Phra and Talk
The morning started out well. That jackhammer eventually stopped and we could get some sleep. On reawakening we went down to check out. They were kind enough to keep our bags for us while we went for a walk around the city. Well, Bangkok is a big city, so we would only get to see a few blocks of it before we had to return to catch our train.
We started out, had a quick breakfast around the corner from where we stayed and went towards China town. The first thing we encountered was a joss house, or chinese buddhist temple. This was very ornate and beautiful. They were in there doing repairs and repainting the walls, so we didn’t want to disturb them. From there we walked into the back alleys and housing area. We were looking for the markets, but this was still interesting. You could see the colonial influences on the buildings with the ornate balconies and the terraced housing styles. The railway station itself was designed by dutch architects, this was more generic european.
We found a bigger temple a few blocks away, and this one we could go into. Having been Watted out over the last two weeks, it was fascinating to see the differences with Chinese buddhism. There were the standard images of Buddha, and other enlightened monks, but these were surrounded by chinese dragons (The equivalent of Naggas) Phoenixes and other references to chinese mythology. Instead of having the story of Buddha along the eves of the building, they had the monkey story (The bringing of the dharma to China). As we went further back into the temple, the wall paintings turned hindu and more traditional, yet the temple was still very overtly chinese in nature.
After wandering for a bit we eventually found the start of the markets. Well, I say start, because this is where we started going through them.
The street was narrow, and while there were proper shops on either side of the road, most of the road itself has stalls from end to end. Like all Thai roads there is road then building. Footpaths are non existent. This makes it interesting when there are stalls on either side, us, about ten Thais of different ethnicity, a moto coming one way and a guy with a full trolley coming the other way, and we are trying to move forwards to see what is in the next stall. There was no personal space, and what you had was quickly taken up by someone else if you were not fast enough. In this way we made it through the first street. Luckily for us we have had some practice in Asian markets. If this was our first, it wouldn’t be fun.
Most of the street was taken up by the same things. We passed a huge amount of stores that only sold shoes wholesale. No retail. This section was massive. About three streets worth. Another area specialised in fabrics,and everything could be bought by the roll or metre. Here there was a White woman, very seriously shopping for the correct fabric. Fair enough, but on passing her husband seated on the other side, it looked like he had been there for a while, and was resigned to sitting there a lot longer!
Another section of the market was dedicated to offerings for temples. This was a bit excessive. Seriously, you could buy a paper Toyota to give as an offering the next time you go to the temple. There was everything from incense, to candles. Fake Paper money to Iphones and even model houses. These are all used to appease ancestors of to beg Buddha to provide you with one. The merchants here know how to spin belief.
On diving in and out of these market streets we gave it up. There were trinkets here and there. If you wanted a ring to go in any part of your body you could get one. Gold? There was heaps. Fake gemstones galore (and probably a few real ones mixed in). Bags, Bags and more bags. Yet in the whole market there was nothing we wanted to buy. If we owned a house in Bangkok, we could have fitted it out well, and cheaply. Yet we need to think about our baggage weight when flying.
From there we just wandered. We ended up at the memorial bridge. Before the bridge we went to another Wat. Ratburana. This has a rather pretty prang, and there was a guy that stopped to talk to us. He had been a monk when he was young, and also again in his early twenties (he wasn’t that much older than us). He was very open in talking about Buddhism to us. This was great as we were talking about the different styles of Buddhism from Thai to Vietnamese, Burmese and Chinese. All of which are active in Thailand. He also said that the whole tenants of Buddhism were being corrupted by older cultures. The Brahmin or Hindu culture and Chinese culture of creating temples and giving offerings. The image of Buddha himself is only about 1000 years old. It is a lot like christianity adopting pagan rituals to co-opt them into the religion. I asked him about the offerings, and he said that someone that is strong in the teachings of buddhism doesn’t need to do it, but these older cultures make it almost essential. The same as tradition outweighing laws. Buddhism is about inner peace and acceptance, yet with the new prosperity in Thailand, the effects of californication, and people wanting more and more, they are asking Buddha to provide it. The same with Ancestor worship. It isn’t helped by the kings. A long time ago, a king decided to make a magnificent temple. So now every king, and member of the royal house has to do the same thing. Each one bigger and better. This is their path to a better afterlife.
