13 months
Dec 27:
silky smooth
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run, don't walk, to cambodia
Dec 29:
not WAT i expected
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my favorite
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the lowdown
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sign over a cell phone shop
Phnom Penh, Jan 2, 2005

hanging with the monks

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 a 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." (sic)

with Kosal

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, huh?

© 2004-2012 susan & grace, all rights reserved

-- comments from readers --


i wanna get monked up (yow)!!! too funny. you guys rule

--Anonymouse; Jul 14, 2006