Well hello there, friends.
Continuing from where we left off in the last post, Day 3 of orientation saw all us travelers going to The Grand Palace in Bangkok. It’s where the kings of Thailand (Thailand is a constitutional monarchy) have lived for about two and a quarter centuries, and I it thoroughly taught me that I had no idea what the word “resplendence” meant.
Quick, eventually relevant sidetrack: There’s a saying in Thailand. “Mai pen rai”. The most accurate translation I can think of for it is “Hakuna Matata.” I have no doubt that anyone who has ever maintained a blog about Thailand has mentioned the phrase as it accurately sums up soooooo many things about the philosophy and behavior of the Thai people (think “Winter is Coming” for the Starks). The Thai, as a whole, are incredibly laid back. They just don’t really let things get to them and treat almost everything as if its no big deal. Cut off in traffic and almost killed? Mai pen rai. Spill beer on expensive electronic equipment? Mai pen rai. Pool closes at 7pm, but foreigners stay till 5 in the morning? Mai pen rai. (Note: I wasn’t the one doing all these things, but they happened. For as horrific as Thai traffic is, I have yet to see a single incident of road rage.) Similar to the concept of Karma, the Thai just accept that the world is the way it is and that things happen and there’s really no reason to get too worked up over things.
The above said, the Thai are not at all laid back in their love for the King. They LOVE their royal family and completely revere their King, and with good reason. Their current King, Rama IX, ninth of his name of House Chakri (so many Game of Thrones jokes, we made), is boss. By all accounts, he is stately, wise, generous, humble, charismatic and a relentless provider for the common man. There are pictures of him all over Thailand, and he strikes me as the sort of educated, almost mythic man’s-man that Russian media paints Vladimir Putin as.
So what kind of house would a man like this have? Hahah….HAHAHA:
The intricacies of this building were endless. I have more pictures, but I don’t want to crash the internet.
The crown jewel of the Grand Palace is a place where no photographs are allowed, and that’s the Temple of the Emerald Buddah. That room blew my mind like an old tire. The wallpaper was a hand-painted, specifically comissioned Italian mosaic depicting the entire history of Thailand and there was, without a doubt, more gold and jewels and wealth in that room than I had seen in my entire life previously.
From what I could gather from our hilarious tour guide (pictured below), the room is essentially the Buddhist equivalent of Mecca. Most of the people there were on their knees before the elevated, jasper-carved statue of the sitting Buddha, and I remember seeing two women walking out with tears in their eyes. The sacredness of the place was palpable, thick like tension in the build up to a street fight, but the complete opposite of foreboding and nausea. Instead, their air was laden with peace and clear-mindedness. I can’t accurately say how long I sat there.
Okay…so after we left the Grand Palace, I came across some street vendors selling some cool artwork. I hadn’t had the chance to haggle yet, and wanted to put my powers of persuasion to use, so I approached one and played hard-to-convince, while he kept lowering the price. After buying the works at a wonderfully discounted rate, I started to walk off to catch up with the group when another vendor stuffed some additional artwork into my bag. I didn’t really understand what was happening, so I kept walking and kind of nod-thanked him. He then started asking me for money.
I spent about two minutes politely arguing with him on the sidewalk, trying to explain that I wasn’t buying anything. Eventually I realized that he was probably taking my actions as more haggling, so I took the stuff out, and began walking away, saying I’d put them on the ground unless he took them. After ten more minutes of him following me and doing his best to close the sale, he relented. By this time, though, I was separated from the group. I was outside the Palace, on a busy street, with no idea where anyone I knew was or where they were going.
To be honest, I kind of panicked in a way that I don’t think I ever have before. I began hurriedly walked towards a market area and a motorcycle cabbie hollared out to me and pointed further into the market, indicating that my foreigner friends were within. Heartened, I went about a quarter mile into the market, up the the edge of the river where people were getting on boats and sailing away.
I saw a bunch of foreigners, but none were from CIEE. I didn’t really know what to do at that point. My heart sank a bit. I figured maybe I’d go back to the Grand Palace and see if I could get a job as a janitor to live out the rest of my life and as I walked away from the market, the cabbie stopped me and looked at me as if to say, “What, you didn’t find them?”
When I indicated that I couldn’t find them, he immediately nodded, gestured “come with me”, then proceeded to scour the market up and down, asking everyone if they had seen a group of foreigners, peering into every food stand, going to the docks and telling the dock workers to stop a boat that was leaving so I could see if my friends were on it. When it was clear that my group hadn’t been through there, I just told him that it was okay, that I would figure it out and that I really appreciated his help. I couldn’t really believe that he’d gone through all of that and felt bad as I knew it meant he wasn’t getting any business while he was aiding me.
As we walked back to his motorcycles, I ran directly into my group. Despite my lag, I’d somehow gotten really far ahead of some of them. Haha. Because the world has a way of taking care of things. “God provides,” “The Wheel Weaves as the Wheel wills,” “Hakuna Matata,” “Mai Pen Rai.” However you want to say it, there’s something genuine and powerful in faith and in trusting that there are mechanisms more complex and greater than oneself that play quite a role in how our lives play out.
Thailand is teaching me that in a new way.
One more part to close out the trilogy and I should have that up tomorrow. Love you all!
What I’m reading: The Once and Future King by T.H. White
Untilted Novel Progress: 8%