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The day Buddhism came into my life, part 1

June 27, 2010

First of all,  goddamit Toronto, what gives with the riots?  People who have no better way to express themselves than by smashing private businesses and torching things need to buck the fuck up and remember you’re not four-year olds throwing a tantrum in the supermarket.  I’m embarrassed.

Sorry folks but the harmonica elephant will have to wait a little while longer – I was taken on a spiritual pilgrimage of sorts over the weekend (not related to the pic in lasts’ post.  I’ll talk about that with the elephant).  Volunteering by the way is freaking amazing.

So here we go – I was fortunate enough to  hitch a ride along with an exodus of students down to Rayong Province, in the South-East part of Thailand, North of the Gulf.  I never did get the exact purpose of the trip but it involved paying homage to Wat Khao Sukim – one of Thailand’s most respected Buddhist Temples.  It would seem however that the road to enlightenment is paved through hell and I certainly experienced my own personal version of it.  If I were to atone for all the sins of the world it would involve me in one of these rickety sardine crates designed to both cross highways or procure confessions from Soviet spies.  Within this smelly tin of grease you will find upwards of 70 Thai students all shouting some unreasonably distasteful and loud karaoke music on multiple televisions from 10 at night until 8 the next morning.  In total there were 4 of these supersize brain smashers and each time we’d make a pit stop, I’d burst out with my bag and steal a seat on another bus, hoping the next driver hadn’t already had his ear drums shaken to a pulp.  As it turns out, Bus #3 was the winner.  Not only was the volume slightly more reasonable the music wasn’t half bad either.  It became a little awkward when the video turned to a lengthy rock concert with 8 dancing girls about one “wardrobe malfunction” away from being softcore porn.  This must be where lap dance moves are experimented with before being released into action.

When we finally made it into Rayong there were all typical tourist functions about amongst the students such as shopping for dried squid and hanging seashell wind chimes over each other’s heads.  We visited a pretty serious aquarium.  I don’t remember the last time I was at one, but it all seemed quite tragic – the fish were stunted and rather spiritless.  I felt my heart sink while I watched a White Spotted Eagle Ray meander about and bump into the walls.  It made a huge difference having seen most of these fish in their natural habitat and none of them here elicited any type of behavior I’d have expected in the wild.  It was nice to know almost everything I was looking at though and the students were impressed I could tell them what the English names were.
Eventually we made it to a public beach.  It was amusing to watch nearly 300 Thai kids splash about in the surf while fully clothed.  The beach itself was horrid.  I decided to give swimming a go anyway but when I passed a dead cat I had had it.
Later that evening  we stopped for dinner in a great market with all manner of slaughtered animal plus the typical clothes, toys and other randomness.  It only took 9 months but I can now go into a Thai community of zero English and feed myself for a fair price.  I had my dinner in hand and beaming with pride when I was whisked away with the male teachers.  These guys are a riot, always joking with each other as do most Thai.  But once the students were out of sight, out came the cigarettes and whiskey sodas.  You gotta love a place that lets you bring your own bottle of cheap booze to a restaurant table and first thing they do is bring out glasses and ice.  At the end of it all I had a bit of a buzz going on but I wasn’t the only one.  One teacher was busy telling me how handsome I am (not unusual for heteros to display overt affection for each other), while another teacher tried his hand and back at break dancing.  It didn’t work at all but was hilarious all the same.  I remember thinking if all this was happening back home it’s just a matter of time before the merry-go-round shudders to a halt and out come the handcuffs.  Maybe it was the whiskey sodas or maybe the 9 months away from home but none of it ever seemed particularly out of line.  There’s simply different rules and expectations for students and teachers.  And refreshingly, none of this soft risk management crap.  One teacher beckoned a student while on the bus to come give him a shoulder massage and the student went straight to work.  It was like he could have been his son, both were laughing and joking and would give an endearing whap on the back of the head to other students who poked fun.  The kid knew what he was doing too, I was trying to make mental notes on his technique.

At the end of the day all 4 buses pulled through a very impressive temple gateway and we then piled out into a large receiving area surrounded by giant Buddha statues everywhere.  We had arrived at Wat Khao Sukim.  We then climbed a long and sweaty flight of stairs up the mountain side to a large hall where we would spend the night.  As my new Thai friends and I got ready for bed I spent some time to draft this entry and to take in the awe-inspiring sight.  That night I slept on a red carpet before 24 golden statues and a painting of a very important looking monk (and that was just on the one side of the room). One of my students taught me how to pray before a Buddha statue and I remember thinking I haven’t felt this auspicious in a long time.  I fell asleep that night thinking well of  friends and family back home and wishing I could share the experience.  Sleep soon came fast.

Part two, along with some pics will come in a couple days.  Not to worry, I haven’t forgot about the harmonica playing elephant – I just need something else to talk about later.


From → Posts

  1. Ben – It’s been a long time since I’ve commented but I’ve been following a long every step of the way.

    Your stories sound ridiculous (almost hard to comprehend), so I’m looking forward to hearing them in the flesh. When can I expect you back on Canadian soil?

    Exciting Scott news: I got into that school in Sweden I’ve been talking about for some time, so I’m Sweden bound come September. It would seem as though my own flavour of adventure will begin just as yours is wrapping up.

    Looking forward to seeing you.


    • Hey man, it’s always good to hear from you. I’m glad to hear you’ve been keeping up with the blog. I think I see what you mean about the stories – the more I think about it the more I think the blog should be called,

      There and Back Again –
      A Canuck’s Holiday

      By Benjamin Tolton

      That’s awesome about Sweden, congrats I know you’ll love it. You’ll have to keep me posted about your own adventures.
      I’ll be back in Burlington on the 10th of August I expect. It’ll be a whirlwind month catching up with friends and family and sorting myself for school. I was thinking of posting a facebook event to try and get together whoever possible for stories and drinks. What do you think? Looking forward to seeing you again, mate. Give Ali a big high five for me

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