The Rotary convention has been somewhat underwhelming. In comparison I have found the quality of sessions and speakers at the BC Parks and Recreation symposiums (although much smaller by scale) much more interesting. Maybe I am expecting more from an international convention of such a high level and well respected organization. I did however have my picture taken with my Thai children - move over Sean and Aaron.
I opted out of sessions on the third day of the convention to take a city tour with Donna. We hired a private car and were taken to the largest sitting golden Buddha in the world located in the Chinatown area of Bangkok. It is over 5 meters tall, weighs 5.5 tons and is made of 18k solid gold (gold from this Buddha could probably feed all the poor in Thailand).
Bangkok has a population of 12 million people. The traffic is absolutely insane and it can take hours to get anywhere unless you use the rapid transit systems, which are very good, clean, cheap and very easy to figure out. It did not take me long to depend on this mode of transportation. Also, the Thai people are so helpful - if they see you looking dazed and confused (which i am often) those who can speak English will ask if you need help and point you in the right direction.
There are 65 million people in Thailand (twice Canada's population). 85 percent of the population practice Buddhism and there are 40,000 Buddhist temples in Thailand (33,000 still in use) and 400 temples are located in Bangkok alone. I found out the buddha's in different positions stand for the different days of the week i.e. the Saturday Buddha statute depicts the Buddha sitting in meditation, protected by a cobra hood. The Buddha sits cross-legged in meditation, with overlapping hands, palms upwards, whilst Mucalinda, the cobra (King of Naga) spreads its hood above the Buddha's head. If you were born on a Saturday you would pray to the Saturday Buddha.
The buddhist monks live at the temples. They go out daily to get food and money from the people. They are not allowed to spend the money collected on anything personal including food. The money is to be used to do good for the people. They must eat all the food they are given and cannot eat more than 2 meals a day and not eat after noon. The monks have about 260 rules they must follow, apparently some do not last long being a monk as they find the rules too much of a hardship.
Next we went to the temple with the laying Buddha (people born on Tuesday pray to this Buddha). This Buddha is 46 meters long and 15 feet high. The temple grounds are very grand and have a series of the various Buddhas surrounding the property. Some of these Buddhas are in bad condition and are being repaired through individual donations of approximately $80,000 per Buddha and they need to be restored every 15 years. The restoration is all done by hand and is vary tedious. The inside walls of the temple are a series of intricate paintings some of which tell the buddha story. This temple dates back to the 1700's.
Next we took a long boat along the Chao Phraya River and its various canals. Chao Phraya is a major river in Thailand, with its low alluvial plain forming the centre of the country. It runs through Bangkok, the capital city, and then empties into the Gulf of Thailand. This is the area that was flooded during the rains last november. In some of the pictures if you look carefully you can see watermarks on the side of the houses which indicates how high the water was. Since most do not have house insurance, some homes have been abandoned as owners cannot afford the necessary repairs. In one of the canals we stopped at a temple to purchase some bread from monks to feed the catfish and boy were they hungry!
Some of the homes along the canals are quite lovely and some are literally shacks. The canal is filthy and because the tide was so low we could see lots of garbage but this does not stop the children from taking a swim! Thai people are so nice and friendly - as we wound are way around the canals everyone waved at us.
Of course the last stop on our tour was a handmade jewelry outlet. The tour guide wanted to take us to a tailors but we had to get back to our hotels to get ready for the evening show we were attending.
We attended the Siam Niramit show in a beautiful theatre at the Thailand culture centre. The show is a journey into the kingdom of Siam. A very large stage production with fabulous costumes and amazing special effects. The evening attendees were all Rotarians. We could not take pictures in the theatre but there was some pre-show entertainment outside the theatre which included an opportunity for me to feed an elephant.
Bangkok after 10 pm is quite different from the daytime as this is when the ladies of the night and the lady boys start their day! Think it's time for me to go back to the safe haven of my hotel room.