Friday, September 10, 2010

Vodka Shots at 10am? Only in a Monastery

I was not going to post anything tonight because my camera battery is charging so I cannot post pictures, I am exhausted, and I know I am going to have another crazy day tomorrow that will need to be documented. But I decided I should just get it all down before the novelty wears off, I suppose.

Today class was cancelled at the last minute for a field trip. A bell was being casted at a monastery not too far from our school. Supposedly this only happens once in a lifetime, so we had to take advantage of the opportunity. We were all dressed in pants or long skirts to show respect when entering the temple, so of course, it was a scorcher with ridiculous humidity. We, the fourteen students, four other teachers and I, loaded into a bus around 5:50am and headed off to the monastery to see the casting of a bell. Around 6:45am, we stop for noodles with beef, and then continue on our way. The bus drops us off at the bottom on a steep hill. We walk on the gravel/dirt road up and up and up - completely drenched in sweat by the time we reach the ceremony. As the only Westerners there, we obviously stand out. We are surrounded by monks and nuns - all wearing robes, most purple or brown. Many of the monks and nuns have shaved heads and black/red teeth. As we are offered mini-cups of tea (the first time of at least 15 more times that day), we are also offered this bitter fruit thing that they chew on - later we find out that they chew it to blacken/redden their teeth. As we pack in like sardines around the bell (in a hole in the ground), they start putting tons of metal into three huge buckets around us and light it on fire. The background noise is Vietnamese chanting and drumming. We are then told that we need to wait at least one hour until the metal is melted so that they can pour it in the cast. Many of us stand around and continue to watch the green flames rise from the buckets of metal, while others are dragged off by random Vietnamese people to pose for pictures. This was a nice atmosphere though, because when I finally made eye contact with people and then cracked a smile, they smiled back! Black teeth and all! I definitely felt more like a welcome person than an exotic escaped zoo animal. One hour later, everyone begins to re-surround the bell. We are watching and waiting as they dump hot burning ashes and embers onto the ground and pour water on them, getting the molten metal ready to pour. We are patiently waiting (and continually sweating through our clothes) for the bell to be casted - because that is the whole reason we got up at 5am and were standing there sweating in the first place.

Soon, our tour guide lady is anxiously pushing us away from the bell. We follow, assuming she knows what she is doing. Next thing we know, we are being told to take off our shoes and sit on the ground. Then monks bring us trays of shot glasses and multiple bottles of vodka. We are each given a glass and start taking shots. It is 9:45am at this point. They keep pushing shots on us, as we try to politely refuse (these are high school kids for goodness sake!) and soon they put at least 10 different vegetarian dishes in front of us, which we guess means that it is lunch time. Maybe the bell will be casted after lunch. More than halfway through the meal (where drinks consisted only of vodka), a few of us realize our whole group is not with us. As they walk toward us, we find out that they casted the bell as soon as we were taken for shots and lunch. The point of the whole trip was to see the once in a lifetime event of the casting of the bell - and most of us missed it! I was bummed, but the kids seemed to be ok. They were being pulled in all directions by the surrounding Vietnamese people (pretty much everyone - maybe at least 50 people) were having lunch with us on the ground). They were being offered more shots and a tokes out of a huge pipe (of course, they politely declined, since we have rules in this program ;) ).

Soon we leave that monastery and get back in the air-conditioned bus. We stop at another temple/pagoda. Still sweaty messes, we meet more monks and drink more tea. Oh, and at this monastery, there are not only monks, but also monkeys! Two of them in a cage...

There are not a lot of other people ate this monastery, and we are invited to go upstairs to the second and third floor to clean up and take naps. There are between 6-12 rooms on each floor and one bathroom. No doors on the rooms, but instead, red velvet curtains. The kids go to rooms. The teachers are trying to just hang out, but are soon shuffled to our own room. There are two queen-size beds in the room with no mattresses. Under the bed, we see empty Choco-cake containers and empty beer cans. In the dresser drawers is a ship in a bottle...When we woke up that morning, how could we ever have guessed what we would have seen and experienced??

So there are definitely details that I have forgotten, and I will post some pictures later, but that is the general summary of the day. Tomorrow, we are going to Ceramic Village. We wake up early, take a boat on Red River, then ride some bikes, then make our own pottery? then a bus back? Really, there should be question marks after each one of those plans because I have NO idea what will actually be happening...

1 comment:

  1. Well, it was a bonding experience at the very least!