Vol. VIII No. 33 - Tuesday
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Chiang Mai FeMail  by Elena Edwards
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Vietnam says booting out Buddhist monks not repression

Thai matters part 3

Superstition – East and West

 

Vietnam says booting out Buddhist monks not repression

Ben Stocking / AP writer
Monks following a world-famous Buddhist teacher are being evicted from a Vietnamese monastery for failing to clear their activities with the government, an official said Tuesday, but he denied the dispute was about religious freedom.
Followers of Thich Nhat Hanh, who has sold more than 1 million books in the West, say the government is punishing them because their France-based leader suggested that his native Vietnam’s communist government should abolish its control of religion. However, Bui Huu Duoc of the government’s Committee on Religious Affairs blamed the dispute on a failure to abide by local regulations and said it is normal for governments to oversee the operations of religious groups operating within their borders
‘Managing religious groups doesn’t mean controlling them,’ Duoc, who oversees Buddhist affairs for the committee, said in an interview with the Associated Press. ‘We’re here to facilitate their efforts to do good things for the country’. However, Duoc did allow that officials were ‘very surprised’ at postings on the main web site for Hanh’s monastery in southern France calling for the government to disband its religious police.
Vietnam formally recognizes less than a dozen religions, and they are all required to register with the state. Hanh’s followers have been asked to leave the Bat Nha monastery in the central highlands by early September.
Tensions at Bat Nha boiled over in late June, when a mob descended on the site with sledgehammers, damaged buildings and threatened the Plum Village monks and nuns. Authorities also cut off electricity at the site.
The dispute represents a remarkable turnaround from four years ago, when France-based Hanh returned to his native land after 39 years of exile. He had been forced out of what was then US-backed South Vietnam in 1966 for criticizing the Vietnam War. His return in 2005 made the front pages of state-owned newspapers.
Hanh’s brand of Buddhism is very popular in the West. Followers from around the world travel to his Plum Village monastery in southern France to study with him. He is perhaps the best known Buddhist after the Dalai Lama.
Duoc stated that when Hanh’s followers first came in 2005 Vietnamese authorities approved their activities. But, since July 2008, they have offered 11 courses at the Bat Nha monastery without permission. The monks say they have kept the official Vietnam Buddhist Church fully informed, adding that they were invited to practice at Bat Nha by Abbot Duc Nghi during Hanh’s 2005 visit and have since spent nearly $1 million expanding the property and adding new buildings. Nghi could not be reached for comment, but Duoc says the abbot now wants the nearly 400 Hanh followers at the monastery to leave. The followers, however, believe Nghi is simply responding to pressure from above.

 

Thai matters part 3

The complications of personnel !

Carla Hoogland.
The first time after opening the shop, Lee worked with freelancers. These ladies are hired for a massage and often work at another shop in the same neighbourhood. Although it is not common in the massage business for an owner to actually employ masseuses, we have (with our perhaps idiot Western ideas), chosen to do so. We think it may give us more loyalty from our workers, and Lee will have a better chance of teaching them uniformity in massages. Normally a freelancer is paid per treatment - no treatment, no money, although. some companies use a so-called guarantee amount per day. Otherwise, if there are no customers in a day, there will be no food to eat. Furthermore, there is a queue. Each day starts with a different freelancer getting first pick, so that everyone has equal work opportunities. This is why freelancers are not happy to work in a shop which has many masseuses, as they have to wait their turn to work and, as they get paid per treatment, they earn less. Of course, the tip is an important part of the income. 
Just to clarify - the minimum wage in Thailand is low by European standards and depends on the province. Average is about 6,000 baht per month. A nurse, however, earns only 4500 baht per month in a Government hospital; a specialist in the same hospital between 30,000 and 70,000 baht, and a teacher around 10,000 baht. Foreigners earn more. For masseuses, earnings fluctuate, and different stories abound. With Leena, they will earn a fixed salary, approximately the minimum wage and they may keep the tips themselves. We have insurance for our workers; in case of sickness or accident the costs are covered. According to our friends and some Thai specialists in our area we ‘spoil’ them this way and they will become lazy. The future will teach us. 
In the beginning, manager Lee was happy with all her skilful hands, but she quickly changed her mind, suspecting that some of them were involving themselves in secondary activities which were unacceptable - the skilful hands were being used otherwise. How can a Thai masseuse drive a car and also pay for it? Ultimately, many Thai ladies look for a farang who will take care of them. Preferably more than one farang. And when the farangs return home, they send a monthly payment to the girl. - perfect! We know a story about a receptionist in a five star hotel who had a collection of five of these gentlemen. (use the word ‘collection ‘in Thailand and everyone knows what you mean! ) An American, an Englishman, a German, one Russian and one Australian. All paid a monthly amount. She was so selective in her attention to her choice of men that she even looked into currency exchange rates…dollar, pound, euros and roubles! If you have on your staff women looking to extend the ‘collection’, this is not such a good idea!
Lee goes for advice to a clairvoyant ladyboy in Bangkok who can predict the future. It must be said that sometimes he is right. He has now advised Lee that the ladies who work for her must have been born on a Wednesday or a Thursday!
He states that Sunday children are naturally lazy and those who were born on Monday will never listen to you, just get on with their own businesses. Furthermore, the personality types tare similar to those in the book by Dan Millman, ‘The life for which you were born’. So very different from our own countries, where we look at education, experience, age and salary requirements. No way, here in Thailand one does look to education, but then your birthday, birth date, first name and surname have to be provided. Then the matter is considered by the astrologer, and if the stars agree, you’re in!


