Saturday, October 13, 2012

A wai and a smile

No better place for cats to hang out than at the local spirit house.

Sometimes I test out Thais' legendary tolerance of foreigners. For example, seeing if I can casually jog onto government property. Are there a bunch of guards at the entrance? Yes! Has anyone ever stopped me? No! Am I allowed here? Who knows! 

"Good morning!" one guard calls to me in English. "Good exercise!"

Up before dawn on a recent weekend, I headed out in search of a place free of vehicles, someplace where a woman could wear a pair of jogging shorts and not be thought too weird. I found that place a few blocks away: the Royal Irrigation Department. 

It's on the river. There are no cars. And other people exercise there too: walkers, runners, even some women, although they are in modest leggings.  

At that time of day I have to be careful not to collide with monks on their morning alms rounds. If they touched me, they'd have to purify themselves. Luckily, they're wearing orange. I dodge people setting up food stalls, sweeping the sidewalks, getting on buses. Unpacking goods to sell. It's not even 6 a.m. The unemployment rate here is 0.6 percent. 

I make circuits around the buildings on the quiet roads. Some people stop for a respectful, prayerful wai at the big statute of Rama IV, which is always draped in fresh garlands. Cats wail and screech from within the depths of a warehouse.

Down at the river, there is sometimes a breeze. Barges trundle past. Huge clumps of leafy water hyacinth trap children's lost balls and water bottles. An older man jogs onto the dock. Raises his clasped hands to his forehead in a wai. Jogs around the dock. Wais. Jogs. Wais. Could it be that temple across the river he's honoring? 

I've never seen such a seamless blend of the physical and spiritual.

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