Thursday, December 6, 2012

New website is up at

I'll keep this one up as long as blogspot will allow, to serve as an archive.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Nothing gives me a better reason to write than travel. A change of surroundings always inspires, because it provides a different perspective on life. Different places have different culture, customs, language and ways of thinking. Its living proof that the world is not static, but highly dynamic and ever changing. The age-old axiom “all things are impermanent [and thus relative]” rings especially true when you’re on the road. It’s good to remind yourself of this sometimes.

The ridicule or praise of worldly people means nothing
This is an old truth; don’t think it was discovered recently.
“I want this, I want that”
Is nothing but foolishness.
I’ll tell you a secret:
All things are impermanent.

良寛大愚 (1758-1831)

The last month or so has just felt like a big free fall, and I still don’t know where the ground is. But I know it was time for me to leave Taiwan and move on. Now that I’ve been in Macau for a few days, it kind of feels like I’m coming out of exile. Not just physically, but mentally, psychologically and spiritually, too. For a year all I did was focus on getting a solid foundation in Mandarin Chinese, not much else. I’m grateful I did that, but it wasn’t easy. Many times I wanted to leave, put more time into other things. Travel, music, anything. Anything but be stuck in a dirty city. But I held my course, and now here I am. Out of exile, literally on the border with Mainland China proper. I have no idea what the future holds, but I’m exited. Exited by the possibilities. Isn’t it a trip? The flip side of these lame insecure feelings that come with free fall is that they’re just a function of this wide open field of possibilities. Depending on your point of view, your either be stoked about it or are really scared and intimidated by the vastness of it all. Me? I go back and forth.

Right now I’m stoked. Waking up, sitting, stretching and sitting down with a good cup of green Chinese (as opposed to Taiwanese) tea bring me back home, back to the root. But last night I got caught up in the worrying again. Lame insecurity and stuff. Still can’t do much about it when it happens. Kind of like typhoon; best you can do is just close the shutters, go inside and brace the storm. It’s lame, but it happens. It’s just nature in all it’s different manifestations. I still believe you can’t really change this stuff, but you have to learn how to live with it. Kind of like that typhoon. You can’t stop it from raining and storming, but you can learn how to keep your house from getting leveled. Or like Brant used to say to me: “You can’t change the waves, but you can learn how to surf”. Yeah.

As I’m sitting here writing this, I’m listening to John Coltrane right now. Man, that dude is an inspiration too. Someone asked him why do you play music, what’s your message? And Trane’s like, “I play music to uplift people”. And he means it too, you can feel it. The stuff he did from the Sixties onwards, man, it’s powerful. “Holy ghost music”, Carlos Santana would say. And that just brings me right back home, back to the roots. I’ll be honest, I don’t know what the future looks like either, or how it’s gonna manifest itself. But whatever I do it has to do that; Uplift people, inspire people. Even if it’s a only a handful. It’s important to remind myself of that, cause that lame insecurity gets in the way sometimes and can make you lose sight of your higher goals in life. You start to settle for less. Compromise. That might be fine for some people, but I sure don’t want to live my life that way. Bob Dylan said “those who ain’t busy living are busy dying”. And I’m in no hurry to die, so why settle? Like Steve Jobs said, “you can’t connect the dots looking forward, only looking backwards”. So in the mean time you got to have faith and follow your heart, reach for the higher goal and don’t lose sight of the big picture. And if a typhoon comes, just go inside and brace the storm. If you’re skateboarding and you fall down, just get back up and keep going. You miss a beat? Just wait for the one and come back in. Moral of the story? Don’t give up on your dreams, or they will give up on you. So keep on pushing – straight ahead.

And that’s about all I have to say about that.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

This is the archive for the old blog. Head over to to view the current one.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

This blog has always been called "traveling the world for rock-n-roll", but sometimes I feel like I'm writing more about traveling than rock-n-roll. And it seems a lot of people feel the same way, because I get a lot of questions along the lines of "So, when are you going to get back to playing music again?" And I gotta say, this always kind of trips me out. What do you mean, get back to playing music? I've never stopped! Truth is, no matter where I go, I'll take a guitar with me. So I'm always singing songs or jamming with people. Music is a part of my daily life. Like eating, sleeping and drinking tea. It's ingrained in everything I do, and through which I see the world.

