Monday, January 23, 2006

The Def Tech sound Shen and Micro 'round singing on and on and on

So Matt and I arrive in Tokyo and head off to do our "hatsumode", our first shrine visit of the year. All Japanese people customarily go to a shrine - often just a local one - to offer a prayer in that first week of the year. We decide to hit Meiji Jingu, the largest shrine complex in Tokyo, built to honor and house the spirit of the Meiji Emperor, credited with the modernization of Japan in the late 1800's. There are so many people arriving here that they have had to divert some of the trains onto a separate platform; otherwise people would certainly get knocked off onto the tracks. We get off the train and, approaching the gate, are caught up in a throng of people making their first visit of the year. We shuffle our way to the inner shrine and find ourselves basically the only white people there. Japanese are clearly perplexed at our presence. The giant shrine and forest complex - usually entirely silent except for the distant echoes of trains - feels very much like the inside of a Tokyo subway car during rush hour. It takes about an hour to wade in and out of the river of people. We later learn that some 3 million visited the shrine that day.

Matt and I wander into stores in Tokyo and play with things indiscriminately. We are acting on Matt's in Japan M.O.: "We will do whatever we want and if anyone gets upset, we just say 'we didn't know we couldn't do that.'" Inside Toyland in Harajuku, we take turns wearing a Darth Vader mask with built in voice modulation. I do my favorite line ("All too easy" from when he thinks he's knocked Luke into the carbon freezing chamber) and Matt threatens to choke the life out of Admiral Piet ("You've failed me for the last time, Admiral!"). Matt buys some toys and stridently announces to the girl at the front, "NO these are NOT gifts!"

Matt goes off for a few days on his own after that since I have to go back to work. I will be eternally envious of Matt for the chance he had to be in the presence of this wise old monkey; surveying the land, looking down on what mankind has wrought, a single tear running down his pink simian face. I will not, however, be envious of all the monkey feces Matt had to plod through or dodge on the trek up to this epic sight.

Matt is supposed to come home late one night for dinner after 6. He shows up around 11, loudly singing the Strokes. Which means, he's drunk. Apparently he got off at the bus stop but then decided he would check out this small bar first right down the street. 4 hours and many beers later, he tells me about how he "just had the most fun he's had yet in Japan" drinking with a few local old guys and singing karaoke (In my head I cancel plans to take him anywhere expensive; why waste money trying to go to interesting places if he would rather hang around this tiny town and drink with old men?) However, as he tells his story - he comes in, orders a drink, the guy orders him another, the guy gives him some cigarettes, they sing together, drink a few more - and looks down at his receipt, it becomes clear that when the guys ordered him beers, they did only that, order them. Matt had been buying his - and possibly their - beer all night. So Matt got fleeced by a bunch of old Japanese guys out of $50.

During the week, I'd wake up at 6:30 to get ready for school, leaving at around 7:40. Matt would get up a little later and head out to visit some part of Japan. Hamamatsu is pretty convenient for that, being only a little over an hour away from Tokyo or Kyoto in either direction. After seeing the sights of say Kyoto, most nights Matt would just ride home on the bullet train in lieu of paying for a hotel, since he could ride on any train in the country for free with his rail pass. On those nights, we'd pick up something to cook for dinner at the local market, then stop off at the liquor store next door to pick up some beer. They sell beer at the market, but I've never seen anyone else go into the liquor store before. The guy working there is really friendly, so we decided to become his main patrons. We got to be such frequent customers that he now yells out greetings, runs over and opens the beer fridge for me, and often throws in extra cans as a bonus. After dinner, we'd relax, drink our beers and watch an episode of the Simpsons. Occasionally we would fire bottle rockets off my balcony.

One night that week, Matt and I took the kids from the English club - that is, the kids from the club that I like - out to dinner at a "Viking" restaurant, (So called because of the famed appetite of the vikings? Or their propensity to eat buffet-style? Or because of the generally skewed perception of Japanese people in relation to foreigners? I have gotten all three answers on asking) where Matt and I were able to have the first dinner in a while in which we could eat to satiation. We put on a little show for the kids - feats of eating, if you will - continuously going back for another helping over and over as their eyes grew in that peculiar mixture of admiration and horror that accompanies so much of what I do here.

