2011- Entry 1: Bangkok

 Well, this trip started out interestingly enough… Got here and developed the
usual rash on my leg. Get this every year within a few days of arrival and then
it just as quickly disappears. And it never returns until the next time I come.
Guess it is polluted Bangkok’s way of saying “Welcome  Back!” I thought a nice
dip in the pool would be refreshing on the third day. For some reason, I had a
severe reaction to the chlorine in the pool. By the evening, I could not even
open my eyes without intense pain. Got some eye drops and it cleared up over the
next two days. And although you may be thinking by this time something like,
“Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?” I have been
enjoying it here very much, thank you!I spent the usual first five days immersing myself back into Thailand— or at
least the Bangkok side if it. One of my first stops, of course, was my favorite
Thai restaurant on Sukhumvit Road. As I sat there enjoying the beef in oyster
sauce, fried morning glories, and mixed vegetables with shrimp, I realized that
a good Thai meal is very much like life itself. Everything we simply observe or
experience with only one of our senses is superficial. It takes all of our
senses to truly appreciate all that life has to offer. Life is truly a banquet,
as someone observed, and I think sometimes we need to try things that are not on
the menu, so to speak!

A friend of mine became a Buddhist monk for three months to make merit for his
parents. He coincidently left the monkhood on the very day I arrived. As part of
the life of the monk is devoted to giving up all worldly possessions and
attachments (though oddly he managed to email me quite frequently from the
temple!), they only ate one meal a day usually before noon. So what do you do
for a guy who just finishes his duties as a monk? Take him out for a great
dinner of course! Well, this is a Thai case of eyes being bigger than your
stomach, and poor Thiti’s stomach had probably shrunk to the size of a pea over
the months of depriving himself of  food. Fortunately, there are Thai versions
of the doggie bag.

I never really feel that I have reached Thailand until i find the time to spend
a few hours meditating at Wat Phatum. This interesting little temple, ironically
enough, nestled between two monstrous “temples” devoted to the crass consumption
of Prada and Dior and everything else necessary to bring you to the 5th Avenue
version of Nirvana, is my mental “home base” here. if you take the path that
leads you behind the temple, it will take you to a garden and meditation hall. I
love spending time there listing to the music or to the abbot give a sermon on
the real meaning of life, which is fine until I find myself having to rejoin the
reality of life out there on the streets of Bangkok.

Within five days of Bangkok, I needed to get on the road and so I headed down to
the coast at Pattaya to visit some friends of mine. I have devoted other entries
over the years telling you of the craziness of this small city on the Gulf of
Thailand. I have a love/ hate relationship with it. The very night I arrived I
found myself in the company of Father Theo, a very liberal Anglican priest who
should have a book written about his life! I keep urging him to write one. He
started out as a Roman Catholic priest, then moved over to become a Greek
Orthodox sub-bishop, and finally to his present role tending to the rather small
and unruly congregation of English-speaking expats and their Thai spouses,
lovers and the curious here in this city that God must have overlooked on his
way to smite Gommorah. We spent the evening talking and listening to his
often-amusing stories of his life at my favorite restaurant by the sea. The
weather was prefect as we perched on the balcony of the restaurant in the cushy
chairs, enjoying the breeze and the beautiful sea view.

It was an interesting experience being in Pattaya for the beginning of Thai
lent, Waan Khao Pensaa. This is two days of religious observance and the
consumption of alcohol is strictly frowned upon. It was positively unworldly,
yet not totally unwelcome, to walk the streets of this city and not hear the
loud music of a disco era long-gone blaring from loud speakers to entice you in
for a drink or the company of one of Thailand’s loveliest “escorts.” It was so
strange to see some of these regulars sitting at the bars sipping colas! They
looked so lost and out of place. Some probably the most sober they have been in
an long time! Missed the parade this year as it was the day before I arrived. It
is sort of like the Rose Bowl parade with long lines of all types marching by on
floats decorated with every imaginable tropical flower. In the evening, the
people go to the city’s temples to pray and “wein tien” where they carry incense
and candles around the temple three times. This is more a social event as it is
a religious one. Teenagers, as anywhere else in the world, take this as much an
opportunity to get together with friends and look for that special someone in
the crowd!

The next day, my friend Hlo took me to a new park located outside of Pattaya
called, interestingly enough, The Sanctuary of Truth. It is a massive wooden
temple-like structure on the sea devoted to the four natural elements. I recall
reading about this place a while back in the NY Times. It is being built by the son of the
same man who constructed a similar place nearer Bangkok. He was a
multimillionaire who thought this was a good way to spend it in his old age. He
passed a few years ago, but the project is continuing. It will take and
additional 20 years for the main structure to be completed. Everything is
hand-carved in the shops located on the grounds. Plenty of pleasant nooks and
crannies to escape and enjoy the environs. Though there is a very touristy
element to the place, it can be easily avoided.

All too soon I found my three days up and it was back on the bus for the
two-hour trip back to Bangkok to get ready for the Malaysia- Singapore leg of
this journey.

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