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How to convert to Buddhism in ten Seconds

+++Exploring | Bangkok, Thailand

eatnologist
 
 

 

 

The Chao Phraya River is the lifeline of Bangkok and quite the simplest way to cross it, is by taking one of the water buses that travel up and down the river. All you do is jump on and pay on board. 

The relatively short distance to the opposite side of the riverbank is deceptive. The assumption might be on the western side that you are delving further into chaos stricken Bangkok, but when you get off at That Phrammok station, you find yourself arriving in a true oasis of tranquillity. Within minutes, it is as if you have entered another world.

 
 

After a short walk, I discovered the Buddhist Temple of Wat Khrua Wan quite by chance, as I was actually looking for something totally different on the other side of the river. My intention had been to discover a beautiful view of the Grand Palace, preferably from the terrace of a nice restaurant. 

And then all of a sudden, this temple stood before me. Immediately after the entrance I came across two bald-shaven monks behind a table. They were selling transparent bags packed with colourful balls, probably made from puffed rice, which were then dipped in delicious exotic fruit juices to give them a glowing appearance. In any case, these balls went like hot cakes because everyone who went into the temple bought at least one bag. Of course, I couldn't restrain myself either and so I bought two packs, greedily ripped into one of them and then popped several of these mysterious balls straight into my mouth. I was very excited. Were they perhaps a new culinary discovery? Or perhaps they were unknown pioneers of molecular gastronomy?

 
 

The two priests were wide-eyed when they saw me chewing. The small balls, which had both the consistency of Styrofoam and tasted like it, suddenly transformed into foamy liquid and stuck to my teeth. Oh no! It was such a disappointment. I needed to spit them out and then I saw that the priests, who were doubled over laughing, were not male priests at all...  they were women! What's going on here, I thought to myself.  As far as I knew, there were no female Buddhist monks or novices in Thailand. Using sign language, the two ladies directed me to the river where I could then spit out the balls. 

The small balls, which had both the consistency of Styrofoam and tasted like it, suddenly transformed into foamy liquid and stuck to my teeth. Oh no! It was such a disappointment.

 
 

A very pale thai student who was passing by tapped me on the arm, instructing me to follow her. While we were on the way to the riverbank, she explained what was going on. The balls were not intended for people, but for fish –  because the balls were good for the fish, they would also therefore be good for my karma. Giving me a quick crash course in Buddhism, the student enlightened me and explained that donations were commonplace. Normally, the monks received these donations. A donation of candles comes with the expectation of enlightenment, a donation of money should lead to prosperity, whereas a donation of books would result in wisdom, etc. 

Arriving at the shore, it took me ten seconds to empty the packet into the river. Fish immediately began nibbling at the contents. How on earth did that happen so quickly? Should I wish for something now? Just to be on the safe side, that's exactly what I did. The second packet, however, I kept for myself. My companion, who also emptied out her packet, ended her prayer with a small gesture and I did the same.

 
 

Following my new friend, we left the temple and we had barely gone any distance before my wish came true. Grilled fish. They were being prepared by a street vendor. “That worked quickly! Whatever you give comes right back at you!" I said, feeling convinced of this fact. I ordered one for myself and then asked my friend, Nok, if she -or was she a he?- would like one as well. Nok ordered also a Tom Kha Gai (a coconut chicken soup) but I did not the same. "You don´t like?"  she said. "Tom Yum Goong is my favourite, I ate it the first time in Kho Phi Phi and I love it, but It's just too hot. I cannot eat a soup now. Anyway, you have given me an idea, thank you!, I said .

I was very grateful to her, because who knows, I might just have found not only a new recipe and also my new "spiritual" home. And so we sat with our two fish on the banks of the river. The fish was delicious, a tasty meaty flesh flavoured with a filling of lemon grass and Kaffir lime leaf, all finished off with a crispy, salty skin. There was also a small beaker containing a marinade of chilli, lime juice, fish sauce and coriander, perfect for dunking or pouring over the fish. I felt as if my next stop would be Nirvana.

In Thailand, women are not allowed to be official priests or monks. They are also not allowed to wear orange clothing as that is only permitted for male priests, monks and novices. In this way, even the youngest of male novices is more important in the scale of values than a female novice.

