I finally have my first good therapeutic massage without complications. The rub costs eight dollars for a full hour and is nearly professional quality. It is good to have someone pay attention to what needs attention instead of having them greedily focus on their own gratification while employing manipulative attention exclusively to my genitals in order to reach their goals.
Anyone else ever had that problem?
I am refreshed and ready for Monk Chat.
Monk Chat means something different here than it did when I attended a few in Northern Thailand. There the chat was held at the temple. The monks were anxious to learn English and most of the chatting revolved around that. We conversed and made friends. We went places together outside of class.
Here it is more like a lecture and takes place at the Peace Café on Mondays at 3 PM. The monks are from the Wat Angkosar temple just a few blocks away. Two of them sit up front, explain what they do and how they see things, and then take questions from the group. The inquisitive group that I am part of totals thirteen people from all over the world.
Venerable Ura is the nineteen year old monk center stage. He is sharp as a tack and speaks English nearly as well as I do. The first thing he explains are the four main activities carried out every single day by a Cambodian monk. They are:
1— The most important activity for the whole community is the monks’ morning walk around the neighborhood. They collect food while blessing the people who donate it. The Southeast Asian people often get up before daybreak to start cooking rice for the monks. They consider donating food to them, and receiving the blessing, as essential beginnings to their day. The monks survive on this food, share it with the needy, and give leftovers to resident dogs and cats.
2—Morning chanting is supposed to happen at sunrise, but the timing can be adjusted depending on the inclination of the head monk at each different temple. Wat Angkosar’s head monk prefers to have the morning chant after breakfast. All the monks collectively repeat phrases that remind them to act as much like the Buddha as possible.
3—Evening chanting happens every sunset. A different set of phrases are used in the evening than in the morning, but all chants are directed toward the same purpose.
4—Night Dhamma study entails the reading of scriptures and the discussion of these Buddhist texts.
Venerable Ura next explains that the system is age related. If you are under twenty years old, you are a novice. If you are over twenty years old, you are a monk.
Neither a monk nor a novice can eat at any time except between sunrise and noon. They train themselves this way so that once they get used to that schedule, the craving for food doesn't interfere with the potential to maintain purity of thought throughout most of the day and night.
Among the very cool and deep things Venerable Ura has to say is that hate, greed, and jealousy are the main enemies. Eliminate these and you will find happiness.
He then asks the group to say, “I want happiness.” We all say it out loud. He follows with, “Cut out the ‘want’ and cut out the ‘I.’ You will have nothing left but happiness.”
Introduction To The After School Sessions
The scuttlebutt around town is that nearly every school needs volunteer after-school English teachers. I go down to the temple/public school where Venerable Ura lives. The rumors turn out to be true, and one of the regular volunteer teachers invites me to stay for an observation session. Being a half hour early for the 5 to 6 PM session gives me time to jump onto the adjoining basketball court to play with the kids. I have been in parts of the world as the only white man the kids have ever seen. In those places, the game stops as bewildered faces stare for several minutes. Such is not the case in Siem Reap. Many tourists pass through here to see the famous ruins of Angkor Wat, the largest temple ever built on Earth. Even in outlying neighborhoods such as this one, the school-aged children are familiar with people from all over the world. We pass the ball around. We trade shots and laugh as if I am one of them.
The after-school English classes are held in an outside “room” containing long rows of desks about five deep and three blackboards up front. Beginner, medium level, and advanced classes are held simultaneously. There is a roof but no walls. I head back to this room to speak a bit with my host. Andries looks to be somewhere between sixty and seventy years old. He strongly resembles Santa Claus without the beard. Andires also acts like Santa Claus without the beard. He is never without a smile.
His English is very clearly understandable, although colored somewhat by a South African accent. This former motor mechanic from near Capetown is completely dedicated to what he does. His tone of voice has an obvious joy riding through it as he says to me, “It's all about the kids. What they need and want is what it is all about. What you have planned or think you want to do, doesn't mean fuck all!” He continues, “You have to make it fun for them and get them involved, get them interested. I see some of the local teachers just writing out words in English with the Khmer translation under those words. Then they just have the kids repeat like parrots over and over. They try to teach long sentences and grammatical structures to children who don't even know what the fucking words in the sentences mean! The kids understand almost nothing of what they are being told, and when they leave here they don't know shite. They forget the little bit they have learned by the time they get home. Bring the kids into the process! Give them something they can relate to, instead of throwing words at them that don't mean anything in their world. Do that and they will end up retaining the material!”
