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If you are travelling in Southeast Asia, and can't remember the last day you didn't see a Buddist monk, you're probably in Laos. Men and boys with bare heads, a bared shoulder, and the eye catching orange robes are a common sight in this Communist country. A common sight, but always an impressive one. Kristin Post is a tourist in Laos, and admits to having an awe of Buddist monks - until she met one.

Feature: Meeting a Monk

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"You can teach me English, and I will teach you Lao," Ahman said.

He was clearly a teenager, and had a soothing voice. He had eyes that showed no stress, and a sweet smile...a serene look, which seems common among Buddist monks.

His English was so good, it seemed he might teach me a thing or two about my native language.

"Come tonight at 9:00. I have free time then," he said.

This seemed like an odd time for a tourist to visit a monestary. I paused before agreeing - but I couldn't reject a monk.

"Bring food," he added.

"Any food?" I asked.

"Yes, we can eat anything."

"But I thought you could only eat one bowl of rice a day."

"No, I can eat what I like, but only twice a day, and I choose which times."

I was aware that many monasteries had different rules. Maybe I would be breaking some of those rules...but I decided to accept his invitation.

I arrived at 9:30 that night, with a ham sandwich and a Pepsi. I figured Western food might be a treat. I also brought my tape recorder, a pen, and a notebook-- and expected to spend the next hour in a study, writing down useful phrases in Lao and English.

Ahman greeted me, then told me to keep my voice low. He explained that there is no such thing as a study, or a kitchen, in a monastery. When I nixed going to his room, he invited me to sit on a platform outside, overlooking the temple courtyard.

Now I knew I was breaking some rules. But Ahman and I weren't the only delinquents that night. I could not see, but I heard the easily recognizable sound of a bladder being emptied in the courtyard garden. Afterward, I saw two monks huddled next to the temple wall. They hurridly opened tins of food and stuffed it into their mouths. Then, they stood and smoked a cigarette.

Ahman, meanwhile, whispered what life is like for boys in a monastery. He had been there for eight years, eating only what was donated from the local community, and studying with a 90-year-old master who did not approve of his learning English.

Ahman was curious about what he called "worldly" things. And, being a nineteen year old boy, he had several questions about "making love."

If you were to ask me what kind of information a 19-year-old should have about sex, or relationships, or love, I would have answered...as much as possible.

But I found myself tongue-tied in the face of Ahman's questions. It seemed plain wrong to discuss such things with a monk!

I sat there in the darkness, listening to him sip his Pepsi, and realized that I was trying to preserve his innocence, even as I was losing mine.

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