Friday, June 24, 2011

My Thai

This posts is just a collection of things I've experienced in Thailand.

      We spent one full day at Thammasat University near the Grand Palace to hear faculty from their Political Science department explain the intricacies of the Thai democratic situation and the history of United States/Thai diplomacy.  More on this to follow as I’m working on trying to figure out the forthcoming (July 3) election and will blog about it as the date gets clearer (there is likely to be an uprising when the election results are made public – fun!!)  During the hour lunch we were granted in between lectures I snuck away from the group to find my way to the amulet market near the palace.  Amulets are images of Lord Buddha which are said to have special powers, bestowing good luck and blessings upon their owners.  Evidently some amulets have the power and some do not, so I followed a monk around to choose amulets that he was choosing.  I ended up with 2 amulets to wear on chains around my neck and a set of 10 clay ones I can give to my friends that I want to have good karma. 
Thammasat University

The founder of the University - students still come and place flowers by his statue
The amulet market

Students from the university come here to pray before exams

One of the professors at the University lectured on Thai politics

      In the evening I also spent some time wandering around the night market, where one can buy “genuine” Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Prada, etc., for a laughably small price.  I haven’t bought anything “name brand” yet and am wrestling with the dilemma of who I might be supporting by buying these goods, but I did buy some silk boxers for Heath and Garrett and some other surprise gifts which I won’t name is the people they are for might be reading this. 
At the market

      We also visited the Jim Thompson house museum.  Jim Thompson was a legendary American who pioneered the international silk trade in Thailand.  He was also an architect and art collector, so he built a beautiful traditional Thai house filled with antiques and works of art, right on a Bangkok canal.  The Jim Thompson silk company provided all the beautiful silks made in the costuming of the film “The King and I”.  Jim Thompson mysteriously disappeared during a visit to Malaysia, but his house had been preserved and is quite interesting (of course, if you visit there you are invited to spend big bucks on the silk products that the company still produces).  

Jim Thompson house

Traditional Thai silk loom
Traditional Thai houses are open-air and on stilts

Spirit Houses

I can’t remember if I’ve written about spirit houses previously.  Each Thai house and business has one.  The idea is tied to animism and Buddhism.  The spirit of the earth would be disturbed when a building is put on a piece of land, and would leave and cause the owners bad luck. So the “spirit house” gives the land’s spirit a place to dwell.  The owners must keep the spirit happy by providing it with offerings to the best of their ability.  It’s okay if a poor person has a little spirit  house and meager offerings, but a wealthy landowner had better provide his or her spirit with appropriate riches.  So fancy hotels will have spirit houses the size of a tool shed, whereas lowly shacks can have a little birdhouse looking home for its spirit.  The oddest thing about this practice is the offerings one sees in the spirit houses.  A good landowner will always tend to his/her spirit house and keep fresh gifts inside. Usually it’s flowers and fruit, but I’ve seen cigars, cans of beer, glasses filled with tea (and a straw!), toys, and bowls of rice in some houses!  I think I’ll get myself a spirit houses when I return to DeLand.  I’ll tend to it, feed it, give it pretzels and iced tea so our spirits will be pleased and we’ll have an even more harmonious home.
Spirit houses can be grand or humble, depending on the homeowner's financial status

Do the spirits really want superhero toys?

Offering drinks to the spirits of the land