Angkor Wat

Very early last Thursday morning we flew to Siem Reip, Cambodia, because we needed to be out of country in order to re-start our 30-day limit without buying a visa.  We were happy to do this as it gave us an opportunity to visit Angkor Wat, one of the major tourist destinations in the world.   It was very interesting and we wandered around there for nearly four hours despite the hot sun.   I’ll leave it to you to look up the history for this place as it is a lot to write here.  After this most famous temple, we also visited Ta Prohm, the temple where Tomb Raider was partially filmed.  Then on to Bayon and on to see the sunset (which we didn’t actually do) at another temple high on a hill.  I forget the name of that one.  I didn’t make it all the way to the top of the hill and turned back although Chuck, as always, charged on.  When he came down he told me I was actually almost there when I turned back.  I was just SO hot that climbing was not at all fun.  He took some nice photos there, but unfortunately, my card reader for my old camera which he was using will no longer work and we couldn’t find one here.  But there are plenty of pictures from my camera to share.  In addition to the temples we visited, there were many that we passed that were not open to tourists.  I had no idea it was such a large area.

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Our transportation and driver for our three days in Cambodia–tuk tuk and driver, Saar-rot (I’m just guessing at how to spell his name)

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Love those stairs—there were many

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The following five pictures are at TaProhm

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TaProhun

The next three are from Bayon temple.we”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””’eeeeeeeeeeeeee””””””””’

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Chuck looks at a memorial to The Killing Fields–many died here in Cambodia.

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At the Angor National Museum, Siem Reip, Cambodia

That’s it for today!

 

 

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What’s a Wat?

I am here in the Student Center waiting for my laundry to be done and it is time for another post.  Tomorrow Chuck and I will make a long trek to the ruins of the old capital, the ancient city of Ayutthaya (a-Yoot-ta-ya)  and I realized I haven’t even sent pictures of the temples we have visited so far.  By the way, What’s a Wat? —a Buddhist temple.

Two weeks ago on Saturday we took the old train which runs close by downtown to see what we could see.  It was certainly no luxury train.  We had to walk a mile to board, the seats were old and hard and it had no air conditioning.  But it did have fans and was right on time and the price was right—-free on the way down and 18 cents each on the way back.  The day was incredibly hot and we did not see all we had hoped to see but it was a good day of sight-seeing nonetheless.

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 The OLD train.  They have newer trains, of course.  When we go to Ayutthaya we’ll take this train downtown, then catch a similar train there.  Total travel time 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

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Wat Tramit

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An outdoor shrine near the wat

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A new monk praying

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The world’s largest solid 18 carat gold Buddha weighing 5 tons

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Chandelier over the Buddha

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Another small Wat we visited

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We saw this procession of the family and friends and a new monk heading for an installation ceremony.  Most monks, we are told, are only monks for a short period–anywhere from 3 months to 3 weeks.  However, some will go for much longer periods including some who are monks for life.   There are hundreds of rules they must observe and whatever else they do, they survive by highly-ritualized begging.  Buddhists believe that in order to be reincarnated to a better life next time they gain merit-  the more, the better.  Giving gifts to a monk gains merit.  Becoming a monk gains merit and this is traditionally  dedicated to his mother for her benefit.  This is an important act of filial devotion. When we return, we’ll have more to say about this in our presentations.

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This picture, and the following ones are from our visit to Wat Pho which was an amazing place.  It was hard to photograph because the sun was SO bright, I couldn’t see what I was taking sometimes which means I sometimes missed the tops of  some things.

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The reclining Buddha at Wat Pho.  He is half a football field long.

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Here people can gain merit by purchasing these coins and then depositing them in the monk’s bowls pictured below.

 

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If anyone is improperly dressed–shorts, uncovered shoulders, etc.–they must wear  one of these coats.

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At first I thought this was funny but, after consideration, I think it is good advice to beware of your valuable possessions.

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The last thing we did was climb the Golden Mount for a great view of the massive city of Bangkok.

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Here we are at the top!

 

A Little of This and That

There is so much I’d like to share but the time to post is sometimes hard to find.  In order to attach pictures I have to go over to the Student Center because the connection here in our room is not good enough.  We try to do some things in the mornings and then our work stint from 2 to 10 pm leaves us feeling less than energetic so it is easy to put off writing a post.  Right now, we are waiting to meet with a couple of students who want to take us to a park this morning.  So I thought I’d start a post and then add the photos later.

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This picture–the outside steps to the student center last night–shows that we had a nice crowd of students.  Since many places we go here require that we remove our shoes to keep the inside clean, this is a familiar scene.  Needless to say, we feel a bit odd going into a restaurant or store (not too many of them require it) in our bare feet.  In the US, of course, it is “No shoes, no service”  here it is the opposite. One of our first days here, I was wearing a pair of sandals with an elastic strap around the back. Coming out of the store,  I found I could not put them on without sitting down so had to walk the block and a half home barefoot carrying my sandals.  So now I’m careful what I wear although when walking a lot for sightseeing, I do have to have my supportive Eccos.  So far, I’ve been able to put them back on.  At temples they usually provide a bench to sit on to do this.  Around here, most wear Crocs-type shoes and flip flops.

