Somewhere in the thick forest of the Angkor Wat Archaeological Park in Siem Reap stands this Buddhist shrine. Although the shrine is not as old as the Angkor Wat and other temples inside the complex, a lot of visitors come to pray and bring offerings, most especially the locals.
An elderly achar, or a layman, comes to the shrine everyday to keep it maintained, making sure that the place is clean, the offerings and flowers brought by visitors are arranged well, and that incense sticks continuously burn at the altar. When he is not busy doing his chores, or, upon special request, the achar entertains his visitors by reading their palms and telling their future. Pleased visitors leave him some amount as donation.
When I visited the temple again about two years ago, I saw the achar hunched and picking up dead, fallen leaves. I lingered for a bit and engaged him in a chat. He is not usually alone, he told me. Every afternoon, the elders – his neighbours – that live in the area come by after their siesta to keep him company. Sometimes his young grandchildren also come by, bring him snacks and hangout with him, too. I wanted to ask him some more, about why he continues to do this unpaid work despite his age… about what he thinks about the changes that the ancient temples had undergone… but a new batch of visitors came and he was on his merry way to greet them. I didn’t even get the chance to take his photo. Maybe next time.
If you happen to visit Angkor Wat, please try and visit the shrine. The achar would love to meet a new friend.
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