Fabulous Sounds of the Pacific Northwest: Co Lam Pagoda

An impromptu Vietnamese folk music concert at Seattle's Co Lam Pagoda

Tucked behind a McDonald’s and kitty corner to a Circle K, the Co Lam Pagoda is almost hidden from view until you’re right in front of it. Then, suddenly, it jumps out at you. Impish, smiling dragons stand at the gate, and the temple doors are decorated in gold and fiery red. A stone statue of Richard Nixon stands in a garden that runs along the side of the temple.

The Co Lam Pagoda is one of the biggest Vietnamese Buddhist temples in Washington State. It’s in South Seattle, in a neighborhood that, according to the US Census, is one of the most ethnically diverse zip codes in the entire country.  A grocery store across the street bears this out: The signs for special promotions are written in at least five different languages: Vietnamese, Chinese, Spanish, English, and Amharic.

Sometimes, the best stories come from just knocking on a door, and going in to discover what’s inside. That’s what happened to me one day, after a story I’d planned to do for KEXP suddenly fell through…

Listen now:

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Watch a slideshow:

Master Kim and I became friends, and I went back to visit with him several times before I left Seattle. He even started sending me text messages, which I loved. There’s something really great about getting texted by a wandering monk. It just doesn’t happen every day.

He wanted my help translating poetry he’d written in Vietnamese. So, I’d go to his house, and we’d sit together at his kitchen table. He’d read his poems out loud to me in halting English, while I typed and edited. Not surprisingly, all the poems had Buddhist themes, things like impermanence, being in the present moment, mindfulness, and opening the heart. One of the lines went, “Life is just a dream.” I told Master Kim that we had a children’s song with that same line in it. He grinned at me, and then started singing, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” in a loud, clear voice.  It was my turn to grin.

You can visit the temple, too. They have services (in Vietnamese, but really beautiful even if you don’t speak the language) on Sundays at 11am, and people will greet you with open arms. The Co Lam Pagoda is located at 3503 S. Graham Street in Seattle, Wa. Tell Master Kim I sent you…

Listen to additional audio:

The full temple ceremony:

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Folk music/flute:

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Folk music/moon instrument:

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Produced by Julie Caine, 2011 AIR Live Interactive Resident. Editorial oversight by Kevin Cole. Engineering assistance by Matt Ogaz. Additional editorial assistance by John Abramson. Live Interactive is a collaboration of KEXP and AIR, the Association of Independents in Radio, with financial support from AIR members worldwide, Recovery.gov, and the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art.

This entry was posted in AIR Residency Series, Fabulous Sounds of the Pacific Northwest, KEXP. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. andrea potts
    Posted May 23, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    What an enchanting peek at another world behind a fast food restaurant !
    The dreamy music was the cherry on top.

  2. marié
    Posted May 23, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    what a lovely story and beautiful sounds! this piece brought me a big smile, too, imagining their and julie’s smiles.

  3. Susan Evans
    Posted May 23, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    This is a great pice. Thanks for the beautiful music and warm story.

  4. Singeli Agnew
    Posted May 23, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    very touching! I want to meet this sweet man. Lovely to be wandering around with Julie Caine, ears wide open.

  5. Dawn
    Posted May 23, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    I loved this story! So wonderful to hear this beautiful music.

  6. John Hoopes
    Posted May 23, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    I love to be able to hear this music and imagine I’m sitting in a pagoda in Seattle! Thanks for noticing (and mentioning) the statue of Richard Nixon. The remark about the texting monk makes me smile. You’ll have to teach him to Twitter if he’s not already tweeting. I’d be at the temple on Sunday if it weren’t so far away. Your story makes it seem close enough to touch. Thanks!

  7. Lisa
    Posted May 23, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, KEXP, for this peek inside a world I would have never otherwise known about!

  8. Kristin Kolb
    Posted May 23, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    This is lovely. I have driven by this place many times and wondered what it’s like. Great piece – I love the story of entering the space. Thank you.

  9. David Gates
    Posted May 23, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    I like the enthusiasm the reporter conveys. The context is so often washed out that I had forgotten the sound of reporting that places you there!

  10. Diane Bock
    Posted May 23, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    A magical experience, beautifully captured and conveyed. Thank you, Julie!

  11. Kelley McKenzie
    Posted May 23, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Great story!

  12. chris dawe
    Posted May 23, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    i sure enjoyed learning about this temple. the music is beautiful.

  13. sandra wolf
    Posted May 23, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed this very much – charming and delightful!

  14. Peter Wolf
    Posted May 23, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    What fun! What a keen sense of description Miss Caine has! I really could envision the Pagoda and loved the Vietnamese musical instruments and the group singing.
    A nice production.

  15. Leslie Kossoff
    Posted May 23, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    Loved the piece. So interesting to discover such wonderful folks and music.

  16. Norma I. Quintana
    Posted May 24, 2011 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    Absolutely magical!

    Once again an opportunity to experience others.

  17. willie smyth
    Posted May 24, 2011 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    This is gorgeous! Wonderful photos, recording, interview, and story!

  18. Ms. Max Schroder
    Posted May 24, 2011 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    What a marvelous story! I came away with the sense that when one is curious, the most wonderful worlds will open up to you. Thank you for this lovely story to start my day with.

  19. Stuart Jespen
    Posted May 24, 2011 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Fantastic! Many thanks to this reporter for taking us all along.

  20. Claudia
    Posted May 24, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    What a magical moment to walk into….they clearly saw you came with an open heart and open ears…great story – thank you for sharing it with all of us.

  21. Alvaro Salas
    Posted May 24, 2011 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Congratulations to Ms Caine for let her curiosity and hard work taking us to an enchanting journey wonderfully illustrated and narrated.

  22. darren johnston
    Posted May 25, 2011 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    fantastic story and music! I’d love to meet those monks and hear them play live myself. What a vibe they put out! I love that you can hear the love of the subject matter in the tone of the story-teller too.

  23. Honna
    Posted May 25, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    I love stories of serendipity like this! Great use of sound and music and narrative- it was great hearing YOU in the story too. Thanks for sharing it!

  24. Daniel Nguyen
    Posted May 25, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    What a great article! As a practicing Buddhist at Co Lam Pagoda, I am proud to see that there are many aspects to this temple that are appreciated beyond the religious aspect. The music that comes from the stone walls is something of beauty, I encourage any and all to visit, you are more than welcome.

  25. Suzy Clement
    Posted May 25, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    What a wonderful glimpse inside a place I probably would never have entered myself. Lovely piece.

  26. Taylor Nguyen
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Thank you Julie for the lovely story. Co Lam Temple is a peaceful place to visit. All the monks are very friendly. They have ceremony every Sunday from 11am-noon. Followed by a 30 minutes speech about everyday life with Buddhism. They also give free lunch for every one. Love it!

  27. Whitney
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Loved the awe and enthusiasm in this piece, not to mention the music!

  28. Kathy
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    I love this music, too.

  29. Colin
    Posted August 16, 2011 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    are you sure that’s Seattle you are in Julie? Which bus did you get on?

    What a great report and how lucky are you to get so close up and personal like that, cool people, love the music too,
    great work.
    thanx to all concerned for sharing it.

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