I LIKE MY GODS BIG
By Andrew Biggs
Back in the 1970s when I was a little boy, we had a tourist attraction not far from home called the Big Pineapple.
How tragic. How could modern civilization think to build such a thing and think it would be popular?
I am reminded of the immortal words of P.T. Barnum who claimed there was a sucker born every minute. The Big Pineapple was a monstrosity, yes – but it was also a big hit.
The state I grew up in, Queensland, is the only state in Australia where country folk outnumber the city slickers. There is an abundance of pineapples, bananas, oranges, avocados and custard apples.
In the midst of this abundance there are fantastic beaches and one such strip is known as the Sunshine Coast. On the road there, just a few hours outside of Brisbane in a small town known as Woombye, there was a shrine to this agricultural buffet and it was called the Big Pineapple.
It was a 16-metre-high concrete and steel structure in the form of a pineapple and painted in hues of orange and yellow and green – just like a real pineapple! How ingenious and artistic we Queenslanders were!
I loved it as a kid. You could walk inside the pineapple and climb up some stairs to afford a lovely view of, well, pineapple plantations, as fascinating as they can be.
On the way up the stairs there was a visual display of the intricate process in which pineapples are harvested. You know, plant ‘em, pick ‘em, put ‘em in trucks. It didn’t take much to titillate us rural Queensland kids.
That wasn’t all! You could then board a rickety train known as the Nutmobile for a 15-minute circuit of the Big Pineapple’s grounds, where you could view amazing fields of macadamia trees. Incredible but true; the Big Pineapple didn’t limit itself to pineapples. It had macadamias, too!
I don’t remember much of those vistas from my seat on the Nutmobile – I suspect macadamia trees didn’t have the same thrill for a child of the 70’s as did, say, pet rocks and sea monkeys. But at the end of the circuit the Nutmobile deposited you right outside the Big Pineapple Restaurant which served the most delicious thing I have ever tasted.
That was a macadamia nut sundae, made with fresh Big Pineapple macadamia nuts, caramel topping and whipped cream all spooned over vanilla ice-cream.
It didn’t take long for me to grow up and realize that the Big Pineapple was, other than an informative glimpse into the pineapple farming procedure, a monument to the infantile obsession we humans have for all things big.
There was even competition, with an identical Big Pineapple being built in not-so-far-away Gympie in 1971, the same year the original was made. In 1971 NASA was still rejoicing about sending man to the moon. We Queenslanders were fervently building big pineapples.
Thanks to the success of the Big Pineapple by the decade’s end the state was home to the Big Cow (ludicrous), the Big Lawnmower (hideous), the Big Banana (phallic), and the Big Bulls (suggesting “hit” must have fallen off during a cyclone).
No wonder I took flight.
Enough was enough. I uprooted myself and settled in the tranquil Buddhist country of Thailand, where the local people understand the value of quiet meditation and charitable deeds in order to create good karma for this life and the next. A land devoid of Big Pineapples and Big Bulls.
That was more than 20 years ago.
Two months ago I had a speaking job in Kabin Buri, a sleepy town in the province of Prachinburi.
I was driving along the highway enjoying vistas of rice fields when a billboard jumped out at me like a serial killer in a teen horror flick. Only this billboard wasn’t brandishing a knife and ski mask. It brandished a message that was more frightening.
YOU’RE HERE! THE TURN-OFF TO THAILAND’S BIGGEST SCULPTURE OF GANESHA!
The Big Ganesha?! Here was a billboard advertising a tourist attraction, namely a massive blob of concrete fashioned in the shape of the Hindu god Ganesha, or Phra Pikkanet as it is called in Thai.
Ganesha with the elephant head. Ganesha, the god that removes obstacles from your life and widely revered here in Thailand.
So the big craze has finally made it way to Thailand. Did a Ganesha apostle from Thailand take a holiday on the Sunshine Coast? Am I somehow partly to blame?
It’s spreading, too. On a recent trip to Rayong I was caught unaware by a billboard advertising the WORLD’S BIGGEST GUAN IM STATUE!
Is this a sign of increasing spirituality, or merely an acceleration of the destruction of Thailand’s mountains in our quest for more concrete?
I wonder if I am better off karmically if I actively seek out the biggest Ganesh in the world on the road to Kabin Buri, rather than bowing before the framed picture of Ganesha that sits above my CD collection (right on top of the B artists, namely the Bee Gees, Boney M, Brick and Kate Bush).
By praying to a ton of concrete, does that ensure my next life is full of Mercedes Benz and plush inner-city mansions? Am I doomed to middle-class mediocrity yet again because all I have is that framed pic above the CDs?
Big Ganeshas are as popular with local folk as Big Pineapples. The Ganesha Giant on the way to Kabin Buri was well-attended the day I drove past. Of course you have to pay; that monument to spirituality costs money, and in this regard the Big Pineapple was more spiritual in that it was free to enter.
Here we are building giant renditions of what should be a personal relationship between you and whatever god you may believe in. Do we really need personal gods blotting the skyline? Doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of having a personal religion?
It was a troublesome train of thought that chugged away inside me on the road trip past Ganesha, which probably explains why my speech at Kabin Buri that day was a little lackluster.
Just when Thailand’s biggest Ganesha was fading from my memory, as things are wont to do at my age after three days, another shock.
I was driving to Nakhon Nayok last week when I chanced upon this sign:
GANESHA PARK! FEATURING THE WORLD’S BIGGEST STATUE OF GANESHA!
Oh ... my … goodness. It’s Gympie and Woombye all over again, only this time it’s a religious war!
Again, I delivered a dreadful speech. My mind was on other things –how in the world can one have TWO biggest statues? Not only that, but on another recent trip to Rayong in the east I saw a sign for the BIGGEST GUAN IM statue. That can only spell trouble.
Everybody knows competition within a religion tends to finish up with fisticuffs and/or bombs.
And indeed, even the two Big Pineapples ended in tears. The Woombye one was destroyed by fire while the Gympie one went broke and was dismantled not that long ago. So what’s going to happen when a country goes crazy over building more than one biggest deity?
I had the right idea all along back when I was a kid. I’ll stick to worshipping that macadamia nut sundae.