Last weekend, I had plans to go on an Atlas Obscura tour, but then my parents decided they would be coming down for a surprise visit. My mother’s local Buddhist temple told her that the Dalai Lama was coming to Westminster to speak at the grand opening of a new Vietnamese Buddhist temple, Chùa Điều Ngự. I wanted to play with wolves, but seeing the Dalai Lama was an opportunity of a lifetime! Plus, you know… spending time with my parents over Father’s Day weekend.
My parents picked up Dong Ha and Gambit on Friday and drove down, meeting up with me as I got off work. We met up with my aunt’s family for dinner at Mirada Restaurant in Fountain Valley. My aunt told us that it is apparently Thai-owned and Hispanic-staffed, but well known for their Vietnamese food, particularly the canh chua (sour soup) and cá kho (braised fish). My cousin, though, told us the most impressive thing about this place was that the Hispanic waitstaff’s Vietnamese was better than hers. Since we were already in the area, we swung by the temple after dinner to pick up our tickets. This is when I learned it was a two-day event, not just Saturday. I sat in the car since we parked in a temporary no-parking zone, but my parents got a brief tour of the temple.
The gates were supposed to open at 8 and services begin at 9. Since it was a bit of a drive from my place to the temple, we left at 6, parked at the nearby mall, and caught a shuttle to the temple. We got to the mall to find a huge line waiting for the shuttle, and stood in that parking lot for almost an hour. Then the shuttle took us within a block of the temple (the roads immediately surrounding the temple were closed for security) and dropped us off into a new line to wait to be let into the gates. This line moved slowly at first, but suddenly picked up a great deal of speed. Then people walked back and told us the grounds were completely full and closed to additional visitors. We went forward a little further until this was confirmed by Westminster police officers working security.
It turns out the Westminster fire department had set a limit of 1,500 attendees for safety and security reasons, and the City had required the temple to print tickets accordingly. The temple, though, worked like a club promoter and printed much more than 1,500 tickets. And the morning of, they started letting people in early (at 7:30 instead of 8) and not even checking for tickets, so anyone who showed up could get in. So frustrating!
It all worked out, though. We ended up spending the day with extended family that we do not get to see every often, including an aunt visiting from Viet Nam.
We revised our gameplan for the second day of the Dalai Lama’s visit. First, we slept at my aunt’s house, which was slightly closer, to save a bit of time. Then, we dropped our parents and aunt as close as possible to the temple and Dong Ha and I parked as close as we could and walked back to join them in line. By starting earlier and skipping the shuttle line, my family was able to make it into the temple this time. As we went by the security checkpoints, the police officers on duty mentioned that Sunday was going much more smoothly than Saturday did.
Once we got in, the logistics were amazing. There were jumbotrons to help the crowds see and hear what was going on. Volunteers went through the crowds and up and down the bleachers giving out free sandwiches and pastries, water bottles, desserts, fans, and even sunscreen! A lady next to us in the bleachers told us that they turned her away from the gate on Saturday morning but she stuck around and was able to get into the afternoon session. I guess we could have seen the Dalai Lama on both days if we had stuck around, too.
The morning started off with a lot of pomp and circumstance. Announcers spoke in both Vietnamese and English, and they rattled off every local dignitary and named every monk and nun who appeared. Then the Dalai Lama came up to the stage and the local dignitaries took turns offering him praise and commemorative plaques.
After all that was out of the way, it was time for the Dalai Lama to give his keynote speech, which focused on increasing youth involvement. He started by saying he has been to many new temple openings, and he always tells them, this is a beautiful temple that will last for 1,000 years. But if you do not involve the youth, it will be empty long before then. His solution was to focus on temples as learning centers, both for younger and older generations. He said he that he himself is still learning daily, and no one can rest on their laurels. Actively learning was the best way to get youths interested in learning as well.
After that was a short Q & A session for additional dignitaries and then a lunch break. All attendees were offered rice plates. The afternoon session was a big Q & A session for youth members of the audience. We heard from a friend of my mother’s that after the afternoon session concluded, the Dalai Lama was doing a more intimate session at a nearby Tibetan temple, but my parents wanted to get ready to drive back so they would not get home too late.
All in all, it was a great weekend. I got to see a bunch of family, ate some great Viet food, and I can now say that I saw the Dalai Lama speak in person! (One of the questions asked was about the rumors that His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama might choose not to reincarnate, making him the final Dalai Lama. He did not give a definite answer if he was going through with that or not, but he did say that he felt the Lama tradition is similar to the feudal tradition and has perhaps become outdated. If you get a opportunity to see him speak, I highly recommend you take advantage, as there may not be many chances left!)