Christmas Eve Eve: Away in a Buddhist Nation

December 24, 2009


I just finished my first Thai street meal. The rice is so long! Japanese rice is very short and sticky – this was like loose, foot-long rice. Try and lose weight off that, Jarred!

Street food is more than common in Thailand – it’s the way of life. In fact, Thais rarely use a greeting like, “How are you?” Instead, they ask, “Have you eaten today?” This is also a country known for smiling and laughing; they have their priorities right.

Thai people are so friendly, in general. I’ve felt this, and I’ve only been here 24 hours! I love this culture of eating outdoors. Thais don’t seem to eat much indoors, including their homes, but instead make eating a wholly social event. The streets are lined with food stalls and plastic tables and chairs. As the bus I took from the airport yesterday rolled into the innermost parts of Bangkok, these food stalls were the first things I noticed. The plastic tables stick out like a sore thumb, but when they are filled with people, laughing and chatting while they eat, it makes perfect sense. This is a cultural custom I could get used to!

In his No Reservations series, the great Anthony Bourdain talks about and eats street food in Bangkok.

Back to today.

Speaking of Japan, I keep speaking Japanese to Thai people… who incidentally don’t speak Japanese and do speak English. If this is any indication of what my first weeks back in America after another 7 months in Japan will be like – I know with certainty that I will look crazy.

The English here is incredible. While not many people are fluent, most every Thai I have spoken with speaks enough English to get by. Every time, I simultaneously celebrate how easy it is to travel here and hear warning bells go off in my head. Their economy is so dependent on foreigners that they have to speak Thai. I read a blog post recently on tourism being the colonialism of the 21st century, and even harking back to my first trip abroad (Jamaica), I’ve felt this to be true. It forces me to question my place as a traveler, as someone curious about the world and the people and cultures in it. How do you travel in such a way as to not be part of the problem but of the solution? Can that happen? It’s something I will think about more as this trip continues.

Back to the streets. I’m in an outdoor food and goods market area just outside the Grand Palace. Having only seen it from the outside, I can go ahead and tell you that it is certainly… grand. The view from it coming up the famous Chao Praya River is astounding. Over the other buildings and trees you see peaks of gold, gleaming in sun. It goes on for blocks; when they say palace they mean palace grounds – where a number of royal, holy buildings stand.

A street stall in Bangkok

I’m off to the Grand Palace. This is my only afternoon in Bangkok, and I want to live it up – with a Bang! 🙂


The Emerald Buddha sits atop a lavish, brilliant display of riches. The decoration is ornate and careful, drawing the eyes up and up – to the small Buddha. Its green body is hidden by a white cloak; this must be a seasonal or religious symbol, but I don’t know what it means. Only its face is open today, and the green – more like teal – contrasts with the gold below and beside it in an enchanting way. I can’t peel my eyes away.

This is Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. This is the most sacred shrine in Thailand. Those who come and pray here look up to a two foot tall green Buddha who sits atop a throne. Only the King is allowed to touch the famous Buddha. As the story goes, when the Buddha was rediscovered, long after its creation, it was thought the Buddha was made of emerald because it is green. It’s not made of Emerald, but the name has stuck. It’s humbling to think in a land full of gold-coated and even solid gold recreations of Buddha, the most revered of all is a simple 2-foot carving made of jade. It’s not about the riches but about the majesty of it all.

It’s so peaceful in here. Even with the noise of tourists flowing in and out of the temple, the ambiance is so strong my mind feels like it’s in a trance. There’s a gentle humming from somewhere – outside or within, I don’t know, but it echoes the gentle waves in my mind. The walls are covered in murals, none of which I literally understand. The universal messages of wisdom and peace through prayer and meditation transcend my cultural and historical ignorance, though, and I have an overwhelming feeling of being part of something much bigger than I am. I’ve never felt an aura of peace so strong. Maybe I’ve never experienced peace through solitude at all.

There’s a roped off area to my right specifically for monks. This temple is part of the Thai monk pilgrimage, and their orange robes are everywhere, reminding me that despite heavy tourism, these buildings and temples are more than sites and photo ops – they’re sacred.

As for the rest of the Grand Palace grounds, it’s … very grand, as I’ve mentioned. It’s beautiful, but it’s so grandiose that its allure eludes me. I’ve been more enchanted by this tiny green buddha in the last five minutes than the Grand Palace grounds in the last 45.

I tell ya – this Green Buddha? It’d be the ultimate heist…


I’m writing from the top of Bangkok. I can see down its streets. I walked its alleys to get here – saw clothes hanging on lines across the river down the middle. I saw fathers fishing and children laughing, and now I see their rooftops and maybe a fried chicken stand somewhere below. I see people and the tips of buildings, but all I hear is the sound of chanting in the temple behind me. They’re praying on top of Bangkok, and I see them too.

-from the Golden Mount


Why ever eat buffalo chicken wings when you can eat Thai food?
-overheard in my head
…i use hashtags in my journaling.


I’m acting more than a little neurotic over a newspaper. I want a copy of The Nation – the best Thai English newspaper ever. Really, right now, I might think it’s simply the best newspaper ever printed. Ever created. It has become a need – I need a copy of today’s Nation.

I discovered this need 10 minutes before this train that’s taking me to Chiang Mai left Bangkok, and every newspaper seller in the station was sold out of it (that’s how good it is). I’ve trolled my train car… twice… looking for a copy (what was my plan there?), and either people are hoarding and hiding them from me (truth) or they don’t have a copy (lies). Nothing in life makes me happy right now. Not until I get a copy of the nation.

All that – or perhaps causing that -, and exhaustion has hit with a vengeance.

~ by C on February 17, 2010.

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