But denials have not dampened China's enthusiasm for the myth.

According to a leading Chinese news agency, the man-starved residents are allowed to leave the Swedish city limits for trysts with male lovers.

But the truth about the real tourist attractions on offer in largely rural northern Sweden might dampen China's enthusiasm.

"We are expecting increased interest from tourists following our designation as Europe's Cultural Capital for 2014," said regional tourist chief Per Wilhelmsson.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Love Meditation

Tomorrow marks the start of a four day “Love Meditation” in Bhagsu. Posters sprung up all round town last week in English and Hebrew.

I´m curious to check out this hippy stuff, but i´m currently struggling with my studies, and i certainly don´t want to miss my last photo-shoot with HH Dalai Lama on Thursday.

Even in my semi-retirement i don´t have anywhere near enough time to do everything i want. Drats!

I fear i have been “banned” from posting any pictures for infringing on copyright photos, quite possibly the picture of Julia Roberts on her recent trip to India. Oooops! I do try and use my own photographs for as many posts as possible. I´m busy deleting pics from older posts in the hope i am forgiven for my trespasses and allowed to upload photos again.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Your Face Is the Mirror of My Soul - Ani Jangchup Chokyi

Ani Jangchup Chokyi, my meditation teacher has just released a book of poetry and other writings. I am happy to give her a plug. She writes

Dearest Friends and Acquaintances:

This note is to share with you that my book, Your Face Is the Mirror of My Soul, has now been published and is available for purchase online through the Barnes and Noble, Amazon and AuthorHouse websites. At this time, only the AuthorHouse site allows you to get a good deal of information about the book, including an author bio and an excerpt from one of the poems. It is also the least expensive source from which to purchase it and pays me the highest royalty percentage. It is available on all sites in both hard cover and paperback.

Those of you who know me personally and have followed my process know that I left New York City around a year ago to travel to Nepal, India, Europe and then back to New York City. The poetry contained in this book was written during that period of my travels. The poems are known as vaja dohas in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition; they are expressions of my meditation experiences (which include life experiences or meditation-in-action experiences) which arose in my mind and heart as I traversed a path begun so many years earlier in San Francisco as a college student during the Flower Child era. The book is dedicated to my father-guru, the Vidyadhara, the Venerable Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, whom I first met at that time in what he called a “spiritual supermarket” atmosphere. I was a psychology major as an undergraduate and was also attending psychotherapy sessions in order to deal with my own problems. One semester, the psychology courses I needed were all filled up, and since my financial aid required me to carry a minimum of 12 credits, I registered for a course in Buddhism “just on a lark.”

It is now forty years later, and I have yet to become disenchanted with the Buddhist teachings I began to study at that time, “just for the heck of it, so I could keep my financial aid.” To me, the Buddhadharma is not a religion, but an expression of truth – things as they truly are. My entire life has been, and continues to be, an expression of these teachings. That does not make me into an angel by any means, for people as they are and things as they are do not necessarily mean things as we think they should be. Hence, as a Buddhist and as a Rinpoche (which means “precious one” in Tibetan) who teaches and guides others, all I can be is my genuine self. Were I foolish enough to attempt being what anyone (including Bird Neshama Trungma) decides that I “should be” based on some preconception of what it means to be “religious” or a “religious leader,” I would most definitely make a mess of everything, of the teachings, and certainly of myself!

Though Your Face Is the Mirror of My Soul consists mostly of poetry, it also contains some very controversial prose, including an autobiographical essay entitled “The Misinterpretation of Karma as Psychopathology.” A second essay presents a proposal for a Buddhist action plan to deal with global warming, and is entitled “Creating a Team to Change the Theme of the Dream From a Planet Heating Up to a Planet Cooling Down.” Finally, the issue of sexism within monastic Tibetan Buddhism is brought out into the open in both the poetry and the prolific prose commentaries which accompany almost all of the poems. This is loudly and clearly a feminist book, as its author is a feminist – let me make that unmistakable – with no apologies!

I am thrilled beyond belief to finally have my first book out for sale on the literary market. So if you are one of my dear friends who knows me and loves me (how can you possibly do one without the other?!) or one of my less close but still cared for and about acquaintances (it is nice to think that the feeling might go both ways!), please buy this book now.

