1 October 2008

Letter 3.51

The electricity is out tonight, for reasons I've been unable to discern, so this is a candlelight letter, flickering somewhat, but not yet guttering out.

This is a really big wat. (A big wat? sorry, the flickering). I haven't yet explored in any direction (except the front) to the point of finding its end. I'm told that in the back it includes a small mountain from the top of which one can see Chaiya (4 miles away) and the sea (? miles away). The wat's also a famous place and every day cars and buses of tourists (Thais) arrive to look about -- they usually stay in the front areas, and don't bother the residents, who live in tho back (maybe 50 people; 35 monks and assorted creatures). In front are many sculptures (copies mostly of famous ancient Indian artwork), and a museum (original paintings on Buddhist themes, a sound/light show, and other 'Buddhism-in-art' type endeavours), for the place is the center of the 'Buddhism-can-be-creative', or 'ethics-through-aesthetics' school of thought, founded by the chief monk here, Buddhadasa. Perhaps a good atmosphere for my own creative efforts. Certainly not a bad one, though some of what passes for creativity is a bit ludicrous. But, then, imitation rather than originality was always the focal point of much of Asian culture. Innovation for the sake of seeing-what-will-happen is not often smiled upon and, indeed, this place had some hard times in its earlier days as a result of that sort of thinking -- thinking which it is hardly free from.

Still, I'm left alone to my own devices, except one day a week when we all participate in group work (putting up a 2-story brick building these days, since now brick is cheaper than wood -- in fact, the building, intended as a dorm for overnight guests -- Bangkok students by the busload, etc. -- has no windows; is this innovative, or just forgetful?), and also though I've not been invited to share in the food here (unlike all the other wats I've stayed at) there's a restaurant just outside where the owner cooks not just the same tired old fried rice with an onion and a tomato, but a nice variety of vegetarian dishes (for me only, apparently -- everybody else expects meat, chicken, or fish, and gets it), and Buddhadasa speaks English, which helps a lot, as do quite a number of the other monks, also unlike most other places I've stayed at.

So my inclination is to stay here, though, of course, it also has its defects, mainly along the lines of the people pouring through here. But I want to park myself for a while so that I can arrange my situation to be the most productive -- re Worthy hopes.

Unfortunately, there's the visa hassle, and I can only stay if I can get a letter of sponsorship. I've not asked for it yet, preferring to make myself known first, but I'm told it's not likely I'd get one, since Buddhadasa as a general policy doesn't do that (I'm not the first Westerner to pass through here); but I'll probably ask anyway. If he says no, I'll have to consider my next move -- it may take a bit of juggling.

Thais, like Chinese, have, in their language, a sound between our 'L' and 'R', which makes it difficult for them to distinguish the two sounds (just as we have trouble distinguishing between the various tones of Thai and Chinese languages). I wasn't aware until lately that this problem extends to writing as well. But how else is one to understand a shirt with a picture of a pair of cute and cuddly little cats, underneath of which is the legend ANGOLA KITTENS. Or is this some new breed?

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