Sunday, April 29, 2012

Lost in Translucence

Significant time has passed since I last sat down to write due to an increase in projects as well as decision to pursue formal education in the field of real estate development. So, to my readers, I thank you for your patience and hope you will enjoy the set of posts I have been working on over the last few days in preparation of posting. So as to keep your interest, the posts continue in chronological order starting with a 2004 trip to Thailand, the details of which I skipped in my last post relating a time of distraught. I believe it of interest to return to Thailand and hope that my writing can convey the sense of excitement, intrigue, and passion for life as well as disgust and disappointment discovered in our travels.

Thailand commonly spurs a flurry of images in the minds of most, think for a moment on the name yourself, what do you picture? Can you envision the emerald green water that providing the backdrop of Leonardo Di Caprio's movie "The Beach", are you walking through a open air market surrounding by exotic fruits and vegetables, does the water slip through your fingers as you explore untouched reefs abundant with marine life, and can you feel the mixture of dust, heat, and saline on your fingers as you sit in the back of a tuk-tuk on your way to the "Reclining Buddha' with perhaps a few unscheduled stops to be fitted for suits? All of these images are realities in this country that once held the armies and fortunes of Siam.

Thailand was magnificent, everything we expected, and yet so different from what we had hoped to experience. Unprepared for the trip that laid before us, we knew little beyond an intent to fly into Bangkok, visit Chiang Mai and hopefully see an island or two. Still to this day, I must admit, this is very characteristic of my nomadic method of international exploration. Where some men challenge themselves in sporting activities or in competitive shows of male prowess by physically forcing others into submission, I relish in the trials, tribulations, excitement, and knowledge which accompany unplanned discoveries. Their is a unique freedom in the complete disregard for time and its allotment for exploration and adventure. As my lovely wife has often noted, "time and you are acquaintances, you know one another, but you don't really hang out".

Only a few days before our flight we made our way to Powell's Bookstore on W. Burnside Street in Portland, Oregon and perused the travel section for some insight on a nation we knew little of; the books proved to be partially helpful besides for Lonely Planet. I am fairly certain that the authors of this Lonely Planet edition never made it into even one-tenth of the monuments, hotels, and restaurants, but were either lost in translucence induced by psychedelics on Khao San Road or fervently exploring their sexuality in Phuket.

Excitement filled the air as we stepped off the plane, into a taxi and checked into our hotel; our room was beautifully designed, still today an element from that hotel room exists in our life. In our bathroom you will find an antique wooden ladder with alternating white and olive green towels folded in thirds draping off of the worn wooden rungs. Sadly our booking was for one night only and we had to relocate to a sleazy, run down hotel further down the road. The room was akin to any Motel 6 as you cross the border into California from Nevada, extremely seedy and a testament to why what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Similarly, the road it was located reminds me of Vegas; Khao San Road is known for the notorious actions of the traveling youth of Australia, USA and Europe (but mostly Australia) in seek of drugs, sex, and house music. 

Phra Pathom Chedi
We hated Bangkok; it was hot, well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit; every tuk tuk driver seemed intent on securing a new suit for the gentleman or an exquisite evening gown for the lady; and every time we tried to go see the Golden Palace, a seemingly friendly and helpful local would politely inform us that it was closed for a National Holiday or because of road construction, or because the King would be there and foreigners are not allowed on such days; all statements which turned out to be completely false. As such, we did not visit the Grand Palace until our only days before our return. Instead our days in Bangkok were filled with morning coffees at the first international Starbucks I had seen but had fantastic air conditioning and then days in tuk-tuks and taxis to see the lesser known, but equally important sites such as Nakhon Pathom which is one of the earliest Buddhist landmarks in the country.

My recollections of this site is limited at this point to what I can gather from our stockpile of photos. Not being a Buddhist, I clearly did not absorb the importance of the sites and monuments which founded the nation's primary religion. Perhaps it was the heat; half the time I couldn't wait to get indoors and out of the sun. But what I do specifically recall is carvings depicting mythical beasts and figures with such precision and beauty that even the low megapixel photos still inspire awe.

Stone Dog Statue in Nakhon Pathom
In an attempt to seek refuge from the bustling streets of Bangkok riddled with tuk-tuks and people as well as the young white people passed out or overdosed on Khao San Road, we bought airline tickets for an unscheduled stop in Sukhothai which boasts of relics and monuments from past civilizations. Ruins have always brought me a sense of calm and peace. I once read a book called Ruins by a young English scholar who ventured to question what is man's obsession with the remnants of our constructive past and determined that it is a spiritual connection to what we once were, a reminder of what we can create and destroy, and a foretelling of what may yet come with greed, desire and power.

Wat Arun
With my own insatiable need to understand past cultures, the ruins of Sukhothai were like a horse tranquilizer after the chaos of Bangkok. The sheer volume of structures, both standing and fallen seemed startling considering the apparent lack of vegetation to have supported such vast empires; history told its own story of changing times evident in the weathering effects on stone, the existence of foundations without temples, and the location of multiple temple styles situated adjacent to one another as well as occasionally built on the destruction of another. We sifted through the ruins looking for elements that would speak of forlorn times, of military and economic powers seemingly more sophisticated than current nations, and for that single temple which would capture our attention longer than any other. In the heat and sporting significant amounts of sunscreen, we came upon a temple of such beauty that it was hard to step away. To this date, I can distinctly recall the cascading ribbons of stone creating cornices, steps, and a spire; this was a temple predating the Siamese and belonging to the Khmer civilization of Cambodia and is one of the last remaining testaments to that empire's Western reach. Sadly, I have been completely unable to find any photos from our stockpile of this day's adventures, so I highly recommend making a visit yourselves or at the least, doing a google search for Sukhothai images.

At the end of the day, we managed to catch the last mode of public transit back to modern day Sukhothai, a makeshift bus of sorts created by connecting a truck bed to the back of a tractor. Already waiting on the bus was an elderly German man who informed us of how quickly and efficiently he was able to see all of the temples, document their major characteristics of interest such as general size and depiction, and take photographs. It seems that the academic knowledge of the temples outweighed any emotional of spiritual connection that could possibly exist with sauntering through the only remaining structures of a time period and people prior to the technological advances of today's world.

Our evening was spent enjoying a warm beer on a terrace while sampling local cuisine and contemplating the characteristics of fallen empires and pondering the coming day's embarkation to Chiang Mai where we would spend the next full week exploring the city, shopping for antiques, taking cooking courses, and touring temples.

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