Home > Uncategorized > A temple less traveled, Part one

A temple less traveled, Part one

When I went to Italy several years ago I was determined to see EVERYTHING that Florence and Rome had to offer.  That was until I got museum feet.  And by the time I’d walked into the fifth cathedral, I wanted to screech, rip a censer away from one of the nuns and begin to swing the thing madly over my head.  The same feeling took hold of Brian and I our second day in Bangkok, traveling with two Thai-Buddhist friends of friends.  We had first experienced temple fatigue the day before, after being rushed through three separate temple grounds and ending in a Gem-scam trap.  We’d thought we were going through a cruise on the Chao Praya river, but first we went to a temple.  Then, when we actually went on the gondola-like boat ride (except for the single engine rudder and the water snakes) we ended up at another temple.

“I don’t even know what that is,” Brian was saying, crouched in a parking lot next to a golden statue of an elephant at which we’d been instructed to throw some sort of oil.  “What is that elephant thing?  That’s not even Buddha, why are we giving it money??”

How closed-minded, you may say.  The problem is, an answer to a question like, “What is that?” is often something like, “[Unintelligible god-name] Very important god.  Very big god.”

And to “what does [feeble attempt at reproducing sounds making up god-name] do?”

“Bring you good luck.  Bring you money.”  People all over the world have this desire in common, I suppose.  To clarify, I am VERY interested in world religion.  I love asking questions about religion and letting people go on and on about it to me.  I love studying religion and looking at religious art in small doses.  Something about temples, however, brings out the devil in me.

Fortunately though, this didn’t happen in Shangri-La.  Shangri-La has

the biggest prayer-wheel in Asia, towering at 24 meters that spins on the hilltop over the old-town area.  It stands slightly down the hill from a small, but “kinda gaudy” temple in which I spent all of two minutes.  In the temple grounds, however there is a lot more to see, plus the prayer wheel is of course why people come.  Megan and I took

our turn spinning the wheel, taking our place alongside a gaggle of Chinese tourists.  Not twenty seconds afterward, two monks in rich yellow and magenta robes took their places immediately behind Megan and I.  They don’t leisurely stroll around the prayer wheel–to these guys, prayer matters.  They put their heads down, bent their backs and HUSTLED.  Megan and I ran along with them, solemnly, even as the other tourists dropped off in alarm.

At the bottom of the hill was another one of the pleasures of Shangri-La: a huge circle of Tibetans dancing in a circle, with people all around, taking pictures, visiting with friends, eating or playing games.  We watched an old man wearing a tailored suit and fedora skipping rope by himself.  He then invited a skinny child with a bowl cut to jump along with him, and as he did, knocked the fedora over the end of his nose.

Patrick and I couldn’t help but join in the dance.  Everyone smiled and made room, shouting directions at Patrick in Chinese.  We only made one round–the dances were surprisingly difficult to pick up, usually restarting their cycles on something other than the downbeat, taking backwards and circular steps, kicking and bending, hurling arms up in the air.  We left laughing though, and happy we’d taken the often sketchy journey all the way out to this place.

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