Saturday, 18 April 2009

My Daily Life in London: Humorous Escapades in Food, Ducks and Strange Alleyways

I have a predictable routine or variations thereof,
that I do almost everyday. Recently,a friend of mine, Keith Van Loen,(I playfully call him Lord Van Loen),photographer for Grazia magazine took some 200 odd photos of me of portraying some of my daily routine in London. My daily routine usually consists of eating a traditional hearty English Breakfast at my Hotel, including some really black strong tea.Or if I am not in the mood to talk to the local guests I 'll just have breakfast in my room usually porridge and grapefruit. For lunch, I head over to Whitelys ( the shopping mall) for Lebanese food. So far, I have eaten the same Lebanese food for 10 days and I don't get sick of it. It's always Mujjaddara(Lentils and Rice), Mousakka(Aubergine and Garbanzos Salad) and then some sort of Chicken variation. I love it! Then, I'll have another cup of tea, this time it's China Rose Tea,roses are good for you,so fragrant and elegant. While I am eating I usually brush up on my French. (I finally decided to focus on my French. It was the language of the aristocracy, after all. Many Britons speak French as a second language.) They play Julio Iglesias or the Gypsy Kings in the background and for that time I am so relaxed and in heaven. After that, I head to Kensingston Gardens and walk a bit (walk of the sausages,hehee!, that's right!),get some fresh air and feed the ducks. After that, I go to my office,(the local Internet Cafe)to surf the web,do market research, put my ads up,and do some writing. Then,when I've had enough,I cross the street to Planet Organic (the UK's version of Whole Foods),to have a Chai Latte and have a chat with my friends that work there. Sometimes, I'll go for lunch on Portobello Road down the block and have some really interesting Thai food lunch specials ( just £6-).One day I went on a date there in the afternoon and they were shooting a Bollywood type of movie with this man in pink sari.On days I am more energetic I'll go to a Gallery or Museum for about an hour, check out the artwork or artifacts have a tea and then get their schedule so that later I can come back for a proper tour. Most of the museums are free in London so it's easy just to pop in and out, whenever you have a chance. The Victoria and Albert Museum , is across from Hyde Park and right next to it the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum.If I am in the mood just to escape I'll go to Whitely's Mall,(the oldest shopping mall in London)to the Odeon theater and catch a matinee. Sometimes a really shallow lighthearted movie, is all I need to clear my head and get me motivated for the tasks that lie ahead of me. The last movie I saw was, He's not that into you. When are the going to make, She's not that into you? Perhaps a sequel is in order.

At night, I usually work teaching Spanish, go to a buddhist meeting in Notting Hill, dance class or try to catch a play or a movie. Late a night,I'll go have a glass of wine at my favorite hotel, The Blakemore Hotel or go to this club where they play an intersting mix of two music genres that I absolutely love, Latin and Arabic.Sometimes, I'll check out the Palmyra News that's owned by Pakistanis, they have a lot of chic International magazines and are opened 24 hours. Anyone that knows me knows I am crazy about magazines, so it's a magazinaholics paradise ! They have Russian, Italian and Spanish Vogue. They also carry the posh British magazines like Tatler and Red.

Sometimes late at night,I love going on walks by myself,(or if I am lucky with a friend), especially when it's foggy, because my neighborhood has the most mysterious old world alleys and side streets, that make me feel I am walking in a different century. Very romantic ! It's times like this when I most appreicate being in London. After having some skullcap, passiflora tea I fall asleep with a smile and thank my lucky stars for my beautiful life.

Safiq, Sabrina and Hashim at Queens Hotel

Me at Planet Organic

Feeding the Ducks Kensinston Gardens

Stay Tuned for more

Thursday, 9 April 2009

What's like to be a Buddhist in London: To Trust or Not to Trust

Practicing Buddhism in London, is just like practicing anywhere else in the world.But,I believe that a practice will take on the mores, values,mental landscape of a country.In the recent March 2009, Art of Living magazine (The U.K Nicheren Buddhist Magazine),there was a discussion about a survey that was taken place all over Europe.

In it was discussed the following questions:
1) Generally speaking would you say that most people can be trusted, or that you can't be too careful in dealing with people?

2) Do you think that most people would try to take advantage of you if they got the chance, or would they try to be fair?

3) Would you say that most of the time people try to be helpful
or they are mostly looking out for themselves?

The research found that the UK had the lowest levels of trust
and belonging for every age bracket from 15 -50.Among the factors
which emerge as having a big negative impact on a country’s wellbeing
score are a general fear for crime and a lack of trust in institutions.
Also, the more time is spent watching TV, the more unhappy the country appears
to be.

