My mom’s been getting on my back for not updating more frequently so this post is dedicated to her.
What have I been doing these past two weeks? Living life in the capital of Cambodia.
That is the type of answer I provide to her incessant prodding e-mails, which she does not like at all. (I LOVE YOU MOM!)
“You’re turning into your grandfather!” she protests in aggravation, referring to the almost curt and cryptic replies her father-in-law provides to lengthy questions in his electronic messages.
Well, there is a 15-hour time difference for starters mummy dearest and I’m usually dead-beat from the day ready to turn in when you’re out and about.
But I digress… this post is for her, and I will elaborate on my experiences these past two weeks.
But how do I begin my story, which has no ending? From where I last left off, I suppose…
Lies Cambodia Told Me
Lovestruck Buddhist Monks
Last weekend I was alone in the guesthouse. Chris and Andre had left for their Bangkok adventure on Thursday and Rebecca, Abby and Lauren left for Kampot early Friday morning. I did not go with them as I had already agreed to go to Bokor Mountain with a co-worker of mine and some of his friends from university.
Friday night, I received a text message from a woman on Couchsurfer’s whom I had contacted in hopes of meeting a friend. The woman, whose name is Angela (27) and is Khmer and a local radio host in Phnom Penh, invited me to go to the Chinese House with her for a photography exhibit opening that night. She ended up being the most enjoyable company, not to mention endlessly adorable, and the Chinese House was a beautiful old building that had been restored after the Khmer Rouge fell. The crowd was full of many expatriates and we were able to mingle and people watch and chat with some of her friends. The photography show was titled “In Motion” and documented the fast-paced change taking place across Southeast Asia through time-exposed photographs.
On Saturday, after lazing around in front of the fan in my bedroom all morning as it was ridiculously hot, I finally decided to go see the Royal Palace since it is a main attraction in Phnom Penh and I had not yet seen it. So I go to the Royal Palace, purchase a ticket and shuffle inside trying to evade the massive groups of Asian tourists. On my way to the Silver Pagoda in attempts to escape the crowds, I cut to my left when everyone else walks straight and go look at the faded murals on the sides of the wall.
While observing the time-worn murals and taking pictures, I notice in my peripheral a monk, clad in traditional saffron orange robes complete with shaved head, approaching me from further down the corridor.
My first thought at the back of my mind is: Shit. Why is this monk approaching me? Maybe I’m not supposed to be taking pictures and he’s going to tell me off! Oh well, I’m not going to stop until he gets here, if he actually is approaching me…
At which point the monk was at my side and introducing himself to me!
Why is this monk talking to me?
He wants someone to practice English with…
Aren’t monks not supposed to talk to women? Especially white and Western women??
He then asks if I have an e-mail address and if he can have it…
…is this monk hitting on me?!
As well as for my phone number and Facebook…
AM I BEING PICKED UP BY A CAMBODIAN BUDDHIST MONK?!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!
The gods must be crazy and rightly so they are.
Please note that Cambodians are not cultured to be straight forward and the men are traditionally timid when it comes to flirting with women, and almost never approach Western women on their own.
We begin to walk around the Royal Palace grounds in conversation, certainly receiving many blatant stares… It is not every day you see a monk with a Westerner, or a woman, let alone a white Western woman…
The monk, whose name is Rachana (Chana for short), is 24 years old, a university student of History and Economics or something conventionally dull like that, and has been a monk for 9 years.
He asks me if I have a boyfriend.
Oh God, I AM being hit on by a monk!!!
I tell him no. He asks me why. I tell him (in so many words) that’d I’d rather be free and men just chain you to the ground, and that I prefer the company of my family above all other people.
We talk of our families (he’s one of six, four brothers and one sister), where we come from (a rural village on the border of Vietnam) and our faiths (I’m Hindu and he’s Buddhist).
The Royal Palace closes and I have barely seen any of it but I don’t care since I’m having a conversation with an attractive and interesting Khmer Buddhist monk.
We walk to his pagoda (i.e. temple), which is situated next to the Palace, and remove our shoes and pray together. It is easy for me to pay respects to Buddhas since Buddhism was originally a sect of Hindusim. We get many stares still, this time from other monks and not from tourists, and no one says a word.
I ask him several times about monk protocol regarding women. He says it is fine and that monks can be friends with women.
Okay… but your faith thinks that we’re impure?
I drop the subject. He asks me if I want to see where he lives.
…he really IS picking me up, isn’t he?
I actually do want to see how a monk lives, since they take a vow of poverty, and he shows me to a building just behind the Pagoda. There is a picture of the dead King just inside on the wall and a few bicycles parked on the checked and broken tiled floor in the entrance. He leads me up a flight of dark and narrow and steep, worn-smooth wooden stairs. We are in a large dark room with many little shacks erected inside. He shows me into the first one.
The room has a window above the bed, so there is natural light. Laundry is hanging above the door, rice and food staples are to the left of the door on the floor. Books and papers are everywhere. There is a small television with two antennae at the center of the room, facing the bed. The bed is a thin, old, full-sized pink mattress covered by a thin sheet and a blanket. Another man who was sitting on the bed, get ups and leaves the room. Rachana tells me that he is his brother.
It is a very hot day, and I sit on the bed while he gets me ice and water and turns on the fans. I look around at the walls and try to take it all in.
We begin talking again and Rachana tells me that I smell good.
I thank him.
I am feeling light-headed from the heat and decide to head back to the guesthouse. Rachana is very polite and escorts me out of his building. He asks me what I think of where a monk lives? I tell him that it is everything I expected to be and that I liked it very much. I thank him for the water, the walk, the conversation and showing me a monk’s abode.