Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Funky Monks


I met these guys in October 1998 during a trip to Vientiane, Laos. They were novice Buddhist monks doing their religious studies at a local Buddhist temple. But they were also teenagers, which meant that when we started chatting, most of them had decidedly non-religious questions to ask me. Fortunately, the Laotian language is very similar to Thai, so I was able to get most of what they were saying.

There were a few themes within the dozens of questions with which they peppered me, including: How much did a pair of Levis 501 jeans cost (this was 1998, when 501s were all the rage in Asia); did I like Michael Jackson (he was actually still big in Asia in 1998); and what were American girls like. We talked for a while in the humid mid-morning, and after some time, a bell sounded at a nearby temple building, and the monks shuffled off to afternoon classes.

For the record, I told them that Michael Jackson's Thriller album was one of the first I ever bought, and in the early 1980s was a must-have for any kid's music collection. But I also expressed my bewilderment with whatever happened to Michael that made him stop making good music, an observation that the monks didn't seem to understand.

Keep in mind that this was way before 24-7 news channels emerged and began casting their hyperfocus toward the downfall of stars' once-great careers. Still, what the hell ever did happen to Michael Jackson to make him start acting so strangely? I guess you could fill books trying to come up with an answer to that one.

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