Tuesday, March 1, 2011
BrLtBgCty III-Places and People
Here I am getting very holy with a Buddha who is the "teaching" Buddha. Very appropriate. And stop laughing at the way I am holding my hands! I know it looks dorky. I can't help that I am white! It is a disability I was born with. Speaking of teaching and disabilities, here is a remarkable piece of research I somehow missed which explains so much about the state of education today. It made me feel badly for putting down all those colleagues over the years...
Hey- if students get them why not us?
When we went back to the Prone Buddha things had calmed down somewhat. We took off our shoes and went in. Super cool. And the look on his face was just the right beatific calm for the pose. The giant bottoms of his feet had intricate inlays and you could walk around the back side and see that too. Not often one gets to contemplate the butt of Buddha, or Jesus for that matter. Not really sure about Mohammad... On that side there was a long series of pots and you could exchange our large bills forvery small fractional bht pieces and drop one in each to make merit and say prayers for everyone you knew.
I am pretty sure whatever merit we made we lost when we were imitating the stock Thai pose next to the Buddha's face...Honestly, every time you point a camera at a student in Isan this is the pose they strike. Well, maybe not so idiotic.
Outside the temple there were endless street vendors plying everything from the very popular small icons they sell for necklaces to random second hand goods. Thais are very intense in their scavenging through these cluttered piles, and supposedly some are very collectible and valuable. I wish I knew what the desirable features were. Sigh.
I found this mother and daughter, and the daughter's attempt to give rest and protection, very moving, especially in light of the truly paltry "goods" they were trying to sell. I couldn't help but think back to the Mall and all its indulgence, to all my spoiled students back home, to the college students I saw moving truckloads into their dorm rooms at UMass Amherst this past fall including their widescreen tvs, Macbook Pros, and x-boxes- and of course of my own frivolous spending through the years...
Along the river there were these snaking narrow walk ways that were surrounded by small restaurants. We had a great meal in the green one behind the boys there which opened out over the water. 3 bucks for an excellent lunch.
We visited two museums in the city. The first one was recommended by Gen's stepmother, who came to Nakhom and took all the volunteers out to dinner. It was a perfect fit for my tastes. Small and private, it was the former residence of a Thai princess and her husband, and the collection was personal and perfect for a few hours. There was an important collection of pottery from Isan which a young Hravard Graduate student stumbled on in the 50s which with subsequent digging changed the entire understanding of the area and its inhabitants, pushing it much farther back than previously thought. It also housed this exquisite royal barge and attendant longboat, both restored by the museum.
Beside the main house were five traditional Thai houses, wooden and up on posts. In one was this ornate meditation house with detailed stories told in gold inlay.
Instead Lek took us back and helped us find our way to a water taxi stop and we headed back to look for Ben's Canal boat.
That was when we came across a large Red Shirt Rally. You may recall last year when Thailand was considered newsworthy because enough social unrest had resulted in a large enough pile of bodies. The political picture here is quite complicated. The former prime minister, Thaksin, is living in exile and wanted on charges. He was a billionaire cell phone company owner and gave out lots of government money, especially in poor farming areas like Isaan. He did many other things such as shooting drug offenders and strong arming opposing groups. I would not pretend to know the full story but anyway, the Red Shirts are the politically left group and the Yellow Shirts are the conservative faction. It all came to bloodshed last year and though it calmed down thanks in part to the King, there is still much tension and unfinished business between the two. We were a bit nervous when we saw the hoards of them gathering. Though they were eager for us to join them we politely refrained. In the end when we walked through the demonstration's center, it all seemed jovial and focused on the usual Thai aspects of food and friendship. It made the news that night, but only for the numbers and not for any incidents. Lek wasn't the only person we met who was cautionary about Thailand's future. I suppose it is just a more raw version of the same troubles my own country is facing, albeit with certain conditions and habits which diverge, such as the Buddhist roots and the existence of the king. I can't fathom the culture wars now raging in the US and the intense concentration of wealth in such a small percentage of American families. There are unresolved issues here just as there are in America: what do we owe the poor? What is an acceptable standard of living? What environmental degradation are we willing to endure to promote a rising standard of living?