Sunday, December 16, 2007

One monk and his pagoda

Head monk Koah Nin and myself in front of the main altar

Yesterday afternoon was spent buzzing along Highway 3 from Phnom Penh and out into the countryside without an obvious target, just stopping at a few pagodas and interacting with locals. One of my stops was at Wat Teuk Khla, also known as Wat Mony Kongkeah, where I met a very proud head monk who insisted he show me every building in his pagoda and that I meet all the workforce currently renovating parts of the complex. His name is Koah Nin and at 76, his frail body belies a steely determination to complete his pagoda's overhaul before he passes onto the next life. His words not mine. With the fifty year old main vihara ruined by flooding and now rebuilt, much of his work is done but the former nurse, who became a monk just sixteen years earlier, was supervising construction of a new building when he took time out to show me around. Born in the village nearby, his wat runs alongside the Tumnap Prek Thnal river and before showing me the vihara with its wall murals and insisting on a photo together in front of the altar, he told me how after the Pol Pot regime had ended, he helped collect the bones of KR victims and cremated them in the pagoda's cremation oven and placed them in a stupa with the remains of some of the older monks who'd died whilst at the wat. He was pleased that I'd taken the time to visit his pagoda as no foreigner had ever stopped to talk to him and he invited me to visit him again in the future, at the same time thanking me for telling people across the world about Cambodia. I was at the wat for just under an hour and in the company of Koah Nin, the time flew by without me realising it.

Koah Nin proudly poses in front of the main vihara at Wat Teuk Khla

The main altar at Wat Teuk Khla

This stupa contains the remains of Pol Pot victims and elder monks

This is the pagoda's cremation oven, which was built after the Khmer Rouge period ended

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