Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Fish, Parrots and James Bond the Monk

Well we just finished our first evening in Battambang after what was quite a long, *bumpy* van ride! Dinner was great, though I must say I was rather intimidated by this "fish" thing everyone was eating... first of all, it had a head, tail, bones... waaaayyy too much fun for me. But more importantly, I cannot figure out what this so-called "fish" is that seems to be on the menu everywhere... for all I know, it could be piranha. Hence I'm on a strictly rice and noodle regimen.

Speaking of dinner, the restaurant happened to have a very, very disturbingly caged green parrot planted right next to our table. Feeling bad for it, Faith and I decided to go play with it... and next thing we knew we were having a conversation with a Khmer-speaking parrot!! We couldn't understand most of what it said, but it kept saying "akun" (thank you) back to us when we said it, and when we laughed it actually said "ha ha ha" - very amusing! Still, we felt awful for the poor guy in his rickety little cage - not sure if parrots can literally "cry," but if so, that's definitely what it was doing when it wasn't speaking Khmer... :(

In other news, as I'm sure you'll read elsewhere, we visited the Angkor Wat temple complex yesterday and did some serious tomb raiding! We also visited a Buddhist pagoda with a monk who went by the name James Bond. Actually, quite a few mentioned being disturbed by his seeming lack of piety, but quite frankly I more or less expected that, as it seems to be quite a common cultural practice here to send sons off to be monks for some period of time, not to mention those who simply become monks for lack of better economic opportunities (which seems to have been the case with James Bond). Expecting them all to be terribly serious, pious individuals would be like expecting every American kid who gets confirmed to be saintly as well. And while I by no means support treating these sorts of monks as saints or sages, I honestly feel a certain appreciation for the way most of the Buddhist monks I've encountered (here with the Mahayana or otherwise) seem to interact so comfortably and amicably with us lay people, and to interact as human beings and equals rather than with that sort of holier-than-thou sense of separation that can be so apparent in many religious institutions. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure that sort of sense of separation happens to a certain extent in Buddhism as well (and depending on the school of course), and vice versa for other religious traditions, but on the whole I'm quite moved by Buddhism's active encouragement of "clergy-commoner" interactions.

...In any case, though, the inauguration is about to start, so I better run... more later!

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