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


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

By Charles N. Stevens

Awakening in 5 AM darkness and the quivering lights on the river, we pack our bags for the days trip to Sukhothai.
At breakfast, I choose what I always have in the hotel—a plate of Thai broccoli (mostly greens) sprinkled with peanuts and a gob of kimchi for spice followed by a sampling of fresh watermelon, pineapple and papaya. I notice that hardly any other member of our group touches the Thai food, all of them being traditional. They pile eggs and bacon on their plates, and drink gallons of coffee. I believe that tasting a country’s food is as valuable as seeing its sights or listening to its special sounds.
We look out on our river for the last time—until we return in about one week. The usual
damp haze grips the city. The silver-blue river trembles with the activity of water taxis, barges and other small boats, their wakes constantly rippling to the shore, and slapping up against the banks, docks and posts. An underpowered river boat pulls two empty barges, a woman mopping the cabin roof of one of them. So many people crowd the aft decks of the water taxis that it is a wonder they can float.
Our bus leaves the hotel close to 7:30, soon injecting itself into the grip of Bangkok traffic. Our slow pace allows us to see more of the city and the people better. School kids march down the street with their back packs, and workers dash for their offices and shops. I never see anyone who looks ragged or destitute, the majority of people being well-dressed.
Tied in a knot of traffic congestion on a bridge over the Chao Praya, we have ample time to look down at the river. Mats of water hyacinth and the usual barges float by beneath us. We gaze down on a collection of house boats along the bank where people are living. The sharp buzzing and rapping of motor bikes moving in and out of traffic mingles with the short accelerations of trucks and cars.
Once free of the city we travel northward on Asia One, the main north-south route in Thailand, most of it freeway. We glide along the smooth highway looking out at the flat countryside. Turning off Asia One to Highway 32, our bus rolls through land as flat as a table. A temple rises in the distance.
Spaces become even wider as we travel out over expanses of green. Duckweed covers many of the ponds near the side of the road, and in some, white egrets stalk for little fish. Other egrets flap their slow white wings over the green rice fields. Water buffalo graze in a swamp, some of them with only their heads out of the water. We pass a sawmill where massive teak logs that had been floated down the river lie in a special yard.
We travel down a street in Ayutthaya, once the capital of Thailand, small teak trees with their large leaves lining the street. In the Ayutthaya style, many of the houses look like modified Buddhist temples. The town has its share of listless yellowish dogs that curl up in slumber or mope about with sad eyes, their tongues hanging out.
We first visit the Wat Phra Si Samphet, the old temple housing the largest bronze sitting Buddha in Thailand. I like looking up at the golden Buddha, especially at his expression of relaxed serenity. He had found the key to life, that perfect position between the ascetic life and a sensuous one. His benign smile reflects his inner peace, and I feel a little of that serenity just by looking up at him. The smell of incense smoke pervades the temple, as well as the sound of sticks being shaken in a cylindrical container.  The first stick that finally falls out bears a number, the number of the worshipper’s fortune. The fortunes hang on a large bulletin board by number. If the number on the stick is 26, the person selects fortune number 26 on the board. I am not sure that Buddha would have approved of this superstitious kind of game. At times, the haunting sound of a marimba-like instrument played by a monk echoes through the temple. I watch people pray near sand-filled racks of smoking incense. They dip unopened lotus blossoms in water then let the wet blossoms drip on their heads. Some apply small squares of thin gold leaf to metal statues. So many leaves have been applied so haphazardly that many are only partially attached, their loose ends fluttering in the slightest breeze.
We then move on to the ruins of another temple, Wat Rachaburana, where we see a pure white reclining Buddha. Exposed to the elements, the Buddha lies among an only partially restored 16th century temple that had been razed by the invading Burmese. Here and there people had applied their little squares of gold leaf like gilded band-aids to the stone skin of the Buddha. Another part of the temple complex contains long rows of sitting Buddhas, all wearing saffron robes placed there mainly by couples about to be married. In the same area stand the remains of the old city wall, the moat and the Grand Palace, all destroyed long ago by the Burmese.
Many dogs inhabit the temple ruins and the park-like grounds surrounding them, most of them small and yellowish like most “temple dogs” everywhere in the world. Most are dirty and suffer from mange, many of them ambling around with open sores. They are utterly without spirit, most of them dragging around as though they are exhausted. They sleep in all positions everywhere, never wagging their tails or never barking even when they are awake. Most females are pregnant or are nursing pups somewhere, their teats bloated and swaying beneath them when they walk.
Now on the road again, we watch the country go by—rice fields and temples, ponds and water buffalo, water lilies and egrets. Vendors sell baskets and hats at stands along the road while more permanent lots sell small spirit houses and large ceramic animals. Rice fields alternate with stands of coconuts and bananas. In one pond people stand in water up to their chests harvesting or tending to water plants.
We pass through the village of Anthong. Water hyacinth and duckweed grow thickly in the water ditches, and small brown domestic ducks by the hundreds paddle around in the larger ponds. Lotus grows and blooms in other ponds.
We take off along the rice fields when we turn off Highway 32 and on to a smaller Highway. The ditches alongside of the road are always filled with water and water plants. Several men sit by the ponds with fishing poles, so somewhere down in the muck catfish must be swimming.

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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