THE NEXT STEP (10)

Later on that day, Laura walked into the small town that was located near the retreat centre. Annie was busy replying to her clients’ emails and organising sessions for when she returned from the retreat. Annie and Laura had come to call the retreat centre ‘The Palace of Peace’, because of the peaceful feeling that they both got when they were there. Thankfully there was a small town nearby with shops, cafes and a market – Laura wasn’t sure if she could have lived right in the middle of nowhere.‘Otherwise how would I get some proper coffee’, Laura thought as she walked along the dry pavement and the colourful lights on the billboards advertising everyday products in Mandarine. ‘I wonder what they are trying to sell’, Laura pondered as she stared at the foreign-looking Chinese characters.

‘What a language to learn,’ Laura said to herself as she approach the teahouse that made excellent iced pearl tea. There were many scooters in different colours parked at the front, one of the most popular means of transport Taiwan, as Laura had learnt in her first day in Taipei.

‘One iced milk tea to take away’, Laura said to the smily girl behind the counter.  Just for a double-measure, she pointed at the picture of the tea in the menu. All menus here thankfully had pictures in then, as Laura still wasn’t sure how much English everyone understood. She was pretty sure that most people understood a lot but were just shy to speak it themselves. Despite the language barrier, everyone was so hospitable and friendly that it made Laura want to learn some Chinese so that she could communicate with the locals.

Since it was a pleasant summer’s evening, Laura decided to walk to the canal that ran through the town and sit by the water as the sun went down. The day before, she had found a beautiful spot on the canal bank that overlooked the mountains. ‘This is blissful’, she thought as she sat down on the green grass. Birds were singing and Laura could see the pink rays of the sun behind the mountain as the sun set for the night.

Out of the blue, just when Laura was finishing her tea and getting ready to head back to the Palace of Peace, she heard a loud voice shouting from the direction of the tea shop. She turned around to see a tall, dark Western-looking man stomp out of one of the small super markets. He looked distraught and slightly angry. Right behind him, there was a group of locals who looked even angrier. They were shouting after the man in Chinese, but since the man didn’t even turn to look, they soon stopped, shrugged their shoulders and walked back into the store.

Laura was looking more closely at the man who appeared to be walking towards the canal and her spot of peace.

‘I should get up and go’, Laura thought. ‘Better not to talk to this man who seems to have caused commotion.’

Laura was just getting back on her feet when the dark stranger was standing right in front of her. He was much taller than what Laura had initially thought. Towering over her, he held out a chocolate bar towards her. As Laura looked up, she could see a clint of mischief in his deep brown eyes.

Then Laura took a sharp breath in as she realised who he was. He was Darky Lewis, a world-famous pop singer. He had sang with a very famous band called The Dark Stars until last year when he decided to go solo, and had built a very successful solo career for himself. Laura was in awe. She quickly tried to recompose herself and smiled at the man.

‘Were those people just shouting after you?’ She asked tentatively. To her surprise, Darky started laughing in very girlish giggles. There was something very captivating about the way he laughed, and Laura couldn’t help herself but to laugh along.

‘Yes, they were’, Darky said after a while of mutual giggling. ‘They were trying to catch me. And get me to pay for these treats.‘ He pointed at a couple of chocolate bars and a packet of cookies. ‘I haven’t had the chance to change any money yet, I only just got here today. I tried to pay for these with US dollars and British pounds, which is all I‘ve got, but they were having none of it. Soon enough they were all screaming at me in Chinese, not understanding a word I was saying… I couldn’t think of what else to do but simply walk out. I was starving and needed something to eat tonight before going to bed.’

Darky shrugged at Laura apologetically. He looked somehow embarrassed at what he had done.

‘How come a world-reknown pop star needs to steal chocolate bars?’ Laura whispered to herself, but nevertheless she dug out some Taiwanese shillings from her pocket.

‘Why don’t you go and give this money to them?” She suggested and handed the coins to Darky. ‘I bet that they would appreciate it. After all, they are only trying to make a living by running this shop.’

Darky took the coins and looked grateful. ‘Thank you very much. This is very kind of you. Now, please, at lest take one of the chocolate bars as a thank you.’ He grinned a charming  smile that spread across his face. ‘I’ll be back in a minute.’ Darky disappeared back inside the shop and, Laura didn’t have time for much else than for gathering her thoughts, when Darky was back by her side with some iced coffees in hand.

‘They insisted that you should have these’, he said as he pointed towards the shop. ‘I think that they were looking through the window and saw you giving me the money.’

Laura took the coffees and waved at the shop window. Since it was dark, it was hard to make out if anyone waved back, but she thought that she saw a red sleeve move in a wave motion.