I say, “When?”
“When do you want it?”
“What do you want?”
“Your Face Is the Mirror of My Soul!”

Buy it for yourself. Buy it for your loved ones. Buy it for your friends. If you are unfortunate enough to have enemies, buy a copy for each of them too. It is good practice. You never know -- it could turn the whole relationship around and turn former enemies into current allies, good neighbors, maybe even lovers or spouses. (Stranger things have happened! It is truly a magical world.)

Love and blessings to everyone!
Bird Neshama Trungma, Rinpoche

Friday, October 9, 2009

And the Award Goes To...

Less than eight months into his presidential reign, Barack Obama has been awarded this year´s Nobel Peace prize in Oslo.

The award goes for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said, citing his outreach to the Muslim world and attempts to curb nuclear proliferation.
"Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future," the committee said. "His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population."

The committee said it attached special importance to Obama's vision of, and work for, a world without nuclear weapons.

"Obama has as president created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play," the committee said.

Not surprisingly, this is a shock for many. It should be noted that Obama took office less than two weeks before the Feb. 1st nomination deadline.

What actually has Obama managed to deliver to date? Such decisions belittle what should be a very prestigious award.

In my life time, such greats as Nelson Mandela ( 1993), HH Dalai Lama (1989), Aung San Suu Kyi (1991), Lech Walesa (1983), Mother Theresa (1979) have been honoured. I just hope Obama can warrant a place in such immense and esteemed company.

I follow Obama´s tweets. They are really dull, which is a shame because he must get involved in some really interesting stuff.

Editor´s Addition: and Obama´s response to the award on Twitter? "Humbled". And so he should!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Shooting the Dalai Lama

Yesterday I had a meeting with Lobsang, the Editor in Chief of Contact Magazine. He is applying for my press pass for the next Dalai Lama teachings. Security continues to tighten around HH Dalai Lama, with cameras only permitted on the first day of the first set of teachings.

Between October 15th – 18th, HHDL will give teachings on The Diamond Sutra, Geshe Chekewa's Seven Point-Mind Training and Tsongkhapa's The Three Principal Paths at the request of Taiwanese devotees. On the last day, he will confer the Avalokiteshvera. Heavy duty teachings indeed!

Between 20th – 22nd His Holiness will give teachings on The Four Noble Truths at the request of a group of Southeast Asian Buddhists.

Both sets of teachings will be held at the main temple.

This will probably be my last chance to photograph his Holiness, so i´m pretty excited. Unlike my last shoot with him, I should be able to get up close and personal.

I was pretty happy with the results from my last photo-shoot with HHDL in April for the observation of the 50th Anniversary in Exile, but I can´t resist a final session.

Don´t forget you can follow his broadcasts through translation here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Dinner with a Monk

SO my nearby neighbour, a Vietnamese monk called Mhue came over to dinner last night.

Normally I´d have rustled up my famous Shahi Kaju Murg (an Indian chicken and cashew nut curry), but unlike PK (my Thai monk neighbour from last year), Mhue is vegetarian. After debating what to cook, i thought i´d go for a series of dishes in the hope he would like at least one of them.

Out came a few tried and tested dishes including egg mayonnaise and onion, fried cheese and diced potatoes in rosemary, garlic and onion. A bit of a veritable banquet, since i seriously make oversize portions of each dish.

Although looking a bit apprehensive at first, (especially the fried cheese which is poked suspiciously), Mhue eats with aplomb. I´m not sure he enjoys it all, but from my own personal experience, monks are always so polite – and make ideal dinner guests.

We discuss a bit of politics. Mhue talks of the Americans as paying their karma after the atrocities in his home country of Vietnam. His father was killed and his mother blinded during the American atrocities. Now that´s compassion! He is clearly not so keen on China, although he is never negative about anything.

Like most Asians, (and indeed monks), their respect for teachers is immense, and he marvels at my teaching experiences around the World. Apparently i am just one step away from saint-hood. My ego runs riot, despite my blushings.

