Thursday, December 10, 2009


From Lawrence Osborne's Bangkok Days:

"The name Rattanakosin appears as part of Bangkok's original ceremonial name in Thai, which is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's longest place-name:


"It is mostly a Thai pronunciation of a blend of Sanskrit and Pali, the ancient languages of India, and it means: 'The city of angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, the impregnable city of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnu.

"So Bangkok was built by Vishnu."

* * *

"It began to occur to me that Thailand as a place of exile sometimes fosters a taste for self-invention which is not unrelated to her cosmology. Where the Blue God reigns, you could say, all is magical and relative. For who is Vishnu exactly, and how can a king incarnate something so vast? Memoirs seem petty commercial affairs when put next to the wheeling galaxies that make up Vishnu's cosmic body. The Blue God, too, takes on multiple disguises, changes form like supercharged putty. In the scenes with Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, he is at one moment the sweet and handsome charioteer Krishna, at the next the nearest thing in literature to a vision of nuclear holocaust. "I am become Death," he says mildly, "the destroyer of worlds." He encourages a view of reality that is undependable, plastic, ever-shifting, mysterious. He needs no fact-checkers."



Blogger MichaelO said...

Built by Vishnu. But who so named? And were they any relation to the Knights Who Formerly Say Nee?

3:49 PM  
Blogger San said...

He needs no fact-checkers. And he takes no prisoners. And he doesn't watch his carb consumption. And all God's chillun are chock-full of carbs. Shudder.

4:49 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Michael: Can't speak to the Nee connection, though out of context, those names/words do look and sound awfully familiar. The name was bestowed upon the city by King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke, or Rama I, the first Thai monarch in the currently ruling Chakri dynasty.

8:12 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Good morning, San: I best cut down on those papas con huevos. This book, Bangkok Days, has been a fascinating read. Osborne, while regaling us with some wonderful stories, is also quite a fine prose stylist. Feels cousin to, say, Lawrence Durrell, in style and sensibility. While not necessarily wanting to physically go there, I find myself living there, vividly imagining the place as Osborne unfolds it.

8:18 AM  
Blogger Tammie Lee said...

I love the idea of Bangkok was built by Vishnu.
thanks for that.

11:47 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Good morning, Tammie: Perhaps the Blue God built Glacier, too. There's another idea to love.

7:17 AM  
Blogger Teresa said...

Hey Murat, I think you should also read Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation by Thongchai Winichakul. It describes how the Thais invented Thailand and Thainess to save themselves from colonization. A really interesting book with some fascinating plates of Buddhist maps.

10:24 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Teresa: Thank you for the recommendation of Siam Mapped. It's not in the Tres Leches biblioteca, but I've ordered it through our interlibrary loan system. Better yet (maybe), thank you for the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies rec over at Chris's: I am in hot pursuit.

2:38 PM  
Blogger Teresa said...

I have not read Pride, Prejudice and Zombies myself, but one of my classmates in the lit crit course did his final paper on it. His workshop presentation was quite interesting. Our professor likes the book, which was recommendation enough for me. That professor is a good 'un.

3:35 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

I'm on the list for P&P&Z, but I was able to check out Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Funny to see Jane Austen listed as "co-author."

7:32 AM  
Blogger Teresa said...

Well, they apparently preserve 85% of the original text. It is an interesting premise in literature.

3:39 PM  
Blogger anno said...

Fascinating stuff here, both in the post and the ongoing conversation in the comments. You know I'm a sucker for book recommendations, and these sound like good ones.

8:19 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Teresa: Most interesting: talk about a wonderful lure back to the "classics."

7:25 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...


Bangkok Days was just a pull from the New Books section at the local biblioteca, but I have found it fascinating, very vivid: I feel as if I am there. So many captivating images in my head: I've almost wanted to do a Google scrapbook on the blog. There are no pictures in the book, which adds, I think, to the vividness in my head. No red Brahma came anywhere near to the god I had painted in my head.

Osborne has some very interesting meditations, via some of his recurring fellow exiles, on sex and the aged. They may at times sound like mere rationalizations for prostitution, but there's an awareness spelled out of the cost to the aged (women and men) of their not being touched. He even invokes, at one point, one of my old social theorist faves, Charles Fourier, who insisted that people in his "ideal" societies should have both an economic and a sexual "guarantee." It may sound a bit garish, and there are times when he waxes on in his odd cosmology, but much of what he (CF) writes is quite compelling.

Definite thumbs up on Bangkok Days.

11:16 AM  
Blogger Devil Mood said...

Well, all is intrinsically connected, right? So a city's effect of us should naturally be connected to its history, its cultural and spiritual meanings, I like that.
As for Porto, it is simply called 'cidade invicta'.

11:41 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

DM: As our spiritual guide, I'm glad you made this point for us. Neil Gaiman's book notwithstanding, where are our American Gods? Their absence is, I think, telling. Of course, our old buddy Harold Bloom sez that Jesus is America's god.

12:14 PM  

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