The upcoming conference of the International Association of Theravada Buddhist Universities is almost underway here in Sagaing Hills. Many of the about three hundred visitors are beginning to arrive. Bhante Gunaratana of the Bhavana Society and author of Mindfulness in Plain English arrived yesterday. Originally only about 100 delegates were expected, preparations have gotten very busy. My ordination date has changed til after the conference, to the morning of March 10 here or the evening of March 9 in real (Texas) time.
The conference is almost entirely in English, except for a smaller Pali language session. Some of the senior monks at Sitagu are busy preparing and rehearsing their talks, which for many is quite challenging. Many have much difficulty with pronunciation, even though the vocabulary is there, so I have been helping some of them to prepare. Although English is widely taught here, and Burma is a former British colony, few Burmese have contact with native speakers of English or with foreigners in general. I noticed in our travels to smaller villages that most Burmese have never even seen a foreigner outside of TV or movies. This made the native American component of our party very exotic indeed. It was interesting to be stared at so much, expecially by kids who would crowd around our car when we stopped and press their noses right up against the windows, then get very excited if we so much as waved, or if one of our party took their picture.
I intend to offer a course focussing on the pronunciation of English as Sitagu. Sitagu Academy is supposed to be English-language speaking, but I understand that I will have to try to learn more Burmese than I intended to be able to communicate with people here. I was helping one of the monks whose rehearsal presentation I had attended without understanding more than a few words. While we were re-rehearsing I asked him who was currently teaching English at Sitagu. He answered that he was! People, kids and monks, are very eager to learn English or anything else, and work very diligently. So teaching English here should be a rewarding experience.
One of our party, Scott Conn, has returned to Austin already. If he has not done so already, he intends to post some pictures to this blog so that you can see what it looks like around here.