Travel Thai-aries – Buddhism > you’re doing it wrong

First, as always dear reader, start here – please.

Thailand is a country of very many people. (ed Note: 66 million). Approximately 85% of these folks are Buddhist. These people fucking love the Buddha. They have approx a metric shit-ton of temples. (ed note: 47,000 to be specific). They have been Buddhists for thousands of years. Btw, you are saying it wrong. You pronounce it ‘boo-dah’. I did, too. No one in Thailand pronounces it like that, though. Even the wonderful folks who speak English in Thailand have no idea what you are saying when you pronounce it like that. You want the ‘u’ in Buddha to be like it is in pudding.

Here, listen to how Joseph Campbell says it. You need more Joseph Campbell. We all do, really… but you especially. Ever heard ‘follow your bliss’?

No? Man, you really need more Joseph Campbell.

So, you have approx. 60 million people who have been Buddhists as far back as their family tree goes. Now, how about if I tell you, and them, they are doing it wrong… and have been all along? Who am I to throw this wrench into world history? Well, a recovering Catholic who took a couple years of comparative religion and who owns the entire ‘Power of Myth’ series on VHS. So… yeah… I’m kinda a big deal.

Let’s look at the very basic tenets of Buddhism; All life is sorrow. Sorrow comes from attachment to things. The worst, and most avoidable, attachment is in the physical realm. Your favorite baseball cap, or parent. In time, you will lose ALL of these things… especially if you keep having to do life over and over again. All this is going to do is make you sad. You are a selfish greedy materialistic pig. So I am. Buddhism is about letting those things go.

In Buddhism, the primary purpose of life is to end suffering. The Buddha taught that humans suffer because we continually strive after things that do not give lasting happiness. We desperately try to hold on to things – friends, health, material things – that do not last, and this causes sorrow.

The Buddha did not deny that there are things in life that give joy, but pointed out that none of them last and our attachment to them only causes more suffering. His teachings were focused entirely on this problem and its solution.

This is done by recognizing the impermanence of all things and freeing oneself from attachment to these things.

There is a saying that Joseph Campbell loves to tell to quickly explain Buddhist philosophy. “if you see the Buddha in the road, kill him.” This is what it means to me, and (I think) to him; if you see the Buddha in the road, it means you are looking externally for knowledge and enlightenment and understanding and bla bla bla. These things are all inside you at all times. If you are looking for them outside of yourself, you are kinda missing the whole point. God isn’t in heaven, or church. God is in you.  It is why I allow myself to stay home on Sundays and watch football instead of going to mass.

There is much I love and respect about what I know of the Buddha. He was a very real man, who never wanted to be a religion. He certainly never regarded himself as immortal. He never believed you should take his word over all. Buddhism is NOT a religion. It is a philosophy. There are no rules. To be a Buddhist monk, for sure, there are rules.  To be a Buddhist… well – don’t be a dick ****

Knowing these things, why are there these amazing monuments and elegies to ‘Lord Buddha’? That is what they call him in Thailand… lord Buddha. Well, were he here today he would have stopped that nonsense first and foremost. To build the greatest and grandest temple to Buddha is to miss the entire fucking point.

It seemed every Wat we were in (Wat is what they call the temples) there was a contest for the most Buddha statues and likenesses. In one beautiful temple, we counted 124 different Buddha statues. Our guide taught us about how each temple had its own ‘most valuable Buddha’. We saw one made entirely of gold. One made entirely of jade. We saw one the size, literally, of a football field. This statue was so big they built it first, and then put the building around it. (ed note:  this is Wat Pho) Ah yes, the longest Buddha, the most expensive Buddha, the shiniest Buddha. Buddhism is entirely about NOT being attached to material things… like golden idols.

Thankfully, we spent a few extra bahts to have a guide with us. He kinda unwittingly explained the whole thing to me. It won’t be too surprising. As we were in one Wat that had about 80 full life sized Buddha statues; I noticed the faces were all a bit different. I asked my guide why that was. He said “well, since it was so long ago… no one really knows what the Buddha looked like. So, each King kinda molded the Buddha statues during his reign to match his own likeness. This is how they are able to date the various statues.” BINGO.

