Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Finally: My Day at the Temple

After having been in Chiang Mai for two weeks now, I finally got around to carrying my camera out of the hostel and, you know, plugging it in. So here goes, with dramatic photos: My Day at Wat Tam Pha Noi.

4am: Roosters in Shan village down the hill start crowing.

5:15am: Sun actually starts to rise.

View off my front porch at about 5:15am
Somewhere between 5 and 5:30am: Actually wake up

5:30am-6:30am: Half hour walking meditation, half hour sitting meditation while listening to sounds of birds, dogs barking, and puppy rustling in the leaves below, which unconcentrated mind immediately translates to "snake rustling in leaves below"

Aforementioned puppy.
6:34am: Roosters in Shan village still crowing.

6:35am: Climb at least 73 steps up to main cave area

Pathway from the steps over to my kuti

 6:40am-7:40 or 8am: Sweeping. All the sweeping. Sweeping is actually one of the things that is on the list of things monks have to do every day. There is no list of things guests have to do every day, but there aren't that many monks at Tam Pha Noi, and there are a lot of leaves. One morning immediately after sweeping I saw a four-foot-long green-grey snake lying across the road. I said "Wargh!" It didn't say anything.

All the sweeping.
Around 8:15am: Breakfast, after monks return from pindabhat (alms round) with food -- before monks return, there isn't really much to eat.

There's something awesome about washing dishes and staring out over some mountains covered with lychee plantations.

8:45am or so: Return to kuti for toothbrushing, first bucket shower of the day, sometimes laundry meditation, sometimes tea drinking

9:40am: Bell rings for chanting

The bells tell the monks it's time for chanting...also the surrounding devas

9:45am: Chanting in cave. Fear bees.

Full of bees.

10:30am: Mealtime! Sometimes there are guests who have brought food in for the monks and they share with us. Sometimes it's just one monk and me serving food.

When I first came to the wat, this floor wasn't tiled.

The way this works at Tam Pha Noi is: the monk(s) sit on a raised area in the long dining hall. They bow 3 times to the Buddha when they enter (paying respect to the Triple Gem, the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha). They rinse their bowls, and extend a receiving cloth, since they can't touch anything that I am touching, since I'm a lady. The whole time, I have been kneeling respectfully at the base of the eating area. When the receiving cloth is out, I put the food on it and wai. Sometimes I do it one dish at a time, sometimes I connect all the dishes, so they count as "offered." Monks can't eat anything unless it has been properly offered. When they finish with the food, they place it to one side, I come over, wai, pick it up, and carry it back to the kitchen, where everyone else (usually just me and the other mae chi) get to eat it.

11:30am: Walking meditation OR staring mournfully at the wall in the kuti thinking some combination of "I ate too much" and "It's very hot". Sometimes, second shower of the day.

View behind the kitchen

Between noon and 4pm: Combination of things! It's usually too warm or, in the last few days of my stay, raining, so often I did in-kuti things. I read Anna Karenina. I meditated, both walking and sitting. I washed clothes, when I had to, which was almost every day, because I only brought one set of clothes and they have to be white. This got easier when I discovered a second set of whites in the kitchen cupboards, and then I only had to do laundry half as much.

I shoveled all this gravel and dug holes for the bricks.

Sometimes this time period also involved helping Phra Boon Tam with various projects, like shovelling gravel and building a pathway for a spirit house at the front of the temple, or helping him in his dhamma garden. Hard labour, basically. In white clothes. Laundry was a big part of my stay at Tam Pha Noi.

4:15pm: Confused roosters, either paralysed by existential crisis or distracted by chicken sex, finally fall silent.

Between 4 and 4:30pm: Snacktime! By which I mean "Milo time". You can't eat anything after noon, but you can drink things...and the only things we have with calories in them are Milo and coffee! The coffee has milk powder in it, so I can't drink it (unless I wish to experience the meditative pleasure of squat toilets), but the Milo only has nondairy creamer. This, while not affecting my lactose intolerance, probably gave me brain cancer.

Mama cat...still a kitten herself

4:15pm: Climb up at least 73 steps to the kitchen. Heat water in kettle. Make Milo. Play with kittens. Kitchen cat had four kittens about three days before I got there, and their eyes were open by the time I left)

4:30pm-5:15pm: Read in kitchen, enjoying Milo and view

5:30pm: Walking meditation time, usually up to the stupa area, because that's the coolest place in the temple when the wind starts to blow.

Sunset over broken candles

Around 6:30pm: Make the long up and downhill hike to the vihahn to watch the sun set over the hills and the lights come up on the road between Chiang Mai and Fang. This is pretty impressive.

7:15pm: Head back to kuti in almost-dark, with flashlight trained resolutely on ground and heart pounding in throat in case I encounter a) snakes, b) scorpions, c) tarantulas. Actually encounter: a) dogs, b) dogs, c) more dogs. Blackie has special game: nip pants leg.

7:30pm: Sitting meditation on front porch, with mosquito headnet. In middle of meditation, dog arrives on porch and either chews vigorously at back legs, licks hands and face, or pants heavily.

Mae Chi Mimi, so called because she's probably a reincarnated nun
8:10pm: Brush teeth, final bucket shower of day. Candlelight very pretty but reveals multitudes of ants crawling industriously across kuti floor and my feet. Dog remains on porch, imitating dead dog.
Blackie likes my head

8:20pm: Climb into bed. Thrash violently to free mosquitos trapped under mosquito net and tentatively pat at bedding to ensure no scorpions have entered during daytime. Reading.

8:30pm: Loud Singing Time in Shan village. They don't have electricity so have to make their own fun.

8:45pm: Bedtime in Shan village. Only sounds crickets, confused giant beetles, dog breathing. Lightning bugs everywhere.

Between 9 and 9:30pm: Bedtime for Claire! Turn off flashlight. Immediately fall asleep.

When there is more than one monk going on alms round in the morning, I was allowed to go too. So those days had an amended portion that looked like this:

View out the back of the pickup truck going down the mountain

Drug dealer's gate in the Chinese village
6:15am: Meet at truck for cheerful Shan driver to take us into town, driving down the mountain, through a confused Chinese village apparently run by drug smugglers in enormous houses, and to the nearest Thai village.
6:30am-7:45am: Alms round.
7:45am-8:15am: Errands, return to temple.

When I wasn't on alms round, I didn't leave the temple. This meant I didn't leave the temple for nine days.


Anonymous said...

That is freakin' gorgeous.

Ray Lee said...

Wow. Pretty much that's all I've got: Wow.