Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Geography of Kindness

"This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness."

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th and current Dalai Lama

Joon Keat, Vincent and I have lunch a few days ago in a small and largely unexpected Korean restaurant snuggled in a hidden corner of the town of McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala. It was a genuine outfit, ran by real Koreans and we went there on the recommendation of the Madam who runs the Cherryton Cottage, a little backpacker's inn our group was lodging at. The cafe had the feel of an apartment in Seoul; cosy dimensions, heavy dark-wood furniture, Korean books piled on a largish bookshelf like layered Vienetta and a single massive but miserly window facing the beautiful Dharamsala valley.

It was from our table which we overheard a conversation in Mandarin between a young, bespectacled monk and a lady possibly in her late twenties who had a toddler with her, a baby girl with prodigious potential for hyperactivity. Mandarin is a rather alarming dialect to be heard in McLeod Ganj because - well - the Chinese were bloody responsible for the existence of he Tibetan refugee settlement in McLeod Ganj in the first place. Further unintentional eavesdropping (it was a weally teeny woom) revealed the lady's concern of a "Ta Shuen" or "General Election" and that dropped several pins at once. With the departure of the monk (who turned out to be Indonesian, by the way) Joon Keat and Vincent scooted over to the lady's table for a spot of conversation with the evidently Malaysian woman. I, ever the private entity, stayed put and listen from where I sat.

She said that she was on a 2 months pilgrimage there at the Tsuglagkhang, the Dalai Lama's temple, to learn what His Grace has to teach about his faith of Mahayana Buddhism - an exercise and experience I hope to emulate in the not-too-distant future.

After a brief exchange of our Indian contact numbers just-in-case, the lady excused herself and her daughter and left the cafe - but not before sending over her practically untouched plate of deep-fried-something to our table. 'Couldn't finish it' she told us and as soon as the door closed in her wake, the waiter bloke said,

"She paid your bill."

What with our special order of a whole chicken dish which required us to wait more than a whole hour for,
our bill could not possibly have been lighter than 700 rupees (RM 60) in total.

We were quite thoroughly stunned. We just sat there with our mouths agape. staring at one another like idiots for several full seconds. Then I reacted; I stabbed my stainless steel chopsticks into my bowl of rice and bolted for the door with a yelp. I nearly collided with her in foyer though as she was heading back to the shop to retrieve her child's sweater (or something of that nature).

We pleaded her to let us pay her back but she refused firmly. As I held the door open and bade her farewell, it struck me that I lacked even the courtesy to go over and speak to her earlier. Neither did I possess the grace to ask her name. The reason for her generosity to us - which I cannot rightly claim knowledge of - probably had something to do with us being Malaysians, as she is. It was with that assumption that the three of us vowed to pick the bill of the next Malaysians we meet on our trip.

Is it true that we are more prone to be kind to people we are familiar with?

Take the Madam who runs the Cherryton Cottage for example; we checked in at about 6 am on the 7th of march, checking out at 12 pm on the 8th. According to standard hotel and guest house regulations, it was quite within the bounds of the hotelier or host to charge us for two nights' worth of stay (which the one in Amritsar did, by the way). Fearing another Amritsar fiasco, I approached the Madam to negotiate the charges. Basically, I hold the job of talking to middle-aged landladies during our trip because they seem to like me a lot). I was delighted to discover that the Madam have already decided on her on to bill us for only one night, and the reason she cited was this; I am the spitting image of her uncle, right down to my hair and the way I smile.

The apparence is staggering; familiarity does breed a disposition for kindness.

Anyhow, the previous two incidents in Dharamsala aren't my motives for penning this entry. The one I really want to talk about is one with a rather more unfortunate and negative nature, and it happened in Manali.

