Dog Cart Lady, Visas, Monks

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

Every morning between 9 and 10, there is an incredible ruckus of dog barks on the street. The sound starts quietly from the right and slowly pans past our bedroom window until fading again some distance down the street. Recently, we discovered the cause. A local lady walks to work around the same time with a push cart that’s empty except for her three small white dogs. These dogs are the main barkers. From the safety of the cart they are emboldened to bark at all of the street dogs along the route. This causes a volley of response barks and cart following. By the time the lady reaches our apartment, her cart has accreted a mass of orbiting dogs.

This lady’s commute is scored by constant barking, but she seems to ignore it. Her walk is slow, steady, and dignified. For her, this chaos is just part of the day. She must walk back along a different route, because the streets are silent at night.

The Dog Cart Lady. I still haven’t gotten a picture of her with all the surrounding dogs.

Yesterday, J. and I went to the immigration office near the airport to extend our first visas by 30 days. We had gone a week earlier under the assumption that it would be free, but it was actually a pretty steep $60 each. It went smoothly this time. Our first visas now expire on the 21st of September. This is when we plan to be en-route to India.

After the gouging and stamping, we got some noodle soup and then went to a coffee shop to read and look at maps. We were waiting in the Suthep Rd. area until 5PM to go to “Monk Chat” at Wat Suan Dok. I was getting antsy being inside, so we moved our reading into the temple grounds. I procured two steamed black bean buns and a bag of fresh pineapple slices.

While we were sitting at the benches near the golden chedi, two novice monks came and talked to us. Both where from Laos and taking classes in Thailand at Buddhist university. The first one was a little weird and wandered off. The second stood and talked to us for half an hour about Laos, Buddhism, America, his classes, life in general. His english was fairly good. During the whole conversation, I though of the delicious bean buns resting next to me and getting cold. Buddhists are sort of like Gremlins, they’re not supposed to eat after a certain time. It would have been wrong for me to eat in front of him. So very wrong.

When we finally did eat the snacks, they were very good. The bean buns have become a favorite snack of mine, and I get them either pre-packaged and cold at 7-Eleven or served fresh from vendor carts. The filling is a sweet, black paste of beans and sugar. This paste is encased in a moist, airy, and brilliant white dough. The dough nor the bun has much flavor. It’s more of an adventure in textures, kind of like eating a detached breast. The fresh pineapple chunks have been consistently fresh, juicy, and delicious. In fact, it’s been the best pineapple I’ve ever had. You basically get half a small pineapple cut up and served with a skewer and some chili salt. If you go light on the salt, it enhances the flavor.

J. and I walked over to a nearby building for some monk chatting. We left our shoes among many others at the doorstep and walked into a room full of orange robbed men sitting at card tables and conversing with a few miscellaneous foreigners. We were led into another room of novices. Most of them were from Cambodia, and those we talked to were taking classes in Thailand because the education was better. We stayed for about an hour. Luckily I had been to Cambodia before, so I had a little common ground to grease the conversation. One of the older novices was very fluent in english. When he was around others were shy. The conversation went along a similar arc to those outside: Cambodia, Buddhism, Thailand, America, classes, goals, life in general. You realize how hard it must be as a Cambodian. All of the horrible incidents that have stunted that country’s growth and damaged its soul are bad enough. But its population can look to some of its neighbors, especially Thailand, and see what could have been. There’s sadness in the eyes of a Cambodian, a frustration caused by lack of opportunity and collective loss.

I had asked both the Cambodians if they were treated differently inside the school because of all the political issues regarding the border temple. They said not really. It turns out that most of the Buddhist students aren’t Thai in the program anyway.

Many of them that evening had come from other Wats to participate. They paid tuition. They were uncertain of their future. Kind of sounds like every college student.

Rain nearly fell as the sun set. The air was thick with humidity. That night there was no fraternity party. Bluto decided to stay home and begin the 8 steps to makes things right.

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