Daily Archives: May 8, 2005

Life in a Thai Temple

** This article has now been published in “Thailand Life” by Panrit “Gor” Daoruang. Available at Asia Books and all good bookstores in Thailand. On the Internet, it is available at BuyThaiBooks.com.

This afternoon, I went to visit Phra Nattawud at the temple where he has been a monk for the past three weeks. This was the first time I had seen him since the time I acted as his “temple boy” during his morning alms round. I had decided to wait for him to settle down before I asked him about life in the temple. To be honest with you, I was quite shocked and amazed when I learned about his typical day. Before you read on, I should point out that not all temples are the same. Some abbots are very strict and others are more lenient. You will also find that some people will become monks as a “career choice” whilst others are doing it because of circumstances beyond their control.

I first asked Phra Nattawud to describe a typical day for him.

“I usually get up at about 5 a.m. and then take a shower. I then prepare myself to go out on the alms round. It takes a while for me to put on all of the robes. I then leave at about 6 a.m. When I come back, I put all the food on a tray and sort it out. For example: curries, desserts and drinks. We then give some food to the Buddha image and do some chanting. After that we just eat until we are full. I then usually go back to sleep for a few hours. Sometimes I walk around the temple grounds and chat with other monks. Sometimes we watch t.v. We do this until lunchtime which is about 11 a.m. We cannot sit down for lunch later than 11.30 a.m. Most people think we cannot eat after mid-day. But that isn’t true. If we don’t get up from the table, we can actually eat all afternoon! But no-one is going to do that because that is crazy. In the afternoon I might sleep again or chat with the other monks. Sometimes I watch t.v. In the late afternoon, when it has become cooler, we then do our chores. We sweep around the temple and water the plants. At 7 p.m. I go with a group of other monks to the big meeting hall to chant. Not everyone goes. It is your choice. We chant for about one hour. After that, my group of monks usually goes to sit by the river and drink and chat. When I say drink, I mean soft drinks! We are not allowed alcohol. We chat there until about 9 p.m. Then we go to bed.”

What was it like on your first alms round?

“It made me very uncomfortable to walk around because everyone had to wai me and pay me respect. Even my parents. It was hard to get used to that. I also had to walk with bare feet and it hurt a lot. Sometimes it is a concrete road and sometimes it is gravel. I think there is something in a cut in my foot as it still hurts now. I have to walk several kilometers every day. I have never walked so much in my life. Wan Phra is the worst day. This is the Buddhist holy day like your Sundays. A lot of people come out to make merit on those days. I had so much the other day that it filled up three or four bags. I had to come back by motorcycle taxi as it was too much to carry. We cannot refuse them because it would be very rude. That is also the day when we get a lot of money. They put it in envelopes for us as a way of making merit. Some monks can get 1000 baht or more. These monks have been here a long time so they know the good places to hang out. But I only got less than 200 baht. We keep the money ourselves because we have to pay for everything at the temple. We have to pay for electricity and water and things like that.”

What things have you found the hardest so far?

“The hardest thing for me so far is studying the yellow book. This is full of chants that we have to use during the day. Some chants we use everyday and they are the easiest to remember. However, sometimes we are invited to people’s houses or funerals and there are different chants for us to remember. To help us, one of the monks is a senior and he leads the chanting and we follow. I cannot just pretend I am chanting by moving my lips. I really have to chant. I go outside the temple to do this about once or twice a week. We all take turns. The abbot is the person who chooses which monks can go. But he makes sure everyone has an equal chance. This is because we usually make money when we go and everyone wants to do it. And the food is always very good. I sometimes get between 200 and 500 baht each time. But, one of my friends recently got 1000 baht for chanting at an ordination. It wasn’t my turn that day.”

Out of the 227 precepts you have to keep, which ones do you think are the hardest?

“I don’t really know them all. There are too many. I think you have to be here a long time before you can remember them all. But for me, the difficult ones are: not being allowed to be alone with a woman, not eating after lunch, not sleeping with a long pillow or on a soft mattress. But some monks do have a comfortable beds and pillows. They even have air-conditioning, cable tv and computer in their room. There are different kinds of monks here. Some are serious about being a monk. Others are here because they cannot do anything else. If you stay in the right temple, it can be quite a comfortable life. Good food and good money. I think most monks make about 10,000 baht a month. There are of course some bad monks. I know that the ones in the kuti next door to mine take drugs. They order the drugs by mobile phone and it is delivered to their door by motorcycle taxi in the evening. Talking about delivery. Guess what I had for lunch today? My aunt ordered pizza for me!”

Well, I don’t know about you, but I was pretty shocked by the layback attitude of the monks. It almost seems too simple. I thought it was supposed to be a hard life. If all temples are like this then I think it could be easy for me to be a monk. But then, what would the point be? If I am going to do something like this, I would want to do it properly. Otherwise there is no reason to do it. I might just as well stay at home. Of course, like I said in the introduction, abbots in other temples are far stricter. Some of them won’t even let monks ordain if they have tattoos or if they smoke. Now, the question is, has Phra Nattawud gained anything from this experience? I will keep that question for later. It won’t be long before he disrobes and comes back to his normal life. But first, the abbot has to consult his astrological charts to find the most auspicious day and time for doing this. Why is that so important? I will tell you all about it next time.


Despite my liberal ideas and behavior, at the core of it I am still a Thai. It is my responsibility to best represent my country wherever I go. I don’t know if anyone else feel the same way, but I do. It is probably engrained in my head from my earlier cultural training.

