For those who’ve not yet read the long text entry I wrote a few days (which appears further down on the blog), I’ve just (on Saturday the 15th) returned from a week in Bangkok, which was mostly for a seminar with MSF, but I tacked a weekend and another free day to see the city. On my last day, after the class, I was able (thanks to Tony’s car and driver — yay, Tony!) to tour a bit of the city with the teacher from our class, a very interesting French woman of Tunisian ancestry who’s worked with MSF for a while now, currently on this project and previously on Tsunami relief in eastern Sri Lanka among other things. To get a view of an older Bangkok, we rented a small motorboat for an hour’s tour through some of the smaller canals that have not (yet?) been paved over. This shot shows the skyline from the main river, which is a very busy shipping and commercial channel.
This man was clearly at work on his boat — I’m not sure what his work is, but it’s tied to the river. Please note that he’s in the middle of a metropolis of 8 million people that’s really quite modern and very polluted…but as you’ll see in some of the next shots, the Bangkok of canals and rivers still seems to run at a slightly different pace than the one of the streets and shopping centers.
It seems every (Buddhist, at least) home in Thailand has a spirit house just outside. These are to attract good spirits, and keep the unfriendly ones at bay. Of course the stilt houses in the canals are no exception — it’s the mini-temple looking thing in the upper right side of the shot.
I liked the details on this little boathouse; you can also see the spray from our boat’s wake in the photo, telling you a bit about why the photos’s
Along the canals you see grand and glorious houses, small shacks, and everything in between. They all have in common the laundry hung out to dry. None of that anglo-saxon discomfort with laundry here, nor the waste of energy when the sun dries the clothes much more ecologically!
In the water, you will see many things that are NOT pollution. This was a festival — religious, and Chinese focused, I think. The boats with white-clad people in them were all taking off from a nearby temple — not the Church in the background here, but another Buddhist temple slightly upriver. It appeared they were throwing things in the water, and then many young men in small boats were swimming over to retrieve whatever was being thrown in. I believe this was tied to the same festival that brought the dragon dancers out to the river, which you’ll see in the next shot. To my knowledge, dragon dancing is very much a Chinese thing, and not indigenously Thai. Thailand, of course, has a very substantial and influential community that is ethnically Chinese with very long roots in the Kindom of Thailand.
More about this stunning waterfront complex in the next few shots.
In the heart of Bangkok, and also at the heart of Thai Buddhism, is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha/Grand Palace complex. Thai people are largely recognized as very warm and welcoming, and usually playful and fun-loving, people. There are two things they take very seriously and do not joke about: the King, and their religion. The emerald Buddha is a rather small but beautiful statue of unknown antiquity, which resides high up in the main temple here. He resides high up in the temple to emphasize his importance in the religious life of the nation. The king himself changes his seasonal attire: there are different robes for the rainy season, the summer and the winter. In later shots at Ayuthaya, you’ll see that robing statues of the Buddha is a common practice in Thailand, one that I found really quite appealing and — sorry if I offend — almost cute.
If you look at the top left here, you’ll see little wind-chime bells hanging from the roof. They create a steady and constant music as you walk the grounds. They no doubt have a spiritual significance (scare away bad spirits?), but they’re also aurally enjoyable. On the bottom left you’ll see some lions guarding the entrance; a few shots later you’ll see the main temple guardian, a big scary monster kind of guy.
Strange as it sounds, the Jim Thompson house is a main tourist site within Bangkok. An American stationed in Bangkok during WWII, he stayed after the war and became well known for virtually saving the Thai silk industry, by introducing it to fashion houses in the West. He also collected many lovely works of art, and toured the provinces buying threatened old traditional Thai homes, deconstructing them and then rebuilding them on his grounds in Bangkok. After his death, the grounds have become a great place to learn more about traditional all-wood Thai architecture, and see beautiful art and
Notice the very steep and deep overhanging roof here — no doubt a very useful architectural detail during the monsoon rains, some of which I experienced while in Bangkok. Reminded me of the rainiest days in Nanning.
Sunday, my second day in Bangkok, my friend Tony had booked a wonderful full-day tour for us to Ayuthaya. (Thanks again, Tony, for everything — if you’re reading this!) Ayuthaya was the capital from 1350 to 1767 or something like that — so at least by Chinese standards, it’s not so much ancient as old. But it’s definitely very impressive and beautiful, and one learns a great deal about Thailand by reading this. (The city was attacked and sacked by the Burmese, for example.) The Emerald Buddha Temple/Grand Palace complex you saw earlier is modeled after one of the temple/palace complexes here in Ayuthaya, since Ayuthaya represented a political and cultural high point in Thai history.
This statue is inside one of the stupas (I think that’s what it’s called…not really sure whether the different architectural styles have different names) shown in the various shots — up the steps you’ll see shortly.