A little boy was playing with legos in a cafe near our hostel in Chiang Mai. He lured us in with his big brown eyes and the sweet way he said “Sawadikap” as we walked by. He was about 3-years old and immediately handed me some legos to play with. I kept building things, then googling a picture of what each thing was since he didn’t understand the English words. Every time I pulled up a picture and pointed back and forth, he got squealed and clapped his hands after seeing the relation. He was going to an English school, so he knew a few basic words like “airplane” and “truck” and “bam bam bam” with his fingers pointed like a gun (boys will be boys). He pointed out colors and said “where’s rainbow” when it started raining. When we tried to leave, he sat in the entrance and blocked the way with his arms and legs spread as wide as he could.
We explored temple after temple as we accidentally ran into them on our stroll. Just when you think you’ve seen Thai detail as intricate as it can get, another temple pops up in front of you and you’re awe-struck all over again. Most of the temples are open-air temples with complexly turned wooden-spindle walls that allow cool breezes to enter and calm the room. Statues are covered in thin gold-leaf papers that people press on them during their prayers. I tried it, but honestly most of the gold leaf remained on my fingers as the humidity prevented my the transfer. The riches involved in constructing all these temples must have been absolutely insane as entire walls are clad in mirrored mosaic that catch glimpses of your reflection as you walk by. Huge pillars are painted with scrolling metallic gold floral patterns, hand-carved wooden pediments are skillfully detailed with the teachings of Buddha, and looking up, you can see the underside of the grooved tongues of terra-cotta roof tiles.
We found out that there are 8 forms of Buddha related to the days of the week (or the past-lives/learnings of Buddha). The one that corresponds with you the most is the one that represents the day you were born. Since June 1st, 1992 was a Monday, my buddha is the Protection Buddha. Why 8 instead of 7 then? Because they split Wednesday into two separate Buddhas, one for the morning, and one for after noon. The best way you can pray is by going to the temple of your specific Buddha and bowing to him. I think that’s why they have soooo many different temples all within walking distance! Each represents a different day/person on a different walk of life. Then there are also public and privately owned temples to add to the confusingly wide array of temples.
We accidentally stumbled upon a huge temple (that housed MY Monday Buddha) during a lighting ceremony. Here, a man chanted lessons over a loudspeaker as monks filed in and knelt on rows on the red carpet in front of us. Older monks filed first to the front rows and younger boys filed in toward the back. As the men prayed, nose to the floor in front of them, boy monks in the back row were goofing off and making faces at one another. One boy was definitely a jokester and the culprit as he kept whispering and making motions across the room at his friends. At one point he even peeped between his legs to make a funny face at the boy kneeling behind him. The other boy realized his friend was distracting him from his prayers, and he moved to another spot away from him across the room. It was so funny to see because I often think of monks as these ultra-spiritual people that pray all day long and fast to find clarity on issues… but this made me realize that they’re really just people too and that meditation is also a learned PRACTICE.
Lastly, we went to the biggest night bazaar I’ve seen so far. You could tell it was definitely in a more touristy area because prices were almost doubled (wow, $4 for pad Thai instead of $2), taller resorts rose out of the skyline around us, white people were everywhere, and privileged children ran around bumping into people, punching each other and yelling swear words (some people’s children I tell ya). We sat and listened to a Thai band sing pop-culture songs with great voices, but all the wrong words. It was pretty hilarious to hear the songs with the misheard lyrics they’d add in. I sipped on a lychee liquor (that was really just vodka and lychee syrup when I saw them pour it), and tasted a sweet lychee coconut curry from a little Thai tiki-bar. I’ve gotten really good at not buying “things” while traveling because I know I can’t carry them with me and that I need to save money in order to make it traveling until Christmas. I’ve began to realize how much I dislike my clothes after wearing each outfit 30x (asking to myself: how did I ever like this?!), but I’m also realizing how little I really need.
Alena Horowitz | Miss Potato