The first time I ran across an old Khmer woman tending a shrine deep within an ancient crumbling temple in Cambodia I was jazzed. Despite not being able to speak English, she had no problem communicating to me that I was supposed to make a monetary donation – a donation box reads the same in any language – and say a prayer. I don’t remember how much I contributed, a handful of riel that added up to little no doubt, or whether I actually prayed or just faked it. I was there for the shot, not for merit making anyway. But a deal is a deal and along with the photo I took I got a vividly dyed yarn bracelet tied around my wrist, proof that I’d tended to my soul.
By the fifth time I ran across an old Khmer woman tending a shrine deep within an ancient crumbling temple in Cambodia in one afternoon, I figured out that bracelet filled with blessings really was intended as a mark to alert all the other old shrine tenders that a live one had just stumbled upon their little corner of the wat. No problemo. I got several cool photographs, a wrist highly decorated with neon pieces of yarn, and it all cost me less than ten bucks. And when I went out that night to get plastered on Pub Street – which may have negated the effect of all of the Buddhist blessings I’d racked up that day – my wrist looked pretty cool. It looked even cooler after another day of touring wats and adding another handful of bracelets to my arm.
In Thailand you might be lucky enough to be blessed my a real monk and get a thin string bracelet tied around your wrist too. But in Thailand that means something. Other than that you are good for a donation of a wad of the local currency. I still was sporting my Buddhist bracelets when I got back to Bangkok and my friend Noom was mighty impressed, if not in a bit of awe. Preparing to go hit the bars that night I started cutting the bracelets off my wrist and I thought he was going to have a heart attack. And I ended up wearing them for three more days until I took off for Chiang Mai sans Noom. And sans bracelets as soon as I got to the airport.
The old Khmer woman tending a shrine deep within an ancient crumbling temple in Cambodia photo became a staple of my visits to Cambodia. I’m not sure why, but those bracelets all ended up packed in my suitcase at the end of the trip. I look at the photos more, but there’s a nice little collection of colorful yarn tucked away in one of my drawers still today.
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