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The Dashing Life and Exuberant Times of Brian Harrison....And Other Rare Anecdotes

Thursday, April 17, 2014

How I Was Picked Up With No Pants On Hiking Through the Kingdom of the Daughters.

Before I begin this rather quizzical tale, I should make oodles of explanations for the above title warrants all kinds of questions. What is this Kingdom of the Daughters? And why, if there were such a place, would I hike with no pants on through it? Sounds like I am inviting tomfoolery of a lascivious type, and inviting misunderstandings, as well as STDs and culturally confused,wailing infants to spring out unexpectedly. But wait! I can explain succinctly and in depth. My intentions were never thus. I never thought, “Gee, I want to hike in the Kingdom of Women in my underwear and see what mayhem I can start up.” A society controlled by apron strings does not make me unbuckle my belt. The simple answer to why I had my pants off was because the pants I was wearing were chaffing on the inside of my thighs and it was too painful to go on hiking in such a fashion thinking that the insides of my legs were being rubbed down to the muscles. So I slipped my pants off and began hiking in the back wilderness of the Kingdom of the Daughters in just my boxer shorts. But more about this later...
Now, I must write why I was in the Kingdom of the Daughters to begin with and what exactly that is.

When I write the Kingdom of the Daughters I am referring to quite possibly the last remnant of a matriarchal society on this baffling, wide-hipped Earth we call Mother, but is in fact, revolving around a staunched-shouldered Father prototype. But not in this society tucked away below the mountains of Southwest China. The women rule the roost, here; they govern the family, and they own all the property. The tribe is called the Mosuo and they live at the foothills of the Himalayas in Yunnan and Sichuan Province in the Southwestern corner of China. Why I had never heard of these people until I had come to China, I do not know. But it is an anthropologist's dalliance. The kind of thing you read in a copy of National Geographic Explorer waiting at the dentist's office and as you slip off to sleep on Novocaine strange visions come to your head and you wake with a filling and a crown and you think that such rumors of a matriarchal society were all a dream induced by the hypnotic 80's music playing as well as the Novocaine. But chomping at your new bit, the story is absolutely true...

However, perhaps, these people's most notable claim to a good camp, fireside story for jaw-dropped, adolescent Boy Scouts, is that traditionally, they do not have a system of marriage in their society. 'Walking marriages' is the term they use. And it is where a woman can choose whomever they sleep with for the night. These rumors fills one's hormonal vision with ever constant stars glancing down and twinkling down upon as lovers flit from bed to bed. A society of free love and amorous exchanges among friends and acquaintances as well as other villagers. Now, of course, this sounds just like a Western college. But imagine this being practiced by 70 year old elders. And you get the idea of what this could be.
The men are rumored to walk about without a care in the world, except to make themselves gallant and attractive, with their famous cowboy hats, so they'll be invited into a lady's home where they will climb in through the window, and pay homage to ladyhood in the best way men believe they know how to do. And when the dawn arrives and breaks its light through the wooden slits in the wall, they up and dash out the window again out into the glorious, rooster-cheered morning.
Of course, this is the ideal. But the reality is a bit different.

So why did I want to go there? No, not to be so naughty and to join in their rumored wool-blanketed trysts. But of course, I guess I would have a difficult turning down...some sweet, rosy-faced village girl drawing a circle on my hand. (Their way of selecting a mate for the night). I cannot lie and say that I do not like to explore a culture through and through. But I went because the idea sounded so fantastical and original that I had to go there for I see myself as a seeker of the fantastical and the sublime hidden in little pockets of this highly conventional globe. . And it was also something not too far away. Only a few days journey by bus or train. I went because when I was younger I wanted to be an anthropologist, because I have a heightened sense of curiosity for such matters, because I always, fool that I am, believe that there is some magical, mystical corner of the world that will entirely transform the way I see the world. And I went because I like the adventure of finding such places, and I also like a good story to tell.

But I will also admit that my mind has undergone a vast overhaul in regards to love. And that I was once, when in the era of our youth when our dreams are gold,...but I was a sickly romantic believing that the stars deem who will end up with whom, and the two souls should should flit together entwined as moths in rapture before a magnficent bulb that no one understands. But now, the shards of this romantic ideal lay in pieces on the ballroom floor where the heels of deceit and realism waltz to a random, luckless music, and I see this lost dream of two hearts melded into one heart as a impossible fantasy. No, perhaps, love can spread around and be not directed towards one person. So how would a society run on such a principle? I turned towards the Mosuo, a tribe of people who from time immemorial maybe held a different understanding. I knew that a short visit wouldn't answer anything, but my curiosity propelled me towards the foothills of the Himalayas in Yunnan one bright day in late January with confusion and questions locked with but pounding with an itch for romance and adventure as usual.

But Yunnan province is festering with tourists, mostly Chinese who feel more comfortable getting their exotic doses in their country rather than venturing out. But this, of course, doesn't diminish the exoticness for the tribes that live in Yunnan province, bring just as much flare as any far-off destination. But what this does, it makes the old cities of Lijiang and Dali thriving with tourism, as well as Lugu Lake, where the Mosuo reside.

These people live surrounding a lovely, blue lake called Lugu. This lake is their spiritual center as well as this particular mountain that rises up overlooking the lake like a mistress enchanted by her own reflection. And I refer to this mountain as a mistress, rightfully so, for the locals believe it to be a goddess. -A mountain goddess that is either the physical embodiment of the mountain itself or is a purely spiritual being that lives in the mountain. Probably both. But her name was Gemu, and we will get back to her.
And there was rumored to be a temple to this Goddess nestled somewhere behind this mountain and I definitely desired to see this perhaps just as much as any of the swinging marital shenanigans.

