Tuesday, January 26, 2010

11,727 Miles Traveled

Jan 23, 2010
Bangkok, Thailand
Electrical storm in the morning, clear in the afternoon. Hot. Very humid.

I’m sitting in the Bangkok train station sitting next to a monk reading a newspaper showcasing to effigies of Buddha as I write this. In front of me sits a couple – an old man and a young Thai girl. We had the morning off in order to catch up on our writing, use the internet, and pack. In what I believe is an attempt to further inculcate us with the tenets of communal living, Denny encouraged us to consolidate our suitcases so we could leave half of them behind in Bangkok while we are away in the jungle for the next six days. I have not been alone in a bed in two weeks, I have not been alone since we left, and every inch of personal space is now shared space. This further depletion of privacy is something that I would have found unimaginable a few days ago, but I think I’m okay with it now.
Thailand has been an excellent practice in surrendering. So many times in my life I have been reminded to surrender, take a yoga breath, and bear whatever is bothering me. We walked a half mile to the train station in the pouring rain and stifling heat with all of our suitcases today. The water falling was lukewarm, and I splashed through puddles that were body temperature. Dirty water splashed off buildings and onto my hair and clothes. We were almost hit by a bus. Twice. By the end of the trip, I was dripping with water and sweat. A few people at the train station laughed at the twenty-two soaking Americans. I think I’m okay with that too.
We went to see the golden Buddha today. It is a fifteen foot tall solid gold statue of the Buddha, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the religious icon with the greatest intrinsic value. This is pretty cool alone, but it was surrounded by a gigantic temple complex completed with two museums and a great propaganda play with projected holograms instead of people. “I love the king!” said one hologram. “Yes! When grandpa came here from China he knew that the king would never let him starve to death!” said another. Interestingly, as I wrote this, it was 6:00pm here, and a whistle in the train station blew. Everyone stood up, faced the gigantic portrait of the Thai King, and the national anthem began to play. I couldn’t imagine ever pseudo-worshiping a member of my government. The monks in the station remained seated.
On our walk back to the train station from that Wat, we crossed a narrow part of the river. The rain had filled the river and there was a lot of debris that had been trapped under the footbridge. Oil visibly floated along. This was the same body of water we had seen children bathing in yesterday. The other obvious health problem in Bangkok is the large amount of pollution. Walking along the street, you are often engulfed in a cloud of exhaust that leaves you struggling for oxygen.
But I don’t think this is a problem exclusive to Bangkok by any means. I think that these are problems that come with having a large, highly populated city. As much fun as Bangkok was, I’m excited to be leaving for somewhere more rural now.

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