‘That’s sorted then’, she said and smiled at Darky. ‘I am Laura, by the way, from London’.

‘And I am Darky, from New York.’

They shook hands.

‘So what brings you here?’ Darky asked after a while once they had chewed on their chocolate bars in silence for a few minutes, admiring the mountains that were now casting grey silluettes.

‘I am doing a yoga and meditation retreat down the road’, Laura said and pointed to the direction of the retreat centre.

‘Funny you should say that’, Darky grinned. ‘So am I.’

‘I guess that Annie’s prediction of celebrity clients was correct then’, Laura thought. Then she turned to Darky.’ Isn’t it a wonderful place for some relaxation and recuperation?’

‘You could say that’, Darky laughed as he swang around, took his mobile phone out his pocket and started walking away. ‘I’ll be seeing you, Laura. I need to make some phone calls before I pass out.’

With that, he walked away into the dark night.

‘What is he like’, Laura whispered to the birds that were flying by, as she started walking towards the retreat centre, with an uneasy feeling in her heart.

THE NEXT STEP (9)

‘I can’t believe this place! I can’t believe I’m here!’ Laura said to Annie. The two of them were sitting on a terrace outside their little flat at the retreat centre in the outskirts of Taipei. They were gazing at the sunlight emerging from behind the mountains and sipping ice-cold macha green tea. It was early morning, but the warm sunshine was already making the place heat up.

The retreat centre was in a quiet mountanous area, with Taipei within an easy reach. Mountains and lucsious trees surrounded the ancient, red brick buildings. Laura had never seen such beautiful and green nature before in her life. It was excuisite. The retreat centre was truly in a natural heaven, so to speak.

‘I know’, Annie laughed. ‘I can’t wait for all the others to get here in the next few days and for the retreat to start. In a way it is good that we had these first couple of days to ourselves. At least you got to see some of Taipei and also get over the worst part of jetlag.’

‘Oh yes, bloody jetlag’, Laura sighed. She kept on having difficulties falling asleep at night and then even more difficulties getting up in the morning.

Annie had told her that the best way to tackle the jetlag would be force oneself up at the same time each morning and so they had got into a habit of getting up an seven in the morning in order to do some meditation and yoga outside before having some tea on the terrace. Laura was getting used to the early starts and was feeling good about making the most of each day, rather than lying in bed wasting this wonderful opportunity away.

‘You know what’, Laura said thoughtfully. ‘I had the weirdest dream last night when I was trying to fall sleep. I saw these pictures of the Buddha and some Hindu statues right in front of my eyes. They were all different colours and kept changing from one to another quickly, always coming closer to me. It felt so real, like they were there right in front of me. When I woke up in the morning, I was still expecting to see them, but of course they were not there any more.’

‘I’ve also had such a dream before’, Annie shrieked. ‘ Last year, when I was at a cross-roads in my life. A fortune-teller told me that it meant that the Masters, Gods and Godesses were trying to reach out to me and talk to me, to guide me where I needed to go. She said that I should let them talk to me in my dreams and then I would realise what I would want to do with my life.’ Annie shrugged. ‘I don’t know if she was right, but at least I figured out what I wanted to do soon after that.’

Laura looked at Annie in disbelief. ‘Really? I feel that there is so much more in this spirit world that I need to pay attention to. I don’t know, I have been doing yoga for so long, but many aspects of this kind of life I have completely cut off. I probably need to be more open-minded about it.’

‘Well, what better place to do it than this!’ Annie nodded enthusiastically. ‘I am sure that within the next couple of weeks we will both learn many new aspects of life that we never thought about even. Perfect place for relaxation but also for learning something new. By the way, did you know that many famous people also came here to refresh and recharge? The legend goes that even Sir Paul McCartney was here at some point.’

Both of the girls laughed.

‘Must be a wonderful place then’, Laura said softly, as she looks up at the mountains. ‘We’ll see who will be here tomorrow and if we know any of them from before.’

THE NEXT STEP (8)

Sitting on the modern shuttle bus that would take him from the airport to the city centre, Ted reflected on Sheila’s question on why he had chosen to travel at this point in his life  – was it the right decision for him to come here? Why Taiwan of all places anyway? Who would have ever thought that he would end up here? Who would have thought that he would end up anywhere in Asia, for that matter?

The hazy sunlight gave way to a spectacular view. Beautiful and magnificent mountains surrounded the streets and the small town that the bus was passing through. The mountains took Ted by surprise. He had seen mountains in Switzerland and in Africa before, but these were even higher and radiated a different kind of light. Ted could really feel how close to nature he was. He could not help it but feel that he was one with the mountains. It felt as if the sun was going straight through him and the mountains at the same time. Ted was mesmerized by the view; and he didn’t want this feeling to end.

