Elephants & Horses

All right, wow, what a week it has been!

Wednesday last, paid a visit to the Erawan Museum. The place had been on my radar for quite some time. With a description like the following, you know it’s a-gonna be right up my alley for reals:

The Elephant of the Universe. This three-headed elephant (Airavata) was born of Khun Lek Viriyapant’s ideas and imagination. It was inspired by his wish to preserve his collection of antiques as a contribution to Thai cultural heritage. Many of these were priceless objects of art; they were also held as sacred objects for people of ancient cultures. According to ancient traditions, they were believed to bring blessing and prosperity to the land and its people, and therefore must not be lost to outsiders. It had been Mr. Viriyapant’s concern to find a way that would keep these objects safe and that would also be suitable to their traditional functions. One day he had a visit from a Westerner who, during the course of the conversation, suggested the idea of constructing the most important building in the town in the form of an apple which, according to Western traditions of belief, played a crucial part in the shaping of human destiny. This suggestion was warmly welcomed by Mr. Viriyapant. He nevertheless thought it more appropriate to adhere to Eastern traditions and thus decided on the heavenly elephant Airavata of Hindu mythology. […]

Over 10 years of perseverance, common clay and dust were finally formed into the massive 43-metre tall sculpture which today stands on a long stretch of Sukhumvit road. The elephant’s massive body, made of pure bronze, is set on the top of a huge round base painted in pastel pink. Inside the breathtaking museum hall invaluable reminders of Thailand’s ancient heritage are kept, while its captivating interior is lavishly adorned with elegant decorative pieces of contemporary art.

I had lo these many months balked at the (for my budget) exorbitant 300 Baht admission fee; but finally decided that I’d not forgive myself if, never I should return to Bangkok, to have missed out on the Big Elephant for want of a measly sawbuck. And so, after an easy twenty-minute bus ride, there it was.

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Uh, okay; that fucker’s pretty big.

The elephant is still visible, even from the “Free Zone” of the museum’s grounds. But to get up close and personal, gotta pay the fee. Which I done. Before exiting the “Free Zone”, however, had a quick look at the Mission Statement. Kinda grandiose.

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Of course, the visitor needs must accept some responsibilities as well. Love the bit about “Keep the place clean.”

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On the grounds is a display detailing, month-by-month, the festivals celebrated in this particular region of Thailand. Now, how does this  rate among your all-time fave sentences ever have you read?

During his time, he was a very famous and compassionate guru whose auspicious Tiger Tooth amulet was very popular and powerful.

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So then this damned elephant…

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It’s big-huge, no doubt. But somehow I couldn’t help feeling that there should be more to it that just big-huge. Something mystical (or what). I really couldn’t grok the thing. I done felt somehow, in other words, more than a little disappointed.

Okay, well, how if I had a go at the museum? It’s in several different parts. An underground level is filled up with Thai ceramical artefacts. No photos allowed, which is a big-huge shame, ‘cause this stuff was just…so phenomenal. Probably worth the price alone, just to see these ceramical works.

Then, to it, let’s head up into the big guy’s belly. Stepping inside the ground level of the museum – really just the lobby – and…Holy Christ, this place is some kind of gorgeous!

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Are you fricking kidding me? How is this even possible? I mean, a scenario this astonishingly resplendent shouldn’t even be possible in a dream or a movie, let alone in real-live live-long life. Yowz!

Well, so, one will climb the spiral staircase right up into senor’s guts. There’s only one small window, in point of fact, and the view is nothing too scintillating.

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But, you know, it’s pretty together.

Then keep climbing further still, and it’s into the topmost level of the museum – kinda like an ice palace up there. There’re numerous off-limits-to-photographers wickedly fine Buddha images lining the walls; while the front is a pretty remarkable shrine.

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Okay, this is all pretty flabbergasting, ain’t it? But then, the way back down, it’s time to be set agog all over again, as one notices wonders aplenty which had been missed the first time ‘round.

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What can one say, apart from “God damn”?

Half-inclined to call it a day (maybe even a life), now, as, having seen the inside of this place, what the Hell else is there?

But decided instead to try to see if I could wrest some kind of inner meaning from this freakin’ elephant. There must be more to it that just, “Gee, that son of a bitch is huge.” Er, mustn’t there?

So I went outside and just lay down on the ground for a while, just to get a different perspective on things. And ended up in the same position for an hour or more, having found…what, am not sure. But, yes, viewed from this angle, the elephant doth begin to take on new, if un-definable, meaning.

Of course, yes, the photos won’t convey the treasured emanations. But nevertheless, here some are.

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Walked around to the other side, and again lay down on the ground – this time for more like two hours, just drinking it all in. Truly there is some kind of a something going on with this cat. Something more than meets the eye. Je ne sais quoi; but, it’s real.

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I even took some footage, too. Of a sculpture? Well, but, see, the wind came up for a time; and then a bit later some raining. Which events added some manner of dynamism to the setting.

All said and done, this place may well be (leaving aside the Temples Of Angkor which, really, are a whole other ballgame) my most favourite man-made attraction of the Asian sojourn. It’s right there with Sala Kaew Ku, and a few of the more remarkable temples. And to think: I nearly allowed a measly sawbuck to keep me away altogether. Coming to one’s sense, I guess: better late than never!

More (so many more) photos over at the Flickr page.

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Mind thoroughly blown, it was time to go camping! Thursday morning, Rata, myself, and her five-year-old niece set out for the “Horsing Farm” up in Isan, right near Khao Yai National Park.

It’s a group of friends with whom she’s been close since having taken a class with them twelve years ago. One of them, Pikun, owns the Farm (which supplies 8% of Thai racing horses), while his sister owns the property on which the farm sits.

