When our Adorable Thai Teacher (ATT) invited our class to join her for a performance at the Thai Cultural Centre, T-bone and I couldn’t say no. We didn’t know what we were signing ourselves up for, but we are clearly two farangs in need of a little culture. After a long haul across town, our little class of uncultured-ness met our ATT at a metro station. She had a Thai friend accompanying her, which was a good thing, because manhandling 8 large farang bodies into a rush hour metro car takes some serious effort. We arrived at the Thai Cultural Centre relatively unscathed, and immediately bumped into this dude:
This was a promising sign. He didn’t seem overly impressed by the farang trying to take his picture, but I didn’t let that get me down. In fact, I begged him for another one, and he resigned himself to his fate.
We entered the main hall, which was full of people milling about, preparing themselves for a serious serving of culture. I still had no idea what the evening was about, but I figured the dude in the dress had something to do with it.
Rather than programs, the tables in the lobby were selling lotus flowers.
There was also a display in the centre of the lobby – either a rare artefact or a silent auction.
Soon it was time to find our seats. Unfortunately, they were clearly designed with delicate, cultured Thais in mind, not gigantic Westerners, nor the grunting, obese young boys crammed in next to us. I knew we should have shelled out for better tickets.
The orchestra, comprised of traditional Thai instruments, began to play, and the curtain lifted. A group of dancers, dressed similarly to the dude I posed with, began their slow, hypnotic motions. While this was fascinating at first, after around 5 minutes, I found myself wishing that they’d speed it up, or throw in a few spins or something. “Please tell me that it won’t be like this all night,” I muttered to T-bone. Clearly, I am desperately in need of culture. Someone must have heard my plea, though, because it turns out that the dancers were just an opening act. The real show was about to begin.
Turns out, the show was a re-enactment of the Ramayana, the ancient Sanskrit epic. It is incredibly long (7 volumes), and incredibly convoluted. Saturday’s performance detailed only one of the volumes. The show was an appropriately epic combination of fantastic, bizarre, and boring.
The Fantastic: The costumes and sets were amazing. We weren’t supposed to take photos, but I sneaked a few.* My terrible phone photography doesn’t do it justice, though. The set was incredibly elaborate, as were the special effects. At several points, the actors were suspended from cables during action scenes.
The Bizarre: Humans and monkeys intermingle freely, and when Hanuman, one of the monkey generals, is searching for his enemy, he dives into the ocean, fights with two fish, and then marries a mermaid. I can’t vouch for this based on personal experience, but the plot seems like a bit of an acid trip.
The Boring: every scene was extremely long and convoluted. While the basic plot was translated into English on the screens next to the stage, the dialogue and jokes weren’t, so a lot of the meaning was lost on us. Then again, you don’t have to know the language to understand that monkeys and mermaids can love each other.
After a few hours, Todd and I remembered that we had an early morning the next day, and snuck out. We debriefed the epic, bizarre experience over a bowl of noodles with chicken feet.
I’m not sure that I feel more cultured after the experience, but I am reminded that Thailand is an extremely strange and wonderful place.
* There was no flash, and besides, I figured that I was creating less disturbance than the grunting
piglets children eating popcorn next to me.