Greetings once again and my apologies to all of you who e-mailed to tell me you read these blog entries in the evenings and didn't hear from me last night. Having Jay here is cramping my routine! But in a good way, of course. It's just that he thinks he needs to be on the computer too and by the time I was ready to write this morning (your evening) he was ready to go do what we had planned for the day.
So in an attempt to practice what I've been preaching and die to my flesh and serve, (OUCH!) I opted to go on with our plans and try and write this evening. Good thing too. We would have missed the events at the rose garden if we had waited any longer to leave. But let's start with yesterday....
My new buddy "Richard" picked us up at noon and took us to the Grand Palace. He was shocked to find a parking place in the crowded and inadequate parking lot a few blocks from where we were going, but I wasn't! He kept saying, "theese izz a goot day!" (That probably sounds more Mexican than Thai, but work with me) He stayed with us for the day and later dropped us off where we met P & S.
We walked past the street merchants with their wares laid out on thin blankets on the sidewalks hawking and chasing you down the sidewalk, relentless in their promises of a bargain; the food carts with the hibachis built into them and chicken and fish stuff I've never seen and all the smells wafting past your nose from every direction; the fruit of every color and flavor and description just begging you to taste it; the knock-off "designer" goods; the beggars; the street muscians with their open cases filled with the sparse coins of the compassionate; the dogs meandering in and out of the streets and the stores...
We finally reached our destination and the people at the gate checked our attire after we bought our tickets and decided whether or not we were dressed appropriately. We passed. For those who aren't, they have a place where you can leave your passport as collateral and don a wrap skirt or what have you. No bare shoulders or too short shorts allowed. That sort of thing. Sacred ground. Modesty rules. The web site said no toes showing so I brought socks to slip on but my fancy, sparkly two-for-fifteen-dollar flip-flops from J.C. Penney's must have impressed them because they waved me right in. Good thing too because it's HOT here. Humid. You want to bathe twice a day.
For 500 baht (roughly $15 bucks) a Thai guide who spoke English offered to give us a tour. We might aught to have had him recite a few sentences in English before we agreed because he was very difficult to understand. Though by the end of the two hour or so tour I was finally getting the hang of his heavy accent. Or he was speaking more clearly. Or I didn't care anymore. Or all of the above.
Anyway, from the brochure: "The Grand palace complex was established in 1782 and it houses not only the royal residence and throne halls, but also a number of government offices as well as the renowned temple of the Emerald Buddha. It covers an area of 218,000 meters and is surrounded by four walls 1,900 meters in length."
Now folks, I'm an American through and through. I am an American who was part of the colossal failed experiment way back when to convert the United States to the metric system. Which means I failed along with the rest of you, but by any reasonable standards, the place is HUGE.
It's an elaborate complex with three main sections. I won't even begin to try to describe everything to you. You'll just have to come yourself. I'm sure Pat and Sam won't mind! But I will say that everything: every building inside and out was stunning in the complexity and intricacy of artistic detail. There wasn't one square inch that wasn't covered in beautiful hand-painted Chinese porcelain, mosaics made from tiny pieces of colored glass and mirrors, hand- painted wall coverings that told history in much the same way as the Egyptians, but much more intricately, and gold leaf everywhere. I've never seen so much gold. There was so much of it, it didn't even look real. I've described these type things before as being gaudy, and that's probably as accurate as anything I could say. When I think of something being gaudy, it means to me it's overdone, it's extreme, it's too much. And it was on the one hand, yet on the other, it was overwhelmingly and utterly beautiful and mind-boggling and mesmerizing. It was sensory overload on every circuit. Like Wal-Mart at Christmas. Only different. Only worse and better and magical and crazy and foreign all at the same time!
It was like seeing the best National Geographic issues come to life right before your eyes. I never could quite fully comprehend that this wasn't a Disney Land attraction but was, in fact, over two centuries old! It just took on that sort of make-believe quality. I think it was because there was just so much of it.
