Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas
I learned a trick when we were in Tuscon. Once you get settled in to a place, go online and google “Things to do in…” wherever you are. Wish I would’ve thought of that about two weeks ago. Anyway, knowing that we’d be staying in Beaumont, TX for two days, I decided to see what the local attractions were. Not much. But wait. The Buu Mon Buddhist Temple, “world renowned” for its lotus gardens was just 20 minutes away in Port Arthur. What? Really? A Buddhist temple in Texas. I hadn’t seen one of those since, well, California. I got excited. I decided that was all I really wanted to do in Beaumont. But expectations have a way of catching you offguard.
The monastery was closed up tight. No sign of life, and since it is winter, no lotus gardens in view. We walked around it, peering in through the spaces in the fence and realized we probably should have called to arrange an official tour. I later found out that this monastery used to be a Baptist church, then a Vietnamese Catholic church, and in 1986 became a Buddhist monastery. Basically what they do other than lotus gardening, is offer lectures on Theravada Buddhism twice a week and a meditation group once a week. They boast that they are seeing many more non-Vietnamese practitioners. Maybe it’s a result of the constant threat of hurricanes that guide people to a peaceful place like this.
Port Arthur has been called “Hurricane City.” It has been hit by five hurricanes since 2005. It is surrounded by sugar and oil refineries. The “downtown” looks like a modern ghost town, except for the small community college that dominates. For at least three miles there is nothing but abandoned buildings, many of them former bars. We drove around the town center and this is what we saw:
We drove through a neighborhood, pretty much in shock at the devastation. The only people we saw were involved in cleaning up and rebuilding, slowly. I wanted to stop and talk to them, but felt like it would be intrusive. So we just drove by, nodding our heads and wishing for the best.
The ever-present canal
Having lived in a town that was devastated by a tsunami, we recognized the hoplessness of the situation and decided to move on. We knew there was an intracoastal waterway nearby and the dogs needed to get out for a walk. All along the Gulf there are these mounded hills that stretch out as far as the eye can see. They are designed to keep the water from flooding into the towns. It’s a nice place to walk, and it was so nice to finally see a large body of water.
We left Port Arthur feeling a little off balance. So far on this trip we have been able to navigate around the pain and suffering of every day people. Maybe it was time for us to stop being tourists and start being ourselves again. This is one of the gifts of traveling. You learn to really see what you are looking at. Mark Twain said this: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” It also opens your heart and gives you a lesson in compassion.
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