The first Hindu temple I ever visited is in the heart of Bangkok, just a few blocks from Patpong, one of Bangkok's infamous sex-districts, and Lumbini Park.
If you've never seen this sort of temple before, brightly covered with intricate patterns, textures, and cute little Hindu folk, it's an ecstatic labyrinth of chaotic visual pleasure. I found it much like the young Thai women painted in makeup, easy to look at but difficult to see. I could barely rest my eye on any single spot before it was immediately pulled to another. It's is only in the photos I took that I can really appreciate the finer details of the artistry.
Inside (no photos allowed) I could only compare it to stepping into the set of an Indiana Jones movie. Only a year out of Nova Scotia, it was the strangest, most exotic place I'd ever stepped inside. Barefoot, I followed stone carved passage ways around stupas rising through thin trails of incense billowing from long pink stems, pressed between the palms of praying women in colorful saris.
Occasionally, I would jump when turning a corner to find a Brahmin sitting cross-legged in a loin cloth, tucked into a cranny about shoulder hight. Murmurs of cyclical mantras rippled the air and tingled my senses. After a few minutes, I felt a bit like an intruder in this mysterious place so I stepped back out to the street and wafting aroma of vendors selling flower garlands, made of marigolds, jasmine, roses, lotus buds, mini oranges, and other flowers.
For a couple blocks passed the temple down Th Pan, the street is lined with excellent Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants. Returning a year and a half after my first visit, I picked an Iranian restaurant instead of the Indian restaurant that had been recommended to me (I'd never had Iranian food before) and had an amazing plate of Iranian pilaf that's making my mouth water now, four years later, just remembering it.
In the restaurant, an Iranian man, who said he was from Canada and had also lived in Australia spoke to me for nearly an hour about the difficulties since 9/11. I'd never spoken to a Muslim about Islam before, and I found myself having to overcome some groundless nervousness to maintain conversation with him. When I said my name is Joseph, he told me the stories of Joseph and many others are written in greater detail in the Quran than in the Bible. I hadn't been aware that the Quran had any similarity to the Bible until then. Though he seemed eager to speak of his religion, just as I get excited to talk Buddhism with people, it wasn't in a pushy, "you must believe" sense, but mostly he hoped that I understood that the majority of Muslims are peaceful. I'm still very bothered by the idea Jihad, but after reading "Three Cups of Tea" (read it!), I've had a much better understanding of the issues.
(above photos; May 19th, 2006 / bellow photos; November 1st, 2007)