Yes. That’s me in pink with my friends from New Zealand, Argentina, and Australia. That was Melbourne, Australia, circa 1989-90. I was 12 on my first international solo trip—as in not with my parents.

CISV, Children International Summer Village, was the program I went on. 2 girls and 2 boys at 11 years of age (I turned 12 the month before the village, so we had to smudge my age a little bit at the camp. Hahah.), and an adult chaperone, form a delegation from one country. The delegations, Junior Counselors (16 year-old representatives), and host country’s staff spend 4 weeks in the summer together, learning about different cultures, about trust, love, friendship, and peace.

That was where I learned my first lessons in diversity, acceptance, and how to represent Thailand. And probably the lessons that have changed my life forever.

Ever since, whenever I did my traveling abroad, I made sure I have on hand souvenirs, a Ramm Wong tape (music for traditional basic Thai dance), booklets or brochures from the Tourism Authority of Thailand, and something Thai enough I could wear instead of hauling a full costume. All of that had proven to become handy in every trip.

When I came to the US for high school in 1993, I knew I had to take up the role of a cultural attaché once more.

Santa Margarita Catholic High School, out in the brand spanking new community of Rancho Santa Margarita in Orange county, was…and probably is…predominantly white. After we visited the school and the neighborhood, it was clear to me that I was on a mission.

As if sent on a diplomatic duty to the uncharted RSM by King Bhumibol himself, I was gearing up to best represent Thailand. My approach was to be so prepared to talk about Thailand as if no one in the area had even heard of Thailand before my arrival. My parents, bless their hearts, went along with my slightly overzealous plan to educate RSM about my country.

In addition to my usual cultural armament I mentioned earlier, I also brought along a wheel full of TAT tourism slides. I took a few classical Thai dance lessons, and bought accompany costumes in addition to the traditional costume.

I only got to pull off 2 events in high school. I hosted a mini Loy Kratong festival with an inflatable pool and a few dozens of mini kratongs during lunch hours, and performed Chuy Chai dance at Talent Show among the rock bands, singers, and dance teams.

Triumphantly, I declared my mission accomplished. I don’t know if my 2 major displays made any difference in anyone’s mind. Perhaps they wanted to learn more about Thailand, or they thought I was a complete and total dork. But I didn’t care about that. Now they have heard of Thailand. Now they have seen a little bit of my culture. That is all I care about.

This is when my country truly needs me, I think. I need to let the world know about my country and my heritage, to show people how beautiful our country is. To make them aware that Thailand is not all about sex trades, corrupted government, or whatever negative things shown out there by the international media.

This is where you stand up for the Old Siam. This is where you show your patriotism.

Well, at least that is how I’m showing mine.

How’s like to study in the best school in Thailand? (1)

I’m now studying in Triamudomsuksa school, which’s believed to be the best high school in Thailand. Each year, more than 80% of our grade 12’s students can attend universities both in Thailand and other countries. This institution has already produced leaders for Thailand for more than 65 years. But what’s it like for me as a student there?! Is it stressful? Full of competitions, big thick glasses and big piles of books?! Can I, a little girl from suburbs, really survive? I was worried at first, too because I got a quota (from showing my grades, my portfolio and did a little interview) and I didn’t take the most tough test like others. But since the very first step I took into the school after I could get in totally changed all my former thoughts to something a whole lot better..

The first day of impressions started when we went to school’s football field to check if we could make it or not, there were laughters, tears and even some sent to the hospital (It’s true! Some couldn’t make it and passed out). It’d be general if it’s just that (went to check and went to celebrate or straight back home) but groups of seniors made it extraordinary!! They came to surround us (all of us eventhough some didn’t pass the exam) in a circle and sang out loud to welcome us. At the end, they congratulated the ones who could do it and comforted others who failed by saying stuff like ‘At least, you’re a part of Triamudom and don’t worry Triam’s not everything, you may gain something better later in your life :)’ and that made some even cry more.

After that, we got the first orientation. All of us (seniors and freshmen) danced like crazy al-together while enjoying activities. There was a play which was funny and also taught us heaps of attitudes. And at the end of it, lights out, beautiful songs (school’s songs) came along with fleet of candles’ lights.. we all sang together and at last we ‘boom’ in a circle. When we were about to leave the school, seniors gathered around to tie little white strings on our wrists and wished us luck at the same time. What a warm family!! We did have ‘welcome freshmen’ orientation set up by seniors, too and it was so kewl. Everyone still talks about it although those days had passed long time ago but it’s always been etched right here on our hearts forever.

Then the first year (Mattayom 4) started, I could have a group of close friends consisting of 12 people! We had lots of fun together especially on Fridays because we studied only half day (Guys gotta go to study soldiers stuff :p Poor you, man). We always ate together, took photos together and sang karaoke together!! If you saw us doing those things, you wouldn’t believe we go to school full of elite people ‘coz we were pretty crazy :p When the exam time came, everyone asked one another to read and study together and the results were unbelievable, everybody got high marks but we’re still normal, especially me, I always failed maths at summative exams.

We have so many activities during the year which I’ll continue about in the next entry because I took part a lot in grade 11 (M.5). And at the end of the year, everyone whined ~ we wonder why time passed so fast like that, we all wished to start it all over again. Then one day, we knew that some in our class were going abroad as exchange students for a year each so we had a little party for them. We sang, ate, took photos and danced together with tears and laughs..Though we were all seperated in M.5 (the next year) but everything we experienced together lasts in our mind forever.. I’ll never ever forget our thoughtful cares we shared, I promise.

Damn (:p), I’m inlove with this home sweet home 😀

[More pictures on page 2…]