Robbing the Buddha

Jan 3rd, 2015

I was not awakened by the spirits of the ancient Siam kings, but the barking of some dogs, the steps of people and the cold dew which absorbed by my sleeping bag. It was thin dawn and there was a light mist. I could see things vaguely. It was about 6am. I was surprised that some people, obviously residents of the neighbourhood would wake up this early to take a walk in this park. I tried to be silent and unnoticeable as I was not sure whether they would kick me out. Soon I realized that they had their own business, either collecting the plastic bottles, or picking fruits from the few trees in the park or simply walking their dogs. I sat up and tried to completely come to my senses. The barking of the dogs of these walking locals had the magical effect of fetching me from somewhere deep in my dreams. “I have to get up! Before the ticket booth opens!” It would be fatal if the ticket controller noticed someone sleeping just beside the Three White Pagodas. “Wait! How did these locals get in if the ticket booth and the entrance was still closed?” I suddenly realized. Soon I noticed a back gate, made of rusting iron, small, forlorn-looking and kind of hidden. Outside this back gate there was a circle of low railings, where it read “No Entry” but actually nobody was guarding it, even not a ferocious dog!
I looked up at the white pagodas under which I just slept. They looked totally creepy I had to admit, especially in this half dark half misty atmosphere. When I started rolling up my sleeping bag, some locals noticed me, but only expressed curiosity and shock and nothing evil or forbidding. The dawn mist was gradually dissipating and the sun finally was revealing its still reddish face, seemingly still shy from strangers, so shy that it hided behind clouds and mist whenever there was a chance. However, the air got heated up instantly…… It’s not like Luang Prabang. It did not take the whole morning , or at least 3 hours for the sunshine to become penetrating and stingy . It took only a few minutes. I had not stopped complaining about the morning dew, which rendered my sleep cold and wet, when I was already overwhelmed by the ruthlessly pouring sunshine. Luckily I still had much water, actually so much water that I used some of it to wash my face and hair, luxurious!
At about 7am. my stomach started playing drums — time to find some breakfast. Among the parks there were none food stalls open yet and I was planning to save some money in this aspect. I went around to scout for opportunities of free food. The only place with live people was the temple where the dry monk gave the lecture last night. I went there, in the hope that I could at least find free toilets. Yes, there were indeed toilets just outside the temple, but it’s written that one had to pay to use them. However, since actually nobody was guarding the doors, I did not pay a thing. When I entered the reverend temple, I saw only a few workers cleaning up the venue. The whole place was already lit up by the sunshine. I smelled the incense burning in the hall and the peaceful Buddhist music was in the air. There were not many worshipper yet. It’s all too early. I walked around the enorm golden Buddha statue in the center of the hall. Suddenly I noticed in a corner where some bags hanged on the rails surrounding the statue. What were inside the bags? Food! Yes! Food! Some fried snacks made of mainly rice! The yellow and brown colours of the snacks appeared very alluring to me. It was obviously donated by some pious worshippers. I looked around as casually as possible. The only people near me were the seller of souvenirs and incenses behind a counter about 4 meter away, but the man was not paying any attention to my direction. I looked up and discovered the only intimidating object — a security camera a couple of meters away from where I stood, which would catch me walking to the bags but could not catch me picking them up as the “crime scene” would be blocked by a column. There was not much time to hesitate. I walked casually to that corner, picked up one of the bags, stuffed it into my back bag and walked away from that corner casually. I slowly came back to the big wooden gate of the hall and wandered away. I did feel guilty, but I felt more hungry than guilty. Besides, these donations, if not picked up by hungry me, would go to the monastery and according to my observation, monasteries in Thailand were quite rich, especially this one, which was in a perfect location.
