Sunday, May 16, 2004

The Tourist

It's easy to be cynical.

You arrive, get into a routine. Drinks and meals on the hillside rooftops, shopping in the clothes stores, where everything's a bargain by our standards. Whatever you need is here. A bit of yoga, to balance the body and mind. Some cooking lessons, to bring home those exotic tastes, a souvenir of your trip to create and recreate when you've reabsorbed yourself into western life.

The poverty and misfortune around you is disturbing, but what can you do? Maybe give a few rupees to a beggar. He won't recognise you tomorrow. He'll probably ask you again in an hour. A lot of them have leprosy. It makes you stop and think - again - how fortunate you are. But then you meet someone who volunteered at a lepers' hospital. She tells you most of them can be cured but they're able to earn a better living on the streets.

So you harden your heart a little, even though you don't want to. When it softens again it grows calloused in other places. Now it's the other tourists. We're all consumers of the exotic here, dissatisfied with our lives and romanticising the east. Here is where you're going to find a bit of enlightenment, and it's on the cheap. Get a course, get a teacher. You walk through the market and view the fruit and veg. On the wall above the stalls, are the notices of the other market. Reiki, crystals, vipassana, dream interpretation, drumming lessons, tabla. You come to sneer at the buyer. "What about your own culture? You'd probably find as much inner peace doing ballet lessons in Islington. All you have here are a couple weeks and the projections of your wishful thinking."

And then you open. You have to. You talk. This Israeli guy has been studying the tabla. He already plays three or four instruments. He'd like to travel more but his teacher is here. In the autumn he'll follow him to Varanassi, the centre of Indian classical music.

This other guy has been doing Reiki. He explains it. You're disarmed, because he is authentic. I mean, you actually like him. He has a sense of humour. He knows what irony is.

When you decide to try something yourself - even though you're still a tourist, even though it's with no commitment as yet - you remember: here is a real discipline if you want it. Find the right thing and you're reminded: this doesn't exist because we need a choice between lifestyles. For someone, this is what truth looks like.

Above all, you discover the following. How superficial or serious you find anywhere of even minimal complexity, depends on the superficiality or seriousness of your own attitude. When you're cynical, how are you going to see? So too your relationships. Your friendliness and respect will reveal to you people who want to be your friend and already respect you. If you find someone closed and cold or, more commonly, just apathetic and uninterested... it could be they're a wanker. But probably you're seeing your own fear and negativity reflected in the behaviour of those reacting around you.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


all interesting stuff my friend, but this comments page thing is rubbish...

Bring back the guestbook!!!

Alex Stein ;-)

18 May 2004 at 09:51  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hmmn. interesting comments. not sure i agree with you about reflected negativity, but definitely think there's a lot to be said for being open-minded when it comes to trying other disciplines. so how was meditation?
marilyn xx

27 May 2004 at 02:53  

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