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Sleepover at a Buddhist monastery.

What to do in Asia alone and without money?

My travels are never high-budgeted. I hitch-hike and spend 1-2 dollars a day on food. What else would I need? Probably, just a place to sleep at. So, I am in Cambodia in provincial town of Battambang. It’s night. I’m looking for a pagoda. A laughing seller of fried black scorpions, spiders, grasshoppers and other micro world representatives standing on the side of the road shows me directions to the nearest wat, a place where they pray and where anyone can get a bed. “Go straight for half a kilometer, then turn left into an alley and follow it for a hundred meters, then turn right and you’ll see the gate with big demons on it. The wat is behind them.

Monks allow sleeping in a sacred tomb.

I made turn after turn with a pocket flashlight in my hand and finally saw the gate. And there were the demons. Sculptures of these wicked creatures from Buddhist myths served as columns in the gate. Their another function was scaring away evil spirits, as believed by local people. I looked at their fanged faces and got absolutely sure that no ghost would ever break into the sacred monastery!

In the monastery’s yard two young monks were talking.

— Hello, you didn’t expect me to come, did you? — I greeted them. Where is your master?

— What do you need my master for? Come tomorrow, it’s late.

— I want to sleep in your monastery. I like it here.

— Alright. But it’s not a hotel.

— I’ve been travelling for a long time and I don’t have much money, so I would prefer your monastery.

— Alright, let’s go to the master.

While I was standing nearby waiting for the decision, the young monk explained my question to the master in the Khmer language. When the lay brother finished his report, the master looked at me smiling and waved his hand allowing me to go towards the building. We came to a small grey house of about nine square meters. The enter was guarded by two lions and the walls were decorated with bas-reliefs with pictures from Buddhist myths. The young monk I met at the entrance said:

— I usually sleep here alone, but the master said you are my guest today.

— Thank you, friend. And what is this building?

— It’s a very special building. On the top there is a stupa with ashes of a dead man. One very kind monk used to live here. He helped everyone with advice and prayed for everyone. Ten years ago he died. We mured his ashes into the stupa and now best disciples live here, in the house with his ashes. It’s a very good place for prayers and sleeping. It’s a kind place.

To be honest, I felt uneasy. I have never slept in a graveyard before. Although, I was too tired after the long way here. I remembered that our planet is one big graveyard after ten thousand years of civilization and there are someone’s bones everywhere. So, after some effort I managed to get rid of thoughts about a dead man above my head.

Would you like some grilled grasshoppers?

Meanwhile, the monk cooked a light dinner.

There was a hot water container, a pack of green tea and a newspaper roll with Khmer writings on it. I unrolled it. I didn’t even doubt it! The monk noticed my confusion:

— Insects! They are very tasty. The master has sent them to you. They are very good, they enforce male power. Eat them.

After such care of the master himself about my male power I thought it would be a sin not to try one, so having overcome disgust, I ate my first grasshopper. It was not that bad. Tasted like chips with some bitterness.

After the dinner I laid down my self-inflatable pad on the floor and my friend lighted anti-mosquito spirals. It was really wonderful to sleep there. Probably sculptures of asuras were properly defending us from evil spirits, as I saw only kind dreams.

There is no place like road

At dawn I woke up from drum beat. The young monk had already left. There was rice and tangerines with a full container of hot water near my pad. After the breakfast I went out and saw what had been hidden in darkness of the night: the unbelievably beautiful pagoda shining with gold in morning rays of sun.

A monotonous patter of praying monks came from behind it. I had to go and I didn’t want to interrupt them, so I left a note saying “Thank you, friends!”, left it in the door and went out of the monastery.

I had a road to Siem Reap waiting for me…
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Chris Van der Valke, Cambodia 2007.

Published in «Traveler’s Diary» of Autumn 2009, and other magazines and newspapers.

Translated from Russian to English by «Traveler’s Diary» magazine. The original text is here.

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Notes of author:

Barang — a foreigner (the Khmer language).

The Khmer language is the official language in Cambodia.

Communication with Asians is usually in broken English and gestures. All dialogues with local people have been translated an adapted by the author.

Wat is a Buddhist monastery. The word is used in languages of most Buddhist countries.

Asuras — low rank gods, demons in Buddhist theory of the world.


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