Letters From Bangkok: To Home From Abroad
1st October 2018
I’m writing to you while caught in the rain in Bangkok. I checked the forecast and knew it called for rain almost all day but didn’t want to spend a full day shy of getting wet. So, I decided to take a stroll to my favorite Buddhist temple nearby, Wat Bowon Niwet Wihan (just Google it, the entire complex is beautiful). Then, it started raining and I’m stuck here.
I like it here because it feels like an easy escape from the hustle and bustle of downtown Bangkok. It’s only a few minutes from where I’m living. There are tall walls that surround the entire temple so the outside world is kind of blocked off. Matter of fact, the first few days I was here, I walked by several times and didn’t even notice it. Now that I have, I’ll usually walk around the temple each day to get away.
There are bonsai trees all around the complex trimmed to such perfection that Dad would be proud. The greenness of the leaves makes the white temple worship halls feel happy, especially against the gloomy rain clouds of Thailand’s monsoon season.
Birds fly freely between them and peacefully sing. It’s the only time I can hear birds in the entire city. The temples aren’t as old as you would think. Most are not even as old as the United States. Spending so much time in Europe where buildings are twice and three-times older than our country, it’s a bit strange to think these temples aren’t as timeworn.
The complex is the resting place for their late King who died just recently at the end of 2016. A friend of mine was visiting Thailand at the time he died and she said it must’ve been comparable to how Americans reacted when Kennedy was shot. His photo is immortalized all over the city in the most random places; in front of shopping malls, in the center of roundabouts, hanging from shop’s walls – anywhere you can imagine and most places you can’t.
I’ve learned a little bit about Buddhism since being here. The most interesting thing I’ve learned is that it is a part of the religion to do good every day. Not just being a good person, but doing an actual act of good which religious followers believe will make them live longer and happier.
Sometimes, I’ll see a full meal – one that I wouldn’t mind having – sitting on a plate on the ground in the street. Several stray dogs and cats will feed off of it. That is someone’s good merit for the day. No matter how small, it is important they actively do good each day.
I’ve also learned that every Thai male has to spend time as a monk before the age of twenty. I was told that the typical length most boys stay in their orange gown inside the temple is only a few weeks.
They’re expected to stay a monk for a month, but some will only stay a few days. There’s no punishment for this because it is their choice. They do their time to receive good karma and merit. I spoke to a monk who has been at the same temple for forty-seven years.
To become a monk, the boys must shave their head and eyebrows and participate in a series of rituals and ceremonies. I watched a ceremony today and it is much less formal than you’d expect. They also have a set of duties or chores around the temple of which they reside at while being a monk.
There are a lot of stipulations they must live by while being a monk, especially outside of the temple. I’m surprised they always seem so happy because many of the rules would make me depressed. For example, they can’t laugh! They also can’t talk too loudly, eat in excess after noon, dance, sing, or listen to music.
Surprisingly, monks are very social-able if you initiate conversation. Religion is strange anywhere.
As I mentioned, it is rain season in Thailand. Unlike our side of the planet where we have four seasons, here, they only have three; hot, cool, and rainy. Luckily, we’re reaching the end of the season in Bangkok.
It seems every day I’m ducking under a street stall or acting like I’m going to buy something in a market just to wait out the rain. Much like Kansas, the weather can change in the blink of an eye here. One minute it can be sunny and the next it can still be sunny but with torrential rainfall. Then, the streets are filled with puddles for the rest of the day.
The rainy season lasts different lengths depending on where you are in the country, but in Bangkok, rain starts to thin out in October. If I decide to head north after this month to Chiang Mai or Pai, I might have another month of rain waiting for me when I get there. I don’t mind the rain with as slow as I’m traveling this time around. The rain allows more writing time.
I’m meeting a lot of international friends. Many of them are American, but there are a few people from around Europe, too. At times, I get feelings from Malta. It’s pretty bittersweet.
I hope the house isn’t too quiet without any of us kids around anymore. Don’t try to send me a letter, I won’t be here by the time it arrives.