Monday, February 07, 2005

They Should Have Sent A Poet

When Jodi Foster saw the wondrous world in the movie 'Contact' that's what she said, and that's what I say about today. I lived several lifetimes in this day that is only half done. I decided I would do the Walking tour that begins at the 'Great Palace' and I decided I would escape my little world of troubled travellers and venture out into the real Bangkok.
8:50am Once out on the street, I was faced with the dilemma of how to cross the road to get to the other side.

Suddenly, there appeared a man, dressed very well and ready to assist me. "I'm Sanga Tongsee" he said. Let me be of assistance to you. I immediately thought of my Lonely Planet Book when it described the con artists who dress well and try to get you into a cab to take you away and rob you. He took my map and started explaining that today was Buddha Day and that I couldn't go to the great Palace. Suddenly he was marking up my map and suggesting a whole set of sights for me to see. Then he told me that for 40 baht I could get a tuk-tuk to take me around all day (just over $1). The he told me to be sure to get the government ones because the other ones charged way too much. So then he says: "There's one now." and hails it. Okay, I'm thinking, this is his accomplice and this is the part where he offers to escort me free around Thailand. But he didn't.

9:17am He explained to my driver, Joe, what I wanted and away we flew! We went to sights I saw on postcards but I barely know where we went.

The beauty and majesty of the architecture is beyond explanation. The second stop was 'The Laughing Buddha'.

9:43am It was here that I met a reporter from CNN from Switzerland; Krisama, who told me that this was a very rare opportunity to see this Temple because it is now only open once a week.

He told me of the 7 Buddhas and what they meant. Then he told me I had to go to the Armani headquarters to buy some suits. He said that they had a special that ended today and that he had bought 3 for the price of two. He said normally they would sell for $1500 Euro dollars each and that he got each one for only $300. What was strange was that Sanga had said the same thing and even marked it on my map to visit on my tour today. So our next stop was the Armani shop. It was here that

10:07am I met Kenny who fitted me for my suits. The only problem was that he wanted me to buy three suits, two pairs of pants and 6 shirts with 3 ties for $45000 baht or about $1,600.00 I gave him 3000 baht down payment and left to check it with my sources at home. Looking at it now I can see I was swept up in the moment, even if it was a good deal. I should have remembered some wise words from my friend Nancy; If in doubt, wait. I went to an Internet cafe and sent emails to my mom, my sister, and Judy (since Judy seems to know fashion better than anyone I know). The trouble was, it was midnight in Toronto. Then suddenly my dear friend Kathy pops up online and I talk to her about it. "Do you really need a suit?" she asks. Then my mom pops on and as I talk to them both, I start to realize that I need to settle down and wait. Even if I end up losing the 3000 baht, it is still a good lesson. Bangkok is a place that will romance you and eat you up at the same time. I love it!
So then it was off to 'The Golden Mount'; the highest Temple in Bangkok. You can see the whole city from here. There are steps leading in a circular route all around the temple to the top. When I arrived I had a shiver run down my spine as I remembered this ancient alter. I entered, not from the front, but kept walking around and entered a side entrance. I knew that the way to approach this consciousness was obliquely, not straight on.

12:23 Joe says we need to see 'The Emerald Buddha' and off we race. I should tell you that in the tuk-tuk, we travel at break neck speed, dodging traffic and taking in the smells and chaos all around us. I felt perfectly safe but I probably should have been terrified. I just knew that Joe would get me there alive.

When I arrived at this temple, that chill came over me again. I knew this place so well. As I sit here I write:"I feel the deep calming pulse of all of creation around me. We are just momentary visitors. I see diamonds on the ceiling, sparkling and I hear the Buddha beckon:'listen. Close your eyes. The answer is all around you. It is the same voice I heard when I had my 'Oriental Vision'. It's like an enormous electric hum that commands the space and adjusts us to what it is."

