Stone Basin

Stone Basin
at Ryo An Jin

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Day 19 A Day in the Life

I am ready to leave Kyoto. It's really hard to stay at a place where everything is so perfect. It's perfect not in the way that Singapore is perfect, mind you. It's just perfect in the way I value things. If I stay longer, I might just live here permanently. To make matters worse, I feel perfectly comfortable with all aspects of life, from the transportation, to the streets and how they are laid out, to the way people are, to the food and tea, of course, which is of supreme importance. People even bike around, with cotton masks. There is virtually no pollution, though the tap water isn't great. There are Buddhist temples everywhere, old houses, little alleys, small stores, and craftsmen proudly specializing in their crafts for centuries. Now there are many Starbucks, but who cares, you can get Musubi Rice Balls at the 7 Eleven. I just lament the fact that I am unsuited to live outside of Asia. And I have had more wagashi and mochi to be decent. No, I can't bring myself to admit it quite yet. I will need a support group first.

Early in the morning, I headed out to Daitokuji, where I was asked to get some natto. I had always wanted to visit this temple anyway, and hopefully there will be fewer tourists. But Zuiho-in was mostly where I ended up, one of the sub monasteries with the most interesting sand garden ever. The coarse sand has been raked to reflect a turbulent ocean, the turbulent ocean of our minds. Even the rocks that represented the miniature mountains are odd, pointed, and jutting out in different directions, a garden of immense discord and disharmony, though at first sight, it sure looked Zen and serene. It was odd to sit and reflect at this particular garden, but effectively, it quieted my mind quickly somehow. Maybe it was the reminder that our minds are so busy and unnecessarily bumpy. Sometimes, as soon as you are present in the moment and reminded of where your state of mind is, it quickly dissipates.
But what was in store, even better than the Zen mind, is the Zen vegetarian temple food. The little teahouse restaurant on the temple grounds served kaiseki lunch, including a bowl of natto, yuba, tofu, wonderful soup, a variety of other dishes, and a bowl of matcha as well as plum wine. I made peace with the natto today. It will never show up on my top three foods to puke with again, namely, Durian, Stinky Tofu, and Salty Fish. After hanging out in Central Hong Kong in 100 degree weather and wafts of Salty Fish festering in the heat attacked me, it has definitely replaced natto, which, Kyoto style, is quite good!
The kaiseki lunch was beyond satisfying! Zen priests sure live a good life.

Ryuoen teashop proved to be quite impressive. Their Shin Cha just blew the lid off of Ippodo, making them look like a Starbucks. Of course, I make it my business to visit teashops everywhere in the world. But Ryuoen must be undemonstratively one of the best. And they made their teas at such perfect lukewarm temperatures. Everywhere I went, I just had to ask if anyone uses tetsubins for tea making. Most of them were shocked, some laughed as if I was joking, and then some solemnly informed me that it is FOR HOTWATER only. Americans, please take note of this fact, which I did not make up. No one in Japan uses tetsubin/iron teapots for making tea. But don't take my word for it. I went all over Kyoto asking all the local tea professionals for YOUR erudition, not mine.

Walked all the way in a very hot day to a very obscure little street for a very long time, just to get some tofu from Iriyama, an old tofu shop. So I cooked dinner, something I haven't done for over a year, just so I can enjoy this freshly made fried tofu. It was worth the blood, sweat, and tears. Well, just the sweat. I need to move this tofu shop to Berkeley.

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