I visited the pagoda across the road from the hotel today.
I’ve learnt that the difference between a temple and a pagoda is that there are monks at a pagoda and not at a temple. I’m also starting to recognise some of the characters that appear on the temples and pagodas.
This is Naga, the seven-headed serpent who sheltered the Buddha from the rain when he went out to meditate for seven days and forgot his umbrella.
And this is Garuda – not an airline, as I thought – but the mount of Lord Vishnu, part man and part bird.
I wandered around the back of the pagoda and saw a pile of saffron robes in need of a wash
and around the corner was the washerman.
It has to be a washerman because women aren’t allowed to touch monks, or their clothes. The only women allowed to touch a monk are his mother, his grandmother and his older sisters, and if he can’t persuade any of them to do his washing, then he has to find a washerman. This chap is scrubbing the clothes with soap and a scrubbing brush on a stone slab.
The he hangs them out to dry.
These two ladies, sitting having a gossip in the shade are nuns.
Nuns shave their heads, and often their eyebrows too, to show that they have rejected earthly ideals of beauty. After the menopause, nuns dress entirely in white, but pre-menopause they wear white on the top and black on the bottom – possibly for practical reasons, but that wasn’t explained by my Khmer colleague. All I can say is, that the nun on the left, flaunting her fertility, must be a lot younger than she looks.