Max and the Monks
Sihanoukville Travel Blog› entry 38 of 94 › view all entries
I have never studied any of the world's religions in depth but have witnessed some of their rituals over the years: morning prayers at the mosque in Meshed, Iran; wartime funerals in Vietnam; Hindu cremations in Varanasi; a simple wedding in Australia. I've stood in equal awe and wonder before the Great Sphinx in Egypt, the spiraled domes at Red Square, and at the dusty feet of the towering Buddhas of Bamian in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan. I wandered Mount Mariah, that golden dome in Jerusalem that is equally sacred to Moslems, Jews, and Christians. In Ghana, I agonized the release of spirits following a helicopter crash by bartering goats, cows, and chickens with a village chief; and in Bolivia, celebrated Carnival in the streets of Santa Cruz. I dare not judge which beliefs are more sacred, whose are more correct or superior, instead remain curious and confused by them all.
Being in Cambodia, I wanted to have a closer look into the world of the Buddhist monks. I had briefly met Max the other day over a few sidewalk beers at the Te Lee Hong. For ten years, he has been doing volunteer work with the monks here in Sihanoukville, living among them at Wat Khrom. He goes home to Denmark from May to August most years. I jumped at his invitation to come out to the temple and have a look around.
A nice breeze cooled the mid-day sun at the two hectare hilly grounds of Wat Khrom. I walked around the main temple which was closed and was greeted by a large statue of a smiling Buddha, sitting cross-legged as in a yoga pose, his shoulders back and head held high.
I entered a reception area where Max was just finishing lunch, sitting on a straw mat on the floor. He introduced me to the chief monk who immediately offered food and a bottle of water. The orange-robed man looked to be in his early forties but age is difficult for me to gage with the Khmers. His position was appointed by the high monk in Phnom Penh and a local committee here in town.
Max gave me a tour of the temple's surrounding grounds which were rather quiet since all but a few of the monks were on their mid-day siesta.
A rocky wooded trail led to a nice overview of Sihanoukville and its northwest beaches. A row of wooden shacks with tin roofs housed Buddhist nuns. They are seldom seen in public, recognizable by their white robes and shaved heads.
After an hour or so, the chief monk reappeared. It was time for him to travel to a meeting at another village forty kilometers into the countryside. Max was his driver. After they left, I roamed the grounds a second time trying to remember and absorb all that had been explained to me. The short visit and tour of Wat Khrom was most enlightening. I will return - on a morning or late afternoon when the area bustles with the activity of two hundred monks. There are no elaborate ceremonies planned in the immediate future but I hope to photograph some of their daily activities.