I Have A Beautiful Obsession

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

17 December 2018

I guess I’m a bit of a stalker, but all in the name of beauty….

I’m a little bit embarassed to admit that I have an obsession I wasn’t aware of. So, here goes. I’m obsessed with monks in Asia. It’s not a romantic obsession. I just can’t stop taking their photo. And staring at them. And following them.

Monks heading up a staircase in Siem Reap.

Photograph by Heather Markel, Copyright 2018

The bright orange robes immediately catch my eye each time I see them. Maybe it’s because this color, in America anyways, is the color people wear in prison. Maybe it’s because I think of them as such spiritual beings I can’t believe they walk along the same places I do. Maybe it’s because they are mostly barefoot even on city streets. I just can’t seem to stop myself feeling like I need to spy on their every move.

“No matter what a monk does, my attention is fixated on them. I can’t stop staring and taking photos as if I’m watching gods walk among humans.”

During my travels I’ve been amazed to see monks riding in tuk tuks, smoking cigarettes, shopping, and, most surprising, talking on their cellphones. I just didn’t think near gods would do such things, and something about these moments makes them seem instantly more relatable. I can’t stop myself running after them with my camera and asking if I can take their photo, even if they’re standing minding their own business. I can’t stop the theme voice in my head with each photo I take, “monk riding tuk tuk,” “monk drinking coffee,” “monk taking selfie.” I want to capture them doing every mundane activity in life I can.

Female monks in Phnom Penh.

Photograph by Heather Markel, Copyright 2018

Supposedly some of them can’t touch money. I saw one on a boat (and thought, “monks ride boats!”) with a drugstore bag and wondered if he got his merchandise for free or whether he was allowed, specially to touch money. I wonder how long it takes them to put on those robes, and why there are a few color variations within the orange hue. I am amazed to see very young boys, perhaps less than 10, in these robes. I wonder why the few women monks I see have bland, often white, robes. It reminds me of nature, where the male of the species has all the colors.

In Chiang Mai I’m delighted to enter into a temple and have the unexpected treat of speaking with a monk. I learn he became an apprentice at age 13 and is now a monk at age 20. His name is Ling (or sounded like that.) Ling leads me to some of his fellow monks  who speak better English than he does. I tell one of them how intrigued I am by monks doing “normal” things like using cell phones. He explains that with technology they’re like everyone else and stay in touch with their families, and also go home to visit them. (I had presumed they spend their lives at their temple.)

I’m delighted to see the monks in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. For me they inspired joy, brightness, and spirituality, even if they also provoked my inner stalker. Happily, they were willing to put up with my incurable obsession.

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