Bangkok post #2

First day.

As the chauffeur drove me through the city towards my hotel I had the opportunity to observe my home for the next few weeks. It would later to become my permanent home. Incidentally, I can't imagine people coming this far just to stay one week. It takes me at least two or three days to get over the jet lag or the monster time difference from the other side of the world. Heck, it's even a day ahead. Anyway, I had many ideas and questions in my vast imagination of what it would be like. Would it be safe was one? I found all my preconceived notions were dissolving right before my eyes.

I saw modern buildings, subways, and even a sky train. (MRT and BTS). Not to mention the huge malls and beautiful hotels. Many signs were printed in English as well as Thai. People were generally well dressed and orderly. There were no mobs or disorderly people running around in a jungle or burning effigies like I had envisioned but knew that was silly. Traffic was thick and the streets full of motorbikes which seemed to follow their own road rules The autos rarely seemed to follow the lane lines. A three lane road could easily become four or five lanes of traffic. A joke I hear a lot now is in the form of a question presented by foreigners: "What are the lines painted on the road for?" The Thais must not know, anyway.

After arriving at my hotel I decided to venture out on foot for a look around and to buy a beer.

By the way, my first hotel, the Centre Point, was really a very nice one. It couldn't have been a better choice. However, it is somewhat expensive so not good for me for the long term. Some of the highlights were an included American breakfast, swimming pool and gym, closed circuit security cameras which could be viewed over your television, and cable or satellite TV.

After getting all settled in, I stepped out into the city. I saw a 7-11 (Thais simply call it "7") nearby. Next to it was a Family Mart. I chose the 7. There were hundreds if not thousands of 7-11's in Bangkok I was to discover later. Inside was a large variety of beer to choose from. You could even buy whiskey. I chose a couple of large bottles of Leo brand and went to the counter. The clerk asked me if I wanted him to open one for me. I said, sure. He pried the lid off and I stood there talking to him while sipping my beer, Try doing that in the states and you will get thrown out on your head.

While standing there at the counter talking to the clerk, I noticed that the alcohol content printed on the bottle was equal to that of, say, wine. A lot stronger than US beer. I started feeling the effects shortly and went back to my room. Between the strong beer and the jet lag I passed out soon after.

The next morning I awoke and went for a swim and then breakfast. After breakfast was set aside and a second cup of coffee was being poured, Nancy somehow found me and sat down at my table. I hadn't seen her since the airport. She said I had a free city tour awaiting for me now and she would be my guide for the day. I couldn't resist so I hurriedly finished my coffee and said "let's go". The word "free" seemed to weigh a lot on my decision.

However, nothing is really free. There is always a price to be paid somehow and someway. I asked Nancy how many people were going on the tour. She replied that I was the only one. I wasn't sure if that was a good sign or a bad sign.

The same chauffeur that drove me from the airport to the hotel drove me and Nancy around the city that morning. I thought it might be an interesting day and was glad I decided to go on the tour. Inside the limo Nancy sat in the back seat with me.

Nancy appeared to be in her late twenties and was very attractive. She spoke English very well and was pointing out things about the city. She seemed very proud of her country, Siam, or Thailand as it is called today.

Our first stop was a clothing store. A merchant came out to greet us and quickly led me inside. Nancy and the driver stayed outside. This is where I first realized how they can offer free city tours. They get a kickback of sorts from the retailers for any purchases.

I was seated and the man began to take my measurements. I then viewed a whole line of fabrics and styles of suits. After getting a chance to speak, I explained that I did not have any extra room in my suitcases for more clothing, nor did I need any more shirts, pants, etc. Still, he persisted with his sales pitch. But finally, he gave up, thanked me for looking and sent me on my way much to my relief.

His items were really very nice and cheap too. Not WalMart cheap, but cheap. It was not a real enjoyable time however. I wasn't in Bangkok to be pressured into buying something and it was all wasting time as far as I was concerned. There were many things I'd rather be doing than sitting in his store arguing with him about clothes. On to the next stop:

There were two stops on the tour which were actually of the touristy nature, not a busines marketing it's wares. But one had to endure the latter kind first. The next stop was a jewelry manufacturing warehouse. I won't go into details on that as it was pretty much the same as the clothing store but much more low key. There were nice items for sale and at a reasonable price, but to me it was just another waste of time. I did, nevertheless, buy a gold ring.

Our last stop was the most interesting as far as I was concerned, but the next one was very nice and enjoyable. It was to a temple, or Wat. This one was named Wat Traimit. It was the Temple of the Golden Buddha.

At Wats, everyone is required to wear long pants and be at least presentable in their appearance. Nancy forgot to inform me of this. I felt out of place in my shorts. But the temple made an exception this time and let me in. At least I was cooler than my fellow tourist. The temperature was around 95 F and humidity was also very high.

I followed Nancy around and was led to a spot where everyone removed their shoes and climbed a set of stairs. There we could see up close the rather large statue of a Buddha. What set it apart from the others was that this one was made out of solid gold. The story behind it is interesting enough to mention here, so bear with me please.

The five and a half ton, ten foot tall pure gold statue was originally at a different location a little further north. It was built in the Sukhothai period. In around the mid 1300's, the Burmese Army began to invade Siam. The monks at the temple caught wind of the impending invasion in time to do something to save their beloved object.

The Wat was highly vulnerable and the monks new the Burmese soldiers would steal the gold when they found it. Since the statue could not easily be moved, they devised a plan to conceal it.The priceless object was covered with plaster and set to dry. The reasoned that the Burmese would see no value in the Buddha statue and ignore it. Their plan worked.

When the invasion occurred the powerful Burmese Army quickly moved inland and overran the temple and killed all the Monks. No one was left alive thus everyone who knew about the golden Buddha was now dead. Centuries passed and the plaster did it's intended job and kept the gold a secret. Then things changed.

In 1957, as Bangkok began to grow and new roads and freeways were added, the city's civil engineers declared the temple housing the plaster statue was in the way and needed to be moved. Thus, the Monks found a new home for it and began the relocation.

The plaster covered golden Buddha proved to be much heavier than expected. So, a heavy lift crane was brought in to help move the behemoth. Somewhere during the move, the statue fell from it's cable and cracked. It was late in the day so the Monks decided to wait until the next morning to continue their work.
Storm clouds were approaching so the Monks placed tarps over the object to keep it dry before turning in for the evening.

During the night, the head Monk decided to check on it and make sure it was okay. Using a flashlight, he peered under the tarp at the crack. Shining his light down into the crack, he noticed a glint of gold. Later, the statue was cleared of all the plaster and moved to it's present home in Bangkok. The value of the gold was estimated to be in the hundreds of millions at the time. Today, with gold over a thousand dollars an ounce, you can imagine what five and a half tons are worth.

Last stop: Nancy asked me how I enjoyed the tour so far. I replied that it was interesting but that I was getting a little tired. Then she said something that puzzled me but got my attention:

"I know what you want".

Continued in next post.