Road Trip to Ayutthaya

The past few mornings as I’ve been walking down the street, I notice there are still large puddles of water on the roads and the air is unusually clean.  This leads me to believe that I’ve slept through some rainy nights.


This morning at about six o’clock (hok mong chaaw in Thai) a very loud clap of thunder woke me up.  Looking outside, the skies were ovecast but becoming light.  No sign of lightning, but we were treated to ongoing barritone rumbles of thunder.


The morning remained overcast and damp but not much cooler.  Rainy season must be getting closer if it hasn’t already arrived.


Yestereday we drove up to Ayutthaya to visit my former classmates Ron and Kari.  They’re Baptist missionaries from Texas, assigned to help set up Baptist churches in the central Thailand area.  Considering the country is about 95% Buddhist and 4% Muslim, that doesn’t leave them a lot to work with.  So they have their work cut out for them.


Located about 90 km north of Bangkok, Ayutthaya was the second capital of the Kingdom of Siam, from 1350 to 1767 A.D.  By the late 1600s it was one of the largest cities in Asia with a million inhabitants.  The accounts of European visitors from the time described it as an incredibly beautiful city.  The city today has about 80,000 residents and is mainly a tourist destination.  The central part of the city is an island that contains several historical parks, containing the ruins of the palace buildings.  These are large brick structures, walls and chedis (pagodas) and Buddha statues, many of which are headless after the Burmese ransacked the city in 1767. 


The ruins are interesting, but they are more awe-inspiring when you put them into context: the Grand Palace in Bangkok was modeled directly on the palace in Ayutthaya, so if you mentally superimpose that colorful, glittering architecture over the footprint of the ruins you can get an idea of how incredible they must have been.


We drove up to Ayutthaya with Jack and Eddy, Tawn’s friends.  Jack’s parents own property about 20 km oustide the city which includes a restored northern Thai-style house.  It is truly a beautiful complex, located alongside a khlong (canal) that allows for great breezes in the warm Central Thailand afternoons.


We originally were going to pick up Jack and Eddy at 8:30, but Eddy protested that it was too early so we settled on 9:00.  Then we were delayed by traffic (Jack lives in the Northwest suburbs of Bangkok) and didn’t arrive until about 9:40.  By that point Jack and Eddy were too hungry to travel so we went to a noodle shop in his village (which I’d describe as a housing development with lots of shops).


The noodle shop was funny because it is in a residential neighborhood typical of Bangkok: row upon row of similar-looking houses but in front of one of the them the owner had converted his carpark into a small noodle stand.  The “kitchen” is actually a thatched hut that would seem more appropriate on an island.  Concrete tables and benches are scattered throughout the garden with tall trees keeping them shaded.  Each day from 9:30 – 17:00 they serve up noodles.


  


Above: Eddy, Jack and Tawn.  Kwiaythiaw lek phiseet (“Special” small rice noodles with fishballs, pork patty, and wonton).  Noodle Hut set up in the front yard of a row house.


So it was 11:00 before we finally hit the road.  Fortunately there is a new tollway that leads most of the way to Ayutthaya so we made good time.  First we overshot the city to drop Jack and Eddy off at Jack’s parents’ house.  It is really out in the countryside.  The Thai style house is back in a garden behind the main house.


 


 


Here’s a 55-second video I shot providing a 360-degree view of the main courtyard between the different houses.  The first building is a main living space, glassed in with aircon.  The second building is a sala, or pavillion, that overlooks the river and is open on all sides to catch the breeze.  The third building has been set up as a wet bar and small kitchen, so you can entertain easily.  The final building is a guest bedroom that is actually newer construction but was done in the same style.  It can be open to the outside or closed up and have aircon turned on.




After dropping Jack and Eddy off, we backtracked to Ayutthaya, getting a bit turned around on the roads but eventually finding our way to the highway.  We arrived at Ron and Kari’s place about 1:00.


The afternoon was spent eating at a riverside restaurant on the south side of the island and then driving around to see different areas of the city, visiting the whole while.  The restaurant served really good grilled river prawns – very large! – that were so tasty.  We also had a nice tamarind-flavored hot and sour soup, stir-fried brocolli, and a chicken som tum salad.  The open dining room was above the river and well-shaded so we enjoyed the breeze and several bottles of ice-cold Coca Cola. 



Along the river there were groups of locals – mostly children but not exclusively – who were playing in the river, diving off small docks, and trying to beat the heat.


One of our stops was at a current temple right along the river that features fish feading as a way to make merit.  You buy three little bags of fish pellets for 10 baht (US$ 0.30) and then go to a little pier – there are hundreds if not thousands of fish swimming alongside the pier just waiting to be fed.  Left: Tawn (with umbrella), Kari and Ron feed the fish in the Chao Praya River.


Behind the main building of the temple is an ancient chedi and some very nice opportunities for pictures in the late afternoon sun.


 


 


(Above L-to-R: Buddha statue in front of a 20 metre (65 feet)  chedi, modern temple building glittering in the afternoon sun.)


At the end of the afternoon we stopped at Wat Monkhonbohpit to visit the talat (local market) behind it.  Jack’s mother called to request that Tawn pick up some “three taste mangos” – basically, candied mangos that are bitter, sweet and sour all at once.


