Oh Shit!/The Largest Temple Ever On Earth/American Nuance

Country Bus To The Capitol City
Time for a six hour bus trip through the country side. This will bring me from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, the capitol city of Cambodia. Phnom Penh is where the American Embassy is and where US passports get renewed. That is this week’s mission. Most countries require that your passport have at least six months left before it’s expiration date, or they won’t let you into their country. Mine is close to that six-month line, and it will soon be time to travel. The winter season of highs only in the low 90s is nearly over in Cambodia. Lordee knows how hot it’s going to get after that! As I understand it, the same stifling humidity sticks around but the temperatures go up.
I Have To Stop Smoking That Stuff For Breakfast!
Do you want to hear a funny story? It won’t seem funny for a page or two, but the punchline is hilarious!
The trip to Phnom Penh starts with the usual Southeast Asian tweaks. My ride is scheduled on a big bus with a bathroom in it. That costs twelve dollars instead of the nine dollars that the regular bus would have cost.
Shuttles to the bus station pick folks up at certain hotels, but not at apartments like mine. I take a tuk-tuk to the bus station and am told by the friendly desk lady that the bus will be around in forty minutes. An hour later, a van shows up. Turns out that we are at an auxiliary bus station and the van is taking us to the main station three miles away. Upon arrival at the real bus station there is another van waiting for us. I ask where the big bus with the bathroom is and am told by the receptionist that it is broken. They brought the van to replace it. There are exactly eleven passengers waiting and exactly eleven passenger seats in the van. There is no crowd of travelers waiting disappointedly for the big bus. I have obviously been sold a ticket for passage on a vehicle that never existed. Now my nearly seventy-year-old kidneys are packed in a van like sardines along with eleven other full-sized humans (including driver). The option is to wait twelve hours for the next scheduled fully equipped full-size bus, which is certainly not guaranteed to be one! I hop on board while giving the customer service person a ration of shit, and immediately feel bad about that. Snapping at folks on the job is something I rarely do and am never proud of. No matter how screwed you get by a company, getting nasty with an employee rarely helps.
Within twenty minutes of leaving town, the trip improves a bit. Lower population in the outlying villages accounts for a slight improvement in both air quality and the amount of trash scattered everywhere. There are more bicycles than motorbikes in rural Cambodia, and only a few tuk-tuks in the two or three larger towns between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.
The landscape is not really jungle. It is more like rice paddies and savannah. It looks like Central Florida in the US, as well as much of Africa as seen on National Geographic. Most of the houses are built on stilts as protection against flooding that often results from monsoon rains. A lot of fields, big cows, horned bulls, and water buffalo are surrounded by bushes and trees. The animals graze in the wide open fields where rice must grow at certain times of year. There is very little sign of a crop now and no apparent cultivation going on. The massive amount of food growing in the wild may delete the need for much cultivation of other crops. There are no tractors or other mechanized farm equipment around. If there is any plowing done, the water buffalo must do it. Cattle are everywhere! They are in the front yards of houses, in the fields, and on the road. They seem to think they own the place. Several short van stops are necessary to allow horned behemoths to shuffle across the road at their own pace in front of us.
More shops than logic would dictate a need for line both sides of the road, but they aren’t shops as a Westerner knows them. They are handmade tables and shelves constructed of tree branches tied together with twine. These are shielded from the sun by giant beach umbrellas. They hold everything from fruit and clothing to gasoline for motorbikes that is sold in old quart whiskey bottles. There are a few temples scattered throughout the country side, but rural Cambodia seems nowhere near as thick with them as Siem Reap.
Many countries are represented by the passengers in our van including Germany, Ireland, Australia, and several Asian countries. I sit next to and speak with a lovely couple in their fifties from Denmark. They have several reasonable questions to ask an American. “What is with all the guns?” “How do intelligent people vote for someone like Donald Trump?” “What is going to happen there?” Susanna and Kurt voice more concern than scorn for the US.
We finally arrive in Phnom Penh. The Embassy is already closed for the day. After check-in at the hotel, there is still time to go find the vitamin store I had researched. As is the practice, I give the tuk-tuk driver the address and phone number of the target destination. He proceeds to get us lost for an hour and a half in a city that is much bigger, more polluted, and filthier than even Siem Reap’s worst neighborhoods. He actually drives around one particular block five times and calls the vitamin store four times. In spite of getting instructions from them during all four calls, the search continues. We finally find the place, only to discover that it was falsely advertised as a vitamin store and has nothing but protein powders in it.
The next day’s Embassy procedure is even more frustrating than the vitamin trip! Turns out they don’t actually renew passports in country but send them to America for processing, after which they get mailed back to Cambodia. This process is supposed to take two weeks. It could take much longer, and either way would include another unpleasant, expensive round-trip into a city that is way too big for my liking. It is February. My passport expires in October. I can still linger a month or two and have the necessary six months of passport left that is required to get into another country. It seems smarter to do that, and then deal with the passport renewal in a place where the process is simpler and things are more organized. I walk out of the embassy in the middle of the process, again feeling a frustrated irritability that, as a rule, is completely out of character.
Other tweaks, too many and minor to mention, happen in Phnom Penh. Siem Reap may have some problems but there are no folks standing on a main street in downtown with their pants around their ankles and junk to the breeze, staring blankly into space. Whatever happened to this poor guy seems to have also happened, at least in some small part, to the entire city. I have had enough of this place and figure to treat myself to a plane ride back to Siem Reap instead of taking that van bus again. My last night in the big city is used for a boring rest in the hotel room and making a plane reservation on the computer.
But the SNAFUs aren’t over yet! Ready to fly in the morning, I go to the check-in counter at the airport to discover that someone on the other end of the computer screwed up my reservation last night. I don’t have one, and they don’t sell tickets at the check-in counter. The check-in counter folks direct me to the purchase counter at the other end of the airport. I haul over there to discover that the one person on that desk is out to lunch and won’t be back until after my flight leaves. At this point, pissed-off has overtaken logic. I’m co-bitching to and with other travelers having problems, as well as everyone else within earshot.
This is rarely a good thing. Anytime I react badly to temporary external shit instead of dwelling in the eternal internal shinola, I immediately don’t like who I have become. But in this case, irritability pays off. An innocent bystander overhears the tirade and reports on a flight leaving one hour later on a different airline. I go to that airline’s sales counter.
The ticket costs three times as much as the other ticket would have, due to buying it so close to flight time. The guy I buy it from takes half an hour to put it together, pretty much listening to me alternate between barking at him and apologizing for my attitude.   He finally gives me a typed piece of paper with only a flight number and time on it. There is no receipt to show proof of ticket purchase, nor any other information on the paper. Luckily there is a thick plastic window between us. It protects me from another bad reaction, and protects him from me. I strongly request an actual receipt and further instructions. He gives them.
Here’s The Punch Line
Everyone has to show a passport at the gate in order to finally board the plane. My eyes haphazardly drop into focus on the information in front as I hand mine to the boarding crew. I (please excuse the expression) about shit myself—then start laughing too loudly. Luckily, I am already in the tunnel going to the plane. If anyone in authority was able to see me, it would have appeared that a lunatic was laughing like a hyena at nothing. They surely would have called the men in the white coats to take me away.
The expiration date on the passport is indeed October, but not the October I thought it was. There is a little over a year and a half left until expiration, not just a half year. That October expiration is for 2021, not 2020.
This is all very funny, but also very embarrassing for me. I’m the guy who is always telling people how important paying real attention is. I am suffering a series of expensive and very aggravating malfunctions due to not paying attention to a simple and clearly printed detail. My eyes had seen, but not registered, that detail at least a dozen times during the past week.
It is even more embarrassing for me as the guy who always tells people that anger is pointless and accomplishes nothing. I have snapped at several people and made an actual asshole out of myself more than once during the past few days. Whether some of those people deserved it or not is no excuse for doing it. The heat, pollution, humidity, dietary variations, and the lack of ability to communicate are taking an obvious mental toll. In spite of all its good points, it seems that I need to get out of Cambodia soon.
There is another factor. I may have to stop smoking weed for breakfast, at least until I get away from this foggy brown stuff and back to the more clarifying green weed. Maybe that will improve the odds of making lucid observations and the better decisions that come with them. Now that it is over, my brainfart provided a good, long laugh—but not good enough to ever want to repeat such mental clumsiness, or the ordeals that result from it.
The Largest Temple Ever Built On Earth
Angkor Was is the largest temple ever built on Earth. It is actually an ancient city tied together by a complex of temples. It was built by Emperor Suryavarman The Second almost a thousand years ago as the state temple and political center of his empire. “Angkor” means “capitol city” in the Cambodian language. “Wat” means “temple.” It was rediscovered in the 1840s by French explorer Henri Mouhot. He said that the site was “grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome.”
The temple’s design represents Mount Meru, the home of the gods according to some adherents of both the Hindu and Buddhist faiths. Angkor Wat’s five towers are intended to recreate the five peaks of Mount Meru. The walls and moat below honor the surrounding mountain ranges and the sea. The tower above the main shrine is Angkor Wat’s highest point at nearly seventy feet in the air.
