Today was an adventure. A hot, humid, sticky adventure. We were lucky enough, thanks to our guide Oi, to be able to tour the Grand Palace ground and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, take a ride down the Chaophrya River, and eat at a delicious restaurant. There are so many observations that I would love to share with all of you who are kind enough to follow our journey, but the most prominent of those in my mind is this: It is so, so difficult to not project oneself onto ones surroundings.
During our travels today, I was reminded of my travels passed. The sharp glass embedded in concrete along the top of walls surrounding residences reminded me of my experience in Quito, Ecuador when I was 16, a culture that utilizes the same practice as a means of protecting their families. I was reminded of the same trip upon seeing all of the beautiful colors used in the exterior paint on many of the downtown buildings, as it is rare to see a structure in Quito that is not also painted yellow, blue, or green.
On our trip down the river I could not help but be reminded of the smell of Lake Erie in Northern Ohio where I grew up, and think of how much I enjoy spending time on the water. The demeanor of the sales people who floated up to our boat in smaller canoes of their own, peddling merchandise in hopes of making enough money to eat, reminded me of those whom I bartered with in the marketplaces of Ecuador, in hopes of bringing home souvenirs for my family and friends.
While touring the National Museum of Royal Barges, I stood and stared at the ornate weavings used as roof cloth for the royal family’s trips down the river, and was unable to stop myself from calling upon my education with the loom to try and identify the weaving pattern used to make the incredible draperies.
However, the more I think about these experiences, the more I realize I was missing the point. Instead of using my observations to call upon memories from days passed, I should have been living in the now and taken them for what they were. As Buddhist tradition teaches, it is best to be “awake” in the present, and see all that you can see while you can. This would have led me to recognize that behind those glass-laden fences were families of real people, with real lives and real knowledge to be shared. It may have brought a question to mind about the culture that surrounded me and caused me to wonder, “Why do they paint their houses such bright colors?” It may have led me to press my hands, palms together in front of my chest and bow with respect at the floating merchants, rather than smile and think about myself and my own experiences. And it may have allowed me to recognize and admire the culture that had designed and crafted such beautiful tapestries, rather than attempt (unsuccessfully) to come up with a small tidbit of relatively useless information to share around the dinner table about which pattern they had used to craft them.
My hope is that in the days to come, I will be able to better live in the moment and appreciate what is going on around me, and turn my focus from how my surroundings relate to me, to how I can work together with those around me to share knowledge and love with one another while recognizing the God who has allowed that exchange to take place.
My name is Thawng Hnin Zam. I come from Chin State in the most western part of Myanmar, near the border with India. Presently, I am serving as the Principal of the Union Theological College, a member of the Association for Theological Education in South East Asia. I received a B.Th. degree in Madras, India, as well as a B.D. (Bachelors of Divinity) from Serampore University, also in India.