Teaching Monks to “Cook Sandwiches”

In the third floor classroom of Chiang Mai’s Mahachulalongkorn Rajavidyalaya University, the eyes of thirteen students registered varying degrees of confusion as I taught the first part of the English lesson: we do not “cook” sandwiches in English, we “make” them.  Clad in the saffron robes of Theravada Buddhist monks, the students wrestled with this anomaly of English.  “Will we make sandwiches today?” asked one of them, trying the new verb on for size.


One of the highlights of my recent trip to Chiang Mai was a morning spent helping my friends Ron and Kari teach English classes at the Chiang Mai campus of one of Thailand’s two monastic universities.  Ron and Kari are a Texan couple about my age, whom I first met nearly six years ago at Union Language School in Bangkok.  Most of the students at ULS are missionaries although other students are welcome.  My answer to the common question I received from fellow students – “What brought you to Thailand?” – was usually met by bewildered silence.

Ron and Kari were the exception.  They asked questions and were interested in meeting Tawn and over the years we have stayed in touch as their missionary work has taken them from Thailand to Kenya and back again.  Now they are in Chiang Mai and one of their duties is to teach English classes to monks and novices attending Buddhist university.  When they heard I was coming up, they invited me to be a guest teacher.

“The monks asked if we could cook sandwiches,” Kari explained.  “You would be good at teaching them that.”

On Thursday morning, after spending an hour practicing the intricacies of telling time, Kari pulled out two loaves of bread, a half-dozen tomatoes, a jar of mayonnaise, a container of lettuce, and a container of bologna.  First, we cleared up the confusion over which verb was appropriate.  Since we don’t use any heat, we “make” sandwiches, not “cook” them.  Next, we practiced the names of the ingredients.  “Bologna” seemed too difficult, so I called it “ham.” 

Finally, the fun began.  Working in groups of three, the monks, who range in age from 18-44, came to the front of the room, sliced tomatoes, and assembled sandwiches.  There were a few mishaps, such as the sandwiches which ended up with mayonnaise on the outside of the bread.  But all in all, everyone seemed to have a good time.


An advantage of having me teach this segment was that I could work more closely with the monks than Kari can.  One of the restrictions for Buddhist monks is that they may not touch, or even accept things handed directly to them from, a woman.  Sometimes, like when a monk who has perhaps never sliced a tomato in his life is having problems, it is easier to get in there, grab the knife, and demonstrate.  This would be complicated if a certain physical distance had to be maintained.

At the end of the class, everyone ate their sandwiches along with a banana for dessert.  Who knows if they liked their food; monks are required to eat the food they are given without complaining or expressing like or dislike.  But several students asked when I would come back and teach again, so maybe they enjoyed the sandwiches well enough.  There were requests that we cook massaman curry next time, though. 

While the class lasted only two hours, and I didn’t have much time to talk individually with the students and learn more about them, it was a fun experience.  Several years ago, I volunteered as an English teacher in a small provincial primary school and teaching is something I enjoy.  Maybe I need to make another trip up to Chiang Mai as a guest lecturer.  At least I have the right hair style to relate to the students.


0 thoughts on “Teaching Monks to “Cook Sandwiches”

  1. @Dezinerdreams – Nope, at least among Therevada Buddhists, the monks must eat whatever food is given to them.  That said, they are not supposed to kill animals or eat meat that has been killed expressly for them.  The assumption is that the meat they are served was going to be killed anyway to feed the lay people.@fauquet – I should bring my panini grill and teach them some Italian!  Ha ha!@ClimbUpTreesToLookForFish – Thank you, thank you (bowing deeply)

  2. That’s neat. Were they able to eat the meat in the sandwich? Next time may be you can “cook” a sandwich and show them how to make an egg salad s’wich.

  3. hahaha that’s funny that you taught them how to make sandwiches! i’m sure bologna is quite a bit different from what they’re used to eating. but i’m sure they had fun anyway!

  4. wow Chris! this is awesome =) i could only imagine how much fun they had. but i think that only you could have taught them in a way that made this so. rec’d!

  5. I was just going to say cooking sandwiches might be appropriate in some instances… I think you should definitely do another guest lecture!! With photos. And audio.

  6. I’m so glad this post elicited so many comments!  It certainly was not a run-of-the-mill tourist experience.@The_Eyes_Of_A_Painter – My impression was that, for the most part, they are just like any other 18-22 year olds (the age of most of them).  I talked more with Ron and Kari, who have actually had some of their former students (still monks) over to their house to socialize, and they say that these guys really have the same concerns and interests as any young men.  Some have entered the monkhood to find structure in their lives, others to get an education, and a few because they feel particularly called.  Most, it seems, anticipate leaving the monkhood eventually to get married and settle down.@secade – Cooking is a fantastic way to teach.@murisopsis – I’ll set up the cameras and microphones.  I’m sure they won’t find THAT distracting!  Ha ha…@Inciteful – Mayonnaise always is rich, so long as it is the real stuff and not just “sandwich spread”.@CurryPuffy – Thanks, but I’m not sure how much of a good deed it was.  Feeding strange food might have been an insult!@RulerofMasons – @Grannys_Place – @girlForgetful – @slmret – It was a new experience, that’s for sure.@Fatcat723 – Yes, I was learning from the experience, too.@bmojsilo – Thanks for the recommendation.  Yeah, I know that a sandwich without cheese is not really a sandwich, right?  The thing is, many Asians are lactose intollerant and Ron and Kari figured that most of these guys probably don’t eat a lot of dairy.  Better to be safe than sorry.@Ikwa – Shave my goatee and eyebrows and I would fit right in.@ThePrince – Thanks for the recommendation, Michael.  I have to give credit to Ron and Kari as they came up with the whole “teach by making sandwich” idea.  I just tagged along and had fun with it.@kunhuo42 – Actually, hot-dog like sausages are pretty common here, as are fish balls, pork balls, and other processed meat-like foods, so maybe bologna wasn’t too unusual.@ZSA_MD – Yes, they could eat the meat.  As I mentioned to Vivek, monks are required to eat whatever is given to them as alms, they aren’t allowed to be picky.  However, an animal should never be slaughtered for the purpose of feeding monks.@Sinful_Sundae – Not much I post there that I haven’t already posted here!  =D@Roadlesstaken – I figured this would turn a few heads.  Not your usual Christao408 entry.

  7. awesome!! -clap clap clap- this is something that I wish i could do again. it’s been years since the last time i gave a cooking demo. n also the last time i MADE a sandwich. wait, does pb&j count?

  8. @rudyhou – Sure, we’ll count PB&J!  =D@yang1815 – What item do you cook that you don’t use heat for?  For example, I “make” a tossed salad, “make” ice cream, and “make a milkshake”… but I “cook” a roast, “cook” a stir-fry, and “cook” a batch of chili.

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