P H Yang | Photography
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  The Monk Who Loves Madonna                    
  and Other Unforgettable Voyages of Discovery

  by P H Yang | Senior IT Consultant / Photographer

  Photo Essay (5 page spread)
  Hong Kong Economic Journal Monthly
  February 2007

Lingering Passion

16 year-old monk, Phan, listens to Madonna's claim to fame - "Like a Virgin" while holding one of her cassette tapes with her photo on his wall, right after his initiation into monkhood.

Luang Prabang · Laos | 2003

"That's Madonna, my favorite pop star."

16 year-old Phan, draped in a reddish-yellow robe, said as he pointed to a picture on his wall.

He then took out a cassette tape, put it into his tape player, and out came "Like a Virgin". Apparently, the fact that Phan just shaved his head and officially became a monk five minutes ago had not sunk in: he was supposed to leave all his earthly desires behind.

I immediately reached for my camera and took this unforgettable shot, even though there was really not enough light in the room.

I first met Phan, a novice and yet unshaven monk, at Wat Pa Phai, a hundred year old temple. It was my first day in Luang Prabang, the ancient capital and the second largest city of Laos. Phan's English was quite good, although he had a slight accent. I chatted with him and realized that he was going to be initiated into monkhood at five o'clock that afternoon. When he invited me to witness his ordination rites I jumped at the opportunity.

The temple was bathed in golden rays from the setting sun when I returned in late afternoon. Phan was squatting on the ground with his robe off, baring his chest, as a fellow novice monk stood beside him shaving his head. It was a simple yet solemn ceremony.

Afterwards, Phan took me back to his room in the monastery. Like the room of any teenager, the wall next to his bed was plastered with pictures, mostly of sceneries and Buddhist-related themes. Among them, the color headshot of Madonna stood out.

The old royal city of Luang Prabang, formerly Muong Swa, is surrounded by mountains and sits on the banks of the Mekong River. In 1353, it became the capital of the first Lao Kingdom, Lan Xang. Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995, it is studded with beautiful ancient temples large and small.

My fondest memory of Luang Prabang is not the magnificent 16th Century Wat Xieng Thong, inlaid with mosaics made of colored mirrors, or the numerous gentle monks in orange-red robes roaming the streets, or even its timeless enigmatic mood, but my chance encounter with the young monk, Phan, who was infatuated with Madonna.

With a life-long passion for photography and travel, I have journeyed to the five continents, hoping to capture and share elusive moments that last a lifetime.

Many came across unforgettable experiences in their travels by scaling the peaks, diving the ocean depths, or visiting grand world wonders steeped in history. But I find that if I can just keep my eyes open and talk to the people around me, I can always find rare indelible moments just around the corner.


16 year-old novice monk, Phan, contemplates the meaning of life and his future on the day of his initiation into monkshood at Wat (Temple) Pa Phai with over 100 years of history.

Luang Prabang · Laos | 2003


16 year-old novice monk, Phan, being shaved against the golden sunset, on his simple but solemn initiation into monkhood.

Luang Prabang · Laos | 2003


The golden stupa (Buddhist monument) of Sandamani Paya (temple) surrounded by 1774 marble slabs inscribed with commentaries on the Tripitaka (Buddhist canon) housed in slender whitewashed stupas.

Mandalay · Myanmar (Burma) | 2003


Young boys waiting for their initiation ceremony into monkshood at Mahamuni Paya (temple). The highly focused boy is juxtaposed against his restless peers.

Mandalay · Myanmar (Burma) | 2003

Heavenly Flight

One of the many birds that inhabit the plaza in front of the twin-towered Cathedral. Built in 1618, it is the most well known symbol of Guadalajara.

Guadarajara · Mexico | 2003


Passers-by along the cobblestone street, outside the 17th Century Templo del Sagrario in the lakeside town of Patzcuaro in the former colonial region of Michoacan.

Patzcuaro · Mexico | 2005

Heavenly Spirals

Giant incense coils hanging from the ceiling of A-Ma (Matsu) Temple in Macau, Southern China. The temple houses Tin Hau, the Goddess of Heaven and the protector of fishermen and sailors.

Macau · China | 2002


Cao Dai (High or Supreme Palace) priests praying during their elaborate hour-long ceremony performed four times daily. Cao Dai religion blends Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Taoism.

Cao Dai · Vietnam | 2004

   © p h yang 2007 - all rights reserved