Now onto the very subject of this madcap story and why I was without my pants and how I was picked up in my boxer briefs on that fateful day.
The sky was a daring blue, and for those of you who glance up into the naked sky and feel the spectacular dash of a bright day, the blueness awakes some deep-seated desire to go on adventures and such was that day. The birds sing of adventure, and the wind rustling through the leaves speak of it as well, but on such days the sky is so fabulously blue, where you must put one foot in front of the other to go down some unexpected path to God knows where.

So I found myself in a touristy town on the bank of the lake wondering if this was all that was in store for me, hostels and inns owned by Han Chinese, not Mosuo. All the vans packed with tourists from all the many provinces of this vast, great nation. All of them snapping photos with their Ipads with also strange tales of unchained affections whispering about their ears. And to be honest, I wanted to leave it all, the fire dance I saw the night before was a spectacular concoction of fun and frolic, but it lacked the vitality and authenticity that I longed for, when you stop to pause and consider that it was only put on for us wandering spectators.

So slinging my backpack off at an inn where I'd gotten a room, I began to climb, up and up, following the road as it zig-zagged away behind the mountains. I could see the famous little island that has all the shacks on it that is on any calendar involving Yunnan province for that quaint, little hamlet was where I was staying. But I kid you not, all those little huts in that postcardish picture are expensive hotels designing to part a Chinese tourist from his/her RMB.

And I was following this road around trying to get further and further from that postcard setting while tour vans would dart by. But a serious problem arose and every step I could feel it. The inside of my thighs were burning. No, not in the symbolic fashion. The inside seam of my jeans were scraping against the inside of my legs, what felt like it was scorching its way to the bone. A dilemma formed between my legs. Again, not THAT kind of dilemma. I wanted to hike. My heart was “Come on. Let's get over this hill. Just over this hill.” But my poor legs screamed, “No! Stop! I will have no skin left!” So I thought to negotiate between the two of them. “The next time I round a bend away from civilization into sweet Nature, I will take my pants off.” my mind said. And I was content with this plan.

And perhaps because my legs were in such pain, and I kept seeing vehicle after vehicle on this winding road with tourists piled in the seats of them, my eyes caught a glimpse of the smallest of what we would call deer paths back home in Alabama, that winded up far above the paved road and rose above the hill into the forest. “That shall be my path” I resolved. And trod up the steep hillside tracking my way through the wilderness even to the point of looking out for footprints so that I could see where the trail was. I climbed higher and higher as the lake plummeted below grew more and more majestic in its dazzling blueness. The great mountain and goddess Gemu sat to my right watching my antics calm and serene like an angel of solitude. My heart and breath shook but my legs still hurt.
When I reached the summit of the hill, the wind was heavy and the sunbeams of the day even heavier. But across the horizon on the other side stood little huts, -A village. A true Mosuo village. And off behind that where the haze of the horizon melted into the unknown, towered mountains that rapt the scene in solemn grandeur.

Alongside this vision of delight, knocked my beggarly pain of my legs. And so I paid homage to this dazzling display of sunlight and mountain sublimity, by taking my pants on off on the trail. No, I was not naked. Nope, I was not so bold OR weird. Besides, it was only the lower part of the seam of my pants that was rubbing and chaffing my skin. So I stood ontop of the hill in my boxer shorts the wind rustling about the tops of trees and my now, relieved and cooled-down thighs.
You must understand that only a few days previously, I had hiked much of Tiger Leaping Gorge, which is an impressive ravine in the area, that is recommended as one of the top hiking spots in China, not to mention, the world. Where picturesque mountains collide and the Yangtze River foaming below and a few rice terraces perched on the slopes of these mountains, the very start of the Himalayas. I had worn two pairs of pants on this excursion. A pair of jeans to keep warm, and a pair of slacks underneath the jeans to augment the early chaffing. And now, up around Lake Lugu, I had no pants on. And my legs felt remarkable cold but yet free. I took the pants off where the outlying village seemed to dump some of their trash. There I was stepping among the rubbish, desirous of making it to the hamlet and exploring it. I had to walk across a field before I got to the first house.
So somewhere, about the time I could hear the farm chickens squawking, I had put my pants back on, realizing how strange it would be not only being some random blond foreigner emerging out of the woods, but one with no pants on as well. That would be the talk of the town. My white thighs blinding everybody as I hiked across the field, so I eventually slipped my pants back on.

Walking about the village, I got a lot of stares. But I soon realized that I had not departed from the tourist scene on the other side of the hill. For there was a guesthouse or two, that were actually occupied. I began to look for a place to have lunch. I even got some food from one of these. A Han Chinese man, I think some kind of tour guide leader, was rude to me. Saying and barking at me that I should be on the other side of the hill where all the tourists were; I told him the same thing. What right does he have to be back here as well? He's not a local. I just wanted to refill my water bottle and get something to eat.
One of the locals at this guesthouse gave me a snack and told me that I didn't have to pay. I felt like a beggar. And soon as I had eaten, I left this little hamlet wanting to keeping hiking even further back behind the mountain. So I continued on.
Finding another little footpath, and hiking over another little wooded hill, I finally got what I wanted....a scene of an imposing solitude. I felt like I had left the tourist vans behind. And so, of course, I slipped my pants off again for the pain was intensifying all during my exploration of the 1st village.
And as I sauntered over this next hill, what I saw before me was like something out of a fantasy novel. A large mansion stretched itself out in utter serenity, a small lake was before it. It looked to be a house that was from another time and place. But I couldn't really tell. A fairy tale or an age dreamed about but almost forgotten. I felt like Bilbo walking out of the wilderness approaching Beorn's house. It appeared to be all alone with the Gemu Mountain towering above it.

I had the fanciful urge to knock on the massive doors of this mysterious mansion sitting in one of the most mysterious regions in the world, in yes, nothing but my boxer briefs. I am sure that the owner would be some eccentric millionaire with a brooding past, and the two of us would hit it off well together. But no one seemed home, and even in strange lands such as these, knocking on the doors of strangers without one's pants on, is probably not polite manners, and could very well start some type of conflict.