I was very excited to introduce Matt to Kenji Kurimura, or Kurimura-kun, who is far and away my favorite student, if not my favorite person ever. Kurimura-kun - or "King of Kurimura", as he is sometimes called by me, or "Kuri-chan" as he is called by the girls in the club, or "KMK" as he would soon be knighted by Matt - is a returnee student from Spain. He practices archery and has an unusually dark tan over his unusually feminine features. He accentuates this with his constant hand motions, which resemble nothing so much as a conductor minus the wand. A rather unorthodox conductor, however, who in the course of keeping his own conversations on track resorts to various hand motions that are totally unrelated to what he is talking about as well as impenetrable to anyone else. I had been building the kid up to Matt all week, but he was not disappointed. KMK is the nicest kid in the world, and everyone is forced to bestow love on him with a fierce intensity; Matt too, found he could only oblige.

Most of the dinner was Matt teasing the kids about their girlfriends and boyfriends - these 16 year olds flushing red the whole time - or me doing impressions of the old kendo coach who teaches English at school. Matt warned me about making fun of a teacher, but I explained that I am not making fun at all; though he is half-deaf and just strange as hellI think he's consistently one of the greatest people I've ever met. The point of the dinner was that the kids would get more of an opportunity to speak English, but I think Matt and I dominated the conversation while they mostly giggled like crazy. I don't think Yuka (on the right) really got much out through her giggles at all. Azusa had a bit more spark; as Matt remarked, "She's one of those girls that would just kind of make a guy start dating her by sheer strength of personality." Or maybe I said that? I suppose it's not really important, and we talk so similarly sometimes that it is hard to keep track.

On Friday that week, I invited Matt into school to visit. He was on his way back from Osaka that afternoon, planning to get in around 3. I told him to call me when he got back into Hamamatsu, and to come to school around 4. I get no call from him. Instead, another teacher suddenly rushes into the English teacher's room and spits out between gasps, "Your friend is waiting at the school entrance." I come down to get Matt and find him looking exhausted, unshaven, hungover and disheveled. The office secretaries are understandably uncomfortable, and a P.E. teacher eyes him suspiciously, ready to defend the school from attack. Matt tells me he was out the whole night before clubbing with that Japanese guy he met on the plane and only slept two hours or so in a capsule hotel. "Great," I think, "just the way I wanted to introduce you to the school, red-eyed with a cold sweat. Now, let's go meet the principal."

As a sign of respect to me more than anything else, the principal has asked to meet my friend when he arrives. I tell the vice-principal he's here, and she runs with us down to the principals office, where Matt and I sit across from them. I have to play interpreter for a while as they ask standard questions about whether he likes Japan, where he's from, what university he goes to and what he studies. It's unfortunate, really, as the principal is actually a really sharp guy who studied physics in college; him and Matt would likely have a lot to talk about. Unfortunately he speaks no English and Matt no Japanese, and there is no conceivable way I can translate that sort of conversation.

I decide Matt should be hidden until school lets out so he doesn't disturb any classes. So we go back to the English room and hang out for a while, listening to music. In walks the Beach Boys Sensei by chance. We had been trying all week to find a time to go over to the the guy's house for drinks and dinner but never could get it to work. I suspect that his wife wasn't too enthusiastic about us getting raucously drunk at her house with her elderly husband. Luckily, Matt and him still had a chance to meet at school that day, and we sat around and chatted for a while. Matt and I detail our plan in which Matt leaves me his Japan Rail pass to use even after he is gone, with me simply pretending to be him and getting free train tickets. Sensei listens intently to our plan, closes his eyes in concentration, nods his head as if arriving at some particular understanding, and remarks:
"Ah, so even Adams-Sensei steals."

This quickly became one of our favorite lines.

