Friday, March 27, 2009

Re: Blog Pictorial Cheat



Man, I know email makes long distance communication like nothing. That’s all good, sailors in the Persian Gulf watching realtime videos of the children they didn’t see before shipping out and such. There is the lack of folded paper and moth holes and all but, well, I’ve said it a lot and I’ll say it a bunch more and people will just get tired of it so I won’t say it here. Instead, I’ll tell you what else I’m thinking regarding email correspondence, then get frivolous.

Being in touch with loved ones all the time is good, but having it available every day does have a way of building momentum. Instead of having a week or even a month to let something simmer before putting it down in ink and sending it off on the ankle of a carrier pigeon or in a bag on a freighter puffing across the South China Sea, you got the love of home Like Right Now, whenever you want more or less, and that love is good but when you’re over seas and haven’t actually seen someone for months and months you kinda want to be profound or at least deeply felt in each communiqué and that’s just real hard to do if you’re reading and responding every other day.

(As an aside: in Saigon there is, in the center of a serious roundabout whizzing with cars and motorbikes, a tall statue of the man who introduced the carrier pigeon to the Viet people. He is wearing a hat that, to me, whipping around it only once or twice on the back of a moto, looks very much like a medieval gnome’s hat, a kind of pointy-ended, floppy-sack hat that makes me think of straw roofs and guilds, and his mouth is a joyous shout, like a serious, passionate belt, because off the end of his hand a bird, presumably the pigeon, is flapping up into history what? Deliver mail, I guess. Is this the Vietnamese Pony Express, Teaspoon from The Young Riders? I have no idea the significance of it, why this guy gets one of the only statues not of Uncle Ho. The books only say, “There’s a statue of the man who introduced the carrier pigeon.” It’s strange, it’s odd; did the carrier pigeon particularly advance their society? Did it carry messages that helped finally whup the Chinese? It’s like you go to Lubbock and the only thing you read about the Buddy Holly statue is, “In the town square there is a statue of a man playing guitar.”)

Phew. Okay. This was going to be my Get-Out-of-Jail-Free letter, my pictorial cheat, and it’s becoming D.F. Wallace-ian. D.F. Wallacious.... It was a low few weeks there. Now it’s all... Snappy! I’m having coffee after abstaining for about two weeks and, boom, I’ma eat the spoon, man!

Okay, my point on the communication tip: you want to have something to say when you write because isn’t there more than enough unavoidable talk that doesn’t say a damn thing? and that same principle applies to these letters we’re putting out there. If you’re gonna put something down you got to make it worth the energy and time and, man, sometimes it takes a long-ass time to get to that. To make it: Deeply....Felt. But then this week, I’ve dropped the ball a few weeks, this week I think, “Ah, we have this form. Yeah, Shannon’s brilliance,” and such, me originally thinking constraints make new things happen and that’s certainly true, but constraints can also be....a Free Pass.

So Big Realness takes a break. Wanna hear something cool and check out some pictures? Yeah, you do.

Savuth, the monk we teach with/learn with/hang out with, always invites us to wat events and such. So we ended up waking at six last Saturday morning to attend what Savuth called “The Gratitude Festival,” a two-day celebration of the man who wrote the first Khmer dictionary and translated the books of the dharma from Balay (apparently an Asian equivalent of Latin) into Khmer. “How long ago did he live?” I ask. “Oh, I think maybe a long time ago,” Savuth answers. A holiday honoring an ancient man of learning? Sweet. “Maybe fifty years, a hundred years,” Savuth says. “Oh, well…”

We show up to the wat and it’s a madhouse. There is a parade and Shannon and I are to march in it but there’s this crush of bodies, monks and laypeople, the largest collection of old, shaved-headed women I’ve ever seen, occasionally a big cauldron of bubbling strew discovered as we wind our way through the mass. The monks know us, we’re the only barang around, so by enough pointed fingers we eventually find Savuth (his buddies calling him simply “Vut,” which I dig) and we’re in the parade, different schools and such represented just like a parade at home, Shannon and I with Build Bright University, the uni where Savuth now studies things like Public Administration and Economics which, I promise you, coming from within Cambodia sounds as normal as attending Sleepy Gulch High, Smoky Mountains, TN and taking a class in Aeronautics Engineering and Black Magic. This is the group behind us:

Whenever Celebrated Monk of Learning was

alive, they got a photo of him, because there he is.

As with any parade, no one reeally knows what’s going on and the people in charge are kind of flipping out because, I think, it’s just really hard to accept that getting this many people to walk in some sort of regimented way is something of a lost cause, unless you’ve been broken and rebuilt at boot camp or Catholic school. But ya gotta try, and after fits and starts and Savuth making repeated cell phone calls, some groups behind us start moving past, including this bunch of school kids. The teacher is obviously one of those noble souls in charge.

Apparently, a Japanese organization funds a music program at this school. And what are they playing?

Hooters, man!, hooters like the instrument that inspired the band name, their tune, “And we a wave on the ocean, romanced...da da da....we were liars in love and we danced!,”etc. Eric Brazilian and the other guy from Philly, Rob something, those dudes knew composition. They wrote and played everything on Cyndi Lauper’s first album, did you know?, which is damn good album. They played Desmond Child to Jon Bon Jovi on a solo album too, if you care. Which you totally do.

So these kids are playing and they’re cute a hell, though this guy doesn’t seem
to think so...

....and I take a picture of Savuth.

I like this picture because he seems to think that Buddhist modesty must prevent him from smiling for

cameras, except when he’s really jazzed and can’t help it. I also like this picture...