So last week I started digging through my archives and found that I actually have a bunch of footage of me playing music all throughout last year, when I was travelling through Russia, Mongolia and China. But I'm still not sure what to do with it... should I edit it along with travel footage into little 3-5 minute videos, or should I just post bite-sized clips? Or maybe do both... I don't know. Anyway, I'm still figuring that one out. But I do have some more recent footage from Taiwan that I already put on youtube - which is' actually where this whole idea came from in the first place.

Part One - Tabla in Taipei

Last month we went up to Taipei for the weekend of 10/10 - which is when the Republic of Taiwan celebrated it's 100 year anniversary. In keeping with our traveler's spirit, we decided to couchsurf instead of staying at a hostel. I try to avoid hostels as much as possible. CouchSurfing is great, because you get to meet local people who take you off the beaten tourist track. You get to experience a place from the inside, with the locals . Our CS Host in Taipei was Pei-Ling, a Musicology major with a passion for ethnic music. We had many great conversations about music, culture and traveling - and she made us simple, wonderful breakfast every morning. Not the standard Taiwanese fare, but still very Asian. That's a compliment - I liked it a lot! On top of all that, she took us to the Asian Pacific Ethnic Music Festival. We saw a music and dance ensemble from Thailand and a classical Indian/Pakistani band complete with Vocals, Sitar, Flute and two Tabla players - it was great! As a matter of fact, Pei-Ling plays Tabla herself. Has been for 4 years now, I think. So when we got home she got behind the tabla and we jammed together. Check it out on youtube. I'm very grateful for her hospitality and had a great time hanging out. I looking forward to playing with her again.

Part Two - Motorhead

So what else has been going on in terms of rock-n-roll? Well, lately I've been going to this place out in Dakeng, near Taichung (where I live), called the Refuge. It's a community of musicians and artists - both foreign and Taiwanese - where people hang out and jam. First time I went down, a couple of weeks ago, I got up and played a few songs and then ended up jamming with people for the next 3 hours. But the first thing I played was a Motorhead song, called "Keep us on the road"

Part Three - Jazz and the Holy Ghost

Last month Taichung also hosted the biggest Jazz festival in Taiwan. It was free, held in a park downtown, and lasted for about two weeks - with live music every night. I was really exited when I found out McCoy Tyner would be closing the festival and looked forward to that for weeks.

For those of you don't know, McCoy Tyner was John Coltrane's piano player in the 1960's, and was with him all throughout what is known as the "Classic Coltrane Quartet"-era. So he's not a young dude anymore, he must be in his late 70's now, I think.

I remember the first time I heard him play, on a recording. I was 16 years old and I'd just met my friend Mark. I went over to his house and we talked about the music we both liked. Since we both met at a Brant Bjork gig, we obviously shared a love for bands like Kyuss, Jimi Hendrix, Thin Lizzy, etc. And we both played guitar. But then I found out he also played saxophone, and was really into Jazz as well. Grant Green, Miles Davis, John Coltrane - you know, the good stuff. I knew I liked Jazz, but hadn't yet gotten into it like I had with rock-n-roll. So he pulls out this John Coltrane record called "A Love Supreme", which features McCoy Tyner on piano, saying if I liked Jazz I should really get into this record. Then he puts it on the turntable, and the moment the needle hit wax and I heard the band play those first notes, I felt like I was seeing the pearly gates; heaven was opening itself up. Literally. It was like a religious experience. I cried. Later I found out that the record "A Love Supreme" is John Coltrane's tribute to God. And he wasn't religious, per-se. Just a deeply spiritual person.

So that's how I got into John Coltrane. And my favorite music Coltrane ever did was with McCoy Tyner - it's been close to my heart ever since. Unfortunately, 'Trane died in 1967, but McCoy Tyner still tours and performs, so I was really eager to check him out. I must admit, I was (and am still) not really familiar with Tyner's work after Coltrane, so I wasn't sure to expect. But I made a point to not go on youtube and see what he's like nowadays. I was gonna go there like with an empty cup. No expectations, just like the first time I heard "A Love Supreme".

