Through My Eyes

Timing was everything.

Giddy as a Monk

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I thought monks were trained to be calm at all times and particularly neutral with their emotions. From the encounter(s) I had my last night in Phnom Penh, I am starting to wonder…

Yesterday, after the sun set, I headed over to Wat Botum (a temple in the middle of the city) to catch the screening of short films dedicated to celebrating International Human Rights Day. The screenings were to occur in the temple’s garden, but because the grounds were completely unlit and it was my first time there, I was lost. I went deeper into the compound and noticed a young monk standing on steps near the side of a building watching me. I walked over to him and asked, “Do you speak any English?” He broke into this huge grin and said, “Um. A small, small. Heehee.” I said, “Ok, you can speak little bit? Can you tell me where temple garden is?” (I find that when I’m speaking with someone who isn’t a native English speaker and has trouble with the language, my English starts to decline as well. It’s as if I think they will understand me more clearly if I sound like them.) Still giggling uncontrollably, the young monk motions to me (monks can’t touch women at all, not even their mothers) and says, “Can you come wit me? I wan show you to my fren.” How do you say no to a monk? So, I obliged and walked with him into what was his bedroom that he shared with a fellow monk. As we are chatting and exchanging formalities, I notice more and more monks are coming into his room. Soon, there are about 9 monks surrounding me, asking me questions such as: 1) Where am I from? 2) No, really, where am I really from? 3) How do I say my name in Chinese? 4) What is my religion? 5) Why am I not Buddhist? 6) What did I study? 7) Why, why, why am I not married? 8) When do I think I will get married? 9) Can they come to my wedding if I ever do get married? 10) Do I want to be all of their pen pals? 11) What do I think of Cambodia? 12) When will I be coming back to Cambodia? 13) Can their friend take me to the countryside on their motorbike next time I come to Phnom Penh? 14) Can they call me in America if they are in a bad mood and need someone to talk to? And that doesn’t even cover half of the inquisition. Next thing I know, two and a half hours had passed, I had been force-fed a soybean icee, a durian milkshake (and for those of you who have never seen, smelled, or tasted durian – think yellow poo that smells as bad as it looks), and almost a second dinner if I hadn’t refused to consume anything else coming into that room. What really did it though was when TaVanny (the giddy monk) pulled out this huge portrait shot he had taken pre-monk days and shoved it into my hands saying, “I want you have me pictures.” I looked at it and almost laughed out loud. First of all, the picture is the size of a magazine page. Second, he has this crazy serious look on his face, so different from the goofy look he has on now. And lastly – this is the best part – he tells me everything has been retouched with Photoshop. The hair on his head, the suit he is wearing, the background. Ha, I love it! I am putting this up somewhere where it will always bring a smile to my face.

I ended up missing the films I had intended to see, but really, I am so glad I got a chance to converse with these 21 year-olds. I think it’s the first time they’ve ever had a woman in their room, and TaVanny did confirm it was the first and longest English conversation he’s ever had. When a filmmaker I met at Meta House the previous night came to pick me up from the Wat, he was almost succumbed to stay and talk with TaVanny and his friends too, but showed much more resistance than I was able to. I guess having lived in PP for a better part of this year, he’s gotten used to these instances when monks just really want to practice their English and disregard any plans you may have had for that day. For me though, I just kept thinking I could have kicked myself for not bringing my D40 out that night…

Written by winniewongsf

December 11, 2009 at 3:44 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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