The Diplomat was asleep so I placed Joshua into the Baby Bjorn carrier facing outwards – something that has previously been to the horror of our building’s “baby-know-it-all-adviser”. Conversations have occurred like:
“You can’t do that! It’s bad for them before they are six months old!”
“It just IS. Everyone knows that!”
Right, the fantastical “everyone”, eh? Off we go….
It seemed like a good time to pay a visit to Wat Pathumwanaram Rachaworawihan which nestles between Central World and Siam Paragon. This time I avoided the Wat itself – as you all know there are many blogs about Wats on here and once you’ve seen three or four you realise that – like all religious buildings – they tend to follow a common architectural design and layout. No need to do that again! What was interesting, though, was to delve into the narrow alleys, the nooks and crannies, the higgledy-piggledy maze of the monks’ abodes that nestle at the back of the main Wat complex.
Joshua and I arrive having decided to forgo both the Skywalk and BTS , skipping gaily through the 34C heat past the tourists before strolling confidently through the main gate of the Wat and heading left towards the crumblier section which would, in turn, take us into the monks’ abode part of the complex. This chap knows what we are up to but no one can refuse a five month old so he contents himself with a scowl…
The place is empty – of tourists and local Buddha worshippers – which means we freely amble the paths past the odd labourer; I sawadee several orange clad monks who smile benevolently, paternally at Joshua and I. They are slightly outnumbered by the cats and dogs that either slink past, keeping to the shade, or loll indolently under the broad leaves of trees and bushes.
Going past the oval lake with its spinning blades, almost immediately we find ourselves hiding amongst two storey, white plaster buildings…exactly as one might expect from looking at books with century or more old colonial photographs of south east Asia. Everything is crumbly, everything is clean, everything exudes a sense of daily life spent with order and solitude. I cannot hear anything save a faint drone of traffic out on the main road and the apologetic cough of life living here. I see a sun-burned wooden shutter. Closed but not fastened, I dare to push it open slightly, hold my breath waiting for the accusatory creak. I take a quick photo of the interior…this is where monks actually live!
Bare, rudimentary, monastic…adjectives tumble through my mind as I peer inwards. Josh is blinking. A noise startles me and I pull my head back quickly. It’s just a cat. Still, I don’t look again, I feel an intruder somehow.
Wandering on we enter a courtyard: full of trees, a shrine with blue flowers in a stunning display. Orange sheet robes hang from lines, drying in the heat. More dogs and cats. Half glimpses of people through foliage or a narrow aperture. Stacks of bricks and tiles, wooden framed entrances in the white walls. There’s no CCTV, but I get the feeling I am being watched.
We go past a very tall building. New, a picture of a venerable monk by the gate. It’s a school of sorts…but not for kids. Rather a monastic place of study. The lane goes further, straight as an arrow, towards a ramshackle alley of corrugated roofs, plastic stool, faint odours of cooking…all from people clinging to living on the side of khlong Saen Saep.
We double back, enter a wider “avenue”. This is the rear of the abodes. Grainy, stern-faced old women stare down from A4 sized photograph frames. Long gone, yet with lives that knew…what? Something, anything. I look left, my gaze piercing through the dangling branches of a tree that almost completely covers the entrance to a glass building. Inside a young acolyte is helping an elderly monk into a chair. There’s a pious order to it, a sense of care and veneration. I get that sense of intrusion again so I hurry on.
A final sawadee to a monk who is washing clothes. He is middle aged, burly, affable. Josh and I cut through the wall into the courtyard of the Wat proper. It doesn’t seem quite right to leave without one picture of the main Wat…so here you go…
Is this what diplomacy is all about?