I found myself freezing on the street opposite a temple at five thirty in the morning; clutching my arms around me I wondered what I was doing?! I had been awake for hours due to a combination of Jet Lag and the fact that my room in the Guest House let in every noise from other peoples rooms, just a quick note, if you’re the French Couple from three rooms away, shhhh, no-one needs to hear that, kthanks. I lay in my bed awake, quiet and thoughtful from two-thirty in the morning, the minutes turned into hours; before it hit me, I remembered something I had read in Lonely Planet, every morning in Chiang Mai from five-thirty to six-am monks leave temples and go to collect their daily Alms. “Perfect!” I thought, as I leapt from bed and layered up to protect me from the cold Chaing Mai air, I walked down the street past my guest house until I came across a Temple, there I sat and waited, I waited and I waited. Five am rolled past, five thirty, five forty five, six am, where were the monks?! Did I get it wrong?
I must have looked confused as a few people started talking to me, one of those people was a man called Kunchin, who had also found himself on the street early in the morning armed with his camera. As we were talking Kunchin asked me if I knew the history of collecting the Alms, (I didn’t) so Kunchin proceeded to tell me that the bowl was symbolic of the bowl Buddha used when he was obtaining his 49 days of enlightenment; Buddha filled the bowl with 49 portions of rice, one for each day of enlightenment and threw it into the nearby river. Monks, these days, each morning take their metal bowls out to obtain money or food from the local community as way to keep close to the community, to gain a understanding of the people who live there; with every Alm people donate to the monks a bit closer to Buddha they are.
Kunchin smiled as he told me this, I asked him where he was from, his accent wasn’t Thai, his English was almost perfect but with a thick accent. He stated that he was from Tibet, from a small town deep in the Himalayas, he was brought up by his family and the local Monks. But he left Tibet 16 years ago to find a new life in Seattle as he wanted to find a good job to support his future family, but every day he thinks about Tibet and keeps close to his roots there.
I could have listened to Kunchin talk about Tibet and Buddhism for hours, but before we knew it, the monks started leaving the temple, one by one, Kunchin and I took a few coins from our person and bent down in front of the monk before handing over our alms; I became lost in the moment, by the time I rose the sun had started to rise, I looked at Kunchin and thanked him for sharing his story with me, I left that street in Chiang Mai tired, but a lot more knowledgeable than when I first arrived.
With that I headed back to my hostel to get rest so I could explore the ancient city more, I woke once the sun had risen high and the heat of the day had chased away the early morning chill. I left the comfort of my hostel and headed out, I wandered around quiet sois, discovering Chiang Mai away from the tourist strip; there’s a real laid back vibe here as I passed leafy coffee shops, tiny yoga studios and tea ceremony shacks. I passed more temples per mile than I could ever imagine. I stepped into one which had soft music playing, outside elderly ladies practised Thai-Chi to music, a monk nearby watered the plants, “you like exercise?” he asked, surprising me, opening up the conversation I said that I enjoyed yoga and being on or in the water for my sports. “you practise daily?” he questioned, I replied that I do when I can, he said that with each yoga or thai chi move comes a sense of peace and enlightenment, that daily practise will centre me. We continued to talk and laughed over our hobbies and shared interests, he has been a monk for two years after joining when he was 15; we spoke for a while as he continued his chores around the temple, I asked if I could take his photo, of which he obliged, as we said goodbye he wished me luck on my journey. Those few words rang deep to me, I carried them with me from the temple back to my hostel, with thoughts of returning back there for the monks chant which happens over the weekend, as invited by my new friend.
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Have you met some interesting people on your travels? Have you found that you become friends with people who you wouldn’t expect? I believe in the good in people, I believe that if we’re open and friendly we will meet people who will enrich our lives for the better. If you’ve enjoyed this post then please join in on the conversation below, this series can be found on my blog showcasing the kindness of Human Nature.