Report from Tomorrow - Vol 23
1USD = S$1.70 (S$1 = 0.59USD)
For our tour in Bangkok we chose the Buddhist temple tour. Thailand has something like 2000 temples, 200 hundred in the immediate Bangkok area. We saw only a few, but two come immediately to mind: the golden Buddha, made of solid gold, not just plated (see golden-budda.jpg) and Wat Pho, home of the Reclining Buddha, just your typical 46 meter Buddha.
Much of the Thailand we saw focused on it's religious background. None of us really knew much about Buddhism and our guides patiently explained various aspects of buddhist life in Thailand. Temples served in the past as schools and still serve that function to a lesser degree. In more rural areas, poor families will send their boys to temples for both moral and secular education, so we saw lots of boys in saffron colored robes on our tours (see young-monks.jpg).
Thai men used to commonly become monks after completing high school (or college). In the temple they might commonly serve for several years before returning to secular life. The current King of Thailand did this. This practice continues today, but with less men participating. Woman are largely (but not completely) excluded from this world. There are such things as Buddhist nuns, but we never saw any nor learned anything about them.
Buddhist shrines can be found anywhere in Thailand - on the street, in a shopping area, wherever. They seem to always have some sort of food offering and burning incense sticks.
Twice a day the temple bell will ring (dawn and dusk). In the early morning the monks will come out and walk through the streets, accepting food or money offerings from people. We were told that when a Thai person has some bad experience (bad dream, premonition, or something bad happens), he/she will make a small offering to a temple Buddha and perhaps speak with his/her favorite monk. The monk might give advice that the person needs to make some offering or the like (see monk.jpg).
Certainly the most impressive temple we saw was Wat Pho in Bangkok (Wat = temple). See wat-pho-1.jpg and wat-pho-2.jpg. This is a large walled area in Bangkok which houses the Reclining Buddha and quite a few other buildings and pagodas (which contain relicts of the Lord Buddha). The buildings are incredibly ornate and are as different to these Western eyes as one can imagine. Still the sense of awe, respect and Godliness were as evident there as in any (equally ornate and gaudy) Catholic cathedral in Europe.
On day three we took a one hour flight to Chiang Mai, a city of a million or so in the northern part of Thailand. The change from Bangkok was very dramatic - this is rural Thailand! Even though it's still a "big city" by any standards, it is spread out over a huge area. Buildings are separated by lots of space and fields can be found scattered around.
Again we stayed in a nice hotel, but not very close to downtown. Transportation here (outside our tours) was by "red car" (red colored pickup truck with covered bench seats in the bed) or a tuk-tuk, both of which we used when we visited the local "night market".
Our guide, Nan, was a talkative fellow who explained much about Thai life. He told us is was common for the man to make a payment to his wife's family when getting married. This means that (1) girls are valued in the family (unlike in the Chinese culture) and (2) the men must work for quite some time to save up for the marriage.
Our first tour here was of nearby Wat Lamphun, established by one of the earliest Kings in the area, and a local open air market. We've been to markets in S'pore (and even The Gambia), so I had not expected this to be much different. Oh, how wrong I was!
What was remarkable about the market was the unique variety of things available. It was reasonably clean and there was the expected piles of local fruits and vegetables. Thailand is a major source for an amazing variety of fruits unlike anything we see in the USA.
What was unexpected were the other things - lots and lots of fresh (live) things: fish, still flopping as they were being gutted and iced; a tub of writhing eels; a tub of toads; large bugs of some sort, tied with rubber bands; and bags of smaller bugs ready to be fried and eaten as a snack.
All fresh, all live and moving about, ready to be killed on the spot or taken home to be prepared. Oh boy. Oh boy. Just keep smiling I said to myself.