Friday, January 22, 2010


After last nights magic, sending our balloons aloft to wish away bad luck, we got up before dawn to take part in an alms giving ceremony that occurs every day.
Panu told us some of the many, (over 200) rules a monk must obey to become a monk. He may learn them all but to stay a monk and remember them all is...well, its a mystery. And their clothing is a mystery, too. Just a thin looking wrap?
He explained that monks cannot cook, they must not keep leftover food, and they cannot ask for food. What they do is set out in the early morning with their brass pots and walk (barefoot) a certain route of about two miles. They do not solicit or beg. They may not make eye contact. But if someone calls to them, they may stop and allow food to be placed in their pot. It seems strange to us but it is the inscrutable, mellow, Thai way of Buddha. There is a lot of wais, as food changes hands.
The Thai take care of their monks and the monks engage the people to a better life through Buddha. A fair exchange. A young boy may be an apprentice at age 10. He gets three meals a day. The adult monks eat two. At the end of the day, any leftover food is given to whoever comes to the temple and is hungry. The poor and the indigent are fed. Its a type of social welfare system in a sense.
As a women, I know that if I even brush up against his clothing he must do three days worth of penance, so, of course, we women keep our distance.
After the giving of alms, the mystery unfolded as this monk consented to have a chat with us. He showed us how his clothing was wrapped. He wears a simple one piece "gym" suit of yellow, with a pocket in it, under his saffron robe.
He demonstrates the folding of this garment so that it can be loose when it is hot, and cover up to the neck when it is cold.
Simcha shot this photo of a forest monk walking down the street. They dress in brown and sage. He can change and become a city monk if there is room at a city temple for his services.

After our visit with the monk and his library, the bus took us up a steep and winding road to the top of a distant mountain where a very famous temple, Wat Phratat Doe Suthep sits. As we were unloading from the bus to take the funnicular to the temple, the bus began rolling down the steep hill. We watched helplessly as the attendant attempted to jump back onto the bus with the driver. Then a curve...we could hear the screams of people in the path of the bus but see nothing.
My grandson, Mason, Wendy Aisley, Roberta Berman and Sy Shames were still on board. In fact, Wendy had gotten off the bus and jumped back on because she had forgotten something.
We stayed, fretting, worried about the worst possible event, that of the bus crashing headlong down the mountain and over the edge.
Its hard to judge how long before we got word that all were safe. When our shaken friends were at last with us, we learned that the brakes had failed. Wirach, the attendant, managed to get aboard the run-away bus on his second attempt and held Wendy, preventing her from falling out the open door of the bus. Chai, the driver had two options, two places to turn. The street was filled with people. The first turn-off was loaded with other tourists. The second lot, his last chance, he deliberately hit parked motorcycles and cars, coming to a stop on top of a car that then crashed into a second car. The bus nearly tipped twice before he brought the run-away to a stop. No one was injured...badly. Wendy, with adrenaline running, insisted her ankle was fine. It wasn't until the next day that her ankles swelled and she had to be looked at by a doctor.
The door was completely ripped off.
The bus came to rest on this car. The woman driving it accepted a ride home from us in the new bus the company delivered to the mountain top. (The bus company is contracted by OAT.) We explained that the bus driver and attendant were heroes. Our plucky friends were shaken but quite calm and brave about their scare.
We joined the multitudes as they burned incense and rang the bells of every tone. But somehow, our heart wasn't into the rest of the tour. We calmed down enough have tea and cookies at a famous jade place. Back at our hotel, the executives of OAT listened to our story of the events. And, late, we went in two vans to our home hosted dinner.

But, we know, it would have been worse if we hadn't sent our bad luck aloft, aloft, aloft and far away in the magical balloon.

(NOTE: Jim and I are in the vast, south west desert area of Texas, headed for Big Bend National Park, and our signal is unreliable. In fact, I'm expecting more pictures from Simca, all of the above are his, and I've been unable to get in all of my emails today.)

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