Did you catch that? These statues, really, have NOTHING to do with Buddha. These are kings dressing themselves up as Buddhas so that history knows what a great and religious and pious and super rich each king was. In my eyes, none of this was built for Buddha. He not only didn’t want it, it misses the point entirely.

Next week, I’ll throw this little wrench in to history. You will read that Angkor Wat is the greatest and oldest and most significant Buddhist temple ever. It isn’t. Angkor Wat has almost nothing to do with Buddhism at all. It is 99% a Hindu temple. Again, we’ll hit that later.

**** we are talking Mayahaya Buddhism, here.  The more hardcore and disciplined wing of Buddhism is called ‘Theravada.  Pretty sure those guys would cane me if they read this.  Seriously.  I am of the Mahayana side, very much so.  That is the happy hippy dippy ‘we are all Buddhas inside.  I accept you all… let’s hug’.  Think of it like reformed Jews, or unitarian Christians.  Theravada is like first testament Christianity.  There is only god, and man is he ANGRY.

In closing, you know that awesome scene from Talledega Nights at the dinner table?  They are all gathered in prayer, and talking about how they specifically imagine what baby Jesus looks like?  Well, Buddhism is kinda like that.  There are about 54 specific recognized Budda poses and postures.  This is my favorite.

Note what the hands are doing, it is very important.  The left hand is resting, and opened up.  This is to accept knowledge and change.  In my eyes, with this hand he accepts and embraces life’s’ changes, and eagerly requests more knowledge.  His right hand, however, is also saying ‘BUT… you best back the fuck off.  Do not mistake my kindness for weakness.”

The Lono Travel Thai-aries® – Bangkok Red Light District

That picture is a bit much, isn’t it?  Well, jackass, you are the one who clicked on the link  to read about the Bangkok sex shows. 

First, start here

Second, I have gone ahead and given the travel thai-aries® it’s own page.  Look above, see the ‘what I am reading, about me… etc’, it is there.  This is if you want to skip over my usual brilliant blathering and get straight to the Thailand and Southeast Asia fun.

There are a lot of hyperlinks here, they are all safe to click on at work except for the very end.

This is a story about Pat Pong, the fabled Red Light District of Bangkok, Thailand. In order to discuss this adventure, there will be words and situations that may make you blush. So, if you are easily offended… then definitely read on – and stop being such a pussy about everything.

We knew our hotel was very close to the Red Light District, easily within walking distance. We knew this because every time we told a taxi or a tuk tuk driver where we were going (our hotel), they would say “Ah, you mean red light district. It’s ok with me. I take you there now.” This was actually helpful, as in the end we didn’t bother explaining our hotel.  We would just say ‘pat pong’.  No one believed us anyway about the hotel.

It is composed of about 3 small city blocks. It is sex clubs, supposedly… but we think it’s a myth, maybe. This area may have been notorious for sex, but in the last 20 years it is more notorious for scams. If you google the red light district (go ahead and do that at work, I dare ya!  Make sure it’s an image search) you will find stories of people getting shaken down, hustled, drugged, robbed… all kinds of nasty shit. The rule of thumb seems to be NEVER go into these clubs… and certainly never go in alone.

What they advertise isn’t sex. At least, not in the sense of a guy and girl getting is on. Though, that is likely available. Mostly what they offer is weird voyeur stuff. Most famous is the ‘ping pong show’. I’ll let Wiki take it from here.

The Ping pong show is a form of stage entertainment that takes place in strip clubs, most often in Thailand. The show consists of women using their pelvic muscles to either hold, eject, or blow objects from their vaginal cavity. Ping pong balls are the most iconic objects used, but others include long strings, whistles, pens, cigarettes, candles, darts, spinning tops, razor blades and chopsticks. Another activity is the shooting of goldfish into a bowl, or stuffing a rather large frog inside to see how long she can keep it in.

