Sunday, September 11, 2005


A day spent contemplating war

Checking in from Kanchanaburi in southwest/central Thailand. This has been a worthwhile city to visit on my way up to Chiang Mai. This small town is the site of the famous bridge over River Kwai from WWII. I went to three museums today related to the POW experience during that time. Walked over the bridge and back. One of the museums was excellent -- educational and well designed -- and sits adjacent to the Allied Cemetery which I walked through afterward. At another museum, I read through a guest book signed with hundreds of messages that tourists have left in the last few months. Dozens of spiteful opinions of America have been recorded. Coincidentally, it is September 11 today.

On my ride to the hotel here, the hotel guy sitting on the truck with me pointed out several of Kanchanaburi's tourist sites. As we passed the cemetery, I asked him if any Americans were buried there. A reasonable question from someone who isn't exactly a WWII buff, I thought. He replied that no Americans were buried there and then added that America did only two things in WWII: blow up the bridge here and bomb Japan. I replied to him that I definitely recall significantly more US involvement than that. He shook his head and said, "America didn't do anything in that war."

Bangkok was just OK. Funny how the places I am most excited to see don't turn out to be what I expect and then the opposite (I may have said this here before). I went to the National Museum and visited a mansion that one of the king's had built 100 years or so ago. It is made from teak, and you should see it. The most beautiful floors I have ever seen on a lush piece of land that must have once been very idyllic. Only 30 of the 72 rooms are open for viewing and every room had something opulent in it, such as a Steinway or copper toilet. I would like to have lived in the house for a week as a Thai princess.

Visited Khao San Road. I'm a long way from being 20 and stoned, so it didn't hold a lot of interest for me, although I am glad I saw it. Many dreadlocked (and stinky) Caucasian people walking around trying to be hippies. Since when does being granola mean you can't get cozy with a bar of soap every other day? And the dreadlocks? Never should be seen on white people in any case ever. The road is full of bars, guesthouses and tables selling the usual stuff like hemp bags, Bob Marley stickers and pot-leaf patches. That's about it.

On the other hand, I was delighted to see Wat Pho (temple) with the world's largest reclining Buddha. A total jaw dropper. A massive wall of gold towering overhead, and that's for a Buddha who is on his side. Then he stretches for meters and meters to the other end of the temple. The best Buddha so far.

I was dying for a steak and salad the other night and found a Sizzler hidden on the seventh floor of a shopping mall. I figured it was a decent place for a steak other than the fancy places that wouldn't really welcome a backpacker's budget. That was the first cold salad and the most expensive meal I have eaten since I left home. After dinner I came across this library on the same floor of the mall. It's called the Thailand Knowledge Park. It's a little library for young people that has all kinds of resources that you would usually find, but the design of the place is what caught my eye. Every foot was smartly thought out by the design team. It's done in red, black and white. It had these "booths" that are shaped like a reclining body. You slide into the space and can watch DVDs or read. On the back wall was built a honeycomb of red lucite boxes stacked about five high. Little kids climb up the boxes and can sit in their own little padded cubby and read a book. They all looked so cute in their honeycombs. You can learn more at It is very hip and futuristic. So I bought a T-shirt.

Hey Amy - not totally surprised by the unsatisfying (and factually incorrect) response you got asking about WWII. My experience with asking locals about the history of a particular place was rarely satisfying, especially about WWII. Either people don't want to talk about the unpleasant past, or they haven't been taught what happened. If you want some history, the Vietnamese view of what they call the American War war will be an, umm, interesting perspective.
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