Sawasdee, fellow mortals! Guess who’s back?! Yes, I am now in Bangkok (which you already might have guessed after the first hello) after an excruciating journey from Kolkata, arguably my worst two and a half hours of flight experience, and which involved an angsty possibly North Indian teen lass constantly arguing with her dragon momma just behind me. Yes, there’s always an angsty teen and overbearing mom somewhere in my vicinity to torture my senses. Imagine a combination of Dolores Umbridge and Bella Swan. THAT irritating. The good thing, exceptional Thai Airways hospitality. Though the hostesses wore laid back dress but were better, and a thousand times more homely and warm than the low cost skin-all “thigh airlines” in India, which basically gives the finger for free. Also, there’s something about those tightly tied hair. Normally you associate them with unnerving uppity corporate babes. But then tight hair serving you with a toothy smile is quite contradictory, but somehow very pleasant!
So I landed in Suvarnabhumi airport, and immediately got ripped off 1500 Baht (48 US$, 60 NZ$) for an on-arrival temporary Visa. But that’s okay, so much for 12 hours in Bangkok. The Constantinople of the east, the melting pot of thousand years of Hindu and Buddhist culture and civilization, which is better known now for the transvestites, hookers, “massage” parlours and bargirls in Soi Cowboy and the “Ping Pong shows” (google it), thanks mostly to the tourists.
So what would a 28+ man, a journalist by profession, a history and politics nut by passion, do the first thing in such a city, given the circumstances?
Exactly. Singha Light. 2 pints and you feel completely liberated. Tenets of Buddhism for you, concept of mortality and Nirvana made easy by the Thai tourism industry. Character building stuff, I tell you.
Anyway, I had only 7 hours (12 hours only in name, I had to get back atleast 3 hours early), and the airport is quite far, so I just managed to roam a bit and click some really bad pics through my phone, which I’ll upload (in a couple of days) in the FB page here, please do join and see. Oh you already did? Cheers buddy, really kind.
Now before dropping out, here’s a bit of history for the serious minded. Bangkok is the nerve center of Theravada Buddhism, which is similar to South India and Srilanka, with the religious scriptures being in Pali, and NOT Sanskrit or any Proto Indo-European dialect. Which is a bit weird, considering the fact that Buddhism spread in East Asia (and also west till Afghanistan, which the Talibans destroyed in Bamyan) by the monks under the patronage of Emperor Ashoka the Great, who was North Indian, the first Emperor to embrace and give Buddhism state patronage in Hindu India, after the massive Kalinga war which influenced and formed his political and philosophical doctrine of non-violence. The second major influence is the neighbouring semi-Hindu Cambodia, like the name of Suvarnabhumi, which means “Golden land” in Sanskrit, and Sawasdee which originated from the Sanskrit greeting of Swasti (Peace). Almost all the major temples have huge motifs of “Rama – Sita” and “Brahma”. And contrary to what I expected there is almost zero influence of Zen or Sino-Japanese, as usually portrayed in movies. But then, since when do we actually ever research about East Asians, and not stereotype them?
Also, here’s another profound observation. Compared to the fact that the major wars and religious conversions happening between, are always blamed on the Abrahamic religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam, our own history of the struggle of cultural dominance between Hinduism and Buddhism is no less bloody. While Buddhism spread and consolidated to the East sucking the lifeforce out of any other pre-existing culture, here in the Indian subcontinent, in the land where Siddhartha Gautama Shakyamuni Buddha was born, it got toppled from its position of state religion just two generations after Ashoka, and a great retaliatory purge against Buddhism started as the monks fled North to Tibet and China with the scriptures and texts. It is in Tibet and China Buddhism got the fighting character before spreading further North East (Non-violence never wins, darling. Fact.), the reason for Japanese Nationalism during Second World War, or Sri Lankan civil war with minority Tamil Hindus and ofcourse all the insanity of those pathetic martial art movies that you have to watch. (Including Ong Bak, which is a major thing of pride here in Bangkok.)
In India, in the next 1500 years, the Islamic Arab-Persian culture and then Christian-Protestant Anglo-Saxon influence slowly interweaved and synthesized, like all other prior invasions since the Aryans came through Hindu Kush mountains. What if Buddhism resisted the purge and continued to be the State religion? Would the history be different today? Would the Islamic or Christian cultural synthesis not have happened? It happened in China, but not in Japan, what would have happened in a Buddhist India? I don’t know. But it is fun to imagine the unlimited uncharted prospects!
As I type this ridiculous piece of travel writing for this blog, sitting in the airport lounge, I was wondering about all these. All around me lost looking tourists of different nationalities strangely glancing at me, like I am a socially awkward outcast, which I agree I am a bit at times. But I enjoy my solitude reflecting during my own personal version of Nirvana after downing a couple of mugs. Or maybe it is just the journalist in me. I didn’t manage to see the Ping Pong show this time, but I will someday come back. Probably when I am completely indifferent, which due to the nature and type of my job I will be quite soon.
To Auckland, baby…
(Oh BTW, the good folks of World Tribune republished some of my Freepressers op-eds, just thought you guys might be interested.
AND MOST IMPORTANTLY my blog was nominated here for travel writing by the good people here, in the “International Exchange/Experience Blogs” for 2012. Sort of retroactive. Not unlike Obama winning Nobel peace-er, only way more cool as it is about me ofcourse.
Please take a minute off to visit this link, and vote for my blog, name’s “Daily World Watch”. Also post this on your FB/Twitter or any other social networking site that you use, and share with others, help me win, (or atleast so that I can give a good competition to other blogs)…and do your share of good karma, or service to humanity, whichever way you prefer to see it.
Thanks much! Very kind!)