Yesterday morning we took a cab downtown at 6:30 a.m. hoping to see a few more sights.  Because the traffic was so extremely heavy and slow, we didn’t get to see much and one destination was closed for repairs so, by the time we got back at 2 p.m. (in time for class) we had spent 2 hrs. actually seeing things and the rest of the time riding in a cab and sitting in traffic jams.    We visited a Hindu temple where, unfortunately, I was not allowed to take photos.  It was very interesting and different.  I was able to capture some of it from the outside.

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This young woman is stringing flowers into a sort of lei which people buy to put on their altars to their various gods.

Second, we visited the Royal Barge Museum.  On significant occasions, these barges parade down the river with the king and other notables.  Wish we could have seen that.  Our final stop was the Jim Thompson house.  He was an American who lived in Bangkok and was the promoter of the cottage industry of the hand weaving of Thai silk. He was an architect and his home, made entirely of teak, is unusual and full of many interesting objects.  Again–no photos inside.

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While in Cambodia, besides the well-known temples, we visited a silk farm where we got to see the production of silk from the moths to the finished product.  All of this is very labor intensive and explains why even a silk scarf is so expensive.

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Silk worms eating their mulberry leaves

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Steps in the production of silk fabric

Chuck had a skin problem with his feet when we arrived and we had to visit a hospital to see a dermatologist.  That was quite an experience as the hospital was unlike any we’ve seen before.  First, it was beautifully landscaped including a fountain.  We were met at the door by two doormen who opened the cab doors for us and the doors to the hospital.  Inside we were greeted by two lovely young women who directed us to the correct area for his appointment.  There was a grand piano playing in the large lobby.  Making our way to the elevator, we passed Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and other  emporiums as well as a beauty salon.  Check out these pictures.

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Sa Wat Dee Ka, Bonnie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ghost Houses: May The Spirits Be With You

 

One of the distinctive features Bonnie and I notice wherever we travel is the influence of religious beliefs and practices on the architecture and adornments of the society.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out whether you’re in a Christian, Muslim, or some other type of society.  Thailand, for instance, represents a religious blend of Buddhism, Hinduism, and animism.  Of course, explicitly religious buildings reflect these various influences but what I’m referring to here is not only temples, mosques, churches, etc.  Representations of Buddha and many Hindu gods and goddesses may be found outside temple precincts.   Animism, however, at least as far as we can tell, is not represented by dedicated buildings as it by  ghost houses found near many homes, apartments, and businesses.

Animism is a belief, and it is a very ancient one, that inanimate objects are imbued with some sort of soul or spirit and, therefore, have the power to harm or bless those who treat these spirits either neglectfully or reverently.  As an example,  one must not step on the threshold of a house because the spirit of the house is thought to reside there and to step on that spirit with  the very shameful and disgusting bottom of one’s foot is not to be done.  For the culturally unaware sometimes signs are posted reminding you of this taboo.  Aside from the spirit of the threshold, many other spirits are found in and around the house, building, business or whatever.  Spirits, like anyone else, need a place to live and one suspects that a preferred option is to have them live at a respectful distance outside the house.  Hence, the very common presence of  ghost houses.  Here are a few examples:

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This one is directly behind us–the view from our balcony.

 

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Note the offerings of soft drinks with straws.    

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As these pictures show, various offerings of drink, incense, and other gifts are presented to the spirits to solicit their good will.

Naturally, the degrees of piety and wealth suggest greater or lesser ghost houses.  On one of my morning walks I encountered a rare rainfall and sought shelter in the nearest open building which turned out to be a large ghost house dealership.  Below are a few of the offerings ranging in price from 300 dollars to 30,000 dollars US.

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Some available ghost houses–there were many hundreds for sale in this store.

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Modestly priced models–perhaps $300 to $1,000

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Top of the line–$30,000 model.

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This ghost house is on the first floor of the Sangwattana Mansion, the dorm where we live.  It is a Chinese derivation and has a different look including flashing electric lights, like those on  a Christmas tree.

It is difficult to say precisely what an individual Thai might believe.  As I mentioned, many beliefs are found intermingled.  There is a significant Muslim minority and a quite modest (perhaps one percent or so) presence of Christianity.

Sa Wat Dee Krop, Chuck

Across the Tracks #2 – Pictures

 

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 Railroad tracks paralleling our nameless street

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A side ditch and walkway

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The domestic water supply along the canal.  Note individual hoses have been attached to holes drilled in the main pipe with water flowing through individual meters.

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A typical outdoor restaurant with cook preparing lunch.

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Here come the motorbikes!

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Thai long-tailed boat.  Note long propeller shaft trailing behind.