There is a Buddhist/Hindu fusion in Angkor Wat that seems to pay the two schools of thought an equal respect. There are Shiva Lingas and Buddha images within the same building!
A fifteen foot high wall and a wide moat protected the city, temple and residents of Angkor—but not always successfully. Much of that wall still stands. Inside this wall, Angkor Wat covers two hundred acres. It seems this area included the city, the temple structure, and also the emperor’s palace, which was just north of the temple.
The libraries, temples, and other buildings are all decorated with thousands of stone figures carved into their rock walls. These represent deities and heroic figures, many from the Hindu and Buddhist religions. They include soldiers, gods, and demons that are most often involved in warfare.
In 1992, Angkor Wat was named a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Chhum Chhaiya is my guide for this tour. He is also my waiter at the rare farm-to-table restaurant in the area, an English language student, and my friend. He also does volunteer work as tour guide for high school students from all over Cambodia that come to see their national treasure in Siem Reap.
Chhum tells me that the entire complex was built entirely by free labor—but not slave labor. Chhum makes his best effort at English language to explain that it was “believe labor.” Thousands of folks worked without pay for decades in the belief that the most noble way to spend life was in dedication and service to Buddha, Vishnu, their king, countrymen, and empire.
According to Chhum, giant stones were hauled by elephants from quarries many miles away. The elephants were able to pull these massive rocks because the rocks lay on bamboo rollers. Do you know how to make bamboo hold up to a several ton stone? Do you know how to pick that stone up and put it perfectly in place, once it gets where it is going? It seems the ancients did.
The area is, of course, too big to walk around—even if it wasn’t ninety-six degrees with the humidity nearly as high. Tourists hire a tuk-tuk for the day to drive them from individual site to individual site. The tuk-tuk waits outside each area while tourists climb through ancient structures.
This two hundred acres is very different from its cosmopolitan host city of Siem Reap. There is almost no trash by the side of the road. The air has a consecrated freshness to it. There are lakes, jungle, and monkeys. Angkor Wat it is considered sacred ground, and is treated as such by locals and tourists alike.
If this attitude was carried over into the city, the nation, and the planet, life on Earth would be much different for all of us. Unfortunately, precious little in any location on Earth is treated with the reverence that the ruins of Angkor Wat enjoy. My brother-from-another-mother Joe Fort (artist for the Fearless Puppy book cover) recently wrote to me, forlorn about the current state of the world. He compared our politicians and industrialists to biker bullies armed with chains, on the verge of beating a relatively innocent public to death. He hoped that people, especially American people, would arm themselves by casting future votes with increased heart and intelligence.
I do so hate giving bad news to good people! But it seems that we are past the point where arming ourselves with votes, or any other make-believe electoral effort, will help. You can’t beat a system that someone else owns from balls to bone. The owners may afford us the grand illusion that we are in control of the system we live within, but we have no power to influence any actual physical control mechanisms. Media, food, water, etc. are regulated outside of public domain. In addition, the owners and the system are co-involved in the process of killing themselves quickly—and unfortunately, perhaps taking most of the planet with them. Putting cooperative, much less combative, energy into the last gasp of a failing, suicidal empire seems like a misuse of potential. It seems that our energies are better spent putting together sensible focus and function in life. Actively building common sense always seems to work better than destroying evil. Results are more pleasant and last longer if achieved through positive means.
I know we’d all like to think that our votes count, but results are scripted long before we get to the polls. This has been true since at least as far back as 1963 and in an almost-as-real sense, as far back as 1776 and beyond. It is not at all a strictly American problem! It was Hermann Goebbels of the short-lived Nazi empire who said, “It doesn’t matter who votes. It matters who counts the votes.” Political action on behalf of humane function is a noble effort, but the only chance of averting the seemingly inevitable collapse of humanity is a massive awakening among the majority of individuals that compose the human community. The most intelligent and historically successful method to fuel an awakening in Consciousness that accomplishes social progress is nonviolent noncooperation with oppressive forces. This requires generous, altruistic, and in places sacrificially heroic character strength by billions of individuals—not only all at once, but also one at a time. This is not going to happen. Very few people would even give up a cell phone to cancel their support of the demons that own the towers. Very few will ever stop watching manufactured traumas on TV, although these cause continuous adrenaline and cortisol rushes that shock the mind and central nervous system into a fear-based, defensive way of life. The greater contributions to personal mental health or the public good by our largely “selfie” oriented culture seem even more unlikely. I don’t mean to be pessimistic, but unless some massive tipping point in our way of life, sparked by a big change in consciousness, is reached by billions of individual humans within the next few years, it seems we are very much in a “smoke em if you got em” situation.
It won’t be the first time! Look at Angkor Wat! Look at the pyramids of Egypt! Even our present-day geniuses don’t know how ancient technology accomplished much of what it accomplished! Many civilizations that enjoyed a deeper intelligence and a stronger congruence with the rest of life on Earth have disappeared. They took most of their wisdom with them. There are a lot of empty libraries in Angkor Wat.
As Relates To America
Do you remember this paragraph from the beginning of the book? “Several friends who have been abroad lately tell me that there is no place else on Earth as morally bankrupt, lacking integrity, crumbling apart from the inside, and as intimidating and repulsive to its neighbors as America. There is plenty of evidence to support their claims but I still don’t like to believe them. I have to go see for myself. If it is true that no place sucks quite as badly as America does, I want to find out why. What are other places doing that we would benefit from doing ourselves? And more importantly, why are we not doing those things? What things are the other places doing that don’t work for them? Why aren’t they fixing their own messes? What are the ways people keep smiling, laughing, and loving life while fighting to repair a world that is mentally as well as physically ill, often disturbing if not disgusting, and may very well have a more severe terminal illness than I do? How do folks keep the fun happening in the midst of all the tragedy?”
I almost forgot it altogether! The present tense is always the place to be. After only three months on the road, America and that paragraph already seem like distant memories from a past lifetime. But since it is one of the reasons for traveling overseas, here is a comparison of America to Southeast Asia as I have experienced it so far.
America is more technologically and materially advanced, cleaner, and its citizens have more choice of and access to food, clothing, and shelter by far than here in Cambodia. The folks here work harder, put in longer hours, and yet many get paid so much less that their families don’t have enough to eat every day. Many cannot afford to send their children to elementary school for basic literacy. There is no free schooling here. There are many other factors, such as the brutal heat and humidity, that make life difficult in Southeast Asia. Nonetheless, Cambodians are happier, kinder, friendlier, in many ways healthier, and seem to enjoy life more than the average American. If I had to choose between living the rest of my life in Cambodia or America, I would choose Cambodia.
Why?
There is a feeling of camaraderie among the people here. Families are very close and the entire nation is something of an extended family. America does this at times, but it always seems to spring from an aggressive, combative motivation. Cambodians are not that angry or scared. Their motivation is constructive, not destructive. Cambodia is on the way up, not the way down. It can sometimes seem as if the nation is stumbling in the dark, bumping into things while trying to find its way—but it is moving forward. They are like Americans must have been during the pioneer days, before we became such spoiled little people.
We Americans often take our thoughts and emotions so seriously that meaningless episodes become big dramatic events. Cambodians have the ability to know that shit happens and everything is temporary. They know that very few things are actually important enough to get upset about. More importantly, they know that getting upset under any circumstances usually results in more harm than good. Cambodians work seriously at living well, but don’t take themselves seriously in the way that makes life a trial or burden. They have a sense of the tragic but know that life is generally to be celebrated, not mourned. Southeast Asians have a much better sense of perspective as far as knowing that the world doesn’t revolve around their individual desires. The misguided, artificially manufactured sense of entitlement that America suffers, and makes the rest of the world suffer, is not present here.
Cambodians also seem to have less animosity towards any specific group than the people in many other countries do. They may get irritable with foreigners on occasion and overcharge foreigners regularly, but they don’t seem to have any particular prejudice against Muslims, Americans, Africans, Chinese, or anyone else. The little bit of animosity that I hear directed toward foreigners is directed toward all of them, or at an individual tourist who acts like enough of a jackass to earn an irritable response.
“There is a bondage (humans have) to the Earth, and a release (from it). You don’t have to be quit of your bondage to experience the release. The two go together. This is a great mystical experience, where the individual no longer identifies with the history of his carnal body but rather identifies with the consciousness that informs that body. When you are identified with the consciousness rather than the vehicle, the suffering of the vehicle has nothing to do with the consciousness. You are free in bondage! Mythologically, the shackles fall off without leaving your wrists. (This makes one capable of ) joyful participation in the sorrows of the world. You can’t eliminate the sorrows of the world! Time involves sorrow. And if you are in the field of time, that is the experience of the carnal body. But that which is participating in this has another dimension, the eternal dimension—and it can joyfully affirm this.” Joseph Campbell
Let’s paraphrase and try to simplify this quote a little. We are all symbolically hanging on the cross where life meets time. Everyone alive deals with times of illness, difficulty, loss, trauma, suffering, and eventual death. When we can embrace the inevitable processes of life-and-time, and do it courageously with a smile and eyes open, we accomplish the clarity and grace that are spoken of by nearly all the world’s spiritual messengers. When we realize that in spite of all the bumps in the road, we can hit that road with an affirmative, positive attitude, the life we live takes on a dimension that is heroic. We become capable of joyful participation in our world, although fully aware of the inevitable suffering and death it entails.