In all, there were ten of us, including three kids and a maid. Her friends are just the most wonderful people! Had the pleasure of their company for only a few days, but felt as though I’d known them practically the whole of my live-long life. So warm, and welcoming, and funny, and goofy, and cool.

And this, even though it was difficult to communicate. They were more self-conscious with regard to their speaking in English than I think they ought to’ve been – their ability to do so being well more than passable, in my estimation. While, I, of course…have been here in Asia for seven months just – well, not dicking off, exactly; but certainly taking much fewer efforts to learn more Thai than I very well should have done (‘specially considering that Thai and Lao are similar enough to be mutually intelligible).

We set up shop in a modest little vacation home right alongside a beautiful little river.

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And lest one think this not truly “camping”, know that there were tents pitched…on the lanai!

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Thursday was the 2,600th anniversary of the Lord Buddha’s first sermon. This could mean only one thing: four-day weekend, dude! In other words, the roads were packed, and it took us a lot longer to get up to the Horsing Farm that it otherwise should have.

After stopping once for lunch, and once again for a snack, three of the four parties eventually called in to the Farm, where Pikun was there waiting for us, in the early evening.

And so, what do Thais do while on holiday? Well, they eat. A lot. Frequently. So, first things first, got the kitchen set up, and set about whipping up some dinner.

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Pretty fascinating watching a big Thai gathering chow down. At any given time, half of the participants are up cooking some or other dish, while the other half are eating. Just kind of  a rotating system, as each dish is added to the growing tableau as soon as it has finished cooking, and some new ones are immediately started in upon. I was even recruited to do some very basic prep work.

I wondered, isn’t it odd eating in this “progressive” manner – if for no other reason than, doesn’t the food get cold, and isn’t it strange to not all be sitting eating together? Nobody seemed to comprehend my concern; so I guess they must be okay with it. Anyway, for using just a few little camp-stoves, and a cutting board or two, they sure do whip up some delectable-looking and –smelling concoctions.

Friday morning, whilst they-all were busy going at another massive meal, I took a walk around the area – most peaceful, laid-back, and beautiful indeed.

Then we went out for a drive. After a brief stop to feed the elephants…

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…we ended up at this strange little shopping mall fronting as a rustic Italian villa. Place was crowded to the gills with Thai vacationers wanting to get their photo on in front of the Italianic landmarks. You’ve never seen so many damned cameras in all your born days! Even a tripod or three. It’s kind of a neat little place, though.

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After this, it was time (natch) for more eating! We went to a restaurant serving Isan food, and here it all came again. The customers write their own tickets, ordering up many, many entrees, and many, many little baskets of sticky rice. And, the servers come by with trays full of the former, plopping them down at the appropriate tables just as soon as they’ve finished cooking.

And the diners dig in, and the dishes just keep on arriving, one or two every few minutes. For the prodigious quantities of food Thais consume, it’s interesting to note the rather small size of each individual bite — and the care with which each is all packed together using the various entrees, sauces, garnishes, and rice. Thais really love their cuisine!

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I et a bag of grapes.

Now, of course, food coma arrived in Camperland. While everybody was having a siesta, I walked down along the river to enjoy the setting and skip some stones, and relax. Soon enough, a couple of young locals came by, the other side of the river, and called out (as Thais so often will), “You!”

“Sawatdee krup!” I called back, nearly exhausting my Thai-language vocabulary. They came galloping ‘cross the river, later to be joined by their dog. They didn’t speak but a few words of English, but we had a merry little time together any old how. Names of “Karan” and “James” (as nearly as I could make out), they were lovin’ the picture-taking antics, believe you me.

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After a while, they took me up to goof of with the horses for a bit.

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When I returned to the house, peeps were waking up from their naps, and getting ready to (you guessed it) cook dinner. Another grand and gloriously gluttonous affair it was. After which, Auntie Rata got the kids all whipped up into an ever-so-entertaining frenzy.

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Saturday morning, Pikun showed the kids and myself around the Farm; an excellent tour guide if ever there were.

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When we returned, a great big Thai breakfast was in the making.

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After breakfast, Pikun made some origami…

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…and a bunch of us went for a swim in the river. Then it was time to pack up and head off to…eat another meal. Back to the same Isan restaurant from the previous day. Rata had warned me, on the drive up, to not be alarmed at the amounts of food which I would see being eaten. Even so, my head is still spinning.

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And then, sadly, we went our separate ways, all back to Bangkok. More pics, again, over yonder.

For the life of me, I’ll never know what I did to deserve this invitation to spend a weekend hanging out with Rata and her friends. I couldn’t then, and can’t now, find words to express my gratitude. It’s an experience I’ll treasure for a very long time.

Meanwhile, I’d not have thought that it could possibly do so, but De Talak has raised the bar even higher. I had arrived to Bangkok feeling rather low: missing Laos a lot, and not ready to go home.

But the De Talak, it ain’t no place for moping and self-pity. From the moment I arrived, I’ve been in disbelief. This place just keeps getting more and more fun with each passing visit. Some familiar faces, many new faces. But everybody so interesting and cool and funny and wonderful.

Never a dull moment here; and, wow, I got me a passage back home last night (Sunday), and it’s really beginning to set in. The fun will continue to be had without me; hopefully I shall be privileged to, in a future age, dive in again. I love you, De Talak!

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And so too do I love its home, Bangkok Rock City. Yesterday, walking back from aerobics, this fellow had his finger jammed so far up his right nostril, it was like as though he was all mining for Olympic Gold in the Nosepick Finals. Fucking beautiful.

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