I love details and find them everywhere. This is a fence.
More Photos down below this text.
Thursday, July 17
Sophak, and I took off to my destination, Kultortoeng Pagoda, where I would stay for the duration of my time in Cambodia, except for two planned trips; one to Viet Nam and one to Siem Reap.
The driver of the tuk tuk negotiated the heart of the smoggy city. Dust, exhaust, snarls of traffic and no traffic rules, made our trip equal to the other folks caught in the same rush-hour maze.
Farm trucks, with farm workers headed off to the fields, competed with merchants on motorcycles that were piled high with such goods as flowers, metal pipes, plastic containers they would sell at the market – or various stations throughout the city.
It was noisy all the way to the quiet country road. Then the terrain was a few degrees cooler, and greener.
Sophak said the plush jungle we were in, came about from the rich earth of the nearby river.
The tuk tuk jogged bumps but hit some bumps square on the head, all the while I hung on and put my trust in the driver, who wore a helmet.
We twisted through muddy water and around other vehicles and finally, we arrived through the big gates of the Wat (temple) where I began to immerge into the realm of Buddhism.
I was introduced to Om Chie who would cook meals for me, and I found out later, help me get into my room in the dark of night, with a flashlight.
Sophak took me on a quick tour of the facility, after showing me my room, checking out the air conditioner and the refrigerator. The air conditioner, I learned, needs to be turned on up above by using a broom handle, and the refrigerator works by securing the plug into the outlet by stuffing clothing under the plug to keep it connected. It then works to keep the water bottles cold. Water is extremely necessary in the every day heat.
We walked through the facility and heard Monks chanting, and some walked by me, while I held my hands in prayer-form to show respect. I was surprised to see little Monks around the age of eight or ten. All Monks were dressed in burnt orange robes, with one bare shoulder exposed. They were barefooted while entering the building.
I learned that I, too, would be expected to always leave my shoes or thongs outside before entering any facility. I learned many other rules, as well: more about those later.
The monastery has several large buildings that serve as places for worship, chanting and eating.
Nuns, with shaved heads, dressed in white, eat at one end of the community and chanting room, while the Monks enter and eat on the other side. Monks and Nuns eat two meals a day; breakfast and lunch.
It was not only a warm place in heat of the day, the people proved to be friendly, quick to smile and curious, as heck about me. It seems my age was on the top of the question and answer list.
Sophak has filled Om Chie in regarding my age and desire to eat Cambodian food whatever it would be.
Friday, July 18 Getting started
Monk, Ven. Sopea knocked on my door and when I opened it, he stood, wearing the traditional robe and said, Ven. Sophear had asked him to visit me to welcome me and give me information regarding Buddhism.
We walked and talked a bit, and watched the Monks line up for dinner. While they walked by in procession fashion, I stood with my hands in prayer-form and held that pose until they all left. In the beginning of the procession, some of the older Monks smiled at me, while some seemed a bit shy.
Monks get two meals a day, breakfast and lunch, no dinner. They arise at 4 a.m. for meditation, prayer and chanting. They sit on rugs and listen to a leader repeating the phrases on the microphone. The sound is nasal and rhythmic.
Ven. Sopea met me in the late afternoon and told me I would go to the school in the village to teach the children. I thought I would be teaching Monks, but it is a school that was organized by a Monk to pay back the village for their support. The children’s parents pay for the school that begins at 5:30 p.m. and ends at 7:30 p.m. I wasn’t prepared to teach little children, but with a previous background in Head Start, I did okay and both the children and myself survived. Ven. Sopea bounced around with me in the tuk tuk to get to the school and he helped out during the lesson.
He is an easy-going person, as I am learning most Cambodians are.
One Nun who I met, named Wanton, with gold and silver capped teeth, speaks a bit of English and was welcoming to me with a big smile. She has since, brought me cooked pieces of squash and bananas.
Nuns wear white tops with white wrap around skirts and some wear a robe over that.
I find myself to be a novelty to the folks in the monastery, with the top question being, “how old are you?” No one else here or even near here has shoulder length white hair. That makes me different, indeed.
The food I’m given is very different from American culinary, and in the beginning, it was enough for a family of five.
For the first two days, I experienced stomach pains and bloating, so on the third day, I asked for Ma Chai not to cook dinner for me. That seemed to help a bit, and for the next few days I felt better.
My old childhood rule that I should eat everything on my plate stood in my way of declining food, but, in spite of that, I began to leave food untouched.
She eventually realized that I couldn’t eat everything presented to me, so the food was delivered in separate dishes and bowls so I could take what I wanted and place it on my plate. The bowl of rice and a bowl of soup is an unusual breakfast for me, but typical for Cambodians. Sometimes, I couldn’t distinguish the contents of the soup.
Farm workers – Cambodian style. I found these folks while on a walk.
July 19 – Met a smiling Monk
Ven. Sopheap, the second person in charge of the Wat while the head Monk is away, visited me and apologized for not greeting me earlier. He is a student at a university in Cambodia where he is a PhD candidate.
Sopheap always has a smile and an easy laugh. He is simply joyful and fun to be around. He took me on a more in depth tour of the Wat, and we ended up next to a lake. I sat on one bench and he sat on another. Never sitting on the same bench as a Monk is one of the rules of etiquette as well as never touching a Monk. There are more rules.
Sopheap loaned me a book, “The Transformed Mind” by His Holiness The Dalai Lama. He speaks of the middle path, which includes the right understanding, right view, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right concentration, right mindfulness and right effort.
