Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Luckiest Taxi In Bangkok

Lots of people hedge their bets when it comes to religion, offering a nod to every God they can think of in the hopes that one of them might come in handy someday. The entire religion of Hinduism is based on this concept: if one God is good, ten thousand are better, and yours are welcome in our house. The owner-driver of a cab that I rode in today was a devotee of this logic.

Along the dashboard of the oldish Toyota Corolla I noticed:

1. Several Confucian deities;
2. A set of three bobble-headed, arm-waving Chinese “Good Luck In Business” cats;
3. Numerous anime figurines and stickers;
4. Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu God;
5. A beautifully painted cast iron figure of a man sitting in a stick chair with his legs crossed, wearing a baby blue sports coat, brown pants, and a white shirt and tie (the height of the man standing would be about five inches). I don’t know the iconography of this one.
6. A Royal Thai Dragon Boat;
7. A large, plush black widow spider;
8. Multiple Buddha images in various poses;
9. An enamel pin of the emblem of His Royal Highness, the King;
10. A stylized bronze tiger;
11. An action figure of a video game avatar wearing bright gold armor;
12. A cameo of King Chulalongkorn, Rama V;
13. A stone lingus (the phallic symbol that was revered in India before Rama and Buddha).

On the visor above the driver’s face was a portrait of Vishnu, looking particularly benevolent.

The ceiling of the cab was covered in the various blessings that you can get from monks for a modest offering over at your neighborhood temple, being a combination of short prayers in Thai, spells written in the previous local alphabet, and patterns of dots made by fingertips dipped in a paste made from water and talcum powder.

Stapled over these incantations was a large, red cloth bearing another image of Ganesh.

Thailand is a crossroads culture, and the entire panoply of history is being played out in this guy’s cab. People have been passing through Thailand to get somewhere for eons. Lots of them left some aspect of language or religion behind, and lots of them met nice Thai women and stuck around. It’s a fascinating place, that’s for sure.

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