Saturday, January 2, 2010

Sawatdee Pi Mai

We left India feeling pretty confident about our capacity to eat very spicy food. Ali even said- let's find a really spicy meal once we get to Thailand. After having some extremely delicious but not very spicy noodle soups, papaya shrimp salads, and pad thais this past week, we decided tonight to get a spicy meal. We found a simple but bustling local joint and ordered a soup without an English translation, a "spicy noodle salad," and lots of rice. Feeling pretty pleased with our choices, our suspicion was aroused when the waitress smirked at our order and then laughed with the cook while pointing at us. A half an hour later we were served two rather appealing dishes which Ali eagerly took huge bites of before realizing they were garnished quite heavily with red chilis and peppercorns. Fortunately, we had with us a 2 lb sack of tamarinds, which we had accidentally purchased earlier in the day, and which apparently have effects on the stomach comparable to tums.

As we understand it, Thai people celebrate New Year's Eve by praying for merit in mass gatherings at temples from 4pm-12:19am, or by joining together in a huge Times Square-like celebration at Central World, a large and glamorous shopping center, where they walk around in an orderly fashion wearing mickey mouse ears or flashing devil horns (even women in burkas do this). Some people participate in both. We began our New Year's Eve celebration by visiting a temple, writing our wishes for the New Year on gold foil paper, and then tying them to small trees while hundreds of people chanted prayers in unison. Having thus satisfied our urge for wholesome spirituality we advanced to the mass gathering at Central World. It was a very exciting and surprisingly non-belligerent atmosphere to welcome the New Year, as we were surrounded by extremely friendly Thai people wishing us a Happy New Year "Sawatdee Pi Mai" and telling us we were beautiful.

Another strangely endearing part of Thai culture is the constant allegiance paid to the king. Throughout the city there are shrines and large photos of the king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, and the national anthem is played frequently in public, for example, before movies. At around 6pm, it starts playing in the public park, and all the joggers, picnickers, and tiny children going down slides halt and jump to attention standing erect with their arms at their sides.

Bangkok is a vibrant and varied modern city with a refreshingly friendly and mellow vibe in many areas and it has been a real relief to explore in such hospitable conditions after all the hassle of being in India. Unfortunately the sex tourism industry is alive and well here and it is infuriating and upsetting to see so many old, fat Western men walking around town with a scantily-clad 17-year-old Thai women on their arm.

We both have some mild trepidation about this post-India part of our trip where we will be moving countries every couple of weeks. It was really luxurious to spend so long in India, fully absorbing and learning about the customs, getting to know how to buy train tickets and how much to pay for rickshaw rides and fruit. We leave to Burma tomorrow, and then head to N. Thailand for a week, before going to Laos.

Click here to see pictures from Bangkok

Click here to see more pictures from Auroville and Chennai

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