During my stay in Singapore, I got another tourist-visa for Oz, and flew out to Adelaide. Sheila and Frank were about to visit their daughter in Melbourne (where she’d moved with her army-husband), so I went with them and was dropped at Yew’s place, staying with him for a couple of weeks until Liem insisted I move to his place as more convenient, saying his wife could cook for me. More convenient? Far from it, as his little daughter, Diana, was such a pest and didn’t give me a minute’s peace; I had to barricade myself in my room to get away from her! One night, he took me to a talk by Thich Huynh Ton, and there I met Nguyen Van Cam, who was pleased to see me again, and I him, especially when he invited me to stay with him, providing me with an excuse to escape from Liem and his whirlwind daughter. I was with him for two weeks, then returned to Adelaide. I bought a second-hand Brother electronic typewriter which I needed for my writing; immediately, it became my pride-and-joy; after using that, I could never have gone back to a manual machine.

Unwilling to let me escape so easily, Liem contacted me to say he’d arranged for me to stay at the Vietnamese temple in Springvale (one of Melbourne’s eastern suburbs where there is a large concentration of Vietnamese), so back I went. The monk-in-charge didn’t know much English and wasn’t very hospitable, but I’d long-since given up expecting much of monks. It was at this temple that I met Nguyen Phi Tuan, who was to become my main translator over the next few years. He was working as a translator in one of Melbourne’s largest hospitals, but called himself an interpreter; I insisted that what he should be doing was translating rather than interpreting, as a translator ~ well, the word ‘translate’ means, ‘to tell across’ ~ must tell accu-rately what is being said by others, while interpretation is often a matter of giving one’s own ideas of what is said; there’s a great deal of difference. He was still single at that time, but had a girlfriend whom he loved, and apparently, she loved him, but she was a Catholic and wanted him to convert. Well, although he wasn’t more than a nominal Buddhist at that time, he was reluc-tant to change, and finally, after he’d brought her to see me and she realized I didn’t believe in God, she dumped him, leaving him free to look for someone else.

During the three months I was in that temple, Liem persuaded me to apply for a change-of-status in my visa so I could get Permanent Residence, in order to work with the Vietnamese Buddhists. With sponsorship of the temple, my application was duly lodged, and I was told to await consideration; meanwhile, I could stay in the country. (To fast-forward a bit here: It was a lengthy process, and at one point, it looked as if my application would be rejected, but eventually, it was approved, and I got P.R. In 1993, I was eligible for citizenship, and duly underwent the ceremony. Not long afterwards, I got my first Aussie pass-port). I have Liem to thank, therefore, for all this.

I went to Sydney again for a short visit, and stayed with Dao Cong Tam at the Cao Dai temple-house. While there, during lunch one day, I reached for the bottle of chilli-sauce, and not knowing that he’d not screwed the cap on firmly, gave it a vigor-ous shake, but the cap came off and the sauce went all over the place, including me; I was covered with the stuff! Needless to say, we had a good laugh over this!

Baker Vo visited me and took me to stay overnight in his new place ~ a bakery he and his family were operating. I was pleased to see that they were doing well. Other people drove me out to visit Khantipalo at a center he’d established in a national park north of Sydney, near a place called ‘Wiseman’s Ferry.’ It was in the middle of a forest and really lovely; it was good to see him again after an interval of so many years. Actually, it would have been good to stay with him, as I think we would have benefited from each other’s company. Looking back later on, I could see that even then, he was in a period of transition.

Back in Melbourne, at a big Buddhist ceremony held in a town-hall, I bumped into someone I’d met in Galang two years earlier ~ Thuy, a lady and her two young sons, Tuan and Huy. She had been kind me to me in Galang, and her kindness would continue. She introduced me to her sister and some of her friends, who would also soon help me.

While there, Liem ~ who had his own agenda concerning me, and wanted to use me for his own ends, always wanting to be someone special ~ and others decided to rent a place for me; Liem brought a lot of old junk for my use: a refrigerator that didn’t work, a saucepan with a hole in the bottom, and a kettle that leaked; perhaps he thought they’d work for me and not for him because I’m a monk; people have such unrealistic expecta-tions of monks. Then, just two weeks after I’d moved in, he came to me and said, “I don’t know what we’re going to do; the money is almost finished.” I told him he should have thought carefully before getting into this thing, and that they would have to give notice on the place, which they did. Just before I left there, he came to me one evening and quite cheerfully told me that he’d argued with his wife and hit her in the face, knocking her down, and she was just two weeks away from giving birth to their second child! Now, she wasn’t a nice woman, but that was beside the point.