So I skirted the shore of the lake taking the scenery all in. Still Gemu Mountain eclipsed us all, myself, the smaller lake, the out-of-place mansion, forest, all. There was this dirt road stretched behind and beyond the mansion, I first saw a motorcycle and then a car zip down it. Civilization. So I decided to slip my pants back on.

“Where is that temple? I know that is back here somewhere.” my mind wandered, I had all afternoon to find it, but I didn't want to be stuck out here at night, but I had this desire to make it to this obscure temple of the dignified mountain goddess.

I followed the dusty road around, another even smaller lake. A small house next to it, eventually the road swerved around til there was no one about. Again the pain in my legs, and again I dropped my pants and slung them over my shoulder as I walked. I came upon a dazzling scene, the road hugged the very side of the massive goddess mountain, and the I could see for miles around. This is the Mosuo that few foreigners see. A few villages were scattered in a vast plain, the smoke from their hearths curling up into the beyond where the distant mountains blended into the skies.

But a problem arose. I couldn't find my hotel key. In every pocket of my pants, my cash, my bank card, my camera, etc...I could find. But not my hotel card key. It was a minor blip. It could've been worse. It could have been one of the more important things. But I had paid a deposit for the key, and now the possibility lay in the fact that this card could have slipped out when I was taking my pants off and back on again and again. So maybe retracing my steps to find where those exact places were, was the best option.

I turned around and was heading back in the direction I had come hoping that I had just left the key card in my hotel room, when an awkward situation arose. It was near the strange mansion, a jeep was driving, a trail of dust in its wake, I was walking and of course, with no pants on. What to do? What else could I do? Just pretend like everything was normal and maybe walk a little ways from the road.

But the vehicle slowed down . And then it stopped. A mature , Chinese woman who spoke perfect English called to me and asked me where I was going, while the breeze gently swept about my naked thighs.
Here, I had to make a decision and I seized on the one that pointed towards my heart's desire, adventure and intrigue....
I spoke, “ I am looking for the Temple of Gemu.”
“Get in.” she said, “I can take you there.”
And I got in carrying my trousers, my pale white legs in the passenger seat.

And that's how I ended up being picked up with no pants on hiking in the Kingdom of the Daughters. What happened from there and the rest I shall detail later...stay tuned....

Monday, April 01, 2013

Characters on a Train

Because I had gone to India, and because I had to make it to the Kumbh Mela, the largest people gathering ever recording in the world, I had to act fast and find a train as quickly as I could. Somehow with a great deal of luck, or what others may say was Providence or Karma, I managed to on my very first day in India, get a bed on a sleeper train at Central Station in Mumbai. This was unforeseeable. But like I said, something seemed to be with me throughout it, for the train was packed from engine to caboose (if Indian trains have a caboose) with mobs and mobs of people, mostly Hindu adherents who were on a lifetime journey to bathe in the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the Sarasvati and attain moksha.

Out of the entire train, there was one area of bunk beds where us foreigners sat and lay. The rest of the train was loaded with Hindu pilgrims in their shawls and turbans. And even our foreign car was made up of pilgrims as well. I was one of the few tourists going.

It was to be a long train ride across India. From Mumbai to Allahabad, cutting in a northwesterly direction through the heart of India. The length of the trip. 24 hours. I would get to know the other nearby passengers pretty well during this time.

My railroad journeying neighbors included 2 devotees of the Hare Krishna sect. One was Nepalese and blended in with the locals, though he was considered a foreigner, I guess, and so was with us. He slept on the top bunk and rarely spoke to us. His other sect brother was from Kazakhstan and spoke strong Russian. And I could understand bits of what he was yelling in the phone whenever he phoned anybody. Both of these guys took to each other very well. I don't think they knew each other before. But because they were of the same creed. they spent their time on the top, 3rd, bunk chatting away for large chunks of our train time. The Hare Krishnas are sort of the charismatics of the Hindu faith. They are mostly young followers and hyper evangelical. Usually, a type of hippie, I believe they have the highest following among non-Indians. They dress in a similar scrub outfits, and they bear the same haircut, their heads cropped close around, however with a little tuft or pig tail sprig on the back of their heads. This is so Lord Krishna can snatch them out of the life cycle by the back of their hair.

Then there was this soft-spoken Venezuelan who was an artist. He didn't speak much at all either, and kind of kept to himself. He was a tourist like me.

And then there were the guys that kind of made up the bulk of the conversations. Mainly, two fellows who were on pilgrimage. One was a middle-aged man originally from California. A tall, lanky fellow with a guru growing beard and hair. He currently lived in Mumbai and studied under a guru or baba that was to be at the Mela. This American had been an actor and had starred in some commercials in his life and done odd acting jobs ever since. He was the stereotypical Hollywood gone New Age Movement. And here he was bounding on a train with us.

His good friend, was an actual Indian, but because he decided to take the trip at the last minute, and he being friends with the American, he rode in our area, and as I found out later didn't have a bed but slept on the floor. A very friendly man, who was also an actor and had been in actual TV shows and soap operas and stage performances in Mumbai. These two thespians were very sincere and interesting to talk to. I will call them Hollywood and Bollywood from now on. And most the conversations revolved around them.

Then there was another tourist on his way to Varanasi, a Belgian, named Anthony who had spent the past 3 and a half years traveling and working mostly in food services around Australia, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia. He was soon to be back home in Belgian but just before, he decided on an adventure in India. He had this big red knit hat that kept his coiled dreadlocks and made his hat a noticeable bulb. I immediately took to the guy.

We all headed on this rickety train towards the Kumbh Mela, what was, as both Hollywood and Bollywood claimed to be, the absolute salvation of our souls.
Now that I've given you the characters...I will give you the happenings in the next installment...
Til then....