We´re both too full to attempt the delights i picked up from the Tibetean bakery for dessert. I can´t entice him to a Colombian espresso, and indeed he even rejects the Twinings Green tea i got especially for him in the grocery shop – this is a coffee only bedsit.

However, his eyes light up when i offer him lemon chello – a present from Ma in UK. I do warn him it is alcoholic and strong, but surprisingly he is definitely up for it.

With my imported coffee supplies run dangerously low, Mhue´s sister will be visiting next month. He has given her strict instructions to bring me a few kilos of high quality Vietnamese coffee. He also informs me he has adopted me as his older brother. I know Aubrey is not the easiest name to pronounce, but i really wish he wouldn´t call me Sir.

It was a really pleasant evening, but stressful in the preparation of food. I think i´ll just take him out for a pizza next time.

I give Mhue the rest of the bottle of lemon chello to take home, and he is totally delighted. Big Brother should really be a more positive role model.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

India´s Miraculous Waters

A hand pump located inside the premises of an ancient Hanuman temple in Uttar Pradesh is visited by hundreds of people irrespective of their religion every day. Reason: its water is said to have miraculous healing powers.

Hindus, Muslims and people from other religions have been lining up before the hand pump, installed within the gate of the Hanuman temple in Jagnewa village of Jalaun district, for the past three weeks.

People first take a 'parikrama' (round) of the hand pump and offer prayers before partaking of the water.

Around 1,000 people from different parts of Jalaun and nearby villagers are visiting the temple every day to drink the water, which can cure chronic ailments,' Chhoti Dulaiya, head of Jagnewa village, told IANS over telephone.

'You can sight Muslim women clad in burqas lining up before the hand pump, waiting for their turn to offer prayers and conduct parikrama,' said Dulaiya. He added that one of his relatives who was suffering from eczema all over his body got cured after drinking the water.

According to locals, the hand pump's water recently turned miraculous after a saint from Madhya Pradesh 'infused it with therapeutic properties'.

'An elderly saint named Geeta Nandji Maharaj, who visited the temple around 10 days ago and took shelter in the temple, has made all this happen,' said Sanjeev Gurjar, a resident of the area.

Initially, after the saint's arrival, some villagers whose relatives or family members were suffering from chronic diseases went to seek his blessings. To their surprise, they found that soon after the blessings, their relatives and family members became healthy,' he added.

According to locals, when people started arriving in large numbers to meet the saint, he told them that he would provide a permanent solution to their problems.
'After this, the saint performed some puja in front of the hand pump, and told the villagers that its water would henceforth treat all their health problems,' said another local Devesh Kashyap.

Raees Ahmed, a native of the adjacent Kathaunda village, told IANS that his 10-year-old daughter, who was anaemic and was not able to walk and eat properly, was cured with the hand pump water.

'After partaking of the hand pump water in just two days she was able to stand on her feet and do all her normal work,' Ahmed said with relief.

Subdivisional Magistrate of Jalaun, Indra Pal Uttam told IANS: 'Yes, it's true that people irrespective of their religion are lining up before the hand pump to drink its water that, according to them, will treat their health disorders.'

'The therapeutic properties of the hand pump's water are still to be confirmed. However, if people continue to pour in such huge numbers it will become a challenge for the district administration to control them,'' he added.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Bibi´s Speech to the United Nations

I´m not sure what´s going on with blogspot, but for the last few days I have been unable to upload any photos or video. Shame, because i have some nice stuff to upload. I hope this problem is resolved soon.

Although not a great follower of Israeli politics, I always thought that Benji Netanyahu was a bit of thug. A thug he maybe, but at least he is an eloquent one. This post comes from Ma - a very keen supporter.

Nearly 62 years ago, the United Nations recognized the right of the Jews, an ancient people 3,500 years-old, to a state of their own in their ancestral homeland.

I stand here today as the Prime Minister of Israel, the Jewish state, and I speak to you on behalf of my country and my people.

The United Nations was founded after the carnage of World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust. It was charged with preventing the recurrence of such horrendous events.

Nothing has undermined that central mission more than the systematic assault on the truth. Yesterday the President of Iran stood at this very podium, spewing his latest anti-Semitic rants. Just a few days earlier, he again claimed that the Holocaust is a lie.

