The Monk and Me
Trip Start Oct 23, 2006
93Trip End May 08, 2007
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Khorat had a lot in common with other cities I've loved (Da Nang in Vietnam and Pingxiang in China, for instance) where it is a large enough city to house everything I could want and more, but there are no other travellers and certainly no tourists. The local people were incredibly friendly and loved to chat. Prices were low. Food was delicious.
Jon and I found a hotel on Khorat's main drag. It was spartan, but comfortable and well priced. We were close to the night bazaar and the big local market. I've been to a lot (and I mean a lot) of markets so far in my travels. The market in Khorat has been the largest and most complete market I've been to
It's startling to come from the poverty of Cambodia and find myself suddenly immersed in a food culture. I'm not the only one enjoying the food here. Just walking around town, I see most locals either eating, snacking, shopping for food, etc. And I've heard a statistic that around 30-40% of Thai teenagers are obese. From what I've seen, I can believe that.
But food isn't the only thing Thais love. They also love their king. I must admit, I kinda like him too. While Cambodia was the first Kingdom I've been to, Thailand is the first that's felt like a kingdom. The king's portrait is everywhere: on the money, on billboards, buildings, roadsigns, everywhere. And he has his own flag which is always flown in conjunction with the Thai flag. The king's flag is yellow with a crest signifying the 60 years of his reign, so far.
Also yellow and with the king's crest are shirts. Polo shirts especially, but also t-shirts, bowling shirts, soccer jerseys, jackets... they blanket the landscape. All locals wear them, but especially on Mondays because the king was born on a Monday. It's odd.
On our second day, Jon and I did something we'd only done 5 times before. We met back up with Andreanne! Yes, she's really turned into a major facet of these travels, and with good reason. She's not only a relaxed and experienced traveller, but she actually gets most of my jokes. Succinctly: she's not Jon. (j/k). But once again we had a great time. Andreanne had just finished doing a bunch of scuba diving off of Ko Tao (also in Thailand). She's grown unenthusiastic about Thailand, having been here several times. Finally someone who isn't loving Thailand! But when she had spent a little time in Khorat, her love was back. Especially after she saw the market.
Now back to me. I continued to find more about Khorat to my liking. I'd wake up well before Jon (which isn't too hard since he likes to sleep 'til noon) and go running. That coupled with the good food; I've been feeling really healthy thanks to Khorat. And for entertainment: break dancing. A huge group of locals comes to a small amphitheater every night to break dance. Many of them are impressive. I included a video of one guy.
Besides watching break dancers, the three of us shopped, ate, drank, bowled, played pool on the world's smallest pool tables, and all around had a wonderful time for a few days. On our last day we decided to get a little cultural again
As I delved deeper into Mary Shelley, a monk came sweeping up the walkway. He struck up a conversation with us because Andreanne was reading The Da Vinci Code. Then he took my book out of my hands, looked over its cover, and said "Frankenstein.... didn't De Niro make a version of that?" In my head all I could think was "Yes he did, Mr. Coolest Monk Ever!"
After briefly conversing, the monk (whose name is Phra Annope Arginchono. so I'll just keep calling him 'the monk') invited us back to his Monk Hut. What was initially going to be a standard temple visitation turned into an in-depth meeting with a Buddhist monk. We discussed, among other things, religion. Especially Buddhism, and especially the role Buddhism plays in the everyday lives of Thai people.
I won't bore you with the details. That is to say: I doubt I could convey the gravity of the time on that monk's porch. He viewed life with such understanding, though you you could still sense something bittersweet, even cynical, in his demeanor. It made him so much more human, more real. Apparently I had had preconceptions about Buddhist monks because this man surprised me. And he helped me begin to think again.
I'd allowed the beauty of Angkor and the simplicity of Khorat to lull me into a simple, mindless series of actions. Phra Annope Arginchono helped to shake me out of my reverie. Unfortunately, he woke me as it was time to see a less appealing side of Thailand: we left for Bangkok the next morning.