“When the ego is capable of taking part in this crucifixion, then you are really in the Imitatio Christi and have achieved, I would say, the goal of the Christian message.” JC
Joseph Campbell spent almost his whole life in America. There are very few people in Cambodia familiar with him, or with the history or even the definition of crucifixion. Yet, so many people in Southeast Asia have a better grasp of Campbell’s message than most Americans do. Why? Is it the severe living conditions that color the Southeast Asian attitude? the Buddhism?
Maybe both. But there is more. The quality of attention paid by a student is in many ways more important than who the teacher is. It may be more important than any other aspect of learning. Maybe as Americans we just have too many distractions available to draw our quality attention away from our better teachers. So many brilliant minds with readily available wisdom and valuable knowledge are ignored. Even Nature itself often takes a back seat to some very meaningless, and in some cases very unnatural, habits and hobbies.
Technology and material advantage have helped humanity accomplish some wonderful things. Unfortunately, they have in many cases become fatal attractions. The addiction to them, as well as the all too frequent overdoses of them, often negate their potential advantage. We Americans so often watch other people living, working, loving, traveling, and so on in our movies and on our TV shows without doing any of that living, working, loving, and traveling ourselves. We recognize life as a fine restaurant but eat the menu instead of the food.The technology that was designed to enhance life has in many cases kidnapped and restrained it.
We are, in addition, distracted from our simple goodness and ability to focus on and enjoy a meaningful life by so much more than technology. Multitasking and stress have never been an accepted part of life in Southeast Asia. Many folks in the materially developed world think that if a person is not stressed out, they aren’t doing anything important. If a person is stressed out all the time in Cambodia, they are thought to be mentally ill, or an asshole, or need a nap. People here work hard, sleep well, and smile often. Neither the sedentary nor pressured lifestyles that often foster mental as well as physical disease have taken a hold here yet.
There is more natural environment and less artificially manufactured phenomena in materially deprived countries than in materially developed ones. In materially developed countries, Nature gives way to concrete and steel in a psychological as well as a literal sense. Concrete and steel are hard, sharp-edged, cold, and dead. Nature is usually softer, curved, warm, alive and welcoming. It is receptive to a human connection with it.
Maybe we Americans are too materially affluent and carnally happy to pay attention to much else besides being materially affluent and carnally happy? Does all that attention we pay to trivial byproducts of material affluence draw quality attention away from our emotional, psychological, and spiritual affluence? Has this all happened at the expense of the happiness we thought it would buy?
I wish I could see the look on the face of that first person who unearths a cell phone, TV, or computer in an archaeological dig of the year 5021. Will they ever figure out our gadgets—or how dearly we paid for them?
***If you missed the Intro to this third book (that the above piece is from) or the several other sections available and would like to see them, go to the Puppy website blog section, or send an email request to jahbuddha13@hotmail.com, or check out fearlesspuppy at WordPress. This is a book in progress. You are seeing it here as I write it! And as it says in the Intro, it is a totally true story and may be the only book ever written by a corpse! I don’t know what the next chapter is going to be about either!***The books Fearless Puppy On American Road and Reincarnation Through Common Sense by this same author, as well as sample chapters by, very entertaining tv/radio interviews with, and newspaper articles about him are available at www.fearlesspuppy.info

Am I Happy Enough To Be Alive?

New Year’s Day
Coughing, sneezing, and severe respiratory congestion are not as much fun as the holiday week celebrations would have been. I won’t bring my germs around the monks, children, or general public so, except for short food runs to local markets, I stay home. Two weeks of sudden isolation, after two months of whirlwind activity and immersion in a very strange culture, provides an interesting insight. It has come to light that in contrast to several other wonderful qualities, I can be an ungrateful pinhead. Many things that other people would regard as miraculous good luck are things that I have not been appreciating enough.
It seems that the deep gratitude from my experience with the chanting monks has triggered an even deeper train of thought. Not every car in that train is firmly on its tracks. This leaves me a bit derailed and uncomfortable with myself. There are obviously a few pieces missing from my puzzle, but I’m not sure what they are.
I prefer to be healthy but the illness gives at least one benefit. It lays me flat for long enough to trace the problem to a source.
It all starts with gratitude for being alive. I don’t have much of it. A severe bout with cancer pushed the envelope of death so far that the seams of that envelope tore open a bit. What I experienced through the cracks was beautiful enough to make verbal description impossible. I have had some trouble coming completely back to and thoroughly loving life ever since. This must be remedied! It doesn’t matter what is on the other side of this incarnation. If I am indeed going to be in a body for a while, a much stronger appreciation of what “alive” can mean needs to be rebuilt. I will have to stop referring to my body as a meat prison.
I also haven’t been grateful enough for the money my parents left to me. It will last at least another year and has already afforded me several years free of financial concerns. During that period, there were two books written. Travel was done in relative comfort and a lot of live music shows were enjoyed. There was an expensive natural treatment of cancer. Death would have been a certainty without the resources that the inheritance allowed.
After a lifetime of sub-poverty and homelessness, you might think I get up every morning and kiss pictures of my generous deceased parents. Such is not the case. The money, in my father’s own words, was his way of apologizing for the damage done to his children. Mother did far more damage to her children than father did, but was still too arrogant and narcissistic when she died to admit a similar motivation for leaving us her money.
I emulate some of my mother’s arrogance and some of my father’s weak character by spending any time focused on their faults, rather than appreciating their better traits and parting gifts.
It goes further. The real friends I have had during this life, the good people I have met, the places seen and things done, the current plentiful supply of food, the nice place to live, and so many other things are not being given as many “thank you”s as they deserve.
It makes me feel a little bit like a jackass. I am going to change that right now! A good first step seems to be a walk around the Dragon neighborhood on New Year’s Day. A walk with a much greater awareness of, and appreciation for, things that haven’t been given enough attention and appreciation recently.
I often start the day buying a coconut from the coconut lady a quarter mile down the road. She always smiles as she chops the top off with a machete and sticks a straw in it for me. She speaks to me in her language and I speak to her in mine. Neither of us understands a word of what the other one says, but we both have fun. We laugh at ourselves and each other. When I leave her today, I add a “thank you very much for your kindness and coconuts” to the end of our conversation.
Next stop on my New Year’s Day tour to reestablish gratitude is the Peace Café to meet Neill, a recent acquaintance, and his family. This bit isn’t much different today than it is on any other day. I am always thanking the Peace Cafe people for who they are, what they do, and how they do it. The place is an exemplary venue.
Neill De Kort is an exemplary human. He is a Dutchman whose family relocated to Canada when Neill was in his teens.
We ran into each other at the bank. I never had a bank account, in America or anywhere else, until I was over fifty years old. If my parents hadn’t left me money that needed to be processed through a bank, I still wouldn’t have an account. To this day I‘ve never had a telephone or driven a car, and have spent the past forty-five years without a bill in my name. Friends tell me to expect technical trouble throughout the twenty-first century because I haven’t adapted to the twentieth century yet.
The Cambodian bank requires me to have a telephone number in order to open an account. The account is required in order to get money sent from America. My funds are running low. The irony of beating cancer only to possibly die homeless and hungry on steaming Asian streets makes me giggle. The facts that it could happen because I don’t like telephones, and while having several thousand dollars in an American bank, makes me laugh out loud—for a minute. Then it makes me argue with the bank officer. Neill is in the bank and walks by us while that discussion is going on.
He comes into the conversation out of nowhere, intervenes, and gives the bank officer his phone number. I didn’t know that Neill and his Cambodian partner had owned a coconut farm here for years. He recently sold it and is now into Cambodian real estate on the side, although his main and more global business is textiles. That would account for the pull he has in the bank. They must handle a lot of his business. My account opened without any further hitch. Neill and I had never met. He just saw someone having a problem and became the solution.
Neill’s father was also in the textile business, so the younger De Kort has two generations worth of related business connections all over Asia and the rest of the world. Neill is six feet five inches tall. He is a twenty year student of boxing with arms the length of a giraffe’s neck. I’m guessing he has won more fights than he’s lost. This is also a very intelligent, resourceful, accomplished guy. We hit it off well after hanging out a bit in the bank and arranged to have lunch at the Peace Cafe so that I could meet his family.
We meet on schedule. Neill’s gorgeous Dutch wife is named Bo. The legendary Bo Derek, in her prime, was no lovelier. Mrs. De Kort is graced by blond hair, green eyes, and two beautiful preschool aged children. She is probably five years younger than her thirty-five year old husband.
