Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Grand Palace indeed!

Fast forward a bit.  Orientation for my program took place in Bangkok for the first week.  During that time I learned more about Thai culture, language, and what to expect once I reached my school (which was basically 'expect the unexpected'-- and later I will get to just how crucial that motto has become).  I was with many other Westerners (about 95% Americans) who were in the same boat as me.  While I did meet some genuinely great people, I must admit I was anxious to strike out on my own and get away from the 'ugly American' stereotype some of my fellow 'teachers' seemed to exhibit.  The staff from my program, however, were very helpful (both Thai and otherwise).  

One of my favorite excursions of the week was to the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.  It's some of the most magnificent architecture I've ever seen.  The facade of the buildings is composed of tiny mosaic mirrors--thousands upon thousands of them.  

Fun with the fish-eye lens!
Close-up of the mirror mosaic...
... And the overall effect.
The virual effect this imparts to the building is nothing short of magical.  I can't imagine the countless hours that went into creating this masterpiece,  and now how many hours go into maintenance to keep it looking as sharp as it did when it was built in 1782.  To enter the main temple I removed my shoes and quietly filed in.  When praying to an image of the Buddha, it's proper form to 'wai' (bow your head with your palms together) with your thumbs at your forehead (the third and highest form of the wai), then bring your hands down to the floor where you are kneeling.  Repeat three times.

I learned that there's more than just Thai culture represented here.  Some buildings are made of porcelain from China, not the mirrors that cover other buildings.  I learned from Peter, our guide, that when ships from China came to trade in Bangkok, they needed to bring goods from China to properly weigh down their boats.  Some of these ceramic goods inevitably broke in transit, but yet were put to good use decorating these buildings.

One of the Chinese-style buildings
Peter, our wonderful guide
English influence can also been seen in the design of some buildings
Within the grounds of the Grand Palace there is also the Queen Sirikit Textile Museum.  Of course, I absolutely loved this.  I wish I would have been able to take pictures inside to show you, but sadly it wasn't allowed.  The inside featured display after display of the Queen's outfits worn at various state events and international visits.  The patterns and colors of the textiles can only be described as rich.  Rich in every sense of the word.  There was a really cool animation of how a simple rectangle of silk is folded and turned into a chong kraben, a sabai, or a sampot.  I think I watched it three times through!  There were also exhibits about the social projects the Queen has taken on, as well as a cool video of how silk is made from the cocoons of the silkworm.  

Interior of the entry hall

A guard stands at attention

Cheers from Bangkok!

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