While I was munching on my Fish Curry with Steamed Rice at the Khmer Family Restaurant, something extraordinary happened, something that I had no idea how to properly respond to. Since I was sitting on an outside patio, I was within reach of people on the street which was abused by little kids and landmine victims who continuously and repeatedly kept bothering me with requests to buy something from them. Since none of them takes “No” for an answer and each is determined to literally molest you into buying something from them just so they can leave you the hell alone at last – I grew excessively wary of not being left alone for half a minute. Then a couple of young Buddhist Monks came, stopped before the restaurant and stood there motionless with a firm stare pointing inside the wide open restaurant. Having just been to a country for a few hours and unaware of morning rituals of Buddhist Monks, I had no idea what they were expecting and how to respond to it without stepping over the line and offending (or worse).
I did the best I could in this situation – I pretended I was too busy reading stuff from the menu, hoping it will look like I have not noticed they are standing there, staring in a general direction where I was seated and that it will get resolved without my involvement, which would be inappropriate in any case.
The monks were young boys. While age of Khmer people is oftentimes hard to guess as they are of smaller built than us Westerners and virtually all of them are slender (kind of looking like kids most of the time), these monks looked like boys of about 16 years of age. They were definitely teenagers. They were both dressed in bright orange robes, which appeared to be made of one solid piece of fabric which was skillfully wrapped around their bodies offering an impression of a safely enclosed and well protected body temple within. Both monks had their heads shaved and one of them seemed to have been carrying something that resembled a large bowl underneath his robe.
I saw them as they were walking up the street when they were just outside the restaurant and since this was the first time for me to see a real Buddhist Monk, it was kind of exciting. Yet still, being anaware of proper etiquette when dealing with monks (who are undoubtedly considered a form of “holy men” walking the Earth), I feared that my actions, regardless of good intentions, would be inappropriate, offensive or worse. What do you do when two Buddhist Monks stop right by the table at which you are seated and silently look inside in a general direction of your presence? I have rejected all beggars and hustlers who approached me so far – should I now break my stance on not being able to financially support everyone who asks me for the money and offer some to the monks? Or am I supposed to share some of my food or drink? Or just play a complete dumb tourist, pick up my camera, shove it in their faces and start taking pictures while mumbling to myself: “Cool, a real Buddhist Monk!” I really had no idea what these monks were there for, so coming at them with the money could potentially offend? But does ignoring and not giving do any better? I was stuck, unable to act. I did not know what to do in this situation. It seemed like a standard morning ritual of the Buddhist Monks as while I was sitting there embarrassed, not knowing what to do, I have noticed another pair of Buddhist Monks stopping in the same way at the restaurant across the street.
The rescue for my stickiness came quickly, though. The boy who worked the shift in the restaurant along with that cute girl who served me my breakfast came to the monks after about a minute of them standing there and passed them small plastic container the content of which they had emptied into the bowl one of the was carrying underneath his robe, the boy then gave them a bank note (not sure how much), joined his hands together as if for a prayer and bowed his head. The monks did the same and uttered a prayer in native Cambodian language. It was just something short, perhaps a brief sentence thanking the boy and the establishments for their generous donation and blessing them in the name of Buddha.
After that the monks moved on to the next restaurant to do the same there. It truly seemed like a morning ritual that Buddhist Monks in Cambodia perform as part of the beginning of every day. As I have learned later, monks rely on support from all people who offer money and food as monks don’t work and have no income similar to regular working class of Cambodia. Cambodia people are impowerished, they don’t make much. Average monthly salary is about $60 to $80. However they always take out of that little bit and give to the monks. Very devoted believers who despite not having much themselves, always find some money to give to the representatives of Buddha on Earth.