An event occurred. You know…kind of like the Pope resigning. The sort of event that is once in a very long blue moon which means you need to hotfoot it down to wherever it may be occurring just to be part of it. In this case it was the arrival of the Logos Hope ship at Port Khlong Toey in Bangkok. Fondly known as the world’s largest floating bookshop. Staffed by volunteers it roams the seas spreading literary education of a distinctly Christian theme. Check out their website – Logos.
Built in 1973 as a ferry between Malmo and Travemunde, the ship entered its current incarnation in February 2009 and is operated by the charity GBA Ships e.V. The fourth ship of the charity, its biggest to date, Logos Hope provides a wide range of activities for visitors and guests. Events like Logos Hope Experience holds up to 800 visitors, with capacity to host an additional 700 in the Hope Theatre and Logos Lounge. The deck offers visitors both an introduction to the vessel and the organization, a book room featuring over 5,000 different titles, a visual presentation called the Journey of Life, which is based on the Christian parable of the “Prodigal Son”, and a cafe. The crew is entirely volunteers, about 450 of them from over 40 countries. On board we met Thai, Canadians, New Zealanders, Americans, English staff – all of whom usually stay aboard for two years.
Its arrival in Bangkok from Feb 20 to March 11 coupled with my bibliophile personality meant I proceeded to drag Canada’s Finest Jazz Vocalist down to visit it. He’d never been to that part of town, anyway, so it was all new. We got there in double quick time despite the fact that Rama IV was partly closed at the Thai-Belgian bridge (for the next few months) meaning traffic was piling up, hopped out the taxi giving him a 30Baht tip because he’d the nous to call an English speaker when we wasn’t sure where we wanted to go – as neither of us knew the Thai words for “bookshop” and “docks”, and sauntered round the corner to find the ship.
It was big. A 20Baht entrance fee saw us to the foot of gangplank where a Canadian from Vancouver greeted us cheerily and we had a brief chat about the Homeland. Inside was a room giving details of the charity: aims, achievements, desires. Inside the place was stuffed with people. Mainly teachers and group of schoolkids, everyone happily browsing. At the other end of the shop we ventured into a corridor of modern painting retelling of Christian parables. The Prodigal Son being the main one. It spilled us into a cafe, looped us back round to the entrance where free copies of The Gospel of John were being handed out and then pushed out back out onto the dock. We didn’t buy anything – I will be perfectly frank and say it is like being in a discount store – the books are mass market, you’re not going to get anything new so if you are expecting “Kinokunyia”, or “Chapters”, or “Waterstones” you will be disappointed. For a short while we gazed over the Chao Phraya, watching longboats zipping between the behemoth tankers, before taking a fairly long walk back inland towards the Port Authority. Here are some photos of the Logos Hope:
As we ventured out I noticed a small soi with a Wat on the corner. This was a working Wat. Buddhist monks were having a midday meal, a small school inside was full of children, the strained voice of a teacher could be heard. We decided to go inside, ourselves being the curious object of attention. It was fascinating to be away from the tourist Wats. We spotted this vast oven furnace, not putting two and two together till we saw the wall behind it covered in pictures and little niches for those who had been cremated. Next to it was another small chedi – this one with an amicable caretaker who nodded to us. Inside a glass case was the revered, venerated, mummified remains of a Buddhist holy man. I assumed he had a special affiliation to the Wat, but I am not certain. Moving on, we were able to look inside the main Wat, see the golden Buddha, then step outside into the surrounding buildings. Beyond the school, butted up against the Chao Phraya was the living area of the monks. Each had a separate stone room, each appeared to be dedicated to a deceased member of the local community. A small coup held three chickens, there was a mango tree, at the rear you could sit at simply carved tables right on the river and play chess/checkers if you wanted. Saffron robes hung to dry. It was very interesting to see the reality of a monastic life.
That was our day – short blog this one – interesting, flitting moments in places we’ve never been to, nor are likely to visit again. A chance to see some of the reality of life in Bangkok, to wander as we pleased in the hot noon sun, before grabbing a taxi and then the BTS to go back home. Nothing was polished, everything was gritty but somehow, all the more fascinating for it.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?