Thursday, May 17, 2012

Wat Arun

I turned 60 on the flight to Bangkok and now I have a feeling of what the future might bring. Wat Arun is one of the grandest and most distinctive of Bangkok's many Wats.
See this?  Big, isn't it? It's Wat Arun, also known as the Temple of Dawn and if you're inclined to climb it you're supposed to do it at dawn. It's on the western side of the Chao Phrya river and is accessable from central Bangkok by ferry.

We took several ferries to get to it and thought that everything else on the grounds and the structure itself were best appreciated at ground level. Eleanor doesn't climb, she balked at the Great Wall in Beijing so there was no way she was taking on Wat Arun.  I took lots of pictures on the grounds at Wat Arun and we ferried out of there to continue our ride up the Chao Phrya river to Nonthaburi and later to some well deserved hotel air conditioning

But the next day I returned to Wat Arun on my own. The grounds are free to roam and there's plenty to see but access to the structure cost me 150 baht (around $4.50). And I was free to climb in spite of the fact that it was late morning, it was 100 degrees and the sun was just rocking down out of the mid day tropical sky. As I contemplated my climb I waited for a small Japanese woman to descend the upper steep stairway. She was slow and deliberate and when she finally got down off of the stairs she was shaking and looked petrified. Hey, how bad could it be?

I went up. You can go up about half way to the top but the stairs are slippery from years of people climbing, narrow and steep. I had no trouble getting up although the metal handrails that I assume were added after the Thai ancients built this sky phallus were burning hot. How steep is the staircase?  Look to the left, see the stairs above the decending monks?  That steep. 

The view up there is tremendous. I took lots of pictures and started going down the steep stairs.  But I couldn't do it. It was steep and I wanted to treat the decent as I would coming down a ladder.  I turned my back to the river and my face to the steps but there were no rungs and the stone steps were hot.  I retreated to take more pictures and to contemplate my next move.  I'm afraid of heights and it's all stone so if I fell down the stairs I'd be lucky to survive.

I made it. I did it slowly, deliberately and with the constant thought that one slip could be life altering/ending. I burned my hands death gripping the hot metal railing. I used every ounce of strength to get this done and  my thighs still ache. 

But here's the point: when I got down to the ground my first thought was that this what old age is like and that I had just crossed the boundary between the days when I could do such a strenuous task and now I'll never be able to do this again. That stage of my life is over. A man's got to know his limitations and now at 60 I'll be knowing some new ones.

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