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

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....

Monday, March 11, 2013

My Time as the Bodyguard for the Healer of the Governor of the Princess's House of Thailand

Then the day arrived when we probably got as far as a serendipitous foreigner could possibly go in the winding, spiraling government circles and ruling high horses. We were invited to the princess's house. Now, a word of explanation: We were not going to meet the princess of Thailand herself. This would be an honor only bestowed upon the most deserved and celebrated.
Ah, for you must know the political attitude of the Thai people. Nearly Thailand alone, out of all the countries that I've traveled to, seems to respect and hold in their hearts and mantle shelves a place and a portrait of their beloved King whom they esteem with the highest respect and devotion. In this respect, it was like stepping into an age past when having a leader meant a legitimate reverence that was due. Nowadays, being leader just means you will have a party of grumblers, whiners, and just plain bitchiness nibbling at your back, nothing of devotion. It doesn't matter which side is leading, Obama, Bush, Clinton, the other Bush, the complaints will start and never stop because everyone is an expert,.....especially at complaining. Democracy is great in that we will choose our own leader, but not so great in getting anyone to follow the leader after he or she is chosen. (Maybe the same could be said about our marriages too). I don't know, my ignorance may tarnish the truth a bit, but it seems to me from looking at the annals of history that the greatest kingdoms were just that because the people had a deep-found devotion to the person who led. This could be the greatest or the worst thing.

But enough soapbox; there are enough home-rigged soapboxes on the net already. Before many of you get paranoid and state that I am advocating blind dictatorships and fascism, or some such nonsense. But the truth is, things fall apart when...well, things fall apart and nobody can unite under any authority. Even stating this, it sounds anti-American. But if America is only about revolution against an authority figure...then it is only a mere movement of a swift 200 years, and not a lasting country.

But in Thailand, it seems that everyone loves and respects their leader. (It seems. My observation was short-sighted, I'll admit.) Every single house that I went to had numerous and very large portraits of the king in his very long reign. However, his reign, the longest current monarchy in the world, was not without coups and a few question marks. But it seems that the majority consensus is that he is a good king, or even a great king. And at age 86 one of the oldest monarchs as well. Older than the Queen of England.
And you can hardly step a few feet within Thailand without realizing what he looks like. A man who looks more like a botanist than a ruling monarch. His picture is all over billboard signs and their money. (Of which it is an illegal offense to step on any money). Even going to the cinemas in Thailand, is a cultural event to sit through, instead of watching just previews before the main viewing, you get to experience a full national anthem with a bunch of footage of the king designed to capture his and the nation's splendor.

So to mix in any circles of the king or his royal family was among the highest honors that a Thai could hope for. He currently has 4 children, the oldest of which is the princess at a ripe age around 60. And the house that we were going to was hers. Well, not her only one. I am sure that she had many houses spread around the various provinces of Thailand that she would visit on her exhausting tours across the nation. But she was coming very soon, the next day, in fact, to the province of Trat and the ruling family of that province. The King, as of late, has been sick and so doesn't tour like he used to, so these visiting honors were conducted by the next generation.

However, the house that the princess was to visit was also holding a few sick people, so they called Nina and requested that she come immediately to conduct her amazing acupressure to the matriarch of the family. Nina had already been there before, at some point in her sojourn at which I am not sure when and won the hearts and admiration of this ruling family, which was no surprise. So they asked her to make a 2nd visit the day before the princess was to arrive to get the elderly mother in tip top shape to properly host the Princess of Thailand.
This required us to cross over from the island via ferryboat and back to the mainland where the city of Trat sat as the provincial head of the region. I rode for the long haul, once again, in the back of the pickup truck. Not necessarily the most proper way to visit a Princess' house and the head family of the province, knowing that my hair was going to be ransacked by the wind. But it was Southeast Asia, so at least I had on a shirt.

Nina laughed and joked with both Jeorgen and I, about us being her own private bodyguards since day one and throughout all our adventures together to various people that she met. But she joked with us even more so now, for we were going probably where most visitors would have bodyguards. I told her that she could indeed call me that. In fact, I insisted that she did. And I am sure that she had to tell them something impressive for, the fact that I had really only known her for 5 or 6 days now, and she was trusting me to be led behind Thai government buildings. What? Tell the family that I was some straggling backpacker that she only met on the ferryboat? Don't be ridiculous. I don't know what she told the family, it being in Thai and in private, but I hope it was that I was her bodyguard or maybe it was that I was her autobiographer. Which I am actually now turning into.

