I was wandering through the grounds of Wat Umong, an isolated forest temple in northern Thailand. Everything in the shade seemed to be covered with moss, everything in the sunlight scorched, baked and faded. As in a lot of Thai temples, many trees are considered sacred, and bear the orange robes of the order. Many more carry little plaques inscribed with pithy Dharma quotations.
It’s an ideal space to have fun with a camera.
I was caught by a strange inscription on the ground, and studied it. As I did so, a young Monk approached me, clutching a piece of paper. Pronunciation exercises. He pointed, and asked in very broken English how to say “cupboard”. He was not quick to take in the new sounds. But he was eager to chat, in any language.
He took me on a tour of out-of-the-way parts of the temple. The broken-down crematorium, the head monk’s quarters. Our English lesson deteriorated; we resorted to Thai and conversation started to flow. So I learned his story, of how he used to wait bars in the den of decadence in Bangkok that is Kao San road, then entered some backcountry monastery before arriving at Wat Umong only that week. He had taken his vows to make merit for his parents, and guessed he would not stay in the order for much longer than a few months. His spirit was wild and not ready for the confines of monastic life.
We parted. Seeing the rich, dark green foliage behind him, and feeling the soft diffuse light of an overcast late afternoon, I risked pulling out my camera.