Free Dorje Gurung

12 05 2013



Dorje Gurung, a chemistry teacher who has taught all over the world (Hong Kong, Norway, the USA, Azerbaijan, Malawi and Qatar) has been jailed in Qatar on charges of insulting Islam.


I believe that a grave injustice has been done. 




Because he is Nepali, some 12 year old students were making fun of him, stereotyping.


Among other things, the seventh graders poked fun at his appearance, calling him “Jackie Chan,” a famous Chinese actor, the Washington Post reported.


He asked a rhetorical question, and they reported it as a statement. Now he is in jail for insulting Islam.


This is a petition to free Dorje Gurung. Please sign it. Then share and get the word out.








Dorge is a United World Colleges alumni and embodies the UWC ideals: respect, compassion, mutual responsibility, integrity, the celebration of difference.

I stand for and believe in the UWC values. I will not stand for injustice.

Sign the petition: for Dorje’s freedom and for justice.


Free Dorje Gurung  



A Birthday, A Death and Two Celebrations

17 03 2013

What is your most memorable birthday celebration ever?

If I had to describe mine, it may go along the lines of one of the following:
  •  Revolving doors. One entering, the other exiting.
  • Yin and yang. Black and white.
  • Two sides of a coin.
More concretely, a birthday spent attending a funeral – that of my paternal grandmother’s, who passed away peacefully last month after a long, tenacious fight against cancer.
The contrasts and juxtapositions are, of course, jarring.
For a boisterous birthday party, substitute a sombre gathering. For birthdaysong-singing, substitute traditional Buddhist chants and prayers. For birthday hats, substitute white traditional costumes. And for candle-blowing, substitute bowing with incense-sticks clasped between hands.
But there were also close parallels despite the apparent polarities.
I was none too pleased when I first found out about the arrangements. Spending my nineteenth birthday at the funeral parlor was not exactly my idea of a celebration. Early in the morning, I had gone off for a celebratory 10-kilometer running race, then quickly dashed off for a bit of hurdling practice before rushing to catch the train to the funeral parlor. I was tempted to snarl and growl my way through it all, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised how both my birthday and my grandmother’s funeral were both celebrations of life.
One, a celebration of a life to come. The other, a celebration of a life that was.
Two celebrations for one birthday? You bet. It’s like having two double-chocolate fudge birthday cakes to myself.
A line of poetry comes to mind. I first came across these wondrously phrased words when reading Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. 
And all the lives we ever lived
And all the lives to be,
are full of trees and changing leaves.
           – from Luriana Lurilee, by Charles Elton
Lives lived. Lives to be. Trees and changing leaves. Here, on my nineteenth birthday, was a reminder of transience and ephemerality. But more importantly, it was a celebration of not one, but two lives.

Movement, Balance & The Art of Being Still

5 12 2012

Silas House, in his essay The Art of Being Still, expresses beautifully the delicate equilibrium between movement and stillness.

Writing is a very active pursuit: there is the fluid flow of words, the vivid visualisations, and perhaps some brain rattling to squeeze out those ideas onto the written page.

Mr. House points out one jarring problem, however: “too many writers today are afraid to be still”.

Like me, Mr. House is constantly in motion. But he also knows there can be movement in stillness: “We writers must learn how to become still in our heads, to achieve the sort of stillness that allows our senses to become heightened.”

We must ingest and digest simultaneously, as Eddie from the movie Limitless put it, and as I explained here.

Most tellingly, the Chinese word for movement is 動靜 – dong jing. Dong means movement, jing means stasis and quiet. Put together you have a beautiful word that perfectly exemplifies the equilibrium between the two. Movement and stillness are not polarities – they are in fact forever in balance.

Mr. House gives his essay a roaring finale with these fine words:

I give it to you now and hope that you will take it out into the waiting world, pushing forth through all of your daily work and joys and struggles with a bit of your mind focused on reality and the larger part of it quiet, still, and always thinking like a writer.

Yes, move. But stay still, too. And hang on tight – it’s going to be a hell of a ride!