Andires teaches both the 5 to 6 and the 6 to 7 p.m. after school classes five days a week. He has been doing it as an unpaid volunteer for five years. He considers it a privilege, not an obligation. When the children come in, he lights up and so do they. I watch him write vocabulary words on the board and have the kids match those words to the pictures in the book they are working from. He tells interesting one or two sentence stories around each word so that students are inspired to pay real attention, and also have a context to wrap the word around.
In the next part of the lesson, Andires writes out a series of words and has the children pick out the one that is in some way different. The first series is “wanted, waited, lived, ended.” It brings a yell from most of the dozen children. “Lived is only one syllable! The rest are two!” This advanced class nailed it. The teacher gives them a broad smile and enthusiastic compliment.
What I see is an inspiration. It gives me confidence. In spite of my lack of experience, it seems like I can do this. It should be just like playing basketball with the children, except we will be using nouns and verbs instead of a basketball. Now all that is left to do is find the director in order to get my appointment. He is a twenty-five year old monk with other obligations, and a hard man to locate. Andires is working on it.
On the walk back to my house from the school I stopped at what is called the Skybar. It is in the fancy Jaya House hotel. Alcohol is out of the question considering my medical condition. My liver has had all the abuse it can stand for one lifetime. A juice or tea on the second floor with some fellow English speakers seems like a good idea, but I do miss the alcohol. It is not because of the buzz. It is the socialization. A couple of drinks in a friendly atmosphere always seems to lubricate the lines of communication between people.
The Jaya House is beautiful but not really my kind of place. The view from this second floor bar is nice, but not as nice as the view from my fifth floor swimming pool rooftop. The apple juice is delicious but costs the unheard of sum of five American dollars. This is a full ten times the price it costs on the street, and almost twice as much as it costs even in the expensive downtown district. But neither the cost nor the view is the real problem. Jaya House could honestly be called gentrified, uptown, or luxurious. I am just as uncomfortable in extreme opulence as I am in extreme poverty. The people who frequent such places are often harder to get to know than the folks you meet in a regular bar. Many act as if they are protecting something instead of sharing something.
None of them here tonight seem lubricated enough to be sociable. Maybe I am not lubricated enough to be sociable, either!
The first few days of my teaching experience are baffling for myself, the children, and Monk Chheang my Cambodian co-teacher.
I remember mentioning to Monk Chan, the after school program’s director, that I would do much better with a group that was advanced enough to know what, “use that word in a sentence” means. Maybe my communication didn't travel well. One of the problems here is that many of the volunteer Cambodian English teachers are local monks who are only a short step ahead of the children in pursuing the language. Another is that we are using a sixth-grade text with kids who are at a first grade level. I might as well speak Martian to them!
Unable to effectively communicate with my co-teacher or students, I decide to quit. I have a lot of experience quitting things and have gotten very good at it. I’ll stick with writing. Writing in English is my thing. Folks tell me that I do it fairly well as a rule and very well in spots.
Knowledge of something doesn't always equate to the ability to pass that knowledge on to someone else. I know English well enough, but absolutely suck at teaching the language to elementary level students.
I arrive early, figuring to give it one last frustrating day, turn in the text book, and say goodbye. Andires is always there earlier than anyone else. He is surprised to find me there before him. We trade laughs and hellos before I tell him that this will be the last day of my teaching career.
