Sawadee Ka- (♂:Sawadee Kap)-Thai Ronald McD
I’ve just returned from trundling in a van from Bangkok to Korat and back to Bangkok again. Oh my poor butt(from getting tossed about in the van). Oh my poor digestive system(from eating too much).Oh my poor colon(only got to shit every 3 days).
Despite all the aches and digestive distress, I enjoyed the 7-day trip immensely. The weather was rather cool because it’s the monsoon season for countries like Thailand and Myanmar. In fact I was expecting floods but all there was were gusty showers and occasional drizzles.
The farmers prepare the land for the monsoon showers to water the rice paddies after harvesting the rice in June. Farmers and herds of chalk-white cows working the fields are a common sight.
I wish I could stay in Thailand longer. The weather was refreshingly cool, the people were extremely warmhearted and the food was terrific! Singapore’s weather is terribly hot, the people are as ‘warm’ as a witch’s tit and the food … is imported from Thailand.
Alright, I’ll stop complaining and get on with this report.
Day One:Arrival in Bangkok (26 Jun)
The meandering Chao Phraya river shot from the plane window
Bangkok city in the evening, shot from hotel balcony
Bangkok city at night, shot with a lousy camera
Probably the tallest building in Thailand, shot from van window.
Dad and I arrived in the afternoon and after picking up Ajahn Heng, we were driven by his long-time driver, To, to his 3rd(and very rich)wife’s house. Thailand’s economic progress and potential can be seen not just from the beautiful buildings towering all over the city, I could see it from the rows of beautiful housing estates. And our driver is living in one of them.(E-N-V-Y)
(left)Monks are high-tech too:Ajahn Heng and Dad
(right)Three-wives-Driver To and Dad
The current trend in Thailand is for them to wear humungous amulet discs the size of a jam bottle lid called chatukan. Driver To’s 3rd wife is in the business of making them and that explains the house…
After looking at piles of chatukans, we went to Chatuchak market to search for our long-time tour guide, Phoon, who had left Hatyai because of bad business all thanks to the bombings by radical Islamist idiots. We couldn’t find her. Neither did Ajahn Heng but he came back with a bag of rose apples for us. I didn’t know Thai monks can go shopping. Chatuchak market on Monday sells mostly furnishings and it’s not just sofas and tables, one can also find bronze statues, copies of stuff from Versailles, Rome etc. You name it, they make it.
We ended the day with a room service Thai massage. It’s my first time getting a full body massage and oh my god… I never expected that part of the massage is to getting my buttocks squeezed and my legs spread apart so the therapist can knead at the thigh joints, which is reeeaally close to my privates. The best part was when she twisted my spine. As she jerked my torso to the right, I heard …
I couldn’t believe that’s my spine cracking but it felt really good. (´∀`)
Day 2: Leaving for Korat (27 jun)
We left for Korat at 8am Bangkok time. It is a 5 hour journey to Korat (now known as Nakhon Ratchasima), a rural part of northeast Thailand. On the way, there’s lots of temples, attap houses, fields, factories, petrol stations and tiny makeshift stalls selling food, clothes, clay stuff or toys.
Big Buddha, shot from van window
Corn stall, shot from van window. She sells custard apples too.
We took a rest stop at Patchong municipal for some lunch. All monks here are not allowed to eat after noon so Ajahn Heng must be fed before 12pm. My dad has been coming to this restaurant even before he married my mother. He’s a regular customer for more than 30 years and the owner of this restaurant had already passed away. Now the owner’s son is cooking for us. Their minced pork with basil is a must-eat. The meat omelette is crispy and juicy from all the deep frying. Another must-eat.
The Thai-Teochew restaurant in Patchong
As the saying goes: What goes in, must come out.
We have eaten and drank too much and we had to answer the call of nature. All I could see was fields and open road. I was contemplating on an empty bottle until a heavenly vision appeared. I saw a silver temple appear and I heard the monk say in Thai to my dad: ‘Let’s make a stop here.’
The silver temple still under work in progress, shot from van
We tumbled out of the van and rushed to the toilets. Nothing could look more heavenly than the gleaming white surface of a squat toilet. May all sentient beings be happy.
