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Looking for my saffron cord at Phra Pathom Chedi

Nakhon Pathom
November 26, 2008

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Chedi is the Thai term for a stupa, a mound or steeple that contains Buddhist relics. This one, about an hour northeast of Bangkok, is the tallest in the world. The current structure dates back to 1870, but archeaological evidence suggests that there has been some kind of chedi here since the 4th century.

There's a little cave in the back. I think it's manmade; there's a slightly "Splash Mountain" feel about the smoothness of the corridors. When we visited six years ago, a saffron-robed monk in one of its chambers tied strips of saffron material around each of our wrists -- good luck charms. On my wrist, he tied a second bracelet, a saffron-colored cord, for extra luck since, as he pointed out, I was charged with caring for the other three.

We kept them on, reasoning that it would be foolhardy to relinquish the kind of good luck that may be dispensed by Thai monks living in caves on the grounds of ancient chedis. In the months that followed, the cloth bracelets wore off for Jen, and then the girls. Mine lasted almost a year before it broke. But the saffron cord endured, through years of sleep and play, showers and swimming, business meetings and overnight flights. I was amazed at its durability. In the rope aisle at Friedman Bros, I spotted the cord and discovered I was wearing 70-lb test, guaranteed for a lifetime. I began to think it would last that long but it finally broke on me earlier this year, nearly six years after the monk had tied it on. I have to admit, I felt a little exposed without it.

So it was with high hopes that I descended into the cave this time, looking for my monk and a refill of saffron-colored luck. Unfortunately, he wasn't there. Another attendant showed us around, accepted our donations, and wished us well. Before I went, I tried to explain about the cord, gesturing a bracelet around my wrist as I scanned for strips of saffron cloth. He thought that was a nice story, what he could make of it, and nodded and smiled.

I suppose it's a lesson of some kind, that I don't need the bracelet so much anymore. But I have to say, I would not have minded a fresh cord to help ensure that the next six years will be as lucky and wonderful as the past six.