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I didn’t sleep very well the night before my first visit to Watt Munisotaram. I was going in from the cold: no connections, little background, and no Cambodian. The next morning when I arrived at the temple, I waited in the car for ten minutes “organizing my equipment” before entering. This anxiety never went away completely, even when I visited for a sixth, a seventh time. But I never took ten whole minutes “getting ready” in the car again, which I see as progress.
That being said, it was still difficult lots of the time. Getting up the gumption to talk to someone completely random or enter a building where you know no one, is tricky, at least for me. For someone with those sorts of qualms, Watt Munisotaram was the absolute perfect site to choose. The warmth and friendliness everyone showed me was truly amazing. I felt like every person I talked to genuinely wanted to talk and wanted to welcome me. This connection I feel with the community has made it hard to be critical, however. And, as a beginner to both Buddhism and Cambodia, it became even harder.
In terms of being new to Buddhism and Cambodian culture, I think the spectrum of my work was significantly affected. On my very first visit, with only a small bit of preliminary research, I was asking questions more along the lines of “When was the temple built?” and “How long have you been at the temple?” It wasn’t until my very last interview that the scope of the Watt Munisotaram community really hit me and I realized how many things I hadn’t covered, hadn’t asked about, and hadn’t even known about. The idea that the younger generations don’t “understand” Buddhism like the others do is one of the biggest questions I came across, one that I cannot answer. I acknowledge this sentiment in one of my pieces but am lacking any sorts of answers. Additionally, I think it would be important to talk to children, something I did not include in this research.
I don’t think the work I have done is meaningless, though. It is not an end but rather a beginning to hopefully lots more research about Watt Munisotaram.
-Hannah Comstock-Gay, 2011