Common toilet facilities in Thailand, a pail of water to flush and a squat
After getting out of the blissful state of catharsis, Ajahn Heng offered to bring me to the silver temple. And off we went while my dad takes a smoke.
And the direction is to the left…
Through the canopy and over the bridge…
Pass the fountain…(stupid finger…)
The main hall of the silver temple with Ajahn Heng
The temple ceiling adorned with golden lotus
A view from the temple entrance
The silver temple WIP, taken from the bridge
The driver and Ajahn Heng told us this temple was commissioned by a Thai superstar who went as far as Hollywood. Now this guy is in his sixties, filthy rich and had experienced informal marital bliss with more than 50 women. Well, not surprising since even our driver married 3 women and Ajahn Heng’s younger stepson is managing the same number of wives too. Why are the women so willing to share a man? My theory is that since a portion of the male population end up as monks, resigned to a life of celibacy, and another portion of them end up as tranvestites, resigned to a life in pursuit of estrogen, breasts and penis removal; there is hardly enough good, macho men to marry.
And our journey to Korat continues for another 2 hours until we finally reached Ajahn Heng’s monastery.
The left building is the main hall and monks’ quarters
The main temple(back), shot from a clearing
The main temple(side) with small empty altars
The main temple’s side entrance facing the lake
The lake with water lilies in the evening
Water lilies in detail. They bloom in the morning and close in the evening
Inside the main temple
Ajahn Heng at work, adding touches to his centipede painting
Carved teak windows overlooking the lake
I check out the back entrance, my dad checks out the front
It rained thrice and we were trapped in the main temple. I decided to take a nap at the back entrance while my dad and Ajahn Heng chat among themselves in Thai. After the rain is finally reduced to a drizzle, we discovered that our footwear is thoroughly soaked. My burmese slippers were cold, wet and slimy because the material is like suede and it’s covered with dead skin and sand. When I slipped them on, my feet enjoyed the most ghastly sensation.
We left the temple with some amulets, some cloths painted with pictures of centipede and dragon and a very large wooden penis. I don’t get the penis thing. My dad reprimanded me not to think of it in a sordid manner but see it as holy. Yeah, I know it symbolizes potent power. The Indians pray to the phallus, the Japanese in Aichi prefecture bring out really big wooden ones in a festival and the Thais, especially those doing business, pray it will bring them profits. My maid told me the origin of this phallic worship comes from the ancient time when the Burmese (Myanmar) were at war with the Siamese (Thailand) and Ayodhaya(Ayutthaya) is centrestage for this political skirmishes. The Burmese king was very pissed when the Siamese king took a Burmese lady for his consort so in a show of insult, the Burmese king stood in front of Ayodhaya and flashed his royal penis at the city. The city prospered and all the citizens attributed the sudden prosperity to the Burmese king’s penis. They made a took a mould cast of his penis(with permission of course) and covered it in gold. The rest is history…
Day 3 : Longtha’s temple(28 jun)
Longtha was an abbot of the monastery(Chok Chai area in Korat) my dad entered into, on a temporary monkhood basis, after I was born. My dad told me that Longtha wanted to carry me when I was a baby but because it’s not allowable for a monk to touch a female, young or old, he would totter around pushing me about in my pram. I remember him instead of putting his hand on my head, he’d take a big, black, dirty-looking scraper and placed it on my head to give his blessings. Crowds see this great monk for healing and teachings. His temple received so much donations that after his death a few years ago, the temple was turned from a single main hall covered with cobwebs to a huge courtyard housing one main temple gilted in gold and mirrors, a large multi-storeyed hall and a refurbished main hall. Plus, a memorial tomb housing Longtha’s belongings and other stuff.
Back when I was only 6, the toilets were all holes to pee in, very dark and vats containing water to flush the excreta. Now, there’s 3 toilets: one for the monks, one for the men and one for women. And all with decent flush systems and taps to wash after one’s business is done. So much has changed.
