If you are going to Chiangmai

The Monk Chat at Wat Suan Dok is a must-try. Initially, things started off lukewarm for me as I was paired up with monks who aren’t quite adept at speaking English yet. Hence, I spent a lot of time smiling encouragingly at them and thinking of simple conversational phrases so that they could understand me and practice their English.

Fortunately, the system in place was implemented pretty well as they would ensure that at least one senior monk (typically a year 4 English major student at the nearby Buddhist university) would be around to moderate the discussion. It was rather heartwarming to watch the display of camaraderie as the senior monk would patiently act as the go-between and encourage his juniors to speak up.

There was a flurry of exchange of people at my table as some monks had to return to their wats. Things started to pick up when two fresh participants sat down and our conversation somehow digressed to their extra-curricular activity as DJs. Apparently, the Buddhist University had set up their very own radio station to improve their students’ speaking skills and exchange ideas about Buddhism. This radio station was established in early 2005 and its programmes can be broadcast to listeners who live within 15km from Wat Suan Dok!

Intrigued and excited, I asked them if I could have a look around their radio station. They readily obliged and brought me to the building across the room where Monk Chat was held. The DJs on that day welcomed me sincerely and before I knew it, I was declared as their “special guest” for their Easy Talk programme, which was scheduled between 6 to 7pm.

What I found most impressive was that the group of monks assembled before me came from various countries such as Laos, Cambodia, India, Bangladesh and of course, Thailand. Talk about a myriad of nationalities! It was then that I really appreciated how Chiangmai was a centre for aspiring Buddhists from Southeast Asia and beyond.

Because I am currently serving my national service [all singaporean males have to be conscripted into the military forces for two years], the programme started with a lively discussion on whether conscription exists in one’s country. Later on, I was asked to share my thoughts on how to increase the number of believers in Buddhism and about Singapore culture, among other things.

It was initially nerve-wracking for me, for i was afraid of sounding silly on air. But the friendly monks were so enthusiastic about finding out about Singapore that my inhibitions disappeared. I felt proud to be an unofficial ambassador for my nation and have this engaging exhange of ideas. All in all, one of the highlights of my trip.

So, to Thai-blogs readers, ask whether you can drop by the radio station when you are doing the Monk Chat. It will be an experience that you won’t forget.

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