It was a few months ago. I was leaving Cambodia for good and wanted to visit the
Angkor temples one last time. On that Sunday, just past 6 am, I had enjoyed a grand
sunrise and my eyes were still dazzled by the magnificence of the temples bathing
in a red glow when I was returning back to my hotel.
Passing in front of a pagoda, - I learned later it was Wat Thmey - I saw villagers
gathered in an animated discussion. In a few seconds I found out what caused the
Inside the pagoda, monks armed with wooden sticks were beating up a man. He was trying
to dodge the blows and managed to escape, leaving a torn T-shirt in the claws of
The young disciples of Buddha, in orange robes, their heads shaven, were pummeling
a person and it is a sight I will never forget. Some were bare breasted, others were
holding the lower part of their robe with one hand while using the other for punching.
My moto-dup asked around and he was told the beaten-up boy was from the neigbourhood
and came to the pagoda to ask the monks to lower the volume of the music, which indeed
was blaring through huge loudspeakers.
It seems the argument heated up to the extent it degenerated into a fight. But in
a few minutes it was over, and the boy was out of danger thanks to the intervention
of other neighbours.
I heard and saw monks swearing, spitting, saying words my moto-dup translated to
me and which I never thought a religious person could ever say.
Confused by the scene, which took place just a few kilometers from Angkor, I decided
to find out more about this story and to report it to the press.
The inhabitants from the neighborhood which my moto-dup interrogated asserted it
happened very often at this pagoda. Some affirmed the monks were left on their own
and that the Achar who took care of the pagoda had a "black heart"; some
people even suspect he is a converted Khmer Rouge.
According to numerous testimonies gathered from the surrounding inhabitants, the
monks play cards or volley-ball all day long, offend young girls passing by the pagoda,
and very frequently organise dance parties, sometimes attended by prostitutes, lasting
well into the night.
I never thought this could be possible if I hadn't seen the incredible scene in front
of my own eyes. I vividly recall the scuffle with the orange-togas jumping on their
prey, armed with batons, and filled with killers' hate.
How is it possible that men supposed to devote their life to peace and hope are fighting
like hoodlums in a country branded by war?
Reading the newspaper some time later I got to know that a girl was raped and assassinated
in another pagoda in Siem Reap, probably by monks of which several had scratches
on their back. It was not the same pagoda as Wat Thmey but it very well could have
happened there also.
Shall we wait to see some more of those dramas before anything is done about it?
Is it normal that monks are allowed to organize techno-dance parties that often?
Is it the role of a pagoda to become a hot night spot when the government recently
closed down all such places? Because after all, in the absence of solid references
due to the many years of war and civil unrest, only the monks could be an example
to surrounding inhabitants.
The show given by those caretakers of wisdom gone completely aloof can only have
disastrous consequences on the near future of a whole community.
And what to say of the image given by those monks to the tourists? If the monks themselves
convey hatred, selfishness, violence and completely ignore Buddha's teaching, what
will become of the generation living nearby or even within that pagoda? What will
be the thoughts of those children who, just like myself, were marked forever by the
hallucinating sight of those fighting thugs.
I am puzzled by these questions, and I wish authorities from the country where I
spent an unforgettable time could give me some answers.
But my memory will be marked forever with the sight of these cantankerous togas ripping
to pieces their prey like a pack of wolves. An unforgettable sight, just like the
magnificence mixed with feelings of wisdom inspired by Angkor towering against the
sky like the banner of this small kingdom and proudly displaying its motto: Nation,
- Cedric Martin, Former expat, Paris, France