Posted in culture, history, identity, society, tagged anger, appreciation, beachcomber, beachcombing, boredom, Bornean, Borneo, Buddha, Buddhism, caprice, civilization, cone shell, coral, cowrie, dependence, desert island, East-West, Florida, Gulf of Mexico, hotel, human nature, Kota Kinabalu, limpet, litigation, Malaysia, mindfulness, monkey, nature, Nick Leeson, olive shell, paradise, pirate, presumption, reptile, resort, Sabah, Sanibel, seashell, self loathing, self sufficiency, Shangri-La, shell collecting, snake infested, snakes, South China Sea, Southeast Asia, suffering, Tanjung Arung, Tibet, Tibetan, travel, tropical island, tropics, wild, wilderness, zen on May 27, 2010|
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According to the Tibetans, today is Buddha’s birthday. A prince with everything in the world, he set off on a quest to discover the truth of life. I’m remembering a mindfulness adventure I had this week, fifteen years ago:
Bornean Buddha by A.Ashman
In Borneo, I felt bored and restless at a luxe, manicured Shangri-La resort favored by fugitive rogue traders. Wandering past the watersports shack I asked to go to an outlying island in the South China Sea. No notice to the people I was traveling with, no drinking water, food or cellphone.
The white-uniformed sailor dropped me at the random spot I’d picked from his laminated map. A decrepit picnic bench sagged in the shade of a steep cliff carpeted in greenery, where faceless monkeys screeched. No facilities, no stand selling lunch, no people. Just plastic flotsam and slithery tracks lacing the sand. The hotel boat fishtailed away.
Did they write down where they left me? Lawsuit waiting to happen. Already thirsty. Wait, six-inch wide tracks. From what scaly beasts?
No way I’d approach the trees where those squiggly trails led. I was frying in the tropical sun. Unnerved to cool off in the translucent green water. What if I suddenly ‘had trouble’ swimming, or a shark came? Maybe I could flag down a passing boat to take me back. But these were pirate-infested waters.
Silly overreaching hotel guest, I was going to die on this wild island.
I picked up a 5-liter water jug and started filling it with cones and olive shells glinting among seaweed and garbage. Good stuff. My best vacations were spent shell-collecting in the Gulf of Mexico…Sanibel Island in Florida.
Heavenly new finds here. A true Shangri-La paradise. Zebra-striped scallops. Glossy limpets. Spiky orange coral.
That day as I ringed the tiny island — is that a chickpea cowrie? – I turned the corner on my own nature’s bitter edge.
On this birthday week of Buddha can you name a mindfulness experience you’ve had?
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Posted in culture, history, identity, taboo, tagged British, camphor, colonial, Cool Arts South Sea, empire, expat, foreigner, headhunters, jungle, Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi, LinkedIn, Malacca Straits, Malaysia, memento, monsoon, mosquitoes, Newly Industrialized Country, Pacific Northwest, Penang, pirates, politically-correct, sandalwood, silk, South China Sea, Southeast Asia, souvenir, spices, steamship, Straits Settlements, temples, tourism, trade route, travel, treasure, tropics on September 10, 2009|
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The fresh perspective of an outsider-on-the-inside releases energy from all directions. What strikes us about a place — and may entice our fellow country-people – often does not resonate to the same degree with the average native.
I was pleased to meet an expat woman entrepreneur on LinkedIn last week who was once a director at the American-Malaysian Chamber of Commerce. She now advises the Malaysian Tourism Ministry, sourcing products developed by foreigners so I’ve been revisiting a feverish amusement from a decade ago when I lived in Kuala Lumpur.
To enjoy the Newly Industrialized Country where hand-woven palm frond baskets were fast being replaced by pink plastic bags, I conceived a signature line of Southeast Asian travel mementoes, and a database of purveyors of exotic experiences like this on the island of Langkawi, on the island of Penang, and outside Kuala Lumpur. I called the venture first Cool Arts South Sea and then Flaming East.
Cool Arts South Sea self-image
Inspired by history but not tethered to it, my Flaming East concept embraced the original wonder of the region’s watery crossroads, from the Renaissance’s Age of Discovery (with its empire-building and search for trade-routes) to the steamer trunks-and-servants Golden Age of Travel. All spiked with the delirium only a good bout of malaria could provide….
By the 1990s we were missing the boat, I moaned in my business proposal:
“The part of the world that lies around the South China Sea,” as one European narrator so circuitously referred to it, was once immersed in an illustrious mystique. Pirates and monsoons held sway on the seas while headhunters and mosquitoes did their part in the interior. Yet for several centuries an international set of adventurers, traders, colonizing industrialists and pleasure travelers risked the tropical hazards. Along with Asiatic goods and unimaginable riches, fanciful tales filtered home: of ancient races, shining temples and blue, impenetrable jungle. Even the air was different here, the east wind apparently laden with the aroma of silks, sandalwood, spices and camphor. Well, no longer.”
To be honest, Southeast Asia’s enveloping assault on the senses continued. But colorful naiveté and uncensored awe were in short supply where I came from. Writing about the past of the place caused my politically-correct, Pacific Northwest spellchecker to protest. I was flaming the East! Didn’t I really mean “cinnamon” when I typed “Chinaman”?
Have you envisioned a tourism campaign, service or product for a locale where you’re the outsider-on-the-inside? What does it show about the place, and you?
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