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Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Stay thin and see no evil

We've been having an abundance of holidays here lately. After nine days straight for Songkran we had Coronation Day last Tuesday. Friday was Wesak and Monday the Royal Ploughing Ceremony. The astrologers who chose that date gave us another four-day weekend.

I decided that was a good opportunity for a change of scenery. I decided to go to Udon Thani because I remember that when I was there years ago there was a bookshop where I bought a few English-language second-hand books.

As I said it was years ago when I was last there. I figured my memories and a 2003 edition of LP Thailand would be enough for me to find everything I needed in Udon. I did have a quick look at a more recent LP a week or so ago and the description of one hotel being suitable for conversion as a prison made me think that the one I stayed in was still there. The 2003 edition also listed another in the same street that looked more promising. I figured with two in the same street I'd probably be able to find one that was suitable.

When I got off the bus, off course I was approached by a tuk tuk tout. I figured it wasn't too far to the hotel but it was hot so I asked him if he knew the street. He didn't. Nor did he know either of the hotels. I decided to trust my feet rather than a tuk tuk.

I walked up one of the streets running off the highway and shortly ascertained that it was the right one to get me where I was going. I came to a major intersection that looked promising. I asked a couple of passers by if it was Thanon Mak Khaeng. They said it was but didn't know the hotels. There was another hotel named Siri Udon in this street that looked about my budget level but I didn't remember seeing it in LP. When I reached the other end of the street I realised it was not Thanon Mak Khaeng at all but Thanon Amphoe. I remembered it from the LP map and knew I still had a way to walk in the heat.

Eventually I reached Thanon Mak Khaeng and walked up and down the block where I should have found the hotel Tang Porn Dhiraksa but I couldn't. No worries, the other one would do. Headed further up the block. And right where I remember my prison-like hotel being a few years back there is now a brightly coloured almost refurbished building that will no doubt be a hotel when it reopens. Or was Chaiya Porn hotel in the vacant block next door?

I found a shady seat and pulled out my 2003 LP again. Siri Udon was indeed listed and while they didn't say anything good about it, they didn't say anything bad. So I headed back there. They had a fan room for 180 baht. The sheets looked clean and so did the bathroom. The bed felt firm. I took it. The room was cool and the bed was comfortable. I crashed for about an hour.

It was already mid afternoon when I woke and I hadn't had any lunch so I headed off to find somewhere to eat. On the way I noticed the bookshop I wanted to visit and returned there after lunch. They mostly stock Thai books. In fact, from the front you'd think it was a specialist Buddhist bookshop but the back half of the shop has more general books. They used to have quite a few second-hand English language books but I must say the range has declined in those years. Perhaps they're not restocking as they sell them. I didn't see anything there I couldn't live without but still grabbed half-a-dozen that looked OK.

When I had paid for those I asked if they had any other English books. He said 'no'. But as I was leaving, walking through the Buddhist section, my eagle eyes noticed 'Monk in the Mountain' by Ajahn Sumano Bhikkhu. It looked appealing so I bought that too. When the shop man realised I was interested in Buddhism he went off and returned with a selection of books in English. Five of these were by Phra Buddhadasa (Buddhadasa Bhikkhu on the cover). I had owned one of them before but had to dispose of it when moving on. I bought all five. I might not see them again in a hurry—not likely in Mahasarakham anyway.

Vendors gather in Thanon Amphoe and around the corner in Thanon Pho Si selling Buddhist amulets and also some Buddha images. The amulets are supposedly blessed by monks and have powers. It is not unusual to see a man wearing five or more amulets around his neck. No doubt he thinks that'll protect him from his bad karma. I don't go in for this sort of thing. I believe the Buddha specifically denounced the practice. Still, I find it an interesting aspect of Thai culture. Newsagents stock many magazines for collectors of these amulets. When I went out for breakfast the next morning a stall had set up right outside the door of the hotel. They had a mountain of amulets selling for 20 baht each. I have a friend in Australia who is fascinated by Buddha images showing the Buddha in his anorexic stage. I thought I might find an amulet like that. I did but the woman said it wasn't the Buddha. I asked who it was and she replied 'Samdet'. I would have liked to know more but that was the extent of my ability in Thai. I found another that interested me. A Buddha-like image with hands covering eyes. I asked what it was and she said 'pit dah'. I could already see that. 'Pit dah' equals 'eyes closed'. 'Thammai pit dah'. 'Why are the eyes closed?' I asked. But once again her answer was beyond my Thai language ability. I bought both of them anyway. I'm not sure what these are going to do for me. Maybe I'll never get fat nor see any evil.

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I have since been told that Samdet should be Somdet, that it is not the name of the figure but perhaps a style and that it is indeed the Buddha. It was also explained that the figure covering the eyes means not so much that one should not see any evil but that one should not allow the evil one sees to be an influence.
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