Thursday, February 1, 2007

Size is not matter

Greetings from Thailand! I have been tourist-ing like crazy. Let me tell you about Wednesday...

Orapin set me up with two of the grad students from her lab, as well as a grad student from the Dept. of Agriculture here at Kasetsart University to show me the big temples in Bangkok.

The guy on the right is Home. As in, house. Turns out, its fashionable in some Thai families to name their kids English words that mean nice things. Home is a Yoga enthusiast. On the right is Por. She spoke the best English and was my main interpreter. In the middle is Naun, and is the grad student from the Dept. of Ag. She also spoke very little English, though that didn’t stop her from trying, as she had one of those electronic Thai-English dictionaries, and a lot of our communication consisted of typing stuff into it.

First off I have to say that during the 17-hour plane ride over here I must’ve grown about 4 feet taller. I am the tallest man alive. Now I know what Mike Heien must feel like all the time. All the chairs are little and I tower over almost everyone. It’s kind of cool, but I stick out like a sore thumb.

We took a ferry down the river to the temple of the Emerald Buddha and Bangkok palace to start off the day. On the way we pass the bridge which was designed by the current king of Thailand, King Bhumibol, who happens to be an engineer (his daughter, the princess, is a chemist). Did I mention that the Thai people love their king? They do. Seriously. He’s like their George Washington, universally beloved. There are little shrines to him everywhere. Here’s a small one in the hotel lobby.

Anyway his bridge design was very asymmetric, which is pretty cool.

Once we got to the temple of the Emerald Buddha we found out that the King was going to be visiting the Bangkok palace so it was closed to the public. That was okay, because the temple palaces were totally sweet, and covered in all sorts of gold and gems. Also tourists there outnumbered Thai 2:1. Its funny because Thai people dress in long pants, and tourists universally wear khaki shorts and fanny packs. I guess you had to be there. I did my best to blend in with the Thai folks.

There was even a scale miniature sculpture of the temple grounds, perfect size for a full-on 40k tournament.

The also have gold Naga statues around. Nagas are serpents with human heads, the more human heads the more powerful and wise the naga (+450 xp each extra head). Also there are half-human half-deer statues around, representing good luck and a resistance to fire-based and sonic attacks. (Fortunately all that reading of the Monsterous Manual in my youth paid off.)

All over the temple area and city are various Chinese stone statues of animals and people. They came from china on the merchant boats. The merchants would carve statues out of stone to use as ballast and ensure that their boats were the proper weight when they came to Thailand, and then would drop them off when they filled the boats with goods to sail back to China. The Thai people would put these statues in various places as decoration. There are over a thousand of these statues in Bangkok alone. Here’s a couple of pictures of them. See if you can pick out the doofus American.

We then went in to see the Emerald Buddha, which is a jade statue of Buddha that sits on a huge gold altar. They don’t allow cameras in there so I have to use an internet pic. Also you can't point your feet towards the buddha so you kinda have to walk sideways when you go in. The jade Buddha wears special clothes depending on the three seasons in Thailand, and there’s a big ceremony when the king comes to put the special robes on the Buddha. I have to say that I've never seen so much scultped gold in my entire life.

The walls of the temple are all painted in huge murals depicting the epic story of the angel Rama in the Ramakien. When I asked what the Ramakien was here’s how the conversation went:

Cory: What’s this mural depict?
Home: Uh…(thinks)...
(talks to the others in Thai)
Home: Ah, it like…your Lord of Rings?
Cory: Like the Lord of the Rings?
Home: Yes. Except for Thai.
Cory: Awesome.

Overlooking the fact that its possible they may think LotR is a religious story of our American ancestors, the Ramakien is more like the Iliad than Lord of the Rings. Long story short (and it’s a VERY long story); this evil 9-headed, 9-armed deamon Ravana steals the wife of the green angel Pictkin. Pictkin comes down to earth (turning gold instead of green, and his earth body being named Rama) with an army of monkeys to battle the deamon lord’s deamon army. That’s right, he battles deamons with bloodthirsty heavenly monkeys.

I was going to brag about how cool our bible myths are, you know, like how Moses parted the red sea to lead a group of whiners out into the desert for 40 years, but then I realized that doesn't hold a candle to divine monkey summoning attack. I mean, what would you rather summon from heaven? Bread, or Warrior Monkeys? Pshhhtt. That's a no-brainer. So I just commented that the Ramakien reminded me of our ancestors' struggle with Sauron and the Ring of Power.

There are about 47 battles in the mural between the monkeys and deamons, each having a different flavor. Some the monkeys use swords, in some the monkeys bite the heads off the daemons, and in one of my favorites, Rama and Ravana both shoot snake-arrows (of different colors – green for good, brown for bad), Thulsa Doom style, into the monkey-daemon battle. Eventually Rama’s brother joins the battle and they get Rama’s wife, Sita, back from Ravana. Very Illiad/Troy-esque.

We then went to the temple of Wat Pho, or the “Temple of Security and Peace in Your Lifetime.” In Wat Pho they have a gigantic golden reclining Buddha.

Yeah, its that freaking big. I also put the 108 pennies in the 108 bowls of enlightenment giving me a +2 to all my saves for the next week.

Wat Pho was also where the first university in Thailand was located, and it was a university dedicated to the study of massage. There are ancient stone diagrams of people’s bodies with pressure points and such labeled in various shrines on the grounds. The Thai take massage very seriously.

As well as Yoga. There are shrines dedicated to the arts of Yoga all over as well.

All in all it was very cool. Except that now I’m sunburned from being a pasty white half-ogre wandering out in the Thailand sun all day long. Also, as I collected various trinkets from the shrines and had trouble carrying them and my camera, I started to appreciate Micheal Heien's flamboyant european carryall.

Home, Por, and Naun were extremely nice hosts, and really everyone in Thailand, even strangers, have been extremely friendly and helpful, really trying to understand me when we don't speak the same language. Orapin asked me to slow down my speech while I'm here when talking to her students, and I've found the only way I can remember to do that is to pretend I'm William Shatner. Its the locals... and to...practice character favorite... starship captain.

I have a lot more to show on the blog but unfortunately I only get about 20 minutes of internet at a time to upload my posts, so it'll have to wait until next time.