Ven. Sopheap told me that people who suffer – and we all do – should make use of our suffering for enlightenment.
On meditation he said, “we have monkey brains” with our mind jumping all over the place, which is why meditation helps us to become calm.
The total teaching of the Monks could be summed up with, do no harm, do only good and purify ones mind.
Venerable Sopheap and I sat quietly in meditation. It was not too difficult to turn off the action going on in my brain, because I have become relaxed – there is no pressure on me.
It was a pleasure to be in this man’s presence.
July 20 – Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths
From gleaning information regarding Buddhism from Ven. Sopheap and several other Monks who were sent to talk with me regarding Buddhism, plus the reading I have done, I am sharing the four noble truths of Buddhism.
One – There is suffering in this world
Two – Causes of suffering are do to attachment, greed, hatred and delusion.
Three – The end of suffering
Four – The pathway to end suffering
The eightfold path consists of right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right meditation.
Five Moral Precepts – when people become Buddhists, they have to follow the rules which involves the five moral precepts:
Avoid misusing sex
Avoid using intoxicants
The day before this day was the celebration of Buddha’s birthday, which was 2,558 years ago. Lay folks came from various parts of Cambodia to this Wat to help celebrate with the Monks and the Nuns, by bringing food as gifts.
Each Monk sat in a chair facing the Nuns and other people, and prayed. Then, the Nuns and lay people distributed the food among the Monks, into their separate bowls or into plastic bags.
A woman came to me with a young man holding a large aluminum bowl loaded with little bags of rice and something else that I never did learn about. She motioned to me to place a package into each Monk’s bowl or bag.
When I thought we were duplicating some of the food, I said, “He already has some.”
“It’s okay we keep going until it’s all gone.” The young gentleman said in perfect English. It was as though he just appeared and then disappeared just as quickly. I would have liked to speak more with him in English.
My daily walk in the Wat – July 23
My life at the Wat has become a day-to-day routine. I wake up around 5:30 to 6:00 a.m. and by 6:30 to 7:00 a.m. I walk to the shelter of Om Chie and her family – where I eat breakfast, watch the dogs, and kids play around the shelter. I can hear the Monks and Nuns chant, and then the Monks depart for their quarters and the Nuns, to there’s, as well.
I read for a while in my room, or out on the veranda at a table that his been set up for me. I sit close to exotic plants of all kinds and a pool of small fish. I usually take a walk down a choice of two roads.
One road leads to a farm and the other leads to small houses on stilts, and sit among newer houses. Large pots stand on each side of a house, catching rainwater.
I cannot possible explain in detail the many images I see in the course of one day – but some here are some:
A woman squeezes sugar out of sugar cane to sell.
A frog sat on my front step but when I tried to move him he protested in frog noise. A nun walking by, saw it and chased it away with a stick, all the time, the frog protested loudly.
Huge white cows and their colorful cousin cows roam among the greenery and call out to one another, as they slop through the water. There were other cows finding treasures among the dump.
Children on tricycles played games and looked at me with quizzical faces, until I smiled and they smiled back.
Teenagers walk to their job, carrying their boots and water bottles. They help by loading greenery on top of trucks.
The fruit I have been given is delicious, and items I have never seen before. Ever.
After a walk I read a bit more and then I go to lunch, afterwhich I take another walk, or talk to a Monk that has been sent to me, or read a bit more.
Then at 5:20 p.m. I hop on a tuk tuk and head to school to teach.
The kids have warmed up to me and it has been fun.
The classrooms sit on planks and rough benches, in a room that is open to the street, one light bulb lights the room and a fan above circulates the air. Children sit two to three on a bench, shoulder-to-shoulder. The first one to enter the bench does not have access to get out on that side.
Everytime a student has an answer, he/she stands up to recite the answer.
The teenagers are shyer than the younger kids, due to embarrassment among their peers. This makes it more difficult for their one-to-one participation.
I have taught some games and some songs that they seem to enjoy. Two teachers help interpret the rules of the game.
By 7:30 p.m. I am drenched, and my clothing sticks to me, but it’s time to board the tuk tuk and head back to the Wat. Dinner awaits me and I sit and eat and then take my flashlight to head back to my room.
I was featured on a radio talk show!
Ven. Sopheap found me eating dinner one evening and said I had been invited to take part in a talk show on they radio station 96.7 FM. A few minutes later, I was sitting in front of a microphone, that was circled with sweet smiling flowers, and five Monks in the room operating the station.
Ven. Sopheap translated the questions phoned in to me, and my answers, as well. I must admit to being stumped when it came to scholarly answering the difference between Christianity and Buddhism. But I did manage to say that when we die our soul remains. And, yes, God is responsible for everything we have in the world and we often offer our blessings to God.
After a few more of those types of questions, Ven. Sopheap, I learned later, came to my rescue and asked folks to ask other questions, that it wasn’t intended to be a forum.
They asked questions regarding the difference between the United States and Cambodia. I had a lot of fun with that question and couldn’t leave out the huge numbers of motorcycles, tuk tuks and cars that share the road with farm equipment and trucks carrying farm workers, all the while with no noticeable traffic rules.
The questions and comments after that were very complimentary. The folks thanked me for being in the country and for teaching their children English.
Ven. Sopheap said I would be invited again to the radio station another time. It was lots of fun.
A Nun approached me the next day like I was a star. She told me she heard me on the radio. Later one of the teachers at the school also heard me, he said. So now, the mysterious white haired lady has been discovered.