The refurbished main hall. Monks’ quarters on 2nd floor
The multi-storeyed hall
Longtha’s memorial tomb
Detail from relief on Longtha’s memorial tomb
Front entrance of main temple
Main entrance at side of temple
Back entrance of main temple with lily pond
Detail of relief on main temple(back)-Buddha seated on 3 headed elephant
Whenever my dad comes to visit, there’s always good lunches prepared by On, a stall owner who used to cook porridge for my dad when he’s a monk. The monks don’t have to go out to collect alms during these sort of special occasions. On’s fried chicken puts KFC to shame and his rice noodles are really good. There’s also green curry, fried fish, pork mince with basil etc. And the custard apples, small bananas and dukus make a delightful conclusion to a gut-bursting meal.
Monks have lunch near the altar
A monk with his amulet collection, Pai, On(yellow shirt) and Ajahn Heng
Pai was born with certain congenital defects and abandoned for the temple to care for him. He cannot speak and could only gesticulate and make panting noises. The fingers of his right hand are bunched up together and he could only work with his left hand. My dad told me when he was a monk, he used to help out Pai who, at that time, was a teenager. Now Pai has become a very diligent worker, helping to clean up the temple and even helping out with lunch. I used to be afraid of him as a kid because his twitches and noises scared me. He’s a nice person and always seems so happy. When I see Pai, I sometimes think he’s more fortunate than most of us. The new abbot would smile and ruffle Pai’s hair. My dad would gesticulate with him and they’ll laugh together. It’s funny to see my dad mimicking Pai’s noises and putting Pai’s chatukan(still around his neck) into his shirt pocket, asking Pai to give it to him. I was a little worried he might strangle Pai by accident…
My dad asked for them to bring out old photos of the temple. I was surprised to find the temple not only kept photos of my dad as a monk… but also of my family!
Longtha and Dad
Dad and pup(aka temple food disposal unit). The dogs eat what the monks can’t finish
Disco Dad and Longtha
… to this. Me, dad and Longtha’s successor
Evening in Korat
Schoolchildren going home
We left the temple in the evening and had a steamboat dinner at MK restaurant in the Mall. The sauce is bloody good. I can just drink it. The Mall is the sole shopping mall(duh) in Korat. Shopping was great. Shoes are priced at Bt 199 (SGD10) and they fit perfectly with no tears to my eyes. There’s lots of nice casual fashion which I can’t get in S’pore and even a large selection of Doraemon, Disney and Thomas the Train paraphernalia! There’s Doraemon handbags, backpacks, clocks, water bottles, lunchboxes, calculators, mirrors, CD cases, purses, memo pads, files et cetera.
And I can’t believe Miss Ringo, who toured Japan for a week in May, couldn’t find any Doraemon stuff.(-_-|||)
Day 4: Leaving Korat (29 jun)
Korat cats and South East Asian Games countdown
We checked out of the hotel early in the morning and headed to Chok Chai to pick up Ajahn Heng from Longtha’s temple. We had to head to the mechanic instead to remove a nail from the van’s tyre. While waiting, I ventured to a demolished building to capture Thai grafitti. Really good shit, I tell myself. Better than the bland vandalism I see in S’pore.
The Vitarka Mudra, gesture of Teaching
Freddy from Nightmare on Elm St. ?
And the Thais’ creative flair can also be seen on their buses. I’ve seen Popeye, Digimon tamers and Ah!My Goddess painted on the buses.
We had lunch at On’s stall and he prepared a feast: 2 soups, fried chicken, fried pork, fried sweet sausages, salted egg for the porridge, fruits and dessert.
On’s stall with family and a customer on the furthest left
Camera-shy Pai, shot at the right moment
After bidding farewell to the temple and with Ajahn Heng at the passenger seat, we headed back to Bangkok via a mountainous route. Grapes are grown and wine is made in this area because of the cool climate.
We made a rest stop at a food shop so Ajahn Heng can have his lunch. The shop sells hot rice meals and snacks. It is here that Ajahn Heng introduced me to Monthong Durian Chips. He said ‘A Roi ‘ which means tasty in Thai. A Roi indeed because I finished half a packet.
