Brahma Kumaris


I went to a talk at the Brahma Kumaris centre in Ashfield on Saturday. I hadn't been there in many years, but for some reason I felt called to go and listen to this particular talk, and I'm glad that I did.
The Brahma Kumaris are in a gorgeous old Victorian mansion in Alt St. in Ashfield. It's an imposing place, and the main lecture room is up a series of narrow staircases culminating in a kind of observatory at the top of a tower. It has great atmosphere.
The talk was given by a quiet, unassuming Australian man called Charlie, who I believe is the leader of the Brahma Kumaris here in Australia. I had a headache that afternoon, and was feeling drowsy and grumpy, but Charlie's talk turned out to be amazing. Challenging and insightful, I was impressed by his honesty, and many of the things that he said have remained with me since.
He was talking about how we can cope with the pressures of modern living. He said that we are always seking out pain - whenever we can we will hone in on hurtful emotions, almost as though we want to be depressed, offended and generally unhappy. Charlie said that this was simply a manifestation of ego, or what he called "body consciousness."
There weren't many of us there, and he closed the talk with a lovely meditation (ok, I will admit I dozed off during it) and then some delicious sweets, prasadam I suppose.
After the talk I wandered up to the gorgeous old churchyard in Alt St and spent some time in the cool early evening among the graves. Altogether it was a lovely way to spend an afternoon, and I plan on doing it again soon.

Stopping my headaches


I get headaches a lot. I've suffered from them since I was about 10 years old, and they have grown progressively more painful and regular over the years.
I get bad ones, ones that consume my day and leave me morose, angry and depressed by evening.
The usual pattern is that by 11am or so the headache has begun in full, and doesn't end till I tumble into bed. I actually prefer the days I wake up with a headache, because then I admit to myself that I cannot function. In that case I'll normally shuffle about in the morning, take some medication and then go back to bed around 1 o'clock or so. Then I wake up in the early evening and the headache is mostly gone, or at least so sufficiently muted that I can feel good about life again.
I don't know what to do about this. It's a problem I've had for many years, and it gets worse and worse as I get older. The fact is that most days I am in considerable pain, and doing anything in the evenings is difficult for me. It wreaks havoc on my life, particularly my social life, and because I don't like to sound pathetic or like a hypochondriacal broken record, I often simply cancel engagements with no explanation. This makes people think I am unreliable and/or unfriendly.
I take way too much medication, which in itself contributes to the chronic nature of my problem. But those people who have never experienced severe and chronic pain are rather quick to recommend that I stop using painkillers, as though I have never tried any other methods of pain control. I've tried them all - meditation, yoga, chiropracty, cranio-sacral, massage, reflexology, aromatherapy, Chinese medicine, hypnosis, naturopathy, homeopathy, dietary changes.....and the only thing that really works, and really gives me any sort of relief, is good old-fashioned pharmaceuticals.
I subscribe to a set of spiritual beliefs that claims that pain and illness are not really real, merely accidents of thought and a reflection of negative belief patterns. I believe that, I really do - I am utterly convinced that my headaches are entirely psychosomatic in nature. But horribly, agonisingly real for all that.
You might have guessed that I am in the midst of a terrible headache right now, hence my rather depressive tone. This is the second day, and before this I had a four day long headache, with only a day's break in between. And of course, I need to go out tonight, though my head pounds and I feel nauseous.
So I will go to bed in a minute and pop on a little CD I have which promises to cure headaches.
It never does, but I live in hope.

