Just about five and a half years ago Rob and I were traveling in a remote, mountainous area of northern Thailand when we stumbled across a Buddhist monastery.
We were awestruck by its beauty and felt almost as though we had stumbled into a magical rabbit’s hole as we explored it.
For the longest time, there didn’t seem to be anyone around, but then we noticed the wispy figure of a young, yellow-robed monk watching us from a distance. We smiled and waved and he smiled back and continued to discreetly shadow us.
After a few minutes he approached us with a wide grin. “Come,” he said. “Come with me.”
And so we followed him through the series of temples to a little house tucked away inside the complex. We followed him all the way inside where he bowed deferentially, presented us to a wizened, old man and quickly disappeared.
We were uncertain what to do next, but the old monk smiled and gestured.
“Sit, sit with me.”
And so we sat while he poured tea into plastic cups for us from a tall metal canister. It was clear that he encountered few visitors and was curious. He asked us questions in halting English: where were we from and what had brought us here? In no time, he smiled shyly and pulled out a book of faded newspaper clippings with photos of him with various dignitaries meant, I assume, to demonstrate to us that he was quite celebrated as a Buddhist leader.
We were completely charmed, but after several minutes of small talk silence overtook us and the visit started to feel a little awkward. Rob and I were unsure of what to do next. Should we leave? Would that offend him? Were we overstaying our welcome by not leaving?
He watched us carefully and then very deliberately pulled out an exquisitely-carved pill box and removed three large, white tablets. He put one in his mouth and handed one to Rob and one to me.
“For you,” he said. “You must take this.”
I looked at Rob and saw my own trepidation reflected on his face. Could we? Should we? What were the dangers inherent in ingesting some unknown pharmaceutical from some mystical religious leader in a remote region known for opium production? What were the implications of refusing and mortally offending the gentle and hospitable spiritual leader who had generously welcomed us into his home?
I gulped. Rob gulped.
Our eyes met as our new friend watched with interest. Finally Rob gave a slight nod and swallowed the pill with a shrug. Quickly, before I could change my mind, I did the same.
My stomach was in nervous knots but I sighed, steeled myself, and forced a smile at my host.
And he smiled back and leaned in close.
“It’s Vitamin C,” he whispered. “It’s very good for you … you don’t look so good.”
Indeed I didn’t.
Originally published on DonMillsDiva