Not This, Not That ~ HONG KONG AND ON

I had no contacts in Hong Kong, but Biao Chin arranged for someone to pick me up. To cut things short a little here, I went to stay with a prominent Chinese monk in his flat-temple, and from there, set about finding a German monk by the name of Saddhaloka who I’d met in Bangkok in 1972, and who was based in H.K. I tracked him down easily enough, as he was quite well-known, speaking, reading and writing Chinese better than most Chinese, and found him operating a small Buddhist printing-press, above which he slept in a windowless attic. I enlisted him to help me get permission to visit the refugee camps, as that is what I’d come for. He introduced me to one of his supporters, a lady named Leung Wai Lan, who was to help me a lot, and was very kind.

It wasn’t easy to get permission, but when we eventually did, to-gether with Mdm Leung, we began our visits. There were six or seven camps, scattered all over, run like prisons, which most had actually been; the refugees were strictly regimented. In one camp, when Saddhaloka was not along, a government official approached me (my activities until then had surely been moni-tored and approved, otherwise they would soon have been ter-minated), and politely asked if I could visit the Camps regularly, or, failing this, if I knew of any monks in Hong Kong who would do so. He said many Christians visited the Camps regularly, but so far no Buddhists.

I regretted to say that I was unable to visit regularly myself, as I was passing through, and didn’t know of any Hong Kong monks who would. I was ashamed to say that I’d written to the monk the previous year, and got no response. Nor did I know that Saddhaloka and Mdm Leung would continue to visit the Camps after I left.

Mdm Leung took me across to Macau to visit a Camp there. We got permission to do so from a Catholic priest who was in charge ~ Father Lancelot, a Malaccan ~ and found most of the refugees feverishly engaged in making plastic flowers, for which they were paid a pittance; it was almost slave-labor. None of them wanted to stop working to talk with us.

Now, when some refugees in Hong Kong said, “We’ve been here four years already, but you are the first monk to ever visit us,” I felt very sad. “I can do this as I have been doing, but I don’t speak Vietnamese or understand their culture; I must go to the U.S. to try to find some monks to come back”. I had no idea how difficult this would be.

While in PRPC, I never thought I’d see the departing refugees again, as the U.S. was just so remote to me that it seemed like another planet! We cannot see the future, however, and it is be-cause of this that I do not make promises, as so many things may happen in the meantime ~ things over which we have no control whatsoever and which we cannot possibly anticipate ~ that may prevent us keeping the promise; and if we cannot or do not keep our promises, people may lose their trust in us ~ if they had any to begin with ~ and loss of trust is a very sad thing; so, make no promises, and break no promises.

I did not carry out my resolve immediately, as I’d decided to go to Nepal and India again, having been away so long; and even before that, must go to Singapore, to meet up with my parents on their way from Australia to England for a visit.

Therefore, from Hong Kong, where the temperature hadn’t been above 18 degrees, I flew to Bangkok, where it was 36! I visited Banyat, who by this time was married, and told him of my plan to go to Nepal and India again; he asked if he could go with me, and I said yes, if he got his parents’ and wife’s permission by the time I returned from Malaysia. I then took a bus to Phang-nga to see Dhammaviro again, and from there to Penang to see Ashok, who I’d not seen since ’78. His wife had hated me since then, but I didn’t find out why until some years later, when I was told that I’d once gone to visit him when he was out, and because she said he wouldn’t be long, I asked if I could wait for him. Well, apparently, she was on the verge of taking their child to see a doctor, but was afraid to tell me, and so had been unable to go because I was there. But was that my fault, and was it reason to hate me? There was something else, unsaid; she was the pos-sessive-type, and was probably jealous of my friendship with Ashok, since we had known each other long before they met. This same thing was to happen later with another good friend in Malaysia, although I really posed no threat to their marriage.

On to Malacca, where I found the Humanistic Buddhist group had shifted to bigger premises, and went to stay with them again. Next morning, while I was out to get a newspaper, Hock Guan pulled up beside me (he and I had lost contact while I was in the Philippines, and he’d recently married, too); his wife had seen me, and having heard of me, pointed me out; it was good to see him again, and meet his wife, Joan, a Eurasian girl of Christang stock (descendents of the Portuguese who’d ruled Malacca centuries before). She had been his first and only love, and he’d insisted on marrying her in spite of his parents’ objec-tions. I couldn’t know that I would stay with them many times over the next 20 years. Earlier, I’d given him the Buddhist-name Dharmavira, meaning Dharma-Hero. I’ll refer to him as DV from now on in this account, as that is how I came to address him.