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Why I Went to India

It was way back in South Korea when I first heard the call of India. The trump of Ganesha's trunk, Krishna's enticement with his flute, the Brahma bulls bellowing out into the lands and customs older than the mountains and back again. And other such poetic tomfoolery. But at that time then, the news of the rains and the monsoon season made travels in India a bit impractical. So I put if off. India is a place older than most of the cities in Europe, it certainly won't go anywhere.
And the fascination grew as all small seeds hid subtly away from the conscious mind often does, it sort of sprouts and buds, and then one day blossoms. And of course, withers...But about the blossoming first.

Actually, to be fair, I was enchanted by India way back in 6th grade when I memorized the main dice-players of the Hindu cosmology. I don't know why, other than I wanted to be an archaeologist or anthropologist at that age, and that such mysticism called to me. The Greek pantheon was actually taught in my school. But the Hindu one was all hush hush. Even though, it is still a vibrant system in this current age still followed.
Nope, I do not suggest an imperial dogmatic stance against these far off themes of Asia. I believe that the Eastern world was so far removed from the imaginations and criteria of our education that there was simply not enough time to educate us on the East, for our Western Canon nobody really remembers anyways this day and age. But there was this whole other realm in a whole another land cut off from our Western perceptions. I am not merely talking about India only, but about all of Asia. Most especially China. Which has me living here now.
Little did I know in 6th grade that the West had taken a great interest in the East not even half a century before I was looking at these deities as though no one had any clue what they were. This was in the pop form of the New Age culture. Which probably leaves all types of misinformation and stereotypes on the matter. Though, perhaps George Harrison's sitar was its best representative, maybe.

By the time, that I made up my mind to go to India on my month long break out of the Chinese University, I had already been to Nepal. But this was some time ago, and I was so exhausted back then after hiking through the Himalayas, that I didn't give it a proper romp of exploration. And then there was Bali, which just kicked me in the face with fascination with the strong Indian influence there. But soon enough, I would go to the mother of it all. India.

I had prepared for this by reading a 2nd time Herman Hesse's “Siddhartha” and I was trying to make it through Rudyard Kipling's “Kim” (of which I'm still not finished), trying to whet my appetite for India. I had also been engrossed in a Chinese classic novel about a group of supernatural pilgrims, mainly the Monkey King, who travel from ancient China to what is sacred to them, ancient India, in search of the Buddhist sutras. The name of this work is “Journey to the West” and it has filled my imagination up with the rich lore of China and hence, a pinch of the lore of India. In many ways, I wanted to retrace my own Journey to the West. Even though, it was really in a philosophic trajectory, a journey to the heart of the East...for my Western mind.

When I was in Korea, it seemed that you could scratch the surface and find bits and pieces of ancient China lingering, and I knew that I wanted to move to China. For it greatly captivated me. But yet during my short time spent in Buddhist Monasteries and Temples in both Korea and China, the more I began to realize that I was scratching the surface of concepts and themes that were a great deal Indian in origin. And this fascinated me also.

But of course, I procrastinated when in China. And the time came when I should get an Indian Visa and I realized that it seemed a far more complicated thing than I could imagine. I dread paper work and this was the sort of thing that made your muscles knot with anxiety when looking at the online regulations and all that Visa stuff. So I was on the verge of postponing the visit again. India will always be there. The place is older than the red clay back home in Alabama. Plus, I don't want to be rushed but be able to enjoy it. So I was torn in indecision between an easy hop to other destinations in Southeast Asia AND the hassle of getting to India.

But one day, during one of my classes here, a student asked me what I planned on doing during my break in front of the class, and I announced that I would really like to go to India. Several “oohhs and aahhs” issued forth for India exists in the Chinese imagination in quite a different way. But then I told the class, that I really wasn't sure if I could manage to go.
After class, I get this note passed up to me by one of those various anonymous faces that makes up the bulk of these Chinese classes and its this girl who admitted that she was going to India this school break too and that I had to go...because this big festival was going to take place...the biggest festival in the world and it would be a shame to miss out on it.

I stared at that note and thought, that “I must go to India now.”
I went home and researched what festival was going on at this time. Its called the Kumbh Mela and this specific one only happens every 12 years. Being a person who always feels like I ought to be a part of something huge, impossible to describe and fathom, I could not postpone this trip.
Not only was this thing only happening every 12 years at the specific location of Allahabad, but it involves this mysterious legend that speaks of a big battle between the demigods and demons in the sky over the nectar of immortality, the amrita, in which during the fight, drops of the elixir fell out of the sky and fell into 4 separate locations in the river causing the rivers to become holy. Allahabad or Prayag was one of these locations. And it was where the mixture of 3 important rivers in India intersect, the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the mythical Sarasvati. So millions upon millions of Hindus flock to this location to bathe in the holy waters which ensures a type of salvation. In fact, this specific Kumbh Mela isn't just ever 12 years, but every 144 years. Something that only lucky generations would know. And I knew that I couldn't miss the opportunity.

Of course, I had several things to do in order to go. I had to get that Indian Visa and from the looks of the Indian Embassy in Guangzhou, China (the closest one to me.) it seemed nothing short of a migraine to do. And as most bureaucratic nonsense goes, I put it off. Until it was going to be too late.

So what did I do? I researched other cities in the general direction of India to see how effortless their Indian Embassies catered to people who are kind and willing enough to pump their crippled Indian economy with tourist money, and in return, should be reciprocated with a fast, easy Visa system. But of course, this was impossible with anything concerning India, as I found out later. So it looked like my chances of getting an efficient run through the Indian Embassy was better in Bangkok than in Guangzhou. Or so, I thought.

I straightway bought a round trip ticket to Bangkok, thinking that I will stage my month long sojourn this way in a sort of fallback. This way, if my efforts at securing passage to India fell through, I wouldn't be at a huge disappointment for I'd already be in an interesting place.

