The old lady with no teeth smiles at me, and waves for me to come closer. I am only a short distance away but I can smell her already. Her odor is a melange of moth balls, fish sauce, and urine. I imagine that she doesn't keep her private area very clean while living on the streets of Bangkok, and probably pees herself either deliberately because she is insane, or maybe she just has a urinary tract infection. For some odd reason, I try to picture her naked (as I do with most women I first meet), then I shudder with the mental image I conjure up. She is asking me for money. My girlfriend tells me to ignore her, as we make our way into Hua lamphong temple to make offerings to the Buddha.
The Temple is simply beautiful. Actually, it is not simple at all. If anything it is grandiose, and massive. As we pass the urine lady, we enter the ground level chamber where I am apparently supposed to burn incense, ring bells, and then give money (200 Baht). I don't exactly know what I am, or my girlfriend is praying for, but I play along because this seems to make her happy.
Then we do something else that is for the poor people who don't have money for a proper burial (500 Baht) buying them boxes for their ashes or something like that. Then we go outside and my girl asks me if I want to pray for my family. Sure, why not? She hands me 5 pieces of paper and tells me to write the names of my loved ones on each one. I do, and then I am instructed to place them on some sort of tile that is used to make a roof for a miniature temple (100 baht).
- You want to have lucky day everyday? My girl asks me.
-Yeah, I guess so.
- Ok you see those jars? There is one for each day of the week. You have to count out baht for each day and put in jar.
I don't fucking remember the order but it was like 15 Baht for Monday, 17 Baht for Tuesday, 22 Baht for Wednesday, etc. I takes at least ten minutes to count out the single Baht coins and put them in the jars. You have to put them in one at a time. I'm wondering if it was this fucking expensive to be a Buddhist back when Buddha was alive.
Then it's time to take gold leaf and stick them on the various Buddha statues (maybe 300 Baht).
I ask my girl why we are putting gold leaf on the Buddha statues but I didn't give any money to the piss-soaked homeless lady outside. She tells me the temples are what makes Thailand so beautiful. You have to honor the Buddha first, then think of others, and then yourself.
We spend 2 hours at the temple. I don't feel any more enlightened or at peace. I am simply 1,000 Baht poorer. My girl is in a state of religious ecstasy though. Hey, If she's happy, then I'm happy. I have read much of the Buddhist literature out there and I dig it's take on simplicity, and the middle path. I follow Buddhist philosophy, but I am not religious by any means, and my moral compass is often times broken. I am ethical however, and something is just not sitting with me right about any of this. It reminds me too much of the Catholic bullshit I grew up with. Beautiful churches that require endless amounts of cash. I have deep admiration for the artistic value of these temples, and just consider my donation today as part of it's upkeep.
As we leave the temple we pass the homeless lady again. My girl tells me to give her 10 Baht. I open my wallet and pull out a thousand Baht note.
-What are you doing? My girl asks.
-Giving the lady some money.
-No honey! You give too much. Only give her ten Baht.
-Why? I just gave over a thousand so I could ring some bells and put gold on a statue.
-Yes, but she here every day. She going to get big money from everybody.
As I go to hand the money to the homeless lady, my girl dives in front of me like a Secret Service agent protecting the president. You can almost here the Noooooooooo!!!!!
It's too late. The feeble old woman's hands come to life and she snatches the note from my hand with ninja like reflexes. She briefly touches me during our exchange, leaving an oily residue on my fingers.
Whatever radar the homless beggars have built into them sounds off, and soon we are surrounded. I look at the many faces around me. Some look like disheveled drunks, others are missing limbs, one guy in particular seems to be missing most of his nose. They all meekly put out their hands to me -- Mr. Moneybags.
I point them towards the urine lady I just gave the thousand baht to.
-Ter mii nyun. (she has the money) I tell the horde.
The homeless horde looks at urine lady, urine lady looks at me, and then I look at my girlfriend.
-How do you say share the money in Thai? I ask her
My girl spits out a machine gun riff in the Isaan dialect that I can't understand.
-Ok, I tell them. Now we go.
The horde approaches the urine lady. The whole street is watching her karma unfold. Will the beggar share her windfall with the others? Her face says it all. Simply -- what the fuck? The horde and urine lady stare at the bill in her hand like a group of cave men scratching their heads about what to do.
We leave this great karmic question unanswered, and start walking towards the train station. My girl won't talk to me. She is quiet when she is angry. I open my wallet, take out all of my money and hand it to her.
-From now on, you're the boss. I tell her.
My girl looks at the wad of cash, and puts it into her purse. She smiles her little devil smile, and finally holds my hand.
-I love you. She tells me.
Interesting what money can buy these days....