Dharma Bumming: How I went to a Buddhist temple with two lesbians, an accountant and my new sugar mamma.

July 11, 2011

“I saw that my life was a vast glowing empty page and I could do anything I wanted.” (The Dharma Bums – Jack Kerouac)

Recently I’ve been fostering within me a rather simple approach to life which goes like this: if a person asks you to do something then do it even if you’re tired and try not to pass judgment. I’ve always been suspicious of this sensibility within me but I’ve never really been serious about it until recently. What happened? I read The Great Gatsby, in particular, the opening paragraphs.

“In consequence, (Fitzgerald writes) I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores.

So my friend (who I refer to as sugar mamma) calls me and wants me to go eat lunch with her friends. So being disciplined to this new mantra of mine I wake up.

Mind you, I live on an island sitting in the Taiwan Strait. This indelibly means a vast array of seafood plus one strange thing that didn’t really look like it fit into the seafood category. My sugar mamma leans over and tells me with her tongue out that this is a platter of duck tongue. Not passing judgment I chopstick’d a splayed marinated duck tongue and put it on my own tongue . . . not bad . . . not good . . . just so so.

After duck tongue I did make a lunchtime mistake. Her friend was more than fashionably late so unbeknownst to me on grounds of not being privy to their local dialect they had set aside the last of the shrimp for her. So naturally I reached for yet another over-sized salmon colored shelled shrimp upon which laughter and rants darted in my direction (there’s nothing like eight Fujianese women telling you that you’re wrong). I threw the shrimp back as quickly as I took it but later when the friend arrived I graciously explained in my splayed-Chinese that her friends wanted to eat the shrimp but luckily for her and in her defense, I had fought off the hungry shrimp-eaters upon which an ego boosting laugh broke out (when eight Fujianese women laugh at what you say you sort of walk away feeling a bit charming – and that’s exactly what I did). Sometimes in this world it’s nice knowing that other people think you’re charming.

With a belly full of seafood and little duck tongue my sugar mamma is telling me that they want to go to the temple in San Ping (which is near Zhangzhou which is about two hours away). There really wasn’t a better place to go to empty my-water-jug-full-of-an-ego than an enlightened visit to a Buddhist temple. After all it takes Dharma to reach Nirvana (try to figure that out later). I always relish quiet places in China because there are so very few of them left so I said let’s go.

Me, my sugar mamma and her lesbian friend are in the backseat. She says, massage my shoulders. My shoulders hurt. Harder, she scolds. I grumble the way I imagine a servant in the midst royalty grumbles. Half-hearted grumbles because I know that it could be much worse. And strangely enough, Fujianese barking orders, are slightly attractive (It’s taken me two years to realize that the Chinese woman is not the meek, mild soft spoken stereotype that she is portrayed to be). The Chinese woman is a vicious and mysterious creature encased in a shell of both fortitude and subtly.

It’s vaguely raining outside as we are slowly mounting the mountain. We stop. Lychees (local fruit) are being sold on the side of the road. From the backseat window the sugar mamma sprays a few orders. A peasant hat and a wrinkled face hand us a bushel of lychees (Historical note: lychees are Empress Yang Guifei’s favorite fruit – one student told me that she would eat over three hundred in one day inevitably Yang Guifei is historically fat).

Massage my shoulders. Harder, the barking orders came. They never stop.

Looking at crumbling houses and farm plots the girls said to each other something to the extent that most people in China aren’t as lucky as they are. How true that is I mumbled under my breath. They are comfortably atop the Chinese economy. In comparison to a migrant farmer these women are like the popes and kings of the middle ages and/or the CEO’s and business tycoons of our own ages.

For example as my sugar mamma was fumbling through her Prada bag demanding to pay for her friends gas I see more money than I’ll make this month jostling between menthol cigarettes, lip gloss and hand wipes. In this social circle of fortunate’s I’m more like a court jester than a royal. I’ve concluded as most foreigners in China eventually come to terms with that that I’m only there for entertainment purposes and when they are finished smiling they will dismiss me. I don’t take it personal. It could be worse.

The lesbian driver was doing some serious rally car racing up the mountain in the rain. I was getting a little nervous. The accountant in the passenger seat was asleep.

Fog on the mountain.

Greenery so far and wide.

Gold laden Buddha’s with melancholy expressions sitting high above looking distantly and vaguely down at you in no particular direction. With a nonchalant grin spread from droopy ear to droopy ear.

In China each year is dedicated to an animal. So in correlation with your birthday everyone has an animal, there are twelve animals in the cycle. My birthday is the year of the pig (the Chinese say that the pig is the luckiest animal in the cycle because it eats and sleeps as much as it wants without responsibility). There are twelve animal statues lining the entrance of the temple so she orders me to go touch the pig for fortune and synergy. I pet the pig.

The routine goes like this: light three prayer sticks, shake (don’t blow) the fire out and stand with sticks above your head while giving a slight repeated bow of reverence in front of the shrine and then place the sticks upward in the ash so that they can continue to smolder and smoke for you after you leave. They smoke in semblance of prayer. It continues to curl and rise as the gloss eyed statues watch you drop money in the adjacent iron bins.

Here’s what you need to know for the temple always step over the doorway. Never step in the middle of it. It’s rude and you don’t want to be rude at the temple. You are being watched.

Drove for two hours each way. Stayed at the temple for 20 minutes. Massage my shoulders deary – peel another lychee – menthol smoke prayers – rearview mirror fog left on the mountain – life being lived somewhere in the middle of that empty page

Yep, you guessed it, seafood for dinner.

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