Postcard: A Shared Meal in Thailand
On a recent trip to Thailand I spent five weeks in Mae Hong Son, a town north of Chang Mai near the Burmese border. I was there to teach English to young Buddhist monks, and partway through my stay, they offered to house me at the monastery itself, as opposed to my current lodging at a nearby guesthouse. Part of the deal was that I respect monastery lifestyle, which included wearing all white, helping with chores, sleeping on just a thin wicker mat, and taking my last meal of the day at noon. The monks (and I) got up at dawn each day to weave through the streets in single file, gathering donations of food from locals. When we returned to the temple, female volunteers collected the food to prepare the monks’ breakfast and lunch. According to custom, the monks aren’t allowed to eat with women, so I had to wait while they dined on a variety of fish-sauce-flavored noodles, steamed vegetables, fruit, and spicy soups. While I waited, I’d inquire after the various dishes, noting which contained the most chile peppers so I could steer clear of them, and snap photos of the monks and their adorable cats.