I am currently living with Buddhist monks at a wat called Prevehir Thom, located in Ba Phnum, a small town near the border of Vietnam. A friend once told me about monks who live in the Himalayas and melt snow with their body heat while meditating. There is no snow here, but I like to think that if there was, the monks would be melting it.Instead, they spend their time building schools, teaching computer classes, preaching, traveling to watermelon fields and praying to a large statue of Buddha with a glowing spinney wheel behind it. The younger monks also enjoy swarming my room to play with my guitar and the camera on my phone. I have come to greatly enjoy this nightly routine.
Prevehir Thom is also known as “the wat”, where Tum, the Cambodian Romeo, lived before he fell madly in love with the Cambodian Juliet, Teav. I’m hoping that by staying here at the wat, I will inherit his beautiful singing voice, while simultaneously avoiding his fate: death at the hands of a rival suitor.
Ba Phnum is also the last place in Cambodia where human sacrifice was allowed. Occurring every year until 1872, a sacrifice was made to the gods Nak Ta Tuol Chhnean and Nak Ta Sap to help the rain grow. They typically sacrificed a man guilty of terrible crimes. His head was impaled and offered up to the god on a stick along with the rest of his body, which was cut into 100 pieces. In 1872 the village leader had a vision encouraging the use of animals instead of humans.
These sacrifices took place at the foot of what the local Cambodians call a mountain, although it seems more like a hill if you ask me. Last Monday, Lauren Treiber and I hiked this “mountain” with a group of local high school students. We began by walking up the stairs of the Buddhist temple and looking out over a pleasant view. We continued at a brisk trot on what felt like a trail, for a moment. But soon I found myself army crawling through a red ant-infested jungle while simultaneously eating a chalky fruit dipped in a mixture of salt and chili powder and listening to Cambodian love songs on a student’s phone. I assume the red ants were the gods Tuol Chhnean and Sap Than punishing me for underestimating the mountain.
Lauren and I are teaching these students English on the weekends. Our assignment this week was for them to describe their perfect day in five sentences. My perfect day consisted of sleeping in late, lunch with the president and a private Led Zeppelin concert; however, many of our students had much more humble wishes.
One student named Thy Dana writes:“In my perfect day is at the weekend because at these days,
1. I can eat rice with my family
2. I can have a rest frome public school
3. I like cooking fore my family
4. I like Study privat time about Biology because I like to study it so much and help my mother doing housework.
5. Especially tomorrow I can join the wedding at my teacher house with my friends and I can meet my foreign teachers.”
Jacob Martin is a sophomore history major. In his free time he enjoys bike rides, scooping and Martin Laurence movies. He is currently teaching English on Study-Service Term in Cambodia.