Archive for the 'Life in Thailand' Category

07
Dec
11

Nang Ua & Thao Khulu

While doing translations for the orchid exhibition of Royal Flora Rachaphruek 2011, I came across this intriguing story.

There is an old folktale from the Isaan region of Thailand, a tragedy about star-crossed lovers, Prince Khulu of Kali and a girl named Ua from Puttarach. They fell in love, but her mother had promised her hand in marriage to another man. Ua refused and hung herself rather than marry another man. Heartbroken, Prince Khulu stabbed himself to death. In the end, their souls were reunited in heaven. It is said that a white blossom grew where Ua killed herself, while a yellow flower appeared where Prince Khulu died.

Local folks believed that each flower was imbued with their spirit, so they were not supposed to be grown at home. They also say that wherever a “Nang Ua” orchid grows that a “Khulu” orchid can be found nearby. This is thus the origin of a local Isaan adage which translates, “Wherever you see Khulu, you will find Nang Ua.”

I could not find much about this legend on Google, but I wonder how old the story is. It bears striking resemblance to Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, but it seems very possible that this version originated independent of Western influence (though Romeo and Juliet first appeared at the end of the 16th century, so it may well have morphed telephone game-style along ancient trade routes). Does this mean that young doomed love is a universal concept?

In case you are wondering what the flowers in question look like:

Thao Khulu Orchid

Nang Ua Orchid

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25
May
11

Debating about Debating

 

Right now the English-language speaking community within Thailand (and their concerned observers overseas) is all a-twitter about whether or not caretaker PM Abhisit of the Democrat Party is going to debate Puea Thai’s choice for PM,Yingluck Shinawatra.  There are myriad reasons being posed as why they should (or should not) which better blogs out there are going in great detail over.

My personal opinion is that, as someone who has successfully run a large-scale business like SC Assets, Yingluck could probably hold her own against the silver-tongued Abhisit, but there really would be nothing of substance to emerge with regards to policy. (Has any politician ever been taken to task for what was said or promised in a debate? They are frankly just as meaningful as pre-season scrimmages in sports.)

From my experience, Thailand just does not have much of a culture of debate.  Sure, you occasionally hear of Thai school kids who do well in an international forensics competition, but the default mode of deference to age and station makes it difficult in most everyday situations for Thais to risk “selling their face” in order to present and defend a position, in a limited amount of time, with the possibility of being told you are wrong and have definitively lost. (And besides, all those “na krub” and “na ka” can really eat into your two- minute rebuttal.)

The essence of winning a debate is to present your position in a clear and compelling manner that could sway the truly unbiased observer to your viewpoint.  It’s not really so much about being right (as in some competitions you have to be ready to argue for OR against any issue), but more about who is the best at convincing others they are definitely right (or at least less wrong and less appealing than the other guy.)

So herein lies perhaps the only reason for undecideds to see a debate: Who do you perceive as best equipped to lead Thailand?

A lot of folks seem to ignore or discount the fact that there is a whole world out there, most of which could care less about Thailand and some who (openly or not) root for us to fall on our faces.  It’s a harsh reality, and you need someone not only strong enough to face down his fellow countryman (or woman) but also to the juggernauts who, if they really wanted to, could hurt us with a few policy adjustments that would scarcely be noticed by their half billion or billion plus citizens.

In a way, the debate environment is like a laboratory crucible, that would place candidates under a fair amount of pressure and see how they deal with it.  Do they smirk, thinking they are the smartest one in the room? Deflect a difficult question with vague, wonky technospeak?  Or do they make you feel like they understand a problem just like you do and their approach to dealing with it is inspired?

Now it may not work, or rather probably will not work, if neither side takes it seriously, taking for granted that they can spin the perceived outcome, or if we focus more on how someone dressed or did their hair. 

It was framed as more a discussion than a debate, but I remember when the Red Shirt honchos sat down across the table with government leaders on live TV last year to try to hash out their problems.  It was fascinating theater, and on the surface heartening that two sides could try to work things out.  But after the obligatory pleasantries, it just became another disappointing “he said, he did” round of finger-pointing which likely had negligible impact on the heavy-handed crackdown to follow.

Now whoever wins the upcoming election should be able to focus on what really matters for Thailand as a whole rather than having to devote significant resources to defending against domestic rivals.  But you don’t have to be a cynic to know that is unlikely in our current nose-cutting, face-spiting environment.  In the meantime we are all left doing a somewhat enjoyable, yet ultimately pointless and soul-draining exercise of “mass debating.”

Yes, you can go blind from that too.

10
Apr
11

Where to eat?

