Electronically Serving Monterey Park, Alhambra, San Gabriel, & Rosemead


This is the first in a series of articles about a visit to the fascinating country of Thailand.


By Charles N. Stevens

Up early in Bangkok, I look from our hotel balcony at the lights along the river where shadowy boats and barges pass almost unseen in the dark.

Dawn soon begins, touching the long streaks of gray clouds pink then saffron, all the hues reflected in the river. Far away, tall gray buildings appear out of the morning haze.

At breakfast I select Thai dishes from the buffet—hot pickled cabbage with egg, stir-fried greens, small fish imprinted with their tiny skeletons which I find too tough to chew, rice, something that looks like chunks of meat, but is something soft with an anise aftertaste and some very spicy cold vegetables much like kimchi. I try one sausage which is much like a miniature wiener, then pick out chunks of fresh pineapple, papaya and watermelon from a large platter. I end up English style with a croissant and marmalade. Dolores has rice, green vegetables, bean sprouts, cabbage, toast and fruit.

After breakfast, we retire to our room to relax before the day’s excursions. As the sun is well up now, traffic streams over the bridge spanning the Chao Phraya River flowing by our hotel. Sunlight beams off the shimmering water. Two small boats with reddish prows pull three barges, all low in the water with their heavy burdens. At the stern of one of the barges, a man stripped to his waist bathes and brushes his teeth. Sleek water taxies jammed with commuters slice through the water.

Shortly, we leave on the bus for the Grand Palace, passing a variety of shops that make Bangkok so interesting. Some feature rice stored in barrels, others supply lumber or sell flowers and ribbon woven into garlands. Colorful flower shops, magazine stands, and prepared food stands are everywhere. One shop offers hanging rows of yellow bananas.

Near the palace, men play soccer on a grassy field close to buildings featuring Thai-style roofs swept up into delicate Garudas, King of Birds, at their points. Our bus driver’s skill takes us safely through the impossibly snarled Bangkok traffic to a point near the Grand Palace. Walking beneath rows of tamarind trees leading up to the palace, we see that all the trees are decorated with lights, their trunks sprouting purple orchids in honor of the king’s birthday.

Our first view of the Grand Palace dazzles us with its golden stupas, ceramic Cambodian-style ones and tall Thai temple towers decorated with gold as well as cut stones, glass and mirrors. The old Grand Palace, no longer used by royalty, approaches garishness but is pleasing to the eye at the same time. Grotesque ceramic guards with snarling mouths keep watch over the temples, discouraging the incursion of evil spirits. The hooked prong of the Garuda adorns each point of the roof, curving up towards the sky like the long fingers of Thai dancers. Golden snakes decorate the bases and stair railings of the temples, the serpents representing the King of Snakes, the counterpoint to the King of Birds represented by the Garuda.

The palace itself was first used in 1782, and was made famous by the musical, “The King and I”. We wander through towers, canopies and golden statuary, excited by what we see around each turn—the brilliance of the gold, the delicateness of the ceramic work, the height of the stupas. It is so different that it feels as though we’re walking in a dream.

We watch people in prayer at outdoor shrines where worshippers had left flowers, prepared food and eggs as offerings. Hundreds of incense sticks smolder and smoke in containers of sand, the sharp fragrance permeating the temple grounds. Men, women and children pray, their hands folded reverently at their chest, their eyes closed. They carry lotus flowers and greens, adding theirs to giant bouquets on the shrine. They light more incense sticks, pushing the bamboo end down into the sand so that it will remain upright. A gentle breeze stirs golden wind chimes hanging every few feet along the eaves of every temple and sacred building, filling the temple grounds with their soft metallic music. The sound of the chiming and the scent of the incense together creates a rare mood, exotic but pleasing.

After removing our shoes, and storing them with everybody’s else’s , we walk into the temple of the Emerald Buddha, a small Buddha created from a single piece of jade. Many people of all ages, including children, sit reverently and quietly on the floor looking up at the small green Buddha surrounded by gold. The cross-legged Buddha sits there demurely in his lofty perch as though he is pleased with the quiet adoration of the worshippers. We sit down on the floor, all of us as quiet as the Buddha himself.

As we leave the temple, I watch a woman pray just outside of the temple enclosure where, through a small opening, she can see the Emerald Buddha. She prays with her eyes closed then dips a barely opened lotus blossom in water. Holding it by its stem, she places s the wet blossom over her head, shaking off drops that fall into her black hair.

As wondrous as the sights are, we cannot overlook the sticky heat that drains our energy and our body fluids. As we leave the temple grounds, we buy a plastic bottle of ice-cold water. Dolores and I take turns guzzling as we sit in the shade near a flower bed. We walk back the way we had come, savoring the scant shade of the tamarind trees. As the bus traffic is congested for blocks around the site, we wait in the heat at the sidewalk, all of us thinking about how nice the air-cooled coach would feel.

MONTEREY PARK AUTHOR PUBLISHES 4th BOOK – Seeking More of the Sky: Growing Up in the 1930’s:

Charles “Norm” Stevens, a 43 year resident of Monterey Park has recently published his 4th book: Seeking More of the Sky: Growing Up in the 1930’s. This is the story of a young boy growing up in Inglewood, California in the l930’s. This was a time during the depression when unemployment was affecting many and the banks were closed, while the clouds of war were gathering in Europe. But he was lucky enough to be raised in a loving family, the power of that love reflected throughout his stories.

Stevens is the author of three previous books about his experiences during WWII:

An Innocent at Polebrook: A Memoir of an 8th Air Force Bombardier (Story of his 34 bombing missions from his base at Polebrook, England over Germany and France)

The Innocent Cadet: Becoming A World War II Bombardier (A prequel to the first, telling of his training in the U.S. before going overseas into combat.)

Back from Combat: A WWII Bombardier Faces His Military Future from Combat: (This book details the time from when he returned from combat in England until the end of the war.)

He is known to the readers of The Citizen’s Voice as the author of Travel Log Articles including “Cruising the Rhine and Mosel”,” Best of the West”, “In Search of Snow” ,  “From Paris to Normandy on the Seine”, and “Exploring New York”.  He is retired, having taught for 32 years, primarily in the Montebello Unified School District.

Those interested in purchasing an autographed copy of any of his books, may contact the author at 323-721-8230 or  Normstevens24@gmail.com.

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