We left Penang bound for Singapore, the wealthiest island in Southeast Asia, home to an international banking community who’s history was obvious with buildings of old English architecture mixed with soaring high rises. It was also the cleanest city in the world due to the heavy fines levied on anyone who littered. I was excited as here we would be the guests of K’s oldest friend, Han Hok, and his wife Angela.
My favorite moments were the times spent with Angela and her women friends. Angela was the director of Weight Watchers in Singapore. Her close friend, Miss Jade, was the star of local radio and TV shows. The other women were employed as staff in European companies. As I listened to them talk about the sexism they had to deal with daily, with regard to status and salaries, and how this informed their careers and personal lives, I realized how similar women’s experiences were despite our different cultures.
On our decent into Bangkok the land was flat for far as the eye could see, and in the 1980’s, devoid of a single skyscraper. The Montien hotel, with its lobby of marble, glass and brass lobby offered a dazzling welcome. The small brass temple bell attached to our room key remains with me to this day, despite its tag it was not be removed from premises.
Outside the sidewalks and streets were clogged with people, scooters, cars, animal drawn carts, new and ancient cars and trucks, all spewing black curls of smoke from their tailpipes leaving soot hanging in the humid August air. Like the other Southeast Asian cities I visited, Bangkok offered insights into a culture and way of life different from anything I had ever known.
Four “MUST SEE” in Bankok
1. The Ancient City or “Muang Boran,” an open air museum where many replicated temples, palaces and ruins of ancient cities tell the history of Thailand.
2. Touring the Thai waterways, known as klongs, in a long narrow boat, passing otherboats filled with foodstuffs, flowers, household goods, and clothing. On the river banks families walk down steps into the river to bathe, brush their teeth, urinate and deficate, as well as do laundry, in river water littered with waste, including dead animals floating on its surface. Fascinating, thought provoking, a not to be missed excursion.
3.The Golden Buddha of Sukhothai, sits in its own temple, and is 11 foot 5.8 inches tall.
It is 5.5 tons solid gold worth almost 70 million dollars in gold and constructed over 700 years ago. It was covered with plaster to conceal it from the invading Burmese and rediscovered over 50 years ago. I found as awesome as a sphinx.
4. The fabled Palace of the King and I appears with its shimmering white facade and silvered tiles on spired roof tops. Once inside, shoes are left at the door. We enter the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, a room 45 feet hight with a ceiling of gold leaf encrusted with mirror-like pieces, built in 1784.
Scenes from the prehistoric legend fill the temple walls telling how the Emerald Buddha was given by the King of Gods, who magically placed seven pieces of the Buddha’s holy relics into this Buddha, thought to be over 2000 years old. In the center of the room, encased in glass, on a gilded throne, is the Emerald Buddha, its clothing and jewels changed seasonally. Gilded warriors guard the throne.
On the day we visited, hidden in the shadows of the throne room, monks dressed in saffron robes, holding wooden bowls filled with grain, lay prostate on the marble floor. It was a vision that firmly etched itself in my memory.
K and I scrapped our next stop, a romantic week long stay on a houseboat in Kashmir, and moved on to the final leg of our trip with visits to Amalfi, Rome and London. On our flight I marveled my eating addiction had not yet reared its ugly head, knowing the real test would occur back home. But I was not going home now, I was on my way to Amalfi where I would meet a tall black haired blue eyed laughing Irishman while swimming in our hotel pool and only later discover my companion was a priest, Father Sean, on leave from his post in Nigeria…but more of that later.