On Twitter, @Beijingwithkids asks:
I have to entertain 3 generations, early dinner, Thai food but must have some not so spicy for kids and grandfather. Ideally historic or beautiful or interesting building setting, if that’s not asking too much! Thanks!!

Dear Jacqueline:

Thanks for asking, I am honored to be part of the #bkkfatty collective, and will give you my two cents.

Your parameters narrows it down a little bit, so I took out places that might seem too romantic (you want kids friendly I assume), but still authentic.

Actually, there are too many good restaurants that I could recommend, but I decided to pick the ones that give you a very good selection of Thai dishes that you can enjoy together based on geography. In Bangkok, you don’t want to waste time in traffic if there is something very good nearby, and I am assuming you would prefer not to eat in a hotel.

 

If you want riverside dining:

The most perfect one I can think of is Supatra River House is on the Thonburi side across from the Oriental Bangkok, right on the Chao Phraya river (266 Soi Wat Rakhang, Arun Amarin Rd, Tel: 02-411-0305)

If you are near the Silom/Sathorn Area:
There are quite a few good places, I recommend (in my order of preference) Blue Elephant is renowned, a little bit fancy but one of the best around (233 South Sathorn Rd, Tel: 02-673-9353), Baan Khanitha (69 South Sathorn Rd, Tel: 0-2675-4200 to 1) gorgeous converted house, mouthwatering curries, Ban Chiang (14 Soi Sriviang, Surasak Road Tel: 02-236-7045, 02-266-6994) another beautiful converted old house, Anna’s (118 Soi Saladaeng, Silom, Tel: 02-632-0619) very popular with westerners both local and visiting. Advanced reservations is a good idea for all of them.

If you are around Siam Square/Maboonkrong (MBK) Center:

The Jim Thomson House has a fine restaurant in their fascinating compound, so you could go take a tour and stay on for dinner at Thompson. (6 Kasemsan Soi 2, Rama I Rd, Tel: 02-612-3601)

If you happen to be stuck in Siam Paragon, go to the ground floor to Cafe Chilli (Tel: 02-610-9877 to 78) for some yummy northeastern Isaan cuisine, with both indoor and outdoor dining.

If you will be between Asok and Emporium:

I love the charm of Ruen Mallika (189 Sukhumvit Soi 22, Tel: 02-663-3211 to 2) while Mahanaga (2 Sukhumvit Soi 29, Tel: 0-2662-3060) is also lovely.

If you are anywhere near Thong Lo, you have to check out Soul Food Mahanakorn (56/10 Sukhumvit Soi 55 (Soi Thonglor)
Tel. 085-904 2691, Read more here: http://www.cnngo.com/bangkok/eat/soul-food-mahanakorn-348453#ixzz1J9djUVHI)

If you in the mood for incredible, authentic seafood in a local setting there is Sornthong Restaurant 2875, Rama 4 Rd, 02-258-0118.  Book ahead, because it is always packed.  Somboon Seafood (various locations) has the best stir-fried curry crabmeat ever, supposedly.

In my neighborhood (Langsuan Rd.) our favorite Thai restaurant is Krua Nai Baan tel 02-253-1888. Really good value and perfect for foodies and families. Also a good idea to book ahead.

And finally, if you are looking for something to do on a weekend during the day, head just outside of Bangkok to Suan Sampran, Rose Garden Riverside (http://www.rosegardenriverside.com) to their restaurant Inn Chan, which is open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for dinner. It is a beautiful wooden restaurant over a quiet little river, with incredible food at a great price. Perfect for the family.

These are just a few ideas for you, I’m sure some of my friends will be kind enough to corroborate, or offer their own ideas in the comments section below.

Sawasdee,
Jack

30
Dec
10

Vintage Erotica: The Uncle’s Slipper

This evening, Jirayut Wattanasin, frontman for legendary Thai rock band Nuvo, shared a multi-part tale on his Twitter account (@khunjirayut)which had his thousands of followers glued to their computer screen. With his permission, I have translated it for the international audience to enjoy. We hope you do, as I’m sure he has many more stories to tell.

***

Tonight’s “Vintage Erotica” is suitable only for mature audiences. Okay, you don’t have to be mature, but you should be at least 18+.

In 1992, this was the heyday of Bangkok nightlife. Whether it was discotheques, clubs, pubs, or bars, no one was running under any restrictive laws or social order campaigns.

The police didn’t know how to stop the flow of recreational drugs coming into Thailand, and our story takes place in one notorious little pub in Silom Soi 4 called “Milk Bar.”

