Sunday, January 18, 2009

Completely Incompetent - The Hill Diaries

Down from the mountain. I wrote some spiffy journals about my great incompetence in making that adventure work, and in tribute to that same incompetence, left them in Mae Taeng. So, here's a rehash of what fun it was to try my luck as a mountain monk.

Day One

I arrived to the monastery unscathed - kudos to the young lad who drove me there on a motorbike.  They say larger vehicles can make the trip... I wonder what percent?  He promised to have the village headman come to see me, though in my experience, village headmen are hardly reliable when it comes to visiting monks.  They are much better at things like getting drunk, blathering over loudspeakers, and boasting about how rich they are (which they generally are in comparison to the rest of the village).  No loudspeakers in this village, though, and the monastery has no power, either.  This bodes somewhat dismal for my Nokia...



After a quick survey of the monastery, several observations are forthcoming:

  1. The monastery is approximately 17 km from the village we drove up from (Mae Bpang), and approximately 17 metres from the village by which it has been more or less besieged (Khun Bpang).  At my relative altitude, in fact, I am given an exquisite view of my neighbours' backyards, front yards, kitchens, bathrooms, etc.  I assume there is some great realization to be had in these people's private lives which necessitated the perils of the journey, but it escapes me at the moment.

  2. The monastery itself is about the size of a tennis court.  The locals seem to have overlooked this fact, and use it for storing farm equipment, grazing cattle, and drying pipe tabacco, instead.  It seems, by the loud explosive noises on all sides and at all hours of the day, that they are more into shooting-whatever-moves as a form of recreation - not much seems to have moved in the monastery in the past few years.

  3. It is cold.  No wait, the village below was cold.  Here it is frigid.  And the sun is still shining.

  4. Just to make things barely tolerable, the monastery is actually really well equipped.  Lots of blankets, pillows, mats, books,  a whole Thai Tipitaka, toiletries, monk's stuff, empty whiskey bottles, etc.  Buildings include the chanting hall, a bell tower, an outhouse, and the head monk's residence (that's me).

  5. There is no mobile telephone reception here (this will become important on day three).


After my survey of the place, it started to get dark, so a covered myself over in blankets and took to my sitting practice for the night.  Due to a miscalculation in the actual amount of blankets needed to survive the night in moderate comfort, I spent most of it in a fetal position.  There was one point, around 11 PM where I had managed to sit up again and face the cold (the wooden walls wouldn't have kept snow out, let alone wind), when I bright light appeared behind my head.  It said to me, "I am the bigshot here."  I opened my eyes and the light disappeared.  "Silly angel," I thought.  "Probably tired of having only the the drunken locals to push around."

Day Two

Things warmed up around 10 AM the next day.  This is unfortunate, because I went on almsround at around 6:45.  At first my feet hurt immensely, but then they fell numb and that was nicer, except for the inability to walk properly, which probably contributed to the surprised looks of the less-hungover locals who had managed to get up with the less-than-inspiring sunrise.  I received nothing on my trip from the monastery, besides a few mutters of how it was too early for almsgiving and the rice was not yet cooked, so I just kept walking, determined to see which of my feet or their rice would get cooked first.

Then a man on a motorbike came chasing after me to tell me that I had left behind the last of the houses, and there were no dwellings on the road ahead of me.  I stared at him blankly, and wondered why that should have any meaning at this point, since it was apparently too cold to cook rice here anyway.  He insisted that I should turn around, however, and I did so unhesitating, as I had begun to believe that perhaps uncookable rice wasn't the only food in this village.

Indeed, on the return trip, I received not only more surprised looks and grumbles, but actually some cooked rice, eggs, dried noodles, and curries.  I decided to accept both the grumbles and the food equanimously, as they were both freely given, and besides, my feet really were in agony.

When I returned to the monastery, I immediately sat down to eat the food.  First came the dried noodles.  The quickest way to eat dried noodles in Thailand, and the only way for those of us without means of cooking them first, is to smash the unopened bag until the noodles crumble into small bite-sized noodle-ettes, open the bag and pour the seasoning packet (MSG bag) and the soup packet (pork fat / palm oil bag) evenly into the bag.  Bon Apetite.  I left some of the egg and rice and curry for this monk we met on the way up who had decided walking up was a reasonable alternative to risking one's life on a motorcycle.  They say we should try to give offerings to the wise...

Then I found the kitchen.  Wow.  Pots, plates, bowls, spoons, pitchers, more empty whiskey bottles, and the closest this place comes to civilization... gas.  I quickly filled a pot with water, lit the gas stove, and began to prepare lunch for my friend.   He turn out to have found other, less 'by the rules' ways to fill his stomach, so I ended up celebrating my find alone, by eating his meal for him, as it included some cooked noodles.

We talked some, cleaned out our dwellings (I went so far as to read the Thai scriptures on how to clean a monk's dwelling first.  An English translation is available at www.accesstoinsight.org.  It includes pulling the bed outside, sweeping the walls, mopping the floor, etc.), chanted together and then meditated seperately until around 8 PM when the temperature went through the floor again.  No stuck-up angel this night.

(To be continued...)