“No, you can't do that! You are good at this. I looked over a few times yesterday and saw how well the students reacted to you.” I thank him for the bullshit compliment and explain the situation. Andires asks to see the book. He goes haywire when he sees it. “What the fuck are they thinking, giving you this book for those kids!?!? My advanced kids couldn't do this shite! Look, you can do this job and you can do it very well. I have been at it for a long time and know my teachers by now. And you are right! Those kids are getting taught way over their heads. Here's what you have to do. Just pick a category like shapes, or types of vehicles, colors, whatever. Take three or four examples from the category. So like for shapes, draw a triangle, square, rectangle, and circle on the board. Ask them to tell you what each one is. Write the English word under the shape so they visually associate the word with the shape. Then write out “This is a_______.” on the board. Have them repeat several times, jumping back and forth between the shapes as you point to them. They say “This is a square.” as you point to the square shape on the board. Do the same with the other shapes. Then tell them that “together these are all shapes.” Point out the appearance of the “s” at the end of the word “shapes” and get them into a singular/plural practice. Draw a few more circles next to the original one and have them add an “s” on to the word “circle” to make “circles.” Draw the word they already know, and make the plural out of it, explaining the only one/more than one difference between singular and plural. They may not have enough vocabulary to understand your explanation, but your co-teacher should, and he should be able to explain that to the students. All this time you're making them say everything in full sentences. “This is a circle. This is a square.” Then you can get into teaching them “These are…” for the plural instead of “This is a…” for the singular. Again, you are probably going to need the co-teacher to explain some things in their own language. They sometimes just don't have the vocabulary to understand even simple explanations. Holy shite! I still can't believe they gave you that fucking advanced book to use! OK, give it a try! Work in little baby steps with them, because that is where their language level is at. If they learn three or four words, singular/plural, and practice these while making short but full sentences around them, that's a miracle of a day. It can certainly be done! You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. These kids teach me more about life than I ever knew—certainly more than I teach them! Do yourself a favor. Stick around for a while.”
Andires doesn't have me altogether convinced. I walk off still feeling like the time would be better spent writing books, but his enthusiasm is so contagious that anyone within range catches some. I decide to give this last day a very serious try.
I return the book to Monk Chheang explaining the problem as best possible. Then, except for a few personal creative variations, I do exactly what Andires told me to. It clicked! When something sparks children enough to wake up a little extra brain circuitry, anyone alive can see it in their eyes. It is as obvious as whether or not the electric lights have been turned on in the room. Every eye in the student body was lit.
Quitting doesn't seem like as good an idea right now as it did several hours ago. Days like this are worth showing up for.
I will, however, be missing tomorrow’s school session in order to move apartments. My current digs on the third floor are still a little smoky, hot, and noisy. A move up to the fourth floor should help. Room 401 is a little more than I actually need. Two bedrooms, three bathrooms, a monster kitchen, an even bigger living room, and a private balcony facing the river are admittedly overkill for one person. But the cleaner air, quieter atmosphere, and cooler positioning of the place make it worth paying three hundred and seventy dollars a month instead of two hundred and fifty.
I am very interested in being there when the monks do their chanting thing in the main temple. I ask my Cambodian co-teacher about it. He introduces me to the only monk on the grounds that is a native English speaker. I will be able to understand his answer clearly..
Monk CharleKym is a seventy year old Australian native with colon cancer. He is covered from top to bottom in sacred tattoos, including the face, head, and feet. A bag attaches to the side of his body and catches what would ordinarily run out the bottom of a person. But in true monk fashion he remains smiling, sociable, and anxious to help. It is a joy to speak with him.
Monk CharleKym lived among the natives in Papua, New Guinea for the forty years before he became a Buddhist monk. Charles is the only white man to ever be considered a blood member of that culture, and be privy to their rituals, initiations, and secrets. Part of that accomplishment hinged on the fact that, inspired by the book Black Like Me, Charles took a chemical to help darken his skin. It was something of a photo-negative reversal of the Michael Jackson move, but Charles did it several decades before Jackson.
I want to hang out with this guy for a hundred years but can see he is tiring rapidly. Vowing to myself to get back and talk more with him—actually just listen more—as soon as possible, I get right to my question. He answers that there is a 10:30 a.m. chant in the temple.
Monk CharleKym tells me, “You will hear the big bell ring. Then one monk will unlock the temple and other monks will start filing in. The chanting lasts about twenty minutes, then the Head Monk talks to them a bit, then they file out. If you ever just want to get into the temple to meditate by yourself, come see me. I am one of the people with the key.”
I thank him very sincerely. Meeting him and having temple access are both wonderful, humbling privileges. I am very grateful for them.
The Head Monk—Mahati Ta
Thirty plus orange-robed monks and a large American wearing overalls in ninety degree heat are sitting in the temple. One monk is sitting up front with a microphone. He is facing the Buddha images in front, with his back to the other monks and me. No one has to tell me that this is the Head Monk. An aspect of benevolent authority radiates from him. As soon as he starts chanting, so does everyone else in the room except me. I don't know the words.