Yeah, there is a wiki page for that. Can you believe it? I was with my wife, so I don’t know how that colored my experience, but it didn’t seem to make them shy.  My wifey is awesome.  She was as curious about all this as I was.  Each bar has at least one guy out front approaching people. They show you a laminated menu with various sex acts to watch. Every store front/bar had the same menu. So, I am guessing there is a single owner over the whole thing. Problem is, you see, it seems no one ever gets to see the sex show. They lure you in, charge you a LOT, and then lure you in more… but the sex show never seems to happen, unless you have a ton of patience and money.  I am speaking anecdotally, as I never went in to the clubs.  There was a period after we had been drinking and I needed to pee so bad.  However, I knew if I used these clubs I would come out $300 poorer, and likely pregnant.  Of course, that is why we kept no more that about $20 in cash when we went out anywhere.

It seems no one ever sees the show, so we (the wifey and I) questioned if there even was a show. I named it the Great Pumpkin – talked about, promised, discussed, but never happens. Here is a shot of the menu. I would prefer to embed it below, but maybe you are at work.

This guy summed it up on Trip Advisor with many less words than me.

Patpong is two small narrow streets and is a red light zone.  Its safe enough, but if you venture inside some of the red light bars expect to get seriously ripped off, and the police won’t do much to help.

Oh, I forgot to mention this. Bangkok, and Thailand in general, is incredibly, and impressively, gay friendly. There is a whole other sex and class of people known as ‘lady boys’. Interesting article here. These are gay men with their male junk still in tact, yet they present themselves to society as women.  You often can’t tell if it is a boy or girl until they speak. The Pat Pong district had a whole gay section too. It not only included bars with men dancing out front in tighty whiteys that looked to be about 15 years old… but hair cut places. These were hair cut places specifically for gay men. It was to get the ‘gay cut’. You may think there is no such thing as a gay haircut, but you would be wrong. As Meese once said about pornography, I will say about gay hair. I can’t describe it, but I know it when I see it.

In closing, I got you something.  Since you came all this way, and stayed and read this far… I found a ping pong show for you.  Someone snuck a camera in, so the footage is grainy, but unmistakable.  I didn’t want to be a tease.  You came here for a ping pong show and you shall get one. The footage is interesting.  Maybe because I am happily married, or old, but there isn’t anything erotic about this… to me, anyway.  Needless to say, don’t watch this at work.

I have to say I had a lot of fun researching this post.

The Travel Thai-aries® – start here

imageHey all,

Welcome to the ‘Lono Travel Thai-aries®’**

In each piece, (of which I imagine 10 to 15 of in the coming months) I will ask everyone to start here.  I just want to explain some things and set some ground rules to make this a better experience for both of us.

My background – I am somewhere in my lower 40’s, from Denver, CO, and recently spent a couple of weeks traveling in SouthEast Asia with the awesome wifey.  It was an AMAZING and powerful experience.  Like all good travel, it taught me more about myself and my own culture.  I had to write about it. For me, the way I process things is to write.  Writing, to me, is like breathing. I am going to document my adventures and observations regardless. Normally, this would just go in a personal journal to be recorded and likely never looked at again.  BUT… I get a lot of positive feedback about my writing..  So, I decided to share these observations with you.

I took over 1400 pictures with my awesome cell phone camera in those two weeks.  It’s a Samsung Galaxy S5 with an 18 megapixel camera.  It’s a really, really nice phone camera.  Much nicer than my actual and proper digital camera (which is ten years old).  In almost all occasions, the pictures you will see were taken by me.  In fact, odds are there will be a whole piece just on my phone and my experience with it.

In the coming pieces, please understand my ‘style’.  I speak in wide-ranging and sweeping generalities.  You could almost call it stereotypes.  These essays are not meant to be even-handed or even fair.  If you want objective information, go to Wikipedia.  What I am sharing is my experiences through my totally subjective background.  I have been around Europe a bit, but this was my first time to anywhere in Asia.

I may say something like ‘you can tell which tourists are Japanese, because they are the one with cameras’.  That may sound jokey or dismissive, but it is actually quite thoughtful.  Almost everyone these days has and uses a cell phone camera.  Most of our cell phone cameras are nicer than our proper digital cameras.  Interestingly, though, the Japanese still carry nice (and very big) 35mm cameras.  A few days after I noticed this, I got the courage to ask our guide about it.  I was terrified of sounding racist or flippant (not sure which is worse).  He said I was spot on with my observation, and found it pretty funny.  Our guide is a guy who spends 5 days a week year round going to tourist places.  So, if he sees it and agrees with it, that is good enough for me.