Last month, I went to a villa in a suburb of Berlin called Wannsee. There, on January 20, 1942, after a hearty meal, senior Nazi officials met and decided how to exterminate the Jewish people. The detailed minutes of that meeting have been preserved by successive German governments. Here is a copy of those minutes, in which the Nazis issued precise instructions on how to carry out the extermination of the Jews. Is this a lie?

A day before I was in Wannsee, I was given in Berlin the original construction plans for the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Those plans are signed by Hitler’s deputy, Heinrich Himmler himself. Here is a copy of the plans for Auschwitz-Birkenau, where one million Jews were murdered. Is this too a lie?

This June, President Obama visited the Buchenwald concentration camp. Did President Obama pay tribute to a lie?

And what of the Auschwitz survivors whose arms still bear the tattooed numbers branded on them by the Nazis? Are those tattoos a lie? One-third of all Jews perished in the conflagration. Nearly every Jewish family was affected, including my own. My wife's grandparents, her father’s two sisters and three brothers, and all the aunts, uncles and cousins were all murdered by the Nazis. Is that also a lie?

Yesterday, the man who calls the Holocaust a lie spoke from this podium. To those who refused to come here and to those who left this room in protest, I commend you. You stood up for moral clarity and you brought honor to your countries.

But to those who gave this Holocaust-denier a hearing, I say on behalf of my people, the Jewish people, and decent people everywhere: Have you no shame? Have you no decency?

A mere six decades after the Holocaust, you give legitimacy to a man who denies that the murder of six million Jews took place and pledges to wipe out the Jewish state.

What a disgrace! What a mockery of the charter of the United Nations! Perhaps some of you think that this man and his odious regime threaten only the Jews. You're wrong.

History has shown us time and again that what starts with attacks on the Jews eventually ends up engulfing many others.

This Iranian regime is fuelled by an extreme fundamentalism that burst onto the world scene three decades ago after lying dormant for centuries. In the past thirty years, this fanaticism has swept the globe with a murderous violence and cold-blooded impartiality in its choice of victims. It has callously slaughtered Moslems and Christians, Jews and Hindus, and many others. Though it is comprised of different offshoots, the adherents of this unforgiving creed seek to return humanity to medieval times.

Wherever they can, they impose a backward regimented society where women, minorities, gays or anyone not deemed to be a true believer is brutally subjugated. The struggle against this fanaticism does not pit faith against faith nor civilization against civilization.

It pits civilization against barbarism, the 21st century against the 9th century, those who sanctify life against those who glorify death.

The primitivism of the 9th century ought to be no match for the progress of the 21st century. The allure of freedom, the power of technology, the reach of communications should surely win the day. Ultimately, the past cannot triumph over the future. And the future offers all nations magnificent bounties of hope. The pace of progress is growing exponentially.

It took us centuries to get from the printing press to the telephone, decades to get from the telephone to the personal computer, and only a few years to get from the personal computer to the internet.

What seemed impossible a few years ago is already outdated, and we can scarcely fathom the changes that are yet to come. We will crack the genetic code. We will cure the incurable. We will lengthen our lives. We will find a cheap alternative to fossil fuels and clean up the planet.

I am proud that my country Israel is at the forefront of these advances – by leading innovations in science and technology, medicine and biology, agriculture and water, energy and the environment. These innovations the world over offer humanity a sunlit future of unimagined promise.

But if the most primitive fanaticism can acquire the most deadly weapons, the march of history could be reversed for a time. And like the belated victory over the Nazis, the forces of progress and freedom will prevail only after a horrific toll of blood and fortune has been exacted from mankind. That is why the greatest threat facing the world today is the marriage between religious fanaticism and the weapons of mass destruction.

The most urgent challenge facing this body is to prevent the tyrants of Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Are the member states of the United Nations up to that challenge? Will the international community confront a despotism that terrorizes its own people as they bravely stand up for freedom?

Will it take action against the dictators who stole an election in broad daylight and gunned down Iranian protesters who died in the streets choking in their own blood? Will the international community thwart the world's most pernicious sponsors and practitioners of terrorism?

