Thursday, November 02, 2006

WAT-ching THAILAND 1

My first trip outside the Philippines is to Thailand where I attended a training program on family planning advocacy at the Asian Center from November 25 until December 14 of 2002. I was part of a group that included our company’s fabled “Packard Boys”. We stayed at the Somerset Hotel along Bangkok’s Sukhumvit area and on our first night, Oyet came and treated me to dinner in Simlon Road then to a hurried night tour of the infamous Patpong area, the Flower Market, and Chinatown.

During this time, I have not yet transformed into a churchopile but it seems that places of deity worship have a special link to me because I am always drawn to churches, temples and shrines. Perhaps it was the imprint of these churches near the houses we stayed and the schools we went, or the blood of the fraile in Miguel Tomas’ hands, or Amang Lakay’s Babaylan and his conversion as a Sabadista, or the miracles of my childhood.

Buddhism is Thailand’s religion and the shrines and wats (i.e. temples) that dotted its landscape enthralled me with their beauty and mystique. From there on, I always made it a point to bow and do my wai every time I passed one although I did not really understand then the symbol and significance of such act. In Bangkok, I was able to visit the holiest Buddhist temple in Thailand --- Wat Phra Keo or more popularly known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha that was built by King Rama I in 1782 when he established Ratanakosin as his kingdom’s capital.


The Emerald Buddha housed inside Wat Phra Keo was actually carved from a large piece of jade discovered in 1434 inside a chedi that was shattered open by lightning. Its green cover was discovered later after the image’s stucco covering was removed. It was moved several times to Chiang Mai but somehow, the image always ended up in Lampang (shades of Badoc and Sinait). It was not until 1468 that the image finally relented to be installed in Chiang Mai. In 1552, the image was brought to Luang Prabang in Laos by King Chaichetta who was Chiang Mai’s Lao-born ruler. When the Lao capital was moved to Vientiane in 1564, the image also went there to protect it from the invading Burmese army. King Rama I brought it back to Thailand after he captured Vientiane in 1778, and had it installed at the Wat Phra Keo in 1784. Since then, the temple underwent several restorations: in 1831 by King Rama III, in 1856 by King Rama IV, in 1903 by King Rama V after it was damaged by a fire, in 1932 by King Rama VII, and most recently in 1982 by King Rama IX who is more popularly known as King Bhumibol.

Another major Buddhist temple near Wat Phra Keo is Wat Pho that was once the Wat Phodaram of the Ayudha period. It was restored by King Rama I in 1788 and houses what is said to be the biggest and most beautiful Reclining Buddha image in Thailand. The temple is regarded as the university where the traditional Thai massage originated and is still being taught. It underwent restoration during the reigns of King Rama III and King Rama IX.


Our group also spent a week in Chiang Mai where I was able to visit the Thai Buddhists’ second holiest site of Wat Doi Suthep perched high on a mountain. The temple can be reached through a stair of perhaps a thousands steps or an elevator for the physically challenged. There, I had my fortune stick, paid my respects at the main Buddha image where a monk tied a string on my wrist for good luck, rang the conical bells for my wishes to come true, and kissed the clouds of Chiang Mai.


During one field visit, I also dropped by Wat Suan Dok where members of Chiang Mai’s royal family are interred. There is a Buddhist monastery nearby with boy monks. My soul flowed in the hypnotic rhythms of their Buddhist chants, and I never felt so serene in my life.

Aside from churches, noodles maintain a special affinity with me. I had plenty of these in Thailand --- almost everyday --- and my co-trainees teased me if I don’t ever get tired of it. I forget the many Thai noodle dishes that I gorged on mainly because the names are really quite difficult to pronounce and remember, and because I don’t yet have plans of blogging about them later.

PHOTOS (from top to bottom):
1) Bangkok’s Wat Phra Keo
2) Postcard of Wat Phra Keo’s Emerald Buddha
3) Bankok’s Wat Pho
4) Postcard of Wat Pho’s Reclining Buddha
5) Chiang Mai’s Wat Doi Suthep
6) Chiang Mai’s Wat Suan Dok

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