As the bell rings, I decide to give Matt a walking tour of the school. As if by fate, KMK himself happens to walk by just as we leave the room and we call him over as I insist he accompany us on this tour. He follows behind us sheepishly while we stroll down the hallways. Students who have just gotten used to seeing me on a daily basis are now shocked right back to six months ago to see two tall white guys in their hallways. I keep asking KMK for some commentary but he doesn't have much to say. I'm not sure whether this is good for him, making him look cool for being the kid we like the most and the only chosen to walk around with us, or terrible for him, a public display that further isolates him from his peers. Whatever. KMK will have to deal.

We end up at English club which is characteristically terrible since only half of the kids want to be there. I end it early so Matt can take a little time during his visit to give a demonstration of proper earthquake safety. Rest assured, Asami was later soundly disiciplined for her lackluster committment to such a serious endeavor. I had to convince Matt not to wear that helmet around school for the rest of the day, not because I didn't think it was funny, just that I didn't want the other teachers to think my friend was a lunatic.

After about 5 minutes of watching Matt interact with the students - while wearing the helmet of course - the Japanese teacher in charge of the English club turns to me, shaking her head, and says, "Yes, I can definitely tell that this is your friend." I am still unsure whether that was a compliment or insult.

After club, we walk around to check out what the other kids are doing; visiting the calligraphy club, the Go club, and the music clubs. We eventually find our way to the Shogi (Japanese Chess) club, and again come upon the Beach Boys Sensei. In Japanese chess, rather than standing pieces they use small tiles. All of the chess tiles are the same shape; they are differentiated by Chinese characters written on the top of each piece. Sensei asks me if I know how to play, and I confess to him that I can't read the characters so I don't really know what piece was what. He replies,
S: "Oh that...yeah I can't read them either."
L: "But you know how to play, right?"
S: "Ah, well, I don't know that anyone really knows how to play shogi...(wistfully) It's a know."
L: "Haha, then why are you in charge of the club?"
S: "I was assigned...You see, I actually don't care for shogi, myself...(picture this slight, graying man in his late 50's suddenly assuming a low sumo stance) I would rather watch SUMO!"

We again rue not having a chance to drink with him.

The next day is the Saturday of Matt's last weekend here. We were going to head up to Nikko, the site of an amazing mausoleum complex for Tokugawa (the man who founded the dynasty that ruled Japan for almost 300 years) in the mountains north of Tokyo, but it was rainy and cold Saturday and forecast for Sunday as well. We head into Tokyo again, hoping that it might clear up by Sunday so we could make the trip to Nikko in the morning. Getting there, we find it so damn cold we just cancel those plans almost immediately. Maiko and I have dinner as Matt goes off to explore on his own. Later, walking Maiko back to the train station, she hears some maniac singing at the top of his lungs. I see a figure swigging a beer and sort of dancing across the street. I catch the atonal rendering of a Strokes song.

It's Matt, of course. He's been buying beers at convenience stores and sort of strolling around singing, frightening Japanese. I drop Maiko off and we decide on a plan of attack in which we buy a beer at a convenience store, start walking, and drink it before we reach the next convenience store. To put this in perspective, there are convenience stores here practically on every block; Starbucks does not even come close. It actually affords us some time to talk a bit though, which we haven't had as much with me at school and him jaunting around on his own.

The next day is our last. We hit the Japanese Sword Museum in the morning, which is pretty damn awesome, then head to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office Building, a set of twin towers that, aside from housing the government, offers a free panoramic view of Tokyo from 46 floors up. Only when about to enter and have our bags checked does Matt remember that he is carrying not only a leatherman utility knife in his bag, but also A BAG OF FIREWORKS. I wonder if he might toss them somewhere outside, but we are already at this point standing directly under a surveillance camera. I figure it's okay though as long as they are in the bottom of the bag; the officers searching bags are so uncomfortable with the impoliteness of putting their hands through your things that they barely open it. So we enter the government headquarters with weapons and explosives.

