It’s Sunday brunch at the Thai Buddhist Temple, where the air smells of sugary sauces and lemongrass.
As you walk in, a sign tells you suggested donations for food items, which aren’t suggestions at all as you learn if you order too many items with too few tokens and are scolded by the pre-school teacher clergy member.
I haven’t been to Buddhist centers in the US, and, after coming here, using Buddhist countries as a comparison point seemed akin to comparing tacos in the US to that in Latin America. What I mean is, here, there were no red robed monks, no chanting, no chilly air, no incense, no scabrous dogs, no sister chasing after scabrous dogs…It’s not to say the place was not Buddhist, just a different type that I was used to.
The atmosphere actually dredged up memories of St. Joseph, my elementary school where donation bins and temple members peppered the premise, not always together, but always casual and always looking their holiest. And much like church after Sunday mass, the backyard contained long plastic tables propped up for maximal space efficiency, minimal effort, and, perhaps, the want for group conversations. However, conversation isn’t quite as easy since at church you are united under your faith in god where is here you are united under a love of thai food.
People move and mix but no one talks much to one another, like the spices mingling in your mouth but remaining distinctly separate flavors.
The high turnover at tables and numerous lines produce temporal conversations ideal for practicing talking to strangers without the stress of knowing if you screw up, you’re stuck with these people for the duration of your meal.
I’m sure I’ll go back. The feeling you get standing in line with your tokens for food is the same childhood thrill as waiting at the arcade, after pooling all your money together with your friends, to acquire that sushi shaped eraser.
Thai up your next Sunday at Wat Mongkolratanaram. I think you’ll have fun.