We continued our journey back to Bangkok and as the van nears the expressway towards the airport, driver To pointed out the Toyota assembly factory. It’s unbelievably huge for me judging by it’s length alone. The factory grounds are probably as big as an industrial park in S’pore. Most Japanese car companies like Toyota have assembly plants in Thailand. They assemble cars for export to the rest of Asia and for domestic use. That explains why on the roads, one can see Toyotas, Hondas, Nissans and Isuzus because its cheap for Thais to buy these vehicles.
Toyota plant-half of it is what I could capture with my camera. The men in orange outside the fence are a good reference to the size of the factory.
We arrived at the airport to pick up dad’s friends. Master Yo, Mr Lwa and his wife. As the van neared the airport, angels first greet us with a wai gesture.
Then King Bhumipol Adulyadej welcomes everyone…
The Bangkok airport with it’s elegant glass control tower
Bangkok traffic police and the notorious traffic congestion
After picking dad’s friends, we went to MBK to meet with Phoon and shop abit before heading for another steamboat dinner. We ended the day with a visit to the Thai massage parlour.
Day 5: A day in Bangkok (30 jun)
We headed to Erawan early in the morning to pray to the famous golden 4-faced Buddha. It is located at the entrance of a luxury goods mall and people throng the shrine to pray for good luck, especially in the lottery.
The shrine, right next to a Burberry shop window
The front of the Buddha
Devotees making offerings to each face of the Buddha including hiring dancers
The dancers dance and sing for blessings (music included)
Rows of stalls selling flowers and offerings
After that, we visited Ajahn Heng’s stepson at his office so Master Yo can have a look at its Fengshui. He treated us to a nice lunch of braised goose and other yummy dishes. When it comes to hospitality, the Thais are really good at it.
For the rest of the day, it’s shopping at the wholesale market(officially bankrupted myself), a good seafood dinner and a nice Thai massage.
Day 5: Heading to somewhere near Korat (01 jul)
A mythical explanation of the lunar eclipse
We set off early in the morning to pick up a business-minded monk at his temple whom we needed to get us to a fortune-telling monk. The temple housed a preserved corpse of a monk. It has been kept there for years. The temple smells a little but it’s the smell of cat piss and dog poo. The temple helpers take care of the animals that live in the temple grounds, feeding the cats and dogs.
Mother cat and her 2 kittens. It’s amazing how genes work. The mother cat’s coloring has split into these 2 kittens. I spent the morning playing with the orange kitten, teasing it with my camera strap. So CUTE vv
The Bullied- still suckling on mother cat
The Bully- stupid enough to take on the big cats and humans
The Siamese. Fierce enough to kill a person. No kidding
After picking up the business-minded monk, we set off on a very bumpy ride to northeast Thailand (the suspension system of the new van was faulty). 5 hours of butt torture and getting tossed about, we arrived to see the fortune-telling monk, having a nice smoke.
The fortune-telling monk: 100% pure, all natural
It’s amazing. Each person has a large alms bowl filled with water and the monk twines a white string around the bowls and between each person’s joined thumbs. He lights four candles over the bowl and starts chanting softly as the melting wax drips into the water. Although the monk’s hands were perfectly still, I could see the water swirling and numbers started to form. He’s not blowing at the water either and even if he is, I’d still be amazed by such a skill to form numbers by swirling water with his breath.
My fortune is on the left. Dad’s fortune is on the right. The monk said the darkened ‘U’ on the extreme right of his fortune meant that his marital life is terrible. Dead on. The monk would then sweep the wax bits back into the water and bath the persons with the freezing water.
As the others are undergoing their share of “blessed torture”, I saw a row of Buddha statues in different poses. In Thailand, each day of the week is represented by a Buddha’s pose. More detailed information such as personality type of each day can be found here.
