Decline of the Hut


Let no man call me a liar, for though I have taken my sweet time, I will finally introduce some bros that I mentioned previously. We’ll also be learning the fate of “Spring Breeze Hut,” which has seen surprisingly little play recently. That’s mostly because I’m just not spending much time in there at the moment. The hut itself isn’t in decline, but monastic culture in the hut has crumbled, and I’m assuming rodent culture is booming. Here are a few of the things that happened.

First of all, as the summer wound down and lazy days ran out, the hut saw an influx of visitors, eager to get in on the vibrant intellectual and artistic culture that had blossomed therein. Bao Tich was among the great patrons, although he doesn’t quite fall into this category because his presence was nothing new in the hut. He was coming by all the time, and contributed greatly to our salon discussions. Bao Tich is from India, and spent six years in the US doing finance in New York. Somehow he got roped into treasury work here, probably based on the (very inaccurate) assumption that financial analysis and reimbursing people for airline tickets are one and the same. It’s a high pressure position, as he’s responsible for our monthly stipend, but he seems to bear it with lightness.

IMG_5263He and I are developing a very necessary skill in our community: super-human endurance for listening to unintelligible conversations. This has come up a lot recently, as we’re both on the Care Taking Council, an elite task force that organizes a number mission critical responsibilities, like writing the schedule on the whiteboard and planning the next pizza party. As a part of our top secret training, our meetings take place almost exclusively in Vietnamese. And also because five out of seven total members are Vietnamese. I’m getting there, but I’m also learning some Vietnamese so it’s less confusing all the time. Bao Tich is proving himself more than capable of handling the challenge.

And let’s not forget that time that he sat with such concentration that a rainbow exploded out of his back:

IMG_5260It was hard even for me to believe, but my camera only records facts.

In a more exotic appearance, Dai Dinh came by to hang out one afternoon. He lives down the hill at Son Ha Temple. He’s the kind of guy that reminds you that no matter how rugged your mustache, no matter how greasy you get changing the oil on your Prius, you’re always gonna be a cream puff compared to most of the world’s population. He grew up in Indonesia, where he practiced as a Sufi. He read a book from Thay about mindful walking, and put it into practice when he walked the 300km pilgrimage that is a part of the training in their tradition: no food, no water, no money, one set of traditional clothes, and it is forbidden to ask for assistance. It is only allowed to accept what is offered. You just walk and presumably pray, and people on the road support you. He met Thay when he went to Indonesia and scored a scholarship to come chill with us for five years in PV. He showed up with that same set of clothes and his passport, and that’s it. Like a boss. He’s about the only one in Upper Hamlet with rhythm, and as such is featured in every musical performance we’ve put together in the years since his arrival.

IMG_5276We also saw a bit more of Nam before the end of the summer. I’ve mentioned him before. He’s in line with two other guys hoping to become monks soon. I cooked with him over the summer, and working with him was like a breathe of fresh air. First of all, he knows which seasons of the Simpsons are best, and makes timely references to those episodes which alight upon the great peaks of American culture. He’s also a wild card in the kitchen, experimenting successfully and with a cockiness that really cracks me up. Not that I don’t have a sense of adventure, but I turned him down flat when he suggested that I add curry and cayenne to my garlic mashed potatoes.

He came by when things were degenerating a bit over in the hut. Evan was going to leave soon. The summer was over. I was getting ready to fast and had purchased, among other things, a couple bottles of sauerkraut juice. Desperate for some way to express our manliness, competition ensued, and cowboy faces followed quickly behind.

krautjuiceActually neither of them had much stomach for the stuff. It’s not that sour.

Once the boys left for Spain, I decided I needed to clean the hut up before Jacob and Jillian came to visit. The first stage was to haul all the trash out of the various nooks and crannies around, the second was to actually clean it up and rebuild the stairs, a task that my brother ended up having to do for me when he finally arrived. What else are big brothers for? Here’s a quick photo history of the whole affair. Here’s the before:

hut-left Untitled_Panorama2And now the after:

IMG_5727IMG_5726So once I get all my stuff out of there, it will be a whole new hut, ready for the adventures of someone new. Until then anyone who goes in is likely to get the impression that a permanent resident has just stepped out to use the bathroom. I also found an ancient tribal totem while I was cleaning, so I leave him out front to ward off evil spirits.IMG_5729I’m leaving him in charge around here until I get around to another post. Take care.

Monks Unchained

You know, I actually had an idea for this post. I was going to catch everyone up on a few things that happened around here, and finally get around to those introductions I promised last time. But, it turns out that my blogging is heavily influenced by what pictures I have available, in turn influenced by how much I’ve had the camera in my hands recently. I figured I had enough material to scrape something together. Something passable, or at least more passable than that monstrosity from last winter.

But fate had something else in store.  First of all, a special occasion:

IMG_5639The ceremonial offering of birthday pie. And let me tell you it was strictly ceremonial. After the picture was taken ManTrung put the pie right back down where Phap Nhiep had grabbed it from.  Man Trung, who is the one on the right by the way, turned something like 28. We celebrated in style. I got back to my room after dinner and found Phap Nhiep seated alone, surrounded by candles and contemplating the orchid on the table. Who says there’s no room for romance in the monastery?

Man Trung was rumoredly fluttering around the temple office, checking his facebook page for birthday wishes every fifteen seconds. I took a seat across from Phap Nhiep and we played the waiting game, which got boring quickly. We grabbed the camera off the shelf and tried to put together entrees for the “Looks Most Like a Monk” photo contest we’re planning to put together soon. We had a good laugh as we reviewed some of the more ridiculous shots on the camera’s screen, and then I was horrified to discover that Phap Nhiep went through and deleted the most incriminating and therefore most hilarious photos. After scouring the memory card, I was able to salvage a couple:


IMG_5632The real winner was an epic shot of Phap Nhiep gesturing to the flower, staring into the camera with a look that said, “I challenge you to contemplate the interdependent nature of this orchid,” but future generations will not be able to benefit from that image. Finally Man Trung arrived, and Phap Nhiep hit play on his iPod, which was queued up to play six variants of “Happy Birthday to You” on repeat. One switched back and forth between Vietnamese and English. One had a techno beat. All were hilarious. That soundtrack played on for the next couple hours as brothers flowed in and out of the room to pass on their birthday wishes (and occasionally cookies.) Here’s a shot of the three roommates, being awesome:

IMG_5642I look a little manic in the picture, I think, but I’m attributing it to the fact that I had to set the timer, run across the room, plop myself down, and then look natural. Otherwise I’d say we’re approaching dangerous levels of awesomeness. Oh, and to return a little bit to the photo contest: there is no photo contest, except for the one that is on constantly, all year round, beginning from the day that you become a monk as evidenced most spectacularly by Thay Phap Cau. Every autumn, every snowfall, every cluster of cherry blossoms is punctuated by a photo shoot that involves monks and nuns taking turns in full-lotus, looking peacefully into the camera.

And it’s not just beautiful natural phenomena that can provide such opportunities, as I discovered combing through the files on our camera:

Untitled-1Now, to his credit, Phap Tiep (center) actually plays the guitar. Heh. I hope the boys never find out about this post.

As you can see we’re busy little bees here in Upper Hamlet. Lots of changes taking place, if I get it together I may share a little about that. Until then take care out there.