One of the advantages of these types of travels, when one is not constantly moving around and hopping from one place to another, but staying longer in one spot, is that you get to know people a tiny bit better; let’s say enough for them to invite you along on a visit to a temple. So what would you imagine such an activity to look like when someone says to you in limited English to join them to the temple? To go and join them for a prayer? To go and join them for a morning chanting? I am not sure for you but this is along the lines of what I would have anticipated.
We met at around 9.30 at the reception of the resort where I was staying. Myself, the oldest daughter of the resort’s owner Tony ( To Nguyen in Vietnamese – but it is easier for all of us to name her Tony) and her German “boyfriend”, guy in his 50s ( i would say), Jorg. They both speak very very limited English so there is not much conversation possible.
The taxi arrives and about 15 mins later we reach the temple, located above the village, overlooking the west side of the island. When there, Tony explains that she needs to work in the kitchen so Jorg and I can “hang around” the temple. Hm… Ok. Then let’s do so; it’s just that the area is not very big. So there we are, myself and Jorg trying to kill time while Tony helps in the kitchen. Why, Jorg and I couldn’t figure out. (Now you can imagine what conversation must be like with the two; limited English and no other common language 🙂 maybe that’s why the relationship works). Luckily I was able to call on some rusty German language skills, enough to get a conversation going with Jorg. So there we are, visiting a temple, and then just waiting and chatting… about various topics. About 30 minutes later we are offered fresh dragon fruits and mandarins and some further 30 mins later Tony comes and asks us if we could help carrying some dishes around. Upon closer observation of the surrounding activities we realised there was a huge celebration the previous night and when we asked Tony about it, the answer is a video played on her iPhone. Indeed, there was a celebration with many monks and visitors. The occasion? hmm, a puzzle we couldn’t figure out. But at least now the mystery of Tony having to help in the kitchen was solved. Because there were dishes… A lot of them… Having fed 200 guests worth… So here we are with Jorg, helping to carry clean and dried-by-the-sun plates, bowls, chopsticks; and then sitting down with the old ladies from the kitchen separating the chopsticks from other cutlery, glasses from smaller bowls and bigger bowls and bringing all that back into storage.
Once done, we get our well deserved rest again. For how long, we don’t know. “Lasst dich ueberraschen” (allow yourself to be surprised) was a title of a famous German TV show some 20 years ago. 🙂
An hour or so later Tony returns and invites us for lunch. So we are invited to the back of the temple where people maintaining the temple live. There is not much there. A small simple kitchen, the size of maybe 2m2, two bigger beds without mattresses and that is probably it; for what I would assume, 6-7 people living there. Lunch was nice: freshly cut water melon, tons of warm steamed rice, steamed morning glory (Vietnamese green veggies similar to spinach), stir fried sweet tofu, some chicken and an interesting tasting, violet looking cold soup, that again, due to limited English, we could get to understand what exactly it is made of.
Now, lunch is over and ladies start cleaning up after us, but if feels odd being served like this, so I offer to help with the dishes. Some minutes later I am sitting next to another three ladies doing my part in the dish-washing process, that takes place in the back of the house, in the shade, simply on the concrete floor. First the dishes go into a big plastic bowl where there is soap, to soak a bit. Then one lady brushes each piece separately and puts it on the floor next to me for me to pick up and rinse it with fresh water; simply with my hands with the water from the bucket; for which another lady is responsible to refill. Once finished, I place each dish into a huge plastic bucket and another lady puts it onto a huge plank, the top made of an iron net, representing a traditional Vietnamese dish-drying area.
And that was it; my morning visit to the Buddhist temple. Who would have imagined?
But sitting there for like 30 minutes, doing my part of the dishwashing process, not understanding a word of the Vietnamese conversations buzzing around me and missing many jokes – evidenced by their frequent outbursts of laughter – was one of the most unique experiences of my, so far pretty much lazy and indulging start of my 3-month adventure. Something no tour operator can offer and something, no lonely planet can advise you to do. And even though I might miss many other interesting sights and places due to not rushing around travelling and trying to see EVERYTHING, it is surely one worth remaining in one place for a bit longer.