Thursday, December 10, 2009

Off we go to Lopburi

This past Saturday was the 5th of December, which is a very important day for all Thais as it is our beloved King’s birthday (also doubles up as father’s day), as this day felt on a Saturday, so the following Monday became a national holiday making it a long weekend (which we haven’t had in a long while now).

I also took Friday off so that I could spend some time with your mother, she wanted to see the film 2012 and that is exactly what we did (as always :))... The film was ok, another fun filled destruction of the world... how can that ‘not’ be fun? :)

From our last trip to Karnjanaburi we had made up our mind that our next trip would be to Lopburi, which is another central province but it wasn’t decided until Sunday night that we were going, so everything was a rush came Monday morning...

Tell you what, preparing for these one day trip is becoming easier and easier, last trip we didn’t leave the house until around 12:00, but we broke all world records with this trip to Lopburi... we left the house at the amazing time of... 10:55, honestly I don’t think we can beat this.

I had another incentive to make this trip, on the day before, we went to pick up your mother’s other mobile (she dropped it and broke the receiver) at the service centre; so I sneaked off to a shop on the next floor and got us a GPS... a FANTASTIC tool... for once your mother actually gave me the green light without much fuss, it could be because there haven’t been a single trip that I wasn’t lost in some way or another. So I was really looking forward to put this thing to the test.

Off we go to Lopburi...

The GPS (nicknamed Jill, this is one of the options for the voice feedback ‘American female Voice – Jill’) got to work straight away, telling me to ‘keep left’ here and ‘move right’ there, about an hour into our trip she suddenly told me to turn left... and of course being a know it all that I am, I had refused to believe it... soon after, as it turned out Jill was right and I was certainly could not have been more wrong (what a degrading u-turn that was hee hee :) ), and if I had decided to be stubborn we would have lost hours :)

After bowing to Jill, we arrived in Lopburi at around one (ended up driving through some wonderful small roads that we never knew existed), as usual by this time you had already woken up and testing your mother’s patience :)

As we didn’t prepare much for this trip, we once again turned to Jill and asked her to show us a restaurant; punched in a well known restaurant’s name, hit the ‘go’ button, and follow the big white arrow like a family of blinded lemmings...

IMG_0346 The ‘lunch’ was a big ordeal this time, perhaps we were a bit early so you weren’t that hungry but you ended up eating only a few spoons of steamed egg and virtually no rice at all (most of the rice you managed to spit all over the floor), luckily we took plenty of milk with us. Putting that aside, the restaurant was really nice (the food was fine) and very popular with the group tours, the surrounding was very green and very open with many variety of caged birds, chirping and singing all the while we were there.

Chasing a dream

After lunch the first place your mother wanted to visit was the famous ‘sun flower’ fields, we were excited in our expectation to see a mesmerising sea of golden flowers waiving and bopping with the wind, I had planned all the shots for the iPhone and was looking forward to capture some ‘facebook’ shots :) But it was not meant to be, on the way to the fields we kept seeing smaller fields with wilted sunflowers, still standing proud on browning stalk, but like an old man who had spent too much time in the sun, the head where once it must have shone like a miniature sun is now hunched over and doing nothing more than to gaze at the grassy field at its feet.

We had wasted about 45 minutes following Jill to various fields, but it was all the same, cutting our losses we headed to the next stop, which is the highlight of the day, to ‘Wat Phra Bat Nam Phu’ I have never heard of this temple, but as it turned out, it is world famous for its contribution to aids sufferers. Your mother had always wanted to come here to make a donation, this temple does not only provide moral support, it actually housed aids sufferers right up to the very end.

Wat Phra Bat Nam Phu

The temple sits at the end of a very long flat straight road (really as far as the eye could see), right up against the foot of a huge hill (not sure if you can call it a mountain or not), the surrounding land was as flat as any salt plane, no buildings, no housing, just fields and fields of browning grass and some undetermined crops (to our surprise, a fair amount were sun flowers, still alive and dancing).

First impression counts, this temple is an extremely well maintained temple, no annoying rubbish, no half arsed signage, no dirty food hawkers, no commerce, it is a pure temple and more, as it should be. Everything is a reflection of calmness and serenity, we parked at the front, meaning a good 5 - 10 minutes walk before getting to the donation office.

The first building we came across was the ‘Life Museum’, your mother knew exactly what that was but I did have a clue, looking through the opened door it looked like a room with many human size cases set out like an exhibition. We decided to give this a miss first and headed straight to the donation office.

From my limited knowledge, this temple can house up to 400 patience (under the name of Thammarak Niwet Housing Project), from the healthy to the last stage patience, these sufferers were shunned away from their family due to the stigma of this disease. As we walked further from the Life Museum, we came across another building that jolted me into reality, all the while up to now I was still in holiday mode, enjoying the cool weather and the picturesque scenery. This building housed 3-4 huge furnaces, I can not exactly recall the number but one thing stuck in my mind, the strong blue colour of the furnaces somehow stamp itself in my mind.

From then on my mood had changed, not sombre nor sadness but the realisation of the immense task and the great care that this temple grasping.

Today must have been a quiet day, there were hardly any visitors, in fact we thought we were the only non residents there, all around us the volunteers and some (I am assuming here) patience were washing and cleaning up the grounds and various buildings.

I think the donation office is the last building before the heart of the operation (Care Centre), we gingerly walked up to the donation office not knowing exactly what to do, this is a single floor building, in fact the whole building is just one medium size office. I guess the lady there knew we were a little unsure of what to do, so she gently asked us to come in.