Ted had first become interested in Taiwan when they had learnt about the turbulent history between mainland China and Taiwan in his Politics class at school. He had been fascinated by the contrast between the sizes of the two countries – the tiny country that had defended itself against its huge rival had captured him and, when he decided that it was time for him to travel, Ted knew it had to be Taiwan. Before he left London, Ted had been certain that a spiritual journey was the only journey onwards. He had known that Taiwan would be the sanctuary for him that he needed from the turbulence that he faced in Europe. The turbulence and the winds blowing inside him. He had to calm them down somehow.

Ted had no idea what the months ahead had in store for him. The only thing he knew was that this was the right way ahead for him. It somehow felt unusual for many, including himself, that an African guy who had settled down in Europe would want to take on such a journey. But it just seemed the way forward, and the only way forward, really. Ted had an intense sensation rush through his whole body when he thought about leaving the superficial materialistic world behind. None of that materialistic stuff had brought him happiness. None of the clothes, the books, the DVDs, the music had brought him real happiness. It was all just pretend happiness.

None of his family members had truly understood why Ted wanted to go and travel. All they would see in the countries that he wanted to go to was illness and poverty. Why would you want to spend all your money on such a trip? But Ted had known that this was his calling and that he had to do it.

When the bus reached the end of a long winding road, Ted could see a tall acacia tree standing next to a golden Buddha statue – this was the entrance to the Buddhist monastery. The white pillars and the Oriental style arch affirmed it to him that he had made the right decision. As he stepped off the bus, he felt with certainty that he had arrived where he needed to be.

THE NEXT STEP (7)

Sheila’s laughter and smile haunted Ted as he watched Hong Kong disappear in the mist beneath the airplane. The glimmer of the sea and the green mountains seemed to tell their own stories. Would Taiwan have different stories to tell him?

The airport certainly had new stories to tell. When Ted was waiting for his luggage at the arrivals hall, a guard dog came towards him, wagging his tail happily. The dog was panting as if he had found a treasure and was sniffing Ted’s bag. The dog ran from one side of Ted to the other.

‘Excuse me , Sir’, a smily youngish lady approached him. She seemed to be one of the guards at the airport. It was so misleading since Oriental people always looked much younger than what they actually were. ‘Can I check your bag, please?‘ She asked.

Ted nodded. ‘Sure, though there shouldn’t be anything of alarm in the bag.’

The lady searched the bag. ‘Have you had food in the bag recently?‘

Ted tried to remember. ‘Yes, I think I had a sandwich, which I ate at the airport in London.’

The lady nodded. ‘It could be that that the dog is smelling.’

‘Okay’, Ted said. The lady continued looking into the bag and pulled out an old teddy bear.

‘This is yours?’ She asked and held out the bear. All of Ted’s fellow passengers around him looked at their direction and the scene seemed to amuse them.

‘Yes, it is mine.’ Ted blushed for the second time during that day. Why was he so embarrassed about everything all of a sudden?

The lady smiled, put the bear back in his bag and handed it to him.‘ All good’, she simply said and walked away with the dog that was still panting happily.

Ted held his bag close to him. The bear had been a present from his farther, and most likely the only present that he ever got from him,  when he was only two years old. The bear went everywhere with him. It had travelled to most European countries, many South and Central American countries and now to Asia. It had probably travelled more than many of his human friends. But the bear was so dear to him that Ted was willing to take all the mockery in the world to let the bear carry on traveling with him.

Piano and Keyboard Lessons in London for 2016

Piano and keyboard lessons are on offer in London for 2016 – both children & adults are very welcome!

* Private one-to-one lessons at the comfort of your home or at teacher’s house in E9  – £20 for 30 minutes and £35 for an hour – beginners and more advanced learners welcome! Currently central London, East London and South West London covered.

* Group keyboard lessons with Funky Money Music (www.funkymonkey.info) on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

* Twin piano and keyboard lessons for parents and children where the parent and the child learn together, or two siblings & friends learn together – £25 per an hour long session.

* Tailored music therapy sessions for relaxation at £15 per hour.

Please contact Tiija at tiija.rinta@gmail.com for more information on any of the above

Music to Kick off the New Year

Here is a beautiful and inspiring piece of music by an up and coming artist – his voice touches you deep down and the lyrics speak in volumes. You will no doubt hear his music in this New Year, as he begins his new musical journey:

https://soundcloud.com/dilatedacademy/black-soul?utm_source=soundcloud&utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=twitter