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Published: April 28th 2012
I don’t know if anyone has every counted the number of wats (Buddhist temples) in this city. There are wats next to other wats, and wats next to motorcycle shops, and wats next to bars, and wats next to shops. They are all beautiful, but except for a few – like Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra Singh – they pretty much all ran together.
The main temple hall in each wat is open to the public, and I confess that my motivation for visiting some of them was to find a spot in the shade where I could take shelter from the sun. As long as you were dressed modestly, took your shoes off, and never, ever pointed the soles of your feet to any depiction of Buddha, you could pretty much stay as long as you wanted. And making a donation always helps.
All wats had some beautiful Buddhist art, very intricate and covered with gold leaf. It’s real gold; for a donation you can place a square of gold leaf anywhere on the designated statues. That gives some of these statues a rather leprous appearance, and since you must enter the temple hall barefoot, I often
Applying small squares of gold leaf lends a rather leprous appearance to the statue.
found tiny bits of gold stuck to the bottom of my feet.
There was a sour note amidst all this beauty, though. Buddhism is a philosophy that believes all life is precious, and that what we do to others will ultimately affect ourselves. But given that, the two cruelest acts I saw during my visit I saw on temple grounds.
The first was the sale of birds. People will capture small birds, stuff them in tiny bamboo cages, and offer them for sale at the wat. Releasing the bird from its prison is supposed to bring merit to the one who bought the bird; no one ever says what it brings to the person who captured the bird in the first place. I was very pleased to see the sign at Wat Chedi Luang specifically denouncing the practice.
The second was a mother teaching her toddler to beg by the steps of the temple hall. Mom started out by very aggressively trying to get me to buy flowers to place as an offering. When that didn’t work, she dragged her chubby little girl over to me and had her mime putting food in her mouth then sticking
out her grubby little hand. Since the little girl was in the process of having her mid-morning snack, this act didn’t work out well either. I just hate parents who pimp out their kids.
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