Starter Buddha

Posted in Uncategorized on January 6, 2011 by markeu

From the New York Times:

Starter Buddha

Published: December 30th, 2010.

Autumn in Beijing, where we had gone to live, and my husband and I were surrounded by Chinese “antiques” at the biggest flea market in town — detritus of a country embracing free-market enterprise. There were rows of vintage Mao wristwatches, red and black feng-shui meters, brightly embroidered Tibetan booties and slim, early-Communist-era cigarette cases. We could buy tea-stained calligraphy scrolls and vintage Cultural Revolution posters. We could bargain over the earliest Chinese radios and glass mirrors with etchings of the Imperial family. We could bargain over just about anything.

Because Tony and I and our two boys had recently made it through the circus that was my cancer treatment, it somehow seemed natural to be in this crazy place with Beijing’s castoffs. We were in need of some help — a statue of an animal god or a torn Tibetan prayer flag to take back to our apartment and help keep watch. That’s what we were doing every day without having to say it: keeping watch, knocking on wood. And that’s why I motioned impulsively to a man in a black polyester sport coat who looked as if he might own the giant Buddha head in Aisle 5. The guy in the sport coat said in English that this Buddha was old. Very old. Four thousand Chinese yuan old, to be exact.

Most things at this market were “very old” and priced at double their value. The market’s name was Panjiayuan, but locals called it the Ghost Market. Long before free markets were legal in China, vendors would set up in the dark to sell. Then they’d disappear like ghosts when the police came round to shut them down.

Soon 10 men circled us while we stared at the Buddha head. He was made of plaster of paris, with rosebud lips. “I’m not prepared for a crowd,” Tony whispered. “And we’re not buying a fake Buddha for 600 dollars.”

“I’m with you,” I said. “I’ll admit I know next to nothing about prices of Buddha heads.”

“Big Buddha heads.” Tony took my hand. “Too big. We don’t need that Buddha. What we need is a starter Buddha we can afford.”

We turned down the next aisle toward a cluster of Tibetan teenagers selling wooden altar boxes, next to a spate of Han Chinese women selling Christmas-tree ornaments. “O.K.,” I repeated. “A starter Buddha.”

Then I took one more look back at our Buddha — the one with the odalisque eyes. I must have gazed too longingly, because Tony said, “No. 1 purchasing rule in China: do not stare at the object you’re hoping to buy or show emotional interest of any kind.”

The Buddha head I wanted (because I did want it now) was still sitting on its metal cart when we walked past again an hour later. But we had resolve. We appeared to be leaving the flea market without buying any religious iconography. “Who ever heard of paying 4,000 yuan for something made to look old in a Beijing factory yesterday?” Tony asked.

That’s when I squeezed his hand and said: “Wait. Let’s phone the black sport coat and just make an offer.”

Tony smiled his biggest smile — a grin that let me know that he was willing, that said he’d play the fool, but only for me. Then he dug in his pocket for the man’s business card.

“Don’t insult him,” I whispered while Tony dialed. “Don’t go too low and blow the whole thing up.”

I was now officially having an emotional relationship with the Buddha head. I’d convinced myself that the Buddha head was going to change things for me. Going to slow things down for starters — because life had been moving way too fast. The Buddha head was going to remind me of things — I wasn’t sure of what exactly, but important things I’d forgotten, because the cancer wiped out a lot of my short-term memory drive.

So I was now a sucker. Tony said, “Ni hao,” and I held my breath. “Fifteen hundred.” What happened next is that the man agreed to Tony’s price far too quickly, without one moment of hesitation — without one counteroffer. And this was how we knew for sure that our Buddha head was a fake, and that we, as they say in our home country, had been played.

But once you’ve agreed to a verbal price in China, there’s no backing out. The black sport jacket jogged to the front gates almost before Tony put his cellphone away, the Buddha head trailing right behind on the metal cart. And I clapped my hands. The Buddha was a fake, but he was our fake now, and I was going to love him.

Susan Conley has written a memoir, “The Foremost Good Fortune,” which is being published next month. This essay is adapted from the book.

E-mail submissions for Lives to lives. Because of the volume of e-mail, the magazine cannot respond to every submission.