So,how does a Buddhist practicing in the United Kingdom, reconcile itself in a country where people do not trust each other?
Do you trust people or do you not trust people? Are you damned if you do or damned if you don’t? To trust or not to trust, that is the question. So what do you do as a Buddhist in a country where people are untrustworthy? Where people hardly smile or talk to each other? And, if you do talk to someone on the tube they think your nuts. I say go ahead let them think your nuts. Smile. Talk. Who cares ! What do you have to lose! You can take the girl out of California, but you can’t take California out of the girl ! I am friendly and open. Talking to people, especially strangers gives me immense joy and pleasure. Plus, I am good at it (Lol)! One of my friends once said, I could talk to the person that called that had the wrong number. She's right. So why should I stop being friendly now? Should I think and behave as “When it Rome do as the Romans”? Maybe a little. Should I think yes, I’ll try to be less Californian and more a cynical Londoner.

Don’t you think when you don’t trust people you miss out on opportunities of sharing your life. In your paranoia, you might consider their good intentions, ill. I believe in balance. I believe having the wisdom to know who and when to trust is the best formula for a sane, happy and healthy life. My father always taught me be "spiritually discerning", wherever you are at. Meaning keep your antennaes aware. Most importantly, wherever I am at,"I am the Buddha!" Being the Buddha, I am the best version of myself. So, if the situation calls for it, I trust or don't trust, it depends on the situation.

The other day a woman in the tube station was balling her head off, she sounded so heartbroken, she made me sad. I went over to check up on her.Most people just ignored her, or seemd to be concerned but just did nothing. I thought maybe she had gotten raped or gotten in a big fight with her boyfriend. I went over to her and just said, "Hi are you ok?".I just let her know that I was there and she could talk to me if she wanted to. She kept saying, " Yes, I am alright". But, then she'd keep balling. I rode with her the whole train ride and she was crying the whole time.I asked her again if she was alright? "She said, yes, I am alright." But still kept crying hysterically.

Another similar situation occured at once again the tube station. As I sat down waiting for my train, I took a swig of my water from my big Evian bottle and the girl next to me, asked me," Can I have some of your water?" I said, " I am sorry, no!" She kept asking me like 3 or 4 times.Then,under her breath, she called me a "selfish bitch".I almost slugged her, but I thought to myself she's just pathetic and unhappy girl. My anger or retaliation would not have made things better. So I decided just to summon my buddha nature and be compassionate. I got on the train with her and sat across from her. She started to apologize, " I am sorry, I am so sorry, I am so sorry. I should not have called you that".I went and sat next to her,and befriended her. I told her," It's ok,forget it!" Followed by, "Listen, sister,I don't give anyone my water, not you, not my boyfriend not even my own mother. So, get over it!" She complained to me how unhappy she was( duh!),and how she didn't have money etcetera.Not even to buy a 79 pence bottle of Evian water. I am thinking to myself,yes I can give her my bottle of water, but that won't solve anything.It will not solve her water karma- (which could be taken as a metaphor for her thirst for happiness). Again, she said,"Your so nice and I am so sorry!I gave her a Nam Myoho Renge Kyo card and told her, if she chants she could have all the water in the world, and then some ( LOL !)She said, that she had chanted before.I told her,"keep it up Girl", and walked out of the tube onto the platform. Whoosh !

This is the second time people have asked me for water in the subway. I am thinking to myself, do I have the words Sucker or Nice person on my forehead, because they really don't leave me alone.

Often, in my life, because of my naïveté in thinking everyone is pure
and kind hearted like me,( Not !),I often have been too trusting. In these
occasions, I have hurt myself. I have learned they‘re are weird, strange and
not nice people out there. But, I have also evolved and grown because of my trusting nature, I have had experiences that I normally would not have had if I had been too cautious or too afraid. Slowly, through hard lessons, I have learned that there is a balance to all things,trust included. I don’t regret anything, because it’s better to live your life with an open and trusting heart, rather than being so cynical, and mistrustful that you miss out on the richness of life experiences and the beauty of having known someone, even for just a brief time.

Most recently, I went to a Buddhist Discussion meeting in the Notting Hill area of London.The theme was, Taking Responsiblity for our Lives Enables us to Grow.As you can see the members are from all over the world: England,Brazil, Sweden,India, Poland, China, and America (me and Mary Cavallaro). Afterwards, I always feel really refreshed, optimistic and joyful, no matter
what problems great or small I may be facing. Here are photos of the happy Buddhist members and as you can see they trusted me long enough to take their photos.(Heeheh!)

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