So I just finished my last final today! Yay! I’ve got two more days left in Bangkok until the long (28hrs or so) series of flights back to Cleveland. This week has been a blur! I feel like it’s just another blink of an eye until I found myself flying back over the Pacific.
On Wednesday I didn’t have any finals so I got up early and went to the National Museum, the largest museum in SE Asia and the home to many priceless artifacts. The museum has a wonderful set of volunteers that give free tours to tourists every Mon, Wed and Fri. Alan, our tour guide, was a American spending retirement in Bangkok. John and Meagan, a father and daughter from Montana on vacation in Thailand were the only others on the tour. The musuem was surprisingly empty – besides a few other Europeans we had it all to ourselves. Alan had a surprising amount of energy for his age, not once taking a seat during the 2.5hr tour.
The tour took us around the museum to many unique national treasures. Among the highlights were the Phra Buddha Signh, the 2nd most important Buddha image in all of Thailand (2nd to the emerald buddha in the grand palace), a house and bed in which king Rama 4 was born, the funeral chariots for deceased royal family, an ivory saddle for a royal elephant (how ironic…) and my favorite – two giangantic carved wooden doors carved by Rama 2 that must’ve taken years of work. Pictures were strictly forbidden inside the museum, so I unfortunately don’t have any pictures of any of the really cool stuff.
After the tour and lunch, John, Meagan, I and an Italian lady who we met on the tour went over to the South wing which housed tons of buddha images from outside Thailand, most from between the 5th and 10 centuries. We went to see a map showing the trade routes in ancient southeast asia and nearby buddha image which Alan considered to be the most important artifact in the museum – a buddha image from the 1st century from current-day Afghanistan. The buddha image is the only one like it in the world; the buddha is wrapped in a greaco-roman robe, an influence left over from when Alexander the Great came through the region. Afterwards, we headed over to the North wing where buddha images and other artifacts from Thailand were held.
What was baffiling to me was the treatment of these priceless statues – the statues had no protection around them (not even a plexiglass case) and were open to the heat and humidity, with only a few fans in the rooms to provide comfort for the visitors. Many of the wooden artifacts and some murals we saw were falling apart from the exposure. Any one of these thousand+ years old statues would be the crown jewel of a wealthy museum in the States and would have its own climate controlled environment and a laser-security system. Ironically, the only part of the museum that had airconditioning was a very small exhibit on the evolution of Thai money, arguablly the least important artifacts in the museum. (for perspective, current coinage from around the world was part of the exhibit. Why a 1976 quarter from the States gets similar or better treatment than a small jade buddha image from the 5th century, I won’t ever really understand.) Oh Thailand.
John, Meagan and I headed to the amulet market after the museum. The market was packed with tiny buddha images and other luck charms made from bone, stone, clay, bronze and other metals. Amulets are very popular in Thailand; and image of the Buddha supposedly brings protection. As it was getting to be late afternoon and a heavy storm was rolling in, I bid farewell to John and Meagan and headed back to Evergreen, where Wolfgang was cooking his first schnitzel dinner for us and our Thai friends.
Today (Thursday), after my final exam, the director of the ISE program and other administrators took us out for a farewell lunch at a fancy Chinese restaurant. The food was great and seemed limitless; I tried my first fish stomach soup and deep-fried taro in sugar (delicious!).
Ok. Last time I promised I’d make this a short post. So I’ll stop here. Cheers!