We then meet up with Maiko for a delicious gyoza (pot sticker) lunch in Ginza, 8 gyoza and each like 6 inches long. We walk it off touring the Imperial Palace grounds and gardens. It becomes a really beautiful day, despite all forecasts, perfect weather. Matt, tired of walking, decides to just flop down in the middle of the garden there, lying face down in the dry grass. I take a series of pictures of him and the disgust evident on the faces of several salarymen passing by. Eventually we leave, but he insists on not brushing off the grass, and walks around with it all over his stomach and back for the rest of the day. Maiko laughs, but is petrified with embarassment. I cheer her up by throwing her over my shoulder and carrying her around for a while. After we leave, is still carrying his weapons and explosives, this time around the Imperial Palace grounds.

We head back that afternoon and have dinner with Joyce and Kevin - a couple other ALTs - and a few Japanese friends. Matt tries to show them his endless pictures from Tokyo and I think finally realizes how many are superflous, if not simply terrible. One of the Japanese guys does awesome magic accompanied by sparse yet hilarious commentary (Ex: for one card trick: "My a fax!) We get back after dinner and try to think of a fitting way to spend the last night.

Eventually, we remember the fireworks Matt has been carrying all this time and bust them out. This time, as it almost midnight, instead of firing them from my balcony, we head down the street and start lighting them between rice paddies. We work up our plan for what to happen if we get caught; blame it all on the Brazilians! (If the topic comes up at work I just say, "Jesus, did you hear what those Brazilian kids were doing last night Sensei? Ridiculous! No decency, those folk.") He's got a giant stash of bottle rockets and firecrackers, which we set into the soft earth between rows of rice to shoot off in all directions, interrupted only by our hysterical laughter. After nearly shooting each other several times, we spot a car after us and start jogging away, only to stop and light more off on our wake. In the midst of this I realize how much I will miss having Matt around the next day.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Who's the dog man now?

I supposed since I posted these photos on another site, I should make them viewable for whoever reads the blog. Some of them are also on the blog, but now they can be viewed with the accompanying commentary, alternating between insightful and "hilarious", penned by me in a state of great boredom and self-absorption. That is, just a normal day.

Thailand Pictures
More of me standing next to shiny things
Student Pictures
More of me standing next to short things

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The American tourist who takes too many pictures in Japan

Sarcastic smiles all aroundI arrived back in Japan on the 28th, just in time to pick my friend Matt up at the airport. He is staying until the 16th; almost 3 whole weeks. Look at those great, sarcastic smiles!

I wait several hours for his flight to arrive, sitting in a cart with my own bags watching the gate from the baggage claim. He fails to appear, or somehow sneaks past me, and I eventually get a call from him.

Matt: "Me and Yasu just got off the plane. Where are you?"
Me: "I am waiting right at the gate. Who the hell is Yasu?"
Matt: "This guy I sat next to on the plane and drank under the table. I think his name is Yasuyuki. We're friends now and he invited me to his parent's house in Nara. He's 30 years old!"
Me: "Okay...Well, I hope Yasu has his own place to stay, because he isn't living with me."

Yasu is a 30 year old Japanese guy who just got back from California, where he was living in his car for the last few months. He apparently makes elaborate leather bracelets, and has offered Matt both a bracelet and a place to stay in Nara. I'm not really sure how to deal with this information at the time.

Matt makes stewardess very uncomfortableEventually we meet up. Matt is wired, both with the energy from being in Japan and from a potent caffeine/alcohol binge he's been working on for the last 12 hours. He's also really loud, because he's excited, has been drinking on the plane, and also is just not adjusted to the volume of Japanese conversation. It's a little frightening, this much energy, when I'm exhausted from my night flight from Bangkok with no sleep. We take the train back to Tokyo as he goes from napping straight into regaling me with a story about the hot stewardesses on the plane. In a preview of what is to come, he has taken 10 pictures of and with the women, most of which are blurry and perhaps one of which is necessary, but he insists on keeping all of them. For the rest of the night, he periodically veers up and down from comatose to manic.

We go out to dinner and then, after dropping our bags off at the nearby hotel, to the Asakusa temple which is lit up at night. This is amusing because Matt recognizes it from my pictures from two years ago, even attempts to reproduce my photo with his camera. We stumble back to the hotel afterward to get some sleep.

