(And the works of our friends too. ↓)
About JW: I am a web developer and programmer, in service to Tibetan Buddhism and exile Tibetans since 2001, and now also to Thai Forest Tradition and Khao Tham since September 2017.
I have been staying in McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, India, since 2001, and part of the time also in Thailand since 2014. My Thailand time since Sept 2017 is in a kuti at Khao Tham from where i can do the web work, meditate. and rake the many leaves of the Khao Tham grounds.
Jump past all the bala bala to support my work
WebWalker is me James Walker. I have been a web developer since the web began. In 2001 i was invited to travel with a friend in India. He took me to McLeod Ganj and the Tibetan exile community there, where i helped some Tibet organisations with their websites. While rebuilding the website of TCHRD and re-coding every page, i read every interview, every story on that site, of Tibetan refugees and the horrors they have undergone. I wondered how the people in that office, the Tibetans in McLeod, the Tibetans in the world, managed to get up and go to work everyday, knowing these things were happening, which were their own people in their own families. I could do no different, could not leave, could see how important the Web is for Tibetans telling their story to the world, and that i could help pass on those skills. And have been building / teaching / advising Web here ever since.
Since 2001 this has been my work. 24×7. For Tibet and for dharma.
The reward for me has always been, seeing people and organisations lose any need for me to be around at all. To have erstwhile “students” asking me advanced questions, and i don’t have an answer! To see once-beginner programmers now managing organisation websites and programming projects, and taking IT positions all over the world. And seeing the growth of Tibetan websites, telling the world about Tibetans. And feeling good that i had a small part in that.
Because i’m a bit slow, it took me a few months to realise that Tibetans were perfectly capable of building their own websites. At that time few people had Internet, or access to books and teachers to learn Web. So my goal became the “teach someone to fish” thing. I tried as much as possible not to build a website for an organisation, but to get them to give me a staff person to teach. (My apologies to those victims who were assigned arbitrarily and really had no interest — i did try not to torture you too much!)
Another thing i saw early on, watching the multitude of volunteers aid organisations in mcleod ganj, was the pernicious quality of “helping”.
So with those concepts in mind:
- “I don’t do, i only teach!” was my boilerplate response to orgs and individuals asking me for Web help.
- I only do something when asked. I didn’t publicize in any way that i was teaching Web. I don’t volunteer web building or teaching services, and i don’t volunteer ideas or suggestions for websites or other tech needs. If initiative doesn’t come from the organisation or individual, then they won’t be able to use what i have to give — or don’t need it!
All this sounds so nice and idealistic, but in practice it’s a bit hard for me. I am by nature a coder, and a loner. I am told that i’m good at explaining things, especially in a one-on-one situation. I am good at sharing my knowledge with motivated people, but lack all the other social and organisational skills to run a class. I can “play teacher” in a classroom, but i’m not very good at it! Another difficulty is the deep cultural assumption that if you are a white Westerner, you are here to “help”, just to give. So working against that flow is difficult sometimes.
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” — Aboriginal activists, via Lilla Watson
So that is what i tried to do.
This is always an individual initiative. I never charge — it is about service. I have never been part of any organisation, and most of my contact has been “on the ground” with tech workers and web developers, both as individuals and as workers for Tibetan exile organisations. I have always felt that i was most useful if i did my service this way, one-on-one. And that i give/teach only when asked, give only what is asked, and then get the hell out of the way. I have purposely kept low-profile in all my years here.
For these reasons, along with staff turnover at organisations and population turnover in the community, i am not much known among the big monkeys. And i like it like that 😀 .
But — this also means that if i need financial support to continue, then i need to become less obscure, more visible, so that people who might want to give that support, can see some reason to do it!
So this page is my attempt to look back over the years, assemble my “accomplishments”, and present them to you.