We got to the main government building of the city and picked up this lady of some high security office, who seemed to be good friends with Nina, as half the people she met did, and we had dinner which was paid for by this robust-looking, smiling and jovial security woman. Nina said that this lady was the governor's bodyguard just as we were her bodyguard. She never stripped searched us, just bought us food and smiled very big at us.

Next stop was the Princess' mansion, which was more like an old-fashioned mansion that you will find in some sleepy, small Southern U.S. town. They had the front porch with screen doors going and the air was thick and humid like back home. Though, before we pulled into the drive we had to pass a security booth, like a sentry man with a machine gun, who checked the car out and directed the parking. The security lady and Nina headed to the front of the house, we were told to sit under the house. Here, the house was raised up a level where cars could park underneath. There were military personnel scattered about the places, some jeeps, cars and motorcycles all local militia. But they conducted Joergen, the driver, the cousin, and I to a couch in front of a TV that was underneath the shade of the house. And I figured that was going to be as far as I would see of the princess' house, and I began to get engrossed in some awful Hollywood movie with Nicolas Cage in it that was dubbed in Thai, when we were beckoned. Well, Jeorgen and I to the front porch.

There she was. The aged matriarch of this governing family. An elderly female who was dressed like a front-pew sitting church lady. She had Nina at her feet and a member of her family at her side. And house servants flitting about the place with glasses of water and other such stuff.

They lead Jeorgen and I across the patio to the opposite side where empty wicker chairs sat. That was after we greeted this regal lady. Jeorgen did this by making his bow extra low and his clasped hands extra sincere, which he was really good at. I had forgotten this essential slowness and I had run back to the lady to carry out the full custom in delicate sincerity. A quick bow doesn't cut it when dealing with governing families, and I was block-headed to forget it. But the family probably took no notice for I was just a tall, blond “farang”.

When we shuffled over to the other side of the large, spacious porch, one of the servants brought us water and a bunch of snacks on the table before us. We dined on these cookies and cakes, and talked low among ourselves not wanting to interrupt what was going on. Nina was massaging this old lady's muscles and tendons and she was crying out what sounded like all kinds of nasty things. I don't know how Nina found the confidence to go pinching this important lady's arm flab and sore tendons. I don't know what was said in Thai but it sounded like strong reprimands issuing from the lips of the woman who once probably commanded legislatures, bureaucrats, and military captains, and if she had never commanded them, her being the wife and mother, she probably commanded the people who did command these people. I mean, I suppose this was the type of thing that would get people beheaded in some other time and place. Somebody going up to a ruling power and pulling on their hamstrings and arm nerves making them shout in angery and pain. But Nina was well-respected with this family and this wasn't her first session with this lady.

Jeorgen and I sat complacently wondering about the Princess's visit. When the son of the lady, I think the youngest and therefore not the one in the government seat now, came over to us and introduced himself to us. He was a pharmacist as an occupation, though he's stopped practicing to take care of his ailing parents. A very nice man who looked in his 50's or so.

We departed the Princess' house on good standing with the governor's family and crossed back over the waters and waves til we returned to our stay on the Island of Chang.

More to follow....

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Party Time with the Mayor and His Cronies

One night on the island, after being carted around from healings and land settlements, the plans for the evening were similar to plans of the day and that was to hop in the back of the Thai family's pickup truck with little reason other than some nebulous visit we were to make. As usual, I had no idea what to expect. But obeyed with curiosity and easy-going lustre.

This time a large group from the local family was going along with us. The whole household, even the cook. So we piled in the back of their shiny gray pick up and it went bounding up the main road, again, past all the tourist hotspots, and over the mountain around to the dark, less inhabited isle where the jungle enveloped the scene and the lights of the stars twinkled and shattered the darkness all around. I had the wind in my hair and stars up and above sometimes there isn't much more than a person may need.

I understood that we were to make some visit and usually this entailed us just sitting around in Thai homes on mats while long conversations ensue that I couldn't at all understood with Nina, who was usually the center of the discussions, performing her accupressure on the stressed muscles of the people present and laughing with the joy of life.