Tuscany: Two Castles, One Revelation

8 08 2012

This is the second in a series of articles about my recent trip to Italy. Enjoy!

Views from atop Castello di Broli. With a vantage point like this, advancing enemies can be seen from miles and miles away.

It’s always a bit of a pleasant surprise when you find out that so-and-so shares mutual friends with you:

Oh, so you know him too!”

Oh my, how do you know her as well?”

...we’ve all had moments like these. That little spark of affinity when you realise that your paths have crossed with someone else’s; when you find out that your are not a lone island but rather one of many interweaving, intersecting tributaries; when you appreciate the fact that however vast the world may seem, we are not separated by as much distance as we may originally thought. This may seem to you like a timeworn fact, but to me, it made all the difference on my recent Tuscan Castle Tour.

We had two castles down on the list for that day’s tour: Montessori Castle, picked because there was a geocache there; and Castello di Broilio, chosen because it was ‘highly recommended’.

The ruins of Montegrossi castle.

The castles couldn’t have been more unlike. Montegrossi, an 11th century fortress, stood dilapidated, in ruins, overgrown with weeds. No signposts indicated its existence, and we only reached the ruins after climbing up an obscure footpath. Castello di Brolio, on the other hand, stood proud and majestic, immaculately maintained, a potent symbol of wealth, power and status. This was a fully functioning castle, with a chic osteria at its base, a winding dirt road lined with cypresses and conifers leading up to the gates, and a lovely garden to stroll through.  Nothing suggested any kind of connection between the two disparate castles. And yet, as I soon found out to my amazement, the two castles do in fact share a mutual history. In Facebook-speak, they share mutual friends.

Castello di Broli…and this is just one part of it!

It turns out that the Ricasoli family (owners of Castello di Brolio), when they first arrived in the region, had at first lived at Montegrossi Castle before moving in to di Brolio. Despite the two castles being entirely dissimilar, here was an unmistakable link drawing the two together. In Facebook-perspective, both castles shared a mutual friend in the Ricasoli family.

Inside the ruins of Montegrossi. The Ricasoli family had lived here when they first arrived in the region, before moving into Castello di Brolio.

It’s fascinating, really, how seemingly contrasting elements can actually have close links. It’s almost  like a spider web, or tangled tentacles of an octopus. You may start off on one lone spoke of the web, or one solitary tentacle of the octopus, thinking you have no connections with those around you. Yet as you dig a little deeper and probe a little further, connections start to appear one by one and before long, a whole cobweb of an intricate system has emerged. That’s when you realise that though you may be but a speck in this world, you are also latched on to a highly network – a network which, unless you explore relentlessly, you will never fully appreciate.

And that is my revelation from my little Tuscan Castle Tour.

Confessions of a Running Addict: We All Shit.

27 07 2012

Kings and philosophers shit and so do ladies. Montaigne

So Montaigne was right. We all shit. Kings, philosophers, ladies. Everyone.

Of course, the pooping bit wasn’t really much of a revelation. I didn’t exactly need Montaigne to tell me that all human beings, by our very nature, defecate. What Montaigne was trying to get across wasn’t the simple fact that we must all, once in a while (or more than once in a while), poop and/or pass wind. Rather he was trying to tell us that, more often than not, our bodies have an upper hand over our minds. Our minds, generally, are a slave to our mind.

This is how Montaigne describes a fart: “That sphincter which serves to discharge our stomachs has dilations and contractions proper to itself, independent of our wishes or even opposed to them.” He also adds that the sphincter is “most indiscreet and disorderly.” Montaigne might well have been writing school reports for an unruly six year old!

But I’m not here to write about farting. Not only about farting, anyway. Farting’s only a small part of it.

You know those times when you’re in a bad mood, when you can at once find everything to be supremely disagreeable? Times when you’re a simmering kettle – just a liiiittle bit more heat to push you over the threshold, to push you to your boiling point. Every once in a while, and for absolutely no apparent reason, I find myself in one of these dangerous moods.

