This is an excerpt from one of my stories which may be in my travel book.
One day I was wondering around Luang Prabang's streets in a heavily preserved district funded by UNESCO and various NGO's when I stumbled across another wat. This wat was empty of tourist and fresh rain hung from its temples. It was a place ripe for few photos.
I walked around very quietly as I usually do in spiritual places, when I was discovered by young monk. He asked me the usual array of questions that roll of the tongues of curious young boy monks. "Where are you from?" "I'm from America," I answered. The sound of America slipping from my lips brought a smile to his face. "Come with me," he said.
I followed the monk to the large temple which dominated the wat. It was closed. I didn't mind the temple being closed because I only wanted to take a few photos."I'll open it," he said. I was stunned. The monk was going to open the temple for me. My mind was racing with questions like, was this allowed? Would he get into trouble? Would I go to hell for tempting a monk into opening up a temple for my exclusive viewing?
The monk unlocked the padlock, threw open the doors, and turned on a light in the temple. I stood in the doorway hesitant to go in fearing that my actions could anger the Buddhist Gods. However, this young man was a bold monk. He motioned for me to come inside with him. Then the monk opened a window which brought more light into the dark temple filled with golden Buddhas.
The monk got down to business by giving me a quick tour of the temple in broken English. "Sorry, my English is not so good," he commented. "I study English for two years." the monk added. "Your English is fine," I replied. And it was the truth. His English was as good as some of my former Japanese co-workers who had degrees in English teaching. The monk had now produced a English-Lao electronic translator. We would use it at different points in our conversation to understand each other.
Our conversations would end with short breaks and I would walk around the temple on my tiptoes. I was utterly mortified yet thrilled to be inside of a previously locked temple. I felt like a princess. How many times in my life would a monk open up a temple just for my viewing pleasure?
"Do you want to take picture?" he asked. Of course, I wanted to take photos but I felt like it would be sacrilegious to do it in front of a monk. However, the monk had his own plans and began preparing his bright orange role for the photo. And I prepared my camera. The monk confidently posed for several photos in front of the replica of the Buddha. I felt like I had to be breaking a few Buddhist laws but a monk was guiding my path, so I did as he commanded.
After we finished the photo shoot inside the temple, he monk came up with another idea. "Another photo, then I show you my room," he said. I nearly had a heart attack. What kind of monk would invite a foreign woman to his room? And what kind of foreign woman would actually go to his room? I guess that foreign woman is me! Although I was puzzled by the invitation, I knew I couldn't pass it up.
The monk came out of a building with a small, young boy-monk who was about 10 years old. He took my camera away from me and gave it to the young boy monk who would take our photo together in front of the temple. Then I took a photo of the 10 year-old monk in training and "my" monk.
By the time the monk lead me into his room, I knew that his name was Somnath, his age was 23, he was from a border town near China called Oudomsay, his family were farmers who decided to send him down to the city for education at the monastery, he visited his family once a year, and he really wanted to learn good English.
Monk Somnath lead me into his house which had 4 rooms. He seemed to occupy two of these rooms. I followed him to his study area which was composed of a rug on the floor, his school books including an English-Laos language dictionary, a few small photo album books, a bottle of water and a few glasses for guests. I sat on the floor. He served me a glass of water. Then he opened up a book. It was his English homework. Somnath had written an English composition on the annual Luang Prabang boat racing festival which occurs around August and September. I read his composition and pointed out several mistakes. Overall, the composition was good. It was apparent that Somnath really wanted to excel in his English studies.
"Do you want to be a monk for long time?" I inquired. "I want to go to Thailand and study English, " he answered."Can I see your photos?" I asked. Somnath passed me the photos with little regard for monk etiquette regarding contact with women. Fortunately, I was still a little terrified of pissing off the Buddhist Gods, so I was very careful not to touch him.
I opened the album to find photos of Somnath in Thailand, posing in front of the Grand Palace in Bangkok. "I want to go back to Thailand but it is very hard. I need visa," he added. "Can you help me?" A smile came upon my face because the monk was a smooth operator with game. "I don't know how I can help you," I said innocently.
"Do you have husband?" he asked. "I have boyfriend, " I replied, "and I have to meet him soon." "Oh," he replied. "Maybe you help me with book," he added. "What kind of book?" I answered. "Thai-English conversation," he replied.
I told Somnath that I would see what I could do about a book. Then I quietly excused myself from the monk's presence. "I have to go now. I'll e-mail you the photos," I said. Somnath gave he his address at the wat and e-mail. I got up and made my way to his door as he trailed behind. Then I bowed and thanked him for his kindness.
Please note this is indeed a true story. Laos is a great place to go and speak with monks.