Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Last night in Bangkok

What a wonderful journey. Today we have been back to the Hindu shrine to Erawan the Elephant God. We decided to return there because it was such an amazing place. A shrine right slap bang in the middle of Bangkoks fashionable area, flanked by Loius Vuitton and  Stella Macartney stores this shrine is alive and buzzing with the faithful. All families and young people- beautiful Thai girls in short skirts and platform shoes looking the epitome of cool kneeling down, praying and making offerings to Erawan, together with young males all sporting the latest baggy bummed pants and spiky hair. When did you last see people like that in a religious place in the UK ?  We sat on one of the benches and watched. We were the only Europeans there but we were made welcome with smiles. Try getting a smile from one of our church congregations.  It was lovely and peaceful in the middle of one of the most vibrant cities  on the planet ! I would also add that Bangkok is a city of smells, so much street food, vendors line all the streets offering so many different types of food. Some smell lovely, some smell disgusting to us but are very popular with locals. I have no idea whats in them, but fish, fresh or dried seems popular. I have to confess I shied away from trying some, which I am sure I will regret when I get home.  Considering how much living goes on in them, the streets are immaculate, no rubbish anywhere.  Public transport is cheap and easy even for us to follow and we were only potentially tricked once by a Tuk Tuk driver who asked if we could just get off and look at the shops he would stop off at on the way. Needless to say I sent him off with a flea in his ear and complained to the street guy that introduced us, whereby he got a taxi for us for the same money. You do have to be forceful with some of them so that they realise you are not for the taking. Even today as we walked out to the shrine they thought that we were going to the local shopping center and kept stopping to tell us it wasnt open.   Even though it actually was. I took great delight in telling them that we were actually ' enjoying a walk', have you ever tried it?  Apart from the hustlers, of which there aren't many, Bangkok and Thailand is well worth a visit. The hotels are great, the food is wonderful and ordinary Thai people and hotel staff are very friendly and helpful. For me the great part has been once again seeing how ' Buddhism and Hinduism' morphs and fuses yet again to suit the local culture and belief system.  In Bali it was all Durga and Ganeshe with a little Buddha, here its a lot of Buddha with Ganeshe and a little Erawan thrown in. Wonderful, once again a whole melting pot and fusion of Buddhism and Hinduism and no one gives a damn.  Oh and I should also point out that all the shops are decked out for Christmas. We have a lovely photo of a golden sleight with 10 foot high reindeer's that is sitting outside a department store just yards from the Erawan shrine !
Tonight we set off on our last adventure, dinner on a boat sailing past the Royal Palace and the Golden Mount to celebrate Loy Krathong on the full moon. On this night everyone flocks to the river or sea to float an offering or to light a lantern to the sea Goddess,  ( hindu in origin) to give thanks for the end of the monsoon and the supply of water and to also apologise for the pollution that has been caused. We have booked a boat trip because it seems difficult to get to the small piers to float our own, through the crowds. Tonight is the night I had planned to make my offering to the sea Goddess to give thanks for this last year, so I am looking forward to it and will remember my night on the beach in Bali when we held our own ceremony to bid farewell to the big C.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Nothing more, Nothing less

Thought I'd better do a blog as Ive only done one since we have been in Thailand. Time is moving so quickly and its hard to believe we only have 5 days left !!  I am writing this in our hotel suite and listening to BBC world news that is reporting on protests being held today in Bangkok against the prime minister!
I have amassed an amazing number of mozzie bites all over. I think most of them came from Chiang Mai and Koh Sumet. Keeping a careful eye on the ones on my right arm and hand, but what can I do, they love me, even though I cover myself in disgusting repellant they have still managed to get me. Dennis on the other hand has none, how can that be? Still its no suprise when I get them, I should be used to it by now.

The hotel we are in is wonderful, we have a suite which has its own lounge area seperate from the bedroom. The hotel ajoins a huge indoor shopping Mall. In fact I dont ever have to venture out of either as they both provide everything.

We have been out visiting more Wats. Yesterday we went to the ' Temple of the Golden Mount' Where we climbed right up to the top. We were soaked in sweat when we got to the top, but it was worth it, the view over Bangkok was wonderful. The temple complex was vast and they were busy preparing for some sort of celebration today. There were all kinds of stalls selling food and a fairground was being erected, so I think we chose the right day.  Right at the top of the mount is a beautiful golden Stupa and part of the celebration is to cover the golden spire in a red cloth. The visitors were able to write all over it, I suppose messages to Buddha.  So Dennis wrote his name and I wrote ' Om Mani Padmi Hum' ' All hail the jewel in the Lotus' as I thought that appropriate as it links Nepal which is where my journey began.

