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Saturday, September 26, 2020

Bangkok, at the Grand Palace

What more to say about the Grand Palace of Bangkok, there are so many things to see and photograph, statues of animal-like humans, sparkling golden tiled walls and roofs, gardens, paintings, soaring spires, golden stupas, the endless row of gold Garudas, and not to mention the highly venerated Emerald Buddha. No wonder that the Grand Palace has been the center of Thai art and culture for centuries and regarded as the model of every branch of Thai art. The palace is considered the reflection of the Thai identity.

When King Rama I ordered the move of the capital to the Phra Nakhon District in 1782, he established the Grand Palace as the new center of the kingdom. He drew inspiration from the palace in Ayutthaya , the former capital of Siam, destroyed by the Burmese in the 1767. The Grand Palace was strategically placed next to the Chao Phraya River to emulate the palace of Ayutthaya. The layout of the Grand Palace, which covers 213,677 square metre space, also emulates the old palace in Ayutthaya with separate courts, walls, gates and forts. These different zones within the palace complex include the Outer Court, the Central Court, the Inner Court and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. In order to find the necessary material for the construction of the Grand Palace, King Rama I instructed his people to go to the destroyed Ayutthaya, to dismantle and remove of bricks and stones which were painstakingly towed downriver to form the new palace.

Part of the Grand Palace complex, Wat Phra Kaeo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) is the holiest Buddhist temple in Thailand and home to the Emerald Buddha. Chaophraya Chakri, who became King Rama I, brought the Emerald Buddha from Vientiane when he captured the city in 1778. He built the temple and enshrined the Emerald Buddha there as a symbol of Siam's regained nationhood.

The mythical and historical past of the statue created an important belief surrounding the Emerald Buddha. It is believed that it protected a monarch, their city or capital. If a king was dethroned or defeated in battle, the Emerald Buddha was taken as a hostage and kept in the capital of the victor. It is thought to have spiritual power and is an extremely important icon to the Thai people.

But I was surprised to see the legendary Emerald Buddha looked so tiny, 66 centimetres in height, perched high on a nine-metre pedestal that reaches almost to the ceiling of the temple. The Emerald Buddha, carved from a single piece of grey-green jade, is elevated above the heads of visitors as a sign of respect. You also must sit with your feet pointing away from the Emerald Buddha as a sign of respect.

I found the most breathtaking aspect of the Emerald Buddha Temple is its decorated outer walls. The walls are covered with 178 colorful mural panels painted during the reign of Rama I showing scenes from the Ramakien, which is Thailand’s version of the Hindu epic, Ramayana. In the Ramakien, names, dress, customs, weapons and even the topography all relate to the Thai kingdom. Rama being incarnated from the Hindu god Vishnu, in Ramakien he is a reincarnation of the Buddha. His kingdom Ayodhya in the Ramayana epic is changed to Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand.



Friday, September 4, 2020

Bangkok, at the Siam Paragon

Along the roads of Bangkok, we can see that this city is a heaven for consumerism. Billboards are everywhere, huge and bright, advertising big companies from Samsung to Toyota.  Even high-rise buildings are also stuck with huge billboards. In a way it looks awesome.

Also at the sky metro train stations, you cannot be bored waiting for the trains as there are many colorful billboard screens with happy pretty artists offering cosmetics, fruit juices, and, of course, all kind of clothes.  It seems that these ’influencers’ are following us everywhere like street vendors offering their goods, and chasing you if you don’t pay attention to them, starting from the time you wait for the sky trains till you reach your destination.  And yes, even inside the trains there are many tv screens showing advertisements. They are the virtual street vendors, but with broad smiles and white teeth, dancing and jumping dynamically that follow you everywhere, in contrast with the real street vendors with rugged clothing, sunburnt face, sadly offering their goods as if begging.

As the sky-train arrived at the Siam station interchange station, let’s forget about the street vendors, as we are arriving to the Siam Paragon shopping mall, the paragon of shopping malls. Occupying one of the busiest transit intersections in the city, the shopping mall takes advantage of its prominent location by serving as a critical link to the surrounding district. According to Arcadis, the architect company of this shopping mall, the design reflects the level of luxury envisioned by the Arcadis team with a dramatic glass atrium that serves as the mall’s grand entrance. Perhaps the designer’s greatest accomplishment - and challenge-is the way it addresses issues of circulation and layout of this shopping mall.

Inside, it is a wonderland of high-end boutiques lining up at the lobby from Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Chanel, followed by Fendi, Bottega Venetta. The shop windows are nicely decorated with the boutique’s latest fashion, clothes, bags, shoes, etc. displayed to suit the season, this time the theme is ‘The year of the Dog’.  Dogs are displayed playing with bags, shoes, wallets inside the windows. We can say that the shop windows are quite a creative work by itself, they are really enticing our consumeristic instinct. We can see some Chinese tourists lining up obediently in front of the Louis Vuitton’s door.

Luxurious is an understatement for this shopping mall, as it not only has high-end boutiques, but also show rooms for very expensive and exclusive cars, Rolls Royce, Aston Martin, Bentley, Lamborghini, Maserati, Ducati and Porsche. The cars look so impeccable, but inside the glass cased show-rooms they look like toys in large scale inside glass box. And the shop attendants seemed bored by themselves as nobody came inside the show-rooms.

But that is not all…., there is an Ocean Aquarium in the basement, multiplex cinemas with 15 large screens, Thai Art Gallery, the KidZania for kids to learn and play, the Japanese chain Kinokuniya bookstore, the Paragon department store, a super market and not to mention the high-end restaurants. And it even has an Opera Theatre on the 5th floor!

On the way down the escalators I could hear a background music by REM in ‘Shiny Happy People’:
‘Whoa, here we go…
Everyone around, love them, love them.
Put it in your hands, take it, take it.
There's no time to cry, happy, happy…’