Investigating monks’ laundry and menopausal nuns

I visited the pagoda across the road from the hotel today.

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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.

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And this is Garuda – not an airline, as I thought – but the mount of Lord Vishnu, part man and part bird.

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I wandered around the back of the pagoda and saw a pile of saffron robes in need of a wash

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and around the corner was the washerman.

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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.

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These two ladies, sitting having a gossip in the shade are nuns.

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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.

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