Janjira insisted that we take the boat tour. Tourist trap, I thought. We’ll pay 200 baht and then be back in 15 minutes. But what the hell – this is the point of letting yourself be guided. Stop the thinking and go with the flow…right?
And the flow was slow and quiet in the canals adjacent to the Amphawa floating market, in Samut Songhkram, Thailand. Just like Janjira, a quiet woman with a beautiful smile who wore Converse All-Stars instead of flip-flops.
After a rather uneventful Saturday evening, on Sunday morning I had agreed to meet my host at 9 am. I was not particularly excited about returning to the market – I thought we’d exhausted all its charms the night before. So, despite the tourist trap prospect, I welcomed having something to do.
The boat took off and soon enough we docked next to temple one – whose name I don´t remember and haven’t been able to retrieve. There, Janjira taught me how to do the customary Buddhist offering, having me buy the temple kit with the plastic plant, candle and golden stickers, and then going through the motions with me. We even tried the blatantly superstitious Kau Cim, which announced the best of luck for me in all camps.
In another temple, my companion asked a monk to bless both of us – then she diligently put a 100 baht in the closest alms box. The monk then cheerfully produced a string bracelet, which he tied onto my left wrist, and gave me some stone to hang from my neck. (As it happens, I still keep this stone next to my bedside table.)
And all along, J. would say beautiful things in her simple yet visual English. I asked her why so many Buddhas of so many sizes. She said that there was only one Buddha, but that smaller statues had the function of supporting the big one, and that we could all aspire to be a support of the true, “big” Buddha: Little buddha Janjira, little buddha Alf.
More: temples are always cool spaces to be in, no matter how hot it can get outside. (And trust me it does get hot in Thailand!) “When it’s hot at home, I go to the temple”, she said. “It’s better than air-con”. I still remember her saying this when visiting a quiet and intimate temple, definitely poorer than the previous ones we’d visited, no street vendors to be found in the premises.
After temple four or five I remember feeling strangely relaxed, soothed – as if the main point in life was to hop on and off that dinky tourist boat in an endless temple-hopping spree in the company of a devout Thai girl sporting white Converse All-Stars. As if life back home was a galaxy away and it needed me no more than I was missing it at that moment.
In the end, the 15 minute tourist trap became an hour plus boat ride around the intricate canal system of Amphawa that showed us half a dozen of Buddhist temples, each one different to the others in size, wealth and character. An experience that introduced me to the quietness and beauty of Theravada Buddhism.
Still imbued with the magic of the morning boat ride, my guide and I had a long chat over lunch and during the mini van rid back to Victory Monument station. Janjira told me about her work -graphic design in theory, extending to PR and marketing in practice- how she felt exploited, how she dreamed of setting up her own thing, how she wouldn’t mind moving to another country. Spain, even.
“Could you help me find a job in Spain?” she asked.
“Sure”, I replied, rather rashly. With no Spanish? I thought. A waitress in a Thai restaurant, at best?
“How much do you make, if you don´t mind me asking? And how much do you pay for rent?”
I quickly did the numbers in my head.
“You’re well off by my city’s standards. But send me your CV in any case.”