It was a busy day but I was happy with how it all panned out. I got myself Cambodian cell number, I bought a mountain bike and baptized it by taking it for a spin across Siem Reap and to Wat Bo where I spent some time taking pictures. I was excited as I was about to have my second day of teaching English at Wat Preah Prom Rath pagoda and since it was already 4pm and the class starts at 5pm, I headed straight for Wat Preah Prom Rath. Excited about having my new ride, I was flying by Tuk Tuk drivers who only stared at me, realizing that this was one foreigner they were not gonna make any money off of. It was yet another scorching day in Cambodia but in spite of rainy season, it did not rain today at all. I was drenched in sweat and needed a break from the sun. There was no better place to go to than Wat Preah Prom Rath. Temple grounds are like a sanctuary where none of those aggressive Cambodian Tuk Tuk drivers or other touts dare to come with their malicious intentions so you can enjoy the break with peace of mind. Shaded benches are provided right across from the classrooms which is exactly where I was heading to escape the merciless sun rays.
I still had about an hour until the lecture so I was pleased to find one of my students sitting on the bench, also hiding from scorching Cambodian sun. The girl was just like most Cambodian young women – strikingly pretty. You didn’t have to ask me twice to sit next to her and engage in conversation. It was mostly me talking to myself, but we both seemed to have fun and my curiosity eventually got the best of me and I started enquiring about Buddhism and the life of Buddha. I was in predominantly Buddhist country, virtually everyone around me was a Buddhist, I was fascinated with Buddhist temples that were all over the area and my initial encounters with spirituality of Buddhism were more than positive – so it was natural that I sought answers to my many questions about Buddhism and luckily for me, the girl agreed to be my guide and introduce me to Buddhism and the life of Buddha.
There was a little bit of language barrier happening as my girl guide had just started to learn English so most of what she said made no sense and mostly she just repeated herself, but it was engaging nonetheless. We took our shoes off and walked straight inside the Wat Preah Prom Rath temple. As we walked around the outer wall where colorful, three-dimensional reliefs from Buddha’s life are, the girl stopped by each relief and briefly explain what the part of Buddha’s life depicted here was about. Because of limited English, all I could pick up was the story of Buddha being born and being kept within castle walls so he can become a king, as his father didn’t want him to become a holy man. But when Buddha got out of the castle and saw suffering of ordinary people and his destiny was decided.
Buddha then went to a secluded place where he lived for many days fasting. Just as he was near death from starvation, a girl found him and insisted that he eats, which saved his life. Buddha then realized that life is meant to be abundant and we shouldn’t deprive ourselves of anything but shouldn’t indulge too much either. Buddha started teaching about living “the middle way”.
The depictions of scenes from Buddha’s life involved good and bad times he went through during his life all the way until his death. My guide passionately talked about each stage of his life, but as it was hard for her to explain herself in limited English, so it was hard for me to understand what she was saying in English that was not making any sense. It was still an enjoyable and powerful introduction to Buddhism and the life of Buddha for me and I followed up on more research from this point on.
I have also asked about Stupas as the purpose of those was not clear to me. She was the first person to explain to me the meaning of Stupas and what they are used for. I did not see them as majestic monuments anymore, I actually knew what they were form now on.
Oddly enough, we both went to the classroom to attend the lesson and this was the last time I’ve seen that girl. During subsequent three months of my stay in Cambodia, she has not shown up for another lesson in the class. I do not know whether it had anything to do with me or not, but it was odd. Afterall, the hour we spent together at the temple was filled with nothing more than talking. Why was this the last time she’d attend the English class with me was and remains a mystery.