Wednesday, April 18, 2018

In the Land of the Divine Madman VI

May 18, 2003

Meditated this morning to the song of a child singing outside. We drove to Kurjey Lhakhang and wandered the parking lots.  Young monks ate long sticks of something, ran around and played.  One boy swung a cap gun, shooting down all those messengers of peace.  They all wore yellow sleeveless polo shirts under their robes.  One little boy, under one year old, wore only the shirt, with no pants as he clung to the bottom of his mother's kira.   Clarke met a monk he knew from Kathmandu.  

Today the courtyard was filled with sitting monks and people chanting as they came from the main tents.  We did a small ceremony in the main hall, then I sat out on the balcony and meditated, harmonizing my breath with the chant.  A small boy polishing the floor crept closer and read my sutra which I'd laid nearby.  Next I sat below the main hall, writing this and talking with a young boy who happily took my picture for me.  My writing finished with the chanting, the entire group joining in on the final part.  

I wandered down the hill to the wide plain and strolled the tents.  Some were places to sleep, others were shops selling Buddhist trinkets, pictures, clothes, cloth, snack food.  Others seemed to be tea shops, with tables and chairs under a high tarp.  In one shop, I tried to figure out what a cone of dung-looking material was.  The woman gestured repeatedly but I couldn't figure it out.  Later I found out it was tea. Closer to the river were thatch houses, with chimneys emitting smoke.  At the end of the plain were a few restaurants and bars, permanently built with stone.  I needed a toilet, so looking around, I finally found a woman to help me find one.  She had a little monk show me the way, and he led me into the forest along a dangerous path of loose stones to a nice commode.  Unfortunately she couldn't find the key, so I just peed off the side of a hill and was done with it.  I walked up through the blowing dust to the parking lot, passing people covering mouths and noses with their kira or monk's robes.  One woman had a sharp triangular nose and long thin eyes, like a Buddha.  At the car we met a tongdipa (sanyasi? hermit?) from Tashi Yangtse, with long beard, white robe, and long dread-locked hair coiled on his head, an antenna with direct reception to god.

We had a quick lunch in a hotel near a hospital, a long building which sprawled along the river, its upper floors connected by walkways.  behind the hotel was a large expanse of grass, and I marvelled that you'd never see such a 'waste of space" in Japan.  The hotel workers lived in thatch shacks behind the big building.  I wonder if the moratorium on tourists isn't as much to their protect their culture from us.  

After lunch I was dropped off at the edge of Jakar town.  With its wide dusty streets, wooden buildings, and long sidewalks it looked like a wild west town.  I went up to a small music store which turned out to be closed.  So I ordered a coffee at a cafe next door.  A two year old sat in a cardboard box, pulled by a string tied to the waist of his younger sister.  They came over and checked my camera, taking pictures of each other.  The two younger kids argued over the camera and an older sister said, "No fighting, no fighting," in English.  I let each of them write in my notebook.  The oldest girl asked "Who is your Darling?" so I showed them a picture of Ken and his mother.  They started to argue about who'd draw next, so I quickly finished my coffee and left.

I walked down the main street.  Many of the shops were closed, including the Basic Pool Hall, although most bars and restaurants were open.  A group of young monks sat in a cafe watching some kind of soap opera.  there were a few general stores containing just about everything.  Like in Japan, the family seemed to live in the back of the shop.  

At the far end of town, a group of young boys were yelling to me from the back of the truck.  They told me I looked like an action star, so I struck a pose.  I told one kid, wearing a touque, that I liked his hat.  Clarke showed up, and accepted a ride back to Kurjey.  I wasn't sure, and headed back up the other side of the street.  Not much was open, so by the time I reached the top, the truck was pulling up, so I flagged it down and hopped in back.

About fifteen of us rode in back standing up.  there was a rope tied to the back of the cab, but most of the kids loosely grabbed the sides, jumping in the air with every bump.  Clarke and I both clowned a lot, keeping the kids giggling through the ride.  I was leaning against the cab and every jolt shoved heavy bolts into my back.  The sky above was so vast and riding this way seemed the only way to judge its scale.  Standing this high enabled me to get a good view of the buildings, the farms, the rivers and mountains beyond.  This is definitely the best way to travel in Asia.