We all talk for several hours. It is by far and away the best conversation I have had, with the most like minded folks I’ve met, since leaving New Mexico. Mister and Misses De Kort have both used Rick Simpson Oil, as I did for the cancer. He for asthma. She for Lyme disease. Both had positive outcomes. Both have gone through health and attitude changes similar to the ones I went through. We share many common ideas and mutual attitudes.
Sometimes you don’t realize how much you miss something until you get a little taste of it again. I do well by myself. My days are filled with activities that are mostly solitary. These activities are usually productive, or at least harmless. Some are very interesting. There is rarely a sense that anything important is missing.
But folks like the De Korts make me remember that a real connection with other humans is an essential part of being human yourself. I appreciate the differences in people—but it is always a booster shot for the psyche and a strengthening of the heart when we find someone else who is on same wave length. It adds just a little concrete credence to the “we are all one” thing. That phrase is very obviously true on certain planes of existence, but it usually gets more lip service than validation in every day life. Folks who can make it blatantly real for you don’t seem to come along every day.
The De Korts will be leaving Cambodia on January second. Loneliness is a feeling that does not visit me often, but I feel its potential lurking nearby. I resolve to get the hell out of the house more often and go to places where people congregate. This should increase the odds of finding more people like the De Korts. Inexpensive living and adventurous surroundings are wonderful, but the company of kindred spirits is like water in the desert. I have no problem being grateful for this. Kindred spirits make gratitude easy.
The next stop on the New Year’s Day gratitude walk is the Domo Café. The Domo is a three block walk down River Road from the Peace Café. I silently thank the sun for the light and heat, the folks passing by for being so beautiful, the people who built this sidewalk under my feet, and the river for giving life to all the trees on either side of it.
At this point I have to wonder if this is all a lot of pretentious bullshit running through my head and I am just plain full of crap. But gratitude toward everything in general, as well as many things specifically, has been away too long. A little overkill may be necessary to bring a proper appreciation of life back to balance. I thank the crippled dog a few yards away for using the riverbank as his toilet instead of this sidewalk, then head into the Domo for my muffin. They are sold out. I thank them for saving me from the sugar consumption and move on.
The pattern of thanking everything and everyone continues for a few more stops. Gratitude is still not coming readily enough for me to feel altogether comfortable with myself. I appreciate my good fortune, but the glow around the memory of near-death still overpowers that appreciation.
More practice!
Sometimes gratitude takes an unexpected shape. The coffee shop lady is spaced out and gives me a cup with very little in it. I am grateful for the ability to stand up for myself and tell her so. Language problems and the feeling of being a guest can make it too easy to become a sheeple when one is in a foreign culture. She laughs at herself, apologizes, and fills the cup.
The next stop is the White Rose massage parlor. It is a strictly legit place where they always give a good rub and never approach clients to buy semi-sexual extras. Semi-sexual seems to be a good term for how far they go in the places that do offer such services. At six dollars for a well done therapeutic full hour massage without need to explain my sexual habits in sign language to a non-English speaking stranger, there is no problem feeling gratitude here either.
Speaking of sexual activity that is not my particular preference, it is time for another adventure! I have to get the clog out of my chest. A steam room is essential. It is among the best things a person can do for their lungs. Being prone to upper respiratory infections, like the one I have right now, I look in every travel spot for a sweat lodge, hotel, or health club with a steam room. Taking care of the lungs is even more important than usual in this city where most citizens publicly burn garbage that includes rubber and plastic while thousands of motorbikes pump additional toxins into the air as well.
My research shows that the only option for a steam room in Siem Reap is the city’s lone gay bathhouse. Gotta think about this one!
Within a minute’s thought, it turns out to be a no-brainer. This is no problem for me—and it shouldn’t be one for the other guys frequenting the place. I have no interest in sucking a dick myself, but I’m glad folks are having fun with it, if that’s what they want to do. No one has the right to tell another person how they should enjoy themselves. It takes a lot of the wrong kind of balls to tell people how they should live when those people aren’t hurting anyone or anything else. Many of us New York City basketball playing kids have carried a “no harm, no foul” attitude into adulthood as a way of life. It might be the best notion that growing up in Brooklyn gave me, and one of the few I decided to keep. If the rest of the planet shared this attitude, a lot of other problems would solve themselves. If the rest of the clientele in the bath house shares the “no harm, no foul” notion towards me, my experience will be pleasant and medically helpful.
It also seems logical that I am too old, unattractive, and worn for any gay guy in his right mind to hit on.
I go, and am right. The Men’s Resort and Spa is on a back street flanked by apartment buildings, a couple of temples, and a theater company’s office. The folks here are young enough to be my grandkids, and certainly looking for someone in their own age range. It seems peculiar how they walk around wrapped in towels, just staring at each other. There is no audible conversation and no visible participation. Something must happen between some of them eventually somewhere, but I see no actual interaction.
The steam room has eucalyptus. It does great things for my lungs. After three ten-minutes shifts, I silently thank the steam and the gay dudes, then catch a tuk-tuk back to The Dragon.
The Other Side Of The Coin
As is true with nearly everything else on this two-headed planet, the gratitude thing has tripped that trigger in my brain that looks at the other side of the coin. There is some tarnish on parts of paradise.
1— In general, gender equality has further to go in Southeast Asia than it does in The West. Part of the problem is the Cambodian male attitude toward local women who take up with foreigners, which resembles the mind-set of a horse with blinders on.
While it is true that some foreigners are here only for sex with younger women, this scenario only works because the older-men-with-money-keeping-young-mistresses thing has always been part of the culture here, and probably in most of the rest of the world too.
Many Cambodian males hide jealousy behind righteous indignation, prejudice, and sometimes even anger. Men in the company of their wives or girlfriends have occasionally stared at me with dagger eyes. They assume that because I am a white foreigner, I must be trying to buy or steal their women. As is true almost everywhere, media does its part to fan the flames of divisiveness and distrust. There are Southeast Asian soap operas on TV depicting evil, mustache twirling, devilish looking white men literally showering money on gorgeous, innocent, very intimidated looking Asian women.
But the local men here that assume the worst about tourists are not the majority, and they are not exactly knights in shining armor defending the honor of their maidens. Southeast Asian culture defines one of a daughter’s most pronounced duties as the care of her parents in their old age. It is not uncommon for a young woman to look for a man with money as a way of guaranteeing that she will be able to successfully fulfill that duty. “Arrangements” are as common as marriages. The practice of paying family support in exchange for devoted female company is not at all limited to foreigners.
It also seems that foreigner/native couples work out well for both parties, and the children that are usually involved. There are a lot of single women with children here. Almost every foreigner I know that is in a relationship with a local woman has at least one child attached to that relationship, and treats that child much better than daddy did. The foreigner usually treats the child’s mother better than daddy did as well. But the attitude of many Cambodians towards that foreigner, and even more so towards the woman he is with, is often far from warm and fuzzy.
2— Most of my Buddhist study has been done with Tibetans. In most cases, to enter the Tibetan Buddhist monastic order requires some very serious commitment.
In Southeast Asia, kids go to temple and become monks for a month as if it was summer camp. Most folks routinely spend a month as a monk in the temple after a close relative dies. An advantage to the Southeast Asian system is that it allows a much broader access to both foreigners and natives. I was able to live in a Thai Temple for half a year. That would not have been possible for a person like me within a Tibetan monastery.
A disadvantage to the Southeast Asian system is that, with the mesh in the net being so wide, more bad fish can slip into the organization. There are some monks with some very un-monk-like qualities.
I have never heard of pedophilia, homosexual or otherwise, within the Buddhist system. I should also say that, as in Catholicism, the majority of priests are well-motivated, morally admirable, and dedicated. But they are all human. Some falter. Instances of a Southeast Asian monk using his position of spiritual influence to take advantage of a woman happen occasionally. Much more often the trespasses involve money and business.
Although the following is just a rumor, it came from a very reliable source—enough so that I feel comfortable repeating it. If true, it is certainly not the first instance of corruption within the monastic system. Similar reports reached my ears every month or two in Thailand during my year and a half stay there.
The latest sad story involves a couple of humans in one of the Siem Reap temples. One head monk is reported to have stolen thousands of dollars from his temple. Most followers are poverty-stricken but the contributions from rich local businessmen, political hopefuls, foreign ex-pats, and even tourists can get hefty—especially by local standards. This head monk was fired, then cried and repented to the congregation. Instead of pressing charges, the congregation forgave and reinstated him. This will tell you something about Southeast Asian people. They often take that biblical, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” thing more seriously than most Christians do.
The other current rumor is of a deputy head monk who was caught stealing and was fired, but then reinstated by his head monk friend. He continues to own and drive a car, and operate a business out of his monk house. These are all definite no-nos for a Southeast Asian monk.
It may not kick you in the gut as hard as learning that TV’s saintly Cosby is a serial rapist in real life, but knowing that your spiritual guides can be as corrupt as your politicians isn’t fun.
