Greetings again from Chiang Mai
Kristina and I continue to soak in as many experiences as possible. We met up with Becky Weldon, one of Dr. Walker’s childhood friends from Thailand. She works in museum studies and has an incredible breadth of knowledge regarding the political and cultural history of the Thai people and surrounding cultures. We went to dinner with her on Neimmenhamen Road, the hip part of town. Later in the week we toured two different wats [temples] in the Old City: Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Pra Singh. Becky has such insightful social commentary and descriptions of the significance of different Buddhist architecture; it was an incredible tour of the temples. She also provided us with a book describing the history of Laos as it intersects with her family, written by her father, Dr. Charles Weldon called Tragedy in Paradise. Kristina read it first and I’m in the midst of it. There is such an incredible depth and social complexity/history to the area, that it is hard to fully grasp it.
Through our travels we’ve been introduced to a philosophy in Thailand called jai yen, meaning “cool heart,” suggesting to maintain composure and staying cool despite the situation. This is one of the 4 brahma-viharas or heavenly abodes of Buddhism, namely equanimity (upekkha). The others being sympathetic joy (mudita), loving kindness (metta), and compassion (karuna). Another important phrase is kreng jai, to be considerate or not impose oneself on another person in a negative way. I outlined these concepts in my observations in my last summary, and now they have been crystallized into concepts with these phrases. Trying to further instill these principles will not only allow for further assimilation, but also be healthy and help cultivate the middle way.
There is also a striking difference I observed in the hospital that is a departure from that which is found in the US. I’ve also experienced this in India, and that is the outstanding amount of deference for physicians from patients. Patients seem to be very much appreciative of the care they receive, and often bring gifts to the attending in clinic.
We continue to experience the city and go on excursions in the weekend. We went to the night market east of the old city to watch a show of Lady boys. This is a term for either a transgender woman or an effeminate gay male in Thailand. They identify with either the opposite gender, or sometimes a third gender. Lady boys are not restricted to urban areas, but are also seen in rural settings. While lady boys, or kathoeys, are more accepted in Thailand, and there are hospitals devoted to sex reassignment surgeries, there are still a sea of social obstacles and issues that surround them. Kristina and I made it a point to see their show in the night market, and it was extremely fun.
The next day Kristina and I went on a 6km hike up Doi Suthep, and saw two waats along the way; Wat Pra Laat, and Wat Pra That Doi Suthep, which were incredible sites to see. Wat Pra Laat is nested along a flat brook on the way to the top of the mountain where the latter wat is situated. We continued our 3-4 hour hike up the mountain and finally made it to the destination. Here, we toured the grounds, saw the outlook that oversees the city of Chiang Mai below, and circumnavigated the main reliquary three times clockwise. This reliquary is encased in gold plating and shimmered in the evening sun. At 5pm, the monks performed a chant outside it and then proceeded inside the temple to continue their chanting. It was a blessing to watch.