Back at the home wat, that is. Not back in the states. But that's coming soon - less than two weeks now until I'm back in the land of drinkable tap water, air conditioning, dry desert air, readable signs, Chipotle and Jimmy John's.... Okay, I better stop. I still have two weeks, after all.
So, as you can read, I survived the beach. Barely. It was quite the full weekend, and I may have to tell it in installments, since I have a meditation session in about 30 minutes.
We left after lunch on Friday - five teachers, two monks, one meditation student, and the driver. Phra Bart was, of course, one of the monks. The other is Phra Sanjoy. He's this tall, gangly early-20s monk from Bangladesh, speaks English quite well, and has this happy-go-lucky way about him that makes him very personable. He's the type of person who starts chatting with someone at a big banquet, then gets invited by the person to sit next to him, then discovers that the person is actually the king and is now his friend.
The rest of us are the North Americans - Jessica, Paul, Eunice, Oscar, and I, plus Sean, a 22-year-old engineer from Arizona who is here through a different program just to study meditation, not to teach.
We piled into the huge van with air conditioning (AIR CONDITIONING!) and drove about 4 hours south of our home wat, stopping once for a bathroom break where I successfully used a non-Western-style toilet for the first time this trip (not that I haven't encountered them - I just hadn't been desperate enough prior to that point to not wait). Because I'm sure you wanted to know that.
With a little bit of getting lost, and a little bit of the driver stopping for directions, we found an incomprehensible (to me) sign with two words in English, "Bat Cave" and a painting of a friendly-looking cartoon bat next to a yellow arrow pointing the way down a bumpy dirt road. Down the road about a mile, we pulled up in front of Phra Den's wat.
I should explain how this trip came to be. Phra Den, the abbot of this wat, is friends with Phra Bart. Phra Den is in my and Eunice's English class (so, level two) along with Phra Sanjoy. He is this delightful, gracious, kind, and intelligent older man. Although you would never guess it from his humilty, he is also an abbot. Phra Den just recently had his wat approved as a branch of this wat, and he wanted very much to show it to Phra Bart and his "English teachers". And so he invited us down to show us his wat and to give us a chance to go to the beach.
(Side note: A good example of what Phra Den is like: Today in English class, we were going over the basic words for introducing meditation. As a review, Eunice asked, "Phra Den, if you had a Westerner come to your temple to study meditation and they had never done meditation before, what would you say to them?"
He smiled and said, "I would say, 'Welcome to my temple, my friend. I am so glad you came to visit me.'" Such courtesy!)
The first part of the wat you notice is the large white temple building. It has the traditional pointy Thai-style roof with reflective silver mosaic tiles outlining the levels of the roof and cement statues of griffen-ish creatures flanking the door, painted in bright gold and red. To the right of that building is the abbot's office, a building that looks more like a one-room house, and the monk's quarters, a series of brownish-red wooden huts. To the left of the temple is a chapel (more about that later), the eating area, and the latrines. Behind the temple is the beach. Sand, palm trees, and just flat, blue ocean as far as you can see.
Phra Den met our van as we crunched across the gravel. "Oh, my friends! I am so glad you are here! Please, please come and sit." He welcomed us to the covered porch outside his office and invited us to sit at the table there. He pulled bottled water from the cooler on the porch for each of us (which they must have purchased just for us) and told us that he wanted very much to show us the wat, to show us the area, and to let us enjoy nature and learn to meditate in nature.
He took us on a tour of the area, leading us first through a field to the beach where we all kicked off our shoes and walked in the water. It was so warm!
Next, we walked to the mountain on the other side of the chapel. Phra Den led us up a concrete and wooden staircase to a cave. To the left, at the back of the first "room" was a large statue of Buddha on a wooden platform surrounded by burnt incense. To the right was an opening that led in deeper into darkness. From the darkness, you could hear a lot of high-pitched squeaking.
Oop, gotta get to meditation class! Hopefully, I'll have time to continue the tale after class.