So my whole time in Thailand was merely a stopover, in order to get that Indian Visa. India was my main goal and target for the Spring Festival. My serendipitous adventures in Thailand, of which I have been laboriously writing about was actually my “waiting” appetizer before I got to the main meal of India. I was just killing time in Thailand and I happened on a pretty nifty adventure altogether and would have sufficed even if I hadn't gone to India.

But now, I will tell of my travels in India. Of what I found there. Of what I didn't find there. Of the Kumbh Mela, the crazy train rides, the Hindus ambling through the streets, the chaotic energy.

Stay tuned...  

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tiger Temple

It was first mentioned to me long after I had ever been to Thailand the first time. But the description, or at least the image that my mind painted after the few scant words that I heard about it, captivated me and I made a note that if I were to ever go back to Thailand I should visit Tiger Temple.
Some friends of mine in Korea told me that there was this Buddhist temple in Thailand where the fiercest of animals, tigers were kept as pets and they roamed the temple grounds where the Buddhist monks, as their homage to all living beings, watched after them. It was a powerful image of a bald, shaved happy monk sitting side by side this spectacular jungle beast both colors of orange from the fur of the tiger and from the robe of the monk shining in the sun, the monk reaching over to pet the sleeping tiger, and the sound of chanting while the tiger sits coolly down smelling nothing blood-enticing, only incense smoke. There are a few things more inspiring as a way of life that calms the ferocity of human instinct, but picture a way of life that also calms the ferocity of base animal instincts with all its growling and blood-craving; this is something sacred, and awe-inspiring.

So for my stay in Thailand, this was my one main goal as far as tourism goes. And I guess I didn't know what to expect, for I had pictured it being far remote and one would have to slash through a jungle mountain trail to get to this perhaps, half hidden location. But I was wrong for when I got to the city of Kanchanaburi, or even before in Bangkok, I could see that this location was aptly advertised and that it was definitely a tourist vehicle. But I went regardless. The image changed somewhat to mystical monks meditating alongside serene tigers to people being able to pose and take photos of the tigers.

The day I was to go, a truck picked me up and I piled in the back along with other tourists from various places. One was an Italian family who was composed of a father, mother, and son. The boy wanted to know if I was a cowboy when he found out I was from America. There were two Swedish girls who were on some type of scuba diving trip and both were animal activists, and then either an Australian couple or a British one, I couldn't tell for they were very quiet, and then this one guy who seemed Spanish, but I am not sure about him either. And we were whisked away towards this mystical Tiger Temple that I am sure that we all had heard about. Everyone had their cameras ready.

When we got there our taxi truck driver looked at my red t-shirt and made some comment, and next took off this blue button-up shirt that he was wearing and handed it to me. He told me it was necessary that I had to wear this. I not knowing the cause, didn't argue but put on the shirt of this man. He stood grinning with his missing teeth and his undershirt with holes in it. I guessed that it had something to do with the tigers and so complied and put it on.

The Tiger Temple was a more of a zoo, or a tourist park than the mystical image I had in my head. Buses were parked everywhere, postcards and t-shirts were being sold, and ice cream was being consumed. The price to get into the park was a steep one for Thailand, but I don't think it was a rip off.

A considerable walk and we were in Tiger Canyon where all the petting tigers were assembled. And this was the main tourist punch. The main draw to the Tiger Temple was clearly not just the tigers themselves, but more or so the picture that you would have posing with the tiger. That was the main allure and the main reason people probably ventured to this obscure region away from the River Kwai. And that would be the main motivation afterwards, “Look here. I am posing with this tiger.” SNAP. Goes the camera and you are off back to the tourist truck or bus.

Tourists crowded the area, along with workers and volunteers. Their job was to lead you around to the various tigers that were chained to the ground as they lay bathing in the sun half asleep, some fully asleep. You were led by hand around behind these sleeping predators and told that this was the only way to approach them for to get near them in front of their faces you risked agitating the tiger. Seeing the tigers like this and all the other tourists and workers bumbling about the place, it sort of robbed you of the moment, definitely of the image I had in my head. I saw plenty of tigers, but I barely saw a Buddhist monk.

After this Tiger Canyon we were led to other areas. One place was a pit where the tigers were at play. They even allowed people in the pit with these more lively felines. But once one of the tigers started to get a little too playful, they had this stick with a redshirt on it and the tiger would turn its attention to the shirt dummy, chasing it quite savagely with claws and teeth swiping it. It was supposed to ward the tigers away. And at that, I fully understood the implication that wearing my red T-shirt would have been, and was glad that my driver had been so kind.

There were loads of other animals about the place. Like pigs, cattle, ox, chickens, goats, and these animals just ran about freely. There were some fat sun bears in a cage.
Though, these oxen or a type of water buffalo ran the scene. In many ways they were more dangerous than the tigers. I almost got knocked down by one when this feeding truck came up with various vegetables and workers started to hurl these to the oxen, which nearly caused a stampede.

Nope, the tigers that we petted were much more sedate. The workers at this place swear that the tigers are not drugged, but many people come away with the impression that they are drugged. And research on the net doesn't really confirm one over the other. (As all internet research tends to.) But there have been no proof of them being drugged. But still many people think that these big cats are ill treated. And I am first to admit that I don't know what to believe. It is true that big cats sleep up to 16 hours of the day, and that is during the middle of the day, the exact time that we were petting them. But it does seem like a huge liability risk to allow so many people to come in with normal tigers allowing them to walk about them. They are in chains, but just a quick swipe with their paw and that's something gruesome. How is it that tigers are trained so well, when most people can't even train their dogs to behave so well? And it is obvious that the place runs on tourism and for the commercial aspect. This is quite the controversy. At what point is it cruel to animals to use them for financial gain? Are they not saving these tigers from the poachers? They fed the animals and take care of them, what more does a tiger want? Freedom? Is that just a concept that is in a human head? There are so many questions that this poses.

