There is something about monks that makes them very photogenic. Perhaps it is the bright saffron robes, a brilliant color that creates notable contrast in photos. Perhaps it is the pared-down simplicity of their person: no hair, no eyebrows, nothing but their robes and an alms bowl. Perhaps it is the beauty of and image repeated, when you see a row of monks. Whatever it is, I’m not the first photographer in Southeast Asia to notice that almost anytime you have a monk in a scene, there’s the opportunity for an interesting photo.
Last week while walking to the Skytrain station in the front of my alley, I passed a less-common sight: a row of novice monks collecting alms without any adult supervision.
There were nine of them – an auspicious number – along with a tenth who was armed with a megaphone and was announcing their presence. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand exactly what was happening. Normally you can find a few monks from the local temple on the next corner up, right at the Thong Lo fresh market. They are there every morning and the locals, mostly the housewives and housekeepers who are shopping for the day’s ingredients, will make offerings to the monks.
It was unusual to see a who group of novices actually walking the street, so I imagine perhaps they are part of a group that will be entering the monastic life and this is part of their training. Just a guess, though.
Just a note for when you travel in Southeast Asia: Buddhist monks (at least the Theravada variety who wear these saffron robes) do not accept monetary alms directly as they are forbidden to by the Buddha’s teachings. Offerings are made of food, robes, candles, toiletries, etc. Monetary donations are made directly to the temples where they are handled by lay members. In my travels to Hong Kong and Singapore I have seen “monks” on the street soliciting cash donations. It is likely they are not legitimate.