There were several parks dotting the ancient part of Ayutthaya, each hosting different ancient pagodas or temples. To get into each of them one had to pay about 5 USD. All together it was a big amount. These parks all had walls and along the walls most of the time there were roads, where cars, scooters, bikers, people, elephants went by non-stop. Right now it was still early and the traffic was not thick yet. That’s the best time to climb over those walls! So I did. At about 9am, when I was just admiring the views of second park I entered there, legions of tourists arrived, in big tourist buses, in small tuk-tuks or on foot. The town was getting busier every minute. Worst of all, the ticket booths at park entrances opened and at each entrance there were two guards. Sometimes there were even guards sitting far from the entrance but near some pieces of low wall where one could climb over easily. It became more and more challenging. Sometimes I had to walk around the whole park wall more than once to find a relatively easy point to jump over. Eventually it all worked out. Since I did not have much money left right then, I started picking up the small notes and coins worshippers left in front of Buddha statues while avoiding the attention of wandering guards and other tourists, a “crime” I called “robbing the Buddha”. Most of the time there was not much to collect. Most of time I would pick up less than one dollar and the coins were always so hot, cooked up by the mighty sunshine and dusted by the ashes from the burnt incense. Not only Thai Butt, I also pocketed some Korean money, Japanese Yin and even a note of Vietnamese Don, 50 Don. I did not know how much it equated in USD, but I had the hope that it was worth quite something. Days later when I had internet again I found out that it was worth not even 10 USD cent…… đŸ˜›
Once when I was approaching one pagoda park, following a Korean tour group, I was abruptly stopped by a guy with a badge hanging on his neck and he asked me to buy tickets. I did not know that that was already the entrance and I had the hope that they would take me as one of those Koreans, but no, I did not have the tour badge on the neck, like other Korean tourists. I was not going to buy the ticket, so I walked away. That guy looked at me suspectingly and I was sure that he remembered my face. Then it would be harder to sneak in. I went to totally the other side of the park, which was blocked by a wall and a barbed iron net. Next to the net was a road. I waited until only very few tourists remained on the road. Although I was pretty sure that they would see me, I supposed that they would not do anything to stop me. I jumped over the iron net as fast as possible and then one more jump over the wall. I got inside. To avoid the ticket controller I met before, I avoided getting too near to the entrance. In this park the biggest attraction was a Buddha statue which was under an old tree. However, the body of the statue was already destroyed and only the head was still intact, lying among the thick aerial roots of the tree. It’s written beside it that if you would like to have a photo with the head, to show respect you should stoop down instead of standing up.
After visiting several parks, I got tired. Among these parks there were ponds and small lakes, nice and beautiful ones. On one of the lake there was a small island. There were almost no tourists there. i went there and lay down to have a rest, in the sunshine. Soon I noticed that a rubber part of my camera was melting… I cooled it down with some water and was shocked how hot it was! I had to leave there! Another reason for my leaving was that I saw a crocodile crawling into water from the island, about 15 meter away from me!
Near the edge of the ancient city, I saw elephants, walking back and forth on a fixed route, carrying some tourists on their backs. Riding an elephant is one of the most typical things a tourist can do in South East Asia. Most of these seemingly powerful animals in this profession are actually in a very miserable situation, so I was not going to ride one. Of course that was also a way to save some money.
In the end of the day, I had visited most of the parks and it was time to find a place to sleep. As I planned to take an early morning train back to Bangkok, I decided to sleep in the train station. It was a bit too early to go to bed, so I started reading an electronic book on my mobile. Soon I noticed one old monk waiting for his train near me. I came up to him and tried to strike a conversation but it did not work well. He did not seem to be interested. He was not rude to me but not sincerely polite either. Instead he was just showing some aloft politeness. I wanted to ask him if there were any monasteries nearby to spend the night but he seemed to be alienating himself. Train station became the only option for that night. There were benches and I had a sleeping bag. With the passing trains from time to time and the clinking of all the metals parts of them, I slowly arrived in my dream land.

A Crocodile
A Crocodile
The Buddha Head in A Tree
The Buddha Head in A Tree
In Front of the Temple Where I Got the Fried Snack
In Front of the Temple Where I Got the Fried Snack

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