Wordcarpenter Books

Chapter Fifteen 


The Monastery of Sacred Tablets


Thomas stepped off the plane onto the cracked tarmac arrived in a small, empty airport, the only foreigner to be seen. Hot and muggy, he was surprised at the temperature in Rangoon compared to the coastal coolness of Hong Kong, both so close in latitude. He hadn't expected the over-bearing heat.

It took two minutes to get through customs. It had been difficult getting a visa for Burma because no writers were allowed in the country. He had written "Academic Writer" as his profession so he had been asled to write aletter stating he didn't write for the media. Only by insisting to speak to the embassador he had been able to get his visa. 

The Rangoon airport barren: nothing on the walls, behind the desks or a computer to be seen. Slipping on his sunglasses after walking through the customs booth, he picked up his bag and then purchased a bottle of booze at the duty-free store. Walking out to the arrivals foyer, just by chance he glanced at the people awaiting new arrivals and stopped in his tracks when he saw a cardboard sign reading:

He smiled in amazement at the tall man holding the freshly printed cardboard sign.

"I'm Thomas Robertson."

"Welcome to our country Mr. Robertson," he replied, his voice chiming. "Happy you made it safe." A big, heavy man of Indian descent with skin the native hue of mocha, Thomas stepped through the cordon and shook his hand, immediately seeing his pleasant demeanor and trustworthy eyes.

"I'm glad I spotted you. I hadn't expected anyone to be here at the airport." Everyone standing there stared at Thomas as if a zoo animal. Burma was a country where most of the populace hadn't seen a white face before. It had been over fifty years since the British left and the military dictatorship perferred to keep foreginers out. A ripple of bone-centered fatigue reverberated through his body; Thomas always preferred to be incognito when he traveled.

"A pleasant surprise I hope." A grin at the corner of his mouth, a cheery voice.

"Indeed it is. A great surprise." He picked up the bigger backpack Thomas brought and they walked outside where the heat washed over him leaving a layer of sweat to cool him down.

"I'm parked very close - just over here." Thomas removed his sweatshirt and threw his bag in the back seat. There was no air-conditioning unlike Hong Kong where you could always count on taxis and buses bordering on the same temperature as a refrigerator.

"Where would you like to go Mr. Robertson? Your hotel? Or would you like to come to our office right away? I ask because Julian our director will be leaving a little early today for a prior engagement. This is why he suggested I pick you up so you could meet and discuss your questions. Then you can proceed on your vacation." Thomas was uplifted by the melodious tone of his accent.

"Well, I don't see any reason not to meet with the director now. I would like to begin my travels as soon as I can. So thank you. Let's go to the office."

"Very good sir." His accent part British colonial with a distinct Indian curry flavor. They drove past swarms of people walking beside concrete nightmares of crumbling stores, both men and women wearing sarongs and flip-flops, and then a pristine swath of palm trees protecting colonial mansions in rows along the main street nestled around Inle Lake. It contrasted sharply against the ache of squalor and poverty just across the street. Removing another shirt, Thomas was down to his t-shirt.

"Inle Lake sir," said the driver, pointing and playing tour guide. "It is where many British used to live. Very nice." Instead of tropical lush it was bone dry, everything covered in dust. Long streets of wall-to-wall colonial four-story buildings with pronounced bay windows and crumbling facades hidden by fresh paint, the stately order of colonial Rangoon was marked by weeds and grass growing out of ornate balconies and arched entrances.

When they arrived at the Methodist office, Thomas was escorted intp a front room, fans swirling, hardwood floors worn.

"Mr. Thomas Robertson, I am Julian. So glad to make your acquaintance sir." A short man, well into his seventies, dressed in a pressed suit and yet wearing flip-flops, put out his hand looking more British than most of Thomas's British friends in Hong Kong. Julian seemed genuinely happy to meet him.

"Likewise," he replied, clearing his throat of dust. "Very kind of you to pick me up from the airport. Thank you for that." Thomas relaxed in the vibe of benevolence as he stood in front of him, Julian's flip-flops more casual than his Birkenstock sandals.

"I do need to leave a tad early this afternoon for a wedding," he said with the ease of one who knows he has found his true calling. "One of our flock is getting married." Thomas put his hands behind his back in the Chinese style as a sign of respect, and said something about promoting love in his congregation. He nodded with vigor.

"Shall we go into my office?" The office was small but had a history to it, as if it had been the scene of a great event. Numerous portraits of missionaries lined the walls. He spotted Eugenio right away with his Red Man bone structure.

"So Mr. Thomas Robertson, how exactly can I help you? You mentioned Reverend Eugenio Kin Kaid on the telephone last week. He is a famous man here in our country. He preached throughout Upper Burma." Thomas looked at a big map on the wall, and motioned towards it.

"Where did he build his church Julian? Was it close to Mandalay? Or north of it?"

"The church he helped build is in a place called Katha."

"Katha? Isn't that where George Orwell wrote his book Burmese Days?" Thomas had brought the book with him, a story of his time when he was a colonial cop in the 1920s. But his question petered out when Julian's face changed from joy to nervous anxiety.

"I'm sorry but I do not know this author you speak of. But-" He walked to the map on the wall. "Katha is right here - on the Irrawaddy River. The Kachin Methodist Church is just outside of town, about here. It's a very beautiful spot. The church still has many who attend."

"Did Reverend Kin Kaid preach at many churches? Or just this one?"

"Many churches," he enthused proudly. "He was the only missionary in Myskyina for many years, until he heard his calling to build another Temple to God in the isolated town of Katha. I tell you Mr. Thomas Robertson, do you like the British buildings from before the War?" The very way Julian carried himself gave him the impression he yearned for the good old colonial days.