Above all, will the international community stop the terrorist regime of Iran from developing atomic weapons, thereby endangering the peace of the entire world?

The people of Iran are courageously standing up to this regime. People of goodwill around the world stand with them, as do the thousands who have been protesting outside this hall. Will the United Nations stand by their side?

The jury is still out on the United Nations, and recent signs are not encouraging. Rather than condemning the terrorists and their Iranian patrons, some here have condemned their victims. That is exactly what a recent UN report on Gaza did, falsely equating the terrorists with those they targeted.

For eight long years, Hamas fired from Gaza thousands of missiles, mortars and rockets on nearby Israeli cities. Year after year, as these missiles were deliberately hurled at our civilians, not a single UN resolution was passed condemning those criminal attacks. We heard nothing – absolutely nothing – from the UN Human Rights Council, a misnamed institution if there ever was one.

In 2005, hoping to advance peace, Israel unilaterally withdrew from every inch of Gaza. It dismantled 21 settlements and uprooted over 8,000 Israelis. We didn't get peace. Instead we got an Iranian backed terror base fifty miles from Tel Aviv. Life in Israeli towns and cities next to Gaza became a nightmare. You see, the Hamas rocket attacks not only continued, they increased tenfold. Again, the UN was silent.

Finally, after eight years of this unremitting assault, Israel was finally forced to respond. But how should we have responded? Well, there is only one example in history of thousands of rockets being fired on a country's civilian population. It happened when the Nazis rocketed British cities during World War II. During that war, the allies leveled German cities, causing hundreds of thousands of casualties. Israel chose to respond differently. Faced with an enemy committing a double war crime of firing on civilians while hiding behind civilians – Israel sought to conduct surgical strikes against the rocket launchers.

That was no easy task because the terrorists were firing missiles from homes and schools, using mosques as weapons depots and ferreting explosives in ambulances. Israel, by contrast, tried to minimize casualties by urging Palestinian civilians to vacate the targeted areas.

We dropped countless flyers over their homes, sent thousands of text messages and called thousands of cell phones asking people to leave. Never has a country gone to such extraordinary lengths to remove the enemy's civilian population from harm's way.

Yet faced with such a clear case of aggressor and victim, who did the UN Human Rights Council decide to condemn? Israel. A democracy legitimately defending itself against terror is morally hanged, drawn and quartered, and given an unfair trial to boot.

By these twisted standards, the UN Human Rights Council would have dragged Roosevelt and Churchill to the dock as war criminals. What a perversion of truth. What a perversion of justice.

Delegates of the United Nations,

Will you accept this farce?

Because if you do, the United Nations would revert to its darkest days, when the worst violators of human rights sat in judgment against the law-abiding democracies, when Zionism was equated with racism and when an automatic majority could declare that the earth is flat.

If this body does not reject this report, it would send a message to terrorists everywhere: Terror pays; if you launch your attacks from densely populated areas, you will win immunity. And in condemning Israel, this body would also deal a mortal blow to peace. Here's why.

When Israel left Gaza, many hoped that the missile attacks would stop. Others believed that at the very least, Israel would have international legitimacy to exercise its right of self-defense. What legitimacy? What self-defense?

The same UN that cheered Israel as it left Gaza and promised to back our right of self-defense now accuses us –my people, my country - of war crimes? And for what? For acting responsibly in self-defence. What a travesty!

Israel justly defended itself against terror. This biased and unjust report is a clear-cut test for all governments. Will you stand with Israel or will you stand with the terrorists?

We must know the answer to that question now. Now and not later. Because if Israel is again asked to take more risks for peace, we must know today that you will stand with us tomorrow. Only if we have the confidence that we can defend ourselves can we take further risks for peace.

All of Israel wants peace.

Any time an Arab leader genuinely wanted peace with us, we made peace. We made peace with Egypt led by Anwar Sadat. We made peace with Jordan led by King Hussein. And if the Palestinians truly want peace, I and my government, and the people of Israel, will make peace. But we want a genuine peace, a defensible peace, a permanent peace. In 1947, this body voted to establish two states for two peoples – a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Jews accepted that resolution. The Arabs rejected it.