Superstition – East and West

Astrology in the West has always been a controversial subject – which, of course, didn’t stop millions of us from checking our ‘stars’ daily in print or online! Even although we pretended to sceptics, (often male partners), that it was just ‘fun’, we were often surprised at its accuracy. Superstition, it would seem, is part of our genetic heritage, however much we try to deny it – after all, how often do we, supposedly sophisticated westerners, wish each other ‘good luck’?
In Asia, of course, superstition is a way of life, even in Japan, a thoroughly first world country, where palm-readers sit on the sidewalks of busy streets in huge cities, doing a roaring trade! Here in Thailand, foreign residents are often fascinated by the shamanistic rites and rituals which seem to accompany the majority of decisions and occasions. Imagine if President Obama and the other leaders of the western world regularly consulted their soothsayers? What would we think? And would we be right to decry the practice? Maybe not. As Shakespeare wrote in his great play, Hamlet, ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophies’.
All over Thailand, protective amulets of all types from boars’ tusks to symbolic Buddhist carvings set in gold are worn, with those worn previously by survivors of car crashed fetching high prices. Astrologers are famous, and treated as celebrities, as they are in the West - does anyone remember the TV astrologer Mystic Meg, who shot to fame during the launch of the UK Lottery? A certain fugitive politician is known to have made many visits to a local Doi Saket practitioner – although it doesn’t seem to have helped his present situation! The Bangkok elite, including many in politics and the military, are known to seek supernatural guidance for the timing of events or rulings, some of which may affect the entire nation. A newly appointed minister is reported to have entered his office for the fist time at precisely 7.09 a.m., following advice from his soothsayer. Weddings, house blessings, the installation of spirit houses, funerals, all are subject to advice about auspicious times.
Buddhism, the faith claimed by more than 95 percent of all Thais, is largely opposed to the occult. Yet remnants of animism, folk religions rooted in spirits and superstition, still remain. However, these ancient beliefs, like and accept it or not, are rooted in all humans; for example, the number 13 is considered worldwide to be unlucky. It’s no surprise, therefore, that they surface here in day-to-day political life, particularly amongst older players in that notoriously unstable game. Given that the majority of the electorate accept superstitious beliefs, a public display by prominent politicians can’t be bad for votes. In modern terms, it’s good P.R!
It may be that, in the West, we cover up our superstitious roots by relegating them to pure entertainment – the movie series ‘Ghostbusters’ was a sure-fire winner – but then so was Disney’s ‘Fantasia’ and the large number of movies over the years about Dracula. The ‘Omen’ series qualifies as well, as does any other movie or TV show featuring black magic or ghosts. Back in the real world, the Catholic and Anglican churches do practice exorcism, mostly, according to the media, on homes suspected of harbouring poltergeists. Does relegating the entire subject to a superficial level help us to deal with things we don’t understand, or is the ‘in-your-face’ nature of superstition, both in the vast land-mass of Asia and here in Thailand a more honest approach to questions the human race will never be able to answer?



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