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Monday, July 17, 2006

July 17: Opening Ceremony and My Birthday Party

Surprise! (not)

This morning we had the Opening Ceremony for the summer camp. Like so many of the functions I took part in at Hsi Lai Temple in Los Angeles, it was a very formal affair: the teachers and leaders (myself, one other layman, and six monks) seated on a dais; the other teachers occupying the front row in the classroom; introductions, speeches, and lots and lots of applause. The decorum was somewhat shattered, however, when Diego (while translating my brief "Hello" speech) announced that it was my birthday, and the kids and teachers and monks joined in a thunderous rendition of "Happy Birthday," followed by cheers and more applause. It wouldn't be the last time today I'd hear that song...

On the dais at the Opening
Ceremony (Photo by "Bob")

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After a relatively uneventful day, I was taking pictures in the Main Hall when Diego came to tell me that Venerable Hui Jing had a question for me in the Tea Room, and I'd better hurry.

As I suspected, it was a surprise party. Earlier in the day, a woman had (with unwonted enthusiasm) asked me a question in Chinese, and rather than translating, D had "shushed" her. This pretty much let the cat out of the bag.

Birthday photos by Diego:

Giving long noodles to a monk

It was indeed the strangest, and very close to the bestest, birthday party ever. With mostly monks and a few Buddhist laypeople, I served long noodles to the guests, a symbol of longevity.

They chant the Medicine Buddha Sutra

Throughout the party, various songs were sung, and chants chanted, including: Happy Birthday Chinese style, another song I never heard before, the Heart Sutra (which I chanted through Japan--in Japanese, of course), the Medicine Buddha Mantra, and the Medicine Buddha Sutra. (I was quite surprised when seven-year-old Angel [below] standing next to me chanted the Medicine Buddha mantra: "Na mo Yao Shih Fo").

The cake

There was also a cake with a most wonderful device...

The flaming lotus

A plastic lotus in the closed position was placed in the center of the cake. It had candles inside; when they were lit, they ignited some gunpowder inside, which shot out sparks like a sparkler, then flames. This eventually burned through some sort of strings inside, releasing the petals so that the "lotus" slowly opened!

With administrators of two temples

With the Kidz

I also got kissed on the cheek by a little boy, for good luck. Simple presents were given, and lots of pictures taken with people sitting next to me. Afterward, there was a great discussion and debate (as usual). A very satisfying affair.


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