Matt shops for a new outfit but decides it isn't revealing enoughThe next day is Harajuku, Shibuya, Takadanobaba and Waseda, Shinjuku and dinner in Shibuya. We walk around these varied neighborhoods of Tokyo but I wonder if it is at all differentiable to Matt right now, as overwhelming as the city is normally, not to mention when one is as jetlagged and disoriented as Matt is. We're in and out of stations and department stores, experiences that are so routine to me that I am unable to understand why Matt keeps taking pictures or wanting to look at the food at a department store. I am trying to be a bit of a tour guide, but I'm unsure if what I say is sinking in; whether he is deliberately ignoring me or just unable to concentrate. At least he seems to notice when I point out the costume that a popular tv character, "Hard Gay" likes to wear.

Which is the alien depends on which country we're inWe have lunch with my friend Yumi who Matt met last year when she studied abroad at Berkeley. Matt takes a series of pictures that accentuate the ridiculous differences in height, shape and color that characterize Yumi and I side by side. Again, perhaps 5 too many pictures. Matt laughs at my outfit, but I maintain what would seem absurd in Encinitas doesn't go far enough here; my jeans aren't tight or my clothes flashy enough. We meet Maiko and have dinner at a traditional Japanese tonkatsu(pork cutlet) restaurant and then take the bullet train back to Hamamatsu.

The 30th is a day of rest for me, though Matt rides his bike around town like a maniac in the morning. He arrives back wide-eyed and eager to lay at my feet all the details of his exploits, which I endure like a weary mother with a kid she doesn't realy love. He does take a cool picture of the giant concrete jacks at the beach near my apartment that break up the heavy surf though.

We visit the city the next day, I show him the bombed out Soviet prison that passes for my school and we see Hamamatsu castle before returning back home. It's New Years Eve so we drink in earnest - Matt his 3 liter jug of Kirin beer and I a myriad of alcohols - and rush towards the city on our bikes in a whirlwind of drunken anticipation. Awaiting us is a vast expanse of closed bars and restaurants with a smattering of wandering revelers. The bars are closed on New Years Eve! I knew it was a bit of a religious holiday here - what passes for religion in Japan anyway - but I really didn't expect this. We eventually find a place however, and though surrounded only by a group of weird Japanese guys who get drunk too fast and too obnoxiously, we manage to pass the New Year in a sufficiently foreign style, coming home to lay down and sleep in until late the next day.

Matt wakes up the next day and goes swimming in the ocean. Nothing could possess me to do this, because it attains no special quality for being an ocean in Japan to me; it's too damn cold to be swimming regardless of place. He takes too long getting back and I begin to worry, wondering if I should go look for him. I don't worry so much that I actually do leave to look for him though. He later describes the water as so cold that he felt warmer getting out, in the 40 something degree cold and high winds. We spend a quiet day because we are going back to Tokyo the following morning...

Friday, January 06, 2006

Tuk Tuk

As an addendum or perhaps apology for a previous post full of white-man guilt, instead I present nice pictures that all can enjoy, with commentary you are free to pass over. Here I am at Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Thai Buddhist architecture really stood out in literally bright contrast to the Japanese temples I am used to seeing. Usually I try to minimize taking pictures of me standing in front of things with a dumb look on my face, so this was taken by Maiko. I much more like to take pictures of her - she, of course, makes a good model - but occasionally she wants ones of me for some reason as well. Anyways, I figure I should have at least one with me in it so it doesn't look like I just pulled these off some Thai tourism website.

This was the first temple I saw in Thailand, and it blew me away. Cloudy the day before, it cleared up just as we set out that morning, and I honestly had to wear my sunglasses most of the day just to be able to look directly at the buildings. It's difficult to conceive of these being places built by people. Also, I wonder about the religious motive of their construction. Perhaps like European cathedrals they were built to inspire faith by impressing upon citizens the majesty of God, or perhaps not the majesty of the religion but the power of the rulers. Certainly, though amazing, all this ostentation seems rather unbecoming of a Buddhist institution to me.

