Archive for June 8th, 2008

Zen Meditations in Chiang Mai

So really, what is this place I am in? Not Chiang Mai up in the north of Thailand, or even Thailand itself, but Asia as a whole. What do I really know about the place after three weeks here? Very little, and what I think I know is probably wrong. Sure they are primarily Buddhist, that much is clear from all the temples and Buddhas I have seen. But what is that? Many scholars of religion and many American Buddhists don’t even consider it a religion proper.

To my eyes, it as religious (and superstitious) as good old fashioned Catholicism. There are the incense filled halls of worship, money given with prayers, candles, praying hands, striking images, and moving from station to station. So really what do I know? I know it looks cool and so I take pictures of it. It says something about us, and I want to crack the code. To me, it seems odd that anyone would take it seriously – like any religion – But just like Christians, Muslims, Hindus and even New Agers, they most certainly do.

This city is pretty mellow and laid back compared to Bangkok. It’s got a reputation as a cultured city with a university and a big medical center and all. So here I am in this Internet cafe in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Of course it’s not a cafe at all, just a bunch of old computers along a wall with mostly western travelers at them. It doubles as a travel agency, with the walls plastered with posters for tours on offer and other things that might attract my money. Lets see: white water rafting, bungee jumping, elephant rides and “safari”, massage school, a Thai boxing show, hill tribe treks where I can go and pretend I am really seeing indigenous people living in their villages, including the “longnecks”. You’ve seen pictures of them, with the many rings around the woman’s necks stretching them out over time.

But it all seams a little like a circus. More likely they pose for the cameras, try to sell some goods and then go back to their modern homes and shake their heads.

Oh, and there he is, the king up on the wall as well. And right next to him up there above the back door is a small Buddhist shrine with incense and flowers as offerings. What do I really know?

Of course the good folks here are just trying to to get by and make a living. And hey, they do have fun on their motorbikes on the way to the Thai Dream. I had my chance to ride one of my own yesterday.

So when someone like me comes here with Bhat that came from dollars, euro, or yen (it’s easy to spend a hundred here and and a hundred there – 3 dollars) they are just trying to get a piece of the American pie. Of course, this woman selling all kinds of cooked bugs (beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, even roach-like waterbugs) had no chance of getting any of my apple pie!

But of course I can’t blame them, even though I have long ago learned to ignore the calls to me as I walk the streets of “taxi”, “Tuk-Tuk” (small open air three wheeled taxis), “where you go?”, “hello”. They are just doing their job. And when I go home and do mine, it’s incredible to think what I get in one hour – plenty here for a whole day living like a king – well not THE king.

And I guess I will keep trying to do my job here – pictures of temples, monks, and worshipers and seeing what it all means – if anything.

Now it’s time to leave Chiang Mai and get to the ultimate sacred site in all of Asia – Angkor Wat in Cambodia.