3—This place is almost exactly on the other side of the world from East Coast America. This is true figuratively as well as literally. A lot of the differences are wonderful. Some just seem fuggin crazy. Communication is difficult. A lot of the problem stems from misinterpretations of language, but many communication problems happen due to conflicting interpretations of reality! Time and space themselves are looked at differently here. Any meeting arranged at a certain time has a very slim chance of actually happening at that time. Cambodians would be right at home in Latin America, as they seem to operate on manana time as well. Locals who speak English very well have told me such things as, “We will do it every Sunday, twice a month” and “I can do that thing but I cannot do it.” Either/or questions often get answered with “yes.” The folks here have no concept of north, south, east, or west. Really!
4—It is ninety-plus degrees and humid even during winter.
There are bags of garbage all over the place. This garbage is eventually burned and includes toxic materials within the ever-present smoke.
Much of the food is fried and much more of it is heavily sugared. Cambodia is still two or three generations away from Whole Foods Markets and increasing life spans.
Many locals look at a foreigner and see only money, not human. Charging foreigners more than locals is standard in many markets.
It may be safer, friendlier, and saner in many ways than most of the world. Southeast Asia is warmer during winter than almost anyplace else on Earth. It is less expensive to live comfortably here than it is to live at all on most of the planet. But some of the things that make up a paradise are blatantly missing. I love all the wonderful things that Cambodia and Southeast Asia are, but Pollyanna couldn’t pull off her act here.
I am usually very grateful for my ability to see both sides of any story.
Sometimes, not so much.
***If you missed the Intro to this third book (that the above piece is from) and would like to see it or other previous pieces, go to the Puppy website blog section, or send an email request to jahbuddha13@hotmail.com, or check out fearlesspuppy at WordPress. This is a book in progress. You are seeing it here as I write it! And as it says in the Intro, it is a totally true story and may be the only book ever written by a corpse! I don’t know what the next chapter is going to be about either!***The books Fearless Puppy On American Road and Reincarnation Through Common Sense by this same author, as well as sample chapters by, very entertaining tv/radio interviews with, and newspaper articles about him are available at www.fearlesspuppy.info

How To Properly Drown In Gratitude

Monk Chat
I finally have my first good therapeutic massage without complications. The rub costs eight dollars for a full hour and is nearly professional quality. It is good to have someone pay attention to what needs attention instead of having them greedily focus on their own gratification while employing manipulative attention exclusively to my genitals in order to reach their goals.
Anyone else ever had that problem?
I am refreshed and ready for Monk Chat.
Monk Chat means something different here than it did when I attended a few in Northern Thailand. There the chat was held at the temple. The monks were anxious to learn English and most of the chatting revolved around that. We conversed and made friends. We went places together outside of class.
Here it is more like a lecture and takes place at the Peace Café on Mondays at 3 PM. The monks are from the Wat Angkosar temple just a few blocks away. Two of them sit up front, explain what they do and how they see things, and then take questions from the group. The inquisitive group that I am part of totals thirteen people from all over the world.
Venerable Ura is the nineteen year old monk center stage. He is sharp as a tack and speaks English nearly as well as I do. The first thing he explains are the four main activities carried out every single day by a Cambodian monk. They are:
1— The most important activity for the whole community is the monks’ morning walk around the neighborhood. They collect food while blessing the people who donate it. The Southeast Asian people often get up before daybreak to start cooking rice for the monks. They consider donating food to them, and receiving the blessing, as essential beginnings to their day. The monks survive on this food, share it with the needy, and give leftovers to resident dogs and cats.
2—Morning chanting is supposed to happen at sunrise, but the timing can be adjusted depending on the inclination of the head monk at each different temple. Wat Angkosar’s head monk prefers to have the morning chant after breakfast. All the monks collectively repeat phrases that remind them to act as much like the Buddha as possible.
3—Evening chanting happens every sunset. A different set of phrases are used in the evening than in the morning, but all chants are directed toward the same purpose.
4—Night Dhamma study entails the reading of scriptures and the discussion of these Buddhist texts.
Venerable Ura next explains that the system is age related. If you are under twenty years old, you are a novice. If you are over twenty years old, you are a monk.
Neither a monk nor a novice can eat at any time except between sunrise and noon. They train themselves this way so that once they get used to that schedule, the craving for food doesn’t interfere with the potential to maintain purity of thought throughout most of the day and night.
Among the very cool and deep things Venerable Ura has to say is that hate, greed, and jealousy are the main enemies. Eliminate these and you will find happiness.
He then asks the group to say, “I want happiness.” We all say it out loud. He follows with, “Cut out the ‘want’ and cut out the ‘I.’ You will have nothing left but happiness.”
Introduction To The After School Sessions
The scuttlebutt around town is that nearly every school needs volunteer after-school English teachers. I go down to the temple/public school where Venerable Ura lives. The rumors turn out to be true, and one of the regular volunteer teachers invites me to stay for an observation session. Being a half hour early for the 5 to 6 PM session gives me time to jump onto the adjoining basketball court to play with the kids. I have been in parts of the world as the only white man the kids have ever seen. In those places, the game stops as bewildered faces stare for several minutes. Such is not the case in Siem Reap. Many tourists pass through here to see the famous ruins of Angkor Wat, the largest temple ever built on Earth. Even in outlying neighborhoods such as this one, the school-aged children are familiar with people from all over the world. We pass the ball around. We trade shots and laugh as if I am one of them.
The after-school English classes are held in an outside “room” containing long rows of desks about five deep and three blackboards up front. Beginner, medium level, and advanced classes are held simultaneously. There is a roof but no walls. I head back to this room to speak a bit with my host. Andries looks to be somewhere between sixty and seventy years old. He strongly resembles Santa Claus without the beard. Andires also acts like Santa Claus without the beard. He is never without a smile.
His English is very clearly understandable, although colored somewhat by a South African accent. This former motor mechanic from near Capetown is completely dedicated to what he does. His tone of voice has an obvious joy riding through it as he says to me, “It’s all about the kids. What they need and want is what it is all about. What you have planned or think you want to do, doesn’t mean fuck all!” He continues, “You have to make it fun for them and get them involved, get them interested. I see some of the local teachers just writing out words in English with the Khmer translation under those words. Then they just have the kids repeat like parrots over and over. They try to teach long sentences and grammatical structures to children who don’t even know what the fucking words in the sentences mean! The kids understand almost nothing of what they are being told, and when they leave here they don’t know shite. They forget the little bit they have learned by the time they get home. Bring the kids into the process! Give them something they can relate to, instead of throwing words at them that don’t mean anything in their world. Do that and they will end up retaining the material!”
Andires teaches both the 5 to 6 and the 6 to 7 p.m. after school classes five days a week. He has been doing it as an unpaid volunteer for five years. He considers it a privilege, not an obligation. When the children come in, he lights up and so do they. I watch him write vocabulary words on the board and have the kids match those words to the pictures in the book they are working from. He tells interesting one or two sentence stories around each word so that students are inspired to pay real attention, and also have a context to wrap the word around.
In the next part of the lesson, Andires writes out a series of words and has the children pick out the one that is in some way different. The first series is “wanted, waited, lived, ended.” It brings a yell from most of the dozen children. “Lived is only one syllable! The rest are two!” This advanced class nailed it. The teacher gives them a broad smile and enthusiastic compliment.
What I see is an inspiration. It gives me confidence. In spite of my lack of experience, it seems like I can do this. It should be just like playing basketball with the children, except we will be using nouns and verbs instead of a basketball. Now all that is left to do is find the director in order to get my appointment. He is a twenty-five year old monk with other obligations, and a hard man to locate. Andires is working on it.
On the walk back to my house from the school I stopped at what is called the Skybar. It is in the fancy Jaya House hotel. Alcohol is out of the question considering my medical condition. My liver has had all the abuse it can stand for one lifetime. A juice or tea on the second floor with some fellow English speakers seems like a good idea, but I do miss the alcohol. It is not because of the buzz. It is the socialization. A couple of drinks in a friendly atmosphere always seems to lubricate the lines of communication between people.
The Jaya House is beautiful but not really my kind of place. The view from this second floor bar is nice, but not as nice as the view from my fifth floor swimming pool rooftop. The apple juice is delicious but costs the unheard of sum of five American dollars. This is a full ten times the price it costs on the street, and almost twice as much as it costs even in the expensive downtown district. But neither the cost nor the view is the real problem. Jaya House could honestly be called gentrified, uptown, or luxurious. I am just as uncomfortable in extreme opulence as I am in extreme poverty. The people who frequent such places are often harder to get to know than the folks you meet in a regular bar. Many act as if they are protecting something instead of sharing something.
None of them here tonight seem lubricated enough to be sociable. Maybe I am not lubricated enough to be sociable, either!
School Daze
The first few days of my teaching experience are baffling for myself, the children, and Monk Chheang my Cambodian co-teacher.
I remember mentioning to Monk Chan, the after school program’s director, that I would do much better with a group that was advanced enough to know what, “use that word in a sentence” means. Maybe my communication didn’t travel well. One of the problems here is that many of the volunteer Cambodian English teachers are local monks who are only a short step ahead of the children in pursuing the language. Another is that we are using a sixth-grade text with kids who are at a first grade level. I might as well speak Martian to them!
