So I came to BKK this afternoon for a break from pathom asok. I met claudia here, and we’ll go back to pathom asok together tomorrow afternoon. She had a terrible time up in Isan, I feel so bad for her. I’m actually having a great time at good old P.A., it’s just kind of intense, and when Chris took a few days to go to Hua Hin I thought a break sounded like a pretty smart idea. Laundromat, post office (still haven't gotten stamps!), internet cafe. Plus it’s just so great to have a really nice shower and a pool for one day—it’s about 100 degrees and humid at P.A., working outside all day, and wearing long sleeves and pants. Not as bad as it sounds really, you get used to it, but I’m pretty stinky. And since we never wear shoes my feet are pretty gross too. And there’s just no time to not be all dressed! The room where I sleep always has other people in it, and you can’t walk around in your towel or anything, and they’re super modest… so that’s a little stifling. Mostly, though, it’s great. It was one week today that I got there, and when I go back I will only have 3 days left, which is actually kind of sad. I’ve learned so much, and met so many nice people. I’m especially learning tons of Thai, I can construct sentences now and kind of conduct a (very basic) conversation. Usually involves a lot of laughter, and I carry my Thai dictionary EVERYWHERE, but it’s fun. I just learned the other day how to tell time, and the system is really crazy—instead of just AM and PM, they have like 4 segments, and when they get to 7, they start over with 1… it’s weird. But yeah.
Ok, so let me give a quick outline of life at Pathom Asok. The day starts at 3:30 am, when they start ringing bells really loud for about half an hour. Then at 4 music comes on through the giant PA system and the students get up. I got up then too, the first day, and wondered why the hell I was up already up when it was still dark out and I didn’t even understand the language. So now I sleep in until a decadent 6am, then get up and go work in the kitchen for a few hours. Despite the early rising, breakfast isn’t until 10am. They play some more music and bells and stuff and everyone gathers together in the main hall, bringing their own dishes and spoons along. We all sit in rows on the floor and they send all the food around in big pots on little rolling carts between the rows. Everything is vegetarian, and a lot of it’s delicious. During that time, we all stop for some intense Buddhist praying, which the monks, who sit on a raised platform, lead, and then they begin eating first. During the meal they put on the news or play hilarious English-learning videos with titles like “The Frisky Cat in Wonderland.” From lunchtime until 12 or so is free time, when I usually just go off and write in my journal, but am sometimes swamped by middle & high school students who want to look at my Thai-English dictionary. Swamped being a relative term, of course; everyone is really mild-mannered and calm here, and I don’t think emergencies exist at all. At 12 there is a minute of silence, and then everyone goes to work at various places all around (printing shop, garden, mushroom garden, kitchen, sesame plant, shop, shampoo making area, dressmaking workshop, etc etc). I’ve helped out at most of the above, and it’s pretty fun because most of these activities don’t require much grasp on the language. All work is volunteer here, and in fact both students and monks/nuns (addressed as Samana and Sikkhamat, respectively) are not allowed to use money. Everyone works wherever they want, regardless of skillsets or whatever. The work goes till about 4 or 4:30, and then only the students eat dinner (most adults eat only 1 meal a day). After dinner I’m free for the evening because then the students go to class, so that’s my time to just journal or read or talk to people. There are some 20-somethings around who speak a little English, so with my limited Thai and their limited English, we get a lot of ideas across. It’s neat. It gets dark around 6:30 and the mosquitos come out in force, so around then I often retreat to my quarters, the Toh Fan (Dream Sewing?), and lights go out around 9 anyway. My standards of what constitutes early have totally changed. But I don’t sleep as heavily anyway, because when I go to sleep (on my straw mat on the floor) I’m sweating and when I wake up I’m freezing. Oh yeah, and the bathrooms are squat toilets sans t.p. OR butthose, with the showerhead in the same little booth so when you take a shower everything just gets wet. I’m also totally used to showering with a variety of spiders, mosquitoes, roaches, and small lizards now. There are tons of geckos everywhere, which I love. One fell (jumped?) into my lap (from the ceiling?) the other night while Chris and I were talking with a monk, and then ran up my arm, down my back, and just sat there on my ass for a while. Heh, I like them. Not so much on the ants, though. There are squadrillions of them… snacks are not safe, even wrapped up in my bag, from the tiny tiny tiny black ones. I keep thinking about how they can carry many times their own body weight and wondering how many it would take to just lift me and cart me off bodily while i sleep. They’re worse than the fire ants—I’m kind of getting used to ant bites on my feet, although they’re no fun.
This past Friday, Ajarn Ted sent a translator, named Joy, who’s 25 and grew up in the community. She was really sweet, and since Chris left Saturday I had her to myself for most of the time. She stayed till Sunday night and we spent a lot of time just talking, about Buddhism, the community, Thai language, what it’s like in America, and how in hell W got elected a second time. She wants to come to America but it’s incredibly difficult and expensive for a Thai—even just to apply to be an au pair, she has to pay something like $150, which is HUGE for a Thai person—just to APPLY! Sunday night I helped teach her M3 (9th grade) English class, which was pretty fun. She left early Monday morning. On leaving, she said to me, “You are very nice, and I wish you a good thing back.” Haha, so sweet!
Everyone else is sweet too. Thai people are generally pretty shy, but there are a few students who aren’t afraid to talk to me, and they quickly befriended me. Communicating with them is a lot of work, though. The Thai language is incredibly subtle—if you pronounce a word with a difference that in America could just be a difference of accent, they will have no clue what you mean until you show it to them in writing. And they find English pronunciation equally hard. It’s really fun, though. And the older women, too—even if they have a kind of sour expression on their faces, once you wai and say “sawaddee kaa” they instantly brighten up and return it, and sometimes even start a conversation. Most of the time they don’t initiate conversations, but there are a few who will actually stop and get off their bikes to ask me whether I’ve eaten, how I’m doing, etc. What a great sense of community. And of course, the wai is ubiquitous, but since so often people are riding bikes or carrying something, the one-handed wai is really common. Pretty funny.
I did decide I never want to live near a pig farm. It’s stinky.
So yesterday my girlfriends took me to talk with Sikkhamat Rinfa (sp?), a nun who speaks more English than most people there. I sat on the floor helping her unravel knotted ribbon and listening to her talk about Dhamma and stuff. I asked about non-attachment, which is one of the biggest puzzles for me—like how you can love your family and friends and still not be attached— and she said it’s not that hard because she just reminds herself that everyone has to part sometime, etc… I told her I still didn’t really understand how it works, and she said “You don’t have to understand. You just have to do it.” Understanding comes later, apparently. Of course, I don’t actually want to do it, I don’t want to neutralize my mind and calm my desires. As good as Buddhism sounds in many ways, I don’t think I could actually subscribe to it. But then again, I have problems with all major religions, and as they go, I like Buddhism.
Anyway, there is still much more to say but this keyboard isn’t very good and I’m eager to get back to the Marriott for a bath and a luxurious nap. (This is really the way to stay on a commune—get the experience, but allow yourself a day of relaxation in the middle, to write everything down and scrub the dirt off your feet.)
I still have almost a month in Thailand, but it’s going to go really fast because it’s so broken up—3 more days at P.A., one traveling/in BKK, a week in Ko Samet, another 2 in BKK, 4 or so in Lopburi, a week in Chiang Mai, and then back on the plane… to CA! Then home soon after that. Unbelievable. Is this real life? I’m still not sure. All right, I’m off to eat some lychees and relax. Hopefully I’ll post again tomorrow, but no promises.
Love to everyone at home, and keep me updated with all your news! Miss you! Sawadee kaa!