As always, my vacation is a working vacation and my journey is a journey of self-discovery and self-creation. I go as the spirit moves me when and where it feels right to go, not so much seeking, but taking things as I find them and trying to understand my reactions to them, my likes and dislikes, the pleasures and discomforts, the delights and annoyances. I find myself to be more outgoing and gregarious when I travel, impelled by my desire to connect, to be less separate, to be more the participant than the observer. What is life, after all, than a mosaic of experiences that we create for ourselves in order to discover who we are and who we wish to become.
This is a primary lesson of my literary companion on this particular sojourn, Book 2 of Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations With God. It has provided additional insights, and confirmation of many things I have known at some level to be true. The idea of a conversation with God will seem blasphemous to many who have been reared in religious traditions that place God above and beyond humans, but there is plenty of confirmation, for instance in the Bible, and probably in Islam, as well other religious writings that makes it plain that God is with us, that God is love, that God does not judge or condemn us, that we are in fact God. Did not Jesus say, The Father and I are one? Does the Bible not say that Jesus was the first-born of many brethren? This “birth” is a shift in consciousness, for as Walsch puts it, You must stop seeing God as separate from you, and you as separate from each other. Is this not what it means to love the Lord thy God, and thy neighbor as thyself.
When I finished Book I of Conversations With God a couple months ago I found little to disagree with, but there were two points I cannot accept. First, Walsh’s (God’s) view of reincarnation seems to be one that sees the personality (the individual consciousness) as surviving and reincarnating through many lifetimes. I have seen no evidence for that. Obviously, life keeps manifesting in new bodies, but it seems to me that each is a unique manifestation, like each snowflake is a unique manifestation of the phenomenon we call snow. Yes, there is something that we all share, something which is the essence of life, the source of all, what we may call God. And when we identify with that, there is no need to hold onto the idea of a separate self that comes back into a new body. This, after all, seems to be the sum of what Walsch (God) is saying.
The second point of disagreement is about the use of alcohol. Walsch seems to take the position that total abstinence is an ideal to be sought after. Granted that alcohol is much abused in our world, but so are so many other things, and such an extreme position is at variance with everything else in his book and ignores the fact of the many beneficial effects of moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages. They are, first of all, anti-septic, so a bit of wine or beer or tequila with a meal may help to ward off the ill effects of contaminated food, which is quite common in most countries. Medical research has shown that a bit of wine has a positive effect upon cardio-vascular health, and then there is its capacity to “make men merry” and promote conviviality.
Book II has some interesting things to say about human sexuality and geo-politics, but I’ll leave comment on that for another time.
Regarding my usual work in the realm of “transformation restructuring” I’ve continued while “on the road” to maintain my fairly regular email correspondence. Malaysia has an abundance of internet cafes, and many hotels and guesthouses provide internet access, some free of charge. Much as I wanted to travel light, I could not bear to leave my laptop behind. It is, after all, my primary work tool, memory bank, and main link to the world. So instead of being burdened with only a small backpack, I must carry a computer briefcase as well (I left the rest of my stuff in Auroville). Fortunately, it’s still a manageable burden to carry between stopping places if I don’t try to walk too far.
The monetary education project has made some good progress. Just prior to my departure from Auroville, Manuel and I did some significant work editing the audio records of some of my recent presentations and adding the edited files as sound tracks to the respective power point slide shows. One of these, Money, Power, Democracy and War, has been added to the slide shows at our main website, http://reinventingmoney.com; another, The End of Money and the Liberation of Exchange, which was presented at the International Conference on the Gold Dinar Economy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (July 24, 2007), will soon be added. I’ve also added some new posts and pages to my blogs. See especially beyondmoney.wordpress.com.
Going Places Doing Things
Since emplaning at Chennai on June 14, I’ve spent time in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and now Langkawi. I’ll leave aside the more personal details for eventual face-to-face conversations and make this more of a tips-for-travelers report and description of where I’ve been.
One thing that will be of interest to Americans who travel extensively abroad is my experience at the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur (KL). Five years into my current (10 year) passport I’m finding that most of the visa pages are filled up, so I made it a point to visit the embassy to have some supplemental pages added. This can be done up to four times before one must get a new passport. If done at an U.S. Embassy in a foreign country this service is free of charge.
After phoning for instructions, and learning that one must report between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m., I took the light rail train to the closest stop, then walked the rest of the way (another 15 minutes) in a light intermittent drizzle.
As you would expect, security around the embassy was pretty tight. There is a glassed-in cage (no doubt, bullet-proof) at street level where one must first report the nature of one’s business. After gaining admittance there, one must pass through a metal detector and allow a search of any bags or parcels. I was required to leave my briefcase containing my digital camera and digital voice recorder there before receiving my visitor’s pass and proceeding into the next building.