We left the place, but not before a massive herd of those oxen go running past the gate. On the main road. And there was no stopping them. It reminded me of the Running of the Bulls. And apparently these other animals could do anything they really wanted to. Meanwhile, our truck waited forever for one of the tourists that rode with us to come out. While we waited for ages, I noticed all the other tourists walked about the place and many of them looked interesting. One guy with a mohawk and black steel boots had on a T-shirt that read “Fuck You” in big bold letters. He was arguing with his girlfriend or some lady, I do belief. And everything bespoke this certain douchey attitude with him. Why on earth would you wear such a shirt to a temple in Asia where respect goes a long way? Sometimes, I think people are the most untameable creatures on this earth.  

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Aftermath of the Thai Island Adventure; Involving Plots of Betrayal and Intrigue

At a small bus station in the city of Trat we all split up. The rollicking healing extravaganza and the chaotic jungle romps had come to an end. I had to get back to Bangkok to pick up my passport with its brand new Visa for India, and Jeorgen had to get back to his home in Pattaya. Nina and her driver and the driver's wife all had a few more things to tend to back on the island dealing with her land and probably dealing with more random, accupressure treatments...but it was time I departed. I had spent over a week along the sides of these generous people and I was duly rewarded with rich experiences and lasting friendships and perhaps something of a story to tell. I had seen a good deal more of Thailand that most beachcombers and cocktail-sipping tourists don't get to see AND I had seen the mysterious power of chi work with its almost immediate result on people, something that I had been curious about for some time. I now have a place to stay in Thailand for the future and I, of course, got to help other people.

I recall one night, when trying to doze off to sleep with the Stoic Jeorgen passed out beside me and Nina on the other, and Nina and I began talking. She asked me how long I wanted to live. And before I could give a definitive answer, she mentioned that she was very much of the persuasion that a person could live to 130, if not longer, if they will it and if they are into the unblocking of chi flow. And that her family has extreme longevity and that she wanted to start a colony of ancient folk in Thailand, probably on this very land where we were conducting her business. She invited me. Saying that she could perform the right accupressure. If I understood correctly, and it could be for direct translating is difficult when dealing with nebulous terms, but it appeared to me that Nina had some sort of secret knowledge on prolonging one's life, or perhaps, as a later conversation revealed, she was at least in search of it. Then she asked if I would ever move to Thailand. That she could find me a teaching job here. I told her that I was uncertain for I never know much about where I am going or how long I am staying there, and right now I am wrapped up in China.
But possibly. And I added, “Okay, when I am age 80 and if I have nothing holding me back, I will move to Thailand. Because if it is possible for me to live til 130 and that is the plan, then at 80, I would still be in my prime.” We laughed about this all, though it made me deeply curious. Who isn't tempted to entertain the possibility of an abnormally long life?

I left the province of Trat and eventually went to India. But I will get into that as well in future posts. But for the time being, I have been hinting at an occurrence of absolute betrayal that happened in these tales and I think its only fair that I turn my attention to that.

After my time in India, I had a two day layover in Thailand. This time, I would definitely stay in Bangkok for I was sick and was just going to relax. But I had caught word that Nina was also in Bangkok so we met up. She was with the usual crew, the driver, his wife, her cousin all...except for Jeorgen who was nestled comfortably back in his home in Pattaya. Everyone comments that I seemed to have lost weight. I hadn't even been gone 2 weeks and it was visible.
While we follow Nina around, again she was going to different banks and offices trying to deal with her land situation, she relates to me the curious turn of events that shocked me.
It turns out the host of the house of where we were staying at, this boss-like lady that we all referred to as Mama, who took us in and fed us and took us to parties and allowed us to sleep in her house, (you can read about this in the Thai Hospitality post), but she had tried to steal the land from Nina. Not in any subtle way, but in a glaringly awful way that would be plain to everyone that she had stolen it.

This Mama supposedly had some pull with the small, local government there. (Recall the party with the mayor) and she knew “someone” who had changed the name on the Title of the Land. So Nina's named was erased and in its place was scrawled the treacherous name of Mama. It was a move that would be apparent. And Mama had such confidence in the matter, that she thought that Nina could do nothing..for the name on the paper was the proof and nothing else mattered. Ordinarily this would have sunk any other original owner of the land, but not Nina. She persisted and by her own luck and charisma she had already built herself up a wide circle of important people in the government (remember the visits to the governor) to vie for her in the area. Mama even had the audacity to try and have Nina arrested for being on her own land. But Nina, once again, wriggled out of this situation and when she was taken “downtown” this 2nd time, she once again feasted with the officers and government clerks and amused them and probably performed her acupressure on them, and was let go again with smiles and laughter. It makes me think back to the first time she was taken in, it was because someone had tipped the police that someone was building in the jungle, and now that unknown act of malice, points directly at Mama. (And to think that I could have very well been implicated in this bit and sat in a Thai cell at least for a few days because of this).
But of course, Nina was caught up in this law suit over the land when last I saw her. She was hopeful, being the ever persistent optimist. And I left Thailand with the heavy weight of cynicism laying on me, for before, I had the impulse of singing this Thai families praise for all the hospitality that we received and how they opened up their homes to us, now all this was crushed and turned into this smoldering sense of disgust.

I waited in curious anticipation what was to be the outcome and finally after I returned back to China, I heard the final denouement of the affair, after a few messages written back and forth between Nina and I, the land is okay and everything is going well. And if I understand her last letter, she's helping open a restaurant. Of course, this shouldn't surprise me too much. “She”, as Jeorgen said “always landed on her feet.” And who knows maybe when I turn 80 I may really join this ragtag colony of slowly aging elders.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

By the Request of the Siamese Government

The shack that was being hurriedly built on Nina's land out in the rainforest was completed in the niche of time. There was an impromptu request of the governor's family that they requested another healing session from Nina. As the late afternoon had wore itself out, I had grown impatient with the whole bit and finding out that this appearance of a toilet had to be built before we left for the governor's, I worked laboriously digging the pit. (The only bit of work that I felt like I actually contributed to). As the last tin was slapped on the side of the shelter, we rushed off towards the port to catch the very last ferryboat of the day.