I listen for the nearly half hour that it lasts. But to say “I listen” doesn't tell the whole story. The chant produces pure positive energy. Everyone reciting it is of the same mind. There is no interference to its power from the diversions of every day, regular-people life. No one in the room is thinking about the bills they have to pay, how to make it work better with the spouse and kids, or what they are going to eat tomorrow. Each individual within the group is giving total attention to the same resonance. They are so much on the same wavelength that it seems the chant is the product of a single voice. This is actually true in a very real way! Not only does each individual within the group share the same desire to reach spiritual heights and help humanity, they are each pronouncing the same very familiar sets of words that have been used for millennia. They are the same words that have been chanted by untold millions of monks just like them over uncountable generations. In addition, the monks all eat the same food and live together. They share very similar schedules and attitudes as well as common motivations. They have a big head start on the road to what is called Unity Consciousness. The energy is so intense that, much more than just listening to it, I have the feeling of being it. That may sound weird, but it is a very accurate description. Beautiful, otherworldly, transcendent, strange, joyful, clean, and perfect are words that come to mind when the chanting stops and I remember that I have an individual mind for things to come to.
Actually, after an experience like that, a collective mind seems like the only reality. My individual mind feels like a joke, a silly distraction from holding on to the bigger truth of the collective mind. This is no hocus-pocus bullshit. Ancient seers, Carl Jung, modern mystics, almost every quantum physics professor, as well as John Lennon and the Beatles share the same view on this subject. Even a walrus knows that “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.”
When the chanting ends, the guy up front turns around to face the rest. He talks to them. It is again obvious that this man is in a position of authority. He speaks to the monks in a very firm tone. I don't understand a word of it, but it sounds like he might be reminding them of how important certain types of discipline become when pursuing a deep experience of what the Beatles or the Buddha were talking about.
He then starts addressing the individual monks one at a time. The authoritative tone turns to honey. There are still a few serious sounding sentences coming from him but all conversations are gentle and contain laughter on both sides. It is very obvious that this man has a concern for his students right at the top of his list. It is just as obvious that the other monks have a great affection for this elder, teacher, and adviser. The air is as thick with these sentiments as it had been with the power and purity of the chanting a few minutes earlier.
On my way out, I go up front to put ten thousand Cambodian Riel (two dollars and fifty cents U.S.) in the voluntary collection box. I bow to the head monk and thank him. He gets up, shakes my hand, and holds it for several minutes as we talk and walk out of the temple. His English language skills are very good. He holds my hand as a grandfather might hold a grandson’s hand, although he is obviously decades younger than I am.
He asks about me. We exchange names, home towns, and ages. He is named Mahati Ta and is forty-five years old. He seems a little impressed that I made it to sixty-eight—or maybe I’m just projecting.
Mahati Ta says, “You can come to chanting anytime. Visit and have lunch with me some time! And thanks for doing volunteer teaching in the temple’s after school program.”
He tells me that he is Cambodian but has just come back from Viet Nam where he was studying. This has me curious, so I ask, “What different kind of Buddhism were you studying in Vietnam? How does it vary from Cambodian Buddhism?”
Mahati Ta surprises me by answering, “I am studying for a doctorate in public administration!”
I didn’t know monks do that!
We say goodbye and I walk towards the gate. There are still several hours until class. Stepping outside the gate of the school and temple grounds, a sudden wave of gratitude washes over me. The wave is immense. I laugh with the thought that drowning in massive gratitude would be a wonderful way to go—but living in it seems like a much better idea.
***If you missed the Intro to this third book (that the above piece is from) and would like to see it or other previous pieces, go to the Puppy website blog section, or send an email request to email@example.com, or check out fearlesspuppy at Wordpress. This is a book in progress. You are seeing it here as I write it! And as it says in the Intro, it is a totally true story and may be the only book ever written by a corpse! I don’t know what the next chapter is going to be about, either!***The books Fearless Puppy On American Road and Reincarnation Through Common Sense by this same author, as well as sample chapters by, very entertaining tv/radio interviews with, and newspaper articles about him are available at www.fearlesspuppy.info