The following post has been contributed by William Mathew Ryland who currently lives and works in Bangkok, Thailand. This piece is an excerpt from his compelling, moving and humorous book,
Sons of Isan, which chronicles Bill’s experiences living in a rural Thai Buddhist temple. You can learn more about his adventures on his absorbing website, Bill Reyland.
Outside my cell, a heavy tropical rain has begun to fall and giggling flashes of orange hurry by my open door. A platoon of ants drink from my lukewarm cup of instant coffee, and mosquitoes attack my exposed feet, feasting on a particular area where my sandals chafe badly. I contemplate scratching the area, but it’s already not healing very well. I decide instead to scratch around the area. The blood and filth blend into a flinty brown. I light a cigarette.
As evening begins to fall, a woolen sky is torn away, revealing a giant Asian sun quivering midway on the horizon. Outside in the cambered light of the village, I hear the faint sound of water buffaloes, shuffling through the village, and then not so faint as they make their way past along the outer wall of the temple, their hooves like woodblocks on the steaming pavement.
Sprawled out, hot and in a stupor on the tile floor, I’m interrupted by a timid knocking at my door. There, in the darkness, stands Phra Suwatt, the abbott’s secretary who has been my welcome monk since I arrived. He’s twenty-three and has lived in this temple since he was a boy. He is tall and thin, so thin his robes fail to define even the slightest physical feature. He’s the only monk I’ve spoken to since my arrival the night before. The other monks as though fearful or painfully shy keep their distance. Walking through the grounds they gracefully flee to nearby buildings at my approach. Huddled in small groups they peer smiling from the darkened doorways and teak framed windows. Forty-eight hours ago, I was in the States drinking coffee. I wish I had savored it more because the only coffee here is instant. It seems trivial, doesn’t it? It’s not that I didn’t do my research. I did plenty, but this is the kind of place no amount of research can prepare you for.