The problem with my style of writing is that I won’t usually go that far to explain.  In the interest of expediency and storytelling, I will likely just say ‘Japanese are the ones with actual cameras’.  You will just have to understand and have faith that there was more to this observation that what is on the surface.

I will likely say something that just sounds pissy and ethnocentric like “Chinese people eat the weirdest shit.  These people are disgusting”.  That may sound mean and shallow.  However, I went to a LOT of markets and talked to a LOT of people… and it’s true.  So much so that I could look around in the stalls and stands and say to my guide “we are in the Chinese part now, aren’t we?”  Seriously, Chinese people eat the weirdest shit.  Ask anyone in Asia who isn’t Chinese.  This isn’t a judgement, it is an observation.  Keep that in mind that with everything. I’ll be writing about that (the Chinese food thing, not the semantics thing), with plenty of photos and anecdotes to amuse and educate.

Please do leave comments.  Maybe from your own stories, or maybe to be critical of me.  I have NEVER deleted a comment because it was critical of me.  In fact, I prefer them.  It humbles me, and forces me to dig deeper as a writer. I only ask that you be specific and thoughtful with your criticisms.   Don’t say “you are a dumbass and a racist”.  Be specific and tell me why I am wrong.  Also, feel free to share the links or pictures or whatever.  Hell, take my name off the pieces and put your name in and sell it as a book.  I just want it read. Sound crazy?  Where do you think Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas came from?  Think that crazed drug addicted dead nut job Thompson had the presence of mind to string together a single sentence?

Point being, please excuse me for the constant sweeping generalizations, and we’ll both have a lot more fun.  Every place and culture I visited, we had absolutely fallen in love with all the people.  So, there is no axe to grind.  These subsequent pieces are simply my love letters to Asia

** regarding the registered trademark symbol above.  Here is the deal; I totally invented that word ‘Thai-aries’.  It is just a smooshing together the words ‘Thailand’ and  ‘Diaries’.  I googled and checked and see no instance of that word being used.  So, it’s mine now.  I pretty sure that is how patent and copyright protection works.  To be sure, I contacted an old family friend who spent 30 years in the patent office in Washington DC to ask him if this was sufficient enough to file claim on the new word.  He wrote back saying

Mr Lang,***

What are you talking about?  You can’t just invent words, and you certainly can’t just patent them and own them.  Even if you could, that involves thousands of dollars and a several year process.  Just making up words and sticking an ® at the end isn’t exactly legally binding.  You are an idiot.  Just to destroy another language, and stop calling my house.  Seriously, just leave my family alone  – Nathan Thurm

and finally – this:  I am far too wordy.  I know it, and I struggle with it. Each piece is meant to be brief, but they are hitting a thousand words each.  I am sorry.  I am not, however, brief.  I really do edit down a lot.  Imagine the first time you saw Las Vegas at night, or NYC, or ate 3 hits of micro blotter at Disneyland.  Try and put that into words.  You can’t, but I can.  At least, I try with some success.  Here is what happens in my writing process.  I write about 40% more than you end of seeing.  I always over-write, and then edit down.  Generally, once I have finished a piece I can go back in a month later and cut another 25%.  In your interest, that would be the best thing for me to do.  THEN publish it.  Here is the thing, though, I am so excited to share these stories and adventures I just can’t wait that long to share.  What if I die tomorrow, and I never got to tell you about shitting in a hole in the ground, and no TP.

that was long and unnecessary.  Ironic, isn’t it.  Just skip all that nonsense above.  Especially the part about Disneyland.  Never happened.  Cool?

If I were reading these, I would paste a few of the articles into a Word doc, then print it (at work, of course), and read it on the loo.

*** crap, he used my real name.  Someone edit that out, please.

Ed: I can do a strike through, will that be sufficient?
me:  No, you jackass.  They can still see the name even with the strike through.  Don’t believe me?  Read this:  I just fired my useless fucking editor.