This will no doubt be perhaps one of the more unusual posts to grace the LA board. I hope you enjoy the story...
While driving home from a friend's sushi party in one of the artist (i.e. squatter) lofts downtown, my Lovely Tasting Assistant (LTA) and I noticed some twinkly lights on the south side of Beverly Blvd, at number 1720. We pulled a u-turn and closer inspection revealed the curious presence of a Cambodian (Khmer) temple.
Now I'd driven this way hundreds of times before and seemed to recall seeing it just once... I could never find it again. This night it had clearly made itself known to us, like an apparition in the night.
Now most regular readers of my posts will know that my LTA and I recently returned from 7 months in Asia-- 3 weeks of which we spent in Cambodia. We couldn't resist the call... we pulled into the parking lot, confusing the parking attendant greatly, as he spoke little english. We were unable to understand if he was trying to turn us away (he must have thought we were in the wrong place), or perhaps he was telling us to come back in 30 minutes, or perhaps he was telling us that we could wait inside for 30 minutes. No matter, we had encountered many imponderable situations like this during our time in Cambodia, and so knew the best course was to smile, say "aw kohn," ("thank you") and go inside.
(In the end, nobody seemed to mind... Cambodians aren't really sticklers for rules anyway.)
My primary motive in pulling in was to suss out some info on the Khmer population in this area of Beverly and the Khmer grub situation--could they possibly have some kind of weekend food festival like Wat Thai in North Hollywood?
I met some men smoking and talking out front and through more incredibly broken english they directed us inside. "Aw kohn" I said. They smiled.
Inside the main lobby of the temple was a man sleeping on a sofa. (just like in Cambodia). We wandered into the area outside the main temple where we were met by curious stares and questions by yet more people who spoke little english, though all of them seemed to be amused by my attempts to say "hello" ("jom reap sua") and "thank you" in Khmer. We got a small crowd of people around us (...again, just like when we were in Cambodia!...I was like a lighthouse beacon with my bright blonde hair) and eventually one bold man named "Ron" took the reins and began to show us around.
I shifted the topic swiftly to Khmer food. He immediately started offering my LTA and I food and gave us a tour of the kitchen in the back. "Food? Yes, yes! Always food here." Now we of course were full of sushi, but he pressed a plastic spoon into my hand and insisted I take a taste of this clear sour broth soup sitting on a table in the kitchen. I have no idea what was in it-- it was not as strictly pungent not as sour as tom yam. It was mellower and ever so slightly sweet. It could have been a fish broth. It was quite tasty.
I told him about our visit to Cambodia and how I rememeber the food being quite sweet in general, and he said "Sweet? Yes, yes!" and he removed the lid of a pot on the stove which was filled half full with some thick black stew with multiple whole fish bodies suspended in the gel. I did not taste this.
From what I was able to tell from Ron, they do have a food festival during the Khmer New Year in April, but I was unable to get more details.
We eventually became quite a friendly curiosity, as the monks in their orange robes began filing out to talk to us. One woman introduced us to the master of the temple, who we knew to greet traditionally with palms pressed together with a short bow. Once he realized the extent of my Khmer was "Hello", he seemed to quickly lose interest in me.
We did however talk at length with a young monk with a broad smile and long Buddha ears, who had arrived just 7 months earlier from Cambodia. This was fascinating to me... because in general, Cambodia is not the kind of place you can just up and leave. The government is horribly corrupt and most people are so poor they never leave their village. If they're lucky, they can get to Vietnam.
How in the world this guy got through the system to America is beyond me... I do know that in both Thailand and Cambodia the monkhood is seen as the only way out of that kind of provincial lifestyle. I never realized that getting out could mean coming all the way to America... an unimaginable feat for probably 99% of the population.
My LTA and I did speak with him at length about religion and buddhism, and he told us that he rarely leaves the temple. We asked him if he is allowed to leave, and he said "yes, on the weekends, when I do not study" so we offered to take him out and show him around LA. "In your car?" he said. He could hardly believe the offer and enthusiastically took our phone number and email address.
We'll see if he calls us... if he does, maybe we'll take him our to Wat Thai, or Hsi Lai Temple...... or the beach? Who knows. Where do you take a Cambodian monk for a day out on the town?? And where do you take him to eat? (Vegetarian, obviously)
Truly, there is so much going on here that I'm not even sure where to begin.