Chapter 8: I Want to Go Om
Story time, children.
It was early in the year of 2015, sometime around the middle of January, if memory serves me, and Maija and her trusty sidekick (bonjour, c’est moi) were on their merry old way to their second experience at the Buddhist temple close to home. The first experience we had was mildly befuddling, due to the Vietnamese-speaking majority, but we decided to give the place another go because it was the only temple we knew of at that point in time less than a solid forty-five minutes away (the fact that the next closest temple provided an English-speaking majority apparently was not a strong enough pull factor).
Initially, when we pulled up into the lot immediately surrounding the temple, we were shocked at how packed it was with vehicles. Our previous journey had not had a turnout such as this. As it were, we pulled out of that conveniently placed lot and entered the one to the left, which provided what we hoped to believe was ample space to park the car. It did not. We ended up circling the lot twice before settling on a snowy bank, which looked to have been indented by another car that had rested there some time before.
We two comrades entered the temple’s premise, completely unaware of the hectic future that was soon to become our present. Shuffling off our shoes before setting foot upon the carpet so as not to disturb the service with grime from the outside, we joined the perceptively large horde of practitioners within the prayer room.
As if drawn to her presence by some cosmic luck, Maija and her trusty sidekick just happened to place themselves within speaking distance of a bilingual woman who served as a translator for particularly purposeful sections of the prayer. She began by explaining that the unusual in-pouring of practitioners was due to the day’s service celebrating the Vietnamese New Year; and what a celebration that turned out to be.
Children holding dragon façades ran up and down the center of the room, gongs sounded, money was thrown to feed the dragons-which at that point had begun jumping on each other for height, good luck pockets were handed out, teenage practitioners were inaugurated by the head monk, fireworks were let off right outside the door (for approximately five minutes afterward, I could not use my sense of hearing), a very talented man sang a ballad in Vietnamese, and the elders of the practice were acknowledged-one of which, for some reason, left the lineup of elders to chastise the head monk or for reasons unknown to me because the woman loyally translating for us told us tongue-in-cheek that, “You don’t want to know what he’s saying.”
Once the service closed, we were invited downstairs for a celebratory luncheon. Maija, ever loyal to her tastebuds, disregarded half of what was on her plate while I wolfed down basically everything I could. We successfully conversed with some of the newly inaugurated Buddhists, botched some Vietnamese pronunciation, then decided it was time to head back home.
But-alas-what we learned when we entered the parking lot disheartened our plan of departure.
Two cars parked side by side closed off the entrance to the lot, a truck set directly behind my vehicle, and two others were on the opposite side of the truck. We were stuck.
I weighed our options:
- Go back into the temple and awkwardly sit around until most people have left. Time consumption approximation: Two hours.
- Go back into the temple and ask to find the people who own the cars blocking our way and hope they speak English. Time consumption approximation: Thirty minutes, a lot of embarrassment, and a high risk of appearing rude, uneducated and ignorant in a place of worship.
- Sit in the car until the car owners come out and move. Time consumption approximation: Unknown. Perks: Respect temple-goers, keep dignity.
We went with option three. There was absolutely no way we were about to go inside and request that some people who were regulars-people who had presumably been Buddhists their entire lives and highly valued the celebration of the new year-move their cars that were blocking mine so we could leave because we weren’t going to stay if we didn’t understand what people were saying. It was one of my lowest moments, culturally and intellectually.
Ultimately, we spent about an hour and a half stuck inside my car, waiting for someone, anyone who owned any of the cars to return and replace their vehicle(s) somewhere else. Occasionally, one of the bilingual students would come out, realize that there was no way that they were going to be able to leave, see us, talk to us, and go back into the building, but it wasn’t for awhile that an adult would return and get our hopes up. We had three false alarms. The fourth time, thank heavens, was the charm. The screeching noises of joy Maija and I made were inhuman and I would really rather not recount the adjectives to describe them… just know that I’m pretty sure we got some weird looks from the people backing up.
Our celebratory car ride to Speedway was filled with top-of-our-lungs sing-alongs to songs on the radio that we both knew (however an amazing occurrence that is, what with Maija’s obsession with musicals and my less-than-satisfactory knowledge of them), and we treated ourselves to cheaper-than-dirt warm beverages with their infamous gas-station quality before going back to Maija’s to huddle up on her couch in order to attain the proper body heat we had lost from our quarantine in my car.
All in all, it was a bonding experience for the two of us, and it will forever hold a warm, yet sarcastically cynical, place in my heart. 0/10 would recommend, but I’m pretty sure 2/10 would do it again.