April 2 2017
“The mountains gleamed around in a hedge of inaccessible purity, from which his eyes fell, dazzled, to the green depths of the valley. And when he heard the harpsichord’s silver monotony across the lotus pool, he felt that it threaded the perfect pattern of sight and sound”.
-Lost Horizon by James Hilton, as reprinted on the bookmark left for me by housekeeping today.
If I stay here long enough, maybe I’ll get to read the whole book on the bookmarks. I gotta say, though, that from the excerpts they are reprinting, this is sounding like a pretty boring story.
I bought a new watch tonight. It cost 300 Baht ($12). I am hoping it’s still working by morning. It’s made by that famous Swiss watch company, “Xin Feng”. The selling point, for me, was that the strap is made of real leather. Well, it smells like leather anyway.
Other things you can get for 300 Baht in Bangkok include entrance to the Grand Palace. Well, that’s actually 500 Baht so, in fact, it’s more expensive to pay a visit to HRH Rama X of Thailand than to buy a new watch. I guess that makes sense.
As is happening all over SE Asia, I show up at a palace and the king is out. I’m starting to get a complex. Maybe if I changed my shirts more often?
Even tho’ Rama wasn’t in, his police, army & Palace Guard was swarming all over the place. To get to the Grand Palace Complex we took a bus. On water. Bangkok has an extensive and overly confusing water bus system. It starts with the colour of the flag flying on the back of the boat bus. Orange is the express – it only stops at certain piers. Blue is the local. Then, just cause it’s fun to do this to tourists, there is also the Green Flag, Yellow Flag and No Flag boat bus. Those ones only run Monday-Friday and so today our choices were Blue or Orange.
Or, if we preferred, the Hop On, Hop Off Tourist Boat. The cost for the Orange Express was 15 Baht per person each way. A total of 60 Baht. The cost for an all-day hop on, hop off Tourist Boat ticket is 130 Baht. We know our If’s, And’s and Baht’s and save them wherever possible to spend them on things like Swiss watches.
Meantime, for 100 Baht you can buy a tablecloth and wear it to visit the Grand Palace. This is required for men or women who wish to visit who aren’t wearing pants or skirts that reach the ankles. Like, say, my wife. The people who run the tablecloth concession across from the entrance to the Palace are making an absolute fortune. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who run afoul of this rule.
Actually, I’m not certain that you are required to wear a tablecloth, but when you come visit our house don’t be surprised if the tablecloth looks suspiciously like what Debbie is wearing in today’s photos.
It is entirely appropriate that we visited the Royal Palace today as the royal court intrigue and politics of Thailand have often resembled those of Beth Shalom Synagogue. Yes, I’m talking about coups. While we were visiting the Royal Palace here in Bangkok today, a coup d’état was taking place at Beth Shalom’s Annual General Meeting and a new royal family has ascended to the throne in Edmonton.
His Majesty King Michael and the much beloved Her Royal Highness Queen Colleen are now the President of both the Board of Directors and Women’s League, respectively. This well-planned ascension to the throne has been years in the making. I understand that they wish their reign to be known as the Paull Dynasty. He is now to be referred to as Your Royal Heinous Highness or King Mikey I.
I guess somebody’s gonna have to taste his food now before he eats it at lunch on Friday’s. Won’t that be special.
When Rama I took over the reins in Thailand back in 1782 he called his reign the Chakri Dynasty and his descendants (or, as I prefer to call them, his begettings), still reign today. As you may recall from our Chiang Mai discussions, Rama IX passed away last October and his son, new King [very long name] will be officially crowned and referred to as King Rama X next fall after the traditional 1 year mourning period ends.
Meanwhile, the mourning continues unabated. The mourners line up, wearing all black, and wait for hours and hours in lines that snake around outside the palace walls and then the entirety of the gallery, which forms the interior side of those walls, which are almost 2 km. in total length.
At the end of their long wait, they file past the remains of Rama IX in Dusit Maha Prasat Hall, one of the dozens of incredibly ornate, massive and simply sublime buildings that make up the Royal Grand Palace complex.
Mourning the late king is serious business here in Thailand. It’s reported on regularly. Here is the March 1, 2017 Daily Mourning Report printed the next day by Thai National News:
Thai people have traveled to pay obeisance to His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, expressing their utmost gratitude to His Majesty’s royal grace.
