Suppose you can’t get up to Cambodia because money’s tight, or because Interpol is waiting at the border. No fear—Thailand has its own Khmer temples you can visit! The temple at Phimai Historical Park is the terminus of the Ancient Khmer Highway, the most important road of the Khmer Empire, which started at Angkor Wat.
A little further on is Ku Pueai Noi, which was reminiscent of Pre Rup and East Mabon with their brickwork, although not at all as large or as high.
As I noted before, the Thais have a penchant for making life-size statues of important Buddhist monks. But for the most important monks, a life-size statue may not be enough. Meet Mun Bhuridatta (1870-1949), a monk who spent more than 50 years meditating in the forests of Thailand, leading a strictly ascetic lifestyle.
We came across him while driving out of Khon Kaen, and there was no way we couldn’t check this out.
The statue is part of a small temple and roadside museum to Mun Bhuridatta.
Mun Bhuridatta sitting over a shed of his acolytes.
More life-sized statues …
… as well as some decidedly non-PC figurines.
And, of course, the wax figure.
An extra head, just in case …
… in which the birds have made a home.
Would Mun Bhuridatta have appreciated this commemoration? It’s hard to say. “Searching out secluded places in the wilds of Thailand and Laos, he avoided the responsibilities of settled monastic life and spent long hours of the day and night in meditation. In spite of his reclusive nature, he attracted a large following of students willing to put up with the hardships of forest life in order to study with him.” Boy, we all know what that’s like, amirite?
A few weeks ago, we went to Khon Kaen, a city in the northeast, because—well, because it was there and it was time for an adventure. In many respects, Khon Kaen looked like a lot of other places in Thailand, but there were a few interesting sights.
First, we have Wat Nong Waeng (Nong Waeng Temple), which is allegedly the most famous temple in Khon Kaen. It’s notable for its nine-level tower, although the view from the top is about as interesting as the view from my 12th floor apartment, and not worth the film. However, the building itself has a lot of nice architectural flourishes, like the dragons lining the staircases leading into the temple, and the interior itself is fairly opulent. The temple was built to commemorate the 50th anniversary of King Rama IX’s ascension to the throne, so there is an altar to him inside the temple. The altar includes a photograph of him as a monk—it is traditional for all young men, and particularly the kings, to go through initiation as a monk, even if they serve for only a month.
You can seek a blessing from the monk on duty, or—if you prefer the silent type—from one of the significant former monks. Thai temples frequently hold statues of prominent teachers that are incredibly detailed, down to age spots and tattoos.
I decided to go back to language lessons after a six-week hiatus, since I began forgetting everything I’d learned. I’m enjoying the new school, although it is a bit like drinking from a firehose. Every day is something new.
Today, my teacher explained the structure “nʉ̀ng nai” (หนึ่งใน), which means “one of”, as in “one of the things I hate about Thai is how difficult it is.” The “ʉ” is pronounced like you would pronounce “uhh” while grinning from ear to ear (which is why Thailand is called the Land of Smiles; you have to stretch your mouth to pronounce some of the vowels).
I kept pronouncing it “nɔɔ̌ng nai (หนองใน) – the “ɔɔ” sounds like the “o” in “chop” – which made my teacher laugh. “nɔɔ̌ng nai” means “gonorrhea.”
Actually, salt fields; one January afternoon, we visited salt fields on the Gulf of Thailand. The salt makers let the water flow into three rows of salt pools, and then evaporate them, using windmills to pump the water from one field to another. Once the water evaporates, the salt makers use a steamroller to flatten the pool bed, and then they start again.
More photos from the “oh, yeah, I’m supposed to be maintaining a blog” series … Lad Prao is a traditional neighborhood along the edge of the Lad Prao canal (คลอง, pronounced “khlong”). The neighborhood is slowly being abandoned and demolished for new, higher-income housing.
The demolition, and condition of the buildings generally, provide opportunities for abstract/textural work.
There’s a section of Bangkok’s Chinatown called Talat Noi that is filled with small industrial concerns. You go there for steel construction material, hardware and the like.
It all seems pretty organized until you get to the streets where the used auto parts stores are. Then things get funky.
I have been fascinated by Talat Noi since I first visited it in September. There are scores of stores, one after the other, all selling what look to be the same things. How do all these stores stay in business? How does anyone know what their inventory is? Who buys and sells this junk? Armed with a translator, I decided to find out.
According to one person I interviewed, many of the parts come from Japan, where the government offers disincentives for people to keep older cars. Brokers from Thailand buy containers of used parts in Singapore, where the junkyards ship the parts after they disassemble the cars, and they bring them to Bangkok and sell them to the parts dealers. The dealers apparently make a decent living: they sell parts for 10 percent of the price of new parts, so they have a steady supply of customers; many of the boats that ply the nearby Chao Phraya river actually are retrofitted to use truck and automobile engines, so maritime workers also come in for spare parts; and other brokers down the line (including brokers from countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) might also come in and say “I need 100 transmission pumps for Toyota pickups.” If one shop doesn’t have them – say, they only carry Isuzu parts – another one will. Finally, there’s always the option to sell unused parts for scrap.
Personally, I have a hard time believing that business is good, given how enormous some of these piles of parts are, but I only have my gut to back me up on this. In the meantime, they make for some interesting abstract photographs.