Learning From South Phoenix

A Myriad of Worlds

A wooden sign hangs at the entrance of the Calm Village Buddhist Temple. These words are carved upon it: “Breathing in breathing out, I am blooming as a flower, I am free as a dew, I am solid as a mountain, I am firm as the earth, I am free.” As I stand here on the corner of 7th Avenue and Baseline Road in South Phoenix, I find myself enraptured in this serene world so eloquently described by those words. It is as if I have stepped into a different place at a different time. I am in the Far East. A ten-foot tall statue of the Buddha on a lotus blossom stands in front of me. People have placed incense and candles before him in their devotion. To my right stands a fountain surrounded by delicately flowered trees. Next to this rests the Great Awakening Bell. It hangs underneath a terrace and is intricately carved with words describing its purpose. Next to it hangs a pendulum waiting to be pulled back and released so that the music of the bell can be heard. A bronze statue of the Buddha looks on. As I walk around to the back of the building, I come upon a small pond. It is filled with brightly colored fish and surrounded by a green screen. I find myself wanting to rest here for a while. Another statue of Buddha looks on—this one is fat and smiling. I look up above his head and I am brought back to reality.

A red Circle K sign stands just outside of the barbwire fence that serves to mark off the boundaries of the temple. Once again, I am brought into a different place at a different time. I am in modern day America. Customers drive their vehicles to the pumps to quickly refill on gas. Many of them are running in and out of the convenience store with snacks in their hands. They are on the clock and making the most of their time. There is no time to sit and rest. They must move on to their next destination. After all, time is money. Two cars run into each other. Upraised hands and loud angry voices quickly ensue. As I walk over to see if everybody is safe, I see the Llantera Mechanic Shop.

The glimmer of tire rims resting in front of the shop dazzle me and draw me into another world. I am in modern day Mexico. Mechanics and customers are standing in front of the turquoise walls. All of them are Hispanic. They are talking and enjoying one another’s company. I am a distance away, but it appears that they are using Spanish. I turn my head to see what else I might find. A simple sign says “Ray’s Feeds Store” and pulls me into yet another time and place. I am in the time of the cowboy. Here bails of hay, farm trucks, and brimmed hats combine around an old barn. I turn my head again and see the South Mountains. I am in a beautiful desert. I turn my head again and see new housing developments arising. I am in gentrified South Phoenix.

I am standing on just one street corner, yet I have found myself surrounded by a myriad of places and cultures. I am astounded at how diverse one spot can be. Then I notice eyes on me. People are wondering what I am doing here with my camera and notebook. They are wondering what’s so fascinating. I am reminded of Charles Baudelaire’s poem “The Eyes of the Poor.” As he wrote it, he was standing in a clash of two worlds—one of poverty and one of extravagance. He mentions what the people of these worlds think of each other. From where I am standing, I am in six worlds—the Far East, modern America, Mexico, cowboy America, the desert, and gentrified South Phoenix. I wonder what they think of me?

My classmates Charity, Jill, and James also wrote about this temple if you would like to know more.

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