Saturday, October 13, 2007

Fabulous Evening

One of the highlights of our visit to Kyoto was the celebration of the meeting with a wonderful dinner at a Buddhist temple. Most of the 600 attendees participated in this event. It was dark when we reached the temple and our steep 70 step climb was lit by paper lanterns. The night was warm. Crickets and trickling water from the surrounding gardens hushed all the people as we entered the sacred space.

It was too dark to get pictures outside but the following were taken of a temple I had visited on my own that morning. The temples are similar.

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Outside gate

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As we entered, we were required to remove our shoes. Earlier in the day during my visit to a different temple by myself I had noticed how pleasant it was to take off my shoes and walk on the bamboo mats. We filed past the Buddha in the prayer area. No pictures are allowed of Buddha statues in the altar areas. Typically, there are flowers and offerings of fruit. In the next room were two women in kimonos quietly playing sitars. The banquet room was just beyond and I was astonished at the beauty of the food and the flower arrangements on the buffet tables. We were greeted with servers with trays of every imaginable color of drink.

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Two adorable Geisha trainees mingled with the guests and posed for photo after photo. I could tell they were not older than about 14 and we were told this was correct. Later, they entertained with a beautiful dance.

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Dave and his boss from UW

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At first, people were hesitant to partake of the food. It was all so artfully arranged, nobody wanted to disturb it. Carefully, the plates began to fill up. I took a little basket full of what looked like teeny porcupines. They were chestnuts and for a while I thought I was eating part of the centerpiece by mistake. I put part of it on Dave's plate to keep from feeling guilty but later I was told they were supposed to be eaten. Actually, they were yummy. The tables were filled with lobster, shrimp, smoked salmon, steamed salmon, rice and vegetables. Chefs were freshly preparing sushi at a separate table and frying tempura at yet another table. There was no limit.

Dave and his boss decided to feel intimidated by the government officials from all over the world, college presidents and Nobel Laureates. Dave's boss and I were two of very few women at the banquet. Both of them were questioning their worthiness to attend such a high powered conference. I kept telling them they were underestimating themselves because the UW is one of the leading research institutes in the world. I do not know what possessed me but I think it was because they were beginning to perturb me with all of this "not measuring up" talk. I pointed out that nobody in the room had on shoes. Somehow, the lack of footwear became humbling, equalizing and hilarious. Out came my camera and I pretended to be looking at photos I had taken when in reality I was taking pictures of people's feet. The following feet beong to movers and shakers in our country and world. At least one pair belongs to the head of a significant US government department that shall remain nameless.

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more feet and a Coach purse

The moment of our departure arrived. As we found our way out of the temple, I realized I couldn't find my claim check for my shoes. "This is it. God is striking me down for my irreverance for taking pictures of people's feet. And I'm in a sacred temple on top of it all...." But, my purse was new and I am not yet familiar with all of the pockets. At the last minute, the plastic tab surfaced and I got my boots back.

The evening was one of the most special times of my life and always will I remember it.