Saturday, May 24, 2008

25 May 2008: Meditation in coffee

:: zen and the art of drinking coffee ::

I suppose you know you're really addicted to something when you try to claim that it's part of your meditation practice, but really!! The process of preparing, pouring, and just plainly and purely enjoying a cup of coffee is a meditation for me.

Sometimes it's a shared experience with my boyfriend. We wake up, usually deliciously late as neither of our jobs follows the usual 9-5 timetable (though the daily grind in Hong Kong is more like 8-8, if not later; yikes!), and I ask, "Shall I make some coffee?" to which he almost always answers, "Sure, why not?"

Other times, it's a quiet experience of solitude.

Either way, it's one of my favorite ways to start the day or pause in the afternoon, and I much prefer brewing my own coffee (with love) at home. I pour some cold, filtered water into the kettle and prepare the French press. I choose an organic bean of the day to grind...will it be one of the specially sent blends from my friends in Santa Monica - from Groundwork or Urth - or the uber pricey (but totally worth it) Jamaican Blue Mountain...? After the kettle sends out its whistle, I wait a few minutes before pouring because the temperature of the water should be about 90 degrees Celsius (that's about 190 degrees Fahrenheit for you Americans). I grab the carton of skim milk from the fridge and the container of Maui raw sugar. I usually stand waiting in the kitchen, looking out the window; sometimes a friendly, chirpy sparrow sits on the sill.

After a few minutes, I intuitively sense that the coffee is ready for consumption. I prepare his (a spoonful of milk and a dash of sugar) and mine (a dash of milk and a spoonful of sugar), take his to him in his study, and take mine onto the couch, snuggling into our oversized cushions. I feel almost like a kid on Christmas morning; I know I have a somewhat mischievous look on my face. Before sipping, I inhale. I offer gratitude. I am present.

With the first taste, I feel a soothing warmth, comfort, and peace start flowing through me. My mind feels at ease, my breath naturally deepens, I smile. I daresay I feel inspired. You'll never see me multi-tasking with a cup of coffee, distracted, distanced, downing it on the go. No, that cup is my drishti and I am certainly strengthening my ability to direct my energy and have one-pointed focus.

I believe the combination of coffee's mental and physical effects and my presence of mind when drinking coffee all contribute to my overall experience of coffee consumption. My mood is elevated, my heart is lifted, which means yeah, I feel a bit high!

So here it is, confession of a yogini: coffee is my crack, my Kryptonite, my Achille's heel. But as my lovely friend Erin recently reminded me, coffee contains antioxidants and potassium, so it can't be all bad. As long as I stay hydrated and watch for any unhealthy degree of dependency, I am happy to accept this "imperfection" of my yogi self.

And yes, of course, I just finished a delicious morning brew...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

12 May 2008: Shenzhen

"It's China!"

That was my catch phrase this weekend.

A girl friend and I went to Shenzhen, right across the Hong Kong/China border. We had heard of these massage/spa/hotel places that offer unbelievably cheap massages 24 hours a day and decided we deserved a weekend of pampering.

Shenzhen is a stone's throw away from Hong Kong, but I, as a US passport holder, needed a visa that costed about $140 US. Traveling there is nothing more than taking a few extra train stops, but the instant you are technically out of HK, you know you're in China.

Everything is at least a little bit backwards. English language signs often have a perplexing juxtaposition of words and an interesting idea of grammar, people are very reluctant to help, and there's absolutely no semblance of order in the train station's taxi waiting area, which is comprised of 8 different queues, with the lines at the front getting all the taxis and the lines at the back being SOL. As in other cities in China I've visited, there's a heavy dullness (tamas, for you yogis) that seems to saturate everything from the hills to the rivers to the high rises.

Or maybe that's just the general stink of pollution I was trying not to breathe into my already congested lungs.

Upon arriving at Queen Spa, however, all of our weariness and criticisms were flushed away by the sheer grandeur and absolute hedonism awaiting us. 5 huge floors of nothing but spa and massage amenities including pools, saunas, Chinese massage rooms, Thai massage rooms, aroma massage rooms, sleeping "capsules", a fresh fruit bar, restaurants, a public cinema room, private cinema rooms, barcaloungers galore, and hundreds of staff at literally every corner to jump at your every need. As soon as we stepped foot into this heretofore unknown world of never-ending massage treatments, we were shuttled into the ladies' locker room, stripped, and put into our striped uniform (which we at first laughed at but swiftly came to appreciate bc they were really comfortable). We asked a lady (and by "we" I mean my friend, as I sadly still have not picked up any respectable amount of either Cantonese or Mandarin) (ps did you know that "Chinese" is technically not a language?) where we were supposed to go, as we hadn't yet registered or anything. She simply shooed us away in a carefree grandma-like manner saying, "Go to the 3rd floor and get massaged!"

