28 May 2008

Journal 45

December 22 - Well, here it is, first day of winter. Not many snowballs in this neck of the woods. I feel, this evening, very amused at the monks here, who exhibit a vast concern over seeing to it that I have comforts about which I don't give a fig. They have prepared a special smokey fire in a pan and placed it in the kuti to drive away the few mosquitos that I have been totally ignoring. They break their own rules of etiquette to show me favoritism which I find embarrassing. I have been told, once, that the Japanese smile to show embarrassment. They are very kind though - they want me to stay here a month now (which I could hardly do) - when they assume my total ignorance of how to handle the most simple matters. They go to great lengths to show me how to turn the flame up and down on the lamp, how to fasten the window latch, how to put on my robes, how to clean my teeth (they’re dawn on toothpaste); they caution me to wear sandals and take the lamp with me if I go out at night, and want me to always carry my travelling alarm clock with me if I go out of the kuti lest some brigands make off with it. And so it goes, every phase of daily life is assumed to be more than I can handle without help. This attitude, which I've encountered frequently in Asia, both as layman and monk, is explicable, I think, only in the view of the vast traditionalism inherent in the culture, which in a time of change creates great readjustment problems: the people can't conceive of anyone actually being comfortable in any but the most familiar surroundings. In other words, they have been taught to exist within a limited sphere - which works very fine as long as that sphere is intact - and assume that I must have the same limitations.

The traditionalism I fine here is accounted for by the discovery, made today, that this is the oldest arañña in Ceylon; another proof of my theory. (It's over 100 years ole.) There is an arahna about A miles away which I had intende visiting, but now learn that it is, more or less, an offshoot of this place and exactly the same; so I'll probably not go there.

The reason this kuti is so decrepit - the plaster is half gone, revealing crumbling mud and stones, the roof is of palm fronds, there are great gaps between walls and roof - is because a tree fell on it. I was visited by more villagers today, who hang around much too long, but gave me some beedis – native-style cigarettes - rather strong - which were nice - haven't smokes in a long time now, and a cigarette feels unfamiliar between my fingers. I can't think of any other stupendous events to record…

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