Member of our group have somehow made the acquaintance of a couple of Korean girls while we were on the hellish bus ride from McLeod Ganj to the snow-capped mountains of Manali. I thought them to be immensely scatterbrained creatures - backpacking across India with the woeful smattering of English words they are able to employ, armed only with a rather tattered Korean backpackers' guidebook which was only about a third of the thickness of the ones we were packing and ARRIVING IN BLOODY FRIGID MANALI AT 3.00 AM IN THE BLOODY MORNING WITHOUT ANY ADVANCE RESERVATIONS AT A GUEST HOUSE NOR HAVING ANY BLOODY CLUE WHERE THEY WANT TO GO AFTER THEIR BLOODY ARRIVAL. Naturally, we took them under our wing and brought them to our lodge.

There was room for them there but they considered the rates to be a tad too pricey for their budget (a really pathetic creature it was indeed, this budget of theirs). They decided to go out and search for accommodation elsewhere in the morning instead. Pope Vincent the Benevolent suggested that they could hang out in one of our rooms while waiting for daybreak to come, which was due to make an appearance in 3 hours or less anyway.

As little love I have for fools, 3 hours seemed little enough a charity to give to a couple lost Korean girls to me. A female member of our group (who was a Korean drama addict, incidentally), who I shall name here as Tee, led the Korean girls to her room which she was sharing with two other girls; Jay and Dee. To Tee's surprise and quiet disdain, Jay pointedly refused. This I learnt when Jay came to my room to complain about it.

"How very Buddhist of you," I commented dryly. Jay is the only other member of our group who is a badge-wearing Buddhist.

"That's not how I was brought up," she replied curtly and I prudently said no more.

It appeared to me - if you can forgive the bluntness of my sensibilities - that Jay wasn't brought up to be kind enough to a couple of fellow backpackers by putting up with them for a 3 measly hours. Had I been met with the same request in her stead, I would have found it impossible, this I say as a human being, to refuse it. I do not want to appear as if I am badmouthing my friend here but her adamant refusal to help shocked me - and it shocked me precisely because I have always considered her to be a generous soul, one who have helped me out many times before. Who am I to pass judgement? But still, we judge and are judged by our actions every single second of the day whether we deserve to or deserve it, or not.

I disturbed me deeply that something as elementary as the difference in nationality would cause a person of known good character to be discourteous and to deny asylum for an insignificant amount of time to a couple of persons in need of it. There is no question of mistrusting the Korean girls' character as Tee would have been in the same room with them for all 3 hours to keep an eye on them. There is no excuse I can find by which I could justifiably say no to them. Em (another girl) and her boyfriend apparently had the same mind as I did, and volunteered their room instead.

I was never brought up to show kindness to two weary and cold Korean girls either (even if they didn't have two brain cells to rub between them) - but still, it's a feat which I feel I can achieve with no great difficulty.

I cannot insult my own upbringing quite that way.

P.S. Beve just posted not too long before this. Go check out her awesome post.

P.P.S. Isn't it the recent Malaysian General Elections just glorious? I think so.

Believes in mettā,
k0k s3n w4i


michelleg said...

interesting incident.

Johnny Ong said...

excellent story over there. its always nice to travel to interesting places to open yr eyes wide

mrbherng said...

A lot of backpackers just head off without much planning. Plans are only made on the move. Of course, many of them have a much larger budget for the flexibility though

bevE said...

po !!! sabotager T^T xD xD nvm its not my blog ._. i should've waited a day for u to blog then i dun have to T_T *dammit kena tricked*

so how'd it feel to comment on your own blog? :D it was really weird to see ur comment second u know o.O i was expecting kosong ._. even mr b ignoring me T^T


po attracts teh ladies x3 old, young, in fact guys too! his attractiveness/sex appeal knows no boundaries. <3

gaL said...

Yes, i do think that we are kinder to people that we familiar with. Nevertheless, if u r kind, u can be kind to anybody also. Nice story u have thr, Next time go chia some other people and make it a link kind of thing. haha.

pinksterz said...

hurm i guess it is true that we tend to act kinder and friendlier to a fellow malaysian (i am always excited at the sight of any chinese in egypt you know because it reminds me of malaysia and my friends back home but malays always make me goes into hiding wtf)

but i guess i will be a lil sceptical to let the girls to be in the room too. but then maybe my friends will be able to talk me into it :)