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Outside The Metaverse: Notes On A Hundred Islands Overlooking The Andaman Sea, Off Thailand – Essay

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Note #1: Of Eagles, Angels, and the Matrix

Ernest Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea.”  That’s what I was letting my mind conjure as I sat here watching the sunrise, sunset on this beautiful tropical island of Malaysia’s Langkawi (Island of Langkawi, meaning “Island of Eagles.”) In a literary mode. Philosophizing. Outside the Metaverse.  And then the image of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings. And of eagles, in all their variations of representation.

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That’s what I arrived at too.  as I stroll with ease and appreciation in the early morning, along the beach. And I was imagining that angel in the story, flying into the horizon. A dot in the sky it turned into. As in the ending of Garcia-Marquez’s “tale for children”, of that very old man with enormous wings. Yes, in a literary mode I was. I am now hence a literary, ethnographic, philosophical traveler — always contextualizing phenomena. Letting my brain cells make connections, as natural as the breeze and the waves of the beaches of this mystical island.

But New York City is no different. It is a hyper-concrete forest. Waves of people. On cell phones. The waves hit the shores as natural, as an individual, as the lonely yet rich in their alone-ness. Rich in their American-ness. The mind is as free as the eagles soaring in the skies. Yet, this tropical island I was on. On this island of eagles. The California rock band comes to my mind as well, as I speak of eagles.

Speaking of Eagles, the band, I was at their concert on January 18, 2016. I wrote this on my Facebook page:

“… TEQUILA NOTES

— never have I seen so many guitars used in any concert I have been to, then in the 2013 History of Eagles Concert in Philadelphia. I had lost count that evening, maybe close to a hundred? I was busy figuring out the brands … Taylor, Gibson, Fender, name it … The Eagles were using them. It was an amazing evening, rekindling my early days of listening to this great band that meant so much to my growing-up years in the ashram on Mars.

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— if a kid back in the day had not heard of Hotel California, he might as well book a room in Hotel Rwanda. If one does not know how to play the song on his old beat-up China-made Kapok guitar, he might as well play the kompang in a joget band in my kampong.

— yes, the classic, most memorable riff of Hotel California may perhaps be the most remarkable line of tequila sunrise scaling act any kid into rock would remember and try to imitate. And the lyrics …

“You can check out anytime you want but you can never leave…” is so prophetic. Perhaps about dogma, indoctrination, and the prison-house of languages.

— Eagles … supergroup … Glenn Frey, I shall play your songs today. I played a lot of yours last week … and Linda Ronstadt’s too … never knew you too, like David Bowie … were saying goodbye.

And when speaking of angels, images by the many came rushing in: one is from the metaphysical poems of the German poet Rainer Marie Rilke, in his “Duino Elegies.” and some from the stories crafted by religion to lend believability. And of a more modern lyrical, musical, and harmonious memory is those sung by the British musician Sting, “When Angels Fall.”

Rilke wrote, in the first series of his ten poems:

The First Elegy
WHO, if I cried out, might hear me – among the ranked Angels?
Even if One suddenly clasped me to his heart
I would die of the force of his being. For Beauty is only
the infant of scarcely endurable Terror, and we
are amazed when it casually spares us.
Every Angel is terrible
.


And so I check myself, choke back my summoning
black cry. Who’ll help us then? Not Angels,
not Mankind; and the nosing beasts soon scent
how insecurely we’re housed in this signposted World.
And yet a tree might grow for us upon some hill
for us to see and see again each day. Perhaps
we have yesterday’s streets. Perhaps we keep
the pampered loyalty of some old habit
which loved its life with us – and stayed, never left us
.

I had, in the weeks before being on this island of a thousand stories, of adorned with mountains millions-of-years old (yes, millions of -years old) in which some continents were still one, been on a lecture spree of everything metaverse: AI, blockchain, cryptocurrency, NFTs, Bitcoin, Ethereum, Robots, the shape of wars to come with robots as armies and all these that make the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0 look elegant and exciting.

But being in this world in which Time could be made to stand still, even for short moments staring at the waves, the horizon, and the eagles soaring makes me feel like a human again. Not like an avatar, spewing Mark Zuckerberg’s ideology, talking about changes in society as if the world is a linear journey to the “matrix” of everything digital. As if we are all, inhabitants of the world, a hundred percent on the same page of wanting to live in the fantasy of life on the screen and our mind-body-soul-spirit-jiwa- raga- Atma all in the metaverse built by big companies dominating Virtual Capitalism: techno-fantasy-peddling sharks loving money and digital currencies!

Let me go back to reading Shelley and next, Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. Until my next rendezvous with that mystical island.

Dr. Azly Rahman

Dr. Azly Rahman is an academician, educator, international columnist, and author of nine books He holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in international education development and Master's degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies, communication, fiction, and non-fiction writing. He is a member of the Columbia University chapter of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education. Twitter @azlyrahman. More writings here. His latest book, a memoir, is published by Penguin Books is available here.

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