Sunday, April 19, 2015

Thailand Vacation: Coolest Bangkok Markets


   On Day 2 of my trip to Thailand I traveled to 2 incredible markets just outside of Bangkok.


Market #1: Damnoen Saduak Floating Market

   The Floating Market is a representation of what Bangkok used to be - "Venice of the East." As Thailand industrialized, all of the canals were filled up with dirt and covered with roads and skyscrapers.

Getting into our tiny boat

Cruising along to the sound of a very loud boat motor and the sight of beautiful, tropical trees and plants

The whole crew

Quick stop at the Coconut Sugar Farm on our way to the market

Making some coconut sugar
Those of us who aren't allergic to coconut tested it out.
Back on the boat, but hungry - no problem!
It's never a challenge to find someone selling food in Thailand. Never.

video
This is the view floating through the main area of the market. It's packed with boats and lined with shops, where you can purchase whatever you want without leaving your boat! And if you have a pro-Thai-translator with you (like my uncle) you can get the discounted "Thai price."

Shops
And more shops





Market #2: Maeklong Station Train Market

   This market is cool because it's kind of like a series of secret tunnels. There's one entrance to a huge tarped space that just goes and goes and goes. The Thailand heat makes it sweltering in there without a breeze and the odors of meat and fresh fruit and sweat all mingle together. It's quite a sight to see though, especially if you can witness the train run right through the center of the market!

 

There are several different types of pineapple sold in Thailand. This one was our favorite - a little sweet, a little salty.


This is the outer market - hold on, it gets more awesome


Okay, check this out. The left photo is still the outer market. Walk down the train tracks, under the tarps, and you're in the inner market (right photo). You can keep walking along the train tracks or turn into the bulk of the market on either side. The heat is sweltering. There's food everywhere, anything you can think of - produce, meat, fish, clothes, dried fruit, even bras and shoes. Cool part still to come!



Dried fruit for days and SO CHEAP
I wasn't kidding about the bras

This is the cool part. All of these people tear down and re-setup their shops every single time the train comes through the market! All in a day's work, right?



Previous Posts:
FAQs
Wat Pho Temple and the Grand Palace







Saturday, April 11, 2015

An Almond Milk Latte, Half-Caff




   We have the buzz. Legs jitter while eyes rivet. The air chills as the sun drops and the rain sprinkles a bedtime story in vain. 

   It seems to me that life is this capricious boy I'm dating and every time I feel that I've started to figure him out he changes the rules. I'm 24 now, you know. My birthday this year was full of jet lag and thorny feelings, but it was good. I was ready. I feel 24 and I'm going to own it.

   "How do you take something and make it your own?" he asks.

   Lately I've been interested in people's stories. I want to hear them and experience them and write them. A byproduct of traveling across the world I suppose. It leads me to wonder - what is my story? I think through versions I tell and categories of details I fastidiously choose. Suppose it varies by audience; is that okay? If my story is relative, then relatively speaking, which one is actually mine? Or is your own story never actually your own?

   "It has to be," he says. "What really is a story anyway but a character arc, a dance put to music? 'Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo.' There is always another step and so another fork. A Volvo or a discomfort - choose your flavor of angst like ice cream."

   The breeze scrapes tree branches across the glass door and the room breathes. The rain has paused again. You sip and I sip and we sit.

   I've had a difficult time coming home from Thailand. The flights may have only lasted 26 hours, but my mind has been hovering over the Atlantic for weeks.

   "It makes sense," he says confidently, "after all you've experienced. First world problems, right?"

   One of my favorite things about fiction is the perspective shift. I'm free to explore ideas and feelings without being tied to the world. I think travel is similar, except I am still tied to the world, just not my world.

   He stares down into his mug because we're always disappointing each other like this.

   The past week has been a challenge. Deep breaths, big steps, smiles outside and turbulance within, but it's good. The assimilation stings like ice cubes in fists squeezed shut. And I'm here. I'm really here, and so are you, and we're talking again. We're making sense of the missing years and we're knitting together to move together and be whole. 

   I tell him I don't want to keep him, so he has an excuse to tread if I've grown stale, but instead he smiles. The words pour forth and they don't all translate, but they rest on the table and no one shoves them aside.

   It's a sweet union of head and heart. We've reached the denouement now and we're grasping at the lengths of thoughts and heart-speech with yearning to construct the right suture. The ache eases as it pulls taut. I'll rest this mug atop the hot pad I'm creating and brace myself - God-willing just temporarily - against the next inciting event.





Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Thailand Vacation: Wat Pho Temple and The Grand Palace


   It's said that to be Thai is to be Buddhist and from my experience this seems to hold true. I learned that Thailand is 95% Buddhist, 4% Muslim, and less than 0.5% Christian. A large reason for this is that Buddhism is deeply nestled into Thai culture. Thai boys will spend summers serving as monks in the temples in order to bring honor to their family. Thai people ensure their family's comfortable afterlife by following religious rules. Even the king, when crowned, has a special ceremony with the Emerald Buddha where he vows to protect the Buddhist religion. 

   Thai people follow a sort of Buddhism assimilated with earlier Siamese animistic beliefs, making it a very different kind of spirit-oriented Buddhism (see strange video at the bottom of this post). In fact, you'll find these spirit houses everywhere -
   - outside of houses, hotels, temples, markets, public parks. The idea is that if you leave pleasant things like food, water, and flowers then the unwanted spirits have no reason to enter your home or place of business.

   People also leave gifts for the spirits when a wish is granted. One crazy example would be the host of large zebras we saw at a park. Some person had a wish granted and left a zebra as a thank you gift to the spirit here. Other people saw the zebra, thought this wish-granting spirit must like zebras, and left other zebras of their own to garner good-will.




I'm rocking that fancy Thai silk scarf because shoulders must be covered at the temples.
Wat Pho is one of the largest and oldest temples in Bangkok.
 
               People shown here ^ for scale.
So many depictions of the Buddha, all plated with gold and stones. In fact, Wat Pho boasts the largest number of Buddha images in Thailand.


  video
   This is a short video of the monks performing their daily chanting. 
As we entered, we got to choose whether we wanted to stand in the back or kneel in front of the Buddha to observe closer. With no disrespect meant toward practitioners of Buddhism, I found kneeling in front of an inanimate, golden statue to feel . . . disconcerting. And very sad.

 
This is Thailand's largest reclining Buddha image at 46m long and 15m high. It led me to Google "world's largest Buddhas." -- http://www.touropia.com/famous-buddha-statues/




At the palace there is a stricter dress code. Shoulders must be covered with sleeves - a scarf won't do - and legs must be covered down to the ankle.

There's a stone ball in this guy's mouth. People roll it to the side three times for luck.
Due to the spiritual nature of Thai Buddhism, depictions of spirits as well as Buddhas fill the temples and the Grand Palace.
This is a very intricate model of the Cambodian temple Angkor Wat, which used to be under Siamese (Thai) control.
This is the Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha, although the buddha depiction inside is actually made of jade. With each seasonal change throughout the year (summer, rainy season, and winter) the king actually changes the costume of this buddha accordingly.
We weren't allowed to take photos inside, so this was the best I could do.


Conclusion
   If you're as intrigued by this completely different view of life as I am, I've got a short video for you.




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