My companion and I walked around Chiang Mai on the first day off the overnight train from Bangkok. We were a little tired from the disrupted sleep of the previous evening, but excited to wander the streets of this northern Thai city.
We stopped at numerous wats inside the city walls—many more than were on the tourist map. We had our plan to see three major wats and the Arts & Cultural Center, but were sidetracked by other fascinations that included a conversation and fruit shake with a friendly American/Chinese couple.
It was at the second wat that we intended to visit (it was supposed to be the third, but we got lost a few times) that we met Plai. Plai was our friendly and talkative monk at Wat Chediluang whose name means “forest.”
On our way to the exit of the temple walls we encountered a sign for Monk Chat. We were interested in what it could possibly be and curious if they spoke our languages. There were a few tables with monks chatting with tourists. The first table had two empty seats on either side of the monk. He waved us over and asked us, in English, to sit and talk.
The idea of Monk Chat is to educate tourists about Buddhism, Thai culture, and the history of Chediluang. Keeping with the tradition, we asked questions about the 600-year-old temple that was badly damaged in an earthquake centuries ago.
We weren’t as interested in the temple as we were in Plai’s language skills. I was impressed that he spoke English so well. He explained that Thai has mostly the same sounds as English, so students can write most English words using the Thai alphabet. He was curious when I told him about my writing—he asked for my website (one that is now defunct) so that he might visit it and read my work in the future. He even wrote his e-mail address in my notepad and asked me to send any stories about my journey through Thailand.
We also discussed his five years as a monk at the wat. He spoke of how difficult it was to keep the traditions of Buddhism. He provided examples of the changing world and technology—if technology can only help you then it is not useful, but if it can help many people then it should be used. His personal example was an electronic recorder that he used to record the sounds of Chinese in the order that my companion wrote them in his notebook in Pinyin. He hoped that this would assist him in further learning Chinese and teaching other monks at Chediluang.
As the sun set, we departed Wat Chediluang in search of our final wat before dinner.