We appreciated the efficient simplicity. There were massages to be time to waste on the particulars!

So to the 3rd floor we wandered, still mesmerized by the enormity of this place. We merged into the sea of fellow indulgence seekers, all of us looking a bit like psych ward patients in our striped garbs and rubber slippers, wide-eyed, wide-mouthed, and giggling with anticipation. I asked my friend if she'd seen anything like this before, since she was born and raised in Asia (Singapore), and she said, "No, I was impressed by Foot when I moved to HK!" (Foot is the BEST massage place in Central, HK - pricier than other places, but clean, modern, and luxurious - but it's totally small potatoes compared to this, the Costco of all spas everywhere.) It had a Vegas feel in that you couldn't tell if it was day or night, everyone was somewhat numb with glazed-over eyes, and the women on staff were in short skirts. Instead of slot machines were the barcaloungers, complete with flat panel tv's on swinging arms and instead of free alcoholic beverages was a seemingly endless supply of traditional Chinese tea.

We looked at the spa menu and proceeded to build our itinerary for the next day or so. Acupressure, Thai massage, physical therapy, aromatherapy, phalange treatments, ear cleaning, foot skin scraping, toe skin scraping...and practically free at an average of $20 US for a 90-min treatment. When we were ready for our first massage, we were led to a computer kiosk to "pick a massage girl." We didn't quite know what that meant at first - pick on what basis? Area of specialty? Level of training? No, pick based on their headshot, name, and height. We were rather surprised, but hey, it's China!

For the most part, the massages were quite good. Except...I did have to send one girl away because she was so bad she actually made me feel nauseous, like I was being mercilessly poked by a giant holding a tree stump. She was giving me an oil massage with no oil and she would periodically only use one hand, whilst making text-messaging noises with the other. And there was a phlegmy man, who sniffled, snorted, and coughed through the whole massage, and finished it off by punching my shin bone so hard that I actually yelped. And another girl sneezed on me. (It's just how it's done in China.)

At one point, we were waiting to get barcaloungers in the non-smoking section, and smokers were standing in our non-smoking section waiting area, smoking. In response, I coughed loudly and waved my hand around dramatically. Only one guy heeded the not-so-subtle hint and immediately stubbed out his stick o' poison. No one else could be bothered to care. China.

We eventually snuggled into our seats and requested a 90-min foot massage. They looked at us blankly, saying, "We only have 45-min foot massages." We said we knew, but couldn't they just double it? They said, "But then you'd have to pay for 2 massages." Taking deep, compassionate breaths of patience, we said that would be no problem. (Come on, people, let your brain out of the box!) They said ok, and proceeded to give us each a 45-min massage. Freaking China!

We slept soundly on our beds-slash-massage tables (they're efficient, the Chinese...). Upon waking, I stretched into my ritualistic morning Child's Pose and jumped out of bed, eager to be as productive as possible (level of productivity to be measured by how relaxed and pampered we felt, but of course).

We wanted to book a private cinema room so we could watch a DVD we had brought. It took more than 10 people 4 tries before we settled into a room. At first we were taken to the wrong type of room with no DVD player, even though we had pointed to the picture of the room we wanted, and we had told them explicitly that we wanted to watch a DVD. Then we were taken to a room where they knew the sound wasn't working, and it took 3 people to figure out how to change the Input button on the remote control. Then we were taken to a room with no DVD player, at which point a staff person looked at us and asked if we had the DVD player with us. Um, yeah, sure, it's one of those really advanced invisible DVD players that fold up into our pocket. Then we were taken to a room with a DVD player, but it wasn't plugged in, and at one point there were 7 staff people in the room trying to figure it out. The so-called Tech Guy took at least 10 min to realize which color plug goes where (red goes with red worldwide, no?), to realize that in order to get picture, the player must be somehow connected to the tv, and then to realize "Oh, this is the broken player, let me go get you another one." When it finally got sorted, our foot massage therapists came in and plopped down right in front of the tv, rendering our intentions and the combined efforts of our 10 box-confined helpers pointless.

To put the perfect layer of artificially-sweetened and colored lard euphemistically known as "frosting" on this morning of frustration, as I was craning my neck to glimpse scenes from the movie Juno (pretty good film!) around my phlegmy therapist, I saw in my periphery something grey scurrying on the floor right outside our room. That's right. Mouse. Fluffy grey rodent with a long pink tail trailing behind him. By the time I got my friend's attention and she told the masseurs and they hit the service button and the manager came, the mouse was - of course - long gone.

Soon thereafter, so were we.

When I came home and told my boyfriend the whole story, he simply said to me, "Baby, it's China!"