So I have come full circle- bit like Micheal Palin!  What a spectacular year I have had. As we come to the close, not only of the year but also an epoch- the Mayan' end of time', I feel small, in a good way. I have seen and experienced so many wonderful things this year from staying in the Menri monastery to trance dancing with inspirational healers in Bali, to being blessed by monks in Thailand and all the other incredible stuff inbetween that make me realise how vast the world is. And the Universe beyond.  I realise that I am just a tiny little dot in that vast process, a blip, nothing more or less. A small part of the teeming human race that is covering and spoiling this planet.  I have had some bad luck, but following that I have been in a lucky position to be able to follow my dreams and desires. There is so much poverty and dispair in the world and so much happiness in having nothing. In the end we all arrive with nothing and we take nothing with us. My journey has been worth it, it has put everything into perspective.


Thursday, 15 November 2012

Money exchanges in the Temple

Chiang Mai has been brilliant, such a nice city. The Wats ( temples) are everywhere and are so ‘ Bling ‘ with Gold compared to those in Nepal.  But of course this reflects the vast difference in economies and the countries wealth- past and present.  It is interesting to note that the immediate difference between the two is the commercial aspect thrust upon you in the Thai temples. ( This is not necessarily a criticism on the Thai’s) More a call to arms for their poorer fellow buddhists. We do after all see it all the time, foreigners flocking to the temples for a ‘ photo’ opportunity.  Blindly ignoring the dress codes and thrusting past locals on their knees in prayer, they stand before the altar and turning their backs ( very disrespectful) on the huge Golden Buddha’s they delightfully pose for a photo. Then they sail out towards their next photo opportunity without leaving so much as a penny. Such a pity that they do not take a few moments to inhale the spiritual essence of these places.  Even more of a pity that unless they actually have to pay to get in, which very few Wats charge, they do not put their hands into their pockets and leave a few Baht. After all its nothing to them in exchange for a lifelong memory. Every Baht left will be used to help the community of monks, especially the novices like the one we met yesterday. He was just 16 and a middle son, from a poor hill tribe family North of Chiang Mai. Whilst his elder brother shall inherit whatever parcel of land the family has owned through generations, the middle son usually ends up a monk. This is purely down to practical and economic reasons. By joining the Monastery aged 10 he is provided with an education( which I would argue far exceeds some of our schools), is fed and clothed and learns respect and discipline. When he reaches 18 he is free to leave or he can become a Monk- I should also add that a Thai man can become a monk or cease to be one at any age with little problem. What an opportunity these Wats provide, with no real ties other than observing the rules whilst they are in the care. How generous of a belief system that it can run so well like this and take care of its own.

The whole system is fascinating, the huge amounts of offerings the congregations are required to give – in order to gain merit in the next life are vast, and an entire industry has been built up around it. Flowers are brought in and traded at a large market. Small family run shops sell supplies that can be bought and gifted to monks that include things like robes, toiletries and incense. Small stalls surround the Wats selling things from water to sacred amulets to a full meal. Artisans create beautiful artefacts which shall be bought either by tourists or used in the Temples. Everywhere you look there is a hive of activity keeping the energy and the money flowing. A complete microcosmic economy, that employs thousands across the city. And they in turn help to keep the wheel turning by giving alms back to the Wats. And  look at our churches and cathedrals, falling apart around our ears. No one goes to them unless its for a wedding or funeral. They employ the clergy and sub contract out for other work. But how many people actually depend on them for existence? What could they do if they did ? ……

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Alice- who the **** is Alice ??

