Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Reliquary

Words can be precious. Especially when they're sealed inside a hanging reliquary. As soon as I saw the rolled up text inside the taxi, I wanted to know what it said. Was it an ancient prayer, or perhaps some kind of old, sacred document? The writing appears to be Chinese, rather than Thai or Sanskrit, but I didn't ask the driver about it because it seems like something personal. If the taxi driver wanted me to know what it said, he would have hung it up on the ceiling with an English translation.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

See No Evil

"Phra Bidtha", or the monk with closed eyes, has had enough.  And, now he's trying to make himself invulnerable to evil.  Unfortunately, it's not so easy to avoid some of the bad things in life.  Like the three monkeys who can "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil", we can try.  But, if we close ourselves off too much, does that mean we miss out on some good things, too?   

Friday, November 21, 2008

Silver and Gold

Back in the day, the King of Siam was offered artificial miniature trees made of silver and gold by those wanting to prove their loyalty. Today, you can find these little trees in shrines throughout Thailand, especially the shrines devoted to the present King or to members of the royal family. It's somewhat unusual to see these miniature seedlings in taxis, so I asked the driver about his trees, and he explained how they're a symbol of money and wealth. I should have known. After all, the word for silver and money in Thai is the same.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fat and Happy

As it turns out, the "happy Buddha" is not the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, but rather a Chinese Zen monk who lived around 900 AD. "Buddha" is a title given to the Zen monk because he reached enlightenment.  In Sanskrit, his name is Maitreya, and sometimes he's called Budai, but in Thailand, he's known as Phra Sangkachai. He usually carries a sack, and along with his smile and fat belly, he represents generosity.  I asked the driver about his fat Buddha, and he told me he brings good fortune. Then, I enquired if he ever rubs the Buddha's belly for good luck. He let out a jolly laugh, and when I looked over at my driver, I noticed, for the first time, that he looked a lot like his golden statue.   

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Male Amulet

Amulets in the form of the,, male organ are worn and carried by Thai men to attract women, for masculine verility, and for invulnerability from bullets and knives. Known in Thai as "palad khik", these Hindu fetish objects are carved from wood or stone, or cast in metal, and contain inscriptions with ancient text. I was embarrassed to ask the driver about his little lucky charm, but I asked him why he has one in his taxi. He told me that he's had it for a very long time and he believes it makes him strong. I didn't want to know which part it makes strong, so after that I didn't ask him anything else. At that point, I already knew more than enough about the driver's "palad khik".

Thursday, November 13, 2008

7-11 Taxi

Bad breath?  Sore throat?  If you happen to hop into this cab, the enterprising taxi driver can sell you some gum, throat lozenges, or mints.  I wish more Bangkok taxi drivers would sell stuff in their cabs.  Imagine all the kinds of things that could be available in the taxis.  How about a chili dog, a newspaper, or deodorant, for example?  Or, how about an extra large Slurpee?    

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Almighty Hanuman

Hanuman, the monkey god from the Thai epic, The Ramakien, is one lucky primate.  He's blessed with supreme intelligence, strength, and divine powers.  And, if that's not enough, he can transform his furry self into other forms.  These days he's remembered in the form of stickers on Bangkok taxi windows.  I hope some of his intelligence, strength, and power rubs off onto Bangkok cab drivers - they sure need it driving in this city.    

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Stand by Me

As I got into a taxi with a standing Buddha figure this morning, the song "Stand by Me" came on the radio. The driver had tuned in the oldies station, and I couldn't help but sing along with Ben E. King. As I recalled the lyrics while staring at the small golden Buddha statue in the red case, the context of the music affected the meaning. After the ride in the taxi, I decided to do a little research and I found that "Stand by Me" was inspired by an old gospel song. It makes sense, then, that the words could adopt a more spiritual meaning. Before today, I just hadn't ever thought of that song in that way before.