But we were going further and further out from where any civilized lights were beckoning, and to where you could almost hear the tropical birds calling to one another and the stars singing, if stars do sing, to each other. We took some wrong turn and this let me know that wherever we were going, the driver as well as our whole party didn't go visiting here very often.

But soon we arrived at a large house that would be found in a suburban neighborhood in the US. And as we hopped out of the truck, I could hear the light beat and plasticy organ sound, we were approaching a karaoke party with all the frivolity and merriment that karaoke parties include.

The back patio was where this was all going down. There was a table full of middle-aged men sitting around with lavish platters that they were dining on and a plethora of bottles, some empty, others full and unopened, but still others half full and empty. The bright lights of the patio probably attracted every kind of bug on the island, but there were so many lights they flitted high up above us that this wasn't a problem. A lady greeted us whose English was very good. And then a gray-haired man who looked pleasant enough said hello and greeted us with palms together and a bow, the traditional Thai greeting.

And I began to figure out through what was told to me, that this man was the “leader” or mayor of the island and that he had just won a re-election and that this was the celebratory party being thrown to commemorate this 2nd victory. And this table full of beer-gutted men who were probably his cronies and perhaps some type of leaders and officials in the hierarchy of this island as well.

The karaoke songs picked up and several men of this table began to belt out their songs to the rest of the small audience. They were all Thai songs that everyone seemed to know but Jeorgen and myself. I began to wonder why if this man was re-elected and voted as a popular majority why the party was so slim. But I guess it was a private party, so in that respect what an honor and privilege to be rocking out to Thai classics and drinking Chang beer with those present. The mayor's wife, the lady who spoke good English was an immaculate host and brought us out large beer bottles. Jeorgen, who doesn't drink a drop, took soda instead. I, often, was curious about the story there, but never really asked him. And next thing we know, several from the table of the men, come over and they lay down some of the food that they had no ability at forcing down their already full bellies. What comes to my mind mostly was this large fish, head and all, with a type of rich seasoning on it.

In the front of the house, though, there was what seemed to be another party going on. For they rarely socialized with us and they weren't interested in singing songs or eating large fish. These guys were all young and they were all playing intense card games. Gambling. There must have been 3 games going on at once. And everyone had a wad of cash out and were slapping the table with their hand of cards or with their money and possibly their fists if the first two were bad. But they were up a ways from our karaoke party. Every now and then, I could see a large fat man who walked around with his shirt off showing off his gut. I felt that he was the ringleader of the bunch probably called “Bigdaddy” or some such. This was all interesting for as Jeorgen told me, playing card games and gambling is illegal in Thailand. And can be strictly enforced. And here we were at the mayor's party and probably some chief of police was among us not caring at all.

The mayor's wife sat down near me and began to talk to me about all the places that she had traveled in America and Europe. I think she was intent on letting me know that she had a lot of money. And when she found out that I was an English teacher she strangely asked me if I could help her out with a local law interpretation involving taxes. I asked her if the law was in English, but she answered it was in Thai. I declined my assistance, even though deep down I really wanted to try to get involved in this intrigue. I think she wanted to find a way to get around paying some type of tax or penalty and thought that an Englishy person, or a person that reads and writes, should be able to find the verbal loophole in the document after it was translated to me. I think she was being penalized for something and wanted to find a way out of it, but I didn't accept for my aspirations of being a lawyer have never been very acute.

But I didn't turn her down when she bade me to sing into the microphone that night in front of everyone. Yes, I didn't even have to be nudged. But leaped up when the chance was given and rushed over to the computer where the song list was and the whole karaoke fun was orchestrated. But to my consternation and annoyance, they didn't have any good songs. I mean, it was the most defunct and decrepit karaoke machine I believe that I've ever run across, and I've run across some pretty bad karaoke selections in my crooning romps about Asia and America. We call them, KTVs in China, Norabangs in Korea, and just Stupid, Ridiculous Honky Tonks in Alabama, They didn't have Elvis. That pretty much is an offense to the glitzy karaoke deities. And every time I typed in the Beatles “The Long and Winding Road” kept popping up which I don't like at all. I was getting pretty agitated and I think they could sense my agitation. They had not a song I typed in the machine.
And then one guy suggested “Hotel California”. And I could tell by the enthusiasm of the crowd that that was one of the glorious staples. What I mean is, it was a type of classic that a particular country will know and latch onto and if you pick that song its sure to please everyone. In Russia, it was the Beatles “Yesterday”. In South Korea it was John Denver's “Country Roads”, down in Alabama..depending on the crowd its either, “You Never Even Call Me By My Name” or “I Like Big Butts.”(I don't think I've done either one of those. Notice I intentionally left out any Skynyrd..to avoid the obvious) In China. its Adele. And the world over its “Gangnam Style”..well, if you can sing Korean. Looks like its “Hotel California” in Thailand.