I also met Teoh Hai Siang, who I’d first met in ’76, and asked if he’d like to go with me to India, as he was still unattached; he jumped at the chance, especially as I would subsidize his trip, not having enough money himself. I told him I would collect him on my return from Singapore, which is where I went next, to meet my parents. I went to their hotel the morning after they got in, and was surprised at how they’d aged since I’d last seen them, but 6 years can do a lot to people, especially when they are already old; dad was 75, and mum 73, but still quite healthy and fit. I took them to places like the Bird-Park and the equally good Botanical Gardens. And of course, I took them to Phor Kark See, where I was staying, and introduced them to Ven. Hong Choon, who treated them graciously; they were very im-pressed with the temple, particularly as the Ven. had embarked on a series of building projects which had really transformed the place. They enjoyed their few days in Singapore.

After they left for England, I returned to Malacca to pick up Hai Siang, and we went to K. L., where I got permission ~ although not easily; remember, this was Malaysia, where anything non-Muslim went very slowly ~ to visit the refugee camps of Sungai Besi (near K.L.) and Pulau Bidong. I went to Sungai Besi first, but don’t recall much about it now; my visit to Pulau Bidong was more memorable, as this is where many of the refugees I’d met in Bataan had come from. I got to the island by the boat used by the UNHCR personnel, the Blue Dart; it took an hour or so to get there. I had just 4 hours for my visit, between the time the boat got there and the time it returned, so had to do all I wanted to do in this time. I wasn’t expected, so it took a while to let peo-ple know I was there and would be giving a talk in the temple; a translator also had to be found. I was then taken to the temple ~ Chua Tu-Bi (Temple of Compassion) ~ which was on a hill over looking the sea, and when people had gathered, gave my talk.

There were 5000 people on Bidong at that time, but I couldn’t imagine how it was when it had reached its maximum of 43,000 in ‘79! How could they all possibly have slept? It was such a small island, with seemingly standing-room only; I visualized them all standing up, bunched together like chop-sticks!

We went on to Bangkok to collect Banyat, who’d got his parents’ reluctant permission to accompany us. His father had given him money for the trip, and his wife also had to let him go, not having much choice about it; he’d married under his parents’ pressure, but he didn’t love her at all, and unkindly called her a pig!

Before leaving for Kathmandu, I wished to visit the refugee-camps in Thailand, so went to the office of the UNHCR, but they either couldn’t or wouldn’t help me, and advised me to go to the Ministry of Home Affairs. There, I faced an unsympathetic offi-cial, who asked me why I wanted to visit the camps. “To encour-age our co-religionists,” I said (as a Thai, he probably consid-ered himself a Buddhist).

He answered, “They are illegal immigrants.”

“They are also human beings,” I said, and when I saw that he wasn’t going to give me permission, I added, “You know, we are all refugees, you and I included. Today, you are here in a nice office, but tomorrow, you don’t know.”

In spite of this, still hoping to get into one of the Camps, I went by bus to Panatnikhom, some hours out of Bangkok, and spoke to the guard at the gate in Thai, but with no more success. I had to return to Bangkok unfulfilled. What a tragedy, that these Camps should have been swarming with Christian missionaries, committing their outrages upon the vulnerable Buddhists, while the Buddhists of Thailand either didn’t give a damn, or were simply unaware of what was going on. Thailand has much to answer for as regards its treatment of the refugees. How can we reconcile this with all the temples and monks there?

Well, although there are monks and temples in great profusion there, Thailand is no more a Buddhist country than the U.S. is a Christian country. There is no such thing as a Buddhist country (or a Christian country or Muslim country). There are Buddhists in Thailand, to be sure, but there are also many people who are not, including people who think of themselves as so; calling oneself ‘Buddhist’, and even wearing Buddha-images around one’s neck ~ as many of the pirates did and do ~ does not make one a Buddhist. If Thailand were a Buddhist country, however could we explain the existence of the world’s most blood-thirsty pirates, the rampant drug-trade, the sex-industry, or the trade in endangered animals? No, Thailand is not a Buddhist country, and never has been. It is individuals who are Buddhists, not whole countries.

