There is a pile of shoes just inside the door. The chairs face an altar adorned with Buddha statues and candles. Next to it, on the floor, is a small Christmas tree and a cluster of potted poinsettias.
Photos of Cau Chin, paintings and tapestries clutter the walls. Down the length of one wall are cheap bookshelves, some of which hold offerings of fruit instead of books. There is a large desk in front of the shelves where the staff sits, quietly managing the room.
A yellow plastic bottle of motor oil is crammed under a table holding a large Buddha. In a frame is an article from a magazine, in Spanish, with a headline reading Buda Para Todos, Con Virgen Includa (Buddha For All, With Virgin Included).
Virtually all of the people waiting are Hispanic. There is an elderly man with wire-rimmed glasses, a stylishly dressed young woman clutching a blue Coach handbag on her lap, a mother with an impeccably behaved young daughter, a young man sitting ramrod straight, his hands on his thighs, his eyes closed.
Cau Chin is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. He also, for some reason, calls himself Uncle 9. He apparently doesn’t like to be referred to as a psychic. He prefers the title spiritual adviser.
Whatever he is, people flock to see him. They’ll wait eight, nine, 10 hours for a 15-minute session in a cluttered room at the back of the store that is shielded from view by a screen.
‘What your miracle?’
He sees between 60 and 80 people a day, six days a week. They go behind the screen in groups of five or six. After each group is finished, Cau Chin appears in the waiting room for a few minutes of bizarre banter, which is translated into Spanish by an interpreter.
“Lady, what your miracle?” he barks, pointing at a woman.
She tells him about her sister who was diagnosed with a cancer that all of a sudden went away.
“You, what your miracle?” he asks a man.
He says he was pulled over and ticketed for not having a driver’s license or insurance, but when he went to court, they’d lost the paperwork and his case was dismissed.
Someone talks about a baby that needed heart surgery but was miraculously cured. One woman says his prediction that her man would return to her had come true.
“Between a cow and a tiger, which one more dangerous?” he asks suddenly, not expecting an answer.
“You plant orange, you get orange,” he says suddenly, for no apparent reason. “You plant mango, you get mango. You drinking, you get DWI. Take responsibility.”
He peppers his prattle with admonishments that America has lost its way, that we are too obsessed with material things and celebrity.
“What can you do for your country?” he asks, again rhetorically. “That come from John F. Kennedy. It is our responsibility. Big responsibility.”
He doesn’t charge anything for his services, but donations are encouraged. While he is talking, a woman comes in with two pink Slumber Party bicycles. A man who had been seen earlier returned with shopping bags full of toys from Walmart.
Johnny Whiting, a Cuban immigrant, arrived at Cau Chin’s temple/store late, at 5:30 a.m. He was number 57 and didn’t get his audience with the master until 1 p.m.
He came with “certain questions” about himself, he tells me, and got some answers that were worth waiting nearly eight hours for. He now has more “clarity.”
The master walks down the front row of seats, touching each person on the shoulder. They get up and head behind the screen.
“I like everybody treat each other nice,” he says before following them. “I like everybody love each other. I like everybody show each other we are brother, sister. Don’t do a crazy thing.