Friday, August 27, 2010

ice cream manners

Having admired another sparkly wat, I walked out into the courtyard, still marveling at the mystery of the shiny Buddhas and colorful murals. I still don't really know what it all means. Buddhism seems so odd to me, and a part of me feels like I visited a big theme park. I'm not sure I understand much more about this way of life, but I've watched and learned enough to understand some basics--take off my shoes, cover my knees and shoulders, never touch a monk, kneel and bow before Buddha images. It's tough to get answers when you don't know how to ask questions, but it's amazing what one can learn just by observing.

When I stepped out into the sunlight, I saw a bunch of baby monks eating ice cream. A fuzzy-headed orange cloud of little boys gathered around a man with a little cart, and he handed them little cups of ice cream, one at a time and collected a coin from them. This particular town, Luang Prabang, Laos is known for its elaborate alms ceremony in the morning. Each morning, just before dawn, all of the local monks parade in a line to receive offerings of pinches of rice from the townspeople, and that serves as their meal for the day.

It was surprising that the kids were eating ice cream as there are such strict dietary guidelines, but it seemed celebratory and special. After all, who wants to associate with a religion that denies kids ice cream?

I was getting a little envious, considering whether to walk over and get some ice cream myself, though it seemed as though it would have been awkward, like maybe I was interrupting a private moment between the baby monks and the vendor. Suddenly a woman, the only other foreigner around, strode confidently over to the monks and asked the vendor for an ice cream. She paid, walked a few steps over to a stray dog lying nearby, and placed the cup in front of him, cooing at him, and left it there for the dog to eat. Her boyfriend took pictures.

Everyone else around gaped.

"How was your trip?"

People ask me, "How was your trip?" and I think about the many adventures. I'm bursting with things to tell them, but I need a shortcut, something brief to let them know how meaningful it was to me without droning on. How could I possibly sum up one month in a few minutes?

"I learned that there are real live Buddhists; they aren't just on tv!"

That'll have to do.

any morning. this morning.

I awoke early, not on purpose, and now I am thinking of this poem:

Any Morning
William Stafford

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can’t
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won’t even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.