Making Merit

I’d like to begin this post by making a big disclaimer: I don’t understand Buddhism. I listened to an audiobook about Buddhism before I came to Thailand, but it was really confusing. It also turns out that the author of that book comes from a different tradition of Buddhism than what is commonly practiced in Thailand, so I’m thoroughly confused. Please keep in mind as you read this post that there is a good chance that I’m going to write something about Buddhist beliefs that isn’t quite true.

People in Thailand are always talking about “making merit”. Buddhists can make merit by giving, achieving self-mastery, and refraining from doing bad things. As I understand it, merit affects an individual’s karma. I’ve read that merit-making isn’t a tally system and that people are supposed to do these good works without expecting anything in return. However, when people talk about making merit, it seems like they are counting up all of their good deeds in preparation for future lives.

Usually when people talk about making merit they are referring to giving food to monks in the mornings. Buddhist monks collect food from people every morning at about 6. Most of my students say that they only make merit in this way once a year on their birthdays. However, you can make merit in many other ways as well. You can make merit through meditation and giving money to the poor or to temples. On my trip to Kanchunaburi, my friend Wallapha was constantly telling me about all the merit we were making. According to Wallapha, we made merit when I bought a souveneir from a local artist and when we fed the fish in the river. She also informed me that when someone gives food to a monk, other people should touch the person giving the food so that they will earn merit for giving food as well. At the temple there were many people holding on to the people scooping rice into the monks’ bowls. Buddhist parents earn a huge amount of merit if a son becomes a monk. Wallapha doesn’t have a son, so she gives money to pay for the ordination ceremonies of poor young men every year. This doesn’t earn her as much merit as it would if the young men were her sons.

Anyway, I decided to write this post because I received a merit certificate today. A student told me he was raising money for poor children and asked me to donate. I gave him some money, and he handed me a certificate. I asked a student what it was, and she told me that it guaranteed that I had earned some merit.

I Hate Ants!

I’ve been fighting with ants since I moved into my apartment. When I tell people that there are ants in my apartment, they always tell me not to leave food out. The thing is, I don’t leave food out! First, the ants were attracted to my desk. They especially liked my computer. I moved the computer away from the desk and no longer have an ant problem on my desk. I was feeling good about the lack of ants in my apartment until this morning. I opened one of my drawers and noticed an ant crawling on the side of the drawer. I thought it was a strange place for an ant, so I looked a little closer. There were ants crawling all over the drawer! I have no idea why the ants are attracted to the clean clothes in my drawer, but I do know that it’s not because there was food in there!

I’ve been looking for those little plastic ant hotels that we have in the states, but can’t find any. I’m going to have to add them to the list of supplies for Dave to bring!

Thai Church Music

I’ve been attending a Thai church that some of my students are involved with. There are a few American families that attend the church, but most people there are Thai. There is a Thai pastor and all of the sermons are in Thai. The songs are in the Thai language, but many of them are hymns or contemporary worship songs that I’ve sung in churches in the United States. I usually know about half of the songs. Today I knew all but one. Sometimes, if I’m feeling brave, I’ll sing the songs quietly in English. Sometimes I feel self-conscious doing that, so I just sing along in my head.

Anyway…the words to the songs are on an overhead projector, and I’ve noticed that I tend to stare at the lyrics during the songs even though I can’t read Thai. I always did this at home too, but it was because I was reading the words. It must be a habit now!

An interesting thing is that the church always sings The Wonderful Cross in English. All of the other hymns are translated into Thai. I asked one of the Americans why they do this, and she said that since most Thai people study English in school, they like to sing in English every now and then. She doesn’t know why The Wonderful Cross is the one song they sing in English. Personally, I think the lyrics to that song are pretty difficult. The whole church sings along though, and they seem to get really into it. Of course, I appreciate it when we sing that song. I’ll probably associate that song with my Thailand experience for the rest of my life.

Fits of Rage

I read Culture Shock! Thailand on my plane trip to Thailand. It says that Thai people work hard to avoid confrontations. Sometimes they bottle everything up for so long that they suddenly get angry and go beserk. Well, I witnessed one of those episodes today.

I went to Fairy plaza for pizza with a coworker tonight. We were just riding up to the entrance when I saw a man scream and push a woman, grab her by the shirt, and shake her. He kept screaming and screaming and then tried to strangle her! The eerie thing to me was that so many people were standing by, silently watching this man try to strangle someone. There was a young man who looked like he was trying to help the girl, but he wasn’t doing a very good job. A police officer showed up, and the man stopped trying to strangle her. The police officer didn’t really try to separate them; the guy still had the girl by the wrists and was yelling at her when I went inside. It was a scary incident.

