Arriving: Bangkok


September 8, 2010

The flight was long 24 hours from door to door.  The first leg of the trip was 12 hours, which I dreaded because of my occasional fits of claustrophobia, but with the help of Lorzapan, a truly magic pill, I slept like a baby and by the time we landed in Taipei I was optimistic and awake.  On the flight to Bangkok I continued to read, “ Circling the Sacred Mountain” by Robert Thurman and Tad Wise. The book is about circumambulating Mount Kailash in 1995 and includes the Tibetan Buddhist teaching of  “The Blade Wheel of Mind Reform”.  In two weeks I am scheduled to do the Kailash, kora. I’m very nervous about the trip. The book is not comforting, but at least I have a better sense of what I’m getting into.

In Bangkok, It’s close to 90 degrees and very humid, I splurged on a taxi from the airport to my guesthouse.   On the rear view mirror of the cab hangs a huge garland of flowers with amulets of Buddha and the King. The ceiling of the taxi is covered with money.  I ask the driver about the decor and he says,  “Buddha brings luck.”

I stay at a guesthouse off of Khoa San Road. My room is modest; a bed, television, AC, and a window with a view of the Mosque next door.  I take a shower and a nap.

After dark its still hot and humid I look for food on the streets.   Khoa San Road is a backpackers Mecca, mostly young Australians and Europeans who arrive a night or two before they head off to their next destination. Loud trance music is piped into the street from a dozens of bars offering cheap strong drinks. The streets are lined with massage and tattoo parlors, Booths are set up at night to sell tee shirts, and cheap souvenirs. Armies of women in tribal outfits selling frog noisemakers and fake jewelry infiltrate the bars and cafes.  A cart of deep fried cockroaches and scorpions meanders thought the crowd stopping for the macho few. Every few feet there is a new smell from food carts of Pad Thai, Banana Pancakes, and grilled meat. Every few feet someone yells at me to buy something. The Thai workers in the neighborhood look bored and disdainful of it all.  Or perhaps I’m projecting.  I head to bed.

Jet lagged I wake up at 2am.  I’m uncomfortable in my skin, agitated.  I get up and pace around the room switching stations on the television, opening and closing windows, rustling through my bags. With out a filter of daylight, my self-critic-demon sets in” Why did I go on this trip?  Kailash is going to be too hard,  The money situation is not working as I had planned I forgot to take into account money for, vaccinations, drugs, and special travel insurance,  what a fool! And then the demon critic amps up his play and all thoughts are fare game. You’re an awful writer, your spelling is horrible, your photography is mediocre, you should be married at this point, why in gods name did you paint your toenails blue! Its relentless, I’m all too familiar with these visits from my night critic, I’ve been hosting them on and off since I was 13. I try not to take it too serious, but it wears on me. Eventually I lay down, I hear the predawn first call to prayer from the mosque next door and fall back to sleep.

Eight in the morning, its already in the high 70s hot and sticky, the streets are empty I imagine the guesthouses are filled with alcohol worn youth, sleeping it off.  I sit in an outside café drinking a Nescafe and eating a banana pancake, both bad, yet oddly satisfying.  I continue to read the Kailash book and come across this passage from the blade wheel teachings.

Understanding this wheel of negative evolution

I catch my enemy of self-concern!

I catch the thief who attacks and robs me!

I catch the liar who poses as myself!

Kyema! It is the self-habit. I cut all doubt!

It speaks to me, to my night self obsession;  The enemy of self-concern, the liar that poses as myself. I copy it into my journal

After breakfast I decide to start the trip out by seeking luck and blessings. I head to the amulet market near Wat Pho a large Buddhist temple near the river. My plan is to find amulets for health, wealth love and travel.   It’s not so much that I want a charm to bless me; it’s more about wanting a symbol that acknowledges how much I am dependant on grace. I can plan my itenary but what happens along the way is pretty much out of my control.

10 minutes into my walk to the market, I’m lost.  A woman comes up from behind me and says, “ Go over there, there is a Woman God”  Taking the opportunity to not be lost, I follow her directions and go to the tall concrete shrine is set in the middle of a busy intersection. Inside the shrine sits a black goddess with her long hair extending in front of her face.  Below her, on the street level a table is set up with garlands of flowers and lit yellow candles. Several women are kneeling in front of her clutching sticks of incense.

A young man sees me comes over and says “she is not a Buddha God but she helped Buddha, she is the earth goddess, Mae Thorani” We talk for a few minutes, mostly about my visit to Thailand and his excellent English, then I ask him if it would be ok for me to make an offering.  He takes me to buy flowers, candles and incense at a nearby stand and shows me how to make the offering.   He then writes in my journal a list of temples I must see and gives me directions to the Amulet Market.  His purpose with me was just to be kind.

Later, in an internet café I came across Mai Thorani’s story:

When the evil Mara sent his three daughters Trsna, Rati, and Raga (thirst, desire, and delight), to seduce the Buddha and then sent his army to stop Buddha from attaining enlightenment.  Buddha touched the ground with his hand to call upon the earth to help him and Mae Thorani appeared.  She wrung water from her long hair causing a flood that drowned Mara’s daughters and army.

Awe, touching the earth to ask for help. Beautiful!

Jai Mae Thorani!

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