The sky had turned dark charcoal and the last boat was leaving at 7 pm. I had said my final farewell to the Thai family that had kept us on the island. Jeorgen, the retired Dane and I were again accompanying Nina on another healing spree with the governor's family. A 2nd visit, to the Princess' mansion was in order. And we had to catch the ferry at the precise time to get back. Mama, the head of the household where we were staying on the island was wondering where we would stay for the night once we got to the mainland and at this, none of us knew. But one thing was certain, I was leaving the island for good for I had to pick up my passport in Bangkok from the Indian Embassy.
As the ferryboat plowed its way across the waters, I could see the island of Chang mounting as a dark shadow behind the twinkling lights reflecting on the water. I mused over the past week to myself content with everything.

We were at the governor's mansion again, this time it was getting late for visits to these elderly people at the stroke of 8. The bustle in the small city of Trat had died down and Jeorgen and I were once again conducted to the patio chairs and table over to the side of the vast, wooden-floored porch where we sat for probably over an hour. Nina was inside tending to the private business of the governor.
Jeorgern and I were getting all our blood drained out by feisty mosquitoes that just arrived to reek vengeance on the visitors to the mansion. I got to the point, in my extreme ennui of trying to kill as many of the pests as I could with quick movements. It was never as many as I'd like to think I could catch. It awfully seemed that this was the most mosquitoes that I had ever seen assembled during my time in all of Thailand. This includes the night before, slaving away in the dark of the jungle. And here on the front porch of one of the Princess' mansion I am getting feasted upon.
We heard nothing from the inside of the patio, nor did we have much clue again on what was going on. Just as I had had enough of slapping and squashing, Nina appeared with her usual broad, beaming smile accompanied by the bodyguard lady from our first visit. And as we made our departure, I saw a figure inside, an old man who had never seen before who seemed from his bearing to be highly important, he greeted us a dignified Thai greeting and we made sure we bowed lower than he.
This was the patriarch of the governor's household who was married to the lady that Nina had first attended to. And he had some ailments that needed addressing, and Nina was their with her acupressure probably making him wince and bite his lips like everyone else who feel into her hard healing hands.

It was announced to us, since we were with Nina, and it was late that we had nothing to worry about accommodations for the night. We were to be promptly fed and then conducted to the lodging for the night. The bodyguard lady guided us all to a restaurant where she ordered plate after plate. I was getting the hang of the giant fish with the head still intact. But she somehow thought that we would all be drinking beer. So she ordered a few. Jeorgen doesn't drink, and the Thai driver who usually loves a brew, had to decline for he was driving. So all the beer went to me. And I really think that sometimes both in Thailand and China, that it is common for the locals to see how much the white man can drink. She kept filling my glass up while my face turned scarlet. And we loaded back into the wagon car and went to the outskirts of town where a motel type of accommodation was waiting for us. And of course, everything was paid for by the Thai government. But Jeorgen, and I had to share a room. While Nina, the driver, and the driver's wife shared another duplex. I was dead tired and just laid in bed, and it was in that instant that the mind seizes a particular moment to have the funny thought that what if I just woke up to my surroundings without knowing how I got here, for that moment Jeorgen, a 66 year old Danish man, walks out of the bathroom wearing a pair of Speedos. And gets in the large bed with me. The lights cut off and I fall fast asleep perhaps chuckling to myself as I drift out of consciousness.

More to follow....

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Nocturnal Romps of Jungle Hard Labor

While the healing bit was taking off and while the visiting to all types of people both the common and lowly to the high government officials, the deal with the land on the island was also running full steam ahead and I could barely keep up with which day we would deal with which situation. For my whole series of anecdotes involve either these almost mystical healing visits OR the case for Nina's land in the jungle. And of course, both these revolved around the woman and personality of my friend, Nina.

It happened that one late afternoon we were all back on the island and near Nina's land that bordered the crazy Australian and the waterfall, just at what I thought was a happy glance at the boundaries again. When strange workmen began to show up with their heavy trucks, that could actually ford the stream, and they would drop down timber or other miscellaneous building materials in the middle of the rainforest floor. They crossed the Aussies yard to get to the area of the forest where we were at, and something told me that luckily he wasn't home for I don't think he'd like the idea of all these strangers buzzing about his land with building supplies and pickup trucks making tire ruts on what was near his yard.

The sun was already arching and making its downward slope towards the horizon, the mosquitoes were emerging at the approaching twilight, and there was talk that we were going to be moving some of these supplies around a creek and up a hill, but of this I was not very certain, again, all discussions being mostly in Thai. But stealing a quick glance at the departing pink colors of the afternoon sky, gave me hope in the fall of the evening and how any laborious efforts out in the jungle would certainly cease with the departure of the fireball of light in the sky. “Nope, given an hour, I won't be slapping mosquitoes anymore.” so I thought.

But OH...How wrong I was......

Nina kept saying something about working through the night in the jungle with the mosquitoes and she'd laugh. At this, I couldn't understand. Was she joking? Because I thought that she was going to hire some workers, some real builders to build a shelter out here. But apparently she was in a hurry and couldn't wait for the professionals, so WE were to do it.

It was explained to me a little bit by Nina, and a little bit by Jeorgen that in order for her to get an address on this land, she had to have a building on her land. This building had to have a roof and a bathroom, that was it. So any makeshift construction would do. She had to hurry and get an address soon for the Thai government could very well take the land if she hadn't an address on it, and seeing how this plot of land was right next to a National Park, she was intent on building through the night. I don't know why she wanted it the very next day. Perhaps, she knew something that I didn't.

