Its 6am and I am up, tip toeing along the creaky floor boards to get my morning caffeine fix. I see Edwin in the corridor and we wish each other a Merry Christmas under hushed breath, giggling at how surreal it is to be having Christmas here, in the temple. We wander to the market – wrapped in multiple layers – for our daily dose of banana and coconut sticky rice and fried bread (sort of like friend donuts but not sweet).
At 7am we take our places in the parlour for morning chanting with the lay people. As the chanting comes to an end we stand in rows and place sticky rice in the alms bowls of each monk, before taking our seats to chant and meditate together. The air is bitterly cold and I watch my breath as it exhales into the winter air, whilst listening to the hypnotic voices that echo through the parlour. At 8am its time for breakfast and grabbing our bowls we go to join the monks in the dinner area. Graham warns us that there will not be much food and both Edwin and I are happy about that, having filled up on donuts and sticky rice. We are also preparing for the Christmas feast so we’re trying to refrain from over stuffing ourselves. I picked up just coconut rice wrapped in a banana leaf which satisfied my sweet tooth. This minimal breakfast did not go unnoticed by one of the novice monks who was obviously checking to see that we would eat enough, as after breakfast he hands over a bag of food to Graham. ‘For Amy, she didn’t have much to eat’. That right there made my Christmas. Just how thoughtful and kind that one would be so aware of other at such a young age. Graham didn’t have the heart to tell him the real reason and that the communal kitchen was stuffed with alms food from the generosity of the people.
At 10am we mad our way to Graham’s house, where his wife Mew had cooked up a feast. Barbeque chicken, noodles, coconut curry, rice, and greens were laid out for us. It was the best chicken I have ever eaten. Mew had decorated to the entire place with balloons and tinsel. As soon as we had made ourselves comfortable, Mew got out hard-boiled eggs for where each of us (including the monks) had to draw a picture. ‘Isn’t this an Easter activity?’ we asked, to which Graham explained that she had seen it somewhere and had now adopted it for every celebration. Not that we were complaining, as all attention was on the task. Edwin got really into drawing Christmas holly, with multiple coloured pencils, while I went for a ‘spring day’ image. After the art competition, it was Secret Santa time where each of us picked a number and claimed our gift. I received a massive teddy which was later given to one of the young novice monks who had his eye on it for while.
Sitting around the BBQ, we began making the Papaya salad, grinding the garlic and chilli’s together with the tiny shrimp and crab. We chopped up the Mango into this strips to toss together. We then made the salad again, this time with cucumber strips. Still delicious but the mango one was certainly the winner. To finish the feast, hot-pot was served, where we all grilled our pork strips and scooped out the soup, which was brimming with noodles, cabbage, garlic and spice. Needless to say we completely broke our precept of ‘no food after 12pm’ but we did get a free pass from Graham, being Christmas and all. Bellies bursting with fullness, we wandered back to the temple for evening chanting and meditation before having our evening cup of Milo to warm us up.
If you had told me 3 months ago that I would be spending Christmas at a temple with the most generous, loving and kind people one could possible meet, I would never have believed it for a second. From office boredom to Temple Christmas, in just 2 months goes to show you how quickly your life can change, if you let it.