Scenes from Siam and Singapore
Two vastly different experiences within a small timeframe and the same trip, makes for one adventurous time, in the best and worst sense of the word.
I had wanted to experience Thailand and specifically Bangkok for many, many years. Growing up with my grandmother singing songs from her travels and sharing harrowing stories, I was mesmerized by the statues, architecture, language, sounds, and smells of what I imagined Siam to be. Of course I knew imaginations in our minds can be very different than reality, I needed to prove to myself if what I had dreamt of had been true.
In my 18 years of international travel throughout Europe, North and South America, I had never experienced the sheer magnitude of people, cars, honking, and ... spice. I stayed in the outskirts of the city in a nice, affordable hotel that felt as safe and clean as I could come by at the cheep price.
I'm grateful I stayed outside of the town center, because the accommodations were quiet, calm, and serene, but once I stepped out into the heat of the day and headed for the local bus that would take me where I wanted to explore, I was already on my journey. The bus, open windows, wooden floors, and only taking coins, showed me the areas of town which I think many visitors haven't seen. I got many odd looks and directions to not take 'this' bus but 'that' one, as I made my way to some of the main tourist attractions.
The closer you got into town, the louder the roaring of the bus engines, the horns of the tuk-tuks, the zoom of the cars and motorcycles, and the hum of the train ... but once you saw the blazingly white walls of the temples it seemed like the swirl of the outside world stopped. I've, again, never experienced the sweet peace and quiet of such temples. Inside the temple walls all one could hear was the rustle of palm leaves and bright call of birds, and even though one was sweating-ly hot, it didn't feel almost unbearable as it did in the streets.
Compare that to the touristic town center, where modern and massive skyscrapers attracted a literal sea of people, bumping into one another, wearing today's latest designer brands. Where I had been taking the bus and eating from local, family-owned restaurants or even stalls, I was shocked at how different the two worlds that resided in Bangkok were.
Singapore on the other hand was very constant, safe, clean, and modern. Easy to maneuver with everyone polite and willing to work with you, the majority of people spoke English and the Singapore dollar, although much more expensive than the Thai Baht, was somehow easier for me to handle.
Throughout my stays in Taipei, Bangkok, and Singapore City, I had decided to explore the many temples each destination had to offer. I'm not sure exactly what I was looking for, maybe new perspectives or clarity about my future, but I did learn a few things. In Taipei I discovered the 4 Leisures of Life: hanging paintings, arranging flowers, burning incense, and drinking tea. In Bangkok I saw the Reclined Golden Buddha and Emerald Buddha, which inspired me by their relieved and trusting nature, but actually had the most rewarding experience at the Temple on the Mount, where I saw pictures of relics my grandmother had also seen on her amazing stay in Afghanistan. It made me feel like those loved ones you can't be with physically are still with you, protecting and guiding you, in spirit, and I needed to learn to have some faith in that instead of living my life so anxiously. Finally, at the Temple of the Buddha's Tooth in Singapore, they were having a celebration of thanksgiving, which I had just celebrated a month before. I was reminded how blessed I am to have had these experiences, not just on this trip but throughout this past year, and how abundantly I truly live.
Now I feel at home on Jeju, and I take the peace found in the Leisures of Life, the trust and faith experienced at the Siam temples, and belief in my blessings and abundance with me into the New Year of 2023.