“You’re mad!” I said, “Get out of here and never come to see me again!” I meant it and kept to it. This was a person who used to drink so much that he boasted he could drink twelve cans of beer and not get drunk! He’d been a monk for a short time in Vietnam, had a de facto wife there and a child by her, and hadn’t married the one in Melbourne either. He told me that he didn’t love her, and that he’d had so many other women. He was a driving-instructor, and proudly used to tell people that he could earn $2,000 per week and was richer than the doctors in Springvale. Earned? No; what he would do was take three or four people in the car with him at the same time, and charge them all for the time they were with him, so what should have been just one fee for each hour became four! Also, just before taking his students for their test, he would tell them, “Look, you have to pay another $100 or $150, otherwise you won’t pass.” He was in cahoots with the examiners. From me, he earned an extra name: Dien, which is Vietnamese for crazy so, Liem Dien. Of course, my chasing him off caused him to get mad with me, and he told someone, “Okay, I will stop being vegetarian.”

“What,” I responded, “Was he vegetarian for me?” This was just another example of his scrambled ideas. Some years later, he decided to become a monk again, so left his de-facto and moved to Sydney, where he was unknown. His ‘wife’ got half of his assets, which came to ~ I was told ~ $480,000, just her half! By this time, she had three children.

Somehow, Thanh Pham Hung found me staying in Richmond; he was living not far away, and came to visit; we were to keep in touch after that.

Because I had no-where else to stay in Melbourne, I moved back to Adelaide; it’s 800 km between the two cities, and I used to travel by overnight bus; it took ten hours. Back in Melbourne, some of the other supporters had got together and found an-other place for me to stay ~ a small flat in Springvale ~ and in-vited me to return, and after 6 weeks in Adelaide, I did, but stayed for a while with friends of Thuy in the western suburbs until the flat was ready for me to move in. This family was very kind to me, but I observed that when the father ~ a bit younger than me ~ came home from work, the first thing he did was tell his 7-year-old son to bring him a glass of whiskey; this was a daily routine, but not, in my opinion, a very good example for the boy. Years later, the father died of a sudden heart attack, and the boy turned to drugs.

At the end of ’89, I moved into the flat in Springvale and cleaned it up, making it quite livable. We met every Sunday, and I gave a talk, followed by a questions-and-answers session, and ending up eating the food people had brought. At first, we set the start-ing-time at one o’clock, but because some people came late, we changed it to 1:30. Still people came late, so we set it further back, but with no better effect, and I used to say, “How do you people manage to get to work on time? You do manage, other-wise you’d lose your jobs; but how do you do it? You can do it if you want, so why don’t you?” This is really a very bad Asian habit, and I came to the conclusion that it's either consciously or unconsciously done, in order to show how important they are and that others must wait for them. My efforts to correct the late-comers was in vain. Translator Tuan was one of the consistently late comers.

I settled down to my writing, and was persuaded by Nguyen Van Cam to make a book of talks I’d given in VRC in ’83, and which he had transcribed from tapes, I wrote my third book, and called it LOTUS PETALS. Mdm Leung of HK helped me get it printed there, but when it arrived, I was shocked. The title on the cover had been spelled LOUTS PETALS. I immediately had to type labels to be stuck over and correct this, and sent them to those who parcels of the book had been sent to. It took quite a while to type the thousand labels, one-by-one. It’s hard to have to de-pend upon others to do things these days. Some people might call me fussy ~ I’ve even been called a perfectionist, but that was by someone who had no idea of perfection, if there is such a thing ~ but I feel that something like this should be well-done or not at all.

Following Lotus Petals came the second version of Keys For Refugees; I called it DOWN TO EARTH, and it was printed In Malaysia, and sent by sea-mail. Then came TURNING THE WHEEL, which included most of the articles from Just A Few Leaves, and LET ME SEE, a book of short poems and proverbs with accompanying comments or explanations. Helped by one or two others, Tuan assisted me in translating some of them; I typed out the translation from his hand-written notes, and found quite a few errors while doing so; I read Vietnamese, even if I do not understand very much, but there are several ways by which I can tell if a translation is accurate or not even so. The diacritical marks were added afterwards. My time in that flat was quite productive in this way, but otherwise quiet and uneventful.

Tuan, by this time, had met someone in the hospital where he worked ~ a young woman who’d been through hell at the hands of Thai pirates when she escaped from Vietnam; they’d attacked her boat ~ as they had so many others ~ killed several people, and abducted her and some other women; you can guess her fate until she managed to escape and get to Bangkok. When she finally got to Australia, she was extremely traumatized and responded to Tuan’s kindness and concern while she was in hospital for a check-up; he mistook her response for love, and things went on from there, and the next thing you know, she was pregnant. I wouldn’t write about them like this if I thought they might read this later on, but since they’re not great readers, there is little chance they will. Tuan is not much of a catch, almost bald, suffering from psoriasis and looking older than he is; moreover, he is her senior by sixteen years; and while he might have loved her, she didn’t love him, or at least, her affection for him soon faded. I regret having pressured them to marry offi-cially instead of living de facto; my reason for doing so was to prevent them from following one of the prevailing scams and claiming child-support as an unmarried mother. Over the years, several times I had to intercede on his behalf and calm her down when she was threatening to tear up their marriage-certificate, saying she didn’t love him and wanted a divorce; I explained that although he wasn’t the world’s most-handsome or best man, he was a good man even so. This wasn’t enough to prevent her from actually carrying out her threats, and twice, she took the kids ~ by then, they had two, a boy and a girl ~ and left him, but he followed and persuaded her to return. Imagine how he felt to be under such a cloud! More than once, he said to me, “You are so wise to remain single.”

