Just across the river from the famous Pub Street of Siem Reap is a little oasis providing refuge from tons of scooters, cars and people. Welcome to Wat Damnak. It’s as if someone immediately turns down the volume knob of the city center as soon as you pass through the huge iron gates to this large pagoda complex. Filled with students studying…strolling monks…as well as the largest public academic library in Cambodia outside of Phnom Penh…not to mention a monastery, numerous stupas and an elementary school filled with adorable children. Is it exquisitely manicured? No…but there’s a beauty to it…a stroll through the peaceful complex brings contemplation and introspection…
There were several visits to Wat Damnak because of the Giant Puppet Parade…but more on that event in a future posting. During one of the visits…out of nowhere…there’s a soft “hello” accompanied by a welcoming smile! Within minutes I’m having a wonderful time photographing this young man with friendly eyes and engaging demeanor. Meet Khen Sroem, a young novice monk living at the monastery at Wat Damnak. A couple of visits with him and a request to answer a few questions gave a more in-depth understanding of his reasons for becoming a monk and the desire to give back to his country.
Sroem, why did you become a novice Buddhist monk?
I became a novice Buddhist monk for many reasons. First one is that I love the teaching of Buddha and I want to study more about his teaching as right now I am still studying the Buddhist Studies at our Buddhist High School. The second one is to seek for higher education as I knew my family could not afford me to get the high education because they are farmers so I decided to become monk as a monk I don’t have to worry about food and stay. Laypeople support us with food and stay. The last but not least is our tradition or culture as Khmer culture a boy should become monk in order to get the mental education or to learn the morality before he involve in the society.
Is there an individual that’s had the greatest impact on your life so far?
The successful people have a lot of impact to my life. I have read the biographies of many scholars and they give me courage to be like them and my master Somnieng Hoeurn has an impact to me as well because he graduated from Harvard University. However, I myself have the most impact to myself because when I fell down the only myself help me to stand up and keep going forward. Even sometimes I need help, but I usually decided what to do by myself. For example, I decided to become a novice monk as I think it is my opportunity to get away from unknowledgeable then I cried to get it. I believe in myself. (I love that…his belief in himself.)
What do you want people from all over the world to know about your country?
There are many things that I want people from all over the world to know about my country. Those things are our thousands of great ancient temples, our original culture, natural resources, our great lake, our politics etc. , but what I want the most is my people. I want all people all over the world know my people as the great people who just need the opportunity to build up their strength and help the world. I want people to know that our people are so friendly and helpful; they just need a smile from you. Even sometimes we did bad things, it is not because we are bad people, but we need something to eat as we are so poor. I want people to know that Cambodia is a place on the earth.
You mentioned wanting to help your community and country…why is this important to you?
As I told you on the previous question, my people are great people and they just need the opportunity to build up the strength. So, I want to create the opportunities for them. I want them to get the real standard education so that they can build up their ability. My community and country are so important to me because it is the place where it gives me a lot of things to my life especially the birth and it is important to me because this country need a help from me and all people living on it. I want my people and country to be admired from people over the world because of our unity and strength. Now it just needs a help.
When it’s all said and done in your life…meaning you have lived a full life…how do you want people to remember you?
If I have done all what I dream and said, I don’t expect any remembering from my people or people around the world. I just need only a smile from them when I died and keep peace in their soul.
You see why he captured my heart? Tears roll down my cheeks every time I read his written words. Tears of pride to have met someone so special…so willing to share his hopes and dreams with complete strangers. Sroem is one of many that tugged at my heart during this trip and inspires me to return…to return to learn more from him and the many other beautiful people we met along the way…