Bora Bora 2005.10.24

Bora Bora 2005.10.24
Bora Bora 2005.10.24 ©2005 Mark Phillips

Sunday, June 5, 2005

Kai Guang Amulet

The monks are experienced canvassers.

Orange robes, a team of two. "Hello, hello." Indefinite Asian accent, smile. White teeth, shaved heads. Strong-looking. Simple.

I'm curious, so I bite. "Hello." Return the smile.

Nods, more smiles, but now the rap unfolds swiftly with practiced precision. A notebook holds a photocopied sheet in Chinese and English. We are Buddhists. We are raising money to build a new temple. I nod. Yes, I understand.

Then the closer. Another notebook page shows a list of names, one per line, along with country of origin and quantity contributed. Someone from the UK: five thousand HKD. An Australian: two thousand HKD. The notebook is thrust into my hands, along with an inexpensive black ballpoint. Sign here, they say by pointing. Yes, I understand.

Then the upsale. I write my name, U.S.A., and one hundred dollars HKD. Equals about twelve, U.S. The monks smile, take the pen, and change my written 100 to 200.

I laugh. I once did the same thing for a living. I know the structure and had been interested to see how they would do it without a common language. For instance, I had not believed that previous canvassees had contributed five thousand HKD. The list was a shill, that is, a sales tool. I shake my finger. Nuh-uh. One hundred HKD.

The monks feel that that's fine. In return they give me two gifts. A bracelet of black plastic beads on a stretchable rubber string, which one monk places on my wrist. I like that. To me, it's a gesture of friendship. Then, a small golden card printed with various symbols and characters. The Bodhisattva Guanyin, beautiful, meditating. Chinese script, and, in English characters, Kai guang Amu let - Kai guang amulet - and Safe allone life. On the flipside, a yin-yang symbol, Chinese script, and a shiny red convertible sportscar. I have no idea, but somehow I believe this card is like a Saint Christopher's medal: an amulet for travelers. I like that, too.

It comes in handy. All weekend as I walk the city new monks approach, sometimes in pairs, sometimes singly, sometimes in orange robes, sometimes in gray. "Hello." Sometimes accompanied by a soft touch on the arm. Always I smile, and take the amulet from my shirt pocket. See? Already gave. They smile and nod, and move on.

Mark Phillips, The Star Ferry, Hong Kong, June 10, 2005
Mark Phillips, The Star Ferry, Hong Kong, June 10, 2005


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