We got tickets from Bangkok to Kathmandu, and Calcutta to Bangkok. I was a bit surprised at Hai Siang in the plane, how-ever, because it was his first flight, and he slept, not at all inter-ested when we came in view of the magnificent panorama of the Himalayas. I was soon to regret taking them with me, as I had regretted taking George to Istanbul all those years before. My desire to have some companions was at the root of it.

We were given room and board in Anandakuti, for which I made a donation when we left, as is customary; we stayed there over the Wesak celebrations, and meanwhile, I showed them around Kathmandu. Banyat was enthralled by the temples, but other-wise was quite hard to take care of, and a bit like a baby with his bowel-movements; he’d not trained himself, and would want to go suddenly and inconveniently, such as when we were about to board buses. Hai Siang later developed home-sickness.

From Kathmandu, we went to Pokhara, where Banyat almost drowned in the lake while we were boating. What a big respon-sibility it was to take people with me! Then it was on to Lumbini for a while, from where we crossed the border into India to visit the three other main Buddhist places. And while we were at the bathing-ghats in Benares, Hai Siang decided to bathe in the Ganges to ‘wash away his sins.’ Stripping down to his undies, he dived in among other bathers, and when he surfaced, noticed a rather putrid smell, and saw what he took to be a child’s doll floating nearby, but soon realized it was the bloated and rotting corpse of a baby! Horrified, he scrambled out as fast as he could! Never again would he try to ‘wash away his sins’ in this manner. Apparently, Hindus don’t cremate dead babies, but put them into a river ~ preferably the Ganges ~ for crocodiles and fish to eat; the corpses of sadhus are also disposed of like this.

Next, we went to Budh-Gaya, spending a few days in the Chi-nese temple, before getting a train to Calcutta. We’d had enough by this time, and couldn’t wait to draw the trip to a close. The monsoon was just about to break when we arrived. We got a taxi from Howrah station to the Mahabodhi Society, but neither of them thought to take the umbrellas out of the boot when we pulled up, and so we were left at the mercy of the heavens. I bought another for myself, as I was the one who had to go to the airline office to book the flight back to Bangkok, and the com-puters there were down and not running again for several days, meaning several long walks back and forth. Finally, we were on the plane, and I breathed a sigh of relief. In Bangkok, Banyat went home, and I put Hai Siang on a train to Malaysia before booking a flight to Manila, flying out two days later; it was good to get back to some friends there.

Over the next 4 months, I shuttled between Bataan, Manila and Palawan, and while in VRC I wrote my first book, especially for the refugee-situation. It was called KEYS FOR REFUGEES, and translated into Vietnamese. It was just a cyclostyled effort, and we printed only 150 copies, but the feedback from it so positive that I felt inspired to continue writing. It was at this time, too, that I met Pham Thanh Hung, and nicknamed him Hung Xe Rac because he drove the garbage-truck (Xe Rac) around the Camp. I also came to know Adrian Seviour, another volunteer teacher from England, who would stay in VRC longer than the others, and become popular with the refugees.

Meanwhile, back in Bataan, the Vietnamese temple ~ for such it had become after the Cambodians took over Jetavana ~ was being renovated. When I visited in September, I was told of a tragedy that had just happened there. While working on the roof of the temple, someone had fallen, and a timber had tumbled down on him, crushing his head! His name was Le Van Diem, and he left his wife and five or six children to go on without him.

"One of the first things learned by anyone who seeks an answer to the riddle of the universe is that, while chance may play a part, our lives, our world, and the universe are not governed by chance. They do appear, however, to be governed by what may best be described as laws ~ physical, moral, and spiritual laws.
"Certainly, this is true of the physical world. Gravity may be de-fined as the mutual attraction between all matter, but it is so much more than this. The law of gravity makes mobility possible. Obey the law of gravity and you are free, in normal circumstances, to move about as you will. But disobedience of the law of gravity is not an option ~ you must obey it or suffer the consequences."

~ American ex-pastor Charles Templeton: Farewell To God ~

“A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject.”
~ Winston Churchill ~.

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