Sunday, June 20, 2010

In Which I Hit a Wall of Culture Shock Again

Internet! Oh, Internet! You're so familiar - I know you and I know how you work!

My friends, I have hit such a wall of culture shock. I'm coping with it to the best of my ability. Mostly that means keeping a very tight focus on the immediate and throwing up mental walls when I start to think about all the uncertainty and unfamiliar and the panic rises up again.

I'm at the wat. I'm so, so glad I did the other program first - otherwise, there would be a lot more panic over the newness of everything. As it is, the sight of monks and the buildings and the language and my complete illiteracy is not so frighteningly new.

Things I'm worried about now:
- The monks do not eat after noon. The other volunteers here just over the weekend decided to do the same. This makes me panic about not having dinner because, well, there's no dinner. It seems we're supposed to pack up the leftover food from lunch to eat later, but there's not really a system for this and also

- The food is scary. I try to be open-minded, I really do, but I'm just not a brave eater. Especially when it's seafood. If it looks like an animal, I find it really hard to stomach it (see the story of the fish in New York). At lunch yesterday in Bangkok, I ordered "Chinese noodles with chicken". It had noodles, it had chicken, and it had a couple of tentacles reaching out pleadingly from the pile of noodles.

I was good! I gamely ate the dish, avoiding the tentacles.

But breakfast and lunch today were just so not-at-all familiar. I tried the things I could recognize - an omlette-type thing with green leaves in it, some stewed beef, bean sprouts and, of course, rice. But there were so many soupy/mysterious dishes with bones or fish heads or things that I am just not up to eating.

I would just make dinner for myself at the house, but there's no food supply. There's the mini-mart at the wat, which is essentially the bare bones of a convenience store. That's how I got dinner last night - I had a Thai version of Cup-o-Noodles. But they don't have fruit or "real" food, and I can't subsist on potato chips and dried fish every day.

And so, I am worried about meals.

- Lodging is an issue, too. When they said the volunteers would be staying in a house "across the street," they neglected to mention the 30-minute walk through a coconut grove, fields, and across and down a highway.

I'm fine with it in the morning - we need to be at the wat at 7, so the heat's not so bad in the morning.

I'm worried about night, though. It gets pitch black here by 7 pm, and there's no street lights or porch lights or anything. I'll be at the wat until 7:30 for the evening class, and possibly until 9:30 if I stay for evening meditation.

This wouldn't be as much of an issue if there was a group walking to and fro. However (you sensed that was coming, didn't you?), the other volunteers all decided to stay at the dormitories on site. Even Oscar, the one other new person who was going to stay at the house, said at lunch that he plans on moving to the dormitories.

So there's my dilemma - the dormitories essentially equal camping. There's a low table to sleep on in a large shared room with screened-in windows. No closets, no place to store things, no pillows, and the bathrooms are like public rest stops about 100 yards away from the dormitory.

The house is really nice - there's a thin mattress on the bed that make it slightly more comfortable than sleeping on hard wood, a Western-style bathroom with a shower, electricity, a kitchen, and so on.

There's just that walk to worry about.

I don't know what to do at this point. I really want to stay at the house, but I don't feel good about doing that walk at night alone. Conversely, I know that the more comfortable (i.e. familiar surroundings/routines) I can be for at least part of the time, the happier I am all of the time.

And, of course, there's also the panic over the rest of the unknown - what classes will I teach, how do I teach them, will I offend every monk I see because I don't know the rules, what is meditation like, will I fail at doing that, and on and on and on.

And so I focus - I have internet. The library is open during the weekdays for a few hours, it's air conditioned (AIR CONDITIONED!), and the connection's not too bad. So there's that I can focus on right now, and look forward to tomorrow.

I know the schedule, roughly. Get up at 6, leave at 6:30, breakfast at 7, morning classes from 8:30-11:00, lunch at 11:00... and that's as far as I've gotten.

I know I have a meeting with the other volunteers in thirty minutes. I hope I can figure out a lot more of what's going on. Knowing things, knowing the routines and the structures and how it's going to be helps me in these kinds of situations, I know.

Oh, my friends. What have I gotten myself into?

1 comment:

  1. Why don't the monks eat after noon?

    Maybe I should do that...