Lingam of Life: Bangkok, Buddha, and the Ber-Mom

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Bursting from our Banglampoo bubble, we finally escape this faux-Bangkok barrio which has confined us for more than a week. We’ve been saving the site-seeing for our visitors and so, with my jet-lagged but intrepid mother in tow (along with my with-us-in-spirit-mother-in-law whose absence is sad but, we reluctantly accept, in some strange way, it is meant to be), we board a long boat on the Chao Phraya River, and motor down to temple town.

The Wat Phra Kaew and Grand Palace are astounding, the structures and statues sparkling brilliantly during the sun’s brief appearance on an otherwise warm and overcast December afternoon. My mother, who shall hereafter be referred to as the “Bermom,” has never seen anything like this, and Tay and I, who have spent the last seven months visiting beautiful and mind-boggling sites, are equally impressed.

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We wonder in the attention to detail, the richness of color, and more than anything, the ancient spirituality, which infuses us as we talk about Buddhism — both the Buddhist ideas and images that Tay and I have experienced during our travels and meditations, and also the things that Bermom has learned in her recent exploration of the subject, attending lectures back on Long Island, reading the Dalai Lama’s “Art of Happiness,” recognizing Buddha nature in her mother and others — it makes for an amazing first day, a unique way to share and catch up.

For so much has happened! This is evident as the three of us continuing talking as we make our way (by tuk-tuk) to Wat Pho, the oldest temple in Bangkok. So much has happened to us during our travels, but also to our families and friends back home, who are enjoying a multitude of new babies — cousins, nieces, nephews, great-grandchildren, etc. — nothing less than the making of a new generation! Though we can only celebrate this incredible thing from afar, it is an effort we will be joining, just as soon as we get home.

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And to make sure the gods are on our side, Tay and I reach out and touch the famous gold-leaf lingam of Shiva, a divine phallus visited by Buddhists and Hindus from around the world, who come to make offerings and pray for fertility. Visions of grandchildren dancing in her head, the Bermom is ecstatic as she takes our photo, but the cat who guards the ling (resting on the rock above my head) does not even open his eyes.

The various temples of Wat Pho, especially the gigantic reclining Buddha, are awesome and, eventually, we need to leave and cancel our third scheduled visit, to Wat Arun across the river, because it would, simply, be too much. Instead we walk back to the Chao Phraya, behind which the sun is setting sublimely. It is an orange ball which has descended from a long bank of clouds and it burns red as it enters the smog, its outline so perfect that Bermom, already confused by changes of time, dates, continents, and cultures, believes it is the full moon.

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Time to get some sleep, we decide after the laughter. Tomorrow is another travel day: north to Chiang Mai.

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