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Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Rolling Temple

My interview with Thyoung, AKA Richie



MyInterviewWithRichie by ellistheisland
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I live in a town in the San Francisco, Bay Area. Mostly populated by an Asian population. One day as I was driving I noticed an RV that was advertising free books. Awesome I thought, and then I realized that they were about buddhism. I sighed, and thought too bad they aren't political, radical text, and how awesome it would be if they were. Then about a week later I was driving around town bored out of my mind contemplating the idea of making a documentary about my hometown. I turned a corner and saw the same RV parked on the side of the road. Bored out of my mind, I decided to pull over and take a closer look. The RV was old, probably at least 15 years old, probably older, and the signs on the RV looked tattered. I stood there staring at the books that were in Vietnamese and Chinese, thinking about striking up a conversation with the monk that had just stepped out of the RV. He came out to pick up CDs that had been blown off the shelves by the strong winds. I bent over to help, then handed the pile to him and was thanked. I decided to ask some dumb question like “is this your RV?” We started talking and I asked if I could come by the next day to interview him. He agreed without hesitating, and I was so excited I went home and thought about the interview. I tried to come up with questions, but I couldn't come up with a list of questions that would give me a decent story. So I forced as many decent questions out of me as I could and the next morning headed over to the RV to meet Richie whose Vietnamese name was Thyoung.
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Before I went home the night before, I wrote down some questions for Richie because he asked me to since his English wasn't that good. I wrote down about 9 questions, handed them to him and left. When I arrived the next day he invited me into his RV which can be described as a mix between a library and a temple. He had tons of books stacked all around the RV, and posters and statues of Buddah. He asked me to sit and then gave me a stool. He then pulled out the list of questions and his answers that he wrote in red ink. He started the interview by addressing the last question on the list: 'what message do you want to give people?' He asked me why people are sent to jail, and I immediately thought about giving him some question related to maintaining an obedient society that is forced into a capitalist system. But I was fortunate enough to be slow on my feet and he was able to proceed without my annoying answer.
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He went on to tell me that earth is like a prison and we are here because we are sinners. And he went on to tell me more but I couldn't really understand what he was saying. I felt like he wasn't making any sense. I tried my best to clarify what he was saying but it was useless. And I concluded that the general message was in order to get out of earth we would need to live a life without sin.
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After about twenty minutes I started asking Richie the questions I had come up with the night before. Richie was born in Vietnam to wealthy parents who owned a wood company. He didn't go into much detail, but made it clear that life as a child was good. He then came to the United States in 1979 when he was 19. He arrived in San Diego and attended Mesa College where he got his AS degree. Then in 1984 he attended San Diego State University and pursued a degree in electrical engineering. He told me dropped out because he didn't have enough money for school. After dropping out of school he moved to San Jose in 1987 to work for Memorex in order to make a lot of money. After a few years of working in San Jose, Richie began gambling in order to get rich quick. He quit his job and became a full time gambler. He told me he would spend all his time at big casinos playing games like Texas hold 'em. During this time in his life he quit his job and started living in what is now the rolling temple. As a full time gambler, Richie would sometimes win it big and sometimes lose it all. When he was down on his luck, Richie would have to find work and regularly made money in illegal ways. He mentioned he also frequented brothels. But it all changed one day when he was playing a card game in a casino. He said the card that he was holding changed into another card and he realized someone was sending him a message. It was in 2001 that Richie visited a temple and a year later and became a monk and started the rolling temple.
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I asked Richie questions like 'do you ever get lonely?' 'do you ever get bored?' and he would give me the same answer that went something like 'no I don't get lonely or bored, I spend my time meditating.'
I ended the interview asking Richie if there was anything he wanted to say that we hadn't covered and this is what he had to say: “A religion is come to practice not just come to pray, like you rely on someone, a religion is supposed to teach people to, like you work you make money with your own hand. Religion is the same, you don't teach people to rely on others, just like you want to cross the river, you need to learn how to swim, you can't wait for people to take you. A religion has to teach people how to swim, then you know how to swim, then you swim. Don't rely on others.”
I showed assent, took some pictures, and thanked him for his time.
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Richie told me he would be there for a week, and I said OK. I guess the story that I have is the story of how a man came to buddhism. The strange sight of a monk in an RV in the middle of a suburban environment is mind-boggling since I imagine monks to be at a temple or at a monastery. The rolling temple is like a Wikipedia on wheels. Move over food trucks, philosophy on wheels is the next big thing.
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