8. Bangkok, basil, beaches, books, Buddhism (of the Big 5)

This sort of alphabetizes for me, not such an atypical tourist in some regards, what Thailand is all about: these 5 b's. And, of course, tourists, tourists, tourists. Yet, in the smaller, out-of-the-way places I've visited - Nakhon Si Thammaret for its shadow puppets and historic holy sites, Thale Noi Waterbird Park, Songkhla for two of the nation's finest museums, and Phetchaburi for the Khao Wang restoration - I've encountered virtually no other farangs (foreigners) and few Thai and Malaysian tourists (the bulk of outside visitors), for whom it's now the off season.

Modestly budgeted independent travel to such remote places is doable, though time-consuming. Standing on the tailgate of an overstuffed pick-up might be - indeed was- the only way to get from A to C, via waiting at B, an unmarked crossroads, for another pick-up to hobble down a dirt road, the access to a national park, too small (the road not the park) for the guidebook's navigation charts. Sure, it's nice to see parts of Thailand most foreigners don't, but you get the feeling that the only other farang who's ever been here is the guy who wrote the guidebook!

Thai basil-laden food continues to impress me, primarily so because I have been fortunate to find the occasional exceptional restaurant - the guidebook's best advice - and choose dishes I haven't ever cooked. At its most innovative, I find Thai food to be quite simple; the trick is being creative - Thai stylising of non-traditional ingredients.

Buddhism is an essence of Thailand. If I were here long enough, I guess I'd acquire not only a greater understanding, but also a more comprehensive appreciation of this particular one of the planet's Big Five, [a mainlined aside:] what I, in my most simplistic view of the earth - the bearer wishing to offer little pretence to philosophy or intellectualism - see as the 5 prime influences that grip the globe's inhabitants. BUDDHISM, along with Hinduism and various relatives, seems to me to be the least offensive of religions and perhaps the least aggressive of the Five Forces. Membership in my group of Five requires proof of longevity, which staying power 2 1/2 millennia old Buddhism certainly has. In contrast, such temporary concepts (not really forces) as the nation state - my candidate as human's most evil concoction and hopefully a short-lived one - colonialism, hegemony, communism, and globalization/capitalism as contemporarily defined/touted/manifested either lack or have not yet attained track records. My Forces short-list includes CONFUCIAN heritage cultures as well as ISLAM, which perhaps deserves two competing divisions - radical and other. My two remaining Forces, in contrast, might perhaps be collapsed into a single entity, but I see clear distinctions between JUDEO/CHRISTIANITY as a religious force and the rather nebulous WESTERN CIVILIZATION, a secular Force that addresses things like individualism, freedom and democracy. For what it's worth, those are my Big Five, whose interplay may well decide the globe's fate. [A sub-aside:] Much of the planet's population believes in or lives by one of these Forces. I'm no exception. My belief in Western Civilization, a cultural bias I admit, is just that, a belief, and as such neither this nor the others needs be defended with evidence by advocates. Indeed, for this particular belief, much data show its evil side, but I still believe - believe- that if done correctly, Western Civilization can be good for humanity and, if push come to shove and one Force must dominate, it is the best of a sad lot (granted a weakly defensible position at best).

To return to Buddhism, I find this Force, as a planet gripper or just by itself, much too complex to merit summary email comment. I don't know enough about it to give it much else, so I won't try.

I guess that almost everyone who visits Thailand has an opinion as to its best beach. I don't, nor - as a non-beach person, having as a youth taken the beach for granted and dispensed with same- much care. I do quite an adequate enough job wasting human potential, without adding blatancy in the form of sun-basking on unblemished white sand, reeking of Factor 15. I do, however, relish what is often thrown in with the beach (not the surf, to which I am not partial): the water, and the warm, clear coral waters in these parts certainly merit the waste of my human potential (enough to justify dives off Ko Tao).

As I leave Thailand for now, I'll remember it as a place of the b's, as well as a nice spot for polishing off some more Dickens (In Chiang Mai I bought used copies of Martin Chuzzlewit and Our Mutual Friend, leaving but 3 of the corpus to be read to complete an endeavor this trip almost interrupted.

21 March 2545 BE

Ko Tao, Thailand