I know this picture so well. I had to add it here. This is the guardian of the door but I don't know if anyone here knows it. It is the guardian that has brought me to this place so many times before. I find myself thinking of the awesome responsibility of trying to convey the mystic wonder of these temples. There's no way I can. I keep thinking: 'They should have sent a poet'.

1pm. Lunch: I tell Joe I want to stop somewhere to eat so we speed off again. As we're weaving down the side streets and squeezing between buses and cars I suddenly see the best picture I never took. There in a public phone booth is a orange robed Monk making a phone call. I though immediately of my sister's Blog name: "Pioneer with a cell phone." It makes me realize I want to call my Blog: 'Monk in a Phone Booth'. Zamm. Off we speed. I really can't see much under the roof of the tuk-tuk. I crouch down as much as possible but the visibility is very limited. But we come to a sudden stop and we're at a restaurant. "You come in too Joe" I say but he pats his stomach and says: 'no, already full.' He hasn't had a drink of water or anything to eat in hours. So I go in and sit looking out over the river.

It's here that I meet Trevor and Diana from Birmingham England. I get them to take my picture and I take theirs, along with the link for this site so their relatives can see them tomorrow.

Trevor gives me some great tips on other places to visit and says they're heading to Cambodia the next day. I decide this is going to be a completely Thai day so I order a Thai beer and grilled mussels in a clay pot with Basil (90b) Total cost of the meal (190b).

1:35 Joe takes me to a wharf for a one hour boat tour. This was the real mistake of the day. Okay, let's take that back. Today was magic. I, as a westerner want to tell you that this was a mistake because they charged me 500b to ride in the boat by myself down a river that showed me mostly slums, for an hour. It was a very sad sight and I was wishing I hadn't gone, but then that voice said to me: "shush...just listen. Be still the monkey that is your mind." And I thought of my experience with Nancy, learning to eat Sushi. It is not about good or bad. Just experience. Do not let yourself judge from your limited paradigms.
2:40 I am back at my hotel and I ask Joe how much for the six hours of driving and waiting for me in the hot sun. I know that he only requires the amount we agreed on; 40 baht, but I just can't do it. I know I'm supposed to, but I can't. He was great. I hand him 200 baht and his eyes bulge out of his head. He tries to give it back but I insist. I had just paid 500 baht for a tourist trap, the least I could do was pay a faithful driver $7 for a days work. It's funny but I actually feel I made a mistake paying Joe so much because I want to use him again but now I've set a very bad precedent. Ah, such is the way of Thailand. The good news is that you can totally screw up, like with the Armani suits and the boat ride and you still only lose a very small amount of money. It's a great country to practice on. I also kept thinking of the axiom Ted kept repeating to me before I left; "He who travels alone may follow his own schedule". While I was speeding around the city from site to site, I kept thinking how happy I was to be here alone. I wanted to fly today and I couldn't go fast enough. I didn't have to worry about rest breaks or washroom breaks or breakdown breaks. I was in the zone and I was here to let Bangkok take me for a ride, as fast and as far down the rabbit hole it wanted.
My pal from first thing this morning, Sanga, said to call at 5pm and we can check out the night life together. If this is my last post, remember I disappeared very happy...


~~ Melissa said...

That certainly was many days in one!

~~ Melissa said...

If Sanga turns out to be a bad apple, at least we've got his mug shot. :)

Steven said...

I told Sanga what I was thinking this morning. He thought it was hilarious.

J.P. said...

should we be sending a search party?
slow down Monkey Boy.

somsoc said...

the saga of Steve's silk suits continues....

Amy said...

Hey Steve! Don't pay more then 40 baht for beer! Where are you staying? Should have called me before you left, buy your suits in Chaig mai! Are you going trecking? If you are in Chaing Mai go to a guest house called Nice Place 2 and ask for Bank, he is a blast and tell him the Canadian drinking team sent you. I am so excited for you!

Anonymous said...


I never asked if you really need a suit... I asked if you really need THREE suits.
And it is so good seeing your smiing face all over this blog. Makes me a little weepy really... well maybe not.
Love ya