I don't know what I expected to happen while I was in Thailand on my gap year, apart from some kind of weight loss from dysentery. The year didn't start well: I'd suffered from anorexia during sixth form and my recovery had included a humiliating cycle of bingeing and starving.
By the time I arrived in Thailand in February of this year, the bingeing had won out and I was heavier than I had ever been. Aged 18, I covered up in frumpy kaftans, feeling fat and middle-aged. My hope was that I would get a nice tan and return home triumphant, skinny, gorgeous and happy.
In reality, I found myself with no money, no friends and a large dose of homesickness, and ended up staying in a Buddhist monastery in Bangkok for six weeks. I lived with the monks, meditating for eight hours a day. And, to my surprise, this turned out to be the best thing that had ever happened to me.
I had planned to work at a children's charity in Pattaya, in eastern Thailand, for six weeks. But I hated this notorious sex town, and the balding, fat, sweaty men going with tiny Thai girls (and boys) in hotpants. The charity didn't turn out as I expected: I thought there'd be lots for me to do and lots of other young people to make friends with. In fact, I was excruciatingly lonely. Terrified of this vast, noisy country, still hating myself, I just wanted to go home.
Strange turn of events
Less than two weeks into my stay I was robbed of all my money, including £400 cash and almost £1,000 from my bank card, which I had stupidly left in my guesthouse room. Distraught, I used my last bit of cash to buy a bus ticket to Bangkok, and spent the entire journey wailing into the bosom of a wonderful Thai woman. On arrival in Bangkok, she bought me a McDonald's and gave me some money. Then she headed me in the direction of the monastery, where I could stay free, after I had mumbled something about “meditation” and “Buddhism” and “spiritual enlightenment”.
Several hours later, I was speaking to an old, cross-looking monk, asking sheepishly whether I could spend a few nights there, and feeling a fraud as I explained my lifelong fascination with Buddhism and my desire to improve my meditation. After a long and bemusing conversation about the “Eprisets” (the Eight Precepts of Buddhism, as they turned out to be), he said I could stay, but that I'd have to “work very hard”. He showed me to my floor space in one of the sleeping rooms, which I shared with up to six Thai women. I spent the night wishing I was home watching Midsomer Murders.
The next few days passed frustratingly slowly. We awoke at 5am and prepared breakfast - usually a selection of fish, rice porridge, vegetables and fruit - which we presented to the monks before eating ourselves at about 6am. At 7am I went to my meditation room, and there I would sit cross-legged, watching my breath coming in and going out, and concentrating on the present moment. This is pretty hard, especially when all I wanted to do was think of my sorry situation. Mid-morning lunch was followed by more meditation, and then a two-hour break, during which I either cried or rang my mother, or both, sitting on the front steps with a cup of tamarind-leaf tea and watching the big brown dogs that lazed about in the sun all day, waiting to be kicked by the passing monks.
Source - Daily Mail