I am two weeks into our trip to Thailand and Cambodia. The current time is 14 hours ahead of Seattle. The current place is 500 miles north of the Equator. It is almost always tomorrow here. This is the closest I have been to summer, while still being in winter.
There is much about time and space here. There are so many sacred spaces. I have visited amazing temples of the past and the present. Some of the temples are centuries old and currently in use.
One of the things I have noticed is that there is often clock next to the main buddha statue. Some clocks are antique. One that I saw was a large electronic clock with green L.E.D. letters, surrounded by antiquities. I thought, “What is THAT doing there?”
To my sensibiities, it didn’t fit. It was an anachronism that harmed the aesthetic and spirit of a holy place. Then I started wondering about many similar scenes that I’ve witnessed during this short time in southesast Asia. I started asking questions about my own culturally influenced aesthetic. I observed how different I am about having my photo taken in front of antiquities. I appreciate having maybe a photo for the day to remember how I felt about the experience, but mostly I think of inserting myself into the scene as detracting from it’s beauty. I am an anachronism in my performance sneakers and modern dress.
Tourists from many Asian countries are vastly different. Getting one’s photo taken in front of every key area of a building is very common. People wait in long lines to do so. There is usually two or three young Chinese women at each major site wearing fancy modern dresses, getting many pictures taken at each stopping point, model style, by a young man taking the photos with a smart phone. I will admit that in addition to bemusement, by week two of having the frame of my shot blocked by an amateur model making five poses in a doorway, I felt minor irritation.
In the west, we treat time differently, I think. The past is something to be preserved and unchanged. It is something to be worked for in the future. It is fascinating to me to think about how this view may have impacted our aesthetics, our sense what belongs where.
I did a Google search about the clocks in the temples, by the way. I don’t know if the little bit of information I found is true or not but it indicated that the clocks are there to help monks avoid meditating through meal times. The anachronistic clock helps the monks keep the past in the present.
Peace to you, friends.