In that area, there were other establishments like Bar Rome which made Silom Soi 4 the party mecca back in the day. But Milk Bar was where you found all the celebrities, as all the good-looking actors and hot models would congregate here to drink, dance, and hook up.

A skinny, scruffy old man in his 50’s we called Uncle Tong was seen frequently walking up and down the street back then. People assumed he was a local shop owner or something of that order, but no one knew for sure who he was nor exactly what he was doing there every night.

One evening, one of these lovely fashion models held her birthday party at Milk Bar. And many of her beautiful model friends came to join the festivities, all dressed super sexy.

Now Milk Bar was very narrow and small, merely the size of one shophouse, and only had one small lavatory in the back for both men and women. Back then it was so free, you could smoke cigarettes inside or do whatever you wanted, and that bathroom was the site of many an illicit activity.

Sometimes three guys would go in together, or perhaps a guy and a girl, staggering out in a cloud of smoke…or bursting out with eyes wide as saucers. (Perhaps from some kind of scientific endeavor? Or maybe a sporting venture? I’ll leave it to your imagination.)

Since the bathroom was tiny and filthy, when it was a guy and a girl in there, they must have been perched on the sink or hugging the toilet in all manner of loving acrobatics.

The old Uncle was walking back and forth that evening as usual, no doubt checking out the young ladies, similar to an old fighter shadow boxing, nostalgically remembering his glory days in the ring.

Some of us theorized he was saving up mental pictures to pleasure himself to later that night, for what else can a guy in his fifties hope for?

On that evening Milk Bar was packed with hot models. Though Uncle had never actually been inside before, he decided to take the bold chance of coming in. The owner, a chubby fellow named Polla, was reluctant to make him leave, as the pub was packed and he didn’t want to cause a scene.

Uncle took a seat at the corner of the bar near the bathroom, scanning the room intently like an inspector or a landlord, and so nobody dared bother him. He took visual measurements of every model in the room, greedily engorging himself on the plentiful eye candy.

All of the sudden, he got up and marched towards the bathroom. Three guys (eyes as wide as watermelons) were just coming out as Uncle walked in, locking the door behind him.

He had cut the queue in front of a young female model waiting to use the bathroom. She figured it was one guy, so if he had to urinate she wouldn’t have to wait more than 3 minutes…or maybe 7-8 minutes at most if he had to do the other thing.

After a few minutes, she turned back to the bathroom thinking it was now free. She went to turn the doorknob, when she heard the old man say with a heavy Chinese accent, “Mee kong [somebody is in here].” Thinking nothing of it, the girl turned back to talk to her friend.

A couple minutes later, she tried the door once more, and again Uncle said, “Mee kong.” Finally, the girl couldn’t take it anymore and started banging on the door.

“How long are you going to be, old man?” she yelled, “I have to peeeeee!” The Uncle recognized from her voice that she was the beautiful young thing with a banging body. Hearing this famous model whining “I have to peeeee!” gave the old codger extra motivation to finish himself off, and soon he was erupting like a volcano of lust. And as he was reaching his climax, he moaned “Mee kong! Mee kong! Meeeeeee Koooooonnnnngggg!!!”

Another couple minutes passed. The old man finally emerged from the lavatory and walked straight out of the pub. The model was overjoyed that she would finally get to use the toilet.

As she stepped into the cramped bathroom, she slipped and almost toppled over. The bathroom floor was covered in…something slippery.

***

On behalf of the Vintage Erotica team, thank you for following along. You can catch us again at the Insomnia Theater. This tittilating tale was brought to you by Jo New View a.k.a Jo-Nuvo.

19
Dec
10

Blanket Solutions

Today on Twitter, a discussion spontaneously occurred when @tulip_oum posted the following:

From: @Tulip_Oum
Sent: Dec 19, 2010 2:42p

18 ChiangRai’s districts declared cold-spell disaster zone, more than 260,000 still lack of blankets and winter clothing./ @news1005fm

So I replied…

From: @JackPrinya
Sent: Dec 19, 2010 2:46p

@Tulip_Oum That’s terrible, but what happens to all the blankets that are donated in previous years? Why is there a shortage every year?

And a few people responded that the donated blankets and clothing were being sold, to which I proposed:

From: @JackPrinya
Sent: Dec 19, 2010 3:15p

@f_dinkum @freakingcat @Tulip_Oum Maybe some1 should collect donated blankets at end of cold season? Clean and bring them back as needed?

And Dave posed an excellent question:

From: @daveoli
Sent: Dec 19, 2010 3:38p

@JackPrinya just a curiosity, but wonder what the carbon footprint would be to retrieve/clean/store vs making a new blanket?

