Thursday, January 22, 2009

They May Be Worth a Thousand Words But...

I love taking photos of Bangkok to show people I love what I see that keeps me in this city, but putting them on this blog is a neverending pain in the very lower back. Once I've managed to get a few of them here, I feel so frustrated and annoyed that the writing portion of the blog gets short shrift.

So I've found another spot to post photos and that is where they will be from now on--on the photo portion of MSN's former hotmail. This blog will revert to words only once more, and if there's anybody who wants a link to the photos I will be happy to add them to my list of people I notify when new pictures go up--just send me an email.

There are some pictures that never make it on to my camera. I was spellbound by the white-garbed nuns whom I saw gliding silently through the trees at Ajahn Chah's forest temple, Wat Nong Pa Phong. If I ever make a movie, I would film the memory that I have of them.

That is a spot that had no human sound and would be otherworldly except for the crows of some very vociferous roosters bringing it back to the dailiness of ordinary life. The buildings are simple, and unintrusive except for the stupa that holds Ajahn Chah's ashes, which is gigantic and elaborate and golden--and some distance away from the temple. I think if he sees it now, it makes him shake his head and laugh. He was a man with no pretensions, who had all of his teeth extracted when the pain from them began to intrude into his meditation. When people seemed to hold him in undue reverence, he would remove his dentures. A giant golden stupa is the last place in the world where his spirit would linger.

I like to think that his spirit might have been around at another point when I had no camera. It was in Paxse, in the old French villa-turned-hotel that I stayed in. I looked in the kitchen as I was leaving after breakfast and the resident dog was trotting proudly toward the door with a large slab of butter clutched between her jaws. When I laughed, one of the hotel staff rushed over, rescued the butter, and put it back on the table. The dog looked at me as though I was first cousin to Benedict Arnold, and I ate my morning baguette with jam but no butter for the rest of my time at the Hotel SalaChampa.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

My Favorite New Year--On Its Way

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I love Chinese New Year and the neighborhoods that celebrate it--which in Bangkok is everywhere--but especially in the old section around Yaowarat, which is Chinatown.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Winter in a New Year

I know that this post will receive scant sympathy from my family in the interior of Alaska where it's hovering around -50F or in the Northwest where it's either fiercely snowing or disastrously flooding, but I am cold--in Bangkok, in the tropics, mere inches away from the equator. And in other parts of the Kingdom, people are dying of hypothermia.
This is the coldest winter that Thailand has seen in ten years. I've lived in places that have taught me the difference between being chilled and being truly cold, and my mind tells me that I'm only chilly but my body frequently responds to that with goosebumps. When I go to bed at night, I'm clad in a nightgown, two cotton tshirts, and socks, swaddled tightly in a sheet and a blanket, and I still wake up to moments of feeling uncomfortable. I think of people in this country who live in the mountains, in houses that are built for heat, and I shudder. I remember the woman I saw in the market at Ubon Ratchathanee who was knitting sweaters at her clothing stall and I wish I had bought one.

We'll all be sweltering in this country soon enough and I know in April I'll be waking in the night, in heat that is so profound that I'll get up to take a cold shower and going back to bed without toweling away the dampness. But somehow that is a friendly, cheerful sensation while being cold feels lonely and very sad.

To warm myself, I think about my recent trip to Laos, where I fell completely in love with Paxse and Champasak--a part of the world that is uninhabited enough to remind me of Alaska but a warm version of the frozen North...come and see...