August 24

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From the Pearl of Asia – The four little monks

Where to start? Every single person, who travelled with me in Asia and not, knows I am obsessed with monks. I can tell you many stories of me and little monks met in the middle of nowhere in Myanmar or my huge smile in Khatmandu at the Boudhanath Buddhist Temple.

I was born in Italy in a small town between Milan and Switzerland, my grandmother sent my dad to seminar during WWII to save him to go fighting and my family is really catholic.  So what’s about me and little monks?

Little monk - Phnom PenhLet me start with the obvious answer: they are cute! Simple as it is. They are kids running around, smiling, playing and wearing a bright gown.  Let me dig a little bit more, cause it doesn’t sound nice like that!

When I started travelling in Asia, the first country I visited was India. When we reached Varanasi, the holy city on the Gange, I was completely infused by this amazing country and its mysticism. I still remember the last morning at the gath, the sun rising and people praying into the water. That experience made me to want to do more and understand what it’s behind religion and how people live it so deeply and authentic.  That’s where the story began. Since then I think I went to many Hindu temple, Buddhist festival on water, pagodas, temples, stupas etc. and I have been always intrigued by the pure kindness of the people I met.

This is not my first time in Cambodia and I’ve seen all the touristic places already. Also I want to save them for visitors and revisit them again when friends will come over. Said that, I wanted to spend a day taking pictures around Phnom Penh, out of the touristic circuits and close to the locals. I spent time on google, photography blogs and then I found the Akreiy Ksatr Village and the Wat Sovann Sakor.

On saturday morning, I took my tuk tuk straight to where the ferry departs to cross the Tonle Sap and Mekong river to get to this rural village.  Water is a constant element in south east Asia, not only because of the rainy season or religious celebrations, but also because the Mekong runs from Tibet down to Vietnam and crosses the entire region.  If you have any chance to watch a BBC program called The Mekong River with Sue Perking, you will understand how important it is.

So I took my ferries. I stood on the deck with many local people riding their bikes or driving the cars. Blue sky and clouds on top of us in contrast with the brownish river.

When we arrived at the other side, I start exploring the small village on the water. I think pictures will tell you more than I can explain.

Outside Phnom PenhOutside Phnom Penh - Vietnamese Village

I then took a ride on a bike and went to the temple – Wat in Khmer. Driving through the forest, the red earth and the sky so blue. I knew it was going to be a good day. As soon as I got there, there were some bright orange  sbang cheypor – Buddhist rope in Khmer – hanging at the sun to dry.  I started walking around the garden and I could hear voices in the background.  Most monks are shy and there were hiding behind door and spying what I was doing and then all suddenly 4 little monks appeared in front of me. I felt like a kid in front of the Christmas tree.

The monk dance During my visit, I also spent time with one of the teachers who taught a lot about their lives. But above all I had the joy to assist to the Monk Dance.

Before monks prepare themselves to leave their pagodas and to the city, an amazing performance, almost like a dance. Monks cocoon themselves within their robes and emerge a couple of seconds later, dressed up.

You can meet monks everywhere in Phnom Penh, from early in the morning collecting donations and food, to then head back to the pagodas before sunset.  The robes they wear, in saffron shades from bright yellow to red, are part of a 2,500 years old tradition, that brings time back to Bhudda.  He ruled regulations which are captured into the Vinayap-pitaka, one of three Buddhist scriptures. The colour of the robes depends on the dye used. Until very recently, this would have been natural vegetable dye found in the jungle from roots or trees. In modern times, monks can simply visit the local markets and purchase it for 30$. They can pick their own shade, however young ones are dressed in brighter colours.

I am always grateful for days like this,  where you can learn something new and feel in peace.

See you soon

Simona

DID YOU KNOW?

  • A Theravada Buddhist robe is called sbang cheypor in Khmer
  • The sbang is used to cover the upper legs; the cheypor is used to cover the torso
  • The krang cheypor is the part that allows the right shoulder and arm to be uncovered
  • Buddha designed a piece of cloth called the antaravaska, measuring about six feet by nine feet, that wraps around the torso, sometimes folded and draped over the shoulder
  • According to the Vinaya-pitaka, Buddha asked his chief attendant Ananda to design a rice paddy pattern for the robes, so Ananda sewed strips of cloth representing rice paddies into a pattern separated by narrower strips to represent paths or waterways
  • To this day, many of the garments worn by monks are made of strips of cloth sewn together in this pattern, often a five-column pattern of strips, or sometimes seven or nine strips
  • In the Zen tradition, the pattern is said to represent a ‘formless field of benefaction’; it might also be thought of as a mandala representing the world
  • An under dress, these days held together with modern zippers with a couple of handy pouches for personal belongings, is called ahangsak and is mostly worn during work activities in the pagoda
  • Khlum cheypor is the way to dress when leaving the pagoda and covers all upper body parts, including arms and hands
  • An additional cloth, ben bat, is used to cover the body while collecting daily food offerings from private homes or local businesses around town
  • A wide ribbon, called wathapun, ties the whole outfit tight
  • To hold the cheypor together, monks use a woven rope belt, called ottarkhot
  • In cold weather or strong sunshine, a sangadey – folded many times – is draped over the bare shoulder by way of protection.