...because the guy’s a good teacher and he looks it here.

And then, “Oooh,” he says, “can I take.” And he snaps our photo and then calmly wanders off with our camera, snapping away, handing off to another monk when he has to regulate, and your immediate instinct is to say, “Umm, hey dud

e?” but, well, he’s a monk, and you know he’s not gonna bust it, though if he did you’d be S.O.L. because, well, he’s a poor monk, so....

He comes back to us when the battery’s dead, having taken dozens of photos, including this one, which gives a sense of how long this thing was. We never saw the beginning nor the end even though we wrapped around both sides of the river and could see thousands of people stretched along each one.

And then there's this, which proves that women can totally rock the non-dyed, no-nonsense look if they so choose,...

....and this, of Gong, a nineteen-year-old monk who is way into asking me my opinions on the relationship between man’s imperfect nature and the requirements of a life of Deeper Consciousness, and then...

...this dude, whom neither Shannon nor myself nor Savuth have ever seen before but who obviously knows how to represent.

Let’s stop for a minute and really appreciate this guy...


Here we are, the three of us, me with the Cambodia national flag and Shannon with the Buddhist flag, and all of us just melting, man, so incredibly hot, down into the pavement. I ask Savuth if the robes are hot, and the man who seems to start every other sentence with “maybe” says, “I do not think maybe.”

Savuth is very worried we are going to delete his pictures. We assure him to the contrary. He has a computer but no way to get the pix from camera to ‘puter, so we say we’ll charge the battery and bring the cord when we teach on Monday and he seems relieved, though still nervous. Monday comes, and while the kids are in partnered groups working on pronunciation through a simulated job interview, I step out onto the porch and get this shot through the window:

I think these windows are so cool. After the class we teach and then the class where we are taught, Savuth says we can come to his room. This is unprecedented. Seriously, and Shannon?, a chick going into a monk’s room?!, this should be in the paper. I’m super psyched, this is a real present and I was going to go into it more but this has turned into a long letter. I Am Jason; I Am Long. (Shannon says I’m an idea person and she’s a narrative person, which may well be true, and which I like at first thought, though I need to ruminate on it more.)

So, you leave your shoes at the bottom of the step and you tread up good, solid wood steps to a wooden (everything is wooden) covered porch and it’s just after dark and there are dogs around and some music and chanting off in the dark and it’s peaceful, just lovely, and I think of Boyscout camp, though Boyscout camp could not really be called peaceful, though maybe just wooden porches and dogs and the nighttime are peaceful, which I’ll ruminate on too when I’m done with the idea guy vs. narrative gal bit, and Vut opens the door and, man, it was just perfect.

This small but ample room, a dry erase board covered with scrawl, books stacked up next to and around a sizable cot with a pink mosquito net hanging above, a cardboard tray of two dozen cans of coke in one corner, a glowing computer on a desk cluttered with more books, nestled into a corner next to the dry erase, and I tell Savuth how cool this is, and he laughs, says, “Ah, you say so cool but it is hot,” turning on a little fan that’s above a small shelf where a Radio Shack radio sits. And he pulls a sliding bolt I hadn’t even noticed before on the wall and the top bit of a horizontally-split door swings open into the nighttime jungle and I just love that I’m here, even just once, just to see how new something relatively familiar can be, how familiar something so totally foreign can be, and just, just because.

And now, finally, we come to this. I plug the camera into the computer and wait to see what’ll fly. Behind me, six monks have filed into the room, offered Shannon a seat and stare at me to see what will happen. I type up a folder name and there’s a collective “oooo” from the monks. What’s the deal? Ahh, I see, it’s the typing. The guys kinda bug out, and they want me to type, just type. I’ve got the ten-finger typing game down, man, because Mom made me take typing Freshman year at Tucker, and so I go to town, bang out “Today at the school we taught all of the lovely children to say dirty words. No, not really. We taught them good words,” and I may as well have juggled with my feet, everyone was so excited.

Well, the computer's taking a while to figure out what those new files are, and I gotta take a picture, man, even though I can’t get the whole room, and so I get this:

Oh, I love it; it’s like the guys are planning a serious heist or something. And then I snap this, where Savuth’s neck is so thick he’s obviously the Tough in Charge.

The camera finally loads, all is well, and I want to give the monks something back. “Do you guys know the wacky photo routine?”

No, they do not. “You do the Very Normal Photo and then you do the Wacky Photo. Here, Savuth, take our picture.” He takes us at Very Normal:

“No, no, don’t give it back. Here, take it again, take the Wacky Photo.” He takes this:

They all screech with laughter. It’s fantastic.

But we have to go eat dinner now, “gnyam aha pay-lin-yay,” and we head toward the door. “You know what you are, Savuth? You are a scholar. You know scholar?” He does not. I write it on the dry erase board.

“A life-long student,” Shannon says.


E.A. Durden said...

I'm a big fan of the italicized aside about the man who introduced the carrier pigeon to Vietnam.

Andrew and Emily said...

This is, by far, my favorite entry of the bunch. How did the ruminations go?

Rather than puzzling through those narrative/idea distinctions, however, why don't you put those in a more appropriate context: which Def Leppard guitarist does your writing recall? Are you the sloppy yet passionate (yet hopelessly alcoholic... yet dead) Steve Clark? Are the precise, exacting Phil Collen? Or are you Vivian Campbell, whose considerable talent will always be shadowed by the skill of his forebears?


nathaniel said...

You are a word God. Dark, capricious and beautiful.