My guess is reusing old blankets would have less of an environmental impact than making new ones every year.

For new blankets, you have to harvest the raw materials, spin it into yarn, dye and weave it, then transport to storage before distributing it to each village.

Recycled blankets go through the same process once, then collected, cleaned, disinfected and mended, stored, before distribution again.

I think it would likely save money as well, from what seems to have become a de facto blanket racket.

What do you think?

10
Dec
10

Help Me Tony Robbins, You’re My Only Hope

I always have very vivid dreams, but most of the time they slip from my memory like fogged breath on a mirror as soon as I wake up. But last night’s was so strange, it stayed with me until now, almost 18 hours later.

I don’t recall the entire dream, just the end. Out of nowhere, I saw Tony Robbins. Now it wasn’t like the time I saw Shu Qi in real life, where I just didn’t know what to say. I just went right up to him and shook his hand and started asking him for free life coaching advice.

Now I’m sure this happens to the real Tony Robbins all the time, and I assume he’s probably not disinclined to dropping gratis crumbs of wisdom for the unwashed, undermotivated masses. At any rate, my Inception Tony Robbins was a very gracious and nice guy, who shook my hand and listened intently with a smile when I told him I could use some help putting my life in order.

He said “Of course, buddy. The first thing you need to do is get off that unicorn.”

And lo and behold, I was thoughtlessly sitting astride an actual unicorn. Sheepishly, I dismounted more embarrassed by my rudeness than in any way fazed by the fact that a unicorn existed. I was tingling in anticipation for the answers that would lead me to success and riches.

Suddenly, the grating, mocking melody of my BlackBerry alarm
clock yanked me out of my dream. I quickly pressed Dismiss and tried to return to sleep. But the tidal wave of consciousness had crushed my delicate sand castle dream, thereby killing Inception Tony Robbins.

And what makes this even more lamentable was that today is a holiday (Constitution Day. Woot!) so I was in no real rush to wake up.

What else was Dream Tony Robbins going to tell me? I probably would have forgotten it all anyway. But I did catch a faint echo as I was being wrenched into reality.

“All the answers you need are in my book. Order it todayyyyyy!”

17
Aug
10

Deciphering Deepak Chopra

Dr. Deepak Chopra, click to visit his website

Recently, I had an opportunity to conduct a freelance interview with acclaimed holistic medicine practitioner, Dr. Deepak Chopra, on his latest visit to Bangkok.  The interview will appear in Thai in next month’s LIPS Magazine, but I wanted to share it with anyone who is interested.  He is definitely a fascinating man to speak with, and as someone who has always felt meditation would be very useful in my life (if only I had the time, patience, and quiet surroundings to do it regularly) speaking with him gave me encouragement to take baby steps towards enlightenment.

My inner editor has cleaned up the text I submitted to LIPS for translation, because making it easy to read and easy to translate are sometimes incongruous.  This first version is clean copy, if I had to edit it for my own magazine (we focus on luxurious and romantic travel, so even though I have say over what to include, it would not fit with the rest of the content).  The second version is what I emailed for translation into Thai, for anyone who is curious about my writing process, has an appreciation for bridges spanning the nuances of Thai and English language (and syntactic culture) or simply likes to play “spot the differences.”

Deepak Chopra: The Spirit Guide

In the untamed fields of alternative medicine and holistic health treatment, the name Dr. Deepak Chopra stands out as one of the luminaries. Beginning his career as a board-certified endocrinologist, he later shifted his focus to alternative medicine, writing more than 56 books which have been translated into 35 languages (including Thai) and selling more than 20 million copies worldwide. Among the many awards he has garnered, his books Peace Is the Way won the Quill Awards and The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of your Life received the Nautilus Award.

My conversation with him took place at the Peninsula Plaza Hotel, and my first sighting of him was a bit of a shock; I had seen many photos of him with luxuriant hair, but here he was standing before me, hair close-cropped, almost bald.  He did radiate amazing calmness, however. My father, a skeptic who cares nothing of pop culture (and wouldn’t know a Gossip Girl from a Lady Gaga), has even read some of his work.  Dr. Chopra was kind enough to sign his book, recently translated into Thai, Reinventing The Body, Resurrecting The Soul, for my father.

While it may be hard for some to grasp some of his advanced conceptual notions of spirituality and the universe, his suggestions pertaining to our day-to-day life and small changes we can make to improve our quality of life made perfect sense.  I felt a sense not so much of a leader using cult of personality on the blindly devoted, but a teacher who lets others follow in his example.

