Monday, January 22, 2007
Yesterday, when I went to go find this Idiyas Art Gallery I ran into a typical day in India. After locating the phone number of the gallery (which turned out to be a mobile phone) and then finding someone who spoke Hindi to take down directions to get there (of which the best I could get was the general area and "then look around.") I got into an ancient yellow taxi. He dropped me in the appropriate area and I located the street the gallery was supposedly on without too much difficulty. I walked the whole street, but saw no sign for a gallery, so I double checked the address: 15 Dover Lane. OK, I'll look at the street signs and find 15. 15 had a massive metal gate across the drive way, but a tiny little door about maybe 3 and a half feet tall. So naturally I got down and crawled through. Inside the gate I found a group of Indian men playing cards on the ground and a security guard. So I asked him about the gallery that was supposedly here. He didn't speak any English, but seemed to understand "gallery." So he took me to a small, unmarked, locked apartment. He opened the door and turned on the lights, and what do you know, there was the gallery. Keep in mind that the gallery was listed as being open every day of the week in the newspaper. Then after an utterly hopeless conversation with the guard, the unspoken agreement was that I could see the gallery if he got to follow a meter behind me and stare at me the whole time. It worked out and he even let me take some pictures. I particularly like the one of the alleyway. Anyway, that's how it works in India, you get what you want, but it's not necessarily how you expect it.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
By now I'm getting into the swing of things here in Calcutta. My first two days volunteering have been great. On friday I went to the Calcutta Rescue School to help teach a class of 20 kids. It was really fun, they were all street kids living in the nearby park, but they were all so happy and fun to be around. I'll be volunteering there on every friday. Then yesterday (saturday) I went to the home for mentally retarded young adults. They were all 15-25 year olds. This was another really fun day. Every lesson is designed to stimulate gross and fine motor skills as well as language usage. The lesson yesterday was on frogs and included a number of activities including a role play and making paper frogs. Today is my free day, so I think I'm going to go visit some art galeries and see some modern Indian art. Pictured: My chai shop where I stop every morning to read the newspaper and drink one or three cups of chai.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
It's great to be back in India enjoying all those things I missed while in Thailand like sipping chai, drinking lassis, dining on great butter chicken and nan, and of course eating fresh curd. I found myself a nice hotel room to settle down in for the next month and unpacked for the first time since I packed back on Mercer Island. It feels great to hang my clothes up in a closet and know they'll be staying there for more than a few days. Today will be my first day of volunteering here in Calcutta. I'm pretty excited to get in a classroom and teach these kids, it should be real fun. I'll have pictures up from around town after I take some. Love you all.
Monday, January 15, 2007
Jesse has been kind enough to let me into his blog to post these pictures at Wat U-Mong. With Jesse for his induction ceremony are Noi and Lisa Hood. Lisa took the pictures and Noi stood in for his mother (me). Noi assures me that we are honored by Jesse's journey and are allowed easier passage to heaven. We have talked to Jesse a couple of times and what I know is that he is having a very good time, his day starts at 3:30 am, food offerings have been more than enough for him and he is feeding deer daily by hand. He will be leaving the monastery soon and can give us more detail. Thank you Noi and Lisa for being with my son during this special time!
Today was my last day that the monastery and I am now awaiting my bus to Bangkok. It was a really nice ten days, very peaceful. I really enjoyed the simplicity of life. Everyday we woke up at 3:30 AM and then we had chanting at 4:00 for half an hour. The chanting was in Pali, but some of the other monks helped me find the texts in a romanized script so I was able to chant with them. Directly after chanting we meditated for half an hour. Then at 5:30 we went to "gather alms" with our bowls. We would walk into the city (as Wat Umong is in the forest) and as we would walk people would stop us with a bowing gesture and offer us food neatly packaged in little plastic bags. Everyday we would get so much food that it all wouldn't be able to fit in our fairly large bowls so we would also carry a shopping bag with us for the extra food. We would walk back and then separate the food into what we were going to eat that day and what we would give to the temple. Then at 7:30 I would eat my first and only full meal of the day; I could eat until 12:00 in the afternoon and then after that I could only consume liquids. I thought I would get a lot more hungry, but you just eat a huge breakfast and then in the afternoon drink milk and it wasn't so bad. After breakfast we would sweep leaves around the property for two hours. Then it was free time until 1:00 when there was teaching. If it was a VCD with subtitles I would go watch it, otherwise I would read because the teacher didn't speak any English. The library at the monastery had a whole floor of English books which was great for me, but I have a feeling that floor is a little underused as hardly anyone there can speak the language, especially not well enough to read a book of Buddhist philosophy in it. Then at 4:00 there was chanting and meditation again and finally teaching again at 7:00. I really learned a lot about Buddhism, not to mention how to chant and tie a robe. This Buddhism was a lot simpler than what I found in Dharamsala and Ladakh, but I was surprised to find a statue of Avolokiteshwara (the Bodhisattva of compassion of whom the Dalai Lama is an avatar of) outside of the library. The main difference between Mahayana (what was in Dharamsala) and the Theravadan (Thai and other nations) schools is the lack of the Bodhisattva in Theravada. But I guess there are bits and pieces of every type everywhere; the divisions are never as clear cut as they seem on paper. But in the end, I had a really nice time and also broadened my understanding of Thai culture and Buddhism. It's not something I want to spend my life doing, but it was a great experience. Oh, and some people have been asking if they thought it was weird that I was staying for such a short time. Not at all, actually in Thai culture it is expected that every male be a monk at some point in his life. So, there are those monks that devote their life, yet many only stay for one or two weeks. There is an entire building for housing these short term monks while the ones who stay longer have their own residences at the monastery. I made a lot a good friends with my fellow monks there and made plans the visit them later when their back at their jobs.
Friday, January 05, 2007
So tomorrow I'm becoming a Thai Buddhist monk. The ceremony is about two hours long, necessitates the presence of fifteen monks, includes me reciting two and a half pages of Sanskrit and having my entire head and face (including eye brows, but I hope not the lashes) shaved. Other than that I don't know what else really happens. I also don't really know what it's going to be like to be a monk, but in the very least I get to keep my robes which, in my opinion, are quite cool. I won't be able to go on the email or update you all untill about the 16th, but I'm sure I'll know a lot more about being a monk then and can tell you all about it. Because I'd been studying Tibetan Buddhism in India I am pretty excited to see how it differs from Thai Buddhism. The differences should be fairly great as the Tibetan variety is really tantric and Thai is very bare bones (or so I think it is). Anyway I'll talk to you you all in about a week and a half after I've achieved enlightenment.