Alexa and I finally arrived in Bangkok, almost exactly 24 hours after we began our journey, at midnight. So poetically appropriate! We landed across the globe at the archetypal time of transition, mystery, and moment of balance between the opposites of day and night, today and tomorrow.
I met Alexa’s family members, her Aunt, Uncle, and talkative cousin Aneta. The drive home was uneventful. We noticed the intensity of the Thai heat, a stark contrast the negative 7F we experienced during graduation. We had a half a glass of wine with our new host family and then collapsed at 4 AM, dully excited to wake up to Bangkok and a trip to the Grand Palace.
We woke up early for out first day, and finally set out for Wat Pho, after much discussion of knee length skirts, closed toe shoes, and shawls. Just minutes after leaving the apartment with Alexa’s Aunt and Uncle, the Bangkok heat invaded my carefully chosen concealing clothing. As if I was headed to the first day of school I had woken up early to shower, blow dry my hair, and put on makeup. Now, following aunt Elaine, the fastest walker I have ever met, along Soi 3 to the Sky Train, my frizzy sweaty curls and running mascara were the least of my concerns. I could actually feel liquid between my toes that were so respectfully concealed in black flats.
The river boat ride to What Pho was a refreshing cool break from the heat and fumes of the city as was, I must admit, the air-conditioning in the BTS! I spent my river ride trying, alternately, to snap photos around tourist’s heads and feeling sudden panic as I attempted to avoid falling, due to the waves and speed changes, on top of the small bright orange men, the monks, who dotted the crowd. Elaine informed us at breakfast, no physical contact is permitted between women and Monks, even a casual brush. What would happen, I kept thinking in my jet-lag haze, if I accidentally slammed one to the ground on this boat?
The massive reclining golden Buddha in What Pho is worth the visit. Through ornately painted columns you see first his head with bright white eyes, and think, if his head is this big…. Indeed, the body matches and it is all gold. Even the feet are impressive, decorated with mother of pearl auspicious signs. A constant rain of piling coins echoes in the Wat as visitors purchase tiny bowels of coins to drop into buckets as offerings. They form a long line and the stream of noise is continuous.
The colors at What Pho and Grand Palace stunned me. Western power Architecture is sadly silver-grey or white, clearly lacking in turquoise and gold plating if you ask me. The shimmer of the walls and roofs repels a powerful sun and even more powerful waves of odor and pollution and dust. The ground you walk on in Bangkok is dirty but the palace is pristine. It’s increasingly clear that arriving at midnight wasn’t preparing us for transition it was preparing us to remain permanently stretched between oppositions. In Bangkok the ground is a public bathroom for taxi drivers and Soi cats and dogs, while the sky is the home of gorgeous what roofs and glamorous rooftop bars. The guards at the Grand Palace stopped me from going inside with full length skinny grey pants and a long tunic, required that I wrap a scarf around my waist and roll up my offensively tight pants so no one could see how tightly they clung, and yet prostitutes openly dotted the street on our walk home from dinner later that night. My favorite part of the day was the tiny emerald Buddha in What Krakow at Grand Palace, it sits high up and far away in a room decorated with the exciting images of the Rhamayana, and sparkles down on people who approach on their knees. Emeralds, in Indian culture that is closely related to Thai because of extensive trading, inspire adoration and certainly Buddha is worthy of love. Those, however, have also inspired hate. Wars were fought with Laos over this particular Buddha. How very appropriate of my first impression of Thailand that this was my favorite—nothing is without two sides.