I thought I better just tidy up that chapter on meditation.
The teachers at the retreat centre travelled overseas to teach so the retreat centre closed.
Through a few coincidences I ended up being invited to a monastery, in a small village (400 people) in the north east. The abbott wanted an English teacher to give the novices (young monks) and local kids a leg up.
I thought it would be a great opportunity to study meditation more in depth and to learn the language.
The Wat was in the centre of the village with the school next door, surrounded by rice paddies and houses. I taught three classes for different age groups, in the afternoons after school. The novices just couldn’t be assed. The kids were amazing and I just made up shit on the fly to teach them. They loved it and we had some fun. They learnt so quickly…unlike me.
Only one person in the village partially spoke english, the postman, Pornchai. He was the sweetest guy and took time out of his day to try to teach me Thai. Problem was they all spoke Isan which was a dialect and only knew central Thai from watching TV. Who knows what I was learning and I am slightly bad at languages. The abbot was kind and tried to teach me meditation stuff but the language barrier was way too great.
I ended up staying for a year or more?? I can’t really remember exactly. But it was horrible. I was so lonely. Surrounded by all these loving people who welcomed me into their lives and homes. I went to funerals and weddings and celebrated all the religious events. I planted and picked rice, sifted mud for translucent frogs to eat, BBQ grasshoppers, and worst of all went to one illegal boxing match which I will save for another time.
But not having anyone to really talk too slowly did me in. I started to catch the bus on the weekend to a small town that was right on the Mekong river and I would stay in this guest house and watch the river flow south while looking over to Laos on the opposite bank. Occasional the odd tourist would come through and I would chew their ear off. There was one bar in town and they had a band that played western covers. They were amazing musicians and I befriended the lead guitarist who spoke a little english and hung out with the band.
Occasionally this group of five older westerner guys would show up. These were definitely not your Tommy tourist types. I stood out as much as they did, so one time they called me over to check out who I was. Three of them were still there from the Vietnam war and had never gone home. None of them had passports and all were ex junkies. They smoked and drunk like fish and constantly disappeared upstairs to the brothel. They scared the living shit out of me.
Now I am no angel but I felt like the Virgin Mary hanging with these guys. It was like going back in time to the wild west and hanging with some bandits. Strangely enough though we kinda connected and they took me in. They shared with me their stories and took me to their secret hideouts. They all made a living by trafficking one thing or another. ie.The best storyteller told me this epic yarn of travelling overland for six weeks with 10kg of Heroin strapped to his body from Pakistan over the old silk road through China to Hong Kong.
Bribing check point guards, jumping from buses and outdrinking army generals. Stories like that just rolled off their tongues. But what most fascinated me was the energy they carried. It's easier for me to see now that I am older but they had stared death down and survived so many times that they had altered their perception of reality. Strangely enough I probably learnt more hanging out with them on the occasional weekend than from any meditation lessons at the Wat.
Don't get me wrong. These were not good guys and I could never live like them but in comparison I could learn to live with less fear. Their life situation compelled them to live like that….what would I find to drive/motivate me to live as fearlessly. To be strong instead of safe. In my weaker moments I still think of them.