Pay attention to the sign at the gate, And only allow the right clientele Entrance to my silvery estate. Certain genders are unable to tell Deeper understandings of my design. I wish to tell the stories of heroes Who are admired by those of like mind, And have been treated in life as zeroes. They’re the ones who truly knowing suffering As they travel the path to nirvana. It is the pilgrimage they are taking That brings them to this temple of mana. It is here where they know how to behave In the place where we built Buddha’s man cave.
I know I have been very lazy ever since I have landed in Chiang Mai, and there is a lot that this city has to offer which I have been missing. So I finally pulled myself away from the pool to go out today and see the sights which is a harder thing to do than you would think. It is not easy to leave the comfort of the pool out here to wander around in the confines of the old city walls because Thailand is hot.
I knew this before I moved out here, but I had no idea how oppressive the heat could be. It is even the official end of the monsoon season out here when the temperature outside should start cooling off a bit, but nobody has told the weather that this is what it is supposed to do. Granted, I have not seen any rain since I have been here, but the sun has continued to beat down on me and this might be up there with the hottest temperatures I have experienced since I have been out here. I didn’t want to leave the pool life and explore, but I knew that if I did that for another day I would have regretted it.
So I went out to explore a couple of the various wats that can be found in the old city. I started early enough in the day so the heat would not drag me down, and I was able to explore both the Wat Phra Singh and the Wat Chedi Luang. These structures are the ancient temples that house some of the most spectacular buddhas that can be found in Chiang Mai as well as the grounds on which the monks can travel around and meditate. Not only are the gold encased buildings and statues impressive, but so are the well-cared for grounds on which they reside.
Every temple has a series of steps up to the inside of the building where you are supposed to take off your shoes. The steps are guarded on either side by some kind of creature depending on what part of the world you find yourself in. In Thailand, the common statue is of a naga. This mythical creature is said to live in the rivers, lakes, and ocean waters all around the country, and before the monsoon season, the citizens of the country will squirt water to appease these beasts so they will come out and spit water into the air causing for an exceptionally rainy season. Most of the statues I found at the temples had one head, but the ones at the Wat Chedi Luang seemed to be a hybrid of the hydra from ancient Greece. People do come and offer these creatures gifts, and you can see various fruits, and flowers laid at the ground in front of them. Somebody gave the one I saw an apple and placed it in his mouth.
The temples that hold the buddhas are also impressive. The one at the center of the grounds at Wat Chedi Luang was built in the 13th century, and even though it has seen better days, there are efforts to restore it to the magnificence it once was. The brick building reminded me of the types of buildings that could found at Angor Wat in Cambodia and as I walked around it, I was rewarded with sculptures of not only buddha, and nagas, but also elephants as well. It added to the majesty of this place.
And there are plenty of images of Buddha around. There are many different ways that he is presented from standing, sitting and sleeping, and all of them were present at these temples. The ones that disturbed me the most were on the lifelike wax statues that were created of some of the more celebrated Buddhist monks. At first, I thought they were the actual monks that were waiting to greet visitors as they made there way into these sacred places, but they were just replicas. Why they did that I could not say, but it made for a unique experience as I went into my first temple.
I will admit that I did not last very long before the pool at my hotel called me from across the old city, but it was fun to endure the heat, and go see these ancient and beautiful places. It made me feel like I had earned the refreshing dip in the cool waters, and I know that I have a few more days out here to go out and get some more culture.
One of the dangers of being in Tai Pei during this time of year is the fact that at any time you might be caught in a rain storm. We have already been caught in a couple of them, and we have learned that it is important to always carry around an umbrella just in case one of these storms breaks out. But on the other hand, when it is beautiful outside, it is important to take full advantage of it an enjoy the weather while it lasts. This is what I did yesterday as I wandered the streets of the city, and saw some of the older sites that it has to offer.
Even though, Tai Pei is not as big of an international city as some of the other ones in east Asia such as Bangkok, Hong Kong, or Singapore, there are a lot of east Asian influences that have come to this city and shaped it into the way that it is right now. It has at various times been occupied by both the Chinese and the Japanese and at one time, I think that the Dutch controlled this little island. You can see this influence in the city’s architecture, culture, and food. There is also a mix of old building that blend in with the more modern skyscrapers to give this city a lot of character.
But it is the culture that really stands out when you walk through the older streets of the city. Many times on my walk, I came across temples and shrines that marked the older Taoist spiritual connection. Even though each one of these temples had a specific deity that was worshipped there, many shrines were set up to various entities that people could come to worship or give offerings to. The Lungsham temple was a great example of this. The main focus of the temple was meant to be for Guanyin, but many people came to pay their respects to some of the other shrines. The more popular ones were for the god of literature and the god of war, but by entering the place, you could feel the respect that was given by the people who came here to worship.
But even though there were many Taoist temples in the city, there were still many places where old Buddhist monuments still stood. They were not as prominent, but it showed that blend of eastern Asian cultures existed in this town.
It made for an interesting day of seeing the different corners that Tai Pei had to offer. It was refreshing to see the city was not all about shopping and eating, but also was about that spiritual connection that all of us search for to give our lives meaning. There were many times on this walk that gave me that slight respite that allowed me to feel that the connection I was making was not only about the culture that was here, but was a more personal experience that allowed me to slow down and understand the world better from my perspective. This is what a day of seeing the city from the perspective of the people brings.
And of course there was always a moment to find some food as well. You are also able to finding the blending of cultures here as well. We stopped at a sushi place in the heart of the shopping district during lunch. I’m not sure, but it looked like all of the signs were in Chinese even though this is a typical Japanese dish. We were also asked to talk in the limited Mandarin that we knew to order even though what we were ordering came from a different part of east Asia. It made me think that even though there is not a huge western influence in this little corner of the world, it is nice to know that they are still willing to blend cultures together to create a new one that is fun and delicious at the same time.