"Very much," he replied truthfully. "In fact I'm a big fan of colonial architecture. Why?"

"Because Katha is a particularly quaint colonial town where time has not changed it since the days when the British were here. It was one of the reasons I believe Mr. Kin Kaid decided to move from Myskyina to Katha." Thomas retrieved some photocopied papers from his bag and scanned them.

"I'm just wondering, is there a main Christian church in the north that is considered a religious center where missionaries would stop at as they traveled north?" Julian rubbed his chin and smiled.

"I don't think so. Many of the churches are roughly the same size so there's no major church that has any special importance than any others in Upper Burma. But there is a very old and a wonderful church in Mandalay that is right beside the Mandalay Fort and Royal Palace. It is situated beside the fort's moat and near a monastery that is said to have the largest book in the world written on stone tablets." Stone tablets Thomas thought to himself. "That is the first place I think of when I think of a stopover, if you will, for ministers on their way north. All the other churches are small, local parishes run by ministers without particular distinction." Thomas was quiet for a moment, nodding at Julian as he circled the Methodist Church in Mandalay on his map.

"This monastery with the world's biggest book. What's the book?" Julian raised his hand, as if about to give a lecture.

"The book is a collection of engraved tablets of stone that have holy Buddhist scriptures. There are 730 tablets in the monastery I believe. It is a very pretty place, directly beside the Emperor's Royal Palace and Mandalay Hill." He was suddenly aware of a prickly sensation on his forehead where the red welt had been from the spark. "Does that answer your question?"

"Sorry, yes it does Julian. I'm just looking at the rest of my questions here. Do you have any archived material of Reverend Kin Kaid or other missionaries that would have been left behind?"

"Personal papers? Notes, old sermons and whatnot?" he asked.

"Yes, that type of thing. Like research or notes that missionaries may have bequeathed to the church?"

"Oh I see. I don't think we have anything here at the office. It is my understanding that everything was left at the church in Katha. I don't believe he had any family here. So if he left any of his work behind for others, you may want to visit the church in Katha."

"One last question," he ventured. "Did he have any special projects or areas of interest that you know of? For example, was he interested in Tibet, or in Native American Indian mythology, for example?" Thomas wasn't sure how he would take to this question.

"You mean Red Indians?"

"Yes, the Red Indian." Cheeks flushed with anticipation.

"Yes. He spoke of the Red Indians quite often with another missionary by the name of Reverend Francis Mason, I think. They were looking for connections between the origin of the Red Man and that of the Hebrews who are reported to still be living in the hills in Northern Burma in the Kachin State mainly. Representatives from Israel were here organizing the emigration of the Lisu Tribe a few decades ago. They believed they shared a Hebrew religion."

"Isn't that interesting. Did some emigrated to Israel?"

"I believe so, after they completed a genetic study."

"Where exactly are the Lisu?" Julian pointed to just north of Katha, near Myskinia. Somewhere church bells rang in the distance. Julian glanced at his watch.

"Is there anyone else who works on a similar line of research who is here in Burma presently?" Julian seemed to enjoy the challenge of searching for a candidate, but was sad when he couldn't think of a name.

"Many missionaries left after the military coup forty-five years ago. I do not know of any such work being done today. I'm so sorry." With that, Thomas picked up his bag.

"I cannot begin to thank you enough for your help Julian. Really, I'm indebted to you for your candor and kindness." A firm handshake and nothing but a generous love in his eyes.

"It is my pleasure to be able to help in anyway."

"You have, sir. You have helped me a great deal." Careful to call him sir to give respect. Julian walked him out to the car where the dark-skinned man waited by the car.

"If you like, you can go with Samuel to your hotel."

Samuel drove him to his guesthouse near the Strand Hotel by the Irrawaddy River past brightly painted colonial buildings lined with palm trees as he began to feel the thrill of a journey about to commence. By the time he reached his guesthouse, he had decided the church in Mandalay was where he would begin his holy mission.


Part One - Canada
1.      The Twin From the East Returns  
2.      The Sundancer  
3.      Waxing Gibbous 
4.      The Second Coming of the Messiah 
5.      The Sacred Twin Story 
6.      The Sign of the Pahana 
7.      Palongawhoya and Poqanghoya 
8.      Rainbow Thunderbird and Red Phoenix 
9.      The True White Brother 
10.    The Lost Louis Riel Notebooks 
Part Two - Hong Kong
11.    A Mixture of Revulsion and Pity 
12.    A Classroom of Scallywags 
13.    Illegitimati non Carborundum 
14.    The Distant Fire of Empyrean
Part Three - Burma
15.    The Monastery of Sacred Tablets 
16.    The Outpost of Tyranny 
17.    When the 12th Moon Comes 
18.    The Pigeon Left & the Crow Took His Place 
19.    Go North and Find Your People 
20.    Finding Orwell 
21.    Though the Monkey is in a Hurry, the Tree Branch is Not 
22.    The Castle at God's Toes 
23.    The General and Sergeant Betel Nut 
24.    The Tattooed Station Master 
25.    Reverend Crow's Life's Work 
26.    Yield Not to Adversity, But Press on More Bravely 
27.    A Bitter Cuppa Tea 
28.    The Thirteenth Tribe 
29.    When a Lamp is Lit You Must Expect Insects 
30.    John the Christian 
31.    A Guardian Angel Named Hanna 
32.    The Bar Car & Betel Nut 
33.    The Son of Light 
34.    Slipping the Karmic Knot
Part Four - Hong Kong
35.    The Tonsure Warning 
36.    The Phoenix Reborn 
37.    Touching the Empyrean 
38.    Joshua the Gatekeeper 
Part Five - Canada
39.    Lapsit Exillis 
40.    Thunderstones 
41.    The Time of Great Purification  


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