Amongst the Macaque

We were lured to Lop Buri, a province in central Thailand, by their annual Monkey Festival. There is no direct transportation between Chonburi and Lop Buri. One must travel through Bangkok. So, we took the opportunity to visit some friends there. Spent Friday night watching a Beatles cover band and catching up on the very different stories of our friends’ lives as teachers. We stayed the night with Claire, watched the sunrise from her 12th story apartment overlooking the city skyline of Bangkok. Lop Buri by train Saturday morning.

Upon arriving in the old city, I was instantly enraptured by the ancient ruins of Wat Pra Sri Rattana Mahathat–an expansive 14th century site and Buddhist sanctuary from the Ayutthaya period. Within these walls I was silenced, humbled. I felt like I was shrinking amidst the ruins. The architecture was of Khmer influence. Repeating, vertical creases etched in laterite stone creates a hypnosis of layered dimension. As if the image you were seeing straight on started to expand–unfolding at the widths, becoming ten times the original vision. It is this ripple effect, this pleated skirt carved from stone, that holds me. The beauty of each pleat is preserved, reflected and duplicated in the next layer of dimension. Causes the initial emotional effect on the observer, too, to be intensified, multiplied. Sacred symmetry.

I came here alone, after a storm, when everything was still wet and all the colors vibrant. The rich, deep greens of the moss and the grass in contrast with the earth tones of the weathered stone. Despite this, I opted for monochrome photography. And the colors still came through the photographs. The grounds were strewn with detached limbs and headless buddhas, a most sacrilegious imagery. I felt like an archaeologist on a solitary expedition to discover the mystery of what surrounded me. To unearth buried treasures, notice patterns, awaken history.

On the day of the Monkey Festival, we went to Phra Prang Sam Yot to meet the infamous temple dwellers–hundreds of crab-eating macaques. Every year in November, Lop Buri hosts a Monkey Banquet in the temple, bestowing them with a cornucopia of food as gratitude for attracting tourists and bringing business to their city.

The macaques roam the city freely and operate in troops, oftentimes called gangs depending on their demeanor. It is not uncommon to see a monkey catching a bus to the local market to scrounge for food, then taking a return bus back to his home at Phra Prang Sam Yot. Though they are often fed by locals, the monkeys are independent, resourceful and opportunistic. They will fight for their food, even if it means stealing right out of your bag or your hands.

What struck me most was how human they are. Or, perhaps, how monkey we are. Their faces carried so much emotion. Jealousy, embarrassment, vexation, greed. Sensitivity and fear for their young. Watching them behave was like watching drunk, gluttonous humans at a party. Chugging soft drinks and beers, spilling them everywhere. Ungracefully eating corn on the cob, kernels slopped all over face and chest. Picking through food and spitting out seeds and licking the insides of chip bags. And throwing all of it on the ground.

My interaction with the monkeys was memorable, though not altogether pleasant. I had at least five on me at a time pulling my hair, attempting to steal my dates, successfully stealing my hair tie, ripping at my skin and clothes. They were endearing from afar, until my body became their playground. It was a lesson in respect and reminded me that these creatures are not cute, furry animals for us to gawk at. They are their own species, with their own agenda, and we are intruders in their home.

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2 thoughts on “Amongst the Macaque

  1. Lacey says:

    Joc, you’ve become quite the photographer on this trip! Taking great photos goes hand in hand with having something inspiring to shoot! I’m very proud of your work! And, EWWW didn’t I always tell you monkeys were nasty!?!? Hence, why humans are so nasty. lol

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