But I think I do know the reason for these unexplained bouts of choler: a deficiency of endorphins, a ravenous craving for that sometimes-elusive Runner’s High.

I tend to think of myself as rather rational. I’m fairly good at controlling emotions; farewells don’t occur to me as excessively difficult; and I can usually set aside emotions and sentiments to focus on what’s at hand. And yet when it comes to something as simple as running, my mind gives way to my body! A simple crave for a run and the quick release of endorphins is enough to render me a slave to my mind, totally controlled by mere chemicals!

What does this tell me? It tells me that as much as we may appear to ourselves as rational beings with control over our minds, we are, ultimately, animals. At the end of the day we are merely animals, governed by more basic elements such as bodily needs, chemicals, and emotions.

As Montaigne put it, “Upon the highest throne in the world, we are seated, still, upon our arses.”

Running, Walking & Getting Lost to Find Venice

22 07 2012

This is the first in a series of articles about my recent trip to Italy. Enjoy!

My favourite photo from Venice: Hierarchy?

Venice: supposedly the most romantic city in the world.

I’m not much of a romantic, but I can sure tell you another thing about Venice: it’s an absolute nightmare to navigate! Forget the tourist maps – they won’t help you much. You’ll spend so long squinting at those darned blindingly miniscule alley names that by the time you’ve figured out where you are, it’s probably time to go home. And those yellow street signs, forever pointing you to San Marco and the Rialto? Sometimes they work, but I’m convinced that more often than not, they’re conspiring against all of us tourists, pointing us around in endless circles, laughing at us while we wander around like headless chickens, hopelessly lost.

Ditch the map. Go for a run.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Venice. But to really get a taste of this lagoon city, I decided to ditch the map, un-bury my face from all guidebooks, and just go wherever my running shoes took me. After all, what is it really that we want to take from our travels? Memories, sure, but what are memories? The view of Venice from the lagoon, the tourist-filled Piazza San Marco, the gondolas and their oarsmen (which, perhaps a little harshly, AA Gill describe as “unsmiling…a cross between a pork butcher and a French mime”) – all these are fine memorable views, but also views that every other tourist will see, whether personally or on postcards. What I want to take from my travels are more than just memories of these mass-produced views. I want to make make these memories mine, to attach to the views my own emotions.

This is what I will remember.

I will remember the endless winding narrow alleyways and the ubiquitious presence of calm waters; I will remember the way one emerges from a claustrophobic alley, hemmed in by buildings on both sides, out into a majestic square, and likewise retreat from the buzz of San Marco into one of the many quiet streets. I will also remember the soothing sun rays at dawn and at dusk, caressing the brick walls and cobblestones with its slanting, casting walls a vivid red, leaving a slither of gold here and there.

Beware the tourist traps!  

There is also, of course, the less beautiful side of Venice: the hordes of tourists everywhere. It’s ironic that I should say this, because as a tourist myself I’m part of the very horde that I so despise. The main tourist traps are Venice at its worst: tacky restaurants with menu turistico‘s in seven different languages, displayed together with unflattering photos of their food taken with harsh and direct flash; store after store selling you I Love Venice baseball caps, t-shirts with cliched memes, ‘Not-Made-In-China’ masks and other crappy touristy paraphernalia.

Don’t just ‘do’ Venice. Make it yours.

How was I to go about touring Venice, avoiding the tourist traps and unearthing the city’s inner beauty? Ditch the maps, chuck out the guidebooks, avoid the crowds. In short, eschew the conventional Venetian tourist checklist for something more spontaneous, self-directed and self-created. I would walk wherever my walking shoes escorted me, run wherever my running shoes took me, and explore wherever the geocaches pointed me! I had my qualms about this at first; after all, how can you say you have ‘done’ Venice until all the big name, ‘must-see’ attractions have been ticked off? This was a little quandary in which I found myself, but I also quickly found reconciliation in thinking that this was the real way to journey, the real way to create lasting, personal, emotionally rich memories.

So, here are a few of my favourite photos from Venice, taken during my map-free runs and walks. You can also view them on my Flickr page here.

