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Monthly Archives: September 2008

after my first few days in cambodia, dine and i started a list–or i actually started a list and gave it to dine–on things i wanted to do here that he had casually mentioned in conversation. like going to the mountains on the thai-cambodian border (achieved–and it was amazing and spectacular and other than us, the only other people there was a group of saffron robed monks), eating strawberries and avocados together–two things he’d never had before and are nearly impossible to find (check! did that one, too–one night we were in phnom penh, eating at dine’s friends restaurant, called the green mango, and mr green mango had a special avocado salad on the menu, and i nearly fainted with excitement. we ordered it, and while we were waiting for this lusciousness to be served, dine jumped up, got into a tuk-tuk and came back 10 minutes later with a package of australian imported strawberries from the western supermarket nearby…and then i almost fainted, for real. or had a heart attack at that moment, from being presented with a package of expensive $5 summertime fruit.. my heart swelled about 900 times the normal size.), singing karaoke (did it a zillion times, of course, and never sober)  trying ‘”happy pizza”, (not achieved. but there’s time). but the one really major thing i wanted to do was to be blessed by the monks in this very intriguing way that dine told me about, off handedly.

it was a sunday, and we were scheduled to get together for something– i don’t recall what; sundays are sacred in cambodia for “family time”, since kids go to school on saturdays, too–and he called me that morning and said he couldn’t make it. being from new york, i am so used to last minute date breakings, so it was undramatic,  but later in the evening, he came by my hotel for a smoke and to catch up. i noticed he had a string around his wrist, something he didn’t have there the day before. i inquired and he sort of casually, in a no-big-deal kind of way, i think he may have even shrugged his shoulders as he dragged on his cigarette and my jaw dropped to the floor as he described this “spiritual cleansing” he had had at the pagoda that morning.

it was about water and incense and more water and the cleansing of negative spirits. for luck and better days ahead. as he described this rite, this i’ve-never-ever-heard-of-this-before-and-i’m-freaking-out  event, i just cried. not sobs or anything silly or embarrassing (at least i don’t think so), but from being overwhelmed by the beauty of this incredible, well, thing that he did while i was most likely laying on a deck chair reading a book.

quickly, this nameless, unusual event went on my list. i wrote:


so on my last day in siem reap, before heading to the airport and saying “lee heuy” for a month or so, dine announced–again, casually, off-handedly, this-happens-all-the-time kind of way–that he had arranged with the monks for me to have a cleansing at 11am. the nuns were preparing all morning, i understood. i was nervous. “bring something you can wear and get wet, but not a bathing suit” were my orders.

anxious, knowing that when amongst monks, showing “lots” of skin is unacceptable, i pedaled back to my little home at the soria moria and tried to fashion up some sort of ensemble that would, well, work. i threw a tee shirt, shorts and a sarong into my bag, hoping that this would pass muster.

off to the pagoda we went, me unsure about what to exactly ask dine about what was really going to happen. how do you begin to enquire about something when you have no clue, no framework, no guidelines? inside, i shrugged and thought, “go with it.”

inside the pagoda, a monk was folded in his usual position, with multiple silver bowls placed on the mat in front of him. the bowls were filled with water, bouganville and lotus flowers floating in them, dramatic and pink, the familiar yellow candles and bunches of incense waiting to be used. dine and i kneeled, bowed 3 times to the monk, and were offered the candles and the incense to burn at the nearby shrine. 

bows again, 3 times. thanking buddha. 

i was shaking a little. just a little. i don’t think anyone saw. maybe.

we went back to the mat and put our hands in the prayer position, eyes sealed shut as the monk starting his chant. that gorgeous rhythm, that melodic tune i’ve grown to love, the depth of the sounds that echo in my chest, reverberate through my whole body and make me feel safe and serene and calm and alive. water started being thrown at us, via a bristly brush–i peeked, i had to–and the droplets rained down my face, like tears, and then real tears mixed in, and suddenly i understood why i needed waterproof clothes. 

the singing hymnal chanting continued, as did the water, as did the tears, as did the feeling of hugeness, wholeness, completion.

dine then whispered to me, “we now go outside”, and confused, but in some sort of catatonic joyous state, i followed he and the monk to the pagoda steps, where a huge urn of water sat, filled again with nature’s pinks. the sky reflected in the water, too, creating a symphony of bright colors mirrored on its surface. i was half tempted to dive in.

i was directed to sit on the step in front of the vessel, and i was going with it, just letting this mysterious event happen to me, loving the unknown, not wanting to get to the end too fast. the chanting began again–oh, how i love these sounds, they transform me, bring me someplace–and bowls filled with water were poured over me, again and again and again, and i was drenched and crying and laughing and dreaming and crying more. and the water kept coming and coming and showering me and everything was blurry and blending like a watercolor painting, just mixing and becoming one unified image, the flowers sticking to my face, my hair dripping down my back, puddles forming around me, the sky electric blue, the breeze blowing, the sound of palm fronds brushing together, this chant chant chant–what is he saying? who cares?–it went on and on and i didn’t want it to stop.

it was over, and we went inside, kneeled again on the mat–me dripping, leaving wet footprints in my path, soaking the tatami–and the monk pulled out red strings from one of the bowls, and tied it around our right wrists.

the symbol of the clarity, the cleanliness, the joy and the luck and the future.