Seven or eight people were sitting behind individual desks, of which a couple had computers, the lady who took cared of us couldn’t have been more than 25, she was petite, kind and polite and took us through the whole process effortlessly. We donated in 2 lots, one for me, you and your mother, the other for my parents. At the end we were given two certificates, I guess it was like a certificate of appreciation (still haven’t had a good look at it) and a couple of medallions. There were no doubt in our minds that this was for a great cause, and to our understanding this whole effort is running purely on donation, the more we give the more they can help, pure and simple.

IMG_0353 The hours were passing by quickly, upon a quick homage to a Buddha next to the donation office we began to walk back to the car, then we saw this long stairway leading up to a viewing point, on every step, flanking the whole stairs were identical statues kneeling shoulder to shoulder, some were carrying bells (of which we can hit using a wooden stick that was placed at the bottom of the stairs).

You guessed it, it was too tempting to resist and of course you had it easy, your mother ended up carrying you all the way, at the top was the actual temple (again a quick homage here). To the rear of the temple there was yet another set of stairs leading an even higher viewing point... we passed :)

IMG_0371 I had decided to give you the chance to hit all the bells on the way down, after a few bells your mother realised (again) that this was another silly idea from me :) as it would have taken forever to make our way down, she shot me a ‘that was a silly idea’ glance, I understood the message in its entirety (as I have received this message/look so many times before). I ended up hitting all the bells on your behalf and in no time we were walking pass the ‘Life Museum’.

Not for the faint hearted, ‘Life Museum’ contains a dozen or more human size display cases, inside each case is a preserved body of the passed away patience, a small plaque gives you all the background you’ll ever want; name, job, how they were infected, when they died and so on. No words can describe this, I had taken no pictures out of the respect for the victims. What got me the most were bodies of very young children (one was only 5 years old), to the rear was a body in a drying out stage, everything was still recognisable, honestly, not much different to a person suffering from anorexia.

Another case was filled almost to the brim with a liquid substance and submerging in it, a body of a patience who had only died just over a year ago, the liquid was a little cloudy and had a slight foaming effect; your mother and I went to the south to help with the tsunami aftermath, I ended up handling the ‘rest in peace’ victims, inspecting and trying to identify them from their clothes, tattoo, teeth and so on, even with that experience, seeing these victims here was still quite hard to cope. I wished you were old enough to understand the enormous sense of consequences here, but alas you were only interested in this little cat running in the museum.

Taking our little monkey to see the real monkeys

Before setting off from the temple you had a quick wiped down in the car, to make sure you felt fresh and comfortable, that gave me the chance to consult with Jill and planned our next stop. Lopburi is famous for its monkeys... and in the centre of town were two landmarks sitting next to each other, ‘San Phra Kan’ (former Brahman Shrine, containing a famous object of worship a four-armed Vishnu figure fixed with a Buddha’s head) and ‘Phra Prang Sam Yod’ (a former Hindu Shrine built in the 13th century in the classic Bayon style of Khmer architecture). This is where we can hit 3 birds with one stone, seeing the 2 land marks as well as the monkeys :)

With Jill as the co-driver, we were there in no time, for once parking was easy but walking across a busy road to get to San Phra Kan was dicey to say the least. After paying homage we dashed across more ‘roads of death’, safely on the footpath, we walked slowly along the open railings to the entrance of ‘Phra Prang Sam Yod’, you must have had a quick glimpse of the monkeys because you suddenly went into ‘hyper’ mode, laughing and clapping your hands all the way there :)

IMG_0384 IMG_0392 

Phra Prang Sam Yod not only contains the old ancient shrine, it is also a feeding ground for (to me) all of the monkeys in Lopburi :) Some of them can be quite vicious, and your mother was a bit anxious in letting you walk in the grounds. I am going to get on the soap box again here, to enter Phra Prang Sam Yod, we had to pay 10 bahts each, which isn’t much but it looks like all the gates’ money had gone to lined some officers personal pocket, because the grounds was a shamble, there were more rubbish than grass, and the grass were all dying, for what is supposed to be a landmark of Lopburi made this even more unacceptable and appalling.

Making our way home (and getting lost again)

It had just gone five thirty when we all jumped into the car again, pushing the ‘home’ button, Jill began to ‘calculating... ... ... 100%’, so off we went, wondering which way she would take us this time.

The route she took us was as expected (after tweaking a few settings), that is up until we were just about 60 kms away from home, then suddenly she told us to turn right and get on the ‘paid’ expressway? I know the roads around here quite well, all we had to do was just to kept on going straight, no need to turn left or right all the way home...

Well, we took her advice, as she hadn’t let us down before, the express way was very quick but we were still unsure of when or where she will tell us to get off, I was convinced she was wrong this time... By the time she told us to get off, I realised she was taking us across the Rama7 bridge... decided to still follow her instruction to the letter, right up to the bridge... then I made a huge mistake she told us to go straight but there were 2 roads going straight... and of course I took the wrong one :)

There is no need to go through all the roads that lead to home, but finally we arrived at home around twenty hundred hours, you were deep asleep so your mother dashed to the kitchen to prepare your dinner. You looked so comfortable, and it was difficult trying to wake you up... at the end we decided the right decision was to let you sleep, may be we had to wake up earlier to prepare your milk, but that was fine with us... :)