Laos 23: Massage and monk chat
I Google “Where’s the best massage place in Luang Prabang?”
Seriously. And what comes up, from an expat living there, is the Peninsula Sauna & Massage Center that I’m sure I can find, and I do. And there, on Saturday arvy, get a 90 minute Lao massage from a young man who massages and digs and prods harder each time I “ouch” and cry out in pain. Excrutiating. Exquisite torture? I can’t claim it was that.
But I walk on air afterwards.
I put my camera away. Will just walk and look with eyes not defined or cluttered by the lens. And of course one does see. Really see.
And when I see a young monk sitting at a little table inside a temple ground reading, I smile when he glances up and he smiles and says Hello across the short distance and the wall. And tells me he is practicing his English and invites me to come and check the book he’s taken from the library to work through.
And his English is good and his name is Bakh and he says he became a monk to get an education and he is turning 19 the next day. He is from a Mekong village where they had no high school. His sister is still there and he is sad she has dropped out of school and has no interest in continuing.
But he, on the other hand, is doing 14 subjects at high school and science, chemistry and Lao are his favorites. Also math and physics, he adds. And he likes art and drama, too. And his English, he is diligently practicing, so he can get a good career and a job in the wider world.
And it makes sense, when I read under Buddhism on the official Luang Prabang travel page: “You’ll see monks and novices of all ages around Luang Prabang. Many of the younger novices join wats not only to earn merit for themselves and their families, but also to receive a good, free general education (one that often includes study in English language).”
My new buddy, Bakh, invites me into the temple for early evening “prayer and meditation”. He seats me at the back on the right. The monks crowd in and fill the rest of the space. They chant and pray and briefly meditate and it all takes about 45 minutes and I feel lucky to be there, and happy.
And we chat again afterwards, before I leave Bakh. He tells me about Sai Bat, the morning alms procession where the monks wander through the streets of Luang Prabang with their begging bowls. See the Laos 24 (my next blog post) for more on that.
I leave him thinking what a gift this monastic life is for so many of these young men from poor families that it eases into the world. But do wonder and feel concerned about the women.
© Wanda Hennig 2016, story and photos.