Now, I don't think that I've ever done Hotel California. Why, I mean it is the most overplayed song in the universe and I'm never one to want to add to its number. It's not a horrible song. And I once liked the song way back in 8th grade...but here I saw it as the only song that would bridge that gap between myself and the celebratory bigwigs on this island. But the pitch started off way too high, and Don Henley's voice is already way too high. So “On a dark desert highway...”was an embarrassment and made me sound tone deaf. My face was turning red. I usually can throw down some good tunes. But my confidence was disappearing, which is the absolute one thing you don't want to happen with karaoke, so I began to down more glasses of beer. Which makes my face turn redder. By the time, I got to where, “there were voices down the corridor and I thought I heard them say-ay.” My voice box was aching, running for the door. But I pushed through. “What a nice surprise.” and got into, with acting it out, my favorite verse of the entire song which was interesting considering we were dining at the mayor's, “and in the Master's Chamber, we gathered for the feast, they tried to stab it with their steely knives but they just can't kill the beast.”

After this, I sang another. “Hey Jude”. Another classic the world over. And an actual song that I like listening to despite it being played everywhere as well. But by the time I got to the 23rd “Nananana” at the end, my voice was shot for the pitch on this song was too high as well.

Nina meanwhile was doing her acupressure on various people at the party making some relax. Making others yelp. I was hoping that Jeorgen, the rather stoic Dane, would sing some crazy song by Barry White. They kept pouring me glass after glass of beer. I didn't want to be rude or wasteful, so down it went.

As we left the party, I recall standing and the room spinning. I normally, always refrain from drinking too much. But when I am at a sort of ceremony and there are high officials present and they are bidding you to drink as a guest, (this isn't the first time), I guzzle it down. In China, it is rude to stop drinking when a higher person keeps pouring. As we left the party, the cook was absolutely wasted. And as we sat in the back of the pickup once more and it brought us around the island underneath the stars once again, this cook was singing loudly and moving her arms around that made me think of a chicken. I think that I started clapping with her singing.

More to come...

Wow. Did I really just quote a bunch of Eagles on here. I apologize.  

Thursday, March 07, 2013

The Man At Death's Door

Earlier that morning I had seen this old man with broken windows for teeth and a withered leg for a foundation go through the acupressure treatment that my new found Thai friend, Nina, douses one with to get back the strength of his leg and get back the smile in those gaping teeth. If you read before, you saw that this was done with considerable wincing on the old man's part.

But that afternoon, we had somewhere else to go. But of course, I didn't know anything that was going on. Everyone said we were going somewhere on the island. Basically it was summed up in,“Get in the truck”. So I didn't argue one bit. But hopped in the back of the pickup trick where Jeorgen sat, his 66 year old limbs reclining in the back, and he himself, ignorant of where we were being taken but with a sort of patient understanding that was this Dane's nature, which made him content on such unknown sallies into mysterious enterprises. I was learning the same with the help of my zest for the unpredictable.

So we sat together in the back of the pickup truck as it zipped us around the main road of the island. We didn't question a thing. But went past all the other tourists in their flip flops and swim shorts trying to pin point where each tourist was from and then we departed from the touristy stops. We picked up more random Thai people that I had no idea who they were and why we were picking them up, and we made it to an office way on the other side of the island far away from everything but municipal concerns. This was for Nina to fill out paper work for the island, but soon we were out of there and headed back towards the main drag of the island.
But we made a sudden turn and backed down a dirt road into what looked like some kind of rubber tree plantation. There was a large house that had few walls to it. Mostly a roof was its sheltering feature. The open jungle air swept in free from the few constraints of the place. It was like a barn. But the TV and huge entertainment system and couches and pictures on the wall, made one realize that this was the living room. There was a mattress in the only corner of this joint and there laying on the mattress in wrecked desolation lay another old man swaddled in his bedsheets like it was to be his funeral shroud. . Where the first old man from the morning had only a lame leg and a few missing teeth, this old man lay on the verge of never-waking sleep.
They had brought Nina here to work her healing and she was more than willing to help. Though, one quick look told me that there wasn't much she could do. Whereas they couldn't bring him in through the empty roof with ropes like that tale from long ago, we were brought in through the side of empty walls and Nina was stooping to help as he only clutched his bedsheets that he used as his own robe.