Apparently many people tour the grounds without ever seeing the Emerald Buddha statue itself, which I can understand entirely. After wandering around a while slack-jawed with and gazing up at the sky like some simpleton, I almost forgot myself that the place contains something else worth seeing. The Emerald Buddha however, was rather anticlimatic, being only 66cm tall and placed high above all worshippers in an inner shrine building. I couldn't even take a picture of it, photography being prohibited inside the temple. Actually, photography was prohibited inside most every temple, as these are actually being used by Thais as places of worship. There are swarms of foreign tourists crowding around, oohing and ahhing at the buildings and shuffling into the inner sanctums without properly removing their shoes or hats, yet one still finds Thais lost in reverence or prayer. I suppose they have to practice a great deal of Buddha-proscribed patience just to study the Buddha in the first place.

However, this was not a feeling or quality absorbed by much of the other tourists. This was taken at the next temple we visited that day, Wat Pho, the home of the Reclining Buddha. A Buddha in a reclining pose represents him at the very moment of Enlightenment. To take a clear picture of this was quite difficult because of the throng of people that kept knocking into me, walking directly in front of me, or just tapping their feet in exasperation behind me. This reached the apex when I was trying to take a picture of Maiko in front of it and a few fat middle-aged Americans, not content to wait 30 seconds, started clearing their throats really loudly behind my back, wanting their turn. The incongruence and irony of this extreme act of rudeness inside a temple and in front of a GIANT STATUE OF THE BUDDHA, symbol of compassion and contentment, really amused me terribly, but rather than pointing this out to them along with the admonishment that one of the many virtues the Buddha praised was patience, I simply cursed at them in Japanese for a while.

Amusing sidebar to this, I discovered Maiko didn't know what clearing one's throat as a sign of impatience meant, since Japanese people never would do that (A Japanese would simply stand directly behind you very quietly for as long as it takes, and so when you finally turned around to discover they had been inconvenienced you would feel shamed). So she had no problem ignoring them and was just standing their fairly oblivious to what was going on, suspecting they all had sore throats, I guess.

After we viewed the statue, we were walking around the grounds of Wat Pho, thinking about getting a massage at the massage school connected to the temple that had a branch on the grounds. We stroll past a group of four Thai girls, when one of them says something garbled to me in what I take as Thai. I glance back over my shoulder, "Eh?" They get real excited that I responded and rush back to us, and, holding out their cameras, ask in labored English if we would take a picture. I am rather suspicious at this point because earlier some guy outside the temple had tried to tell us it was closed for Christmas and we should go with him to another temple, which I knew was a scam, having read about a similar approach as well as being generally aware that there is no reason a Buddhist temple in a country that doesn't celebrate Christmas would be closed on a Christian holiday. No harm done, except of course to my attitude towards people approaching us. After a string of such experiences, I honestly suspect that perhaps these girls are going to distract us while someone comes up from behind to pick my pocket. So, eyeing them warily, I agree to take their picture.

"No, no!" they say, "Not our picture, a picture with you two!" Then I notice that this is just a group of sweet 12 year old girls, and are all carrying English conversation phrasebooks because they wanted to meet people and practice. I relax and shake my head at my distrust of such sincere kids. They pose, excited but embarassed, next to Maiko and I, and we chat for a while. They are extremely excited when they find out she's Japanese, since they also learned a little of that language. Actually, I talk with them in Japanese as well, since I simply cannot understand Thai pronounciation of English. I think they mistake us for stars or some visiting international luminaries, or maybe they just wanted to take a picture with a beautiful Japanese girl and had to accept me as well. Anyway, though I felt rather awful for ever thinking poorly of them, meeting them does raise my spirits again and my kind of hope in the general goodness of people.

The next day we went on a tour to the ancient capital of Thailand, Ayuthaya. From 1350 to 1767, when Thailand was still Siam, Ayuthaya served as the royal capital, a cosmopolitan city of more than a million people. It resisted almost four centuries of attempts at colonization by Western powers, only to be conquered and almost entirely razed to the ground instead by the Burmese atop battle-trained elephants(!). A few years later, the Thai regrouped under a new general and eventually moved the capital down river to what would later become Bangkok. The former capital Ayuthaya was left behind, and so remains today largely in ruins.