Have been in McLeod Ganj since December,
and getting ready to go back to Thailand. First to get vaccinations and new glasses in Bangkok. Then to Khao Tham for a couple months. Then to McLeod again for a month to help with TibetWrites.in and TibetWorld.org.
Well well well, life is impermanent and ever-changing, whaddya know!
Am now in self-quarantine in McLeod Ganj, along with everbody else in India.
So i will have time to do extensive work with the owners (online!)
Will be looking into good ways for TibetWorld and VikramaShila to
hold classes remotely.
All travel plans are up in the air, but at some point before winter i hope to go to US and renew my India visa and take care of some things.
Web work this session:
- A bit of web consulting with local Tibetan web developers through emails, sms, phone. [details]
- As always, supporting Lobsang Wangyal Works through website administration, editing, and hot lemon/ginger/honey. [details]
- And the usual 25-website maintenance and updates, (which includes keeping up with web tech and implementing on websites) …
Other works this session:
- Still hoping to get to redesign of the Help With Books website with Phuntsok Dorjee. [details]
- On hold: Building web and Wikipedia pages for Ngodup Paljor — starting with this page
- Still working on the backup disks and reconciling everything, and setting up individual backup “clouds” for myself and LW. We both have years of archives of our own works, and in my case old websites of many Tibetan orgs, and cannot lose them!
- Supporting local kitties who show up when word gets around that i am back.
The black drooly kitty is now Squeakins Kitty — she has never meowed, but always little squeaks, which are now paragraphs of squeaky talking. She is a real cat now. Spent a month or so of her new-found health eating and sleeping, with a regular schedule of cuddling with me and getting brushes and scratchies every afternoon around 4pm (her schedule!).
Now apparently she has gone on to the next stage of a McLeod kitty — started coming home less and less, comes by in the morning for food and greetings, and she’s on her own. I miss her hanging out, but it’s so good to see her a “real kitty” at last!
- Dhamma study and meditation as always.
- Not teaching Web like i used to … Why not?
Why am i not doing this so much any more?
Several things occurred over the past few years, that made my role unneeded, and not fitting in the current situation in McLeod. Due to big clampdown on refugees by the Communist regime of China, less and less newcomers were arriving looking for classes of anything available. I think about half of my “students” over the years were refugees. (Which made for very interesting, rewarding, and enlightening experiences teaching programming without English!) Another is that McLeod Ganj exploded into a big tourist town for Indians, room rentals went up along with prices of everything, and the young students i work with can’t afford to hang out here. A third: many young Tibetans turned their faces outward, toward the West, and were not exploring options in McLeod or in India. Another, on positive side: The increased availability of cheap Internet access, the rise of affordable laptops and then mobile phones, and the proliferation of excellent web resources and tutorials on the Web, gave people the real things they needed to learn. And finally, with Tibetan web developers and programmers emerging as mentors and role models, somebody like me is just superfluous. My goal achieved! 😀
And so now i’m back to doing what i like best: coding, building websites. Which means i am going against the “I don’t do” thing, isn’t it? But i’m building and maintaining the sites for people who i believe are doing wonderful things for community and for dharma. And sharing the tech things i learn with people who consult with me. So that’s all right 🙂
These are things always on my mind, for “some day later when i have more time.” But that some day never seems to come — because of other more important works
The Drongo Suite
status: in process, and being used on my websites. But nowhere near complete.
My system of themes, plugins, and code used on all my websites
(about 21 sites). I have had big plans for this for several years. The plan file keeps growing as i think of more ideas, but the work on the system has been very slow [details]
Ajahn Sumedho Anthology Concordance
status: mostly in the dream stage. reading the books; notes in margins and flyleaves!
A concordance of themes, concepts, and Pali words for the
Anthology of Ajahn Sumedho teachings
My dhamma study project this year is to do an intense read of the complete books, and of course that means i take notes, mark up the books, put sticky tabs all over the place — it would be one step more to organise it in a database and put it on the Web! Well yeah, a big step, but it is what i do, it’s in my skillset. I would so love to do this.