Daily reminders to reduce stress

Posted in Uncategorized on August 12, 2010 by markeu

I remember and retake my bodhisattva vow
and bow before all the buddhas and noble sangha

These things I know are true:
I am not the cause of everyone’s problems
but I am often the cause of my own suffering through thoughtless action Today I aspire to break the cycle of negative cause and effect and live my day helping others

I remind myself:
The problems I wake up to in my dreams all have solutions
I may not be able to help everybody or myself every time
There are limits to what I can and cannot do
but I aspire to do the best I can, each and every moment

There will always be worries
This is part of our human path and why we are here- to learn That being said, I will not let these worries control me
and make me lose my mindfulness
stopping thoughtful action

Some times I may fail at my tasks
but these times should be seen as opportunities to learn
Failures teach us much about ourselves
remaining humble and listening with thoughtful contemplation to make us wiser in both thought and action

When I succeed
I must remember to stay mindful
and not to release the arrogance of ego
for in so many successes lie the seeds of many failures
waiting to sprout

To all I have hurt before
I regret sincerely
and make this aspiration today and every day to do better

Moving Home

Posted in contemplate, thoughts with tags , , on July 25, 2010 by markeu

I have lived in the same apartment now for the last four years plus. At first it was convenient for work, and the neighborhood was novel enough to keep me interested in it. Those days have long since passed- the concrete and lack of nature in this part of Tokyo really oppresses me now and I feel that I want to have at least some green in my immediate environment. What if I was to die today or tomorrow? What kind of memory would I have? The concrete jungle environment just wont suffice.

Ergo- move.

I need nature. Crave it. Here in Tokyo I will just have to make do. An old house with a simple garden I can take care of, some trees nearby, sounds perfect to me. May I find it soon.




Posted in contemplate, dialogues, what is zen? on July 20, 2010 by markeu

I wake up every morning with a list of things that I want to do.
Some of these to-do items are short term, some long.
Fitness, writing, practice, contacting people, keeping my weight stable, practicing guitar, going on a trip- the list is always endless.
Time and weekly work schedule strips this wish list down to size pretty quickly. Ten hours a day taken up in work and bustling life Tokyo, and returning home already I am confronted with both the limitations of time and energy.
Lack of motivation sets in. I often sacrifice one task for another, or cut both of themshort.  After all, there are only so many hours in a day and a finite amount of energy.
Lets face it- we have become too busy. Ten years (nearly) in Japan now and the big city hold no allure for me. I find the constant expanse of concrete oppressive and crave a simler live closer to nature. Alas, this is where I live for now and I must make do.
Consitency and balance.
A wise man once said to me that balance was actually an illusion, as the world around us is actually in a constant cycle of change. That craving after a state of balance is in fact ignoring the here and now of our existence. That balance is in fact, a myth.
Yet, I do still strive after it, a way to do all the tasks that I love to do, perform them fairly and well, without  neglecting any.  I realize that in actual fact, its an impossibility.
Something has to give.
What will give is the rigidity of my mind.

Skin care and the sun: be careful out there

Posted in Uncategorized on March 19, 2010 by markeu

Ten years ago, I had a small 5mm long Basal cell carcinoma removed from my right temple. At that time, it left a small scar that was present just above my right eye.
On Monday, I had the procedure repeated as the carcinoma had recurred, this time requiring a 5cm long scar to fix it.

All of us love the sun- who doesn’t. I grew up in Australia, where as a child, my skin color during the Summer months often resembled that of the indigenous population. That being said, I do not have the natural defenses that a person of darker complexion has against the sun.

And, more importantly, the fact remains though that two in three Australians will develop skin cancer at some point in their lives.

That’s a lot people.

Now, yes, I live in Japan, and I do travel around world a fair bit on business. The fact of the matter is- the sun is getting stronger everywhere. Whether we like it or not, we have done some damage to the earth’s ability to protect us from solar effect, and we need to take precautions with ourselves and those around us to ensure our safety.

As we head back into the warmer months, and start looking forward to increased outside activities- dont forget that taking care of your skin while outside is part of the process of staying healthy.

Simply put, when outside:

  • wear a hat
  • get a good sun screen as suited to your complexion
  • be a good friend and say something to a buddy if you feel they are taking unnecessary risks.

Walking away from all this hopefully with just a sexy scar to show for it, I encourage all of you to think before you put yourselves at risk.

