The Curious Things About Monks
Trip Start Dec 31, 2004
71Trip End Apr 22, 2005
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Today after breakfast I walked to the center of town and started the arduous ascent up to the highest point in Luang Prabang. There at the top is a deceptively small golden stupa that can be seen virtually throughout all of Luang Prabang
I had to pause several times but once up top just as the guidebooks said the stupa was underwhelming but the view was spectacular. I turned a narrow corner by the railing and there sitting on a bench alone was a monk gazing out across the mountains. He immediately greeted me in English and asked where I was from and then without hesitation asked what I had planned for the afternoon. I told him that what I had planned I was already doing. He invited me to sit with him for a chat.
We spoke for about 10 minutes before I headed down the other side of the hill mainly about what I was doing but I did get in some questions of my own. His parents are farmers near the northern border of Thailand and since he's the only son he's expected to join the monkhood for a while at least. He's been studying for three years at a monastery here but is quickly growing restless and prefers practicing his English with westerners. During the end of our conversation a few local school boys crowded about and he clammed shut
The sun was straight above us and the sweat was pouring down my face so I said goodbye to him and headed down the other side of the hill. It was a cool shady descent and halfway down I stopped for a refreshing Fanta and admired a beautiful golden reclining Buddha. At the base was a monastery and as I neared the end I a saw a temple and maybe 30 novice monks. Lining the last few steps were two monks sitting legs apart smoking cigarettes. Across from them a monk chatted on his cellphone.
"Where are you from? How long you stay in Luang Prabang? You travel alone?" Within the next fifteen to twenty minutes I was asked this so many times that I decided to turn the tables. "Where are you from", one of them would begin and I'd ask instead "Where are you from?" For some reason they thought this was hilarious and they especially loved, "Are YOU traveling alone? Where's your husband?" I asked at one point if I could take the chattiest one's photo and he consented. I turned the camera around afterward and showed him the shot and zoomed in on it. "I look like a bad guy" he laughed.
A very young novice monk came around with the most beautiful lavender satchel bag. I had to have it. I've seen them carrying orange ones, burgundy ones, cobalt blue ones but lavender? I asked the self-proclaimed bad guy monk to be my interpretor. "Tell him that I'll give him four dollars for his bag if he can sell it." He laughed because he didn't believe I was serious until he saw me reach for my money. I offered a bit more than what I thought it was actually worth since I felt being niggardly to a monk wasn't very attractive. Several more monks came over to see what was going on and once one of them was told what was happening he piped up and laughing said, "No, five dollars!" I countered with "Four dollars and 5,000 kip [50 cents]!" I took my money out and the novice started taking out his books and laying them down smiling
Later on tonight after dinner I was heading back to my hotel through the night market and spotting my bag a monk smiled and cheerfully bid me a "saw bai dee!" I love my bag but the joy of being greeted by a smiling monk from across the street is really the best thing about it.