|I made a mental
note to teach him how to play cards later.
One of the
many Chinese specialties, which had, was dog meat. Monks are vegetarians.
So, they didn't have to eat any of Old Yeller. I ate some, just to be one
of the guys, and as a sort of nonspecific revenge for the existence of
French poodles. It wasn't bad. It tasted like any other meat, a little
gamier than manatee, and a bit greasier than koala or panda.
When we went
back to the temple one of the taxi driver's friends, a former student at
the Shaolin Temple, took me outside, and handed me a Buddhist prayer book."Put
$200 US in this book." He said. "Go inside, prostrate before the
monk three times, and then hand him the book. If you do that you will be
mean I could study at the Shaolin Temple? I had been planning to study
at one of the commercial schools in the village. Studying at the actual
Shaolin Temple was beyond my wildest dreams. But what was this issue with
the money? Was this a case of 'Our philosophies are Eastern, but our payment
methods are Western?' Put the money in the book and hand it to the monk?
This is one of the oldest scams in the world. They get you to put money
in the book then they switch books, and you loose your money.
The Taxi driver's
friend was getting impatient. He kept up a constant barrage of fast Chinese,
explaining and re-explaining what he wanted me to do, as if the issue were
that I didn't understand. I understood just fine. I just didn't want to
do what he was asking me.
explanations, he was alternately pushing my shoulder, and throwing kicks
in the air. I was certain that one of those kicks could have broken
my leg. But he was still standing close enough for me to knock him out
with a punch. But then what? If I hit him I probably wouldn't get to study
at the Shaolin Temple. The others would still rob me, and I would loose
my money anyway.
I found myself in one of those situations only I can find myself in. I
was in Mainland China. I wasn't registered with the US Embassy. I wasn't
at the school I had told my family and friends I was going to. Nobody knew
where I was. I had no friends. These guys could have killed me, and no
one would have asked about the body. In the US or Taiwan I always get a
little tough with people when I don't get my way. I know that if worse
came to worst I could fight my way out of most rooms. But here I would
be fighting my way out of a room full of Kung Fu monks. A quick call to
Atlantic City said the bookmakers were giving 5000 to one against my survival
if I refused to give up my money.
I did as he
told me, and put the money in the book, but as a compromise, I made sure
to keep control of the book. If I was going to pay a bribe to get into
the Shaolin Temple, I at least wanted the bribe to get to the right person.
If bribing a holly man was like God's payola, I wanted to make sure Cesar
got every penny I rendered unto him. In a very ham-handed and laughable
way, the guy tried to pull the old switcheroo. "Give me the book."
He said, kneeling down. "I will show you how to hand it to the monk."
got a better idea, Momo, how about I show you where you can stick your
head." I thought. I laughed.
If he tried
running a scam this stupid in New York, he'd be left under the boardwalk
somewhere with his pockets turned inside out. Once my money was inside,
he'd have had to use a crowbar to get that book out of my hands. With apparent
resignation in his face, he lead me back to the monk's quarters, and just
before I went inside he tried to grab the book out of my hand again. God!
Had this guy never heard of Brooklyn? I handed him my diary, instead. "Hold
this for me." I said.I went in, prostrated three times, and gave the
book to the monk. He nodded approvingly. I saw him exchange a look with
the one who had taken me outside. Had they prearranged to steal my money?
The other passengers and the driver all stared at the friend questioningly.
I guess everyone had been promised a share for their trouble.
"What is your
religion?" The monk asked.
"To be a
monk you have to be Buddhist." He explained.
When my friend
Herschel's little brother had his Barmitzva I went to temple with his family.
Isn't this sort of the samething? Anyway I am not looking at it as a conversion.
It is more like an advanced field experiment in theology. It had been so
long since I had been in Church I think Father Carmine would have just
shaken his head and said.
he is attending services."
Said the monk. He went outside and wacked up my bribe money with the taxi
driver and his friends.
left, the taxi driver had the balls to come and ask me to pay the fare.
"Why don't you just take it out of your commission?" I wanted to
ask. But I had become a monk, so I wasn't able to feel anger at anyone
anymore, not even some jerk-face moron who tried to steal my money. I felt
had gone, the monk returned and said. "Put your things here." Apparently
I would be sharing the room with him, and his novice monk. The novice and
I hit it off right away. He was twenty-five years old, and a good guy.
Also, in the couple of hours I had been there he hadn't tried to steal
It is frigin
cold in China, and there is no heating in the temple. I would later
find out that even homes are not heated. The monks live in relative squalor.
The chambers were just tiny, concrete rooms, about twice the size of a
deluxe suite at Attica, with absolutely nothing in them apart from a bed
and a desk. The only things the monks seemed to own, apart from my $200,
was the clothes on their backs. The Chinese are rather dirty in general,
and throw trash and litter out the window. The temple grounds, at least
the part where the monks lived, were strewn with refuse.
led me through a labyrinth of out door alleyways to the communal toilet.
There was no electric light, and in addition to being ice-cold, the night
was pitch dark. The toilet was just a hole in the ground, overflowing with
human waste. There wasn't even a privacy screen or anything, so everyone
could see you poop.
to the room, where the monk and novice shared their hot water with me.
I would learn later that hot water was a rare commodity. The novice would
carry a single, one-liter thermos jug to the kitchen every morning at 5:30
AM, and fill it with boiling water. That was the hot water ration for the
two of them for the day.
I put on thermals,
sweats, thick woolen socks, and my Navy watch cap. I crawled into bed,
and wrapped up in the blankets they had given me.
you will have your head shaved. Then we will begin." Said the monk.
The story continues.
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