It does explain why an old hermit in the middle of the mountain now has a magnificent shrine that has images everywhere. It was not the monks intent, but the traditions by the un-initiated that have caused this to spring up. The focus should go back to the teachings of Buddha, and not the trappings of society. I agree with him there, and think this is the same with all religion, and not just Thai worship.
From this interesting conversation we went for a close up view of the bridge. In reality it is nothing special. There is a highway of clover leaves leading up to and away from it, then a four lane bridge built over a number of pillars crossing the river. I could spin some romantic drivel about how the bridge was built by Rama the Something to promote reconciliation and remembrance. However it is a bridge. It connects two parts of the city together. Walking along it you get a view. Mostly this was of a newer bridge just down river. However you get the boats going back and forwards. The jetties and piers. The beer cans floating down in the strong current etc. Its a bridge. Really.
Now came the hard part of our day. We had to make it back to the station. Pulling out our trusty map (we had already discovered how trusty before) to work out where we were. This was easy. We were at the bridge. That bridge. Yep. There is a road that follows the river downstream then curves inland to meet a main road right outside the station. Simple. Even the map cannot screw that one up. We walked along the river for a bit, and when it moved just inland it was still fine. There was a canal there that we were following, and it was still the same road. In the canal there were a couple of bamboo rafts. These were being used to collect the detritus of the river, and another section to collect the styrofoam from the waterways. It is amazing how much garbage there is in the water here. Bangkok may be cleaning up its act, but they still need to know what a garbage bin is. And then how to empty it, other than straight into the water. It did make for a good photo though.
A bit further along we saw a Bangkok crocodile. This was a massive lizard that was swimming along the waterways. It was almost big enough to be a crocodile.
We continued following the road, and it curved inland like it should. Then curved some more. Eventually we ended up back at the chinese markets. Now, if I didn’t say it before, these are Huge. Entire city blocks are dedicated to making the street maps that say where all the stalls are. Needless to say this still isn’t big enough, and they are yet to produce the map. So you can imagine the city within a city that we had just walked back into. Madness. Noise, Jostling, Bikes, People, More people and bikes. OMG!!
Still we made it though, pulled out our trusty map. Found the roads we were at and recalculated a new path. The road name ended,but we continued on. It was supposed to be a straight line. New road names, New intersection. Recalculate. Move on. New road names, Recalculate. Realise it is rubbish and throw map in bin. In this way we made it back to the railway station with at least half an hour to spare (after dinner in a muslim corner stall.) The reason I mention this, is the Americans that stopped there for dinner as well. I don’t know how they found it but points for that. The fact that it is clearly muslim and they asked for beer? Then left when it was explained they were muslim and didn’t serve beer was [insert word here])
The train. What can you mention about a 12 hour train ride. It is Thailand so you expect it to be late. It left on time. That was a first. There was some filming of something going on at the platform, and as we were wheeling our bags down to find the carriage we were on, a person took personal offence to that, and decided that we were ruining his shot. So he told us to keep moving. We hadn’t stopped! Finding the carriage we loaded ourselves on and eventually the train left (on time as mentioned). The conductor came round and checked our tickets. He was a bit surprised that one of us was in the wrong seat, but made no issue of it as we were both top bunks, and the lower bunk hadn’t arrived yet. We hoped they wouldn’t at all. At this stage the seats were still up and the bunks away. We had heard horror stories of people in the bottom bunk wanting to sit up all night, and the person in the top having no choice. This is not quite right. If it is a Thai in the top or bottom, they will dictate when the beds are made. A bit later our bottom bunk people got on. Darn. A bit of confusion over seating and we were moved to the other side of the train. Still we could sit together. We think it was an elderly mother and son. This wasn’t a problem until they wanted to go to bed at 7pm. Oh well. Seats were moved to create a bed, and the top berthwas dropped down. There goes us sitting and talking. We asked one of the railway guys on our car if we could sit anywhere else.
He directed us to the dining car. I wish we had known about it last trip. Making our way there through other carriages was easy. How lost can you get on a train anyway? This was great. The windows were open, so you got the breeze. There was a table to play backgammon on and we could get beer. About 11pm we decided to turn in (well the bar closed then). We found that you pay for the fun. The beer was about three times what it should have been, but still it was worth it.