Laos & Cambodia: Monks on the Make?

Mar 10th, 2009, 01:46 PM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 465
Laos & Cambodia: Monks on the Make?

This focused “trip report,” about Laos and Cambodia in particular, is thematic and topical rather than chronological. It deals with a species of encounter rather than descriptions of hotels, restaurants, and sights. Maybe it’s about touristic guilt and susceptibilities.
“Trust men little, and religious men less,” someone cynically advised. My subtitle is provocative, ambiguous, and interrogative. It ends with a question. It’s overstated and suggestive of a possibility. The ambiguity of being “on the make” lies in the implication of a hunt—and a transaction--both sexual (though it’s only sex in the head) and financial. It’s the financial aspect of the encounter I deal with here, though there is doubtless an erotics of spirituality at work too. A friend once said that “sex is about what you can’t have,” and the inaccessibility—the otherness—of the monk is part of their attraction to some. Think of the relation between guru and devotee. Jesus told Mary Magdalene, “Noli me tangere” (Do not touch me).
In Luang Prabang the unusually helpful and literate guest suggestions provided at the Apsara Hotel included a caution about giving your email address to novices, as charming as they might be. That might lead, the warning continued, to being regaled for funds so that your young friend could buy himself a pair of the latest model of trainers (aka running shoes).
Then the Parisian owner of a craft shop on the main street, among all of the other bits of information he imparted, advocated giving gifts to organizations rather than to individuals—for example, to a wat rather than to a monk. He said that was what local individuals and businesses did. He mentioned that a monk might seek $200 from someone supposedly to further his education whereas he really wanted to buy a motorcycle.
Later, in Siem Reap, we spent an hour before sunset at Angkor Wat. A strategically loitering monk began to tell us about growing up in the countryside in an impoverished family, about becoming a novice to get an education, and now, in his early twenties, wanting to continue in university, for which he needed $500 tuition. When our guide rejoined us, this plea was repeated in Cambodian to be translated, repeated--and reinforced?--to us. The story appeared to be well rehearsed and oft told.
A few minutes later we met a group of three other monks we had seen chatting with various groups of tourists as they made their way towards the exit. These monks struck up a conversation with a nearby German couple in their seventies, and must have asked them for money because we heard the explanation that they were already supporting several projects in India. From our conversation with this couple we had learned about the years they had spent in India, to which they were returning after this, their second, visit to Angkor Wat.
My question is whether others have had similar experiences, and how common these kinds of requests might be.
WillJame is offline  
Mar 10th, 2009, 05:19 PM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 32,681
I've never been asked for money by a monk or a novice. I've had young people in both VN (talk about strong-arm!) and Cambodia ask for money "to go to school." I've opted to give to schools or other charities instead.

Dogster has a story in one of his posts about the Tibetan monk and Boudnath asking him for money to visit his mother in Tibet. When Dogster returned to Kathmandu and next saw the monk, the monk had a brand-new cell phone!
Kathie is online now  
Mar 10th, 2009, 07:31 PM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 2,844
Technically, a monk is not supposed to handle money. That's one of the things they're supposed to be giving up. In fact, monks don't "beg" as it's often described. They are "giving you the opportunity to make a donation." A subtle difference, perhaps, but the distinction is between asking and giving. Asking for food or money is bad for the soul, but giving is great for it.
MichaelBKK is offline  
Mar 10th, 2009, 08:05 PM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 2,844
No sooner had I submitted my previous post when I got this link off Twitter:
http://www.nobodyandco.it/sito/ingle...20buddino.html

I don't think we'll be seeing these in Bangkok any time soon.
MichaelBKK is offline  
Mar 10th, 2009, 08:06 PM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 441
I've had monks wanting to practice their English but never a direct request for money. According to my daughter some monks are more 'worldly' than others. She teaches English in Siem Reap and has taught a few. Some will flirt with their teacher. We have always taken offerings of fruit when visiting working pagodas as distinct from tourist sites.
silverwool is offline  
Mar 11th, 2009, 04:47 AM
  #6  
 
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 21,900
One of the teenage monks I spoke to in Luang Prabang gave me his e-mail address; it was something like "hot single guy [email protected]!!" I thought that was incongruously funny.

Will: Was the French guy at the craft shop Fabrice?
ekscrunchy is offline  
Mar 11th, 2009, 04:59 AM
  #7  
 
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 7,291
Unsurprising really as most male thais and Laos will spend some time (usually up to a year) as a monk at some point in their lives. In essence, many are just ordinary guys taking a year out.
crellston is offline  
Mar 11th, 2009, 05:50 AM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 32,681
Crellston, I was going to make the same point. In Thailand, every male is expected to be a monk for some time - from a day to a year or two.

I've chatted with many monks on my travels, many want to practice English, this past year many wanted to talk about the US election. None have ever asked me for money.

Michael's distinction about "begging" vs. giving others the opportunity to make merit is an important one.