Any one building or room or wall or ceiling would have been enough to look at for hours--that's how intricate the detail--yet it was building after building, room after room, wall after wall, ceiling after ceiling for acres. Like the magnificent work of 1000 Oriental Michaelangelos. It was breathtaking. There were huge statue interpretations of the evil spirits guarding the various entrances with their animalistic legs arched high and distorted faces; there were half-lions, half-roosters, half-monkeys that if I showed you a picture of, you'd recognize. We saw the elaborate costumes, the gallery of ancient weapons, the history, legends, mysticism and deep beliefs of these people and how it still influences and effects them today. And like a cultural Eveready bunny, it just kept going, and going and going...
We saw the Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha, carved from a huge block of jade and one of the most venerated sites in Thailand where the people make their way through the patchwork quilt of tourists to bow before it and pay respect to the lord Buddha and his teachings. It's enshrined on a traditional Thai styled throne made of gilded carved wood. It looks fairly small sitting way up there close to the high ceiling in a vast room and is, in fact, probably no more than two and a half feet high. It sits in the "lotus" (cross-legged) position and wears a gold costume coinciding with whichever of the three seasons Thailand is in at the moment: summer, rainy or winter. At the beginning of each season the costumes are changed in an elaborate ceremony presided over by His Majesty the King. It's a big deal. Our guide interrupted himself both when we entered and as we left to bow down in the ritual manner before the Buddha. Others were laying small flower wreaths around the base of the base (if that makes sense) and lighting incense. I couldn't help but be impressed with their sincerity but was equally distressed by the misguided works righteousness. That's what Buddhism is. Works. More works, better works, ritual works, hidden works, painful works. Part of what Jesus came to set us free from--part of helping us just BE in Him rather than thinking we had to work ourselves into something. It's like an entire country of Oriental Pharisees. The really good ones adhere to five laws that mirror the intent of the ten commandments and speak of sin. I just don't know what they do about it. The solution seems to be to keep trying. Be better. Live better. Recycle, so to speak, to a higher plane. Hope the next life is better. Hope you eventually reach nirvana.
Our guide kept telling us how The Great Buddha" had gone through all the (nine?) levels of reincarnation and achieved nirvana, or ultimate enlightenment, so didn't have to continue recycling. He kept explaining points about his religion and saying, "we not so different. You believe/say/ think/do (such and such) and so do we!" He seemed utterly convinced and positively gleeful about it. I didn't know where to start, how to even begin to bridge the chasm, so I just smiled.
I just finished reading, "Velvet Elvis" today. This sentence really doesn't have anything to do with that last one, or maybe it does, but do yourself a favor. If you only read one book this year, make it that one. Then call me and let's talk about it. If I came all the way to Thailand just to read this book it would have been well worth it. Really. Buy it. Read it. Let's talk.
After our tour "Richard" dropped us off at the tallest building in Bangkok where we went up to the top (82nd) floor and looked out over the city from the moving, circular observation deck. Again, it is impossible to describe. There were buildings of every size, shape and description for as far as the eye could see. They went all the way out to the curve of the horizon and disappeared into the haze. On all sides! This place makes Tulsa look like a blip on the screen. A microchip. I was raised a city girl, but I couldn't live here. There's too much of everything. It's very hard on my ADHD.
The buffet on the floor just beneath the observation deck was absolutely fabulous and I think I had everything but the rice! Really, they had everytaste sensation you could think of. We sat by a window and chatted and ate too much and watched the sun set and the night lights sparkle and the endless stream of traffic, like ants going wherever ants go, flow beneath us in a steady stream of synchronicity and movement. It looked like the spindly, wagging red and white tail of a living, breathing serpent. But there was no end to it.
Sam just called and they have had to admit Pat to the hospital! She got sick last night after dinner and is dehydrated so they want to keep her overnight. Please pray for her. One of the things they told me almost as soon as I got here was how fortunate they have bee in rarely getting sick. So of course, I feel guilty and responsible! Why do we do that to ourselves?! Like kids thinking their parent's divorce is their fault...
Anyway, please lift her before the Lord. I will write tomorrow about the rose garden tour Jay and I took today. It was nice, but there really isn't that much to tell.
One final thought, though it's not a quote, but one of the many ponderings of my heart is this: Is there any culture, ancient, recent past or present, that any of you know of, that doesn't have laughter or some form of music, dancing or spirituality? Or one who had access to gold that doesn't hold it to be extremely valuable? Just wondering. Because I can't think of one so I'm pretty convinced these things are universal. Interesting, isn't it?