I noticed that some people I don’t personally know have read this blog. To cut down on confusion and encourage a sense of relevance, here’s a brief monastic roll call covering some of the major players from our trip to the Pyrenees. First off is me! My name is Troi Bieu Hien, aka Chad Skeers, and I’m a novice here at Plum Village. Enough said.
Next up: my ordination family. I was ordained with two bros and nine sisters, plus another fifteen or so young monastics in Thailand, who we haven’t met. Together, we’re the Azalea Family, or Gia Dinh Do Quyen, in my ghetto Vietnamese. I was hoping we’d be the Grizzly Bear Family, or the Tiger Shark Family, but we’re not, we’re Azaleas. And if you think about it, Azaleas are pretty dang cool. Know what I mean? If you don’t know what I mean, keep thinking about it… *clenches fists menacingly* Only bros came on the hiking trip, so here are my two bros.
First up is Pham Hanh, formerly Bart Bannink. Pham Hanh is Dutch. And like all Dutch people, generations of living below sea-level has made him crazy–in a good way. First of all, you can always rely on him to have what you’re looking for. An extension chord, string, a flashlight, edible clay, anything you could possibly want. Why, even today I discovered that he had an iPod charger just like the one I lost three weeks ago, although admittedly that was the result of a mix-up. We didn’t exactly rub each other the right way at first. Namely I made him agitated and he pissed me off. Now we’re Dharma bros though, and do our best to look out for one another. Pham Hanh is caring, concerned, and proactive, which means that Tuy Niem and I, who are both dismissive and irreverent, make him the butt of many a joke. The day that we finally found that we could insult each other without offense was when the ink on our friendship certificate dried.
Tuy Niem is an Aussie, a surfer, and a yogi in the yoga sense of the word. Just so you know, he’s cut like a Chippendale’s dancer under those robes. Before coming to ordain he had a series of excellent adventures, including a teaching stint at a juvenile detention center and a year of living in an ashram. Recent exploits include prodigious Summer fig consumption and getting visual confirmation, from yours truly, that yes, he can do a sweet handstand. Suffering from illness and general aversion to the cold, he was a real trooper on our hiking expedition.
Now some of the other guys.
Phap Tai I already introduced. Sufficed to say, he is French and awesome.
Phap Dang, formerly the most terrifying monk in Plum Village, is a pretty cool guy. There were a few months there where my attempts to greet him were met with a blank look or even laughter. Once, before my ordination, I was wearing one of those Indonesian cloth wrap things (sarong?) instead of normal pants. “We don’t wear skirts here. If you want to wear a skirt, go to India.” was his suggestion. Anyway, that phase in our relationship seems to have passed. Now we get along fine just as long as I take numerous portraits of him. No problem Dear Brother!
Phap Ton is a superhero. I don’t know what kind of dark injustice lies in his past, driving him onward, but he seems sure that the path to redemption involves learning English as a second language. During his first three weeks here he approached every Westerner and told them the same thing, “You! My new English teacher!” Then he was everywhere. You couldn’t take a piss at 2am without hearing, “Hello Dear Brother! Where are you from?” Polite compliance gave way to patient endurance, until eventually one or numerous people did some clarifying on the dos and don’ts of language learning. Now someone needs to give that lesson to whoever keeps teaching him strange phrases. First he was calling everyone, “Mafia Monk!” and then switched over to saying, “You.. very Dangerous Brother!” He also gets points for intentionally making this baffling face for photos. I keep asking if he’s ready and he says “Yesh” like a ventriloquist, as if he’s not willing to risk me taking the picture while he responds.
Man Trung is taking the slow route with language learning. With my crappy Vietnamese, and his crappy English, we’re lucky if we can scrape together a successful exchange, let alone an entire conversation, but one thing is for sure: we’re friends. He’s one of the few Vietnamese brothers that’s down for anything. Swimming in the mountains, hot springs, playing in the snow, all of these sound awesome to me. But for some reason, cultural or otherwise, not everyone else partakes. Man Trung was ubiquitous on this trip, and we had some good laughs.
Dai Tue ordained with a few other guys just before our family. He’s German, and prone to making safety recommendations. He’s also our resident herbalist, and has gotten pretty good at convincing me to try random plants along the path. Isn’t that poisonous? I ask. Apparently not, as long as I don’t eat the skin or seeds. Also it will help me communicate with spirits and move quietly while hunting.
Phap Luu was our fearless leader. Towards the end of the trip, he said to me, “Every day that I plan goes perfectly…” Out of context it sounds much more arrogant than it really was, and the fact is that he was right. Each of the days that he planned for our trip were exceptional. Even the weather cooperated with his divine will. Phap Luu is one of those people who is good at things. He speaks about six languages, studied at Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth, LiveStreams the Dharma talks, does the Plum Village accounting, and dabbles in mandolin. I’m told that he used to literally live under a rock, although I’m not quite sure how that is physically possible. He can talk at length about any subject, and finds everything interesting except for celebrity gossip. We’re lucky to have him.