I asked Nok why the women wore white dresses at the temple. “They are novices. In Thailand, women are not allowed to be official priests or monks. They are also not allowed to wear orange clothing as that is only permitted for male priests, monks and novices. In this way, even the youngest of male novices is more important in the scale of values than a female novice. Far more than those who maintain their relationship with God for years through prayer and working in the temple.  The only female monk in Thailand is a former university professor for Buddhist philosophy but even she is not really recognised as such, although she does make a point of wearing orange. She has been ordained abroad and is called Dhammananda Bhikkhuni. She leads a monastery in northern Thailand and has already been nominated for the Nobel Prize. 

Quickly, Nok finished eating her fish, thanked me and then left, needing to return home. She had still to work tonight and wanted to rest a little bit before.  I remained a while. I wanted to take a little look around the area, observe the hustle and bustle of the people on the nearby canals, and make some notes. It seemed quite right to me that Bangkok is known as the Venice of the East. 

 
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Salt-roasted whole fish with herbs

Salt-roasted whole fish with herbs

Sweet, crispy and delicious: Flower Tempura

Sweet, crispy and delicious: Flower Tempura

Sweet Sticky Rice wrapped in Banana Leaves

Sweet Sticky Rice wrapped in Banana Leaves

 

I was still hungry and wanted more fish – should I throw my second packet into the river for this? But no, I wanted to keep my colourful balls a little while longer for myself. I went back towards the exit of the Temple in the hope that my street fish vendor was still there. Fortunately, he was still there and I bought a big juicy fish, which tasted just as good as the first. I bought also a delicious, sweet and crispy flower tempura

On the way back to my guest house in the Taewez quarter, I travelled up the river on the water bus. This time it was so full that I had to stand at the front. The boats are open at the front, and so what normally happens is that you end up really quite wet. The sun was setting, and it was a beautiful day. 

Feeling like the King of the World, at least for a short moment.

Feeling like the King of the World, at least for a short moment.

Standing there, I felt a Titanic moment coming on. When we passed the Royal Palace I had a daft grin on my face and shouted "I'm the King of the world". But it was at this very moment that a passing ship sprayed me and I almost choked.

I woke up in the middle of the night. I had severe abdominal pain and wondered, "Was it those colourful balls? Or maybe the flowers or the fish that I ate?

I woke up in the middle of the night. I had severe abdominal pain and wondered, "Was it those colourful balls? Or maybe the flowers or the fish that I ate? Yes, the fish, that must have been it", I said to myself. Buddha has surely punished me. I should have wished something else, something more profound when I threw those coloured balls in the river. After numerous trips to the toilet, I went to reception, thinking that perhaps the receptionist could give me some tablets. I told him what had happened.

Unusually bad-tempered for a Thai, I had just woken him up and he explained to me in broken English that first of all, Buddha would not punish anybody – maybe my God would, but not Buddha. Secondly, I didn't understand his religion, something that I had already suspected, and thirdly, I should never swallow water from the river. This is because it is so heavily contaminated it can really make you ill. "Just in case, take this pills" he said "With a bit of luck, it will be over tomorrow". I thanked him and ran once more in the direction of the toilet.

 
On the way back to my guest house

On the way back to my guest house

 
 
 
 
The Mojito Theory

+++Exploring

 
 
 

Havana | Cuba

The Mojito Theory. 

Where does the name Mojito come from?

I push through the local dance club. It’s full. It’s hot. It’s dark. To the right and left of me, before and behind me, there is a mass of sweat-soaked bodies in all possible shades of skin colour. They dance the Rumba, Son, and Cuban Reggaeton, also called Cubaton. Liquid flows out of every pore. The air is so thick you could cut it with a knife. I need to get out of here. I finally make it. My head is pounding as I leave. Why is everything so bright? It has got so late… Or is that early? Whatever. The street is empty. I feel dizzy. I wonder how many mojitos I've drunk in the last few hours in this dance club. Was it six? Seven? Eight or more? 

Swaying, I walk down the street to the Malecón, Havana's seaside promenade. Hopefully the breeze of the sea will do me a world of good and I want to see the sea before I finally go to sleep. It has been a long day. It all started at 10 o'clock this morning in a bar in the centre of Havana... with a Mojito. It might sound strange to you, but I am in Havana...

