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Jan 10 – Monk’ing Around

We’ve been in Bangkok for 4 days and feel that we’ve seen the major attractions here, or at least what we wanted to see.

Some of the main sites are the 3 main temples:  Wat Phra Kaew and  the Grand Palace, home to the Emerald Buddha; Wat Pho, where the Reclining Buddha is found.  Wat Pho also boasts the highest concentration of stinky feet thus far, coupled with acute B.O. caused by both profuse sweating and plain poor personal hygiene. Wat Arun is the third major temple.  It is the former home of the Emerald Buddha and boasts a high Khmer style tower.

Monks and hundreds of tourists alike surround every inch of these temples, so Diesel and I decided to leave earlier yesterday to get a peek of Wat Saket and the Golden Mount, from where you can get a good glimpse of the whole city of Bangkok.  We visited the temple and walked around the surrounding complex before we started the climb up to the Golden Mount (it’s actually a rather small, artificially created mount).  The weather was cool and the mood was serene.  Aside from a couple dozen Thais (mostly women) carrying provisions for a ceremony that would probably take place on top of the mount, we managed to avoid the herds of tourists that morning.  Up at the top, another image of Buddha and more worshippers.  Outside the enclosed space, we started taking pictures of the main attraction, a golden stupa (spiral tower).  We noticed the worshippers setting up for some sort of ceremony, bringing offerings: a colorful mix of type of food, something that resembled Lucky Charms, as well as tangerines, rice, flowers, milk, and oddly enough, cooking oil.  These people actually went through the trouble of carrying all the stuff up and carefully placing each item at the makeshift altar.  Then came out a monk wearing a yellow Chinese-like robe. We were later told that this was a Taiwanese monk, who like other foreign monks wears yellow attire.  Thai monk like the one that came out later in the ceremony, wear orange robes.

As we observed the activities leading up to the ceremony, the lady that seemed to be leading the other worshippers started talking to us.  Diesel and I looked at each other:  Was she talking to US?  It seemed as though that was the case, as she was trying to speak English and we were, in fact, the only foreigners there.  A few minutes later we were on our knees with the rest of the worshippers, having been sat at the first row, nonetheless.  One of the people there quickly took his place as the unofficial translator and sat next to Diesel.  I couldn’t hear much and when Diesel finally decided to relay some of the info to me, it started with  a “he said” and uselessly concluded with “nevermind, I don’t actually know what he said.”  What was lost in translation, however, we experienced through the hour-long ceremony.  The Taiwanese monk lead the worshippers in prayer, chant and a short sermon; all of which were translated by a succession of three self-appointed translators, who took each other places next to Diesel during the event.  The accounts were at times hard to hear, at times incomprehensible, at times nonsensical, and overall inconsistent, but from what we could gather, the ceremony was a celebration of either the Taiwanese monk’s birthday or his anniversary as a monk.    But none of that mattered.  Sitting at the top of the mount, with the sun breeze on our faces, the soft ringing of the ceremonial bells, below the reflection of the golden stupa, we closed our eyes and in our kneeling position discomfort tried to repeat the chants and prayers that these devout people were kind enough to share with us.

The second part of the ceremony invited all to participate.  From playing the drums, conch (which many men, including Diesel, tried unsuccessfully to play) and cymbal,  to carrying a long orange banner over our heads, as we followed the two presiding monks and the entourage that carried the artifacts.  Diesel was chosen as the lantern bearer and walked around the stupa right behind the monks.  After a couple of turns around the stupa, the procession came to a stop.  Metal bowls with perfume were passed down and the participants used a spoon to drop perfume on the banner.  As perfume reached the last inch of the banner, the long scroll was passed down in the direction of the monks, who, with the help of their entourage (all males), started wrapping it around the stupa.  Next, smaller red banners were passed around and hung on the posts surrounding the stupa.  Diesel was up there with the monks and their few chosen helpers.  Somehow, I was proud of him, even though he had done nothing to deserve this prominence other than being white and male.

After all the banners were waving in the air, we once again knelt in front of the stupa and the final prayer and chanting took place.  It was beautiful.  It was brilliant.  It was one of these one-in-a-lifetime experiences that we hope we have more over the course of this year…

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2 Responses

  1. Wow. Um, congratulations? I’m not really sure what to say, but that sounded amazing. Glad you got to experience it and Tim is using his pale face to his advantage. Maybe he can use his minority status to get into a decent school and further his education…

  2. I will have to check into their affirmative action laws here. I could use some serious help on my Thai.

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