Most parents take their kids to the beach for summer holidays. Maybe they go camping if they’re particularly adventurous. However, I am yet to meet anyone who spent a childhood vacation at a Buddhist commune in the middle of a rainforest.
A practicing Buddhist, my grandmother was responsible for the clan packing up their meditation beads and heading off to spend their vacation sitting surrounded by poisonous bugs in a zen-like state.
If you’re wondering what happened at this Buddhist commune, I’m here to tell you: nothing much. The adults meditated and ate a lot of vegetarian food. The monks (called Geshe according to my grandmother’s specific Buddhist leanings) smiled a lot and went to painstaking efforts to ignore my younger brother Huw and I when we waltzed into the temple and proceeded to throw their neatly stacked meditation cushions around the room.
Just like any holiday, you’re bound to stumble across an annoying resort guest who just won’t leave you alone. I may have been a small child at the time, but I distinctly remember hiding from a girl named Iris. Older than me, but with the mental agility of a brick wall, Iris would not get the hint that I wanted to play with the spiders nest behind the temple – alone.
No matter where I went, there she’d be, grinning at me with a "We’re gonna be friends for life, I can tell" look on her face. A distinct drawback of life in a commune is the communal aspect of it. Everyone ate together, all of the kids played together and getting some "alone time" required escaping the sleeping quarters at dawn with a day’s worth of provisions and a map.
Iris’ constant pestering: Where you goin’? What you doin’? Wanna make mud pies? was driving me crazy. I’ll give it to her – despite my many efforts to abandon her, neglect her and poison her, Iris was persistent. I decided it was time to resort to desperate measures: prayer.
I walked into the temple situated at the top of the hill, looked around to make sure no one was watching and proceeded to genuflect. Not really understanding how the nuts and bolts of Buddhism worked, I stood upright, bending at the middle, my arms repeatedly rising above my head and fallingdown to touch my toes. It was not a picture of grace and tranquillity – more like an aerobic workout.
Because being a parent requires you to embarrass your children on a regular basis, my dad had snuck in behind me and stared taking photos. My efforts to rid myself of Iris – bum in the air, bent over in front of a likeness of the goddess Tara – are now immortalized on film. To this day, when the family reminisces about that summer, Dad takes out the photo album and shows everyone my attempt at thoughtful meditation.
If you want to create some unforgettable holiday moments of your own, take the kids out of their comfort zone and see what this amazing country has to offer. Go swimming, escape the city or visit some of the most beautiful places in China.
What Dad doesn’t know is that my prayer worked. Iris’ parents packed up and left the next day, taking her with them.