10/29/17

Thailand Day 2: Temples and Tuktuks (this one Sparkles!)

Three little American Thai kids.
The reason I travel with my children is because I like them more when we're traveling.  I like them all the time, of course, but seeing the great big world through their eyes is the great payoff of parenting for me.  The value of travel is inherent, but traveling to the land of their ancestors was of special value for my children.  I'd visited Thailand as a teenager with my dad who went to pick up a missionary friend of the family.  There is something magical about Thailand and I knew that when I married a guy who happened to be Thai I would eventually get to share that magic with my little tan children.  They are Americans, only 1/4 Thai and they knew very little about their heritage before we visited.  Houdini left Thailand when he was only two and only met his Thai dad one other time in his life so he doesn't know a ton about his family history in Thailand.  As far as I understand, their Thai Grandfather Chai was a philosophy professor and died some time in the 2000's.  There were grandparents who we assume are also dead and an aunt we believe to be somewhere in Malaysia.  He had/has? and uncle who is a Buddhist monk.
Not a monk.  Bit of a monkey though.  Reclining Judah.

A major thrust of elementary education is ethnic heritage as an attempt to connect children who live in small childlike worlds to the greater world.  They're frequently asked to bring in outfits or food from their ancestral home, which, once you get to second and third generations immigrants, is a bit of a stretch.  But now my kids have been there and experienced the culture.  Though they're little, they understand a little bit more about who they are.  And experiencing that was magical.  Blake, the Hippie's son, also loved learning about the Thai culture.
And now we understand better they're just big weirdos.


Thailand has the exotic animals and the jungles, but it also has a rich culture of religion and mysticism.  There is something absolutely magical about the architecture both in the temples and outside every shop and home.  There's the Buddhist influence of over 4,000 temples peaking out around every corner, the folklore represented at nearly every home, the large Muslim population, and the historical Khmer Hindu-Buddhist ruins.  That's a ton of religious history.

The official religion of Thailand is Buddhism and the most important temple is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha which is on the same premises as the Grand Palace.  The Grand Palace is the current resting place of the beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej who died last October 2016.  There were great lines of Thai people in black waiting to pay their respects.  The entire country is covered with shrines to this great king (it's a constitutional monarchy) who served for 70 years.  On the anniversary of his death in October 2017 there will be a giant giant giant party.  Nearly every Thai person we saw wore an image of the late King around their necks and he is worshiped nearly like a deity.  His son, however, is not.  It's forbidden to speak ill of the leaders but you can tell the Thai people think the new king is a bit of a turd with poor morals.  So the previous king's visage is every where.  I had no idea that amount of black drapery existed in the entire world.  Likewise, and less magically, I had no idea the amount of black wiring that existed in the world.  Most of it is in Thailand.  They have some wiring problems and it takes a walk of about one block to be reminded that Thailand is very much a second world in the city, third world in the country type of place.  But for all their faults, they loved their king.

The Palace grounds and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha left my eyes spinning with glorious mosaic beauty.  I have never seen anywhere more beautiful than the buildings and temples there and at Wat Pho.  To think of the labor and artistic precision it must have taken to create these structures boggles the mind.  Every tiny little tile and golden adornment, layers upon layers, buildings and buildings.  Man, these people can make some serious decor.  All of the roof swirlies (I'm sure they have names) and the mythological creatures all decked out in tiny tiling are sights to behold.  Go to Thailand to witness the artistry alone.

Visiting religious sites means that you need to explain the religion to the children.  Luckily my Athenian education and personal quest for all the good things has led me to some knowledge of Buddhism.  Also, we had the Hippie with us who has actually read Zen Mind Beginner Mind and the Tao Te Ching etc etc so he could fill in many gaps in my knowledge.  I feel somewhat like a religious tourist going to sacred places such as we did, but I feel some comfort in that we genuinely appreciated and respect the religions we experienced.  The temples feel a bit touristy (well, because we're tourists) and I wish we could have gone to one or two that were somewhat more peaceful.  I love talking about religion with my children right now because we are all searching for the same meaning in our scary America right now.  We're searching out the good and finding it in both the Buddhist temples and the Thai Folklore (about which we learned a ton at a production called Siam Niramit) and a variety of other places.  Rather than "this is just what Mormons do" we talk about everything religion and figure out what God wants for each of us.  I'm hoping exposure to these other traditions will help my children be very aware and discerning about what they are taught and be guided by their own relationship with God, wherever that may lead them.  This parenting may backfire somehow, but when I have a pregnant teenager I will likely just blame their daddy issues and not my varied and therefore questionable religious instruction.  Golden rule kids.  Find the good, shun the bad.

Stranger with a good picture idea so we joined him.


Nonetheless, we enjoyed explaining worshipping a statue which seems in opposition with LDS teachings about worshipping idols.    We got into a long discussion about idolatry that resulted in the general agreement that anything that leads you to God and peace is good.  I love the overlap of religious activities.  For example, before entering the temples there is a station for symbolic washing.  You cannot go in without your shoulders and legs being covered and you must remove your shoes.  You assume a posture of reverence, specifically including not pointing your feet directly at the Buddha.  And to worship you kneel.  There were special places where only Thai people were allowed to kneel before the Buddha and my children felt special and honored to be included in that opportunity.  They said they prayed for me.  Thanks, dudes.  I totally need it.

Washing before entering temple.

Mimi and Jude on the right.

After our visit to the ornate Emerald Buddha (who, by the way, gets his clothes changed by the King seasonally) we found our first tuktuk and headed for food.  I love tuktuks.  I want one so badly.  They're the perfect form of transportation.  You tell the driver what you want and he tells you how much and you pretend to walk away and he drops his price and you all pile in (yes, all six of us in one) and zooming away you go.  They're a fraternity and since the tuktuks are open air the drivers often talk to each other and ask directions.  There are few things more exhilarating than zooming around in tuktuks.  I found their prices were usually fair because sometimes things are far and they have to navigate around a ton of traffic.  To this guy we said "we need delicious food" and ten minutes later we were stuffing our faces.

Note on the food.  It's all good.  Every single meal we had was the most delicious thing I've ever shoved in my face.  Fancy restaurants have fabulous food.  Street stands have fabulous food.  It's all fabulous food.  Go to Thailand for the food.
By the head of the Reclining Buddha

Golden Buddhas galore.

Ok, next to Wat Pho.  We went to Wat Pho because it's the birthplace of Thai massage, but it more famously houses the biggest Buddha in the world (? Idk if it's the biggest, but it's hella big) called the reclining Buddha.  A Buddha after my own heart.  Napping Buddha.

We signed in to the massage school and right as a downpour started all six of us lay down for our massages.  The best.  Anybody who knows me knows I am a Thai massage believer.  In Thailand they only cost $7.  I probably know where the good one is in your city if you deserve a treat.
Jude fell asleep.  The rest of my crew was entirely converted and thus began our nearly every day Thai massage routine.


No comments: