At the coffeehouse, on here and now.

“He’s here but he’s not here. He rejects the here, is unhappy with it, wants to be farther up the trail but when he gets there will be just as unhappy because then it will be “here”. What he’s looking for, what he wants, is all around him, but he doesn’t want that because it is all around him.” Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Due to the winter conditions in Macau, the outdoor seats are unoccupied with much of its guests huddle up inside the cosy environment of the coffeehouse. Because of the rent rates, the coffeehouses here in Macau or Hong Kong across the Pearl River, are small in size. There is a sort of cosiness that comes with it.

When we set foot into the coffeehouse to escape the cold weather and to give our legs some rest, it was luck that we found a table with three comfortable padded red chairs. Alongside our beverages, we sat and talked about a myriad of things that had time crept past unnoticeably.

It was serendipitous, to say the least, that we ended up travelling together across the country. What is encouraging is that, here I am, talking to a stranger who lives half way across the earth from me, and it feels natural to just sit and talk. And this stranger is neither the first, nor the last during this trip to Hong Kong that gave me this lasting impression.

During my eight day journey across various places in Hong Kong, I have met different individuals from different backgrounds and all it took to get to know them was a look at each other, a casual hello followed by a “where are you from”. From there, adventure begins, as was written down in the previous post.

In this little adventure of mine, I had experienced the epitome of living here and now – the Zen philosophy that I came across so often in the books.

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Travel Short: Hong Kong

“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.

You are wrong if you think Joy emanates only or principally from human relationships. God has placed it all around us. It is in everything and anything we might experience. We just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living,”  Christopher Johnson Mccandless, excerpt from Into the Wild

It is in this spirit that this trip was made. I was alone for 8 days, and I had an amazing experience. The following are the journal entries I’ve made at the end of each day. Unfortunately I have lost my phone in Macau, and with it, all the travel pictures.

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Liberty and Schmidt, the Little Grey Rabbit

“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does,” Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness (1943)

Tucked in the corner of the garden lies a hole that leads to the rabbit warren. No one knows for sure how many different rabbits it is home to, for they all look the same and are dreadful as they terrorise the hard work of man who possess the luxury of time to do some gardening in their backyard.

Once, a frustrated housewife caught sight of a rabbit gnawing on her hard labour in his backyard during the day. The rabbit, unusually unaware of its surroundings due to the possibility of hunger that results from the natural destruction of habitat, was caught and made an example of.

The rabbit’s family, upon seeing the cruelty of man, decided upon leaving this part of the warren altogether and moved north, into another area of land where the intensity of vigilance is much lesser. For as long as the family could remember, this part of the land had been empty for decades, until the emergence of these hairless creatures, food was in abundance.

The youngest of all rabbit in the family was named Schmidt. Coated with thick, grey fur to protect against the cold weather in Europe, his assigned role for the day was to remain behind the bushes while dad went foraging ahead for food. Little did he know he was about to witness the tragic end of his father being acquainted with a wooden baseball bat.

With the bat on her right arm, she inches slowly from behind, hoping to herself that the rabbit will somehow be complacent and not react to her proximity until it was too late. Two steps away from her target, she leaped off the ground and swung the bat at full strength, with the impact sending the victim flying few feet away from its location.

Shocked and paralysed, Schmidt watched the lady with long angel hair carry his father’s body by its hind legs with her left hand, slinging it over her shoulders. With a sly smile on her face that exudes a sense of pride and arrogance, she yelled:”We’re having stew tonight!” on her way into the house.

As he stood firmly hidden from the world, his eyes were locked to his father’s dead, vacant stare. As if he is still there, but not there. At this point is when Schmidt was reminded that it was his duty to keep watch and to signal if those hairless creatures were to come out. Despite his inexperience, his father’s life was thrust upon him, and paid it with his life.

Schmidt knew not what to feel nor what to do, all that he knew was to never, ever step a foot out in the daylight for as long as he is alive.

Bounded by this rule he set upon himself coupled with the consuming guilt of failure that had resulted death, Schmidt spent his entire life living in the shadows alone, never knowing the warmth of the sun nor of kinship and love, until eventual death took place.

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On the bed, while watching Friends (1994)

As I sat across the bed from my monitor, enjoying a delicious bowl of pecan and oat cereal, with Friends playing on computer,  is when I recall an incident that Phaedrus once shared.

Phaedrus had a habit of watching an episode of Friends every night before he went to bed. Perhaps he had felt lonely back in the days when his first love left him and he had found company in the love that the characters shared; I didn’t ask.

But whatever love he once had for the show he watches ritualistically, it died soon after his chase for pure rationality and reasoning. He lost the connection to the characters on scene and he no longer felt that Ross and Rachel were ever truly in love. His reason being Ross’ early obsession on Rachel; obsession is not love.

It was not pure, and that was against everything that Phaedrus stood for.

Despite this disdain for the characters, something else within the show hooked him and he began to watch the show not for the story itself, but for the writers behind the story. In his eyes, the show is a representation of how the writer thinks human relationship worked in the 90s, and he was determined to tear it all apart to study it.

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At the bar, on good and evil

“Hell is filled with good desires.” -St. Bernard

Sitting across the table, she told me that Hitler had good intentions for protecting the welfare of the state in bid to restore her former glory. That good here may be subjective, because in the eyes of most Germans then, he was doing a good thing despite the death toll of the Jewish people.

I think it is worth noting that the both of us here have very little insight into the history of World War II (WWII). All I knew was that the Germans of that period of space and time had suffered since World War I, and they are looking for a quick escape from their dire situation.

Hitler was their escape.

But here, we are not discussing on an event of the war, but rather, we are exploring how are actions deemed and defined as right.

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At the coffeehouse, on fate.

In war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.” -Sun Tzu

The coffeehouse in Ximen, Taipei comprises of three floors where drinks are ordered at ground level while table and chairs are located at the first and second level. We picked a seat overlooking the busy street below. The simple joy of people watching came upon me as I lose myself in watching people passing me by.

There is a fascination that comes from watching a group after another walking from point A to point B. It is akin to a waterfall, where the water splits into individual droplets and still as whole, moving in one direction.

“What is his/her story?” I pondered.

The momentary joy was interrupted as my friend who got herself comfortable in her seat began to speak. It is a strange place to meet an old friend who had relocated to Melbourne for studies then work here in Taipei. I had only found out that she arrived to Taiwan few days ago via Facebook. A few exchange of messages and text, and here we sat.

As we sat and reminisce, the conversation drifted to a number of issues surrounding our personal lives. Some understanding of what the problem was later, she asked me a question that reminded me much of Phaedrus.

“What is the core of the problem?” she asked. I didn’t hesitate before answering, because I had thought about the problem and talked about it before. The answer I gave was “fate”. Thus it was inevitable that the conversation steer to this:

“What is fate?” asked the girl who I knew since I was twelve.

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The Irrelevance of Certainty

“Nothing’s ever for sure, John. That’s the only sure thing I do know. ” -Charles, A Beautiful Mind (2001)

My relentless pursuit toward rationality came after the end of my first relationship. It was a fierce reaction toward a fierce external event, very primal. At that point of time, I was convinced that by finding all the answers of why had the relationship ended, subsequently devised a solution to the problem, I could avert another similar occurrence in the future.

By having answers toward that branch of event, I believe it would have set me free from any potential future suffering. This stood true only until recently, where a new conclusion came upon me.

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