In Southeast Asian nations, it is embedded in their culture that boys will be initiated as monks some point in their adolescence. Age varies by country. In a couple countries- Laos and Myanmar- boys as young as five have been seen in novices’ robes.
Buddhist monks have many tenets they go by. Not unlike monks of the Christian faiths, they abstain from many of life’s pleasures. Sex, indulgent food, gambling, etc. Their lifestyle is very basic, although how spartan depends on which interpretation their monstery prescribes.
All is good until you realize how young the boys are. They may be the best behaved little cute kids you’ll ever encounter, but not even the best lecturing can undo the fact that they are children with their wants. Which makes for great people watching for those of us who are familiar with the Buddhist restrictions.
Do not come in physical contact with women. Boys don’t care. When they run down the street or crowded temple, robe clothes flying around them, they squeeze between and bump into people, even women. When I show them pictures I’ve taken of them, they grab my arms to see or climb into my lap to shove out their friends crowded around.
Food is for basic sustenance, not enjoyment. The boys come around for alms collecting as part of their errands in the early morning. If they are not in a formal procession line, they tend to drift into stores that sell candy or cookies in hopes that someone will throw a bag in…
Material goods only cause distraction. When in a line, as they file past toy stores, they rubberneck, the space between the monks widening exponentially towards the end of the procession, where the younger boys are.
I watch many foreign tourist fawn over how cute the boys are. I agree. They are absolutely adorable. They add a cheery face to an otherwise austere religion. They break the invisible wall many of the men have built up in their fear of breaking any rules. As a woman, I do not approach the monks. Instead I let them initiate conversation. The elders do if they speak English and are curious, though that is a small demographic. The children just come right up, breaking the ice for their older brothers to start asking me questions.
It certainly is worth asking a local what the boys talk about, especially if the bystanders seem amused. One recent instance, the boys at the end of an alms procession line were squabbling. They were fighting over who gets to be last, because the giver was known for delicious food. They were hoping the last boy will get all the food left. The fact that the food is supposed to be consolidated and redistributed back at the monastery was moot to them.
I think joining the monastery for a minimum of a week is a fantastic tradition. The younger the boy, the less likely he will truly walk away with deep appreciation of Buddhism. But I can see Mama enjoying her free vacation. Heck, I just may do that to my children in the future. Pack up a couple sets of clean underwear and bundle them off the Buddhist camp.