Thursday, December 5, 2013

Monks are Cool

Zane said that the monks must not be very happy.

And, he is probably right. In Thailand, monks quietly dedicate a rainy season or a portion of their lives to a study of peace. And, since almost all young Thai young men serve in a monastery between completing school and getting married, this is a country and a culture that is fundamentally aligned with peace.

As our final flight landed in Bangkok, the news was afire with pictures of Thais protesting in the streets against their government. Some of the protesters brought their families and strings of whistles to chirp their annoyance and desire for change. Other groups resorted to rock throwing and other acts of escalating violence. A gang of young men made the news by stealing a garbage truck and running it at full, rumbling speed into a police barricade.

This is big news for a peaceful country. The long and the short of the conflict is that there used to be a very unpopular Prime Minister. He grew so unpopular that the military threw him out a few years ago and he was replaced in a landslide election in 2011 by the new candidate, his sister. The sister, the first female Prime Minster of Thailand, has implemented popular reforms and united some very different parties within the government. She recently introduced a bill to give her brother amnesty. Bad call. The people aren’t happy with her conflict of interest and would like for her to resign. Now.
So, with this as the backdrop, we arrived in Bangkok after being canned on various airplanes for several bleary days as we circumnavigated the globe. The boys were shockingly good travelers, and despite both of them falling deep asleep 12 minutes before our landing and switching planes in Korea, they rallied through the various security checkpoints and time-zones with only a few exhausted tears.

I planned for two transit days in Bangkok to catch-up to the local time and gently explore. I envisioned walking to the mega-mall up the street and eating sterile Thai food in the food court to help the boys softly acclimate to this country. Instead, our hotel was across from police headquarters, and although we were far from the large protests outside of government facilities, there was a small protest underway replete with police in full riot gear and protesters with whistles clamped angrily in their mouths.

The boys started with questions, “why doesn’t the King intervene?” A good question. Thais love their King, and while the government structure is officially a “constitutional monarchy,” the actual monarchy doesn’t carry an authoritative position within the government. However, the King has a great deal of clout within the hearts of the people and his picture is publicly displayed on every block and within every business and home. In fact, today is the King’s birthday, and the entire country is decorated with swaths of yellow silk, the royal color, and parades are planned in his honor. And, in honor of his birthday, the King requested that the protesters and the police and the Prime Minister all take a day off from protesting and relax.

“Are people allowed to protest everywhere?” I love this question. And, no, I told them, they are not. It is one of the most beautiful and dramatic things to witness on this planet – people peacefully demonstrating to state their unhappiness with the government. We talked about peaceful versus violent protest, and when various government have used both. And, how lucky we are in the United States to have the right to publicly protest.

And so began our travels.

I don’t know how to describe how it feels to be traveling with my two boys. Right now, we have left Bangkok and are in southern Thailand.  Part of me is absolutely in love with watching them. Roam eagerly bit into the spiciest dish I have ever eaten last night with gusto, and his eyes filled with sweat and his arms started flapping – he laughed and drank his watermelon shake in one massive gulp and then said, “Mom! I don’t know what to do!” As he fanned his mouth and laughed harder. 

Zane carefully wrote a postcard to mail to his class at home and asked me for a stamp. When I didn’t have one, he walked up to the guesthouse owner, and then walked with her down the street to an adjacent store to find a stamp, pay for it in baht, and let me know he had it covered. 


Yesterday, we climbed 1,083 steps (Roam counted) to the top of a local temple and the boys asked about Buddhism and monks. Surrounded by tall golden stupas, we talked about the Buddhist beliefs regarding suffering and the elimination of desire, and the idea of nirvana. We talked about peace and reincarnation and compassion for all beings. Then, we walked back to the bottom of the thousand steep stairs, teasing each other as naughty monkeys tried to steal my camera and the boys’ sugarcane juice.

And when we were quietly sitting in a tiger cave in the temple at the bottom of the mountain, Zane asked about the protests again. He wanted to know whether there were any monks in the protests, and I told him I didn’t think so.

“Monks would be better protesters,” Zane said. “Monks are cool.”


  1. WOW, I feel like we are there with you... thanks so much for your beautiful descriptions of your experiences. I'm more excited than ever to start sharing the world outside the continental US with Fischer.

    Hello to the boys from me and Fischer.

  2. I appreciate that your blog started with a confession of worries, and I admire the fact that you've continued on in spite of them. What a victory for you and an inspiration for me. Thank you.

  3. Monks ARE cool. Glad you got there safe and sound and that Bangkok wasn't TOO crazy. .. sounds just crazy enough. Is it mango season? I hope so!! Thinking of you all as it's -11 at our house this morning. . . .