Buddhist Communion in the Land of Big People…

IMG_1588The loneliness of travel should be crushing sometimes, but it’s not, not really, and I seem to attract it, by design, as if to do otherwise would mean I’m lazy, and corrupt, too weary in my old age to do the right thing, stay true to my principles, those principles of non-possession, non-attachment and non-consumption…

Because even though there are no shortage of roadside attractions out there, pubs and clubs and the bestos of restos, that’s not where you’re likely to find me, out hooting and hollering until the sun comes up, as if that were the natural order of the universe, and not its opposite…

And the travel was there for me from the get-go, a convenient escape in the winter construction season down-time, and an education in itself, seeing the world up close and personal, as was always my most heartfelt desire, hanging with the Homies the Holy Grail of enlightened homelessness, sanctum sanctorum in the vision quest for mystical union with the other, making the world smaller by weaving it tighter, and trading the fruits of labor for the simple opportunity to do it again, over and over until the lights grow dim…

Fast-forward 155 countries, and thirty or forty years, depending on how you count, and that’s largely how I’ve lived my life, taking pleasure where I can find it, and ‘settling down’ only intermittently, preferring to be ‘out there’ and honest, than locked down, well-fed and fed up. So my latest project is the study and practice of Buddhism, in Asia, wherever that path leads, and after many years in Thailand, so somewhat inured to and inoculated by the local scene, for better or worse, ’till death do us part…

And that’s no joke, because the racial profiling in Thailand is almost unbearable, not racism per se, because that connotes violence, just the silly insistence that by virtue of my white skin, that I’m somehow different, or lesser, or otherwise objectifiable, capable of being categorized as an object, a thing, a farang, not a person, of flesh blood and feelings…

Which is why I’m so astounded after 3-4 months in Cambodia, that I’ve never heard that word once, or the local equivalent, or felt nearly as much of that alienation from the locals, such that I could never get past the interface, even when my command of the Thai language is strong and my Khmer is still basic, and largely nascent, if somewhat passable for part-time perusal, and the kids are great regardless, naked and unafraid…

Which is why I was so surprised when the child at one of my local eateries seemed scared of me, typical of Thais, but not so much of Khmers. But this is a border town between the two, so I guess the analogy holds. But I was even more surprised as I was walking through the market, and I made eye contact, per usual, with a little 6-year-old girl, and she waves, which I return in kind, then:

Sawatdee kha,” I stop in my tracks. That’s Thai, and with a long falling tone, which I miss here in toneless Cambodia…

Sawatdee kha,” she says it again, as if she needs this as much as I do, aware of the risks, and unconcerned with the results. That’s my cue. It’s show time. Buckle your seat-belts, folks, and get ready for the ride…

Sawatdee krap,” I respond in kind, a simple hello, more details to follow, “Sabai dee, mai krap? Bpen yanggrai bang? Bpen khon Thai, reu khrap? Ma jahk nai?

And so on and so forth for the next 2-3 minutes, the crowd going wild, oohing and aahing at this spontaneous display, but mostly trying to kill it by steering the conversation toward the usual narrative, the fact that this is a Farang, and so any smidgen of Pidgin is absolutely required, even if not necessary. But we ignored them. This is our moment, the 6 y.o. Thai girl and the 63 y.o. American man, meeting somewhere in the middle, and none the worse for it. Her name is Leela…

“Wow, what a beautiful name! That’s from the Sanskrit language, did you know? It means to play, like an actress, in the drama of life…”

I do a little mock dance in classical style, to which she responds jerkily, more like Elaine Benes’s mystery dance on the old Seinfeld TV show than anything from the Ramakien, but it’s all in good fun, and then finally:

“Well, it was certainly nice meeting you, Leela, and I hope that we can be friends. I’ll come back tomorrow, and look for you again,” I lied, knowing that even if I do come back, that she may not be here, or I may not see her, or it may not be the same anyway, such being life.

But the benefit has already been done for me, as this is what I live for, life death and the rainbow in between, full of light color and sound, ‘otherness’ at its finest—youth and age, male and female, American and Asian, all at the border, between two countries, how appropriate, borders melting as we commune. I’m just not sure how to convey that feeling for others. Wait a minute—maybe I do…

This is merely another extension of my commitment to Buddhist principles, compassion and the communion of innocence, innocent hearts wanting nothing more than each other, if only for a moment, a surcease from suffering in the smile of a child, in the exchange of best wishes, in the respect for elders…

Why parents and guardians and the upholders of dubious traditions insist on making that something suspect, or lacking of respect, is beyond my reckoning, that racial or sexual profiling needs to be taught, with all the predictable aftermath. Moral of the story: Big people are dumb. They hurt other people for fun. Little people are cool, and they didn’t learn that in school. I persevere…