To my dread, everyone present began to bustle and get to transporting these supplies to the very spot of the rainforest where this little hut was to be constructed. It's like they didn't see the point in waiting til the morning, when daylight would be a big provider for all of us, but everyone seemed ecstatic to be toiling through the night in the middle of the jungle.

Before we began any building, and right when dusk is filling the sky with gray haze, we discovered some new neighbors. They approached out of the twilight. A couple in their forties. It was as though they had just emerged from out of the jungle. The lady had just taken a shower and had a towel wrapped around her but this didn't stop them from a hearty salutation. She beamed her smile very big. They lived up the hill in a little shack as well and when we first saw them I thought they would object to such toil and effort in their quiet neck of the woods. It turns out this couple were not Thai, but Burmese.
Nina would often refer to them as the mountain people. At first, I thought it was referring to the slight inclination of a hill that they lived on that lead up to a nearby mountain, but now I figure that it was that they were from the mountains of Burma and were supposedly hearty, rustic folk. At which they proved over and over again. I don't know what Nina said to them. I would suppose that she had never met them nor had any connection to them, they were just living in the jungle near her land, but Nina has this exceptional power at drawing people together to do something that they ordinarily wouldn't do. Again, I was proof of this.

These Burmese mountain folk seemed to be delighted to help out with the construction of the shack. It was almost as though they were only in the forest waiting for someone to ask them to build a shack in the middle of the night, for they took up the enterprise with enthusiasm and gusto that made me annoyed in that nobody, not even these Mountain Folk, saw the futility of building in the dark when we weren't professionals.
They immediately ran to their hut and came back decked from head to toe in work clothes, the long sleeves and everything to protect themselves from the ravaging mosquitoes that were getting to be a nuisance. They both looked like ecstatic kids at Christmas but they had hacksaws and various other tools in their hands instead of toys.

We were told to clear a part of the land. And I thought that okay soon, we will be out of here. Because I couldn't see what land exactly was to be clear in the dark of the forest. I had Nina's Ipad notebook as the only scant source of light, glowing among the leafs and nocturnal flora. Mosquitoes were attacking us and we were even cutting down little trees and pulling up vines. It was all making an awful lot of noise out in the night. If anybody heard us they probably thought an elephant was tromping about the place. I had set my mind that it was way too dark to build anything and once we finished clearing the building space, we would be out of here. But again, to my vexation and surprise as soon as we were done clearing the space, We began to haul large planks of wood across a creek. “What are we doing?!” I thought. “Why can't we just wait til daylight?” But on and on we worked liked ants thriving on such unrelenting industry. Mountain Lady was the most enthusiastic worker. She especially liked cutting down trees with some bizarre relish. And laughing at me as I held the tiny flashlight that I don't think she even needed.

And then they began to dig holes in the ground to place these large planks in. I felt absurd. I mean, I wasn't doing anything, but holding the lights. Which were now the ipad, and two little flashlights. Jeorgen was doing the same. And this gave me consolidation for Jeorgen is an engineer and if that's all he felt comfortable doing, than I felt rest assured it was okay for me to be standing there holding a light for the hardcore Mountain Lady. The truth of the matter was that I had no idea how to build a house. And to even guess at how to do so would be disastrous. But the light holding was a small matter, in fact, I felt that there wasn't any point for me being there. And I was only holding the light because there was nothing left for me to do. So as soon, as the next phase of the building occurred, the latching of the side wooden planks, I will steal away and go to bed. Sorry. I hated to abandon them, but I didn't have a clue as to what I was doing or really what they wanted done. For if you moved anything, they would come over and move it in a different direction. Everything was in Thai and Jeorgen and I had no concept of what their overall vision was.

So I sort of slipped out of the jungle that night. I didn't have a light with me, having the good nature to leave it behind,  but I walked past the Aussie's house that loomed cavern-like in the darkness, and recalled him talking about his pitbull and I was glad that they were all gone on some long trip, pitbull included.

When I got to the stream that we had to ford, I just kicked off my shoes and waded straight through the waters to the other side trying to guess where my next step would be by my toes slipping against the river stones. No lights twinkling in the rippling wake of the water for there was few lights to actual twinkle. I just had to guess. I got to the other side and walked back to the house we were all staying at. I slept relatively well that night. My conscience didn't bother me too bad about ducking out of that work. Except for the blasted neighbor's dog that was once again barking about.

The next morning, my dutiful subconscious woke me up very early. And I went to investigate their building progress. But of course, first a morning coffee and breakfast.

When I arrived back at the area, they had constructed the wooden framework to not a small shelter. It was substantially spacious by Thai standards, though they had only tied on these with little plastic ties. They were busy in the morning glow climbing on top of these boards.  I found out that they had likewise retired for the evening soon after I had left the night before to the Mountain Folk's shack and had all slept there for the night.

And the dawn of this day, we began to move tin siding and to try to construct a type of roof. One piece almost fell off and beheaded me. Those things are sharp. Well, I say, “we” but for the most part I was just holding up tin sheets of metal to make a wall. However, something occurred which I wasn't present to see, which was about to be a complication in the building. Someone had reported our activity and little did I know that building anything in the jungle was breaking the law. We were involved in illegal activity the night before. I don't why this was a law. So Nina was taken, in a sense, to what we call “downtown”. But I had left the construction that day by then, so I wasn't present to see this. Of course, Nina being who she was, she ended up befriending the high official and the people in power who took her in. So they fed her a sumptuous feast and she laughed and joked with them, and I'd imagine probably performed her famed acupressure. And she was released and told to finish the building as soon as she could. She joked about this encounter when I saw her again. But still it made us wonder WHO it was that had reported the illegal activity of building in the jungle at night?

More to come....