2011- Entry 4: Meaningful Things

I really can’t believe that I have been back from Malaysia for two weeks already. I have largely been in Bangkok just relaxing and visiting friends. I always feel “guilty” that I am not filling up my time doing “meaningful things.” That is until I realized that relaxing is probably one of the most meaningful things you can do! This has been quite a different trip from the past and I rather like it that way! Much more relaxed and taking the time to just enjoy the things that are around me. My goal was not to do the crazy run-around that usually marks my stay here each year, and on that score it was very successful! I just wanted to lead a “normal” existence to get a sense of what it would be like to actually spend a lot of time doing the “mundane” things of life. Just the joy of time with friends and realizing at the end of the day that I had not spoken one word of English.

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The first day back from Malaysia  I found myself at Siam Square, a middle class shopping area in central Bangkok. I went to the small market there and found a display of one of my favorite Thai foods, Mee-ang Kham! This is a tasty example of the explosion that occurs when you eat Thai food! You take a leaf, form it into a cup and add pieces of chili, lime, dried shrimp, ginger, onion, peanuts and dried coconut shavings. Then you spoon on some thick, sweet tamarind sauce. Finally, you pinch the top and pop it into your mouth! With the first bite, your mouth nearly vibrates with the experience of every possible flavor all at once. There were four other people standing around as I made this, two of whom were interested in trying it. So I showed them how to do it and they loved it! The taste and the whole experience of making it. They snapped up a few of the packages to enjoy on their own… but not before I grabbed one myself! Afterward, I went next door to the meditation temple and spent a few hours just relaxing and enjoying the quiet in the garden as the peacocks cried and the slow melody of the music took control. I only wish it could have been appropriate to sit there and “meditate” on rolling up a few “mee-ang kham!”

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Fairly soon after getting back here to Bangkok, Lisa, a teacher from my school and a friend of hers, Jackie, arrived in town. I love it when people come to visit as I also love showing people around the city. I especially enjoyed their company as they liked to WALK! We started out at the train station and walked to Wat Trimit, the newly constructed temple that holds a large solid gold Buddha. (I wrote about this amazing Buddha’s story last year.) Leaving there, we wandered the market in Chinatown for an hour before realizing that it was getting a little late and our goal was the temples of Wat Po and Wat Prakeo, two of the most famous temple complexes in Thailand. We walked Chareon Khrung Road to the end and the entry to Wat Po. Well, at that point you just have to be in the moment because these temples are so beautiful and interesting that you can’t just rush through them! As a result, we got to Wat Prakeo too late and had to save it for the next day. As it was raining at that point, it was probably just as well. We then took the water taxi down the Chao Phaya River to the dock near Taksin Bridge and the Sky train for the trip back to the hotel. That evening we enjoyed a tasty meal of “pak boong fai daeng” (fried morning glory), fish in a mildly spicy sauce and stir fried mixed vegetables.

The next day we were off again to Wat Pra Keo, the home of the Emerald Buddha. (Actually, I think it is jade.) When we got there it was very crowded with people showing devotion for Buddhist Lent. I really just enjoyed roaming the complex photographing more of the frescoes of the Ramakien story that are being restored on the inner walls. Lisa and Jackie seemed enthralled by the temples which are ornately decorated and very colorful.

We then took off for Chatuchak Market, a large shopping area filled with stalls selling everything imaginable. I was hoping that it would be less crowned in the heat of the afternoon, but that was not to be the case. We didn’t stay long, but at least they had the chance to sample the market itself. As we jumped on the Skytrain, it started to rain and I was sure that the train and the underground must have been a mad-house with people as it poured! Was glad to got out when we did!

The next day, Lisa and Jackie headed off for Chieng Mai and I departed for Rayong for a few days to see friends in the area and take it easy……. (I thought that was what I had been doing all along!)

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Met my friend, Chakrit, at Siam Square and we had lunch at Chulalongkhorn University where he is doing his dissertation in fine arts. He is a teacher of Thai wisdom and attaining a mastery of intricate mother-of-pearl inlay work. Everything is done by hand including the making of the little pieces from conch shells that eventually assemble into a complex design. I didn’t need any coaxing to join him as we went to see a display of mother-of-pearl and traditional Thai puppetry making by two of his teachers, Ajaahn Veera Mee-Muan and Ajaahn Sanae Jamjirarak. These two masters of their crafts are well-known in Thailand and are the last of a dying breed of artisans of traditional Thai fine arts. These masters are also two of the most gentle, witty, engaging and interesting people I have met here. We chatted for a while as each talked about life and the basics of their artistry. Sadly, there are few truly great artists in these crafts left. I felt so lucky to have met and spent some time with these two treasures of Thai culture! Aajahn Veera invited me to visit his puppetry school in Rayong next year. I will surely take him up on that offer! I visited the one other school in Rajburi with a friend, Dr. Wanchai, last year. The monk at the school in Rajburi also told me that this is a dying craft as the young today show little interest in learning it. At that time we were so lucky to be there when we were as they were giving a rare teaching performance. I was able to video the program from behind and watch them go through their basic moves.These traditional arts are now getting a heavy promotion from the royal family, so hopefully there will be a future yet for these important art forms.

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And so another year has passed and I am near the end for yet another “return of the (non) native” adventures to Southeast Asia. I have met so many new and interesting people here this year. It is always such an adventure……… but that is true of life no matter where you are. You never know what the day will bring, you just have to be open to receiving those “meaningful things” as they present themselves to you! Will spend my last day at the meditation temple before checking out of the hotel and heading for the airport.

I am actually quite ok with leaving this year. Probably because it wasn’t as hectic as it usually is! There is much to be said for sleeping in your own bed again after checking in and out of so many hotels and homes over the last 6 weeks!

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