Had a wonderful dinner last night overlooking the river, have to say the food here has been fabulous. And today we walked to the Old town, which is quite a way in this extreme heat. We took our time and wandered into a few shops and Wats ( temples) on the way. In one of the temples we each recieved a blessing from an old monk and then got conned into setting birds free. The birds are ' wild' and held in little cages, it is supposed to bring you good luck to set them free. However I have read that the birds are tame and therefore return, which just about sums it all up !!! Still for a £1 it had to be done! I am also as always amazed at how many Hindu Gods are in the Buddhist temples, I so love to see Ganeshe taking his pride of place outside, together with the Naga's Had lunch- which was a rather strange cheese sandwhich and then had a fish pedicure. Have to say there were none of the hygiene practices we observed when we had ours. Still it really helps to re-invigorate tired feet and got us back on our way. Got some brilliant footage of some novice monks chanting and still more blessings. But as Dennis pointed out we can never have too many. We got a Tuk Tuk back which was great fun and really cheap, so we will do that again. As I am writing this we have a huge White Rabbit which roams free around the place just settling down outside our verandah. Now I truly feel like Alice in Wonderland. And its dark, really hot at 6pm and I mean HOT and raining !! Surreal .

Monday, 12 November 2012

Chiang Mai

Here we are in Chiang Mai, we are staying in a lovely hotel, our room is in the middle of a beautiful garden. It reminds me of  the hotels in Bali. After the noise of Bangkok its really quiet, theres no sounds only a tinkle of water from the water feature outside our room and the occasional sound of an exotic bird !!
So nice to be out of Bangkok, although I enjoyed seeing it, I was getting a bit fed up with seeing old men with young girls. Last night as we came out of the hotel an English guy was warning his Thai girlfriend to behave herself, I really had to restrain myself as they had been at the pool earlier and he had been bossing her around then. It was embarrassing to say the least. Then we met a girl in our lift who said she was looking for room 1001, so we dropped her off on the 10th floor. I know its a way of life but I am not used to having it shoved in my face. I think if I stayed too long in Bangkok I would have to become a madam and get these girls organised and get the guys to show them a bit of respect ! Hah imagine that !! Anyhow have developed a runny nose and sore throat and so have had a quiet afternoon at our hotel. Later we shall set out to explore the night market and tomorrow we shall walk to the old city and visit some temples there, just need to shake off this cold !

Friday, 9 November 2012

1 day in Bangkok

Our first proper day in Thailand. We arrived at lunchtime yesterday after a very easy journey. Our hotel is really nice and on our arrived upgraded us from a junior suite to a club room, which includes free drinks between 5 & 7 !!! Lovely !! Today we hired a private driver ( Mr Owen) from the hotel (5 hours for £ 25) and he took us to the Gold Buddha, then the Reclining Buddha, then to the Emerald Buddha at the Grand Palace. The Gold Buddha is huge over 3m and made of pure Gold. It was discovered in the  1950's when workmen moving what they thought was an old plaster Buddha to a new Wat accidently dropped it. Some of the plaster fell off to reveal the authentic Gold Buddha underneath. Imagine how the workmen must have felt initially about dropping it, only to find they had become national heroes !!  It is beautiful, but interesting as it looks quite masculine with a decidedly hooked nose. It dates back to the 13th century so at that point in time Thai people clearly saw the Buddha that way. Todays Buddha's look rather more androgenous, funny that- why ?!  And then to the Reclining Buddha, he is 45m long and is in the reclining pose ( otherwise known as the Lion pose) which is the  position Buddha took to die. He was AMAZin and I really loved this one. You walk through this long building painted beautifully with Buddhist stories and the Buddha reclines the full lenght. In gold. On the otherside of the room, at his back are 108 buckets. 108 is a very Auspicious number. For a small ammount of money ( 40p)  you can buy coins that you place in each bucket to bring good luck. Dennis did the business whilst I filmed him, it had to be done. This one was my favourite. Before we went into this, there was a smaller Wat where I was able to buy an offering and pay my respects to the Buddha, which I did, feeling a little nervious as the only one's doing this were Thai and I did not want to offend. But I did want to pay homage and give my own thanks for getting me through the last year.
Then over to the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha. The Wats surrounding this one are especially lovely- rich and opulent. The Buddha itself is much smaller- about 1m high, However it is made of pure Jade and given much respect as it possesses healing powers. We were not allowed to photograph it, although I hopefully have a good pic from my camcorder taken on zoom outside. We were running out of time at this point, and beginning to suffer the effects of jet lag and the heat, so didnt spend so much time at the Grand Palace itself. But to be honest my interest is purely in the Buddist aspect, so I saw what really mattered to me.  Having said that I am, as always, really intrigued by the way Hinduism and Buddism entwine. Here its Buddha that gets all the Marigold flower offerings, but there was a Shiva Lingum at the Reclining Buddha site, how do you make sense of that ?  Now off again for dinner, feel so happy and this is only first day, how does it get better than that ?