As soon as I set foot into a Chinese place of worship, for the first time, I was overcome with peace and serenity. Followers were preparing their temple for Chinese New Year celebrations.
I was told by a temple follower: “Tie the flower and attach the branches tightly, so that our ancestors bless us with luck.”
I was at a Chinese house of prayer in Phnom Penh, where I met 27-year-old Chea Guech Sang. Here, she goes by her Chinese name: Yi San.
She has been living at the temple for seven years as a theologian, sharing the customs of her religion with students and visitors regularly.
As a Chinese Dhama theologian, Yi San is referred to as “senior” at the temple.
On a daily basis, Yi San reads new books pertaining to her religion and then shares the information with younger members of the temple.
“Normally I learn the theory from various schools and I also train in what we call the ‘Culture of Nature’ with my team, which helps us exercise our bodies,” she said.
Yi San was born to a Cambodian-Chinese family. She rarely visits her parents in Phnom Penh unless she has a long holiday to enjoy.
“I came here with the goal to achieve a position at the greatest shrine, so I have a lot to learn,” she said.
Every-day, Yi San bows three times before each meal. On Sundays, she teaches classes about her Dhama customs.
“I teach people how to behave well in our society, such as the ways we sit, stand and sleep,” Yi San said.
“I advise the young guys who come here to wear their clothes tidily, and especially to comb their hair smartly. I also remind them to respect each other.”
Yi San has the added responsibility of serving as ‘Reaksmey Soriya’, or Bright of Sun, the head of her temple’s dance team. An enormous part of temple activities, those practising Dhama use dance to portray their love of nature.
Every Monday evening, Yi San said, the temples usually give fresh fruits to the Moha Dhama Metrey stature and pray for luck. Visitors and anyone else are allowed to join in on the ritual.
These visitors tend to range from university students to garment workers, Yi San said.
Temple outsiders are encouraged to come and learn Chinese language along with Dhama tradition, Yi San added.