Soliloquy in an International Cloister

Watch your step as Brother Lawrence takes you inside the monastery walls of a five hundred year-old international order. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wish you had ignored your hormones and joined the monastery.

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Location: Rome, Italy

28 August 2007

Q: Why read Indian newspapers?

A: Because they print articles such as this. I have never seen stories of reincarnated scientists in any other reliable newspaper, nor in USA Today. A more detailed account of the story can be found here.

Actually, I am sceptical about the whole story. Call me closed-minded if you must, but I am just not convinced about the whole reincarnation thing. Then again, maybe my therapist is wrong and I really am the reincarnation of a 12th century Turkish stripper (stage name: Bushy). What really makes me suspicious about this boy's claims, however, is the name of the scientist. I can find no reference anywhere on the Internet to Wallace Regart. Interestingly, that name is an anagram for "Lace Lager Wart", and I don't have to tell you what that means!

13 August 2007

28 years and 13,000 km later

In my previous post, I mentioned meeting a friend whom I haven't seen in 28 years. L and I became friends when we worked together in a bookstore during my last year of college. Before the end of the year, she was transferred to the bookstore at Purdue University in Indiana. As the date of graduation neared, I and another candidate for the Order (who also worked in the same bookstore), decided to take a road trip before entering the novitiate next fall. At the time, we thought that once we entered the Order, we would never see anything more of the world. So the two of us drove to Purdue to see L. While there, we visited the nearby Notre Dame University. Then all of us continued on to Chicago. After that, I never saw or heard from L again, that is until April of 2006 when I received an e-mail from her. The e-mails were followed by phone calls, and I learned that she had married, had two grown children and was living in Texas.

Last May, I had the opportunity of attending the commencement exercises at Notre Dame University. I remembered the road trip 28 years earlier, and reflected on the irony. The first time I visited, I was afraid that I would never see anything of the world. The second time I visited, I was living out of a suitcase seven months of the year. I e-mailed this thought to L, and it was then that I learned that she had taken a job in the Philippines. We made plans to meet during my visit.

It was great to see her again after all those years. We recognized each other immediately, which means, I suppose, that the years have been relatively kind to her. She has the same smile and laugh that I loved so much in my college days. We spent a lot of the day talking about what we've done since we last saw each other. We laughed about the fact that her driver (which company policy requires her to have here) always calls her "ma'am". It was just so good to know that despite life's ups and downs, she is happy and doing well.

Pearl of the Orient Seas...

is the nickname of the Philippines, and a very apt one as far as I am concerned. I have been here a little over a week, and I can confidently say that I love it. IMHO the country is at the sweet spot in its development—still "primitive" enough to be adventurous, but developed enough to provide basic comforts, such as safe food and water, dependable electricity supplies, and toilet paper. In addition to its natural attractions, such as white sand beaches, mountains and pristine forests, it is also beginning to take pride in presenting its pre-colonial and colonial history and culture. Not to mention its mild climate and its friendly, English-speaking people.

Yesterday, was a special day for me. The brother provincial had kindly arranged my schedule to give me the day off. A few months ago, I discovered by chance that a friend whom I have not seen for 28 years is now working in the Philippines so we arranged to meet yesterday. More on her in a later post. We spent the day at Villa Escudero, a sort of low-budget amusement park. There is a musuem containing a large collection of both pre- and post-colonial artifacts. Unfortunately, the collection was too diverse—containing everything from pre-historic tools and burial sites to 19th century religious statues and devotional items. Artifacts were also poorly labeled. Still, it was educational and interesting in its own way. They actually have the basis for what could eventually become three or more separate museums.

From the museum, we were taken by caribou cart (the caribou is a native animal of the Philippines that resembles a water buffalo) to one of the most unique restaurants that I have even seen. The chairs and tables sit in the middle of a stream of water about 10 centimeters deep. At one end of the "restaurant" is a waterfall. There are steep banks on either side so between the water, mist and shade, it is a pleasantly cool spot even on a sunny day. The restaurant serves buffet-style lunch consisting of roasted chicken and fish, rice, baked sweet potatoes crusted with brown sugar, and assorted vegetables. Yummy, and way too much.

After lunch, we attended a program of native song and dance performed by the employees of the park. My favorite part of the program was the Tinikling, or bamboo dance. Very engaging.

The park also offered rides on bamboo rafts in a small lake, but we declined. At our age, the excitement may have done us in!

08 August 2007

Coconutty politics

You'll be relieved to know that I survived India and four days in Malaysia, and am now in the Philippines. Whereas it was raining much of the time in India and Malaysia, here it is, uh, also raining. It seems I arrived just in time for Tropical Depression "Chedong", which is pronounced "Cheding", of course. This reminds me of the 9-ball billiard tournament I was forced to watch the other day with one of the brothers. The winner of the tournament was a certain Ching, who hailed from Taiwan, I think. There was also a Chang and a Chung in the tournament. I wondered whether Ching would become Chang then Chung as he became older? But I digress....

Although I am in the Philippines, I must tell you one last story about India. I spent a day in the so-called "High Ranges" of Kerala, where there are three dams that provide hydroelectric power and irrigation water for the state. My brother guide told me that a local politician, a member of the opposition, decided he could make the dams into an election issue. When stumping among the local farmers, who were mostly poorly educated, he claimed that the government was giving them useless water. After all, they removed all the electricity from it before giving it to the farmers!