Daikon Kimchi

I love Kimchi.
Indeed, during certain periods of my life I have been obsessed with it.
When I was young I was much taken with the novels of Edmund White, and in one of them (The Beautiful Room is Empty?) I read with fascination a passage where the narrator has a Korean lover who always smells vaguely of kimchi. Now, I was just a know-nothing schoolboy in North Queensland, and had no idea what kimchi was, but then and there I knew I had to taste it.
Years later I was living in Darlinghurst, and Korean restaurants were only just beginning to spring up. Most of them were hideously expensive, but there was a little place in Kings Cross that was absolutely wonderful, and very reasonably priced. That's where my love affair with kimchi began in earnest. I would eat everything on the menu that contained kimchi, and the middle-aged Korean housewives who staffed the place would endlessly replace the little bowls of it that came with every meal. They became so amused by my love of kimchi that they would prepare a special little kimchi pancake for me every time I came in, and serve it up for free.
I love all types of kimchi (cucumber kimchi and bellflower kimchi are my top 2), but my partner, who shares my passion, is a big fan of daikon kimchi.
Much as I love the stuff, I've never really been very good at making it. It always comes out bland, or too salty.
But I have tried again, preparing a big batch of daikon kimchi because the daikons down at the local shops in Cabramatta looked so big and delicious.
I like my kimchi garlicy.
And with ginger - I think that is a Vietnamese aberration. But it's kinda nice.
And the cookbook I consulted also listed ginger as an ingredient.
I saved some of the daikon to make soup with tonight.
Cut it up.
Mixed the ingredients.
And here is one container of the finished result.
Should be ready in a day or two, so I will let you know how it goes.

In the Mood for Love




Wong Kar Wai's masterpiece In the Mood for Love is a film I love more and more each time I see it.

It is a frankly bizarre film, with suitable touches of Wong Kar Wai signature surrealism. Sometimes I simply don't know what was happening. And the whole Cambodian ending, coming completely out of left field, is really little more than a cinematic love-letter to Angkor Wat. This cavalier approach to narrative is, I think, quite common in Hong Kong cinema, and whether Wong Kar Wai does this sort of thing intentionally or merely reflexively is anyone's guess.

Maggie Cheung shines as the cheated-against Mrs. Chan. Her performance is a smouldering tribute to internalised rage, and she is just magnificent at all times. Tony Leung Chiu Wai is also wonderful as the quietly sexy, chain-smoking cuckold Mr. Chow. I just love that, even out of heels, Maggie is quite a few inches taller than Tony, but it doesn't seem to matter a bit. The chemistry between them is at all times utterly believable, as is the clumsy radnomness of their fateful affair. Both affect a sangfroid that belies an intensity of emotion and sexual frustration that is as rooted in Chinese culture as it is in the script of this particular film.

Of course, everyone constantly sings the praises of the design of this film, and Wong Kar Wai is famous for utilising the most extraordinary locations to evoke a particular sort of nostalgia for a long-gone Hong Kong. Indeed, at times Maggie Cheung is almost upstaged by her exquisite cheong-sams. Maria N. Ng, in her memoir of Hong Kong and Macau, writes that the scene in which the lovers go to eat at a Western restaurant is one of the most perfect and emblematic moments of realism in Hong Kong cinema. The films soundtrack is also a masterpiece, and has many fans all on its own.

But the film is not a piece of realism. The film's effects border on the magical, and the fact that such unusual devices are employed to tell a simple and psychologically harrowing love story is quite unique. In the Mood for Love is regularly acclaimed as one of the very best examples of Hong Kong Cinema, and I think rightly so.

Laos


I'm going to Laos in November, more or less on a whim.
Originally we were booked in to go to the Writers' Festival in Ubud, but after the bombings in Jakarta I'm afraid I rather lost heart, and so to Laos it is.
Why Laos? Well, I've never been there. I've wanted to go for at least 15 years, and indeed, on several occasions I have planned to go, but something has always stopped me. But now I am certain, the tickets are booked, and I am leafing through my ancient copy of Spoken Lao In 16 Lessons.
I'm not certain how we'll get there though. I have a rather romantic notion of sailing up to Luang Prabang on a boat from the Thai border, but the details of this are still a little sketchy. Doesn't it sound fabulous though?
I have been fascinated with Laos for many years. It is such a forgotten little corner of the world, and I think I have read almost every book ever written on it (which is not much of a boast). I happen to live in a section of Sydney that boasts a large number of Laotian migrants, and regularly visit Lao restaurants. I also have contacts at the Lao temples dotted about the district.
What's not to love about Laos? The beautiful people, the delicious food, the exquisite religion....I'm already there in my head.
Anyone who has been to Laos, please contact me - I want some tips and pointers.
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