The day finally came, and McCoy Tyner walked up on stage to a standing ovation. He slowly went over to the microphone and said - in a gentle old man's voice - "Xièxiè" (Chinese for thank you). Then he got behind the piano, and started playing. And I started crying - tears of joy. I saw those pearly gates again. It was beautiful. I was moved by this music like I hadn't been moved by music in years. It was like being stirred by the holy ghost. It reminded me of everything I believed in. That relentless search to keep growing, to "wake up a little higher every day", to better yourself as a human being - and all the struggles that come with that. I heard this music, and it was like coming home. I felt rejuvenated. But most of all I felt grateful. It reminds me of the last words of John Coltrane's liner notes for "A Love Supreme", so I'll end on that note because it best describes how I felt.

"Elation. Elegance. Exaltation. All from God. Thank you God. Amen."

Sunday, October 23, 2011

More new videos! Like I said last week, I was in Holland between August 23rd and September 9th. Brother Mark came out and played some saxophone. My sister was there and caught it all on film. She put together a nice video to a song me and Mark recorded that day, called 'The sayings of Layman Pang' - you can check it out here:

This is another example of a song I wrote based on a Chinese Poem. In this case, one by Layman Pang (龐居士 Páng Jūshì)

日日事無別 In my daily life there are no other tasks than
惟吾自偶諧 Those that happen to fall into my hands.
頭頭非取捨 Nothing I choose, nothing reject.
處處沒張乖 Nowhere is there ado, nowhere a slip.
朱紫誰爲號 I have no other sign of my glory than
邱山絶塵埃 The mountains and hills without a spec of dust.
神通並妙用 My magical power and spiritual practice is
運水及搬柴 Carrying water and gathering firewood.

Even though I didn't plan it this way, the song seems to fit video. There's no plot, really. It just another day in my life. Drinking tea, playing music, visiting my grandparents, buying vegetables and eating dinner.

But when I say "it's just another day in my life", I don't mean to say that it's random and insignificant. What I'm trying to get at is the same thing that Layman Pang was getting at. The fact that real peace of mind, "Zen" if you will, isn't found in being especially holy or spiritual at certain times or in a certain way, but that holiness pervades everything you do. From "carrying water and gathering firewood" all the way down to washing dishes and even taking a shit. It's all significant. Because if you can't find peace of mind doing the things that make up your every day life, where are you going to find it?

And at the same time, even though it's all significant, it's nothing special. There's nothing to brag about; it's just everyday life. That's what Pang means by "I have no other sign of my glory than the mountains and hills without a speck of dust"

Think about that for a little bit - I have to start cooking dinner now.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

好久不見!I've been in Taiwan since June - that's over four months now! Most of you probably know how and why I ended up here, but here's a brief recap for those who don't...

After traveling by train from Holland through Russia and Mongolia, I arrived in Beijing December 23rd, and have been in the so called 'Sinosphere' ever since. I really enjoyed my time in China, and it's made me want to learn more Chinese. But since they use simplified characters over there, I decided to come to Taiwan and learn the traditional ones. After some research and asking around, I signed up to study at Tunghai University (東海大學) in Taichung (台中), Taiwan's 3rd biggest city. I got here in the middle of summer, so dealing with the heat humidity has been a challenge to say the least! Though it's been a blessing in disguise; the heat forces me to stay inside for most of the day, allowing me to focus on my studies. That's a first for me, too - I never did study very hard when I was younger...

(Taichung's most famous landmark - the chapel at Tunghai University. It's supposed to represent two hands folded in prayer. What's also remarkable about its design is that it doesn't use any support pillars. Whether by strength of design, or by the grace of God, it has since survived many of Taiwan's frequent earthquakes)

When the 2-month summer semester ended in August I went back to Holland for a few weeks. I was happy to see my family again. My grandparents also happened to be celebrating their 50th anniversary on September 4th, and it was nice be back for that.

(Almost the entire family was present at my grandparent's 50 anniversary celebration. Some even flew out from Australia to be there!)

My good friend Mark came out and played a few songs with me at the party. Mark is a great musician in his own right, and spread a lot of good vibes that day playing soprano saxophone.

