To Peach, Earthy, ‘Nut’, 陈阿姨, Dhamma servers at Dhamma Canda Pabhāin, Chantaburi, ‘Chat’, JJ, 榕珊, 岱桦, Mr. Kengsungnoen, the Blast Silom staff in Bangkok…and all those I met that are part of the Amazing Thailand;
To grandma and God Granny, now my twin stars in Heaven.
To my parents: thanks for the support as usual and please stay strong.
The moment that I entered the Vipassana center, I was instantly stricken speechless with both my eyes and mouth wide open. Too good to be true, I thought.
Images of that Songrao Resort from less than one hour ago remained vivid. And the rows of cabins in the center looked every bit as fabulous. No. This place was simply more fabulous, as the dusts that haunted our hill ride failed to make their way here. We were embraced solely by the exuberant vegetation that wears different shades of green and a purely azure sky. It was the magic that refreshed you with every breath you take. The cabins were painted spotlessly white that reminded me of Stavanger, a cute and approachable Norwegian city that I visited last summer which shines a similar purity and elegance. The green foxtails, the tranquil pond and picturesque trees, on the other hand, aroused a touching nostalgia towards my hometown village in Jiangsu, China, where my grandparents grew up.
Located on a hill top and surrounded by ranges on three sides, nearly every room in the center boasts hill or village views- or better still, both. Every inch of the room was brightly kissed by the sun. Windows were installed on opposite sides to ensure ventilation while curtains were provided to keep privacy. There is also a balcony attached. The bathroom is even equipped with hot shower. All of these were nonexistent luxuries in the Lumbini center that I meditated with one year ago.
The most unexpected facility turned out to be the umbrella on the table. It seemed to be a hint of raining in a season which the rains should not be frequent. Only after being greeted by consecutive sunny days- sometimes too enthusiastically- did I realize that it was more for UV protection than for rains at this season of the year. And indeed a handy and considerate provision it was!
With this came a series of pleasant shocks. In retrospect, I was rather ignorant to have presumed the food at the Lumbini center as the standard offering based on only one experience. Actually, even the Lumbini one was already sufficiently satisfying so far as I recalled. Their effort in making the most out of a limited selection of ingredients was certainly palpable and respectable. But the Chantaburi center must have been determined to prepare food that lives up to the reputation of Thai cuisine. The resultant variety as well as the quality was thus simply fantastic. Especially during the first few days, I cannot help but wonder if Vipassana centers are where the best vegetarian food is clustered. I wouldn’t mind paying 100 B for it outside. And now as a part of the course, how lucky I was to be able to enjoy it for free!(I learned later from Nut, a Dhamma server from Chantaburi that the food was managed by Chanthorn, arguably the most distinguished restaurant in town. I also checked Tripadvisor.com while writing this piece and not surprisingly, it ranked first out of seventy-eight restaurants in Chantaburi which got listed. And thanks to Nut, I had amazing fried noodle (gooay deeo sen jan) with soft-shell crabs, fried cow-pea with shrimp paste, and my all-time favorite pork rice here to celebrate the New Year and for having accomplished the course.)
A typical meal here would include, for example, a papaya or mushroom soup which is sour and spicy, fried noodle with tofu and vegetables which is a bit salty, dehydrated small bananas as a sweet and sour dessert, richly juicy fruits such as papaya, watermelon and pineapple, and a salad made of fresh tomatoes, vegetables, baby corns, onions and cucumbers with pumpkin dip so stimulatingly sweet that I mistook it for mango sauce until Nut provided the correct answer after the course… Where else could one expect those starkly distinctive flavors to explode above the tongue all at once?! The richness of these Vipassana meals resembled so much that of life itself.
The meals here also created an excellent opportunity for me to get familiarized with the many unique aspects of the Thai cuisine. For instance, it surprised me dearly when I saw a dozen of cute blue-violet flowers inside the salad on the first or second day. Are they edible? Fellow students from Thailand picked them up onto their plates so naturally, revealing a positive answer already. I suspiciously put one into my mouth and god! It was slightly yet pleasantly sweet! I knew I had eaten an uncountable amount of plants in my life so far. But this was the first time that I ate a butterfly pea, or any flower for that matter! A few days later, I was introduced to the emerald-color noodle of Lod Chang. It seems that the mixture of Lod Chang in coconut milk (Lod Chong Nam Ka Ti) is a quite popular dessert in Thailand. In the absence of coconut milk, as was the case when I tried it, its taste was somehow just mediocre.
Besides the main courses, there were also many more complements to choose from which was, again, unimaginable for the Lumbini center. Two flavors of Nestle coffee, two sorts of Ovaltine, two kinds of soymilk, three flavors of tea powder and two kinds of tea bags; multigrain bread accompanied by at least five pastes; and various biscuits, dates, snacks; honey, syrup… Among them was even Nutella which supplied the much needed energy so timely that I forgot to bother if it is vegetarian or not.
What amazed me most were the drinks we had every afternoon. In how many countries is it possible to have tea of changing colors every day for one week- without the help of artificial pigments? Such was nevertheless our indulgence in the Vipassana center. Rosy for roselle, blue-violet for butterfly pea, light green for lemon grass, light yellow for longan, fruit punch between the colors of mango and orange, and several others whose names my brain was too retarded to remember…If India is the empire of masala chai and China of green and oolong tea, then the Kingdom of Thailand is arguably the kingdom of herbal drinks!