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Thứ Tư, tháng 7 27, 2005

No. 0434

15 Minutes: Thai trip provides perspective for student

Amanda Fehd July 25, 2005

David Hartzell, 18, just returned from 11 months in Thailand as an exchange student with Rotary International. While there, he became a monk for seven days. He explored Thailand's culture and religion and discovered there are many ways to live and be happy. A graduate of South Tahoe High School, David now works at Orchid's Thai restaurant.

Q: What will you miss now about Thailand?

A: What I miss is how everyone smiles at you while you walk down the street, if you talk to them, they smile at you, you start out with their respect and here, when you talk to somebody, you have to gain their respect.

Q: So in one of your pictures, you have your head shaved and wear the clothes of a monk. What's going on there?

A: For seven days, I went to the wat, which means temple.

In Thailand, there's a tradition for Thai men to go into the temple for seven days to life. A lot of Thai men go in for three months, they go in before they get married.

It was basically to understand part of what Thai culture is.

It opened up a possibility to me that I never considered, because I am Christian. It was a very spiritual experience.

Q: Why did you try it?

A: If I'm going to argue against Buddhism, I wanted to understand it more.

Q: Do you really want to argue against it?

A: Now I don't, because you really can't argue against it. It's a way of life and peace and living in harmony with others.

Q: Buddhism doesn't have a god.

A: No, they don't. People take Buddha for god, but he wasn't; he was a teacher.

Q: Did you learn about your own faith?

A: It changed it a little bit. Religion was a big part of going, to explore myself and find out more about what I believe. And I did find out a lot. I really gained a lot of respect for Buddhism as well, if you just live it as a way of life. So many people of different religions are ignorant of everything.

I have a little Buddhism in my life now, and I know how to calm myself. But I still believe in God and that Jesus died for my sins.

Q: How would you sum up how your understanding changed there?

A: I went expecting Buddhism to be something completely different than what it was, because I didn't know. What I knew came from images of what I've gotten here and images of what the church gave.

But when I went over there I realized it's just a peaceful way of life. Those people in those temples over there are more in touch with the world than anyone I've ever met. Even 15-year-olds would talk to me in a way that was more in touch with a deeper understanding of the world.

People get so worked up about the tiniest things here in America.

Q: Did you feel like you were denying your own beliefs?

A: Kind of. To me it wasn't a risk, it was part of the culture and I wanted to completely immerse myself in Thai customs.

That was probably the biggest part I had to deal with, probably because I had to shave my head and my eyebrows (laughs). When you go into the temple, it's a period in your life where you gain respect for everything around you.

Q: Could you speak with anyone about what you were going through?

A: There was a monk there that spoke English and we talked a lot. We would talk late into the night. It was amazing. I still talk to him; we write letters.

Q: What's the value of understanding another culture or religion?

A: It gives insight about the way other people live in the world. By immersing yourself in a different culture, you see the world in a different light. I come back and I see so many things differently. Everything is different to me

I saw people living in shacks made out of cardboard and newspaper. And they are happy. They are so happy. It seems to me people with less are happier, in other counties. Here, everyone just wants more and more and more. Over there, the rich people are content with what they have and the poor people are content with what they have. More would be good fortune, but life is good, they have their family and good health and that's a good day.

Q: If you could make a contribution to the world, what would it be?

A: Help out. Try to help people understand that how everyone else lives is not wrong.