$5.50 Haircut

I went to a beauty salon today to have a haircut and get some highlights. The process was long. I was there for 2.5 hours and they only charged my $5.50. Haircuts here are different.

First, they did the highlights. There was no surprise there, other than that they left an inch of my hair uncolored at the top. They said it would be bad for the haircolor to touch my scalp.

Next they washed my hair for a looooooong time. They shampooed it, conditioned it, and then put something else in it. The shampoo is nice, because they give you a nice head & neck massage. Next, they sat me at the haircutting station and gave me a shoulder and back massage. Then they dried my hair with a blow dryer and straightened it with one of those flat irons. Finally they cut my hair. After that there was some more blow-drying.

I like my new haircut, but I know it will look different tomorrow. I don’t even own a blow dryer and I don’t have that extra stuff they put in my hair. Still, it’s fun to go to the beauty salon when I have a big block of extra time!

Another Bicycle Problem, Another Helpful Stranger

I think this story may be getting old, but I can’t help myself. I’m going to write another story about a stranger helping me with my bike.

It’s the rainy season in Thailand. That doesn’t mean that it rains all the time. It rains probably every other day for a few hours. Sometimes it starts to rain right before I’m ready to leave work. That’s bad because I get stuck at the school for hours! Today I was working in the office and heard some thunder. I looked out the window and it was dark and windy, but not raining. I decided to try to get home really fast. I hopped on my bike and started home. It was fine at first, but really dark and windy. I felt a few raindrops, but it wasn’t bad. It started raining hard when I ran into a long line of traffic trying to turn into my neighborhood. Thinking that it was a bad day to forget my helmet, I rode around the cars to the front of the line. (This was bad, I know, but people on motorbikes here do it ALL the time). So I joined the motorbikes at the front of the line. A police officer was moderating traffic and signaled to us that we could turn. Well, I was surrounded by about 30 motorbikes. I had to ride really fast to keep up with them. Otherwise, there was a good chance that one of them would hit me. So I was riding as fast as possible to keep up with the motorbikes, and one of my pedals fell off in the middle of a roundabout. I pulled to the side of the road and saw my pedal in the middle of the roundabout. I thought it would be impossible to get it back.

Luckily, a street vendor saw me. He pulled my bike under the roof of a shopping area and got a security guard to stop traffic and pick up my pedal. We had quite an audience while he fixed the pedal. Everyone from the shopping area came out to watch. The women were all giving me sympathetic looks while them men gathered around the bike to inspect the repair. It started raining harder and harder. By the time I left, there was no traffic at all. I rode home in the rain and was completely soaked when I got home. One of the apartment maintenance men saw me and asked what happened and why I wasn’t wearing a helmet. Of course, he asked in Thai and I didn’t understand a word. We’re all becoming such good mimes!

The Most Interesting Ice Cream Sundae Ever

I bought an ice cream sundae after lunch today. It had a scoop of sticky rice on the bottom and several (small) scoops of coconut ice cream. It was topped with sweetened condensed milk, corn, and some unidentified red sauce. I should also say that the coconut ice cream (which is fabulous!) also has some green noodles in it.

It sounds unappetizing, but it was really good!

The Homeless in Khon Kaen

I went shopping downtown yesterday and saw many homeless people. All of the homeless people I have seen here are disabled. Most of them are missing limbs, but some are also blind. Thailand doesn’t have much of a social welfare program for disabled people (or anybody, for that matter). These people can’t work, and they probably don’t have families that can help them out. They tend to be in crowded areas like night markets and the downtown shopping areas. There is a bridge over a busy street that I walk across when I use the sorng tows. There are usually about 10 homeless people on the bridge. It is always heartbreaking for me to see them.

During my first week here I saw a man who was missing both of his legs. He did not have a wheelchair; he laid on his stomach and pulled himself around with his arms. He had a baby sitting on his back. That image really haunts me. Most people here are used to seeing this and it doesn’t seem to phase them. To me, it’s still so shocking. I feel really sad.

The Thailand Weight Loss Solution

Well, I decided to weigh myself yesterday. I’ve lost 8 pounds in Thailand!! I knew I had lost some weight because my clothes are more roomy than they used to be. Considering that I’ve been eating anything I want so far (including cake, sugary coffee drinks, pizza, lots of french fries, regular coke, potato chips, cookies, cheeseburgers, candy bars, etc.), I’m really pleased to have lost so much weight! Maybe everyone should come to Thailand to lose weight. It could be a new type of vacation. The weight-loss vacation!

So I’ve lost 8 pounds, but I still have a ways to go. I gained too much weight in grad. school and now I need to lose it. I’ve gotten into some bad eating habits here. Mostly it’s because the only American foods here are junk foods that I don’t usually eat at home. I’m going to start cutting back on junk food now.