Friday, September 9, 2011

the middle way

I am walking back from another excursion.  It is a bright sunny day, which also means it is exceedingly hot and humid.  Sweat glands you did not know existed roar to life.  
But I've chosen to walk, as I usually do here.  It's free.  It doesn't involve taxis (I hate taxis), it doesn't involve busses (I dislike busses, but mostly find their maps and schedules to be gibberish), and it's not a train (which I like, but they never have stops close enough).  Besides, I'm never in a hurry to get anywhere, and am really just killing time each day anyway.  
Halfway home, I see walking towards me a thin man in a robe.  He looks like a full on Shaolin Monk or something.  Shaved head, sandals.   As he gets closer, I get more detail.  He's smiling, but there look to be some teeth missing.  He's thin, but not unhealthy.  Not dirty, but clearly not the type to be showering every day either.  In different clothing, he could pass as homeless.  And for those of you who don't know me well, I severely dislike the homeless (they are frequent violators of the 'if I don't know you, don't talk to me unless you are a hot girl' rule).  
He's not homeless, of course.  He could just be a bad day away from it though, and that alone is typically enough reason for me to Avoid At All Costs.  (side note: my personal ultra fear is one day being homeless.  And now you know.).  
I am returning from a trip to the Singapore Flyer, the large Ferris Wheel at the edge of the island.  It was a good trip, one of the better things I've done here.  $30 for 30 minutes was pricey, but worth it to do once.  I have my iPod, and shuffle is choosing well.  I am in a good mood then, and so against all Dan Logic I don't go out of my way to avoid this monk man.  
There are other people in the area walking, and he'd clearly spoken to them, though none stopped.  He smiles, and walks straight towards me.  He's holding a small card in his hand, and as he comes up I take it.  About the size of a business card, it's a thick paper card with Chinese characters and a picture of the Buddha.  Not as awful as it could be then.  Whew.  He shakes my hand (Germs! Dirty! Where has this man been with this hand! MUST wash asap!).  The card says something about him offering a prayer for me.  It's his time to spend praying not mine, and who am I to pass up an offer, so I say thanks and smile.  Genuinely.  This is pleasant.  
Then he slides a bracelet of beads on my other hand.  They're all red, probably plastic, and about the size of marbles, all on a stretchy rope thing.  The beads have Chinese characters on them, and I have no idea what they say, or what this means.  But cool- this is new, and will make a nice story and a good souvenir.  I say thanks again and smile, then start to move away.
Now he pulls out a little notepad.  It's lined, and the first two entries are filled in.  I'm to fill out my name, what country I'm from, and what I'd like for him to pray for.  The entry above mine is something to the effect of "Marie, Spain, Peace."  The entry above is similar, different name and country, but also a generic 'peace' as what should be prayed for.  Easy enough, and peace is fine.  He gets a scribbled D. Warner (strangers like this never get an accurate name from me- I always trail off the end of the signature and mumble something 'Warner'-ish), USA and Peace.  All set.  I've got my card, I've got my bead bracelet, I've got a prayer coming my way, the sun is shining.
Only now he points at the far right of the notepad, which he has not closed.  He also draws my attention to the other half of the notepad cover, which is a picture of a tall building under construction.  I look down again.  I've missed the far right part of the notepad. 
The part with a dollar amount.  
He points. He says something in not English.  Shakes my hand again, smiles.  Points at the notepad.  Shakes my head, emphasizing that I'm wearing these beads and holding a prayer card.   Points at the construction photo.  Back to the notepad, now to the amount where the two entries above me have input their donation:
One hundred dollars.  Each.
"No,  No.  ONE dollar."   This is my offer.  I like your bead bracelet, I like the card, I appreciate that you want to live in a nice building instead of wherever you live now.  I would too.  ONE dollar.  
"$100," pointing at the notepad, at the photo, and at my bracelet.  "ONE dollar.  That's what I can give."  He looks at the notepad.  He does not seem to understand English very well, but he certainly knows that "one" is a much, much lower number than "one hundred."  He scratches out the $100.
"$50!"  I am being haggled by a Buddhist monk.  Buddhists, practitioners of the Middle Way and believers that anyone can reach Nirvana, it turns out are just as money hungry as everyone else.  This is disillusioning.  
"One dollar. I'll give you a dollar."  "Fifty."
I take the bracelet off-, one dollar only.  I put the bracelet back in his hand. I decide a few bucks is worth it to get him on his way.  I open my wallet and...crap.  My lowest bill is $10.  Fine, let's just end it and move on.
"Here's ten. That's it.  Ten."  I go on my way.

And that is how I became the owner of a $10 Buddha prayer card. Retail price, probably 5 cents.

This was last weekend.  And without details, life has been anything but peaceful since.  I start to wonder if I should have given him the other  $50 I had and gotten the best Buddha monk prayer I could.  Maybe a cheap prayer was worse than none at all.

I've lived most of my life utterly convinced that aspects of my life are impossibly charmed.  And sometimes I'm reminded that other parts seem to be fantastically cursed.  And in the end, it will probably all balance out somewhere in the way of the middle.

1 comment:

  1. After returning the card & beads, I think I would have kicked that extortionist in the balls. No WAY was he wearing anything under those robes...