Monks, Shopping, and Cooking

Yesterday we went to a few temples and then arrived back in Chiang Mai center to do a “monk chat”. This is an established thing at a particular temple where everyday from 9AM to 3 PM there are monks sitting and available to talk with anyone who wishes to. They use this as an opportunity to explain their lifestyles as well as practice English. Our group of 14 broke up into smaller groups and four of us met with Nam, a 24 year-old. He first began living at the temple when he was 12 because he didn’t know anything about Buddhism and wanted to learn more. Prospective monks are called novices till age 20, when they can ascend to full monkhood and gain more responsibilities and liberties. Each day every monk gets up at 6AM and takes a bowl to go to various food vendors, accepting whatever food they are given. They cannot ask for certain foods nor reject others; they must graciously accept and then come back to the temple to eat breakfast. Because monks value all life equally, they cannot ask for meat nor ever take a life. If someone gives them meat they must accept the gift, but if enough food isn’t collected and they are forced to eat out, you will never see one order a meat dish. In the mornings he teaches children in the public school, where only monks are trusted to beat children with a stick for only they have the wisdom and knowledge to know when it is necessary. After lunch (the last meal of the day), Nam studies at the temple in order to finish university and become a teacher. He told us that he will probably leave the monkhood in one year, but that he cannot know for certain because happiness lies only in the present and that things may change.

Last night we went to the night market and did more shopping (and tasted roti, a pancake with banana and chocolate sauce). Everything is really cheap at these markets, the shirt I bought I bargained down to 150 baht, or about 5 dollars. The great thing about living in such a warm climate is that fruit is in great abundance, and fruit dealers can be found on every corner selling shakes with pineapple, watermelon, papaya, mango, banana, or passion fruit. They also sell little baggies with a mix of spices and sugar that you can put on fresh pieces and eat with a stick. There are also odder fruits, like rambutans or duryan, that are interesting to try.

Today is our free day to explore the city, and this morning 7 of us got up to do a cooking class at Asia Scenic. I made spring rolls, coconut milk soup, panang curry, and pad thai. It went from 8:00-2:00, and at the end we got a cookbook with all the recipes that we didn’t have the opportunity to learn there. Let me just say that Panang curry (a red curry with peanuts crushed into the paste) is absolutely delicious. It will be a struggle finding some of the ingredients back in the US, but I’m sure substitutions can be made. I don’t think I mentioned this before, but the group decided on Sunday to try all becoming vegetarian for a week. It’s not my thing (as many of you know), but it’s so easy to eat vegetarian dishes here that it really isn’t difficult finding dishes with tofu rather than chicken. The cooking class was our little guilty lapse back into meat, because if we pay we want to get the real deal!

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5 thoughts on “Monks, Shopping, and Cooking

  1. Must have been interesting to speak with the Monk given how differently your lives have unfolded. Did you get a sense for how many of them remain as monks after they get to being full monks? Glad to hear the food situation is working out well. Vegetables/fruits are definitely less intimidating than, say, insects. And congrats on the bargaining! What have your sleeping accommodations been like?

    • I think he said something like 40% stay monks for life. You can leave and come back at any time, although no more than three times in your life. Sleeping accommodations have been mixed; yesterday we actually switched to a different really nice guest house (with AC, a kitchen!, and hot water) because the last one was really really poor. One girl’s bed was infested with ants. The showers are interesting in all of them too, because they don’t separate the shower head from the rest of the bathroom. So you take a shower standing next to the toilet and sink and everything in the tiny room gets sprayed. Tonight we take the 12 hour awful night bus back to Bangkok, and then switch to the 15 hour bus to Phnom Penh. My back hurt for two days after the trip here so I can’t imagine doubling it…

      • Even a nice bus is surely not comfortable for that long. Try taking Melatonin to help knock you out for the trip. So glad you were able to switch to another guesthouse– ants in the bed is not OK. Any way to offer any photos?
        ~Mom

  2. Nice detailed description of the “monk talk”. Interesting that he was not much older than you.
    Nothing like fruit ripened on the tree. Mangos shipped into the U.S. never tasted as good as those in P.I. Glad you are enjoying such a wide variety of tropical fruits and veggies.

    Bargaining is fun. You will get even better at it as you do more of it.

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