I apologize for not posting sooner, but for the past few weeks, we have settled into some rather routine days…especially when compared to those of the Thai royal family! If you haven’t heard, there was a wedding and a coronation last week! Maha Vajiralongkorn, the previous king’s son, married on May 1 and became the new king on May 4, followed by a three-day ceremony of ancient Buddhist rituals and royal traditions. Bill and I opted for viewing the events on TV, not only because it was extremely hot, but we were able to see everything going on inside the palace and temple grounds. I cannot describe all of the elaborate details, but the entire (and lengthy) process was fascinating to watch. On Saturday, the 16-pound crown was placed ceremoniously on the new king’s head. On Sunday, King Rama X sat on a gilded palaquin that was carried by soldiers along a seven-mile route lined with thousands of Thais wearing yellow shirts (the color associated with the king). Due to the slow and precise cadence of the marching band, military units, and other royal guards, the parade left the palace around 5:00 pm, stopped at three temples, and returned to the palace around midnight. On Monday, a national holiday, the king, queen, and other members of the royal family greeted the public from a balcony of the Grand Palace. What a weekend!
Prior to the coronation, great effort was made to clean and decorate the main roads leading to the palace, and shrines to the king were erected in front of various businesses all over Bangkok. In some places, blank books were set out for people to write congratulatory notes and send well wishes to the king. Although I do not have photos of the event to share, I do have a few taken the day before the celebrations just outside the palace. And, just so you know, we will be visiting the Grand Palace next week and taking lots of pictures. I am hoping that the coronation decorations will still be in place.
Other than that, Bill and I have managed to beat the heat by checking out some museums. A friend took us to the Bangkok National Museum a few weeks ago. The museum does a nice job of showcasing the different eras in Thai history. It houses a great variety of exhibits, from Buddha statues and artifacts to samples of woven textiles, from porcelain wares to pottery, and from ancient weapons to traditional musical instruments. It was hard to imagine a time when these items were actually used! One of the huge buildings on the museum grounds holds a collection of ornate carriages that were used for royal cremations. The wooden carriages actually glitter with gold gilding and mirrors, and they were all in excellent condition. Very impressive! (And a big shout out to our friend for sharing her photos!)
At a local gallery/antique emporium/shopping center, we were able to see a European Master Multimedia Exhibition called “From Monet to Kandinsky.” Over 1500 paintings from 16 famous European artists were presented via projector screen on the walls of a 360° gallery. Some of the paintings were brought to life through animation and music…it’s sort of hard to explain but spectacular to watch! It was a wonderful way to present art to children, but plenty of adults (ourselves included) thoroughly enjoyed it as well! We spoke to the woman who spent two years bringing the exhibit to Bangkok, and we could tell how excited she was about its success. And well she should be!
One of my favorite venues that I have been to a few times is the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, or BACC. It resembles the Guggenheim in New York City with its circular ramp leading up to the 8th floor. The exhibits there are constantly changing, so I never really know what to expect! And, because it is free, it’s really easy just to pop in, take a look, maybe grab a bite to eat, and then be on my way in a couple of hours. When Bill and I first visited, there was a tower (for lack of a better word) of hundreds of colorful plastic baskets in different shapes and sizes rising from the bottom floor all the way to the third floor. We assumed it was a permanent structure, but poof!, it was not there on my next visit! I have happened upon photographs taken by one of the royal princesses (actually, she is now the sister of the king so I’m not sure what her new title is!), a beautiful Buddha piece made from scraps of material, and interesting interactive exhibits, including a huge suspended cocoon-like sac that museum goers could crawl around in.
We both visited the Center on the final day of the Bangkok Art Biennale, in which 75 artists from 33 countries provided work based on the theme, Beyond Bliss. Some of the installments were in the BACC but others were in malls, near temples, and in parks (which we didn’t realize until too late). There were interactive pieces, videos, and definitely works from the heart. One area encouraged folks to answer the question “What Is Your Bliss?” on a sticky note and add it to one of the walls in several rooms. Another area showed the handfuls of plastic flowers that an artist brought to the Center on a four-hour walk every day for three weeks (which was filmed and “beamed” into the museum live), representing “the conceptual idea of bringing back the sense of being a human in this fast moving and isolated world.” And then there were interesting works of art by five female Muslims from the Deep South of Thailand. Their “bliss” centered on hope, courage, and human compassion, values resulting from life in a conflict zone. Their inspirational artwork ranged from drawings on local dry hay to 3D bas-relief-style prints in which paper is folded into forms of people going about their daily routines. All in all, there was quite a variety of blissful interpretations!
By far, my favorite exhibit was based on the Chinese proverb, Tian Tian Xiang Shang (meaning ‘study hard and climb higher every day’). The Arts Is Learning, Learning Is Arts theme involved artists from Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, and Thailand who displayed their own versions of the character Tian Tian, a curious little boy who questions everything. There were over 200 of these adorable two-foot tall figures as well as some miniatures that the public was encouraged to design. I could not stop smiling the whole time I was there! I have to say, some of the little guys shared the personalities of my family and friends, which made me smile even more! I hope you will find delight in the few that I am sharing (there are more at the end of the post as well!).
In addition to the museums, artwork can be found throughout Bangkok. We have seen a shiny spoon-and-ladle sculpture in Chinatown, amazing artful decorations at various malls, and funky graffiti in our own neighborhood of Ari. Even though we often find ourselves looking down at the pavement so we don’t trip on an uneven sidewalk, we try to take in our surroundings that more often than not include some creative pieces of art!
On a personal note, our good friends Holly and Dan from Bellingham, Washington, arrived in Bangkok last night. They will be visiting for a whole week, so we will be balancing our time between enjoying the local flavor (in so many ways) and experiencing must-see-and-do touristy things. We are quite excited to be able to share our favorite spots with friends we have known for over 30 years! I’m sure I will have lots to blog about (and some things that I won’t be able to post – “What happens in Bangkok, stays in Bangkok!”) after we hit some of the city’s “top 25 things to do.” Stay tuned!