Most visitors came in groups from the provinces of Buriram, Ubon Ratchathani, and Chanthaburi. The Bureau of the Royal Household opened palace doors to the public since 5:00am.
Visitors received a photograph of King Rama IX, along with food and drinks funded by His Majesty King Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun [I told you the Prince has a long name]. On March 1st, the palace received a total of 25,291 visitors, as well as over 1.69 million baht in donations for various royal projects
All in all, at least they get food and drinks. We brought our own for our visit to the Palace. It begins with a number of security checkpoints, metal detectors, and then the tablecloth police.
Once you’re inside, your jaw drops. Well, it sort of drops even from the outside as you see the countless spires and rooftops from the wats, shrines, stupas, temples, prangs (towers), chedis (also towers) and zeppelins (helium or hydrogen filled blimps) that are crammed into this massive 218,000 sq. metre complex.
The interior wall where the mourners are lined up contain 178 different murals – each massive in themselves, which tell the story of the Ramakien – the Thai take on the Ramayana epic story. This story is a very long story (178 murals worth). I will now condense it for you (you’re welcome in advance):
1. Bad guy demon King (Toskanath) kidnaps Sida, queen & wife of good guy human king Rama.
2. Bad guy demon King hopes queen Sida will fall in love with him as he shows her the delights of his capital city, Longka. She doesn’t. Battles ensue.
3. Bad guy enlists help from his buddies to form an army. Rama does the same. Rama’s army is made up of monkeys, mostly. Think Wizard of Oz kind of monkeys here, but working for the good guys this time.
4. Rama wins and gets Sida back. They live happily ever after in their capital city called Ayodhaya.
This story takes like, I don’t know, 12 days to act out in a play. I did it in 4 paragraphs. You should really thank me, seriously.
Meanwhile, who’s got time to look at 178 murals when your jaw is hurting because it’s been dragging on the ground for about 6 hours now as you tromp up, down, around & through a place which, it occurs to me now that I’ve mentioned it, must be about as close to Oz on earth as you’ll ever get.
The centrepiece of Oz in Bangkok is not the Wizard. It’s the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Its formal name is Wat Phra Kaew. Inside the chapel is a block of Jasper (yup, that’s right, the green stone named after Jasper National Park) from which was carved a 66 cm. high Buddha, known as The Emerald Buddha. He is in a yogic meditative position (which, after all these years, has got to hurt, yoga or not) and he is the most important Buddha image in Thailand.
The King is the only one allowed to touch the image. He comes by to change his clothes 3 times a year, for the summer, winter & rainy seasons. That’s the Buddha’s clothes I’m talking about here, not the King’s. Buddha’s clothes are made entirely of gold & jewels. That would get scratchy after a while.
There is so much going on at the Palace you don’t actually know which way to turn first. Well, you do. It’s the way that will get you past the innumerable tour groups from Korea, Japan and China. And Spain, the USA, Brazil and… you get the idea.
The world is a much smaller place today than it was back in 1984 when last we visited this Palace. And while the Palace itself hasn’t changed, the number of people visiting has. We remember sort of wandering around by ourselves, for the most part. There is none of that going on now. Indeed, of all the places we have visited in the past 2 months, none has been more congested (except the Skytrain to the market yesterday).
But, people aside, you really don’t know where to look first as your eyes are in sensory overload mode the moment you enter the Palace complex. It is a life memory (like Angkor Wat) – a place neither of us has forgotten since we first saw it and that both of us were very much looking forward to returning to see.
Even so, after walking around your (let’s say) 715th Phra (royal) thing, it’s time to leave. The tablecloth has served its purpose and all you really want at that point is the swimming pool back at the Shangri-La. Or maybe that’s just me. Naw, I’m pretty sure everyone at the Palace was feeling the same way, too.
It poured tonight. Between 7:35 – 8:30pm. Exactly when we were having dinner inside at the “Fire & Dine” restaurant in The Asiatique night market. It poured two nights ago. Between 1:00am – 6:30am. Exactly when I was sleeping. I like it when rain falls at my command. I think maybe this is a royal power that King Mikey I will want me to convey to him. I may need to raise a monkey army.