Chopra had been in Thailand for almost two weeks, but had been here to visit many times.  The last occasion was about 5-6 years ago when he was participating in an Ayurvedic course at the famed Chiva-Som Resort in Hua Hin.

On this trip, along with visiting a forest monetary near Ayutthaya, Chopra was actually ordained as a Buddhist monk. For one week, in a remote Chiang Rai temple, his head was shaved (which explained his appearance), he chanted in Pali, and woke before dawn to go on alms rounds to surrounding villages with the other monks.

When asked of his impression of Thailand and Thai people, Chopra said he found people here “are generally happier, extremely polite, exceptionally friendly, and enormously generous.”  With much genuine feeling about Thailand, he added, “It is a beautiful culture.”  When asked if his ordination as a Buddhist monk was the highlight of this trip to Thailand, he said it was most definitely, and to be frank, it was the highlight of his trip anywhere.

Chopra started his foray in alternative medicine with Ayurvedic traditions, but has since expanded his field of knowledge to many other cultures, such as that of Native American Indians, holistic health movements all over the world, as well as Buddhism, which he describes as “possessing a very strong base for understanding human consciousness and how it relates to our physiology, and gives keys to self-regulating our healing systems.”  According to Chopra, Buddhism gives us the essential basis to understanding how the body can be affected by emotions, creativity, and what Buddhism calls the “divine attitudes:  loving-kindness-happiness.”  And it is not just our physical well-being; the benefits [of following Buddhist tenets] go towards our social, environmental, financial, and career well-beings, as he states they are all connected.

With regards to how holistic medicine can complement traditional medicine, Chopra explained that traditional medicine is very useful for acute situations.  “If you catch pneumonia, you need to take antibiotics.  If you break your leg very badly, you might have to go to an orthopedic surgeon.  But when you look at chronic problems like heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disorders, genetic diseases, or addiction, holistic treatment is much better.  But people need both [traditional and holistic medicine].”

For tips on what a layman could do right away to improve their overall health, Chopra immediately answered with “Vipassana meditation, regular exercise, good amount of sleep, and proper diet.”  Chopra also mentioned that Thai food is some of the very best in the world when it comes to healthy eating.  “You find a variety of flavors and colors, and research shows that the more rich a food is in flavors and colors, the more phytochemicals it contains.  These are chemicals that are derived from the energy of the sun, and are important for healing,” said Chopra.  It sounds so simple these important keys to health are summarized: diet, exercise, sleep, and Vipassana meditation.

When it comes to meditation, many people are interested in it but find it difficult to achieve the results they expect and find it frustrating that they cannot silence their ever-present inner dialogue.  I asked Chopra to give me an important early practice on the road to proper meditation.  He answered:

You should start with trying to simply be mindful of just one thing every day. For example, you may tell yourself, “Today, I will be mindful of sensations in my body.” or “Today, I will be mindful of my breath.” On another day, be mindful of speech, and another day, be mindful of movement.  If we just do this little bit every day, we will start to experience stillness.

“It will not happen like this,” he said as he snapped his fingers, “But you will feel better anyway.  You will not be so reactive.”

Chopra stated that the best part of Vipassana meditation is that, “It has an immediate effect on calming you down, not as likely to get angry and lose your temper or feel anxious.  That is a great bonus right away.  Stillness of the mind and enlightenment? That comes much later.”

As far as physical benefits that come with meditation, the immediate ones are: lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, and less likelihood of insomnia and anxiety.  According to Chopra, the long term benefits—strengthening the immune system and slowing down aging—are amazing. “There are about 15 biological indicators for aging, including blood pressure, bone density, body temperature regulation, and cholesterol level, all of them are affected positively by meditation.”

His grounding is in Ayurvedic medicine, which is based on meditation, specific diets for certain body types, mind-body techniques based on understanding of consciousness to regulate the body, and awareness of the five senses (sight, touch, smell, taste, and hearing) along with the heart.  It is very natural, basically a way to activate and self-regulate your body “if you were not conditioned by society.”

One of the processes that Chopra deals with using holistic medicine is slowing the effects of aging.  Some would say these are radical notions that he preaches; I was curious as to his viewpoints regarding growing old and how we can have some measure of self control over the aging process.  Chopra again mentioned the fifteen biological markers, which include hormone levels, and said they can be slowed (or even reversed), by approximately 15 years following a shift in lifestyle.  He says the shift does not have to be dramatic; it includes the tips he mentioned: meditation, good sleep, exercise, and also good relationships. As an extension of that, he claims you can work on your perception of time, and of what he calls “the subtle self, or astrobody.”  This is a little more esoteric, and while he does teach these concepts, following the four tips he already mentioned would influence not only the biological markers of aging, but also the expression of some 300 genes which have influence on maladies like heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases and inflammation.