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Several of these tiny stores were scattered through the neighborhood.

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Not the bridge over the River Kwai, but it serves its purpose.

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A sacred tree–a Banyan tree like the one under which Buddha achieved Enlightenment.

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Fisherman lifting net hoping for a good catch.  Unfortunately it was empty.

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Fish drying outside a restaurant.

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Store owner not looking happy at the state of business.

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Boat House

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Another store.

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Perhaps the best house south of the freeway.

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Grand patio

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Local hotel–rates probably less than $10 per night

 

 

 

Across the Tracks

Bonnie and I wish we were able to post somewhat more frequently and comprehensively, but the frustrations of computer technology render our intentions null and void.  I started to write this post (putting up with random shifts of the cursor with predictably chaotic results) when, 200-300 words into this, the whole thing simply disappeared.  The wisdom of the Thais comes into play here:  Mai Bpen Rai–it doesn’t matter.  Be patient.  Don’t worry.  I, regretably am NOT a Thai, so I am writing this out longhand hoping Bonnie can better cope.

Mai Bpen Rai.

Bangkok is a huge and hugely diverse city.  The population is estimated to be 15 million, but how anyone could count this collection of everything from dozens and dozens of high-rise apartments not very far from uncountable thousands of squatter’s shacks, lean-tos and bare shelters is a total mystery.  Our neighborhood (LatKrabang in case you want to look on Google Earth) typifies the situation.  We are about 15 miles east of downtown Bangkok as the crow flies.  If the crow goes by train, cab, or car we’re talking an hour or two at about any time of the day or night.  Traffic is horrendous.

 

Bonnie and I live in student housing.  Privately-owned dorm rooms with bath is the best way to describe our digs. (Bonnie included photos in our second post.)  Not luxurious, but familiar to any student in a state college or university. There are dozens of these residences with more being built.  Although we live on a dead end street, about a mile from the nearest intersecting street (Chalong Krung Road–again for Google Earth fans) our street can look like the busiest street Orangeburg has ever seen on a Friday night. (I would give you the name of our street if it had one.  We tell cab drivers to take the first street off Chalong Krung)

Amidst all this bustle and modernity one day I decided to head north on a footpath across the railroad tracks which parallel our nameless street.  A different world instantly appeared.

Perhaps 20 yards after crossing the tracks a very basic collection of housing sprinkled with restaurants and stores appeared on my left.  On my right was one of the many canals in Bangkok, this one perhaps 50 feet across and thickly overgrown with water plants in most places.  The pictures say thousands of words so I’ll skip much description.  The elevated foot and motor bike path extends perhaps for the better part of a mile with no other access.  The path and everything else is elevated to avoid submerging in the rainy season.

After crossing under one of the major east-west freeways, land access begins to be possible, and cars make their first appearance.  Commercial operations also appear.  The houses, now higher and drier and accessible now become more permanently built and of obviously much higher value.

How far all this extends, I do not know.  After walking another mile or so in the heat of the day, (always 95 plus or minus), time to get back and clean up to get ready for school and take Bonnie to lunch.  (Food is a whole other topic.)

One must admire the many Thais whom I met along that walk who almost unfailingly greeted me with a smile and also carefully avoided pushing me off the walkway as they passed–very frequently–on their motorbikes– and happily posed for pictures.

Life isn’t always about comfort and ease.

Mai Bpen Rai.

Pictures will be posted separately due to the usual computer glitches.

 

 

 

What we do

Monday through Thursday from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.  we spend at the Cornerstone Student Center which is just across the street from our room.  We have three classes each day at 3, 5, and 7.  The students sign up based on the time they have available and we never know how many we are going to get for each class as sometimes they just walk in also.  Most of the time, we team-teach because we don’t have more than 5 students at a time.  If there were more, we’d use the additional classroom and split up or Serene, and sometimes Fr. Lee, might take one of the classes.

The students have been a joy to work with.  They are polite and have a desire to learn.  Most of the time they stay longer than the hour class talking or, in  the evenings,  playing board games which they enjoy very much.  This is fun for Chuck as he likes board games too.  Some do pretty well with English and others struggle a bit. I hope we are helping.  We have different students each day and teach the same lesson each day all week.  Sometimes they ask questions about the U.S. but not often.  Some have mentioned they watch “How I Met Your Mother” which they think is very funny.  We have never watched it.  We ask them a lot of questions about their lives to get them to talk and practice English.

Here are some pictures from the Center:

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Nino and Ploy –they are going to the US to work this summer.

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Pon, Chuck, Nino and Ploy play Settlers of Catan–Nino always wins this one

 

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Jade, Jay, Syne, Bonnie, Toon, Fon

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Pearl and Run

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Fr. Lee signs up some new students

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 Schop, Noy, Fon, and Drew lost this one to the Monopoly expert, Chuck

Goodbye for today,

Bonnie

 

 

 

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