Monday-Make Peace Not War
Tuesday- Take A Break
Wednesday morning- Giving and Receiving
Thursday-Meditation in progress
Saturday- Under the protection of Naga
We left the monastery and bounced our way back to Bangkok for another gruelling 5 hours. This time I gave Thai massage a miss because I’ve had 10 hours of intense butt massage for the day. What eased the butt pain a little is the beautiful scenery and the space! So much space! The wide expanse of fresh green fields is rejuvenating to one’s spirits. And the sky! It keeps changing its colours. From smoky cobalt to orange gold with rosy tints as the sun begins to sink into the horizon. I tried to capture what I saw but… I think I need to buy a better camera.
Day 7: Last minute shopping and leaving for home (02 jul)
We headed to Chinatown for some last minute shopping. It’s a foodstuff paradise! There’s hundreds of vendors selling dried goods, fruits, meats, seafood, cooked food, snacks, confectionery, household wares, semi-precious stones, beads… and for those with more baht to burn, there are several goldsmith shops displaying thick chains of god-knows-how-many carats gold. I saw colourful ang ku kuehs, the transluscent skins bursting with bean filling, sacks of dried fish maw, braised ducks soaking in huge bubbling tubs of soysauce, soft blocks of brown steamed cakes sweetened by palm sugar, heaps of cream-yellow gingko nuts, fat rolls of sea cucumber submerged in ice water, basins of preserved vegetables and salads; the smells and sights could make one salivate. My dad and his friends were shopping like a bunch of housewives. Ajahn Heng and I were standing by the lotus root stall when he asked whether I’d like some after the vendor put a freshly roasted chestnut onto my palm *OUCH*. I shook my head to refuse. I forgot that Thais are very generous people. Ajahn Heng bought 5 boxes for everyone. When we’re back home, it took my maid, my dad, my bro and me to finish one box of chestnuts in 3 days.
A fengshui collector’s dream
A belt buckle depicting a rat sitting atop a tiger
One of the crowded lanes
Sausages, pigs’ trotters, hearts and other piggy parts
Buying a few bunches of plain glutinous rice dumplings home
In Thailand, I noticed that many Thais wear yellow polo shirts. Phoon told us its a marketing gimmick by some T-shirt manufacturers. To wear yellow is to wish the King well. The yellow polo tee started when His Highness was hospitalised for a urinary problem and the people wore yellow to wish for his speedy recovery. Some entrepreneur came up with a yellow polo tee and now virtually most of the Thais are wearing it. I often mistook a customer for a shop assistant because everyone’s wearing the same polo tee! Not just street hawkers and massage therapists, even professionals working in banks and government offices are wearing the ubiquitous yellow polo tee. And they can dress in this manner any day of the week!
Yellow is everywhere
Aah…I wish I could stay longer. There’s so many surprises to be found in Thailand. Like for instance, I saw a video shop flanked by 2 Ultraman statues. Drama, anime and manga are already in Thailand, all dubbed and subtitled.
Thai Ultraman guarding the left side of the shop
And so much shopping to do! The architecture, both modern and traditional, are absolutely awesome. There’s Centralworld mall which I didn’t have the time to go. Oooh!!! Just looking at the huge 7-storey building is enough to make me lick at the van window!
1/4 of the mall, shot from moving van
Third 1/4 of the mall, shot from moving van
Thailand is amazing. What I’ll miss most is not the spending spree although I’m ready to return home penniless from contributing to the Thai retail industry, I’ll miss the delicious food and the friendliness of the people. They have the most beautiful smiles, the sort that warms your heart and makes one forget all the sadness that had happened in one’s life. The Thais are very generous and courteous people. I’ve never seen anyone frown, not even once (only driver To when he’s managing his 3 wives). They smile so easily because they know it’s free while in S’pore, people here seem to have trouble smiling, the edges of their lips go downwards instead of upwards. Everyone bows slightly and place their palms together in a graceful wai and thank us for buying stuff or eating at their restaurant or getting a Thai massage. It didn’t matter even if it’s only 20 baht tip (SGD $1), they’ll thank you so profusely as if you had given them a blank cheque! And they know that 20 baht can only buy themselves a bowl of rice noodles at some roadside stall. Yet they don’t frown at our ‘cheapo-ness’. Truly, we have a lot to learn from the Thais.
And thanks to the fortune-telling monk… I’m going to Thailand again in January! (≧ヮ≦)