We are now in Bangkok, at the small and charming Malaysia Hotel near Rama IV Street. I have a few minutes between activities to share some reflections.
Yesterday in Ko Samui (or Koh Samui) was very pleasant, and quite interesting for our themes.
We took a Tender to shore, and emerged to a welter of taxi drivers competing for our business. Negotiating with one, we got an air conditioned car to go around the island for the day.
Koh Samui is fairly small, and you can drive all the way around the island in about 45 minutes. Ten years ago it was an unknown, unspoiled paradise. Today it is still quite beautiful, but a decade of tourist development has taken its toll.
We began the drive through the port town of Na Thon. The narrow streets and crowded shops and business lining them, reminded me that I was getting further and further away from the Western world. English was present on some signage, but not all, by any means.
We drove on, and in due course, fed some elephants (they are smart) and saw monkeys. We climbed huge staircase to visit the Temple of the Buddha’s footprint high above Chaweng Beach, which is now the epicenter of the new resorts and tourist areas.
The temple, high above it all, was serene and peaceful. On the outside, in Thai and English was the maxim: Do Good, receive Good. Do Evil, receive Evil, a fairly succinct expression of The Two Ways common to most world spiritualities.
Descending, we headed off for a delicious lunch at a roadside restaurant with a spectacular view of the ocean.
The Temple steps were my first of many (and ongoing) stairs, hence the title of this installment. It seems that stairs, and split levels are key elements in this architecture. Our hotel room in Singapore even had three steps up from the bed area to the bathroom.
I realize that in pre-modern buildings, stairs were a necessity, and also a way of evening out uneven walkways. It is just a bit unusual though. If someone in a wheelchair needs to move about, the solution is…people help them. I sometimes use a cane when walking on uneven surfaces, and everywhere I go hands are extended to help me. There are no worries about lawsuits. It’s just people helping their brothers and sisters.
My reflection on Koh Samui is that western influence is her (7-11 is ubiquitous), but it is not the dominant influence.
Part of this is because Thailand is the only SE Asian country, and one of few countries in the world, not to be colonized by Western Powers (I include Russia as one of the Western colonial Powers). Although the British were on the scene, the Kingdom of Siam remained its own. The story of the encounter of British and Thai cultures is most popularly told in the Book Anna and the King of Siam, and then in the musical The King and I, based on the book. I encourage you to read the one and see the other. The street our hotel is on is Rama IV, the King in that story.
We are staying overnight in town because the ship is docked about 2.5 hours away, and to absorb as much of the local culture as possible.
As we drove into Bangkok today, again, I saw a country very much in possession of itself, while using whatever it needs from the West. One of the most obvious keynotes is Buddhism. The influence of Buddhism is all-pervasive. There are magnificent temples everywhere, and it the rare business that does not have a votive altar at its entrance.
The Thai people are famously welcoming and friendly, even if their nation has seen its share of strife.
Bangkok itself is an amazing mix of its past and high-rises and industry. Coming off the freeway, we descended to city streets packed with cars, motorcycles, and every kind of conveyance you can imagine. People dodge in and out of traffic to cross the street. There’s an exciting vibrancy about the city that I am only glimpsing.
We had a simple but delicious lunch at the hotel (I had scallops stir-fried with Asparagus), and then got a massage. I am resting up now, and we’ll be hitting the night-life.
I am now in a very different world, but it’s still on the same planet, and part of the modern world-wide Atlantis that is being built. I’ll report more as we go, But now…more stairs!
… Sorry for the brevity and typos: Sent from remote on the phone.