sign over a cell phone shop
Phnom Penh, Jan 2, 2005
--Grace; Dec 27, 2004
We head back after leaving the Silk Factory
(see last entry), planning
on visiting the Old Market back in Siem Reap. About 15km out of
town, we catch a glimpse of a small pagoda set back from the road.
According to our driver, it’s not a good place to stop (read:
not interesting), but we decide to anyway.
The entryway is plain, flanked by high walls.
It appears deserted, so we walk through the gate to find some
(stone constructions 5 meters in height), but otherwise the grounds
are very simple. Further in is a plain wooden building with an open
second floor. We bow and wave to the monk that we see up there.
He smiles. I move a bit closer, intending to ask permission to look
around, but we are stymied by an almost complete language barrier.
He calls another monk over and ironically, since we had hoped not
to disturb them, the exchange grows to include all four monks in
the building. One of them speaks a bit of English, so we are able
to ask if it is okay to look around. Like our driver, they don’t
understand why we would want to, but they welcome us warmly nonetheless.
And they tell us the name of the place: Dongroem Pagoda.
They seem quite interested in conversation, so we inquire about
the pagoda and they ask questions about us via the English-speaking
monk (his name is Kosal). After 15 minutes of stumbling (but friendly)
conversation, we are invited to Kosal's "class." This
turns out to be the place where he teaches English to the younger
monks. It is also where he sleeps, a 10 foot by 10 foot room with
on one wall, a bed against another, a desk, and a couple of small
wooden stools. Somewhat out of place, there is also a good-sized
whiteboard with some English sentences written on it: "Please
give me a cup. Please give me a ruler. Please past the cup to me."
As we sit and chat, more monks arrive; eventually,
nine monks are crammed into the small room or standing outside.
The conversation is enlightening, interesting, and heart-warming.
Half of their questions are straight out of English workbooks
(e.g., "How many brothers and sisters do you have?”);
the other half are whatever else they can think up. In turn, we
ask them about their lives at the pagoda, their families, and
why they chose to become monks (Kosal’s is the one answer
to this we were able to comprehend: he likes learning, and monks
spend a lot of time learning). We even speak about Buddhism and
agnosticism for a while, though this subject is a bit too complicated
for our limited shared vocabulary.
A few hours later, our driver approaches from
the car to remind us that we had promised him we’d return
to town by 5 o’clock, so we sadly prepare to leave. Saying
goodbye is more emotional than we would have guessed. They thank
us many times for visiting their pagoda. They don't get many visitors
and I think it was as interesting for them as it was for us. I
hug them goodbye while Susan waves and bows and smiles (monks
are not allowed physical contact with women).
We never did make it to the Old Market, but
we don't mind one bit.
P.S. Susan wanted to call this entry
"monks - they're just like us," but I argued that only
about 2% of the audience would understand this reference (and
perhaps more importantly, monks are not just like us). I, on the
other hand, was lobbying for "we got the monk, gotta' have
that monk (yow!)," but perhaps the percentage of people that
will get THAT reference is only slightly higher. Fascinating,