Monday, January 24, 2011

Giving Thanks

On Saturday, Nan and I paid our respects to Kwan Yin (or Guan Yin), the Buddha of Compassion, at two different temples and gave thanks to her for my safe return.  First we had a vegetarian lunch in Chinatown in keeping with our vow to eat vegetarian once a week, no easy feat for a dedicated omnivore like myself (but the stir frys were tasty). Then we walked down Yaowarat to the Thian Fa Foundation shrine with its 900-year-old image of the female Bodhisattva carved in teak and covered in gold where a group of women in white were chanting while devotees like ourselves lit candles and incense.  The Foundation was established in 1902 by Chinese immigrants to Thailand to provide free medical care to the poor.

From Chinatown we took a bus to Wat Yannawa to pray before the 16.5-ton statue of Kwan Yin made of white jade and flanked by two other figures covered in gold leaf.  First we went inside the temple hall with its numerous shrines and museum of Buddha relics to sit at the feer of a monk who chanted and sprinkled us liberally with water (tapping our heads and shoulders with his whisk).  The water we were holding in small jugs was thus blessed and we poured it into cups and donated it to a bush outside the door.  Before leaving, we said prayers to an enormous statue of Thai's favorite Hindu god, Ganesha, and sat at the feet of three carved wooden statues of Kwan Yin at the other end of the hall.  For the first time I noticed they were all covered in strings of pearls which seem to be the goddess's favorite accessory. 

Afterward, we walked past Wat Yannawa's most famous asset, a giant Chinese junk made out of cement to honor the role of seamen on the Chao Phraya River which flows past the back of the temple.  To cap the day's mission of tamboon, honoring the goddess and making merit, we bought a loaf of bread and some pellets of food to feed the fish which shelter in the protected embrace of the temple pier out of reach of hungry residents and commercial fishermen.  Thai Children and camera-toting tourists slug handfuls of bread and spoonfuls of pellets into the water which churned with hundreds of them, some veritable sea monsters in size (and most of the catfish breed).  One family dumped a small fish off the pier into the river, a most auspicious way of gaining merit by giving back to Mae Nam, Mother of Waters. 

Homecoming was wonderful and it was disorienting.  My last days in Santa Cruz were very intense.  After the long flight home, my feet swelled up and a fog descended over my brain.  Staying in bed was a temptation, so long as Nan was near.  The familiar was strange and the strange was familiar, a desirable goal of Dadaists but unsettling to me nonetheless.  Oh, but I loved the heat!  California's last legacy for was a cold that chilled me to the bone but one natives pretended to ignore.  We set about resuming our routine (although waking at 4 am was not a part of it).  On that first Monday we went to Shabushi, a Japanese buffet at Central Pinklao Mall that features raw food on a circulating trolley that we cook in hot pots at our table (DIY cuisine is a specialty that Thai western restaurants ignore).    We shopped at Tesco Lotus to replenish the depleted refrigerator (Nan ate mostly street food while I was one).  Failing to find ink for my aging Lexmark printer (it was always a step-child), I bought a new Canon to replace it.

My first class at Wangnoi was postponed until Friday because Wednesday was Wan Phra (Monk's Day, the Buddhist sabbath), so I took the opportunity to visit my friend Jerry in Sukhumvit, riding the bus and Skytrain for the first time in three months.  On the way to Jerry's apartment, I stopped at Kinokuniya, the city's largest bookstore in Siam Paragon, and discovered no interesting new books were published in my absence.  It was a beautiful day, and walking down Jerry's soi I saw this new hotel with its uncharacteristically bright colors (though red is the traditional color of Ganesha whose shrine graces the hotel's corner to procure good luck for the owner and guests).  Jerry and I had lots of catching up to do, from family matters to political affairs, as well as sundry computer problems for which I am a consultant (his web browser icon had disappeared causing consternation; resurrected it).  We had an interesting discussion about expats and tolerance that aroused my curiosity.  He related a story about a world traveler he had met that was quite intolerant about the people and places he'd visited.  I thought tolerance came with the territory, when in Rome, etc.  Then I recalled the numerous posts to the Thaivisa internet board which whined with complaints about the Thai way of doing things, from business to love.  It seems as if a majority of expats that post and write letters to the English papers are highly intolerant of the red shirts and their demand for democracy and a stake in running the country.  These farang seem to prefer the elitist Thailand run by the military and the royalists, a situation that cannot last as the red shirts and their conservative yellow shirts (and the new Thai Patriots Network) take to the streets (20-40,000 red shirts gathered in Bangkok yesterday and said they will be back monthly from now until things change).

On Friday I took the 7:30 free bus to Wangnoi and after a delicious breakfast of congee with the other teachers and staff I was greeted like a prodigal son in the Faculty of Humanities office.  The new facilities are very nice and I even have a desk in the faculty office.  Dr. Aphivan had covered for me in my absence and I even got paid 12,000 baht for my time away (she taught double classes).  I will now teach about 30 students every Wednesday morning and afternoon, but for less than the six hours expected because of lunch and the early bus back to Bangkok.  I'll write about my students later, but only want to say now how wonderful it is to be back in the saddle.  Besides Thailand, my students come from Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Vietnam and China, and there is one laywoman among the monks, all of whom are in their 20's.  The room is big, the white board clean (and cleanable unlike the one at Wat Srisudaram), and cooled by air conditioning.

We ended my first week home by taking Nan's friend Aui ("we") to Baiyoke Tower to celebrate her birthday the day before, Nan's birthday earlier this month on the 12th, and my return to Thailand.  The buffet is on the 77th floor of Bangkok's tallest building, considerably higher than any contender, and the lights of the city twinkled below through the haze of the winter season here.  The wide selection of cuisines gave us much to choose from and various entertainers, from clowns to a magician and a troop of drummers playing on kitchen pots and pans, kept the diners amused.  We'd been there before in October to mark my departure and this visit was definitely a happier occasion.


Janet Brown said...

Much to talk about--on my way...

Ian H said...

Try this website for vegetarian restaurants in Bangkok:

Sam Deedes said...

Maybe no new books published while you were away but here are some recent gems worth pursuing:

Legitimacy Crisis in Thailand edited by Marc Askew

Truth on Trial in Thailand (Paperback out in June) by David Streckfuss

The Ambiguous Allure of the West ed Rachel Harrison and Peter Jackson

Saying the Unsayable (Monarchy and Democracy in Thailand) ed Søren Ivarsson and Lotte Isager