Chopra explains that while genes may be fixed, their expression is not, so one can turn on the good genes and turn off the bad ones.  “When you are stressed, it turns on the bad genes and turns off the good ones,” he said.  It sounds a little bit like science fiction, I think of the Frank Herbert classic novel “Dune” (the David Lynch film starring Kyle Maclachlan and singer Sting as his nemesis).  In the far-future universe of this series of books, computers have been outlawed when they become self-aware, and there are characters called Bene Gesserit, witches who can control their own body chemistry with their mind, getting rid of poisons, making themselves fertile for pregnancy, even speaking to their past lives whose memories live in their genes.

When I mention this to Chopra, asking if something like that is achievable for humans, he says that he believes such human advancements are possible, but does not accept as true that computers have the capacity to develop self-awareness, achieve a sense of purpose, nor true imagination.  “Computers are based on algorithms which are precise mathematical formulas.  True imagination is based on discontinuity which is attached to the consciousness,” said Chopra.

On the other hand, Chopra has worked with some very imaginative scientists who believe that in a few years there will be nanorobots the size of molecules (which can be controlled with something like a BlackBerry) that will be able to clean up arteries if cholesterol is too high, turn on neurotransmitters in the brain to improve mood in the depressed.  He said, “In ten to fifteen years, there may be desktop computers that can clone cells for any kind of food you want.  So if you want a medium rare steak, you can just program it into the computer and enjoy eating one without killing an animal.”

I wonder, with technology advancing at such a rapid pace, whether human spirituality is able to keep up.  Chopra says it is not, and when technology outpaces the evolution of our collective consciousness, we have “modern capacities combined with primitive habits, and that is a very dangerous situation.”  These same technologies in the wrong hands could be used to destabilize a nuclear power plant or hijack all the planes in the sky, so technology can become very diabolical if we don’t mature spiritually at the same time.

Chopra acknowledges that, “You cannot stop the evolution of technology, so it is even more important than ever that we focus on spiritual evolution.  These same technologies that can destroy can also be used to create global communities.”  Currently, one of Chopra’s projects is one such globally interconnected community called wellworld.org, which has as its slogan: “Change yourself, change the world” and is accessible from his website deepakchopra.com.  Chopra’s intention is to create online global communities for financial, career, social, community, physical and spiritual wellbeing.

Deepak Chopra also has a twitter account, @deepakchopra (which has been silent during his ordainment as a monk). Having started only recently, he has become an avid user, with over 250,000 followers, growing at almost 1,000 new followers per day, indicating great interest in what he has to say.  Unlike most celebrities who seem to take pride in following only a handful of other people, usually celebrities like themselves or friends and family (or nobody at all), he is very interested in what others have to say, following over 4,000 other accounts himself.  If he sees something insightful posted on Twitter he will follow that account, no matter where they come from.

When asked how he addressed skeptics and critics, Chopra says he “just leaves them alone.”  He used to try to oppose and debate them, but does not anymore.  He points to a fascinating scientific study which showed that, “If you have you people with opposing worldviews, say one who is totally materialistic and atheist versus someone who is very spiritual and consciousness-based, and you give them the exact same information, they both go back more reinforced in their own worldview.”  His indifference to naysayers resembles a very Buddhist approach (that has not seemed to hurt his growing following at all).

The big question is then posed to Chopra:  what does he feel is the purpose of life?  He answers, “It begins with the expansion of consciousness, of happiness, and using the human nervous system to further the evolution of the universe.  We are the only beings who are self-aware, and it is becoming apparent that the universe itself is becoming self-aware through us.  This is a major responsibility.”

And death?  “It is the most creative process a human being can experience.  What he means by that is that it is an incubation period before the next leap of creativity…in the direction of enlightenment,” said Chopra.

I know it sounds corny, but speaking to Dr. Deepak Chopra for merely a half hour was truly an enlightening experience.  I felt privileged to have that short time, but felt like I learned things that could affect a lifetime.  It is no wonder that people flock to him to help them find personal meaning in the lives they live, and the ends which are inevitable for all us…an end that is yet another beginning.

—-

And the raw text submitted for translation:

Deepak Chopra: Spirit Guide

Among devotees of alternative medicine and holistic health treatment, the name Dr. Deepak Chopra stands out as one of the brightest. He began his career as an endocrinologist and later shifted his focus to alternative medicine.  Deepak has written more than 56 books  which have been translated into 35 languages including Thai and sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. His book, Peace Is the Way won the Quill Awards and The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of your Life received the Nautilus Award.

