Chiang Mai, Thailand - The smell of fresh greenery and sweet, spicy food mixed with diesel fumes sends me in search of a beer on a sweaty day in Chiang Mai.
I head down a narrow laneway off Thapae Road, carefully watching out for speedy motorbikes piled with three or four riders. I stumble on a temple, or wat, as they are called here. That's not odd; there's one on almost every corner - over 300, the guidebook says. This one is Wat Ou Sai Kham, meaning Temple of Golden Sand, and the sign says, "Come inside to watch the Jade Buddha."
Gold Buddhas, black Buddhas, emerald Buddhas, crystal Buddhas - I've seen them all here in Thailand. One more Buddha to add to my growing sense of them all melting into one indistinguishable experience. I'm feeling a little bored, but the temple grounds and sign draw me in to take a look.
Ou Sai Kham is more than 300 years old, but was reconstructed in 1841. I slip off my shoes at the bottom of the stairs and climb the cool stone steps onto the red carpet that leads to the inner sanctum.
A very friendly monk in orange robes greets me with a wide smile, taking me aback. Up to now, all the temples I visited have been empty, with no one to provide guidance or historical information. This monk, however, is very eager to tell me the story of the jade from which the Buddha before me was carved only a few years ago. It's this tale that makes this temple and Buddha stand out among all the rest.
He says the abbot of Wat Ou Sai Kham searched all over Southeast Asia to find a large jade stone. In Myanmar he found a translucent green rock weighing 2,572 kilos that was then cut into five pieces. The centre piece became this Buddha.
Standing 104 centimetres high on a 74-centimetre base, and weighing 900 kilos, it's the largest jade statue in Thailand. Perched high on a platform, it's the most beautiful work of art I have ever seen.
Like a student being initiated in meditation, I'm patiently instructed by my teacher monk on the properties and colours of jade. Jade can be anywhere from 141 to 570 million years old. The temple displays another piece of the original five-part stone, and the monk shows me the variations in colour streaking through it: white, yellow, purple, pink, black and blue, plus shades of green from light to very dark.
He demonstrates how hard jade is by taking a piece and easily making cuts in some alabaster.
It took nine months to finish the statue, including the hole that was drilled in the Buddha's topknot and lined with gold. Upon its completion in 2004, three small relics of the Lord Buddha were installed in that hole in a sacred ceremony attended by senior monks.
With my new appreciation of jade, I purchase a medium-green-coloured ring fashioned from the original stone pieces. I bow to the monk in thanks for his lesson, for the ring that will always remind me of this temple, most of all for ensuring that I don't leave the temples of Thailand feeling jaded.