We ask the Palestinians to finally do what they have refused to do for 62 years: Say yes to a Jewish state. Just as we are asked to recognize a nation-state for the Palestinian people, the Palestinians must be asked to recognize the nation state of the Jewish people. The Jewish people are not foreign conquerors in the Land of Israel. This is the land of our forefathers.

Inscribed on the walls outside this building is the great Biblical vision of peace: "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. They shall learn war no more." These words were spoken by the Jewish prophet Isaiah 2,800 years ago as he walked in my country, in my city, in the hills of Judea and in the streets of Jerusalem.

We are not strangers to this land. It is our homeland. As deeply connected as we are to this land, we recognize that the Palestinians also live there and want a home of their own. We want to live side by side with them, two free peoples living in peace, prosperity and dignity.

But we must have security. The Palestinians should have all the powers to govern themselves except those handful of powers that could endanger Israel.

That is why a Palestinian state must be effectively demilitarized. We don't want another Gaza, another Iranian backed terror base abutting Jerusalem and perched on the hills a few kilometers from Tel Aviv.

We want peace.

I believe such a peace can be achieved. But only if we roll back the forces of terror, led by Iran, that seek to destroy peace, eliminate Israel and overthrow the world order. The question facing the international community is whether it is prepared to confront those forces or accommodate them.

Over seventy years ago, Winston Churchill lamented what he called the "confirmed unteachability of mankind," the unfortunate habit of civilized societies to sleep until danger nearly overtakes them.

Churchill bemoaned what he called the "want of foresight, the unwillingness to act when action will be simple and effective, the lack of clear thinking, the confusion of counsel until emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong.”

I speak here today in the hope that Churchill's assessment of the "unteachibility of mankind" is for once proven wrong.

I speak here today in the hope that we can learn from history -- that we can prevent danger in time.

In the spirit of the timeless words spoken to Joshua over 3,000 years ago, let us be strong and of good courage. Let us confront this peril, secure our future and, God willing, forge an enduring peace for generations to come.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Olympic Games 2016

I am delighted at the news that Rio de Janeiro has been awarded the 2016 Olympics. Rio is one of my Top 10 cities of the World - Paris, New York, Leh (India), Vientiane (Laos), Sydney, Vatican, Amsterdam, Paro (Bhutan) and Ushuaia (Argentina) complete the list.

A beautiful city I visited this stunning metropolis in October 2007 as part of a CIS school inspection and accreditation team.

The school was on split sites and we had four days of running across the city.

One of these school sites bordered on a favela – the shanty town areas on the neighbouring hill-sides, portrayed so amazingly in the incredible movie, The City of God.

About 9am alarms sounded across the area and everyone ordered inside. A police helicopter flew overhead firing semi-automatics below. It took almost an hour for the all-clear signal to sound and life resumes back to normality. And everyone thought i was nuts to live in Bogotá! Never experienced anything quite like that in four years in the capital of Colombia.

The work was full on in Brazil, but I stayed on for a couple of days afterwards to explore this amazing city. Despite the threat of potential danger in several parts, it is stunningly situated and oozes a vitality and energy you cannot find in Europe (or i can´t anyway).

A few photos taken with my old Nikon Coolpix can be found here.

With World Cup 2010 in South Africa, I really should make an effort to be in London for the 2012 Olympics. Mmmmmmm...Rio in 2016? Sounds pretty tempting to me.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Follow-up to THE Love Story

I received a lovely email from Whitney S. the 26 year old American who married a rickshaw driver/owner in Jaiphur after a whirlwind romance.

In a rare Ketchup with Aubs exclusive, Whitney writes:

I'm shocked and flattered that our story has become such a topic of conversation in the world! After all, people fall in love and get married all the time, right?

We did innumerable interviews in Jaipur, many of which had photos and other videos.
We were followed every day after the wedding!

Now I am back in the US and Rishi is in Jaipur. We are applying for visas and all that, but I'm afraid it will be awhile before he can meet my family here. I am supposed to go back to India in January for a big reception thrown by his parents... but I spent ages working and saving for my first trip there, so it will be very difficult.

