March 23. I started the morning with another glorious session of bell ringing and chanting. I curled up in the sanctuary of my covers and blasted music through my headphones in the hope of drowning out the noise. However, it was in vain. I could still feel the bell’s vibrations in my chest and it distracted me from my sleep. Groaning, I stood up and was immediately hit by a wave of pain. Every muscle in my body ached. They protested my slightest movements and I was forced to sit back down and massage the will to move into my body. I tried for a second time and to my relief the pain had receded slightly, yet was still ever present.
My morning run went well enough until, due to the urging of my Master, I carried a larger rock on my head than yesterday. It made my neck muscles burn more than ever and my head throbbed when I finally lay down the small boulder. Then, during the 30 minutes before breakfast, we were taught new segments of Kong Fu. It all seems to come together after a while and I become confused at times between one position and the next. Though, with plenty of practice, I’m sure I’ll be able to memorize them.
I devoured the breakfast of noodles, onions, carrots, and tofu. Again, I wasn’t disappointed, mainly due to the replacement of meat with tofu. I’m sure if the tofu was anything less than the quality it is now, I would be praying to Buddha to send me a steak. After breakfast we performed our stretches and various exercises. Even after one day I am able to remember most of the exercising positions, although I couldn’t execute them as vigorously as before. My muscles still shot a jolt of pain through my body during kicks and cartwheels. During this session I kept glancing over at one of the monk children who stood resolutely still with a 30 pound rock on his head. He constantly looked forward and his eyes never wandered. He stood as still as a statue for the entire 3 hours. I asked one of the other children what he was doing and his answer was short and contained copious amounts of disapproval. “His punishment for insulting Master.” He said. I didn’t inquire further on the subject.
Lunch was short today because I was still full from breakfast, but I still sat and waited for at least one person to finish their meal. Ella, a foreigner of about 21 years old, was the first to be finished and, following the rules of etiquette, we said “R Me Tofo.” to the Master and left together. After washing our bowls, Ella asked me if I wanted to see the rest of the temple. “There’s more than just this?” I asked as I gestured to our surroundings. Nodding, she led me outside and we walked about the property. There were several paths leading in almost every direction and she led me down the first one on the right. We came to a pond with a large blank, white wall except for a border of decorations and a single picture in the middle. Then we walked to a field for practicing Tai Chi and Kong Fu in the summer. From there she led me to the Master’s house, which was exceptionally decorated with gardens of beautiful spring flowers. Finally, we came to the main temple. I had suspected that the temple we resided in was the main one, but apparently not. The golden characters labeled it as such and the enormous golden statue that resided inside reinforced the fact. It was a gorgeous area. Even the temples shown in movies couldn’t compare with this one.
We passed the time talking and comparing stories of our travels until it was time to continue our training. I learned several more positions of Kong Fu. I wondered how many more positions were involved in it, because if there are several more than I doubt I will be able to memorize it in 5 days. The ones we had learned now almost took 5 minutes to complete. I politely asked Master to perform this segment of Kong Fu. He completed it in roughly a minute with incredibly fluid, yet powerful movements. I couldn’t even keep track of which positions he was doing, but it seemed as if we weren’t too far away from the end. Then we finished our training with stretches and push-ups (which they do with their fists here).
I was ravenous during dinner and ate everything in my bowl including all the leftovers on the table. Afterwards, Ella and her family had to leave for the next leg of their journey and I said my farewells to them all. Then, as I wandered around aimlessly for something to do, I ran into several of the monk children and they brought me into their room to talk about America. I was surprised to learn that they knew of Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Hulk, Transformers, and most every other superhero or action character I had grown up with. Hit with a spark of inspiration, I ran to my room and grabbed my iphone, some chocolate, and the ninja star. I first handed them the chocolate (although, just to make sure, I asked if they were vegans and they stated that they ate meat), which they loved and ate with a gleam of pleasure in their eyes. Then I gave them my ninja star, insisting that they keep it. It wasn’t very sharp and it could probably be of more use here. I also witness them practicing with swords so I think they can be cautious with the star. Then I let them play a racing game on my iphone. Taking turns, they played for almost 2 hours and refused to stop until my battery had burned out. I don’t mind however, it’s probably better that I don’t have it here. When darkness fell and they were forced to perform their ceremonies, I headed back to my room where I am now. Reflecting on the day, I decided it was definitely one of the top 10 days of my life, despite my aching muscles and the guilt of giving a weapon to a few 13 year olds.