A Row of Novices

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.


0 thoughts on “A Row of Novices

  1. Yeah, those fake monks really bug me! A lot of foreigners don’t know that monks are not allowed to “ask” for money or anything. The most they can do is just stand there and wait. There were a few of them a few years ago in Central coming up to foreigners, asking for money. My brother in law almost fell for it until we quickly stopped him, explained what was wrong with that picture and told the cop nearby about the faker.

  2. They are so cute!  Wonder if Tawn ever shaved his head? It is hard for me to imagine, lol.   Thai monk seems to be a transitional custom, while other places it is life-long.  I guess there are thai monk who are life-long devotion? 

  3. Such a cute sight! So, are you the ‘housewife’ shopping for grocery early in that morning? ^0^I did my share of giving alms in Luang Prabang, it was quite a sight too. But that was around six in the morning.

  4.  “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.”Those “monks” you saw in Hong Kong were con man. Don’t give them money.

  5. @stevew918 –  There are many men who enter the monkhood for the remainder of their lives and there are many others who are there for only a period of their life. It is custom, though, that Thai men enter the monastery for a week or so sometime before they get married. While Tawn hasn’t entered for that long, he has been ordained as a novice for one day. See this entry for more information.@CurryPuffy –  They get up early. Best time to see them is when you are jet-lagged in the first day or two after arriving. That way you are already awake early. Bangkok is a great city early in the morning.@choyshinglin –  They sure are!

  6. Oh wow. This was informative. Good to keep in mind for when I travel to SE Asia that real monks do not and will not ask for money! Was this taken in Thailand, or Laos? Because I think they have a similar monk procession in Laos.

  7. @ElusiveWords –  I was thinking about that, too, and realized that while the pavement is uneven in a lot of places, I rarely see broken glass or other dangerous debris in Bangkok. There is a lot of sweeping going on, maybe because people know the monks come by every day.@Roadlesstaken –  Pretty much. I don’t know if they were actually unhappy, I guess you are supposed to be sort of detached and neither overly happy or overly unhappy. But, then, these are novices so maybe they just wanted to be back at their parents’ playing Nintendo.@Fatcat723 –  Maybe they were on their way to Disney World? Ha ha!@yang1815 –  Correct, all facial/head hair is shaved so no eyebrows, mustaches, etc. You can tell if a guy has recently been in the monkhood if he is missing his eyebrows and his hair is still very short.@Southeast_Beauty –  This picture was taken in Bangkok, Thailand. Laos, Burma, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia have similar monks.@AppsScraps –  But, you will notice, there is an absence of high heels on the runway this year. Tres chic!

  8. Chris, those monks you saw in Singapore are definitely not legitimate. We call them  monks in disguise. They are not real monks. Some chief monks came out to clarify that. But there are still many gullible people around who would give cash to these fake monks’ begging.

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