Unable to effectively communicate with my co-teacher or students, I decide to quit. I have a lot of experience quitting things and have gotten very good at it. I’ll stick with writing. Writing in English is my thing. Folks tell me that I do it fairly well as a rule and very well in spots.
Knowledge of something doesn’t always equate to the ability to pass that knowledge on to someone else. I know English well enough, but absolutely suck at teaching the language to elementary level students.
I arrive early, figuring to give it one last frustrating day, turn in the text book, and say goodbye. Andires is always there earlier than anyone else. He is surprised to find me there before him. We trade laughs and hellos before I tell him that this will be the last day of my teaching career.
“No, you can’t do that! You are good at this. I looked over a few times yesterday and saw how well the students reacted to you.” I thank him for the bullshit compliment and explain the situation. Andires asks to see the book. He goes haywire when he sees it. “What the fuck are they thinking, giving you this book for those kids!?!? My advanced kids couldn’t do this shite! Look, you can do this job and you can do it very well. I have been at it for a long time and know my teachers by now. And you are right! Those kids are getting taught way over their heads. Here’s what you have to do. Just pick a category like shapes, or types of vehicles, colors, whatever. Take three or four examples from the category. So like for shapes, draw a triangle, square, rectangle, and circle on the board. Ask them to tell you what each one is. Write the English word under the shape so they visually associate the word with the shape. Then write out “This is a_______.” on the board. Have them repeat several times, jumping back and forth between the shapes as you point to them. They say “This is a square.” as you point to the square shape on the board. Do the same with the other shapes. Then tell them that “together these are all shapes.” Point out the appearance of the “s” at the end of the word “shapes” and get them into a singular/plural practice. Draw a few more circles next to the original one and have them add an “s” on to the word “circle” to make “circles.” Draw the word they already know, and make the plural out of it, explaining the only one/more than one difference between singular and plural. They may not have enough vocabulary to understand your explanation, but your co-teacher should, and he should be able to explain that to the students. All this time you’re making them say everything in full sentences. “This is a circle. This is a square.” Then you can get into teaching them “These are…” for the plural instead of “This is a…” for the singular. Again, you are probably going to need the co-teacher to explain some things in their own language. They sometimes just don’t have the vocabulary to understand even simple explanations. Holy shite! I still can’t believe they gave you that fucking advanced book to use! OK, give it a try! Work in little baby steps with them, because that is where their language level is at. If they learn three or four words, singular/plural, and practice these while making short but full sentences around them, that’s a miracle of a day. It can certainly be done! You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. These kids teach me more about life than I ever knew—certainly more than I teach them! Do yourself a favor. Stick around for a while.”
Andires doesn’t have me altogether convinced. I walk off still feeling like the time would be better spent writing books, but his enthusiasm is so contagious that anyone within range catches some. I decide to give this last day a very serious try.
I return the book to Monk Chheang explaining the problem as best possible. Then, except for a few personal creative variations, I do exactly what Andires told me to. It clicked! When something sparks children enough to wake up a little extra brain circuitry, anyone alive can see it in their eyes. It is as obvious as whether or not the electric lights have been turned on in the room. Every eye in the student body was lit.
Quitting doesn’t seem like as good an idea right now as it did several hours ago. Days like this are worth showing up for.
I will, however, be missing tomorrow’s school session in order to move apartments. My current digs on the third floor are still a little smoky, hot, and noisy. A move up to the fourth floor should help. Room 401 is a little more than I actually need. Two bedrooms, three bathrooms, a monster kitchen, an even bigger living room, and a private balcony facing the river are admittedly overkill for one person. But the cleaner air, quieter atmosphere, and cooler positioning of the place make it worth paying three hundred and seventy dollars a month instead of two hundred and fifty.
Monk CharleKym
I am very interested in being there when the monks do their chanting thing in the main temple. I ask my Cambodian co-teacher about it. He introduces me to the only monk on the grounds that is a native English speaker. I will be able to understand his answer clearly..
Monk CharleKym is a seventy year old Australian native with colon cancer. He is covered from top to bottom in sacred tattoos, including the face, head, and feet. A bag attaches to the side of his body and catches what would ordinarily run out the bottom of a person. But in true monk fashion he remains smiling, sociable, and anxious to help. It is a joy to speak with him.
Monk CharleKym lived among the natives in Papua, New Guinea for the forty years before he became a Buddhist monk. Charles is the only white man to ever be considered a blood member of that culture, and be privy to their rituals, initiations, and secrets. Part of that accomplishment hinged on the fact that, inspired by the book Black Like Me, Charles took a chemical to help darken his skin. It was something of a photo-negative reversal of the Michael Jackson move, but Charles did it several decades before Jackson.
I want to hang out with this guy for a hundred years but can see he is tiring rapidly. Vowing to myself to get back and talk more with him—actually just listen more—as soon as possible, I get right to my question. He answers that there is a 10:30 a.m. chant in the temple.
Monk CharleKym tells me, “You will hear the big bell ring. Then one monk will unlock the temple and other monks will start filing in. The chanting lasts about twenty minutes, then the Head Monk talks to them a bit, then they file out. If you ever just want to get into the temple to meditate by yourself, come see me. I am one of the people with the key.”
I thank him very sincerely. Meeting him and having temple access are both wonderful, humbling privileges. I am very grateful for them.
The Head Monk—Mahati Ta
Thirty plus orange-robed monks and a large American wearing overalls in ninety degree heat are sitting in the temple. One monk is sitting up front with a microphone. He is facing the Buddha images in front, with his back to the other monks and me. No one has to tell me that this is the Head Monk. An aspect of benevolent authority radiates from him. As soon as he starts chanting, so does everyone else in the room except me. I don’t know the words.
I listen for the nearly half hour that it lasts. But to say “I listen” doesn’t tell the whole story. The chant produces pure positive energy. Everyone reciting it is of the same mind. There is no interference to its power from the diversions of every day, regular-people life. No one in the room is thinking about the bills they have to pay, how to make it work better with the spouse and kids, or what they are going to eat tomorrow. Each individual within the group is giving total attention to the same resonance. They are so much on the same wavelength that it seems the chant is the product of a single voice. This is actually true in a very real way! Not only does each individual within the group share the same desire to reach spiritual heights and help humanity, they are each pronouncing the same very familiar sets of words that have been used for millennia. They are the same words that have been chanted by untold millions of monks just like them over uncountable generations. In addition, the monks all eat the same food and live together. They share very similar schedules and attitudes as well as common motivations. They have a big head start on the road to what is called Unity Consciousness. The energy is so intense that, much more than just listening to it, I have the feeling of being it. That may sound weird, but it is a very accurate description. Beautiful, otherworldly, transcendent, strange, joyful, clean, and perfect are words that come to mind when the chanting stops and I remember that I have an individual mind for things to come to.
Actually, after an experience like that, a collective mind seems like the only reality. My individual mind feels like a joke, a silly distraction from holding on to the bigger truth of the collective mind. This is no hocus-pocus bullshit. Ancient seers, Carl Jung, modern mystics, almost every quantum physics professor, as well as John Lennon and the Beatles share the same view on this subject. Even a walrus knows that “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.”
When the chanting ends, the guy up front turns around to face the rest. He talks to them. It is again obvious that this man is in a position of authority. He speaks to the monks in a very firm tone. I don’t understand a word of it, but it sounds like he might be reminding them of how important certain types of discipline become when pursuing a deep experience of what the Beatles or the Buddha were talking about.
He then starts addressing the individual monks one at a time. The authoritative tone turns to honey. There are still a few serious sounding sentences coming from him but all conversations are gentle and contain laughter on both sides. It is very obvious that this man has a concern for his students right at the top of his list. It is just as obvious that the other monks have a great affection for this elder, teacher, and adviser. The air is as thick with these sentiments as it had been with the power and purity of the chanting a few minutes earlier.
On my way out, I go up front to put ten thousand Cambodian Riel (two dollars and fifty cents U.S.) in the voluntary collection box. I bow to the head monk and thank him. He gets up, shakes my hand, and holds it for several minutes as we talk and walk out of the temple. His English language skills are very good. He holds my hand as a grandfather might hold a grandson’s hand, although he is obviously decades younger than I am.
He asks about me. We exchange names, home towns, and ages. He is named Mahati Ta and is forty-five years old. He seems a little impressed that I made it to sixty-eight—or maybe I’m just projecting.
Mahati Ta says, “You can come to chanting anytime. Visit and have lunch with me some time! And thanks for doing volunteer teaching in the temple’s after school program.”
He tells me that he is Cambodian but has just come back from Viet Nam where he was studying. This has me curious, so I ask, “What different kind of Buddhism were you studying in Vietnam? How does it vary from Cambodian Buddhism?”
Mahati Ta surprises me by answering, “I am studying for a doctorate in public administration!”
I didn’t know monks do that!
