“When you truly understand karma, then you realize you are responsible for everything in your life.” – Keanu Reeves
BYC (Buddhist Youth Camp) is a summer Buddhist camp organized by the Jade Buddha Temple in Houston. Thanks to my parents’ persuasion, I participated in their first-ever youth camp in 1993 before starting college. Looking back, I don’t recall many specifics about the camp’s activities, except for the long early morning prayers/lectures and how sleepy I felt during meditation. It was exciting to meet other Chinese kids from outside my small town, Port Lavaca. I had an overly enthusiastic way of getting to know people back then—I would repeatedly call out their names in an exaggerated voice whenever I saw a fellow camper or counselor. This may have startled many young girls, but it also garnered attention and helped me make many good friends I still cherish.
After that summer camp, a group of about a dozen people from the camp came to my home in Port Lavaca and stayed over for a few days. I later visited Houston to spend time with them. The memories of that summer and the friendships formed were truly unforgettable.
In the following years, the organizers of BYC would always reach out to me, seeking my assistance in recruiting counselors at the University of Texas. As it was a volunteer position, and Buddhism-themed camps didn’t appeal to most young people, I could sense that the first year’s counselors lacked enthusiasm and a sense of purpose compared to the responsible and passionate counselors I had experienced in Taiwan’s youth programs. Therefore, I set a goal for myself to make sure all the kids would love this short-lived experience, break away from conservative perceptions of Buddhism, and allow them to truly enjoy this special summer camp. From 1994 to 2002, every summer, I would rally a group of college friends to return to the Jade Buddha Temple as BYC counselors, guiding the kids throughout those four days and three nights.
I can’t recount every little thing that happened in those 9 years. It was a time of youthful recklessness, and I experienced some wild moments, but what remained consistent throughout was the pure passion I had for those kids every summer. Regardless of how fuckup my own life was at the time, being with the children required me to set aside those distractions and focus solely on taking care of their emotions during those few days. I was aware that I wasn’t necessarily the best role model for many adolescents at the time. But at least during those days, I could use the lessons I learned from my seemingly irresponsible life as negative examples, seeking some positive educational value for those teenagers.
The summer of 2002 was my last year participating in the BYC. That year, my life underwent a significant change, and after losing a close friend in a car accident early in the year, my will began to wane. After attending the summer camp that year, I decided to accept a job offer in Taiwan, leaving the US and returning to Taiwan to work. I don’t have vivid memories of that year’s summer camp, as my thoughts were probably elsewhere.
Unexpectedly, exactly 20 years later, I find myself registering my own children for the Buddhist Youth Camp, experiencing a special blend of emotions. Last year’s camp was organized by the younger generation of organizers and counselors after a two-year break due to the pandemic. Last year, they set the theme as “Rekindle – A Rebirth of Brilliance” hoping to reconnect people and restore everything to the state before the pandemic. I was fortunate to join this summer camp as a volunteer and experienced a memorable time despite bringing the virus home and infecting my family with Covid.
This summer, I registered my daughters again for the BYC 2023: Resilience, which marks its 30th anniversary. The changes in the children are evident—Ree has matured considerably, no longer giggling all the time like last year, and confidently spoke on stage, showing improvement in her English. Vee is no longer as shy as last year and bravely stood at the center of the stage during the final dance performance, surprising everyone. And I still feel the same youthful enthusiasm from all the children and young counselors, just like the good old times. The four days of camp are as condensed and impactful as before, providing an unforgettable experience for the kids. They keep telling me they want to come back to BYC every year, to meet different friends and have unique experiences. I think I’ll continue to bring my children back to this camp as well. Thank you, lovely campers and young counselors.