Saturday, June 19, 2010

In Which I Spend One Night in Bangkok

And I'm back in the capital city!

I'm typing fast, since I only have a limited amount of time online and using the internet's WAY more expensive here than in SingBuri. Everything is more expensive here, actually. I'm surprised and pleased at how much I sense the difference between the two places and between the touristy stuff verses the "real" Thailand after only two weeks.

I packed up my stuff this morning (including my laundry bucket) and Paiwan took me to the bus station in Sing Buri. The bus ride back was kind of boring (no Kindle, no Nintendo :( ). I did read through my DK guide to Thailand, noticing how much of what we saw the first week is talked about in there. It made some of the pieces of information J.J. tried to explain to us make a little more sense. As we got closer to the city, I recognized more and more of the scenery we were passing.

Then came the adventuresome part - getting to the hotel all by myself. As soon as I stepped off the bus, I was accosted by men, "Taxi?" "You! You! Taxi? Airport? Taxi?"

Being the wizened traveler I am, I shook off the baiters and dragged my trusty suitcase across the station until I found the more official metered taxi stand. Thanks to my dad's training, I had picked up a copy of the hotel's business card when we stayed here two weeks ago. I presented it to the driver, and we were off!

I checked into my room at the hotel and was just wiping the grime off my face as the phone rang. Phra Barton had arrived with the other volunteer, Oscar. He invited me to come next door to "chat".

I liked Phra Barton instantly. He's a 74-year-old man who worked in a variety of international jobs before settling in Thailand eight years ago to live and teach as a monk. Aside from the shaved head and the orange robes, he would have fit in perfectly with the Quorum of the Seventy.

He seemed to like me, too. When I introduced myself (without touching him - as a woman, I'm not allowed to touch any of the monks), he said, "You're full of life and curiosity and energy, aren't you?" We started chatting immediately. He had read over my resume and told me that he had actually taught sociology at Utah State for five years in the seventies. Which means there's a good chance my grandmother either knows his lineage or her sister Bernice dated him.

Oscar, a sophomore at MIT from California, is a bit of a dud. He is courteous, but hardly says a word and never smiles. Could be jet lag, although he did say, "I don't sleep much, and I don't talk much," when I asked how he was feeling after such a long trip.

Fortunately, Phra Barton is entertainment enough. He offered to try to find me tickets to a traditional Thai dance/theater show for tonight, because of my "artistic interests." He tried very diligently on the hotel's computer and in talking to people at the front desk, but for some reason every show turned out to be closed. Very strange, we both thought.

After those fruitless attempts, we took a cab to Wat Pho, the oldest wat in Bangkok and the one with a giant (GIANT!) reclining Buddha.

Let me tell you, it's awesome having a monk as a tour guide. First of all, he's rather irreverent about the whole thing. He showed us his favorite statue of Buddha, the one with the Naga (7-headed serpent spirit). Leaning in close to us, he told us the story of how Buddha was meditating and the Naga came up from behind to shelter him from the rain. "It's a nice coming together of the spiritual and the earthly, I think," he said. Then, with a wink to me, "Of course, it's also a phallic symbol," and he chuckled and led us on to another part of the wat.

Oh, and here's something funny - I ran into Jenna there! She's in Bangkok for the weekend touring with a friend of hers. Phra Barton laughed at the coincidence and said, "See? It's the Times Square of Bangkok!"

The Thais are, for the most part, terribly respectful of Phra Barton. They wai to him, bow to him, and step out of the way as he passes, leading us two foreigners in tow. Twice, he got stopped by people who wanted to take their picture with him. He agreed cheerfully, joking with them in Thai. As I was waiting to the side for the second group to finish with him, laughing to myself about his celebrity status, the group turned from taking his picture to me, "Photo with you, too, please?"

I pointed to myself. "Me?"

"Yes! Yes!" The three men said, and handed their cameras to one of them while the other two took up positions on either side of me. One of them ran his hand over my arm and said, "So white!" After they took their pictures, I handed my camera to the fellow and said, "One for me?" They laughed. I'll have to share that photo with you soon.

Phra Barton declared it to be dinnertime for us after that (he doesn't eat after noon). He asked one of the wat guards for a restaurant recommendation, and returned to us chuckling. "He recommended my favorite restaurant - the place we're going to eat tomorrow! But it's the best restaurant in Bangkok, so why not?"

We crowded into a tuk-tuk with poor Oscar squished between us (to avoid the touching) and went to the Navy Officer's Club. We sat at at table outside, overlooking the river, and had a delicious dinner of Phra Barton's recommendations (prawn cakes, pad thai, and green curry with chicken) while he drank lemonade and told us about the history of Thailand and stories of his life. The breeze off the river was marvelously cool, and as it started to rain I realized how very, very happy I was.

I'm excited for this next part of the trip. I'm really looking forward to working with and learning from Phra Barton. I'm a bit nervous about teaching English, mostly since I don't know what to expect (I'm guessing I'll be making up my own lesson plans). But that lack of knowledge will be resolved soon, so all's good. In the meantime, we're going to see the Grand Palace tomorrow morning and the Emerald Buddha before going to the wat. Which is apparently in Rajburi province, about 2 hours southwest of Bangkok. Good to know!

1 comment:

  1. is Phra a title, or is it his name?

    if it's a title, let me know if you come across a Phra Jad. He's sure to be awesome.