I am sitting on a small wooden chair in a small room. I am talking to a nun that lives in the nunnery that I am visiting today. When the nunnery was built in 1937, it was the only building in the hills of this area. Nowadays, it is encircled by many new and high buildings that almost ‘encloister’ the nunnery.
I cannot touch the nun, nor see her very clearly. She is an ‘encloistered’ nun, and is therefore talking to me through wooden bars. The entire conversation, I try to look through different holes in the wooden framework to be able to look her into her eyes.
We talk about her life, her background, why she choose to become a nun, how she perceives the spiritual life of Hong Kong, and religion in China in general. She answers my questions in very clear, grammatically correct English – a legacy of her stay in the UK. It feels like a very pleasant, informal conversation, perhaps like a conversation you would have with a newly met friend. Except for the wooden bars in between us.
She tells me that …
… one day, a man came to me, who told me the following: Our life may not give us an answer, but it does give us questions. Many of these questions start with ‘Why’
Later on, she shares her opinion that, although she is cloistered, she does feel close to the people that visit her to ask for the sisters’ prayers. I try my very best to understand this, to understand what she means by this. However, my biggest question is still ‘Why?’. Why would she chose a life like this? Does she never yearn for the physical contact of people other than her ten sisters? Would she never want to sit side by side another person, or look at another person without the wooden framework in between?
I did not dare to ask her these questions. These are not questions you ask to a newly met friend, let alone to a nun that talks to you from behind a wooden framework.