The storm clouds to the northeast of us looked threatening and just as we finished up and got into the car the first sprinkles started to hit our windshield.  Just before this, I snapped this impressive picture of some of the old palace ruins backdropped by the dark clouds.


We dropped Ron and Kari back off at their house and then took a shortcut to the highway, winding our way back to Jack’s parents’ house in the rain.


Below: Interesting ruin at Wat Monkhonbohpit where a Buddha image has been overcome by the roots of a huge tree.  The image itself is about 1 meter (3.1 feet) high.



 

I’ve been tinkering with the look and feel of this blog, just to freshen it up a bit.  Don’t think I’m done quite yet.  But then I haven’t a large degree of HTML programming accumen so I think all the really cool things I could do are beyond my imagination.


Today was the last day of class for my second try of Thai Language Module 3.  I’ve completed a total of 80 days of instruction in Thai over the past six months, which suddenly seems like a lot less than four months.  I guess I’m not counting weekends, am I?


Anyhow, I did alright on the final exam but clearly need to speak the language a lot more in order to build strength in vocabulary and grammar.  After a lot of debate (mostly internal dialogue and some complaining to friends) I decided to sign up for Module 4.  If I quit now, I’m only halfway through learning to read and write, a tenuous position at best. 


To celebrate the final day of class, I made spinach hummus with toasted pita slices and brought them to class.  The students and teachers are a voracious bunch and pounced on it along with a super-large sugar cookie (think pizza-sized) covered with slices of fresh tropical fruit that one of my fellow students, Brenda, cooked.  She has an oven.  I envy her.  She’s offered to let me come over and use it.  I just may do that.


The spinach hummus was really good with cumin and garam masala and lots of garlic in it.


 

Buddhist Mob Burns Christian Church in Cambodia

This from the China Morning Post:



2 May (Phnom Penh, Cambodia) Some 300 Buddhist villagers, apparently angered by a rival faith within their community, have razed a partially built Christian church to the ground near the Cambodian capital, an official said Tuesday.


In a rare act of religious intolerance, the mob chanted “Destroy the church!” and “Long live Buddhism!” as it descended upon the unfinished Protestant church Friday in Boeng Krum Leu, 30 kilometers (18 miles) east of Phnom Penh, said Ros Sithoeun, a representative of the area’s Christian community.


Che Saren, the chief of Lvea Em district, said the Buddhists felt threatened by the visible presence of another faith. The church would have been the area’s second, but there is only one Buddhist pagoda to serve the spiritual needs of the overwhelmingly Buddhist community.


“The villagers were angry with the Christians in the village who they felt mocked their Buddhist beliefs,” said Che Saren.


The building was nearing completion when the villagers attacked it with hammers and sticks. The structure _ situated only 700 meters (yards) from the Buddhist pagoda _ was torn down and the rubble torched by the mob.



The Christians have not complained to the police, neither to recoup the lost investment in the now defunct church, nor to demand the arrest of the mob. The two sides came to a peaceful compromise after authorities gave them a lecture on the law of religious freedom, said Che Saren.


Cambodian Buddhists, which make up more than 90 percent of the population, are generally tolerant of other religions and all faiths have been allowed to freely practice in Cambodia, except during the Khmer Rouge era when adherents to all religions were persecuted.


This would be really funny if it weren’t true.  How un-Buddhist is that?


The first thing that sprung to mind was a line from the song “Stop Me If You Think That You’ve Heard That One Before” by The Smiths (from the album “Strangeways, Here We Come”:



“And the pain was enough to make


A shy, bald Buddhist reflect


And plan a mass murder.”


 

Immigrant “Strike”

Watching the United States from the outside is much more fascinating – and disturbing – than living in it.  Especially as the “debate” rages about the “issue” of immigration.  I use quotes because these are words being used in the media to frame the topic.


From an outside perspective, I was shocked to read a small article in the Bangkok Post today talking about the protesters taking to the street for a day of action in cities across the US.  The little bits I pick up here and there – online on NPR or the New York Times, mostly – are filled with hyperbolic statements from both politicians and the media.


What’s even more disturbing is the questions I receive from students from other countries.  They can’t fathom how a nation made up of 99+% immigrants could be facing such strife over the topic.


I’m quite disappointed that among the US politicians, especially the statesmen and women in the Senate, there has been no apparent leadership.  What I’m really waiting for is someone who will give the following speech:


“My fellow Americans.  We are a land of immigrants; our country’s history and past successes and wealth have been achieved through the efforts of immigrants and the sons and daughters of immigrants.  Our future successes and wealth will be similarly tied to immigration.  The question of the costs of immigration cannot be considered without also considering the significant benefits of immigration.


At the same time, there are legitimate concerns around questions of border security, national sovereignty, and legal and lawful entry into this country.  These are serious concerns and they must be addressed.


There is a vast area of common ground that all sides in this discussion can come to agreement upon.  So let us begin a national discussion about immigration, setting aside hyperbole, hatred, and finger-pointing and instead embracing the values inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” 


I tell you, between Bush’s warmongering and threatening Iran, his inability to form a comprehensive energy conservation policy, and his inept leadership on the immigration debate (and he’s from a border state that is chock full of immigrants!), I don’t know how the US keeps from just falling apart.