I woke myself up before noon on one of my days off this week to visit a monk. My friend Jack invited me to tag along as he and his girlfriend paid their respects for the new year. As we entered the temple, which I hadn’t realized existed in Qingdao, a sign declared, “Half price for old man with credentials,” but Jack said something to the booth attendant and we were allowed in without charge as well.
It turned out that we didn’t have to pay because we weren’t visiting the monk in one of the sacred halls. We weren’t listening to a sermon or attending mass – we were visiting him in his home, a small cottage located behind the temple with chintzy new years decorations, shrines to Buddha and various rackets adorning the walls. I assumed the monk would be a fragile old man with a pointed white beard enveloped by folds of red silk and that we’d find him sitting perhaps on a lotus pad, but at the very least cross-legged on a cushion on the floor. Which, upon further reflection, is maybe a little narrow-minded. But presumptuousness is a double edged sword, as I was quickly informed that the monk wondered why I wasn’t “big and fat,” like a Westerner should be.
He offered Jack advice, which, translated into broken English and paraphrased from memory, included, “Be strict with yourself, but not with others,” and, “a man should help his mother and wife get along.” At the end of the visit we toured the rest of the temple and saw some statues of Buddha. Once you’ve seen one temple you really have seen them all, as the same decorative painting I’d seen in Beijing adorned the beams and rafters of these buildings as well. This is not to say that you should hit up the mall instead, rather that temple visits should be spaced out for maximum appreciation.
Classes have been going well in spite of a few recent hiccups. Yesterday, one of my TOEFL students informed me that my class was “like a cemetery,” and that maybe I should “ask other teachers for advice on how to teach.” Maybe it’s not a good idea to teach these kids English…or maybe teenagers will just be teenagers.
Worse than that, I stumbled across a student of mine who’s been absent for the past few weeks being given a test for that same class by another teacher. This little boy had been trying to read the months in English one day in class, but couldn’t, and some of the other students had teased him. When I knelt down to offer some words of encouragement, I saw that his eyes were filled with tears. My compassionate pat on the back and further attempts at reassurance were apparently for naught, as I found out yesterday that he’d transferred into this other teacher’s class the next week. Sigh…