Monday, December 12, 2005

Sukhotai, Thailand

This burgh is about halfway between Chang Mai and Bangkok and of little note if it was not for their National Historical Park, chock a block full of various ruined temples chedis, stupas etc. Definitely the place for culture vultures and quite impressive by all accounts.

I have probably spent more time faffing around the site than I should but I needed to get away from a Chinese fellow who has been following me around of late. He overheard me checking out the prices of a guesthouse with a tout and decided to drop his own transaction and follow me. His touts got angry at this and started being a tad aggressive with him. He started to get shouty and looked at me in despair so I told the touts that he was coming with me and that was that. For some reason the Thais will go as far as needed when there is a negotiation process on but will drop it as soon as you make a firm decision. That or the prospect of intimidating a young 6 footer was a bit more daunting than hustling an elderly Chinese man.

He has been useful for info on China but he has unfortunately decided that I am his guardian angel or new best friend or something and has tried to follow me all over the place. He is not the fittest chap on earth so I decided to rent a bicycle in the knowledge that he could not keep up. This might sound callous but, aside from being a bit boring he has developed a "them vs us" attitude and is needlessly abrupt with the locals. As I would rather be on good terms with the Thais I met I have had to contrive a way to get rid of him.

The bicycle is a good plan anyway as the site is quite spread out. The really fun stuff is quite concentrated but there are nice little ruins all around the place with the added bonus that you cycle on little farm roads and get to watch rural life in Thailand. In my case I got to watch people doing naff all as only idiots like me were out in the sun in the early afternoon. The main site has got some massive Buddhas in various poses, usually in ruined temples surrounded by a moat. There is an artificial lake in front of one of the big ones and one can gaze past the aged columns and statues to a huge floating lotus-like contraption which is said to host yet another Buddha. This is a recent addition and is somewhat of an eyesore. It is bright pink and comes from the Lottery Winner School of Styling. I was told it was made of paper and hoped this was so that it could be ceremoniously torched but apparently it is here to stay.

I was glad to see a lot of smiling Buddhas in this place. Usually he tends to have little facial expression but the builders of this area must have decided to go with a more jolly variant. In some cases he is smiling placidly but in others the boy looks like has been told a joke and is trying to hold in a case of the giggles. Hailing from Christendom, I find this a welcome change from the more somber iconography found in churches. Admittedly it is hard to give the places a sense of cheer when the main focus is usually a man being tortured and killed. I can't help thinking that churches would be fuller if they removed the image of JC in his death throes and put up the Last Supper or the scene where Jesus made sure the wedding party was sorted for booze.

In the interest of culture I will try to explain a thing or two about the Buddhas that I have seen and their meaning. I should make a quick disclaimer though to the effect that all the below is based on personal observation and conversations with a variety of people and differing levels of sobriety for both the giver and receiver of information. In short, it’s probably all bollocks.

Arabin’s unreliable and blasphemous guide to Buddha statues:

-The sitting Buddha: The classical Lotus pose that is what most people think of when referring to Prince Siddharta’s august image. I have seen this one in many guises and made out of many materials like marble, teak, jade, crystal and something covered in gold. Along with the classical pose I have seen 4 subcategories:
1.Standard pose with right hand on knee, fingers pointing to the ground. This is Mr B taking the Earth to witness or subduing Rama. I haven’t got a clue as to what either of these things mean.
2.Meditating with big fuck-off snake coiled under his legs and the hood over his head. Apparently he was meditating and a cobra type creature sheltered him from the elements with his hood, bless his little venomous head. Known as Naga Buddha. Only seen by myself in Museums as usually put inside stupas (the big bell like things) so mainly found after a bout of archeological vandalism.
3.Scrawny Buddha. This is when he is fasting. Often he is with acolytes for this type.
4.The Laughing Buddha or the Fat Fuck Buddha. This one is of Chinese origin and I saw it mainly in Singapore. I think he is a modification of an older Chinese Deity.

-Standing Buddha. Self descriptive really. I know that when he is holding out his right hand he is meant to be dispelling fear. However, when the statue is 5 metres tall I’m not sure how fear dispelling he really is. A massive but peaceful Bouncer is what it made me think of.

-Walking Buddha. Apparently quite rare in Thailand. Meant to symbolise the way his creed was spread. Before they decided it was OK to depict the man himself, Buddhists often used massive footprints to the same effect. Looks alright as a freestanding statue but when set in an alcove takes a weird appearance. Strangely enough these types were decapitated in Sukhotai but whether this is deliberate or simply that they are more fragile as they are asymmetric I don’t know. The snag is that they had to work so as to convey the act of walking from the front. They did this by raising his ankle and having him point his foot inwards. Sort of like greek statues. The problem with this is that Mr B is a bit androgynous and when he has his hand raised it looks quite camp. It’s the kind of pose a rugger bugger would do to mock someone who had done something effeminate like refusing to eat a pint glass or knowing a song that doesn't include the word "bastard".

-Sleeping Buddha. It would be more accurate to call this one Dead Buddha as this is what it depicts. Looks content though. I think it confuses the monks as they are not sure where to put the incense burner and kneeling pad. Sometimes near his head and sometimes central to the whole thingy.

So there you have what little I have learned from the even less I have seen.

Take care,



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