Though the fires of the Burmese conquerors and time itself have clearly left their mark on the buildings in the former capital, the most shocking desecration has to be the deliberate way the heads were lopped off nearly every Buddhist statue. It is rare to find one with the head still intact, since it seems they were just systematically decapitated by the invading forces. At first I assumed it must have been for religious reasons; similar to the Taliban destroying icons in Afganistan or the destruction of Greco-Roman statues of the naked human form. I thought the Burmese must simply be Muslims, since I couldn't imagine Buddhists or Hindus or any other of the religions of the region sanctioning pointless destruction such as this.

It turns out, however, they were Buddhist just as the Thai, and had cut off the heads as if the heads of their vanquished enemies. The whole scene was just one of ruin and quiet desolation. Not just in the sense of Shelley's Ozymandias, the sort of ruin that awaits all human pride and endeavor, but it seemed to me to be the ruin of humanity itself. Frankly, looking at all these statues made me more sad perhaps than the idea of all the Thai that were no doubt killed at the same time. To just destroy art and culture so wantonly displays not just a disrespect for human life, not just a hatred for another enemy or group, but a disrespect and hatred for humanity itself. To destroy the essence of the people conquered, that which is captured in their art, is to strike at their very humanity, and reveals a lack thereof in the conqueror.

When I told Maiko how sad it seemed she agreed that it was sad in what it showed us of people, but maintained that if the Burmese had wanted to really erase or mock the power of the statues, they had failed. To her, the statues were not sad, because - though they had been defaced, destroyed, humiliated - in reality, nothing could touch them or what they represented, as each statue was of a Buddha that had already reached Englightenment. For her, they were in this sense somewhat inspiring, having already transcended this place to somewhere they could not even be touched. I was rather impressed by her answer but, of course, pride would not allow me to admit this to her fully at the time. This is actually a rather interesting example of that triumph, a famous spot where a tree has enveloped a ruined statue and now cradles a Buddha head in its roots.

From there we saw the largest statue of the reclining Buddha - larger than the previous one, but at this size, the difference is pretty negligible. I find myself impressed by the size or magnitude or beauty of sculpture such as this, but often lacking any inspiration from faith. It's similar to why I didn't really enjoy the Louvre; I just don't feel anything looking at hundreds of pictures of Jesus and Mary, yeah they have halos behind their heads, they're holy I get it and I don't care. So, it was useful to have Maiko along as somewhat of a spiritual advisor; I can view the art or temples as a believer or, at least, someone more spiritual, through her eyes. She was touched by the happiness and contentment in the expression of the statue. I noticed how big it was. Putting those together, I have decided it was a really big, happy statue.

The trip back from Ayuthaya was a river cruise all the way to Bangkok. After lunch on board we could simply look out the windows at the passing scenery or go up on deck for a better look. The third option was to stay inside and look at a small tv playing old episodes of America's Funniest Home Videos. What blew me away was how many people took the third option. I wouldn't watch that show if I were sitting at home alone, sick, bored and unable to sleep in the middle of the night, yet people sat in a boat cruising down a river in Thailand on a trip they likely spent large sums of money on more interested in watching the antics of Bob Saget then craning their heads slightly to the right or left to see all the crazy shit passing them by. I spent a disproportionate amount of time complaining to Maiko about these people until she told me to stop wasting time criticizing them then and go up on the deck already.

The view of the riverside is a sort of fascinating sped-up timeline of Thailand, from the ruins of the old capital down through the countryside, the banks going from deep jungle to shacks and temples poking out from the brush, to the gradual paring away of the wilderness as the buildings get larger and more modern. Going past us on both sides zip men in thin, long and knife-like boats, couples being sheperded around on private cruises, giant barges being towed downstream, and fishing boats pulling long nets that scape the bottom. I spend most of the time trying to get a "Thailand" picture of one of the long boats in front of a temple, a skyscraper, or the shacks built out into the river on stilts. As you can clearly see, I was successful.

Though the trip went on for another day and there is more to tell, much of it was spent in malls and department stores - not the market stalls and back-alleys one associates with Bangkok - and so I'll just leave it with that last picture that satisfies the concept of Thailand I projected onto the country in the first place.