Saturday, July 19, 2008

Thai Princess of Chiang Mai

My recent work visit to Chiang Mai in Thailand was filled with intense, vivid and positive experiences. I met some of the most friendly and giving people in my five days stay, Thai and foreigners who’ve been living and working there for some time, and who are immersed in the day-to-day life of the city. I was told that unlike Bangkok, where few temples are more than 200 years old, there are temples in Chiang Mai as old as the city, which celebrated its 710th anniversary in 2006. So I made the extra effort to wake up at 6am one morning in the middle of the week to visit the mountaintop Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. The guardian temple is a must see not only for its importance as a pilgrimage temple, but also for the outstanding views of the city and its surrounding plain. Once at the temple, I immersed myself in the Buddhist rituals by circling the central shrine three times clock-wise. Trying hard to stay focused and ignore the noise and obstruction caused by a big crowd of Spanish tourists and their guide, I gently paced past cloisters filled with Buddha statues, and painted with bright murals depicting the previous lives of the Buddha. As part of the worship, I offered lotus flowers, three lit joss sticks, lit candles, and a small square of gold leaf to one Buddha statue that took my liking. The Lotus flower, regarded as one of the symbols of Buddhism, represents the beauty, purity and insight of knowledge amidst the darkness and muddiness of the lives of human beings. A joss stick burning during worship represents a feeling of respect and of being, a feeling of cleansing and of peace through the environment of silence. The three joss sticks each have their own symbolism. The first stands for Lord Buddha’s wisdom, the second for his purity, and the third for his kindness. I hope this short story of one of my experiences in Chiang Mai will be the first of many more to come.

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