We got out at Kurjey and spent a couple of hours wandering the tent city.  I stuck with Clarke since interesting things tended to happen with him around.  He joked in Tibetan with most of the shopkeepers, who seemed in a relaxed mood as most of the crowd were up at the Wang, unlike earlier.  many of the women were sleeping, laying right across their textiles.  I bought a kira for my wife, finding it impossible to bargain on the belt, especially after a local woman showed me how to wear it.  Most shops were run by groups of women, usually of three generations.

Clarke and I stopped in a tea house, chosen on the criteria of drinking in one with the cutest waitress.  We found one with five or six young girls.  We sat and watched the rain, heavy by now, drinking beer and tea and eating chili chips and some spicy pakora/tempura hybrid.  I choked for a second at the sight of some guy with a Pancho Villa moustache.  Behind him, wispy clouds rose above the golden spires of Kurjey.

When the rain stopped, we decided to hitch back to town.  Just then, Karma and Dorjee drove up.  They had something to do, but agreed to meet us on the way back.  Clarke and I were talking about needing two hooks for my wife's kira, when a boy came up and asked if I wanted one.  The timing was truly strange and I would have bought it had there been two.  Assuming this one was found on the ground I refused.  His price then went from a hundred to fifty to zero.

A little bit up the road we came across four boys, three of them monks.  They had a balloon from which they sneakily let out air, and each time I'd pretend someone let out a fart.  We walked up the road, Clarke joking with them in Tibetan.  One of them, the non-monk, had amazing English.  We walked along a river along fields fenced in with barbed wire, ladders like pyramids stepped up and down the other side.  Then through a stone gate with a mandala on the ceiling, and past three small chortans.  The boys left road on a short cut, but we carried on, chewing paan for energy.  Soon, we bisected another trail heavily laden with Bhutanese coming home.  We followed, both sides of the road heavily covered with pot leaves, enough to fund my trip and possibly my entire future education. As we walked, we joked with the other walkers, and waved and slapped hands with those passing in carts.  Surprised that Dorjee hadn't shown up, we hitched a ride with a guy who turned out to work at the Ministry of Justice.  He was initially going only about 100 meters, but he took us not only to Jakar, which was hopping with people back from the Wang, but all the way up to our hotel.

We had tea and listened to Clarke talk about tantra.  We got a call that Thuksey Rimpoche agreed to meet us, so we headed out, without Clarke.  It was agreed that I would lead, and upon entering, I forgot to do prostrations, a major faux pas.  As I bowed, the Rimpoche gave me a gentle head butt, then blessed my mala with a short prayer.  He, the head lama of the Drukpa sect, was incredibly humble, somewhat shy.  We had tea and cookies, and at one point he actually got up and served us.  Such humility and warmth.  A great man.  Our questions went through two translations, from English to Drukpa to Bumthang dialect and back. Cheryl asked a question about doubt, and Rimpoche said we must trust in Buddhism as we'd trust in our own families.  

She then followed up by asking how to differentiate between good and bad doubt.  He said, you must serve tea to people you both like and dislike. Show politeness to all despite our feelings.  Welcome doubt in without distinction.  I asked him how to find a good teacher and he said that it was important to ask three or four people about a teacher's reputation, and to check that he wouldn't go on a long retreat during your training. 

On the way back to the hotel, we passed houses dimly lit from within, a few looking almost colonial.  We dined with Lama Wangdi, a friend of Susan's who had directed a play back in the US, and with an incense maker friend of Clarke's.  After dinner, a blackout caused me to write this by torch and candlelight.  As soon as the lights came back , a hard rain began to fall.  A small family of weird bugs slid around my sink.  And the bukhari burned a final night.

On the turntable: Groove Armada, "Soundboy Rock"
On the nighttable:  Anthony Weller, "Days and Night on the Grand Trunk Road"         

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