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* H A P P Y  *  N E W  *  Y E A R  *

W i s h i n g  – y o u – a l l – t h e – v e r y –  b e s t – i n – 2 0 1 4  ! !

In 2013, we did a fair bit of traveling. Here are the places we visited in the first half of the year.  Part 1 was posted yesterday. Click here to see the other places we visited in the second half of 2013. Since many of the related posts were uploaded in the same period of time, you can discover them by going forward or backward on the time line or in the calendar.

Frankfurt, Germany in June 2013

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Paris with IT and MW in June 2013.

2013 review-18Versailles, in June 2013

2013 review-7London, to see the Champions League final with IT and MW in May 2013. This is taken from the London eye.

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New York for R & B’s wedding in May – this is taken near the Time Warners Center.

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Montreal, Canada in May 2013.

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Emmental, Switzerland in April 2013.

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Baden Baden, Germany during Easter.

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Freiburg, Germany during Easter.

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Ko Samui, Thailand in January 2013.

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Bangkok, Thailand in January 2013.

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I am now wondering where would our/my first trip in 2014 take us/me ?

Wat Pho is a temple located adjacent to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, and is very popular with tourists. See our earlier post about the Grand Palace complex here. We visited the temple after our tour of the Grand Palace.

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It is famous for its gigantic reclining gold buddha.

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The temple, being a historic place for the learning of religion and science, is also recognized as the birthplace of Thai massage.

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The statue of reclining Buddha is 15 m high and 43 m long with his right arm supporting the head.

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Much more information about Wat Pho can be found on Wikipedia, here.

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The foot of the buddha statue is 3 m high and 4.5 m long and are inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

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The panels are divided into 108 panels, each displaying one of the auspicious symbols by which Buddha can be identified, like flowers, dancers, white elephants, tigers and altar accessories.

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Except the head, the statute’s body is smooth and metallic – it reminds me more of a robot than a religious figure. And I already remarked here about the resemblance of C3PO and Thai statues.

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While touring Wat Phra Kaew (วัดพระแก้ว, Temple of Emerald Buddha, see earlier post here) in the Grand Palace complex in Bangkok, we came across a series of murals on the walls of the surrounding cloisters.

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The murals depict the legend of Ramakian or Ramakien, a big part of the Thai mythology.  The Ramakian is a Thai adaptation of a popular Indian tale, Ramayana written by Valmiki in the fifth century B.C. Much of what we say below comes from this very scholarly website maintained by Northern Illinois University.

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Apparently, there were 178 murals painted in the late 1700’s by King Rama I’s men and they have been repainted regularly up to now.

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The Grand Palace appears in many of the murals, including the white perimeter wall.

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Basically, the Ramakian is a story of a demon king, Tosakanth (Ravanna in the Indian version), who abducts Rama’s wife Sita. Rama is an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. Rama gathers the support of a monkey army, led by Hanuman,  in order to rescue Sita.

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Thailand was not the only country to which the epic appeared; many countries in Southeast Asia, e.g., Malaysia, Indonesia, adopted the tale. The Thai version appears to be a combination of several versions.

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The demon king Tosakanth does not appear totally bad in the Thai version. His emotions towards Sita are genuine even if they cause him to do bad things.

Paklan the giant (I think).

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The Thais have changed the story to suit their taste. Since they are Buddhists, they have stripped the story of its Hindu religious elements. The closest it comes to having religious significance lies in the fact that Rama is viewed as Buddha in a previous life.

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There are many characters, superheros and monsters. This giant monkey(?) allow others to use its tail as a bridge to cross a river.

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A massive curtain emerges from the mouth of this character to cover or protect the palace.

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Every country has at least one such epic, saga or legend, which permeates its popular culture.  This might be applicable even for the modern US. Many of those who grew up with Star Wars would consider it a story which is shared and enjoyed by many, and the story is told in different media, though I do not see murals of Darth Vader being installed in the White House anytime soon.

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Gold paint is used liberally to highlight certain groups of individuals and many of the buildings. In the darkened gallery, it creates a pleasing effect on the murals.

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On each pillar of the gallery is hung a poem which presumably describe one of the neighboring  murals. Some of the poems are translated into English on this webpage.

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Many puppet shows and dances (especially, Khon) in Thailand and in Southeast Asia are based on episodes from this tale. I found this Khon on youtube – I think it shows the recruitment of the most important monkey, Hanuman.

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A must-do sightseeing spot in Bangkok – the Grand Palace.

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Built in 1782 at the same time Bangkok was made the capital of Siam by King Rama I.

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Although the King does not live here anymore, armed guards patrol the grounds. This garrison is located next to the entrance where people that are inappropriately dressed are stopped and asked to turn around or rent some conservative outfits. See the sign illustrating unacceptable clothing in an earlier post here.

grand palace-2There are several hundreds similar-looking buildings – so I will not do much annotation of the pictures. Much has been written up in Wikipedia here.

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Many of the buildings have skyward pointing spires. When they are lined up in a row, they look somewhat like hi-tech antennae.

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They are all incredibly ornate, all laden with history and religious significance.

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There are many gold statutes here and I cannot help but conclude that they inspired the creation of C3PO of Star Wars – and it is not just the gold body but also some hand gestures as well.

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A close up of the little supporters.

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A mini-replica of Angkor Wat in Cambodia which was for a number of years under Siamese control.

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The Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew (วัดพระแก้ว)) is the royal chapel inside the palace. Entrance to the chapel’s grounds is separate from the residential complex. It has even more ornate buildings than the residential palace.

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The emerald buddha is 26 inches tall carved from a single piece of jade with a rich history dating back to the 15th century. The King changes the cloak around the statue three times a year, corresponding to the summer, winter, and rainy seasons, an important ritual performed to usher good fortune to the country during each season.

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