The next day my sister shot some film of us playing a few tunes. A few days ago I subtitled the first one, and put it up on Youtube. It's called 'No season is too much'

It's a song I wrote a few years ago when I was in India. Like a lot of my songs, it's based on a Chinese Zen poem. In this case one from the Wumenkai (無門開) that sort of goes like this:


Hundreds of flowers in the spring, the moon in the autumn,
A cool breeze in summer; and snow in winter;
If your mind is not clouded by unnecessary things
No season is too much for you

Besides the music lots more happened when I was back in Holland. I caught up with a couple of old friends (though not all of them, unfortunately) and visited some places I'd never been before. I felt like a tourist in my own country, seeing all these things for the very first time! I also found some new perspective on my connection to this land.

(Typical Dutch picture taken on a beautiful day at the 'Zaansche Schans' - it's one of those places all the tourists visit but the locals never see... or at least I never have! I'm glad my friend took me to see this place though, because it turned out to be among the highlights of my trip to Holland)

I've been back to Holland from time to time since I left to travel the world in 2005/2006, but for some reason this time was special. Visiting for such a short time opened up the door to experience things in a different light. It felt like I was on the outside looking in - not really actively participating in Dutch society, but sort of just passing through, quietly observing. Here I was, speaking the same language, yet it was as though I was coming from a different culture. I have often felt that way, coming from a small town in the southwest of Holland, quite a ways from the big cities. The culture that raised me was that of the sea, the clouds, the sand and the dunes. It was small town, countryside. There was always enough, but never more than you needed. These things taught me how to keep my cup empty, to always have some space left to learn. I don't think I realized all of this growing up, but in retrospect it seems to have been a big influence.

This short trip back to Holland has made me grateful for where I come from, and has helped me make some peace with a land where I was born but never felt at home. I still don't, but now it doesn't really matter anymore. I realize that 'home' isn't some place you find outside of yourself. 'Home' is where you feel at home, and you can only find that inside your own heart.

(the sea, the clouds, the sand and the dunes)

Friday, April 1, 2011

i just checked. my last post was on november 23rd, more than four months ago! but it feels like i wrote it yesterday; those three months in china flew by like nothing. it was an amazing experience, and it feels like it'll take a while to wrap my head around it. lots of learning. i'm in macau right now, and have some free time on my hands to write about it, so here's a spiel on internet, postcards, people and communication:

in a lot of ways, china is much more modern than i think most people probably think it is. but some things are still very different. for example, access to websites like facebook, youtube and google's blogspot (which this 'log is hosted on, as well) is still restricted almost everywhere. ironicly, this seeming "restriction of freedom" actually felt very liberating to me. not having access to these places is the perfect excuse for keeping a low online profile. nowadays there's so many people using the internet as their main means of communication, that it can start to feel like an obligation to keep in touch that way... all-the-time. don't get me wrong, i'm all for progress and believe in staying in tune with the times - i like facebook, i have an iPhone4 - but i wanted to try a different approach. something a little bit more tangible, hands on. with all this virtual reality we have nowadays, it's easy to forget there's a real world out there! so i went back to basics: sending postcards.

(me five months ago, at the start of this trip. sending my first postcards from moscow)

why? well, even though sites like hotmail, yahoo and gmail work just fine in china, i usually still had to go out of my way to find an internet cafe. while these are cheap, they're also kind of dingy. filled with chain smoking, counterstrike playing chinese men - the smell of instant noodles permeates the air and a layer of ash covers every keyboard. you probably understand why i didn't want to be there a second longer than i had to.

(unfortunately, neither of us took any pictures of these dingy internet dungeons. but i didn't have to google long to find something that looked a lot like what we saw all over china!)

once i had access to facebook again i decided to post a message and have everyone send me their adress, so i could send them postcards. i think email is very convenient, but it's also kind of lame. no matter if the person who sent you the email is in china or right across the street from you, the email looks exactly the same. but when you get a postcard from a different land it's completely different every time. there's a strange language on it, different stamps, and an exotic picture of places you've probably never even seen. finding something like this in your real mailbox every once in a while can feel very special. kind of like getting a small present for christmas. that's how i've always felt, anyway. email just doesn't do the same for me. so now i send postcards, because i believe people are special. and communication between them special, too.

(a buddhist tablet at one of wutaishan's old buddhist temples, written in the four main languages of the time (qing dynasty) - tibetan, chinese, manchurian and mongolian)