“Look here,” I replied, “no-one made you get married; you were desperate to do so, and now you’ve got what you desired so much, you are not happy. No-one has everything,” I went on; “You have things that I don’t have, and I have things that you don’t have, but would you change places with me if you could?”

It was in this flat that I met Ho Van Nhi, a young guy who’d been in VRC in ’82, but we’d not met there; he was introduced to me by someone who had been his teacher in Vietnam. Then there was Mai (‘Maisy’), although I don’t recall how we met. She was in her early thirties, still single, and on the look-out; Nhi soon caught her eye, and they started going out together.

At this time, too, I began visiting a dentist-friend for treatment. His name was Jamie Robertson, a remarkable person. I’d come to know him through Hoa in Brisbane, who had met him when he visited VRC in Palawan in ’83 for a month (I didn’t meet him there, as our visits didn’t coincide). He’d also been to India and set up a clinic in Dharamsala for Tibetans, and trained several people there, even sponsoring some to come to Melbourne to study. And all this on his own expense! Later, he would start to visit Vietnam on a yearly basis, spending a month each time in the clinic he’d established there. This was really Buddhism in ac-tion! Over the following years, I would be his patient many times, and he always treated me without charge.

While watching the TV news one night, I saw a flash about a Buddhist gathering in Melbourne, and noticed a familiar face among the monks involved: Santitthito, who I’d not seen since 1973! I managed to track him down and requested him to give a talk the next Sunday in my place. I notified people and many more than usual came on that day so we held it on the lawn be-side the flat. We kept him supplied with lemonade as he spoke, but he was like a camel, and drank so many glasses that he had to get up halfway to go to the toilet. He had remained within the monastic system, and meeting him again assured me that I had not done the wrong thing in going off on my own, even though I lacked the safety-net, so to speak, that he had.

At one point, Thanh came from Florida to visit me and stayed for two weeks, but being the overly-romantic guy he was, soon fell in love with one of our Aussie friends, a married woman quite a bit older than him; I don’t know if his feelings were reciprocated, but I wasn’t very pleased with him.

During a visit back to Gawler, a letter arrived from England for mum, and she couldn’t imagine who it was from; she asked me to read it for her, and I hadn’t gone far when she realized it was from someone who’d been her first boy-friend when she was working as a house-maid in Wallasey; that was over 60 years before! She’d been very fond of him ~ his name was Jim ~ but they drifted apart because as a plumber’s apprentice, he had to work odd hours and wasn’t always able to meet her when she had time off. She’d then met my dad, but had never forgotten Jim. He had also not forgotten her. He told her that he’d raised a family, but had never really been happy with his wife, and some time after she died, he tried to trace my mother, going to Bur-wardsley and making inquiries there. Eventually, he met some-one who told him she’d gone to Australia, and gave him the phone-number of Bob in Tattenhall, and from him got mum’s address in Gawler. Well, she was over-the-moon for the rest of the day and the next; she always said that she’d married the wrong man. But poor dad didn’t share her joy, and said to her, “You’re not going to go to him, are you?”

“Of course not!” she said, but the idea of doing so if dad died first stemmed from that letter. Meanwhile, she started to corre-spond with him, and he sent her chocolates and other gifts, and even offered to pay for her ticket if she would visit him.

"It is important that we reflect upon the kindness of others. This realization is a fruit of cultivating empathy. We must recognize how our fortune is really dependent upon the cooperation and contributions of others. Every aspect of our present well-being is due to hard work on the part of others. As we look around us at the buildings we live and work in, the roads we travel, the clothes we wear, or the food we eat, we must acknowledge that all are provided by others. None of these would exist for us to enjoy and make use of were it not for the kindness of so many people un-known to us. As we contemplate in this manner, our appreciation for others grows, as does our empathy and closeness to them."
~ The Dalai Lama: An Open Heart ~

It is a peculiar conceit of many so-called religious people that they think they know everything to be known; this is probably because, feeling insecure and miniscule in the immensity of the universe, they grasp at things that give them a much-needed feeling of security, hence the con-tinuation of untenable doctrines and beliefs that should have been discarded long ago.

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