Still suffering from the residuals of our flight I’m popping an Advil every 4 to 6 hours. (In hindsight I had evidently bruised my sinus cavities because of the pressure in the airplane.) If I don’t take the drugs, my head starts to pound as if thousands of little men are sticking needles into my brain. And then it takes twice as long to subside with twice the dose. It’s called pain management. I’ve experimented and discovered the truth from direct experience. It’s equivalent to the adiabatic curve in thermodynamics, which on the more mundane level means that you shouldn’t turn your heat off a night before you go to bed or it will take twice as much energy to restore the heat the following morning.
Anyway, as soon as the first twinges of pain occur I immediately take an Advil, take a puff for good measure and perhaps a drink of Wine to top things off. So this cycle occurred early in the morning as the Sun rose on our final day in Bangkok. Feeling sedated, as I lay in bed – a little dreamy – more than a bit content with my place on the planet I hear the most exquisite music I have ever heard – just at the ambient level of the noise of the city. A lady’s voice emerges and fades beneath the honking of early morning horns, the clanking of doors – the humming of machines – in short the groaning of the city as it wakes up to face another day. I think I must be dreaming and return to my reveries. But then there it is again. These ethereal sounds seem to be coming from a Thai singer – as the words are indistinguishable – or at least incomprehensible to me – moaning out the pain of existence - the senseless wars which have prematurely extinguished the lives of so many young virile men – of all the pointless misunderstandings that have destroyed so many relationships – of the misery of physical suffering due to disease or injury - of the agony of loss due to the inevitability of death of loved ones – or the departure of children to conquer the world –– ala Rama. And I begin crying at the excruciating tenderness of this feminine lament. With tears streaming down my cheeks I rush down into the lobby of the hotel and out into the streets to discover the source of the exquisite sweetness – these celestial rhythms. After wandering aimlessly for a bit I discover that these heavenly sounds are just electronic music generated by the vendors to accompany them as they set up for the day – not live at all.
I begin laughing at myself for the absurdity of my vision of a young lady accompanied by a band in some late night bar at 6 in the morning. But then I reflect again upon the nature of Reality, My singer was real as long as I thought her to be real – despite her lack of substance. My experience - my memory was real despite the fact that it happened so many years ago. My memory of my memory, no matter how distorted, twisted, turned, pulled, pushed this way and that by the in-between - my memory of my memory of my memory is real although it might not even reflect a Reality that ever existed.
Perhaps, yes perhaps, this was only a pre-waking dream induced by my many intoxicants, including Pill, Herb and Grape - and never really happened at all. And yet the memory lingers on, while fading and incomplete. And these scribbles on this paper, which will eventually be transferred to the computer and then to my Website, will exist forever – and will come to life when anyone happen to peruse the print. Now this is Reality.
Or else no one will ever read it and it will be burned on a junk heap – another type of reality altogether. More importantly, this exquisite experience, real or not, has been captured in print and turned into a type of virtual Reality - which can be accessed over and over - again, again & again. So you tell me. Which is more real – the Actuality, the Memory, or the Recording? I don’t know. You decide.
But then again what‘s it matter when faced with the Great Fire? Amen.
After our morning breakfast we decided to explore Bangkok – at least in walking distance of the hotel – despite warnings about the dangers of big cities – ‘especially in that part of the world – where it isn’t quite so civilized.’ Of course by this time in our journey we felt that Southeast Asia was civilized, while barbarians populated our part of the world.
As we strolled down the streets of the city almost immediately we happened upon a local food market that was setting up for the day. This was no tourist affair with sellers hawking their wares in multiple languages – no gaudy beads, Thai hats and T-shirts printed in English. This was a food market for locals. None of the vendors spoke any English; none of them engaged us in anyway. As we walked on plank floors we saw row upon row of multiple types of rice sold in bulk – no plastic packaging here, myriad spices, also in bins, not in containers, and unrecognizable produce.
The multiple types of rice was a testament to the importance of rice in their culture.
The myriad colors, shapes, and fragrances were dazzling in their intensity.
The vendors smiled at us in an unthreatening and friendly manner as we oohed and aahed at the colors and fragrances that wafted through the balmy air (some not so pleasant - produce mixed with sewage) as Miranda frantically snapped pictures to record these unforgettable sights for posterity.
After sating ourselves on the sensuality of this exotic marketplace, we sauntered onwards through the neighborhood – wondering if anything could top that. Noticing a gate slightly ajar, I looked inside.
“Dad, Don’t go in there. That’s private property.”
“Yeah, Dad. That could be someone’s house.”
“It won’t hurt to take a quick peek inside. Behold there’s some kind of garden inside.”
“Let’s just explore a little. After all, the gate was open. If they tell us to leave then …”
Inside the enclosure were some paths.
"What is it?"
"I don't know. Some kind of Hindu goddesses."
"Let's see what else is in here."
"I'm not sure we should be in here."
"We'll leave if asked."
"Wow! Look at this!"
"What an unexpected treat - a statue garden – complete with Hindu goddesses and a reclining Buddha – all blanketed in gold leaf and in good repair."
Miranda: “Look! There are some kittens.”
Serena: “And there’s the mother.”
Laurie: “They look underfed.”
Me: “Scrawny, but healthy.”
Suddenly my daughters and wife are transfixed by the wildlife. They sit down to stroke and play with the kittens, as the proud mother looks on –a duplicate of my wife and daughters – a fractal replication.
“Hmmm? Hindu and Buddhist mythology mixed together in artistic and tasteful fashion. So Bangkok. I wonder what’s going on here.”
I continue my exploration.
“Just the most magnificent temple I’ve ever seen – at least for its size.”
“You’re just saying that because you discovered it.”
“No really. It’s incredible. You’ve got to come.”
"And look they even have included the ancient Khmer fertility goddess in their temple statuary. Simply amazing."
Miranda: “I prefer the kittens.”
The temple is complete with fiery spires and statuary – all covered in gold leaf. It’s the classic syncretic Buddhism of Bangkok. But this is the first time I’ve seen such an explicit example – where the mythology is merged in one wat.
We proceed further and find a long single story rectangular Buddhist compound with teachers, listeners, mediation zones, and a small library. I am in Heaven – attaining the realization of the suchness of things - with the perfect people doing the perfect things. I’m shaking with excitement as shivers are shooting up and down my spine. Tears of gratitude well up in my eyes for being provided with this ecstatic moment.
We moved off the beaten path of tourism with their ubiquitous tour guides and such and discovered the most marvelous example of syncretic Bangkok Buddhism that I suspected existed, but had never seen. I bow my head and pray to the gods for leading me on this most wonderful adventure. Facing the pain of the next airplane flight augmented my mood - the insignificance of the agony compared with the immensity of the moment. As we wallowed and reveled in the exquisite mixture of artistic spirituality I thought: “Let this never end. Let me experience it over and over and over again.”
And I am - as I write and then read these black and white scribbles upon a piece of reconstituted wood and view these pictures. Some might say it is a virtual reality – not the real thing – just a memory of a memory – which has been distorted beyond all reckoning. But I’m there now and it’s Reality to me.