Ocean Building

Jan 21 2002, arrived in Nelson, after driving down from Auckland. Object: build a meditation hall to be opened by the Dalai Lama on May the 29th. Phillipa’s mom calls him "The Dalai". We like that, Simon and me, it means "ocean" in Tibetan, so we are making a place for the ocean.

The little country meditation centre consists of a old farm house with peeling paint, the usual assortment of odd buildings with rusting corrugated iron roofs, lots of trees and a couple of caravans for us to sleep in. It is miles from anywhere. The mountains crowd the sky to the North and West, washed each evening with the most beautiful light; so perfect most afternoons we are severly distracted The last half hour before sunset is especially enticing, and work frequently slows to a halt: "Don’t just do something, sit!"

For the first 40 or 50 days, we just work everyday, gently, and get to know the people who come to work with us. Do you know what "woofers" are? I didn’t. The letters stand for Willing Workers on Organic Farms, an international network that enables people to work a few hours a day in exchange for food and accomodation. The Centre isn’t part of the network – but we get lots of woofers anyway, all unforgetable characters.

Fred and Lezanne are English, he talks, she doesn’t. But gradually we discover Lezanne is a really great cook, and she cleans the house without a word, just does what needs to be done, my god the woman’s a saint!

Raimund is a young German, a nurse with a shaved head, such a tall drink of water and a smile to make anyone swoon. He is learning English the hard way – by working with Simon, who constantly gives him false information. The way he says "Cool" cannot be imitated, though many have tried. He called Simon his "Spring of inspiration", but he inspired everyone to be happier and more relaxed…….

Jake is an even younger Californian, I couldn’t believe he is only 18, as he works so well and learns so fast, the master of the mitre cut, fitting hundreds of metres of tongue and groove timber to the underside of the verandha roof. He says we taught him stress – I gave him an old slogan from a surgeon "If it’s perfect, it’s just good enough".

The building takes shape like any organic process, or like ants building a nest. Have you ever watched ants? So much back and forth to no avail. It seems I spend all the time either wandering around looking for tools, trying to tell people what to do, or chasing materials on the phone. .But slowly, in spite of everything, it grows, a room for 100 kiwi meditators, "or one amercian" as a visiting wit suggests. Not a very big room, but high.

The smokos and lunches are amazing. No wonder they last so long. Phillipa is the consumate project manager, and thus knows the way to a man’s heart really is via food. Walking up the hill to the site after lunch is a serious business. We have to work until 7pm to make room for dinner.

Karen is the super cook, another herbalist like Phillipa, unfailingly cheerful. It’s amazing she isn’t Amazon Woman, lugging the tray with heavy teapot and fresh baked goodies up to us twice a day.

Bruce has a rally car. It’s very yellow, and very fast. The gearbox disintigrates 12 minutes into the season opener. We all hear about it, in detail. The cost per kilometer is public knowledge. But he also has a 4 wheel drive to get timber up the hill. Except when it all slips off the trailer at the steep part.

The open day brings live music, which will never be forgotten. Several different bands in the late summer sun, music to melt to, and music to dance to. The last group is a murumba band. Unbelievable. You probably had a xylophone as a kid? ("a percussion instrument consisting of a series of wooden bars graduated in length to produce the musical scale, supported on belts of straw or felt, and sounded by striking with two small wooden hammers") This was a group of 11 people, with about 7 xylophonic type things of different sizes – up to HUGE, with tubes underneath to amplify the sound. And other south american instruments, and playing mind altering half beat music at breakneck speed. No one could sit. You had to dance.

The Dalai Lama is coming. Quite an incentive. Quite an amazing coup, to get the man to this tiny little backwater. When the advance Tibetan diplomatic guard came (from Australia), the gompa was only half built. They had to balance along precarious planks. "HOW many students have you got here??" Much head shaking.

It was always touch and go. But it happened, he came, and it was perfect. A perfect dream…….

But I see now, looking back, nothing has been written about so many people who worked with us - like the Stuart, the ship's captain, whom Simon instantly nicknamed "super semen" (after all he has fathered two sons). And Bunt and Charlie, who came to build the deck extension, and worked in miserable rain for days, unfailingly cheerful. Not to mention "Laurel's crack", where one woman's perception of equallity in gaps between deck boards was noticably different from everyone elses.

Especially Peter the yogi, who did a lot of the interior lining. But what really stuck in my mind was when the whole group went to the beach. When Pete dropped trou, revealing speedos, I saw Phillipa and Karen look at each other and smile, then up comes Phillipa's camera.....

There are eight pages here, each with 5 or six pictures. They preload from here, if you just follow sequentially, but they'll all listed in case you want to jump around:

Nalanda Hall 1 - empty site, up to floor level

Nalanda Hall 2 - walls, steel beams

Nalanda Hall 3 - rafters, roof framing

Nalanda Hall 4 - weatherboards, soffits

Nalanda Hall 5 - inside

Nalanda Hall 6 - HH arrives

Stupa 1

Stupa 2 - Bruce and Phillipa


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