I met him at Peninsula Plaza Hotel, and first seeing him was a bit of a shock, I had seen photos but here he was close-cropped almost bald.  But he radiated amazing calmness. My father, a skeptic who cares nothing of pop culture and wouldn’t know a Gossip Girl from a Lady Gaga, has even read some of his work.  Dr. Deepak was kind enough to sign his book, Reinventing The Body, Resurrecting The Soul, recently translated into Thai for my father.

While it may be hard for some to grasp some of his advanced conceptual notions of spirituality and the universe, the things he says about our day-to-day life and small things we can do to improve our quality of life made perfect sense.  I felt the sense not so much of a cult, , but a teacher who lets others follow in his example.

He was visiting Thailand for two weeks, but has been here many times.  The last time was about 5-6 years ago at the famed Chiva-Som Resort in Hua Hin, where he was participating in an Ayurvedic course.

While here this time, he visited a forest monetary near Ayutthaya.  And for one week in a remote Chiang Rai temple, he was ordained as a Buddhist monk, shaving his head (which explained his appearance), chanting in Pali, and going on alms rounds at the break of dawn.

When asked his impression of Thailand and Thai people, Deepak said he finds people here are generally happier, extremely polite, exceptionally friendly, and enormously generous.  He said with much genuine feeling about Thailand, “It is a beautiful culture.”  When asked if his ordination as a Buddhist monk was the highlight of his trip to Thailand this time, he said most definitely, and, really, the highlight of his trip anywhere, that is how much of a special experience he found it.

Deepak started with Ayurvedic traditions, but then expanded his field of knowledge to many other cultures, such as that of American Indians, holistic health movements all over the world, and also Buddhism, which he describes as possessing a very strong base for understanding human consciousness and how it relates to our physiology, and gives keys to self-regulating our healing systems.  Buddhism gives us the essential basis to understanding how the body can be affected by emotions, creativity, and what Buddhism calls the “divine attitudes,” loving-kindness-happiness.  And it is not just our physical well-being.  The benefits go towards our social, environmental, financial, and career well-beings, as he states they are all connected.

With regards to how holistic medicine can complement or go with traditional medicine, Deepak says that traditional medicine is very useful for acute (or more severe) situations.  If you catch pneumonia, you take antibiotics.  If you break your leg very badly, you go to an orthopedic surgeon.  But when you look at chronic problems like heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disorders, genetic diseases, or addiction, holistic treatment is much better.  But people need both (traditional and holistic medicine).

For tips on what every person can do right away to improve their overall health, Deepak immediately answered with Vipassana meditation, regular exercise, good amount of sleep, and proper diet.  But Deepak mentioned that Thai food is some of the very best in the world when it comes to healthy eating.  You find a variety of flavors and colors, and research shows that the more rich a food is in flavors and colors, the more phytochemicals it contains.  These are chemicals that are derived from the energy of the sun, and are important for healing.  It sounds so simple when we sums up these important keys to health: diet, exercise, sleep, and Vipassana.

When it comes to meditation, many people are interested in it but find it difficult to achieve the results they expect and cannot silence the constant inner voice.  I asked Deepak what is an important early practice on the road to proper meditation.  He said we should start with trying to be mindful of just one thing every day.  For example, you may tell yourself, “today I will be mindful of sensations in my body” or “today I will be mindful of my breath.”  On another day, be mindful of speech, and another day, be mindful of movement.  If we just do this little bit every day, we will start to experience stillness.  “It will not happen like this,” as he snapped his fingers, “but you will feel better anyway.  You will not be so reactive.”

Deepak stated that the best part of Vipassana meditation is that it has an immediate effect on calming you down, not as likely to get angry and lose your temper or feel anxious.  That is a great bonus right away.  Stillness of the mind and enlightenment will come later.

As far as physical benefits that come with meditation, the immediate ones are lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, less likelihood of insomnia and anxiety.  The long term benefits are amazing, according to Deepak.  Strengthening the immune system and slowing down aging.  There are about 15 biological indicators for aging, including blood pressure, bone density, body temperature regulation, and cholesterol level, all of them are affected positively by meditation.

His basis is Ayurvedic medicine, which is based on meditation, specific diets for certain body types, mind-body techniques based on understanding of consciousness to regulate the body, and awareness of the five senses (sight, touch, smell, taste, and hearing) along with the heart.  It is very natural, basically a way to activate and self-regulate your body if you were not conditioned by society.