Also, some questions to consider – I would love to hear your responses!

Have you been to Venice? Some say that you either hate it or love it. What did you think of it?

What are your thoughts about travel? Why do we travel?  What is the purpose of travel?

Venetian Archways

A Narrow Lane in Venice

Peekaboo! Hide and Seek in Venice?

Made in Venice…not China!

A Venetian Street

View From A Hidden Street

Venice at Dusk

A Street Cleaner in Venice

Along the Venetian Shore

Piazza San Marco, Venice…early in the morning, without the tourists!

Ponte dell’ Accademia, Venice

This Is Why I Like Food

22 06 2012

Homemade wholewheat naan with a chickpea burger patty and some mixed salad.

If my Instagram feed feed can tell you anything about myself, it’s probably this: I like food, and I sure have photos (lots of them) to prove it!

I’ve never paid much attention to food until recently. It used to be just something to fill me up, to fuel me up for the day. Now, though, food is increasingly growing in importance, meaning and significance. Why?


Most obviously, we need food – it’s essential for survival. And as an athlete, I need to make sure that I’m eating enough of the right foods to ensure optimum performance. But at the same time, food is so much more than a provider of life and energy.

Study snack: apples!


Food, more than just a physiological necessity, is an art, an enjoyment, a celebration and a way of life. Behind every bite lies thousands and thousands of years of history: conflict and friendship, leisure and toil, creation and destruction.

In fact, the world was for a long time divided into three major empires based on the three main staple foods, wheat, rice and maize. What separated people even more was the sauce or spice they added: olive oil in the Mediterranean, soya in China, chilli in Mexico, butter in northern Europe, a whole range of aromas in India. Different cultures cook food differently, but culinary all progress has been dependent on the assimilation of foreign food and condiments. (Source: An Intimate History of Humanity by Theordore Zeldin)

Food at once distinguishes but also unites.

Image courtesy of Kevin Van Aelst.

Food is so important in so many different senses, and that is why I want to take control over what, how, when and where I eat. This is what attracts me to cooking. I don’t like eating out in restaurants because when I do, I give up control over what I eat. It is a loss of freedom in the culinary sense.

Party time!


Food is also an expression of identity. More often than not, we eat to satisfy hunger. But as Theodore Zeldin points out in An Intimate History of Humanity, hunger is often satisfied without full awareness for what it is one is hungry for. Making sense of why we eat what we eat can tell us more than just about our taste in food. It also reveals how far we are interested by new sorts of pleasure, or innovation and creativity, or whether we are willing risk takers.

Gastronomy, Zeldin notes, is not just self-indulgence nor self-exploration, but also the exploration of the whole of nature.

Fork and spoons have probably done more to reconcile people who cannot agree than guns and bombs ever did.” – Theodore Zeldin

Chicken meatballs and tomato sauce…total improvisation!


Every bite I take is also an ethical choice. Should I eat meat? Organic, free range, factory farmed or I-don’t-care? Genetically modified, imported, homegrown? In season or out of season? Behind all culinary decisions is a complex web of principles, values and ethics. Whether we pay attention to this web is of course another matter.

I’ve decided that it is worth thinking about, and that’s why I’ve been reading more about food. At first the reading was merely taking infinite pleasure out of various food blogs: mouth watering photos (otherwise known as food porn), attractive recipes, interesting debates about different diets etc. Now, though, I also want to know more about the food industry, and what my food means for the world. On the reading list now:

  • Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer finished reading
  • In Defence of Food by Michael Pollan
  • The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter by Peter Singer and Jim Mason
  • Meat: A Benign Extravagance by Simon Fairlie

The food I eat is part of who I am. I want to make sure that my food decisions are made properly, that I make a decision for the right reasons.

Couscous salad


Food as a basic need. Food as a celebration. Food as the self. Food as morality.

And as I keep moving, as I continue on my culinary journey, I’m sure I’ll find ever more reasons to like this thing we call ‘food’.

Do you like food? Why, or why not?

Fluffy scrambled eggs as a pre-workout snack.