We say goodbye and I walk towards the gate. There are still several hours until class. Stepping outside the gate of the school and temple grounds, a sudden wave of gratitude washes over me. The wave is immense. I laugh with the thought that drowning in massive gratitude would be a wonderful way to go—but living in it seems like a much better idea.
***If you missed the Intro to this third book (that the above piece is from) and would like to see it or other previous pieces, go to the Puppy website blog section, or send an email request to jahbuddha13@hotmail.com, or check out fearlesspuppy at WordPress. This is a book in progress. You are seeing it here as I write it! And as it says in the Intro, it is a totally true story and may be the only book ever written by a corpse! I don’t know what the next chapter is going to be about, either!***The books Fearless Puppy On American Road and Reincarnation Through Common Sense by this same author, as well as sample chapters by, very entertaining tv/radio interviews with, and newspaper articles about him are available at http://www.fearlesspuppy.info

A Very Dragon Christmas!

The Dragon
The Dragon Royal Apartments have recently been renamed La Lune (The Moon) Angkor Condominiums. Everyone still calls the seven story building “The Dragon.” I am The Dragon’s newest resident in Room 310.
The Dragon is in the village of Treang. “Village” here does not mean the same thing as it does in New England or India. There are many so-called villages that are part of the city of Siem Reap. Most of us would more likely refer to these as urban neighborhoods.
Things are about to improve drastically on the health and relaxation fronts now that I have moved into The Dragon. There is less traffic, noise, and air pollution here than in downtown. What there is of it has a chance to dissipate a bit before it gets to the third floor. Treang Village has a narrow river running through it. The river runs right in front of the apartment building. It is just wide enough to foster tree growth. Trees are a great complement to human respiratory systems. They eat carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Hot air brings that oxygen from the top of the second floor, where much of the tree canopy is, up to my third-floor window.
From the seventh floor roof top swimming pool, the view makes it obvious that there are more trees in this neighborhood than the main downtown has seen in at least fifty years. I finally find a market where lettuce, tomatoes, and red bell peppers are available. There is hot water in the building.
In general, more things work in this neighborhood than in the short-term tourist area. Folks here rent by the month and often stay for years. They are less likely to be satisfied with amenities that aren’t amenities than someone in a hurry to see Angkor Wat for the last time before rushing to catch a plane back to Europe.
Looking out my new kitchen window from the angle I’m sitting at, all I can see is thick green jungle, half a stucco house, its red ceramic roof tiles, and hundreds of dragonflies zipping around in helter-skelter patterns while they snap small bugs out of the air. Their organized chaos reminds me of Grand Central Station. Their flight patterns may look schizophrenic to the casual observer, but these guys know where they are going and what they are doing.

My First Full Day In The Dragon Neighborhood
Early Morning Exercise On The Dragon Roof
In early morning the breeze is still cool enough to send the dragonflies scurrying for sunny spots. Days will average eighty-five to ninety-five degrees for the next three months of “cool” season, but nights occasionally get down to what seems like a very chilly sixty.
There is a bustling city beneath and on all sides that came to life hours ago, but that is hard to tell from this angle. From this birds eye view, trees varying from ten to fifty feet high seem to make parts of the city disappear under dense jungle. Several pagoda shaped roofs manage to poke their curved tiles and pointy spires through the lush vegetation. Some are houses. Some are schools. Others are businesses and temples. A few radio towers join them. A loudspeaker to the left blares lilting Asian music. Straight ahead are the voices of fifty or so young school children chanting a recitation in unity. The traffic noise is apparent, as are clouds of smoke from the trash burns.
Main Street
The new neighborhood’s Main Street is called River Road and aptly runs on either side of the Siem Reap River. The river is narrow, shallow, and muddy with stone bridges about thirty yards in length running across it. The bridges are about a quarter mile apart from each other. Some are very ornately carved on either flank in the shape of a singular red cobra or dragon that runs for their entire length! Some are plain off-white concrete structures.
One of the cleanest and most beautiful bits of jungle in the neighborhood is the Peace Café. It sits about a half mile up the road and across the river from The Dragon. The restaurant is set back off the street a bit and composed of seating areas on either side of the concrete walkway that runs through it. The walkway is defined by a row of thirty foot tall palm trees on either side of it. The right side seating area is Asian style, with two foot elevated platforms and four comfy looking cushions around a table elevated two feet higher than, and sitting centered on, the platform. The left side seating area has standard comfortable Western tables and chairs. Gorgeous exotic fresh flowers of various purples and oranges grace each table. The place is spotless and the servers are in uniforms. As soon as a customer sits down, the server arrives with a smiling face and a cold, wet, mentholated towel to refresh that customer.
The food is some of the best in Southeast Asia or anywhere else. The Peace Café it strictly vegetarian. They don’t even use eggs. But they can make a vegetable dish taste like anything, including a version of the nationally famous Amok fish that rivals the original. They also offer meditation classes.
If this sounds more like a fancy uptown restaurant than an ordinary mom-and-pop place, you are right. The prices reflect it. But that only means that a two dollar meal costs four dollars. It is worth it. Their atmosphere, as well as their food, reflect the value of the place.
There is a card displaying a wisdom saying on each table at the Peace Café. Here is a sampling.
If you are depressed, you are a living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.
There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.
If you want peace, stop fighting. If you want peace of mind, stop fighting with your thought.
Death Defying Dragon Drivers
I grew up in New York City and have since been in major metropolitan areas all over the world. Cambodian drivers are by far and away the craziest and bravest I have ever seen. The fact that half the population doesn’t die daily in traffic accidents is a miracle. Tuk-tuks, motorbikes, some cars and the occasional truck weave in and out of each other with a very reckless abandon. It is common to see someone driving on the wrong side of the road as if it is their personal one-way street and the opposing traffic is part of a video game obstacle course. Like Grand Theft Auto, they seem to treat the driving process as a serious form of entertainment as opposed to a potentially dangerous form of transportation. Rules are fluid. Folks have no trouble bending them. I have seen tuk-tuks going north while motorbikes go south in the same lane as a car tries to use the same space to go from east to west. The situation is comparatively tame but still prevalent in the urban neighborhood I have just moved into. Downtown is flat-out batshit crazy. Looking both ways before crossing may not be enough.
Laughing Girl
A few blocks walk from the Peace Café is a free standing hut restaurant with seventy-five cent coconuts. They chop the top off and stick a straw in one for me. A few blocks past that is a stand with a dozen kinds of natural juices, Half of them are made from fruits I have never heard of before. I get the Aloe Vera.
Downing both juices gives a vitamin rush.
I have been taking heavy vitamins and supplements for decades and am concerned about not being able to continue them. Again, all the money in the world doesn’t help if you are in a place that doesn’t stock what you want to buy. But it is becoming obvious that there’s almost no reason for concern. Much of the (unfried) food here is medicine. There is a lot of turmeric to substitute for my usual Curcumin. There are fruit drinks with giant chunks of Aloe Vera in them that will not only substitute for but improve upon the spoonfuls of it I was taking daily in America from plastic bottles. Many other mushrooms, fruits, and vegetables with medicinal effects are a regular part of the Khmer diet. Everything grows all the time. Freshness is not a problem. After a little more local education, I should be able to stop looking far afield for things that are right under my nose.
On a side street several blocks past the Peace Café, I spy a thirty foot tall, ornately carved, stone gateway. This is usually a sign that there is a temple, probably with an elementary school attached to it, behind that gateway. Getting closer affords a view of three orange-robed monks walking in the distance behind a hundred screaming children at play in a schoolyard. The gate itself is an incredible piece of art containing a lot of carved scroll work as well as figures of goddesses, elephants, and crocodiles. If a singular craftsman of his day did this, it may have taken a whole lifetime to finish.
I wander past a hectic schoolyard full of the sweet, noisy chaos of happy children into the serene silence of the temple/monk residence section. Wandering into a small side temple gives a big surprise. Half of it is cordoned off into sections of orange robes hung over rope lines acting as room dividers. Three or four monks are actually living in this shrine!
The main temple was bigger but still spotless and beautiful, as most are. It is considered a blessing to clean the temple. Monks and locals alike take care of the area. After a half hour of meditating and assorted mind wandering in the temple, I go back to the school area to write up some notes. There are a few stone steps behind a woman selling ice cream from a cart. She has a crying three-year-old daughter with her.
Many times, all that children need is to be distracted from their crying for just a minute in order to completely forget what they were crying about in the first place. (It can work with whining adults too.) I stroke the child’s hand while giggling and smiling at her. She starts giggling back. Giggles turn into uproarious laughter and the kid is on a roll. I’m ready to play and start laughing and smiling right back at her. A half-dozen kids waiting for ice cream think this is hilarious. They start laughing along with us. This goes on for a full twenty minutes while I sit on the steps making notes. Every few minutes the baby takes break. As soon as she catches her breath and starts laughing again, I give her a big smile and laugh back, and whoever is waiting for ice cream breaks into laughter as well.