The books don’t even have indexes! Ajahn’s teachings are so clear, and the organisation of chapters and the titles are so descriptive, that it almost doesn’t need. But for purposes of study, and absorbing the concepts, making a concordance will be useful to me, it is how i learn and what i do anyway when studying. And maybe having one to consult will be useful to others.
I have searched on the Web and not found anything. Next step i guess is to ask the makers of the book. They have done such a beautiful and thoughtful job on it, maybe there is some reason they don’t want indexing and putting everything into boxes! And then, go from there.
- Dhamma quotes status: planning in the mind; collecting quotes. The dream is a searchable, categorized, cross-referenced compendium of quotes from all traditions as well as popular culture …
status: actively growing since june 2013. But want to refine it, and maybe build a prettier version to host on my own website.
The dream is a searchable, categorized compendium of links saved from many sources, heavily categorized and annotated.
I started this project in 2013 and do work on it periodically. It lives at Pinboard.inu:tometaxu But it will take some concentrated effort to refine and normalise all the entries; have ideas to make it better, more useful; and found some code so i can export it onto my own website and improve on it there.
My profile page there is tometaxu
Languages. Never enough time. But i so much want to
status: started a flash card system, have some good books. time.
Pali, and more Theravada chants.
I have a start with basic pronunciation, and some vocabulary with the chants i know. Would like to know enough to read scriptures, and to understand the chants in my practice.
Some functional Thai.
I have a start with alphabet and a few words. Would like to know enough to at least have basic conversations with people and read signs and menus.
I have a start this year with the alphabet, and a few words. Would like to study mostly from a scholarly point of view: A fascinating language, and an important part of India, and of Buddhism.
Well we know how that went. Never enough time …
I know some words, but not enough to talk with people. It’s my big shame, after all these years here, and the older Tibetans quite look down on me. I’m not very social (understatement!), so mostly am only with people when it’s related to tech work — where people need to know English, and also, want to practice on me! I did build, and helped others to build, websites in Tibetan language. Also was advisor on translation of WordPress into Tibetan.
So i know technical aspects of the language — alphabet and structure — and i can type Tibetan reeeeeely fast!
- Pali, and more Theravada chants.
- Domain name registrations: Total 4 domains – US$132 / year
- Web accounts: Pinboard, HushMail, ProtonMail+VPN Total – US$120 / year
- Plugins and extensions for all websites:
Total – about US$110 / year
Most website plugins are free or i write my own, but there are two that are huge and indispensable, and absolutely worth the cost. One plugin author is kindly donating it to me yearly, but there is one more …
For those of you interested in that kind of thing, the precious plugins are Advanced Custom Fields Pro and Admin Columns Pro. Another big one is WPML (for multi-lingual sites) — I very luckily got into WPML early on, and was grandfathered to lifetime version when they changed their payment strategy.
- Kuti (hut) rebuild at
Khao Tham Meditation Center.
A kuti (monk’s hut) came available, but needed a lot of work. More termite damage than we expected, more work to tighten it up than we expected (for the computers more than for me!). Nou is scrounging as much of the materials as he can, but termiticide and paint and hardware still eat it up.
- Visa and extensions fees, and associated travel expenses. Estimated: US$600 / year
- Upcoming plane ticket and travel expenses.
At end of January, back to the meditation center at Khao Tham.
At end of 2020, a trip to the US!
Estimated: US$400, US$2,000
End of January, another visit to Khao Tham, for a respite for the lungs with the clean air of the island, and for the mind with more concentrated meditation in the calm environment. And of course doing more web works daily from there.
In late 2020, it’s time to pay a visit to The Land of the Hungry Ghosts. I’d like to stay a month or two and see people as long as i’ve made the effort to get there. Probably will be able to find free places to stay — if not, owell, back to the East!
