When I was working in Thailand
, I used to go out early on the weekends before the heat jumped up to 92 degrees Fahrenheit
. You could count on the heat to be exactly 92 degrees, the humidity to be 85%, and a thunderstorm to roll in at 4pm and 9pm. The mornings, however, were clear, bright and cool. I enjoyed the time I had to walk around Bangkok
before the masses of people burst forth from their homes.
While strolling down Pholyothin Road just after sunrise, I saw a group of men in orange-colored robes coming towards me. They each had shaved heads, simple sandals and what looked like a purse. The men would stop by every person they met on the street. I slowed down to watch the strange precession in greater detail.
The man at the head of the group had his hands clasped in front of him. The others lined up roughly behind the leader, and they all seemed to be chanting. They were Bhuddist Monks, making their rounds in the light of the new-born day.
When it was my turn to be passed, the lead monk looked at me and smiled. He assumed I did not know about the early morning alms raising, and still he greeted me with an open, happy smile. I reached in my pocket and pulled out a 500 Baht bill, the equivalent of about $14US, and deposited it in the box.
Fourteen dollars was not a lot for me, but I knew that it would go towards people helping people. On my walks through the back streets of Bangkok, I saw architecture and grand culture offset by poverty and fear of the future. I knew that the Monks looked after their people. I knew the Monks helped people cope with their conditions. I knew that the Monks could use the equivalent of my pocket change to truly help someone.
The lead Monk was very surprised and pleased at my generosity. I wished I could do more to help, and felt my donation was inadequate. It all depends on your point of reference. I smiled back to them, then turned and went into a restaurant for breakfast.
About an hour later, while I was finishing my coffee, one of the Monks returned with a tourist map. He had circled a shrine on Sumkumvit Road, and told me in english that there was a Thai celebration there that afternoon. I thanked him and he left.
I made it a point to go to the celebration. Several dancers in traditional Thai dress performed. I don't know what the celebration was about, but it was a sight to behold. The colors of the outfits, the precise dancing of the artists and the face of the crowd in awe is one of my most treasured memories.
Several of the Monks were there. People donated what they could. I donated two 500 Baht bills this time. The one Monk I had talked to earlier told me that I could have someone blessed in prayer for my donation. I thought about it for a minute and concluded that it would be funny if I had my best friend and his brother blessed.
That evening, I was disturbed and restless. I was sitting in the coffee shop in the Central Plaza Hotel, drinking a smooth cappuchino. After staring out of the window towards the mall for an hour, I finally figured out why I felt odd.
I had my friends blessed as a joke. I had taken a simple, sacred event and turned it into a punchline. I felt cheap and commercialized, like I had turned the opportunity into a commodity. I did not sleep well that night.
The next day, I was up before dawn. I went to the shrine via taxi. Nobody was there, so I waited by the retaining wall. As the sky was changing from grays and reds to the warm colors of the day, I spotted the Monk who spoke english. I approached him and handed him two 1000 Baht notes for the alms box. It was as if someone handed you a small fortune out of the blue. It was what the technicians that worked for me made in one month. I asked him to again bless my two friends. He said it would be done in morning prayers.
While forking over money could not erase the brackish feeling I felt, I did do my best to correct my mistake. This time the blessing was sincere. It was meant as a gift of hope to my best friends. I also feel that in the end it was I who was blessed by Monks.