It is said that Hindus believe a marriage commits you for 7 lives. This is not our first, and at the risk of sounding crazy, I did not marry him after only 4 days... I have known him for centuries. And I am insanely grateful that the universe brought us together in this life as well.

India is a completely magical place!

Whitney passed me a couple of video links, and kindly invites me to her Indian reception. I have warned her that i am definitely there if i´m still in India.

Check out this local TV News footage
or this one from you-tube

Friday, October 2, 2009

Dinner with a Vietnamese Monk

Mhue is a very young-looking 38 year old Buddhist monk from Saigon. He has been resident in McLeod Ganj for 2 years, studying meditation. He is interested in all forms of meditation and Zen – quite unusual for South East Asian Buddhists.

Mhue´s father was killed in the Vietnam war and his elderly mother lost an eye in an American assault in her village. Like almost all Vietnamese, he holds no hostility whatsoever to the US.

I ask him about the differences between the large and small wheel schools of Buddhism. He says he really doesn´t discriminate between the two - it´s just Buddhism.

He invited me round for a dinner of rice, boiled okra and lettuce tofu, spicy sauce and green tea. It´s a really pleasant and mellow evening.

Mhue loves McLeod Ganj and his eyes sparkle as he points out his mountain view from his veranda. He is hoping he will be able to stay for another three years minimum, paid for by his monastery in Vietnam. He pays about a third of my rent, but is somewhat smaller and Spartan. He has a VAIO laptop, a bookshelf packed with Buddhist texts both in Vietnamese and English, and nothing else.

He gives me an open invitation for breakfast and meditation at 5am – i invariably sleep in till 9.30am, but i´ll certainly bear it in mind.

I´ll invite him over soon, although unfortunately he doesn´t drink coffee. Maybe i´ll be able to enlighten him?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Julia Roberts and her Personal Army

The much over-rated Hollywood actress Julia Roberts has called several sensations in India where she is filming a new movie “Eat, Pray, Love”.

In the film, Roberts plays the then 35-year-old Gilbert -- a soul-searching, NYC-based writer, who, in the wake of a bitter divorce undertakes a year-long sojourn to eat in Italy, pray in India and love in Indonesia.

Since arriving in the country on September 17, Roberts and her three kids -- four-and-a-half-year-old twins Hazel and Phinnaeus and two-year-old son Henry -- have stayed at the Pataudi Palace hotel in Pautadi, Haryana, about 60 kilometres outside Delhi.

The Palace is the former abode of Pataudi Nawab and Indian cricket legend Mansoor Ali Khan.

Ryan Murphy, the film's director, and Hollywood actors Billy Crudup, Javier Bardem and Richard Jenkins are also in India, as part of a large group of American and Indian cast and crew. So large, in fact, that every room in the Palace has been booked for the entirety of the team's stay: September 17 to October 9.

41 year old Roberts has been escorted by almost 350 security men, three bullet-proof cars and a helicopter. Not feeling too safe?

'There are more than 100 policemen outside the set at Ashram Hari Mandir and almost equal number inside the premises, both uniformed and in civilian disguise. Nobody can breach this cover and no outsider is allowed to enter the ashram, no matter whosoever he or she is. We have strict instructions,' a Haryana police official told IANS, requesting anonymity.

Clearly, the proverbial Indian summer and the security are intimidating enough to keep even ardent fans away.

There was humidity, heat and buzzing flies. But the international cast and crew were reported also having to contend with incense smoke during the first day's shooting of their movie in this Haryana town.

While shooting at an ashram for a lunch scene Sunday, incense sticks were lit to create a spiritual ambience, but the cast and crew found the scented smoke a major irritant.

'Could you please shift this thing (the 'dhoop' stand) somewhere else, it's making me nauseous,' a character artist told one of the Indian crew.

It hasn´t all been work however. Roberts went to see Swami Dharam Dev in Ashram Harimandir hermitage with her children in nearby Pataudi. He put a marigold garland around her neck and tied traditional red-white mauli thread around her wrist. They were in converstion for almost 30 minutes.

Hindu statesman Rajan Zed has lauded Roberts’ interest in the culture and spirituality of India and urged her to further explore Hindu philosophy, thought and spirituality after returning home in USA.

I guess it´s possible.