 
 

Swaying, I walk down the street to the Malecón, Havana's seaside promenade. Hopefully the breeze of the sea will do me a world of good and I want to see the sea before I finally go to sleep. It has been a long day. It all started at 10 o'clock this morning in a bar in the centre of Havana... with a Mojito.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Guillermo, the "Isleño"
“I couldn't really say where you can drink the best mojitos in Havana", says Guillermo, who like me, is from the Canary Islands and works since a couple of years as Hotel Manager in Miramar, a quarter of Havana. He had a few hours free for me today and so we're sat in the bar in the Calle Obispo. "In Havana, you can drink good mojitos pretty much everywhere. He reckons that in the Bodeguita del Medio the mojitos are famous because of Ernest Hemingway, but they taste the best where there is a good mood and atmosphere". There appears to be an excess of good mood in the ‘La Lluvia Dorada’ bar. The guests, a mix of tourists and locals, drink and dance to the live music. There is flirting and some groping, and it is not even lunchtime. On the orders of Guillermo, the bar keeper served me a mojito, while Guillermo himself quickly downed his morning coffee. I look at the man behind the bar slightly puzzled. "Don't worry! When you're dancing, you'll sweat the mojito right out", he adds with a wink.  "You're an ‘Isleño’ as well aren't you, like Guillermo?" asks the waiter, apparently having already recognised my dialect. 

 
 
 
 

The descendants of expatriate inhabitants of the Canary Islands – which belong to Spain – are lovingly called "Isleños" (literally, "those who came from the Islands”) in Cuba, which sounds a little strange given that Cuba itself is an island. In Cuba, the Isleños and their descendants form a large community. Canarian Spanish, which is known as the gentler form of Spanish dialects (and which very often uses the diminutive "-ito"), contains a number of Portuguese loanwords, including among other Mojo, originating from the Portuguese molho. In Portugal, molho is a specific sauce consisting of olive oil, salt, water, wine vinegar, garlic, paprika, chillies, and various spices such as cumin and coriander, all prepared with a mortar. Portuguese seafarers brought Molho sauce to the Canary Islands, which was modified in Spanish to Mojo. Since then, Mojo sauce has played a large role in Canarian gastronomy (Mojo Picón is with pepper, and Mojo Verde with coriander).

Mojo Canario (Canary Island Mojo) arrived in Cuba with the Canary expats and turned into Mojo Cubano (Cuban Mojo), which is prepared with garlic, onions, olive oil, oregano, salt and a mixture of the juice of limes and oranges.

In the Caribbean, these fruits are much more common than the wine vinegar used in the original recipe from the Canary Islands. The Mojo Cubano is a sauce or marinade that is served with Lechón asado (grilled pork), grilled chicken and many other meat dishes, and of course there are almost as many variations of Mojo Cubano as there are Cubans on the island: Mojo Criollo, Mojo Tomate, etc. are just a few of the famous varieties.

 
 

So where did the original name for mojito come from?

Some sources say that the name Mojito also has Canary roots, just like Mojo Cubano sauce. Canarian expats to Cuba worked in the sugar cane plantations where sugar cane was processed into rum. 

One theory goes that the word for the drink comes from "Mojadito" (something wet) and from there it became Mojito (Wikipedia: "...the name Mojito is simply a derivative of mojadito (Spanish for "a little wet") or simply the diminutive of mojado ("wet"). Due to the vast influence of immigration from the Canary Islands, the term probably came from the mojo creole marinades adapted in Cuba using citrus vs traditional Isleño types"). 

But "Mojadito" (something wet) makes little sense to me. More so, I think that "Mojito" derives from “Majadito" (with an "a" instead of an "o" after the M). "Hacer un Majado" or “Majadito" in the Spanish dialect of the Canary Islands means "something crushed”, and that's exactly what you do if you want to prepare a "Mojo" sauce in a mortar. When preparing a mojito, you lightly crush the mint leaves in the glass, most often using a spoon.

In this way, you can clearly see how the progression from “Majadito” to “Mojito” is made. 
Because people speak very quickly in the Canary Islands, they end up swallowing their letters and even whole syllables when speaking out loud — in Cuba they do that too — so that a word like “Majadito” quickly becomes shortened to “Majaito”, which then mutates to the much shorter version of “Mojito”. The name Mojito is thereby a diminutive form of something in a compressed form.

 
Mango Soup

Mango Soup

 

“Today I’ll drink and be patriotic" I say to Guillermo after explaining my mojito theory and already feeling the urge to get my dancing feet on the floor. The band was simply so good and carried everyone along with it. "Okay, so if you're interested in mojitos, then come to the hotel bar this evening where we are about to test the new cocktail menu, including the classic one and some other unusual variations on mojitos. You can also eat typical Cuban food in the restaurant as well". 

And so that was the story of how I ended up testing various mojitos and eating mango soup and grilled chicken with Mojo Cubano in Guillermo’s hotel restaurant, before then moving on in the early hours to a different bar where I drank six or seven mojitos. Or eight or more.