- Vaccinations. Estimated: US$200 It’s time to update some, and to get yearly flu shots (in Asia now there are two, for Northern and Southern flu seasons).
- Cat food and possibly vet bills.
- Medical insurance. I don’t have. I should have. Estimated: At my age there are no published rates! 😛 I have to apply for a quote.
- Travel to US: Coming up in end 2020! Or maybe sooner, with the current coronavirus situation. Renew a visa, visit family (it’s been almost 10 years), etc. Luckily i will have a place to stay, that’s one huge line item not to worry about! Estimated: US$2,000
- New dentures – eventually: Estimated: US$500 (because Thailand)
- Nice to have:
Books – William Gibson’s Peripheral, in fact i’ve probably missed his last three.
Gaiman American Gods.
Wind in the Willows;
Low-end Android tablet for reading, and for showing websites while out and about.
Why the Thailand travel? Isn’t walker’s work with Tibetans in India?
Yes it is. India air pollution chased me out, and Thailand air healed me up again. I plan my travel around the air pollution seasons. Thailand also is culturally a much more comfortable place for me to be. And I have a meditation place there now so i’m getting quite a lot out of that. And it’s Web, i can make it and consult on it anywhere!
Since about 2010 my health deteriorated badly in India. It got to the point that i really wasn’t doing much — and fatigue and brain fog interfered even more with web work than the recurring lung infections! Through staying other places and seeing the marked difference in my health and energy, i finally figured out it was the air pollution in India — this realisation was helped finally by articles coming out as all of India and the world began to recognise the problem.
Since 2015 i have been spending about half my time in Thailand near the ocean, and this has enabled me to get back in my usual good work mode again. I now go back and forth between a meditation center in Koh Phangan and my old room (with air filter!) in McLeod Ganj (and N95 mask), and am able to be useful in both places. (Well, and then there’s the meditation … that’s another story … 🙂 )
- Two anonymous supporters (Injies): Monthly, covers basic living expenses. Thank you!
- Plugin author (Injie): (Prefers to remain anonymous) Free yearly subscription to a very useful plugin i use on all sites – $119/yr. Thank you!
- Khao Tham Meditation Center (Thai): Allows me to stay at the Center freely and gives me wonderful daily support. And i get to garden and rake leaves whenever i want! heaven. Thank you!
- Jeff Lebow of WorldBridges (Injie): Funds TibetBridges.com where we host Tibetan and Dhamma websites (including this one). Thank you!
- TibetWrites.in (Tibetan): One-time, $400 — was forced into my hand — well actually it was literally forced under my seat 😀 — and i put it directly into a much-needed emergency stash. Thank you!
- Namgyal Monastery (Tibetan): Again, under protest — Rs 20,000. (Have been honored to have been working on Namgyal websites for many years.) Thank you!
People people everywhere!
- McLeod Ganj: Tibet Charity Animal Clnic – free care for street cats. Thank you!
- McLeod Ganj: My two favorite food markets always give me good discount, i never asked. Thank you!
- McLeod Ganj: Cafe Tibet keeps me supplied with delicious take-away food which saves me a lot of cooking time, and keeps me fueled up for work. Thank you!
- Thailand: Khao Tham Meditation Center allows me to stay when i visit Thailand, where i can do my web work and meditation practice, and honors me by letting me speak sometimes at retreats. … Thank you!
- Thailand: Nou at Khao Tham takes me shopping, does kuti repairs, finds services for me, tells me the local gossip so this “rat in a cave” isn’t too completely cut off from the world … Thank you!
- Everywhere: All the good folks who make food for me and clean up after i eat, take care of rooms i stay in, answer support calls with patience and helpful attention, dispose of my garbage, fix my internet connection and my electrical line and my toilet, take me to town, notice when i’m lost in the airport or skytrain or a shop and set me on the right way, and more more more — You are all the real heroes. Thank you Thank you Thank you!
Written 11 April 2019; revised 22 March 2020.