Sunday, August 07, 2005

Not much out of the ordinary today. It was a Buddhist kind of day. I planned my day around a meditation and Buddhist talk at the World Fellowship of Buddhists. That was at 2:00 so I headed out a bit before 9:00 to make sure I'd have enough time at Wat Pho and the Grand Palace, which is next door. These are two of the biggest tourist attractions in Bangkok and they were both busy by the time I got there. Wat Pho is the biggest wat in Thailand and it is pretty amazing. Stupas fill the space between temples. Each one contains ashes of a king or some other important person. There are thousands of Buddhas in Wat Pho but the two that merit the most attention are the reclining Buddha and the standing Buddha. Both are very impressive. The reclining Buddha is said to mirror the position the Buddha took when he entered Nirvana at the end of his life. The statue pretty much fills the hall so it's impossible to get a decent photo. I don't remember the exact dimensions but it's huge. It's made of brick that has been overlaid with gold, with mother of pearl lining the bottom of his feet.

I had a guide who showed me the major Buddhas of the site before turning me loose. He was very knowledgeable about the place and gave me a good tour. He talked about how almost all young men spend time as a monk, some more some less. He spent 3 months in a temple when he was a young man. It was good way to see the place.

After the tour I got a 30 minute massage at the Thai massage place inside the wat. They have a massage school there where people come from around the world to learn the art of Thai masssage. I wish I'd had time for a full hour but I wanted to get to the meditation class.

After I got done with the massage, and felt much rejuvenated, I walked over to the Grand Palace. I was really interested in one thing there: the Emerald Buddha. This is probably the most revered and important artifact in the whole country. It sits high up off the ground in an ornate temple at the Grand Palace. There were almost as many people here as there were at the weekend market yesterday. Except here most everyone was a tourist. They don't allow any photos to be made of the Emerald Buddha so I had to settle for a postcard. As it was, it was way too dark with way too many in the temple to get a decent shot anyway. The rest of the grounds are just as impressive as Wat Pho. The Grand Palace dates from the settling of Bangkok as the country's capital in the late 17th century. That was after the Burmese destroyed the former capital city at Ayuthaya. Successive kings brought valuable artifacts to the site until it looks like it does today.

After seeing the Emerald Buddha, I hopped a river ferry north to the Central Pier. From there it was a quick sky train ride to the headquarters for the World Fellowship of Buddhists. Of course, it wouldn't be a Dykhuis trip without at least one wrong turn and a complete misreading of the map. Suffice it to say that I did get there, but without time for lunch.

I got settled in the auditorium, ready for the meditation lesson, when they announced that they were going to have a special program today. Instead of the regular meditation lesson, an abbott from a nearby wat was coming to do a program honoring the Queen. It's her birthday on Friday and it's a BIG DEAL here. The king and queen are very much venerated. The phrase "treated like royalty" could have been invented for them, I think. Anyway, there was no meditation lesson. Instead there was a 90 minute tribute to the queen, most of which was in Thai. So there I sat, listening to the abbott go on and on about how wonderful the queen is, understanding none of it, but hoping that there was something yet to come. Alas, not. We had a short 10 minutes or so for mediation, with dimmed lights. But no instruction. They did announce that their usual program would be back next month and that we should be sure to attend. I booked my ticket right away.

Tonight looks like an early night. Between the hustling around to get to where I wanted to be at the right time, the heat, the humidity and the rain storm, I'm bushed.

One thing though: I had more adventures and unexpected things happen out in the country than here. For all the hustle and bustle and everything going on, for the tourist, it's easier to have a plan and have everything go (more or less) according to the plan. Nothing like the rainy-night tuk-tuk ride in Chiang Mai or the school kids in Lop Buri. Two more days. We'll see what happens.

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