One of the processes that Deepak deal with in holistic medicine is slowing the effects of aging.  Some would say these are radical notions that he preaches, I was curious as to what he had to say about aging and how we can have some measure of self control over aging.  Deepak mentioned the 15 biological markers again, which include hormone levels, and said they can be slowed or even reversed, by about 15 years thanks to a shift in lifestyle.  He says the shift does not have to be dramatic, it includes the tips he mentioned: meditation, good sleep, exercise, and also good relationships. If you want to extend that, then you can work on your perception of time, and what he calls the subtle self, or astrobody.  This is a little more esoteric, and does teach these concepts, but the simple tips he already mentioned, he claims that within 4 months, they influence not only the biological markers of aging, they affect the expression of some 300 genes which have influence on things like heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases and inflammation.

Deepak explains that while genes may be fixed, their expression is not, so you can turn on the good genes and turn off the bad ones.  When you are stressed, it turns on the bad genes and turns off the good ones.  It sounds a little bit like science fiction, I think of the Frank Herbert classic novel “Dune” (the one David Lynch made with Kyle Maclachlan as the “phra ek” and the singer Sting as a bad guy).  In the far-future universe of this series of books, computers have been outlawed when they become self-aware, and there are characters called Bene Gesserit [sounds like Benny Jessy-rit] that are witches who can control their own body chemistry with their mind, getting rid of poisons, making themselves fertile for pregnancy, even speaking to their past lives whose memories live in their genes.

When I mention this to Deepak, asking if something like that is achievable for humans, he says believes such human advancements are possible, but does not believe computers have the capacity to develop self-awareness and achieve a sense of purpose and true imagination.  Computers are based on algorithms which are precise mathematical formulas.  True imagination is based on discontinuity which is attached to the consciousness.

On the other hand, Deepak has worked with some very imaginative scientists who believe that in a few years there will be nanorobots the size of molecules that you can control with something like your BlackBerry that will be able to clean up your arteries if cholesterol is too high, or if you are depressed they will turn on neurotransmitters in your brain to improve your mood.  In ten to fifteen years, there may be desktop computers that can clone cells for any kind of food you want.  So if you want a medium rare steak, you can just program it into the computer and enjoy eating one without killing an animal.

I wonder if with technology advancing at such a rapid pace, whether human spirituality is able to keep up.  Deepak says it is not, and when technology outpaces the evolution of our consciousness, we have modern capacities combined with primitive habits, and that is a very dangerous situation.  These same technologies in the wrong hands can be used to make a nuclear power plant leak, or hijack all the planes in the sky, so technology can become very diabolical if we don’t, at the same time mature spiritually.

Deepak acknowledges that you cannot stop the evolution of technology, so it is even more important than ever that we focus on spiritual evolution.  These same technologies that can destroy can also be used to create global communities.  Right now one of Deepak’s projects is one such globally interconnected community called wellworld.org, which has its slogan: “Change yourself, change the world” and can be also accessed from his website deepakchopra.com.  He is creating online global communities for financial, career, social, community, physical and spiritual wellbeing.

Deepak also has a twitter account, @deepakchopra, which has been silent while he was ordained as a monk. Having started only recently, he has become an avid user, with over 250,000 followers, growing at almost 1,000 people per day, showing there is a lot of interest in what he has to say.  Unlike most celebrities who seem to take pride in following a handful of other people, usually celebrities like themselves or friends and family, he is very interested in what others have to say, following over 4,000 other accounts himself, if he sees something insightful posted on Twitter he will follow that account, no matter where they come from.

When asked how he addresses skeptics and critics, Deepak says he just leaves them alone.  He used to try to oppose and debate them, but does not anymore.  He points to a fascinating scientific study which showed that if you have you people with opposing worldviews, say one who is totally materialistic and atheist versus someone who is very spiritual and consciousness-based, and you give them the exact same information, they both go back more reinforced in their own worldview.  It is a very Buddhist approach that has not seemed to hurt his growing following at all.

The big question is posed to Deepak:  what does he feel is the purpose of life?  He says it begins with the expansion of consciousness, of happiness, and using the human nervous system to further the evolution of the universe.  We are the only beings who are self-aware, and it is becoming apparent that the universe itself is becoming self-aware through us.  This is a major responsibility.

And death?  It is the most creative process a human being can experience.  What he means by that is that it is an incubation period before the next leap of creativity in the direction of enlightenment.

It sounds “nahm nao” but speaking to Dr. Deepak Chopra for only a half hour is truly an enlightening experience.  I was privileged to have only a half hour with him, but felt like I learned things that could affect a lifetime.  It is no wonder that people flock to him to help them find personal meaning in the life they live and the end which is inevitable for all us…and end that is another beginning.