As some of you tell yourselves that " no, I am ok", I recently had a Japanese co-worker tell me that she had skin cancer. Quizzical at first, when she lifted up her fringe and showed me the site, I saw my bcc as it was ten years ago. The point being, whether its Asia or Europe, the sun’s effects are getting stronger.

Please- be careful out there.

Stay fit, stay smart.

Best regards,


Statistics taken from :

Struggling with awareness

Posted in Uncategorized on November 28, 2009 by markeu

130 I remember a year ago on my return to Japan, coming back from Europe to an country just starting to come to terms with an economy in recession. Getting on a train some days meant a precarious balance of coins in a pocket, at times coming home only to argue on the way with some train inspector because insufficient money was on my card and I was using too small coins for the automatic fare adjustment machine. My mind would travel through the day ahead, checking off money needed and that already accounted for, trying to prepare myself for unexpected costs that could derail my efforts at finding suitable work to pay the bills.

I remember worrying through most part of the day, and somehow making it, little by little, to the reality we call today. Day in, day out.


A year has passed…136

Many learned that a Black Swan world event could be just as detrimental as good. I am sure the Buddha would have enjoyed that book, but perhaps for different reasons than we may have.141

Not that these days are not filled with concerns, worries and fears, but I have a year behind me of successful struggle behind me that marks the possibility of survival. Friends and relatives rebalance themselves on the sea we call life. Jobs change, people move house, some move on, new friends and workers arrive.

Change….A year ago, Thanksgiving day in America was spent unknowingly celebrating the end of the “good times”. Black Friday 2008 woke many people up to the fact that disposable income has been disposed, and that many now had to back pedal and pay off excesses that were taken on, often in a sort of mindless bliss like state we call consumer society.


Recession. The tide had finally decided to turn back on itself.

Thanksgiving this year I am sure hosts a different and slimmed down menu for many… weakening some relationships, strengthening others in that big lottery we call life.

Winners or losers? It is all path.143

What can we learn from all this? That paying attention to the world around us and remaining mindful of our habits and tendencies can protect us against our own stupidity. That true friends reveal themselves at crucial times as others thought of as friends disappear just as quickly into the ether of life. All in the nature of balance.All in the nature of cold, hard truth. Simple, clear reality, neither good, nor bad. But constantly changing. Within this, we swim.

Black Swans still swim around us……. 下るよー




*pictures taken at Takao San in Tokyo in November, 2009.

**Black Swan- a book written by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Seeking perfection and the natural beauty of being flawed

Posted in Uncategorized on November 20, 2009 by markeu

How many of us can recount a time either recently or in the past where we were trying to be perfect at something?

Was it to impress a new friend, or the boss, or just the mastery of some skill that we wished we were better at. Whatever the reason or cause, we struggled with the task at hand and achieved, for better or worse, our goal.

This skill, this perfection however, is constantly changing. The game changes, or the situation changes, we get older, and new parameters are set around us. Struggle sometimes sets in to maintain something that naturally has its own path of course.

We are left with, then, a dilemma. Do we stop trying? Is effort ultimately worthless?

This reality could also apply to a relationship, which constantly changes and grows, bringing some people closer together, others gradually more and more apart.

How we react and what we do in these situations is all part of the human struggle.Often we struggle against change, resist it, fight it, hate it, until in the end it ultimately overwhelms us with its own reality, that of the now.

Whether we choose to see it or not, everything around us is constantly changing. Forest for tree, tree for forest. Each stage of this change is genuine- and in its natural, clear transition, it is teaching us something, whether we choose to see that reality or not.

All phases, the gaining and losing, as a whole, are a part of the legitimacy of life. The legitimacy of our existence being reflected in the passing of time.

The key to all of this is awareness and appreciation. That within the change, gained and lost, is a chance to live.

Maybe more important still, is that the criteria with which we live our lives can deepen over time to allow more subtle appreciations to occur. To see the perfection within the imperfection. The mud on a flower on some mountain glade.

That mud is the stuff of life.Without it, our existence is sterile, puerile, and missing a depth which can liberate us from the childish sufferings of our often superficial modern lifestyles.

Live your life, and as much as possible, maintain your awareness and humbleness within it.

The whole journey, from first baby’s cry, to last eventual sigh, is the palette upon which our lives are made. You are the artist. What you choose to do is your canvas.

Life? The end result does not judge us- only we judge ourselves.




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