Discover more from Brent and Michael Are Going Places
Michael Jensen and the Temple of Darkness
Brent and I visited an incredible Bangkok temple. But I was stuck in a foul mood.
Even since we’d arrived in Bangkok, I’d wanted to visit Arun Wat, supposedly one of the city’s most distinctive and impressive temples.
And now that Brent and I had come, I couldn’t have cared less.
What was going on? Why did I suddenly feel so flat?
The temple’s central “prang” — or tower — was certainly impressive enough. It soared up into the sky, which was currently bright and blue. It’s covered in porcelain tiles, and they glittered in the sun like precious stones on a king’s scepter.
“You okay?” Brent asked. He’d noticed I’d been quiet for a while.
“Yeah,” I said.
I felt his eyes on me, probing me, but I turned away.
Finally, he said, “Why don’t I get a picture of you?”
I handed him my phone and moved into place. I smiled dutifully.
But that simple smile took so much effort. Just that little movement on my face exhausted me. And it also felt false, because the last thing in the world I wanted to do was smile.
Together, Brent and I wandered around the various temples and towers. They were all covered by tiny pieces of porcelain: thousands and thousands of them.
They were organized into patterns, some geometric and some flower-shaped. They also decorated the outfits on the statues decorating the towers — devils, demons, and angels lining the various levels of the towers.
But it was all too much, cluttered and gaudy.
Many of the visitors were brightly-dressed too, monks and women come to worship at the temple.
I normally like bright colors and clothes, but this was also too much for the mood I was in.
At the base of the tallest tower, I came to a metal barrier. The steps to all the upper levels were blocked off, not just here but everywhere.
You can’t go to the top anymore? I thought. That was one of the reasons I’d wanted to come to this stupid temple in the first place.
Great, now I felt flat and angry.
My eyes settled on a row of Yaksha — mythical beings who supposedly guard the temple. But up close, I saw they were also holding the temple up. The massive weight of the upper levels pressed down on their hands and shoulders with what must have been an unimaginable weight.
I can relate, I thought.
But how were they supposed to guard the temple and hold it up? These stupid statues didn’t make any sense.
If it had been me, I would have been worthless as a guardian or a bulwark. The anger was already leaching out of my body, and I felt completely enervated again.
I don’t get depressed often. Brent always says he likes how easygoing I am, that I’m the least moody person he’s ever met. So fun and easy to be around.
I wonder what he’d think right now.
But he was off exploring another part of the temple complex. I was alone.
I felt alone.
I’d wandered around a bit too, and I glanced back at the tallest of the towers.
It looked as alone and distant as I felt.
Except that tower was anchored to the ground. I felt like my emotional gravity had been turned off, and I was about to rise up into the sky like a balloon, drifting off into the clouds.
How could I feel heavy and weightless at the same time? It didn’t make any sense. None of this did.
Brent found me and reminded me that if we ever chose to write about this place, we’d need some pictures.
This was ironic. I usually love taking pictures, and I’d never had to be reminded to take them before. Usually Brent was asking me to take fewer pictures, understandably frustrated how focused I was on getting yet another shot.
I took pictures, some of which were of the two of us.
I smiled, and it still felt like a Herculean effort. I knew that, looking at them later, these smiles of mine would all be lies.
The more I smiled, the worse I felt. I hated Instagram influencers that made it look like their lives were always shiny and happy, even though they had to sometimes feel the exact opposite of that.
And now, here I was doing the exact same thing.
“Maybe we should go home now, huh?” Brent said quietly. He’d obviously picked up more of my dark mood than I’d intended.
I nodded once.
He pointed. “I think there’s a ferry. Hey, are we on the Chao Phraya River? Maybe we could take the boat back to our condo.” He smiled. “It might be faster, given that terrible traffic on the way here.”
So we bought tickets and waited for the next boat, which was only five minutes away.
I looked back at Wat Arun shimmering in the perfect afternoon sunlight.
Up close, the porcelain tiles had looked gaudy and cluttered. Now that I had some distance, they looked better. I could see how it all fit together, the overall impression it created.
Huh, I thought. Those towers are kind of…beautiful.
Once on the boat, we climbed up to the seats on the top deck. As we pulled away, I looked back again.
It looked even more beautiful from out on the water.
A cool breeze washed over me, taking with it some of the heaviness I’d felt before. At the same time, I also felt more solid. I was no longer a balloon about to sail off into the clouds.
I still didn’t feel great, but I was finally starting to feel like myself again. Was my dark mood finally lifting?
I took a selfie, and now my smile didn’t feel so forced.
This time, when I looked at the photo later, maybe my smile wouldn’t be a complete lie.