Thursday, 12 May 2016

To Perth again and back: Serpentine (Part one)

It's been about six weeks since Saw See and I took a short holiday to de-stress after I had completed about 90 percent of the manuscript for the Penang Free School Bicentenary Book project.

For the second time in seven years, we went to Perth but this time, it was only for five days at the end of March, much shorter than the eight days we spent there in 2009. Actually, Perth did not come into our reckoning at all but we got carried away when Malindo Air launched their new flights to Western Australia last November. We found the price appealing enough and decided to go Down Under again.

So there we were, on 25th March morning, waiting for the ETS electric train service to arrive at the Bukit Mertajam station, which it did at about 7.10 a.m. promptly. As we've done the train journey so many times before, this trip wasn't out of the extraordinary. We arrived at the KL Sentral at about 11 o'clock and were picked up by our daughter. There would be about 12 hours to kill in Kuala Lumpur before the Malindo Air flight took off at 11 p.m.

We arrived at the Perth International Airport after five o'clock in the morning of 26th March, duly went through Australian Immigration and Customs control, and found ourselves queuing up at the Optus counter to buy a pre-paid SIM card for my mobile. Quite cheap, actually, because I paid only AUD10 for five days of usage which included 500MB of data daily. The Optus counter can be easily seen once you leave the arrival hall. Just turn left and you are there.

We next went to the car rental counter to pick up our vehicle from Thrifty. I had expected that they would allocate us the Nissan Tilda but was surprised to be given the Toyota Corolla, a bigger car. Suited us fine, actually, because of our big bags.

Because the holidays were short, we decided on only a few destinations in our itinerary. One of them, however, would have to be a visit to the Bodhinyana Monastery at Serpentine. When Ajahn Brahm visited Penang last December, I had asked him casually whether he would be in Perth during the Easter weekend and he had said yes. As such, not visiting the monastery would be totally out of the question for me as I had really wanted to catch the monk in his liar.

It was a rather quiet drive to Serpentine but for a brief flurry of excitement with my old GPS unit that I had brought along from home. I still had my old Western Australia navigation map installed but I had been unable to find my updated map of the place. Consequently, for much of my driving around the airport, the poor GPS unit kept telling me that I was driving on some undiscovered road in the middle of nowhere although I was definitely on the highway to somewhere. But soon I saw the sign board that said Armadale, and I remembered from long ago that Serpentine was in the same direction.

Pretty soon, the GPS took over and I found myself at the Bodhinyana about an hour later: just in time, actually, to catch the tail-end of Ajahn Brahm's morning prayers. We quickly offered him a dana of robes before joining the other people there for lunch.

I must say that the lunch served at this monastery was quite an eye opener. It was so much unlike the food that we get here in Penang, which is wholly Chinese fare. Here at Serpentine, we have devotees bringing in lasagna, chocolate, salad, biscuits and a cheese bar, assorted bread and yoghurt, among many other types of food. It was quite an experience.

Inevitably, we met a couple from Malaysia when we arrived at Bodhinyana. From Alor Star, they told us, and they had been in Perth for three weeks already. They showed us around the grounds after lunch was over. We went over to the meditation hall and submerged ourselves in the immense silence of the place, which was helped by a fully carpeted floor that completely muffled any sound from people walking around. We also met an elderly lady from Thailand who claimed to be both a Catholic and a Buddhist, if such a thing was ever possible. Anyhow, we couldn't stay too long at the monastery as we had to drive back to Perth. Fremantle beckoned next.

People lining up for food at the Bodhinyana in Australia is no different from people lining up back in Penang, except that they are more multi-racial
Enjoying our first full meal in Western Australia 
The silence of the well-carpeted meditation hall at the Bodhinyana Monastery
Our new-found friends at the monastery

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