(Michael - I don't even know what to say about the pudding molds - weird.)
Kathie is online now  
Mar 11th, 2009, 11:06 AM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 2,138
My guide in Laos was very upset about interactions between novices and tourists. She said monks were targeted by certain tourists as they were desired for their 'inaccessibility' as the OP put it.

In Mandalay (Burma) novices would pose and request to be photographed in various tourist sites, then demand money. At one location our guide told them how wrong it was to act that way in a holy site (a temple). Shamed, the kids gave the money back to the tourists, then asked for the money back as we walked out of the temple!
Femi is offline  
Mar 11th, 2009, 11:23 AM
  #10  
 
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 947
This is an interesting and helpful set of comments. Thanks for your candour about this issue, WillJame.
marya_ is offline  
Mar 11th, 2009, 11:51 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Jul 2004
Posts: 49
We just returned from Luang Prabang. We took a boat across the river to visit the wats in Xieng Mene and as we walked from Wat Long Khun to Wat Tam Xieng Mene, a young monk came running after us with three flashlights in his hands. He asked if we wanted to see Wat Tam and he would take us inside since it is a locked cave. It was one of the highlights of our trip. We had not felt comfortable approaching any monks out of respect and had kept our distance so it felt special to be able to converse one on one. He lead us from room to room and talked to us about what we were looking at. After we were back outside he started talking about his home, his poor family, etc. and hinted around about a tip. We were more than willing to give him some money, and I would do it again for what he provided us. At the time, I never even considered this was inappropriate, interesting.

BTW, we finished the hike around the hills through villages and jungle, and eventually ended up back in Xieng Mene, after a few wrong turns and encounters with locals wearing rifles and machetes. I was uncomfortable but didn't feel in danger. Just be warned that the trail gets small and there are a lot of unmarked turns.

Christine
soundnesss is offline  
Mar 11th, 2009, 12:42 PM
  #12  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 465
Ekscrunchy, yes, it was undoubtedly Frabrice, the owner of Naga Creations, I was referring to. I could not remember his name or shop, but your wonderful trip report supplied the details that enabled me to identify him. He is a font of information and opinions. E.g., Laos people are less 'mercantile' than other SE Asians, as they will only work to make enough money to get the things they need. Real estate in Luang Prabang is the most expensive in SE Asia so the city will become a 'place of (costly) boutiques.' Big hotels will be kept out; the locals would not sell their school property to a large western chain, even for millions of dollars: education is more important to them than bucks. I
WillJame is offline  
Mar 11th, 2009, 01:00 PM
  #13  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 465
Sorry, I just misspelled Fabrice as Frabrice.
Probably we should be distinguishing novices from full-fledged monks or bhikkhus. The fellow we met at Angkor Wat made a point of telling us that he was a fully ordained monk, at which point, he emphasized, he "became holy." For an interesting article, just discovered, that deals with rapist monks, thieving monks, and fake monks, see http://tinyurl.com/c27ny5
And as for monks not directly handling money, I noticed that the monks at the little temple at the foot of Phou Si Mountain asked you, when you purchased something, to put your money on the counter rather than handing it to them.
Qu: Will Gpanda count this as a trip report?
Will
WillJame is offline  
Mar 11th, 2009, 05:39 PM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 37
On my trip to Laos in January I too was apprached by a monk while walking through a temple in Luang Prabang. At first I just thought it was another monk wanting to practice his english with me and I was more than willing to have a conversation. He asked me if I wanted to see his living quarters that he shared with a roommate. His roommate was in the room and he showed me his books and then brought out his material from a college he wanted to go to. His roommate looked at me and made a hint that I was about the be hit up for money, almost saying it sarcastically. At that point he started his well practiced speech about how he wishes to further his education but his family is poor. I was really taken aback, because I was under the assumption that monks would never do this. To me, it just tarnished any future encounters with monks thinking that anyone that wishes to talk to me has a motive. Its the only time this has happened and was very curious how many others have had this experience.
ArizonaShyGuy is offline  
Mar 12th, 2009, 04:08 AM
  #15  
 
Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 1,418
I'm glad to see this come up.

I have been approached by novices, more than once, letting me know that they would be happy to "take a donation toward their education", both in Cambodia and Lao. Their spiel is as rehearsed as the bracelet sellers at Angkor Wat.

Not sure if I blame them or myself for holding them up to be more than what they are - ambitious men in saffron robes. The sad thing is that it might cause people who encounter this to paint with a broad brush all monks everywhere as being greedy opportunists, and certainly most are not.

By the way, I have never seen a monk in Cambodia that wasn't more than happy to handle money, just as soon as he puts his cigarette out. I'm kidding. Sorta.
offwego is offline  
Mar 20th, 2009, 02:27 PM
  #16  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 465
In the same vein as this thread, there's one on Tripadvisor (sorry) that has appeared in the last week entitled "Luang Prabang Forum: Sponsoring a Lao student." It begins with details of novices bilking multiple sponsors out of funds for their education and has lately morphed into a discussion of monks consorting with female tourists--monks "on the make" in both senses of the term.
WillJame is offline  

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On


Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -

FODOR'S VIDEO

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 04:28 PM.