At six feet and two inches tall, I may be the biggest, whitest thing this kid has ever seen. She may be one of the sweetest people I have ever met.
Local Market
The local neighborhood market is a miniature version of the downtown Night Market, but with a very noticeable lack of bars and massage parlors. There is a lot more concentration on food, clothing, and cosmetics. Cosmetics are a big thing in Cambodia.
This is a neighborhood venue that caters to some long-term tourists, but mostly to locals with families. It is only a few blocks from the school. Very fresh produce, meat, and live fish are available. The live fish sit on wet tables until someone buys them. At one of these fish tables, two live ones jump off the table and onto the floor right in front of me—and start walking down the floor! I shit you not. The fish has feet! There are no toes but where a dog or cat’s front legs would be, there are flipper/feet type appendages that allow the fish to actually walk.
After my short trip through the market for some footless fish, noodles, and greens, a tuk-tuk takes me back to The Dragon. I pull the former tenant’s sealing tape off the window and open it for some air circulation. Through the open window I hear a familiar chanting. There are orange robes hanging on a clothesline a few buildings away. The way the streets curve and squirrel around in this neighborhood, it may take a while to find the place, but it seems there may be a temple near my back yard.
Up On The Roof
I have been sitting next to the swimming pool on the roof, looking out over the jungle while writing up today’s happenings. I can’t fuggin believe how gorgeous everything is! It can be dirty, strange, polluted, hotter than the devil’s nut sack, and certainly not for the faint of heart—but it is absolutely beautiful and the people are wonderful.
I am drinking my first pumpkin juice. It’s a real thing here! I’m up on the roof watching a beautiful red sunset. The sun spreads crimson through the trees on one side of the sky as the full moon glows on the already darker side. The sun is losing ground to the city lights below. It is understandably tired. It shed a lot of light today.
WHAT I HAVE LEARNED SO FAR
This trip has, so far, brought me almost exactly half way around the world from where I started. It has been great fun, adventure, experience, and offered wonderful insights into different cultures. But it hasn’t taught me much about humanity that I didn’t already know. It has confirmed a lot that I already suspected.
People everywhere and anywhere are a lot more similar than different. Most are trying to be decent and happy, but all have different definitions of what “decent” and “happy” mean. There are a small number of seriously self-centered assholes, but even they are also just hunting happiness in their own warped fashion.
The nice people can be awfully cruel at times. Cruel people are occasionally nice.
No one gets out alive but most folks act as if death only happens to other people. There is very little real consciousness of mortality going on.
Actually, there is precious little consciousness going on at all. Folks seem to do a lot of life habitually and without any deep awareness of their thoughts or actions. Very few realize how many choices they have. Many folks seem busier strangling life’s opportunities with irrelevant and often inaccurate historical misinformation than are actually taking advantage of those opportunities. They don’t realize that a lot of what is called tradition turns out to be no more than peer pressure from dead people, and that it lacks any valuable or even real substance. They seem swept away by the current of life, like a body trapped in the current of a wide river. They don’t realize that there are banks on both sides of any river that we can swim to, climb ashore, and find golden new possibilities waiting for us.
Most people have been hypnotized by the commercial, religious, and political nuances of their culture into believing that their remedy is somewhere outside of themselves. Those misleading nuances, like the people themselves, are more similar than different no matter what culture they travel through.
Many folks get trapped for a lifetime in these external pursuits of well-being. Few realize that all solutions are within. Many are aware that there is something wrong but just can’t figure out what that something is.
The historical Buddha is often misquoted as having said that “Life is suffering.” But the word “dukkha” that he used is more accurately translated as “dislocated” or “out of joint,” in the manner of a dislocated shoulder or collarbone. Many folks give lip service to the well-known fact that love is the answer. They mouth it often. They feel it a little more on Sundays and at Christmas, but have trouble putting it into consistent application during the rest of their week—and the rest of their living. They know where the best stuff is but are disjointed, dislocated from it.
Pain will happen in life but suffering is often optional, or at least adjustable. Reconnecting with The Bigger Thing eliminates the dislocation from it. That re-established connection often supersedes and modifies the previous connection to suffering. It doesn’t matter whether one tags the “Bigger Thing” as Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Xenon the Invader, The Field, The Force, or Self. Drive any car you want that will get you to the destination. Regardless of which teacher or system is used, the quality of attention paid by the student is a good deal more important than who the teacher is. Consciousness needs to be intentionally tuned in to and is therefore, on several levels, self-consciousness.
More people every day are starting to realize that we are at a crucial point in history. They can figure out later that those tag systems were almost all symbolic and very little was literal. They can wait just a bit to come to grips with the fact that they have to do the internal work in order to enjoy more humane qualities, not wait for someone or something supernatural to do it for them. But Earth is very near immediate-crisis mode. Even paying serious attention to a truly positive “belief” can do nicely as a vehicle on the road to improving life right now, saving the environment as soon as possible, and an objectively sound wisdom in the future.
That wisdom in the future will include the courage to simply say, “I don’t know.” Admitting that we don’t know a lot of things will eliminate the need for blindly believing in unfounded, unrealistic stories that dead people made up a long time ago. Believing in fairytales can give us a false sense of an actually nonexistent security. It disfigures objective reality.
Many of these stories were control devices designed to tame and civilize, or intimidate and rule, unruly populations. Others may well have been meant symbolically and are still brilliant metaphorical lessons. But history shows that over a period of centuries, a lot of material that was meant to be metaphorical got concretized, bent to individual purposes, and sloppily translated. Look what happens in three minutes to a message running through a chain of ten kids playing Telephone! Give that process a couple of dozen centuries, or even months, and what fragments of the original message remain may no longer have any resemblance to the actual original message. It gets even worse in some cases. Add a narcissistic monarch of the world’s biggest empire to a sexual identity crisis accompanying a bad attitude toward women, multiplied by millennia of elapsed time since the original message. One has to wonder how much of the actual spirit of the Judeo and especially the Christian message King James got into his bible translation.
The good part is that everybody wants to get love and life right, even if they are not consciously aware of it. That desire may see very little practical application in the modern world at times, but an increasing number of folks are realizing that they do want to be improved, happier, nicer versions of themselves. Many are searching. There is hope.
Every day, I see more people waking up. But also every day, another poor jackass is born and hypnotized from birth to think his life is so important that yours doesn’t matter at all. These are the guys who manufacture the separations that keep humanity from becoming itself. Things like sexual, religious, national, and ethnic differences are given such great importance in the physical/material world! There is nothing, in mundane existence, wrong with the pleasures that these differences afford. There is not much wrong with the limited feeling of inclusion that these little clubs we belong to can give us—as long as they’re not at the expense and degradation of any other little club. But these likes, dislikes, preferences, accidents of birth, and so on have no place in the world of consciousness, and it is insane to let them overpower the total inclusiveness that pure consciousness entails.
I have seen a lot of human inconsistency everywhere while traveling around the world. There doesn’t seem any sense in being an optimist or a pessimist. I’m a realist. It appears that we can go either way. Everything can work out just fine or humanity can become extinct in short order. Most folks are nice. Everything depends on whether those nice folks can muster the inspiration, power, and intelligence to make the few nastier people see reason. That’s going to take some doing because in order to help anyone else do that job efficiently, the nice folks will first have to do a version of it on themselves. The mechanics of The Bigger Thing dictate that things work the way Gandhi did.
A mother came to The Mahatma and asked him to get her sugar-addicted child off the sugar. Gandhi told her to come back in two weeks with the boy. She did. Mahatma talked to the boy and the child stopped eating sugar from that day on. The mother asked, “Why did you have me wait two weeks?” Gandhi answered, “Two weeks ago, I was on sugar!”
The nice folks will also have to be careful to not become just like those nasty people. It happens sometimes. People have often killed tyrants and then become tyrants. Revolution, by dictionary definition, means you end up back where you started from. Evolution, on the other hand, puts your way of living somewhere else.”Somewhere else” would, in almost every nonphysical sense, be a good place for all of humanity to move to—especially that nastier fraction of humanity.
We are a unit. Whether you are basically nice or nasty, like man or woman ass, are born black or white, or are from the Eastern or Western hemisphere, we now have no functional choice but to realize the depth of what the American patriot Patrick Henry said in the 1770s. Regarding action against England, he advised his compatriots that “we must hang together or we will surely hang separately.” Now that we are facing the extinction of the human species on so many fronts—environmental, warrior/political/nuclear, a potentially fatal overpopulation and draining of resources, and more, Patrick Henry’s words are more important to live by than ever.
***If you missed the Intro to this third book (that the above piece is from) and would like to see it, go to the Puppy website blog section, or WordPress, or send an email request to jahbuddha13@hotmail.com This is a book in progress. You are seeing it here as I write it! And as it says in the Intro, it is a totally true story and may be the only book ever written by a corpse!***The books Fearless Puppy On American Road and Reincarnation Through Common Sense by this same author, as well as sample chapters by, very entertaining tv/radio interviews with, and newspaper articles about him are available at http://www.fearlesspuppy.info