Keeping it Riel

Originally sent: 23 August 2005

About this series

M and I recently has four day weekend in Bangkok which was great for all the wrong reasons: my personal highlights were going to the movies; eating Mexican food, smallgoods, and two and half pork-fuelled hours of yum-cha; and staying in a carpeted room. M picked the hotel because it was the home of Thailand’s best Mexican restaurant, Señor Pico’s of Los Angeles. The good Señor did not disappoint, and as you can see, we’re becoming the very picture of jaded expats. We even started marvelling about how clean and beggar free Bangkok is, which was a stark reminder that we’ve been living in the world’s fifteenth poorest nation for quite a while.

As for the authentic Thai tourist experience, we’ve already torn the Grand Palace, Emerald Buddha, Huge Reclining Buddha, and Chatuchak Market pages out of our pirated Lonely Planet. They’re the same as Cambodian attractions only ten times larger and made from solid gold rather than chicken wire over bamboo.

My adventures with the monkhood have continued to reach new levels of surrealness. SCC’s three monk leaders sang me “Happy Birthday” in English when I came to work on the morning of my birthday. They even had the words almost correct, they sang:

Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to me
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to Mr Phil

I have discovered that the reason that monks are the essence of serenity is that they’re taught to meditate while walking slowly and serenely. If they don’t walk serenely enough while they’re at their pagoda, they get beaten with a length of bamboo by an older, more serene monk, which is allegedly the way of both Theravada Buddhism and cheap kung-fu films.

I also had my best interaction with a monk so far: he’s in his 40s (which is rare for a monk, as the Khmer Rouge did their best to chop up the guys in robes) and I asked him what he did before he was a monk. He said he was a miner until he was 15 when he joined the monkhood. I asked what he mined for (there are a few sapphire mines around town and some marble quarries). He said: “I mined for tanks, trucks and sometimes people, but not trains.”

Previously in this series: They can’t drink the alcohol or woo the ladies

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