My friend Tommy, a stocky Midlander, once eked out a living as a stunt-double for Steven Seagal, but as harder times befell him, Tommy now finds himself teaching possessive nouns to classes of rowdy pampered Catholic school children.
Which of the two occupations is more dangerous is open for debate.
Tommy is single. He is lonely. He is tired of finding suitable, or even, unsuitable others online using apps such as Tinder. Tommy asked me, your humble Bangkok narrator, where he could score in open play.
His finger flicks across his mobile telephone screen as he continued to explain his plight, “You have to put a lot of work into the dating game,” he told me, eyes glued to screen as he scrolled through a flicker-book of potential prospects. “It’s not as easy as you’d think.”
At that moment, The Tub Tim Phallic Shrine inexplicably sprang to mind.
“I’ve got it,” I told him. “The answer to your dating nightmare! The remedy for your lonely heart!”
“Buy a car?”
“No, no no, Tommy…. Tub Tim!”
“Sounds like one of those female impersonators,” he said suspiciously.
But Tommy, being game, and frankly desperate, agreed to pay a visit to the Tub Tim shrine of fertility.
So off to Tub Tim we went.
This expedition, I explained to Tommy, is in the name of historical and cultural research. With some potential added extras.
I’d heard a rumor that the Tub Tim fertility shrine had been used in the past as a discrete meeting point for romantic encounters in Bangkok and I was keen as mustard to find out if there was any truth to this urban myth.
And Tommy was the man to see if this was indeed the case.
He was, as it were, the bait.
Many Bangkokians are at least aware of this shrine, but for the tourist it’s regarded as more of an undiscovered gem.
Set in the gardens of the Swissôtel Hotel in Chit Lom, phalluses of every color, length and girth reach up to the harsh unforgiving sun. It is primarily a place of worship, but also a place where love has been rumored to spawn.
Locals are keenly versed in the story of Chao Mae Tub Tim, the fertility spirit that looks over these members of varying sizes, but they may be a little shy to tell you that the Tub Tim shrine is also known as a meeting point for lonely hearts in the city.
Before entering the sacred grounds, Tommy had gamely purchased a bunch of beautiful off-white flowers that were, according to the Fertility Florist, Tub Tim’s favorites.
We approached the site with eager anticipation, both excited about the prospects for Tommy’s love life.
We go to make merit to Chao Mae Tub Tim, the spirit who is said to live up in the trees above the phallic statues. It is said that those who offer gifts will be lucky in love and fertility.
The shrine, which simply started as an ordinary spirit house, became the attraction it is today due to the legend that told of woman of days past who, upon making merit here, found out later that they were with child.
And thus we entered the garden of fertility.
There are lots of phalluses here.
Tiny, huge, wooden, clay, there’s something for everyone; shapes and sizes of every description fill this sacred shrine.
As we approached the site we noticed that some worshippers had already arrived and were busy making merit to the unique statues. A thin bespectacled housewife timidly brushed herself against a large phallus.
“Is this place for real?” Tommy whispered in my ear.
Birds sing merrily in lush trees and items left in offering to the spirits of fertility are rich in their variety: incense sticks, garlands, figurines, expired credit cards, lotus petals. I lost myself walking between the trees and the offerings left out to gratify Tub Tim’s spirit.
Thai Buddhism, as every schoolboy knows, is rich in symbols and spirits most of which can be traced back to ancient Hinduism and Animism. These phallic shaped objects – or lingams – hark back to the worship of the ancient Indian God Shiva, for instance. Thais use imagery and objects including the lingam as a sign of luck, protection or, as in this case – holistic fertility treatment.
But it is certainly not some decadent pick up joint, I thought to myself, ashamed, as I observed one of the most serene and pleasant places of worship left in the city. An oasis of spirituality; this is what exploring the urban Asian city is all about.
I was about to tell Tommy this, to call off his search for love here in this sacred garden, to tell him it had all been a terrible mistake, but you guessed it: after searching high and low for the stocky Midlander, I came back empty handed.
For Tommy had mysteriously disappeared.
Perhaps Tub Tim had weaved her magic once again?
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