Max and the Monks

Sihanoukville Travel Blog

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One of the Bamian Buddhas (May, 1976)
 

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.

Sitting Buddha

 

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.

Reclining Buddha under sala trees
Nearby, the Buddha reclined beneath two sala trees, his eyes closed while five disciples knelt beside him. Beyond that scene of Buddhas passing, an area was dedicated to Chinese astrology with gold colored figures posing on each of the animals making up the Chinese calendar. Being the Year of Rat, I quickly found that one, then the Pig, the Dog, Dragon, Cat, Snake, and six others.

 

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.

Dining hall
His  responsibilities include overseeing the wide range of activities, ceremonies, and everyday business of Wat Khrom, and the duties of all the other monks. Their contributions to the community are tremendous; counseling the young on marriage or family planning, consoling the ill and elderly, advising all on countless issues, and performing a wide variety of ceremonies and celebrations. The chief monk stated that he was "going to heaven," and retreated to an upstairs room for a short siesta while a temple boy removed the tray of dishes. The temple boys did not wear the orange robes. They are often orphans and come from poor families or broken homes to work for room and board.

 

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.

Upstairs monk
Every Wat has not only a primary shrine but a dining hall. Townspeople often bring food for the monks or use the hall for a variety of functions or ceremonies. The spacious room was brightly painted with artwork on all of the ceilings and walls. Unoccupied on this visit, only a single straw mat laid on the shiny tiled floor of the hall, near the base of a small shrine. Upstairs, a dormitory housed about two hundred monks. Every male Buddhist serves as a monk during his lifetime, some for just a few days, others months or years. 

 

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.

Classroom
A crematorium lies down the opposite side of the hill, deeper in the woods. Much of the grounds were dotted with several hundred stupas, each containing the urns of ashes of families or individuals. Those of the wealthy were largest and more elaborately constructed.

 

 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.

 

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One of the Bamian Buddhas (May, 19…
One of the Bamian Buddhas (May, 1…
Sitting Buddha
Sitting Buddha
Reclining Buddha under sala trees
Reclining Buddha under sala trees
Dining hall
Dining hall
Upstairs monk
Upstairs monk
Classroom
Classroom
The dining hall
The dining hall
Nun doing dishes
Nun doing dishes
Chinese grave
Chinese grave
Dining hall art
Dining hall art
Dining hall artwork
Dining hall artwork
Dining hall shrine
Dining hall shrine
Blossoms of the sala tree
Blossoms of the sala tree
Dont drink the fountain water
Don't drink the fountain water
Reclining Buddha
Reclining Buddha
The main temple at Wat Khrom
The main temple at Wat Khrom
Max
Max
Reclined Buddha
Reclined Buddha
Figure on the Dog
Figure on the Dog
Statue
Statue
A Japanese statue at Wat Khrom
A Japanese statue at Wat Khrom
Hindu statue
Hindu statue
The Pig and the Dog
The Pig and the Dog
Stupas
Stupas
Monk on break
Monk on break
The library
The library
View from Wat Khrom
View from Wat Khrom
Nun shacks
Nun shacks
Ya-Mao Shrine at Wat Khrom
Ya-Mao Shrine at Wat Khrom