There I entered a waiting room containing 25 or 30 chairs and 6 or 8 service windows, a scene much like what I’ve seen at the motor vehicle offices in Tucson. Each person receives a number and then proceeds to one of the windows when called. Most of the people there were Malaysians seeking visas to enter the United States. Each was interviewed (interrogated) by an examiner, no attempt being made to keep the interview private. In the short time I was there it appeared that those who were professional employees of big companies, who being sent to the U.S. on business, had no trouble being approved, while others had little chance of getting a visa.
The first night in KL, I stayed at the same five star hotel where I had stayed on the previous trip but when I discovered that the price had gone up and the service had gone down I decided to stay just one night and find other more reasonable lodging. I moved the next day over to the Winsin Hotel, a clean, well managed, centrally located lodging which at RM 88 (eighty-eight Malaysian ringits, or about US$ 26) was priced at less than a third of the first hotel. Winsen Hotel is just a couple blocks from the Central Market, close to Chinatown, and within walking distance of three light rail stops and the main bus station. Both Chinatown and the Central Market are major features that make KL distinctive and are popular with tourists.
This time, being at leisure and having no presentations or work assignments, I was able to get around a bit more and learn something about the city. I discovered the biggest indoor mall I’ve ever seen just at the Imbi monorail stop. I think it’s called the Times Square Mall. It has 10 or 11 levels, each crammed with a variety of shops and eateries. Later, I discovered another very large mall at the Twin Towers. This one seemed almost as big but with more upscale shops. I mention this, not because malls are of any interest to me, but just to give you the flavor of the place. It amazes me that so many of these shops are able to find a sufficient market for their overpriced goods to stay in business.
On Tuesday (Sep 18) I headed north to Penang. It was a six hour ride in a comfortable air-conditioned coach over the smooth and well maintained Malaysian freeways; quite a contrast to my experiences in India. Arriving at Georgetown, the capital city, around 6 in the evening, I agreed to share a taxi with a young couple who had arrive with me on the bus. We were both headed for Ferringhi beach, a half hour ride to the northwest of the city. Ferringhi means “foreigner” so that gives you some idea of what the place is like. There are a number of luxury resort hotels, including a Holiday Inn, strung out along the road that parallels the beach. I opted for one of the guesthouses that are clustered together a bit farther up. Ali’s guesthouse seemed the best of the lot and cost me RM 65. The room was adequate but had no A/C, only a fan. The place was on the beach but neither the beach nor the water seem all that inviting. The ambience of that part of the beach was dominated by the Mosque just behind which loudly broadcast call-to-prayers that continued late into the night and started again early the next morning. I checked out by noon the next day and took the public bus back to Georgetown.
To cut a long story short, I ended up following a trio of backpackers, who seemed to know where they were heading, down a street that had a number of guesthouse signs. They unwittingly led me to the place where I ended up staying for four days. The SD guesthouse was clean, modern, well-managed, friendly, and cheap. I decided to splurge for an air-conditioned, double room at a price of RM 35 ( a bit over $10). I could have had a single without A/C for half that. Sharing bathrooms proved to be no great inconvenience.
On Friday (Sep 22) I visited the Penang National Park which is situated at the extreme northwest corner of the island. This 1381 hectare (3412 acres) preserve, established as a park in 2003, seems to be an undiscovered treasure. More details at http://www.tourismpenang.gov.my/article.cfm?id=93.
For RM 2 ½ one can ride the U101 bus from Georgetown to the park office and trailhead. The trail to the first couple beaches was quite easily managed in sandals but, after making a short foray beyond I decided that the trail to Monkey Beach would require more appropriate footwear. The second beach, where I spent a pleasant couple of hours, is home to a University research station, which on this occasion seemed to be deserted. Although it was a bit past noon, I had the beach virtually all to myself.
My advice to others going to Penang is this. Unless you want to stay at one of the luxury resort hotels, forget Ferringhi beach and stay in Georgetown. You’ll find plenty of interesting things to do there and much better socializing with other visitors and residents. For a beach experience, pack your bathing suit, a towel, and a picnic lunch and take the bus to the National Park. You’ll find the scenery prettier and the beaches cleaner in the park. If you don’t feel like hiking, you can hire a boat to take you by sea to the beaches. The cost of the ride for up to 8 people is RM. 80 (less than 3 dollars each for a full boatload).
On Sunday (Sep 24) I caught the fast ferry from Penang to Langkawi Island, a pleasant three hour ride. Langkawi is purportedly the most beautiful island off the west coast of Malaysia. For the past two days I’ve been enjoying Cenang beach along with numerous other tourists, mostly foreigners but also a few Malaysians. My beachfront bungalow is quite adequate, the beach is clean, the water warm, and there is pretty good food available at the various nearby restaurants. More about Langkawi in my next report.
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