I Heart Ayutthaya and Sukanya
Considering the dinner of white rice the previous evening, I woke up with a hungry vengeance, thinking satiety or bust. I fed myself an enormous breakfast that included 3 slices of toasted white bread with the reduced sugar raspberry jam that’s been all the rage here at the homestay (Note: This white bread is much like Wonderbread, cheap and filled with heaven knows what. Being a brown rice/brown bread type of gal, 3 slices of this stuff is like my eating a king-sized Snickers bar. And the reduced sugar jam, another foodie compromise.), 1 package of something called Gold Roast Instant Cereal Beverage (A mix of tiny cereal flakes, non-dairy creamer and sweetener. Like drinking a cup of super-soggy tiny sweetened Corn Flakes), 1 perfect clementine orange, 1/2 of this huge dragon fruit pictured, coffee and water. Full at last!
Today was the start of my language and cultural lessons with Sukanya, the manager of IFRE‘s program here in Thailand. Spending the day with Sukanya was the most rewarding experience thus far. She is an extraordinary scholar with an expensive database of knowledge. We began with a lesson on Thai language at the kitchen table. This was intended to give me a bit of background on the difficulty I would most likely encounter when I begin teaching the children next week. Thai is an extremely complicated language. Their alphabet consists of 44 characters (32 of them being vowels) and 5 tones, compared to our 26 letters, 5 or so vowels and singular tone. In addition, when speaking or referring to the Royal Family, one must use, in essence, an entirely different language as Thai words indicate the social class of who you are speaking to. And yet another different branch of the language is spoken with regard to Buddhist monks. Another piece of Thai language trivia: when reading and writing Thai, a sentence takes up multiple lines. For example, in the sentence “You eat an apple.” eat apple would be on the first line while You would be below that on another line. But most confusing about Thai language are the 5 different tones. Sukanya used P as an example. In the Thai alphabet, P can sound 5 different ways… all of which sounded exactly the same to me. Aah! All of this to say that, while in the classroom, pointing to the Thai word, instead of attempting to pronounce it, would be more effective… Damage control considering I’ll be teaching only for one week.
Sukanya then gave me a brief history of Thailand’s history, focusing on the ruling kingdoms. The short version:
Sukhothai: The first Thai ruling Kingdom. Early 13th century. I’ll be visiting the Kingdom ruins soon. It’s on my long list of independent Thailand excursions.
Ayutthaya: This kingdom ruled the school starting in the mid-14th century until the Burmese (and disease) attacked. Well, what do you know I got some pictures of the city’s awesome ruins below. This is where Sukanya and I spent the day.
Dhonburi: This Kingdom only lasted about 15 years. It moved across the river (the Chao Phraya river that I ferried around yesterday) to what you and I know as Bangkok, but what the Thais know as…
Rattanakosin: And get this, Rattanakosin is only part of the Thai word for Bangkok. Its full name is about 62 words (!). Why? To the best of my understanding: Astrology tells us that based on the day we are born we have certain characteristics, both weaknesses and strengths. The Thais believe that the day the word “Rattanakosin” was born it was also afflicted with weaknesses. In order to combat these weaknesses (that may weaken the Kingdom), words continue to be added.
I found Thailand’s history so very interesting and my many questions opened Sukanya up for spreading more knowledge. Once we reached Ayutthaya, discussions continued as we walked the ancient ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram. This ancient Buddhist monastery was abandoned and left to the elements after the Burmese invaded/illness became rampant in the area. I forget which one! Like Wat Arun yesterday, I climbed to the top of the mighty center prang, giving my knees quite the work-out.
Sukanya dropped me off at an area restaurant for lunch as I would need my energy for the many more Wats on the day’s itinerary. If we’ve ever eaten Thai food together you may know that the only dish I order is Pad See Ew, broad rice noodles fried with sweet soy sauce, Chinese broccoli, garlic and tofu. Today marked my first time in Thailand eating my favorite dish. It was just gosh-darned delicious! The taste was a bit different as strict Eastern vegetarians in the Buddhist fashion do not eat garlic (or onion). These are 2 of the 5 forbidden vegetables in the Buddhist diet that are thought to stimulate desires and warm the skin. Uh oh! Along with my meal I ordered a watermelon Slushy-type thing, pure watermelon juice and crushed ice. As I waited in the restaurant (called Ruean Rojjana, btw), I realized I must seize the opportunity to eat well as I didn’t know what to expect from the homestay that evening. I ordered a plate of fried spring rolls and requested chop sticks. C’mon, I’m a Thai food pro here. And for a basis of comparison, here is the scoop on the bill: Spring rolls were 100 Baht, Pad See Ew was 120 Baht and watermelon icee was 30 Baht. Total was 250 Baht, about $8US. And these are TOURIST prices. And Sukanya picked up the tab.
Next up, Wat Naprameru. This Wat was in very good condition as the Burmese used it as an army based when they invaded. Inside, while smiling at the slew of shiny Buddhas, Sukanya delved into some of the rituals and beliefs of Buddhism, including the 32 Characteristics of the Great Man. Those who are to become a Buddha must have all of these characteristics, kind of like SWF ISO man who channels external powers and reaches enlightenment type-of-thing. So what are these characteristics? Sukanya only revealed a few to me and, so far, it seems I know a few folks who may be good candidates to become Buddha. The power to control your breath (practiced through meditation), the practice of vegetarianism, straight fingers and toes and Chakras being open for business (practiced through this school of Buddhism’s yoga, different than the Indian practice popular in the States) are a few of the characteristics of the Great Man.
Onward to Wat Yai Chaya Mongkol, or The Great Temple of Auspicious Victory, and there is that Buddha lying on his side again. More trivia: The direction the reclining Buddha’s face is looking matters. If this fellow was facing the other direction, it would mean he was dead. I forget which direction is which. Take a look at his toes. There are those straight toes, one of the 32 Characteristics of the Great Man.
A devout Buddhist stray dog asleep on top of the temple.
The most impressive and bustling Wat of today’s Ayutthaya tour was Wat Panan Choeng. This expansive religious center of Ayutthaya was a labyrinth of active worship that was packed with people paying homage to their religious deities. All schools of Buddhism were represented, as well as Hinduism, which had a profound influence on Buddhism. Sukanya drew the attention of many visitors as we strolled the compound, her infectious passion for her Buddhist beliefs unleashed with a fury. Unfortunately at this point, my brain was reeling from the crash course in Thai and Buddhist history and I was ready for quiet reflection.
Ironically, after a day of learning of Buddha and his teachings, I was dropped off an an area mall for some shopping. I haven’t set foot in a mall in years, a huge feat for a girl raised on Long Island, but I was curious to witness a Thai mall. The place was quite the experience and had plenty of Western influence, for better or worse. I did make some purchases in this huge K-mart equivalent grocery supermarket/department store. I bought some pretty vegan wallets, a typically Asian tote bag (Cute, Japanese-inspired, big round eyes on everything-type fashion), hair dye (I dyed my hair again. This is just what I do when I travel, it seems.) and some veg food for the homestay. I spent about $20US. Oh and look, over-the-counter birth control. America, take note.