The members of the household were trying to rouse the decrepit man from his stupor, which even this proved difficult. He gurgled out sounds that made him, at least, appear that he was living. This poor old man could not even sit up straight. He lay a chaotic mess wrapped in nothing but his bedsheets and the choked confusion of declining life . His skin was this dull gray color, a pallor that foreshadowed decay. He had one foot in death and this made him unable to even think about walking. His mind was like mush and I'm not even sure he really knew what was going on around him. It was depressing to be around and was a major contrast from the life-inspiring views just up the road that you could have of the beach and the mountains and the precious sun descending upon both of them, along with all the lotion-lathered tourists mingling on the beaches and bars looking out for fruit shakes, beer, and bikinis. And here we were in the heart of paradise, and where people come to escape their hectic lives, and this man was departing it with all the ugliness and horror that we imagine it being, while so much of us fill our time with these bars and beaches trying to forget about it.

They managed to put shorts on the fellow and sat him up as though he was some withered puppet and Nina began her acupressure treatment. The man gargled out his pain. But this was not an acute pain, but a dull one that sounded as though he was half cognizant. I don't know how long this lasted, I even went for a walk during the process across the rubber tree plantation.

When I came back, they needed me to help carry the guy. They were going to see if they could stimulate his legs into walking. And they just needed someone strong enough to hold the man up. Now, I'm not a guy who really likes to touch other people. I would make a poor nurse. But even more so, when it is requires that strange and awkward touching when assisting older people. The man only had shorts on and these were about to fall off his skeletal body. He had no shirt and of course, the only way to tote a person who had no use of their legs is to grasp under the arm deep into the armpits. This disgusted me. But I tried not to think about it. I focused on the fact that we were helping someone. The ancient man had all these tattoos scrawled across his chest and arms, but they were from an age long past that the ink was fading. One was a rooster on his chest. I saw a similar tattoo on the first old man of the morning. I don't know what it was about Thais and their roosters. But perhaps it was a sign of their potency and vitality. Here, it was a contradiction to the feeble bearer of the proud rooster. I was tempted to think that this guy in his prime was one tough and rumble, harder than nails type guy who was mean and deadly as a snake who opened beer bottles with other people's teeth, who fought and drank and fought some more, and now here he was unable to even comprehend the lack of vitality that he was undergoing. A sort of mass of ineptitude and senility, back to infancy without the cuteness but with the same shrill terror of the lonesome night.

We then, moved him out of the house which required us to go down the steps. And this proved a difficult and even more awkward situation for his upper weight shifted towards me as I was a few steps down from him and his head and torso came pressed up against my arms. I could feel the moisture of his sweat with my hands clasped under his armpits. While I was carrying him, I had the ungraceful thought that this was like lugging around a zombie. He kept moaning and ugghing, his eyes had this lackluster gaze in them. His gray, skin pressed up against mine and I couldn't wait to get to a sink with soap. We were down in the yard and I was propping him up while Nina was still giving him some treatment. Eventually, they brought a chair for him. And she breaks out this type of comb and begins to rub it around his hair and neck. It was as though she was trying to cause static about him. She gave him this speech in Thai. I couldn't understand why Nina was going through with all this, for I was thinking that death was very certain for this man in a very short time and that it was just causing him a lot pain and discomfort for nothing. It was almost as though she was making an attempt at resurrecting a man, not healing him. That's how close to death he looked.

While this was all going down, I went over to talk with the Danish retiree, Jeorgen, and we were talking like we often did when we couldn't understand the Thai around us. They had constructed a bamboo pole across trees where the old man could now practice his walking if he so desired. And it turns out that was what her speech was about. His desire. She basically told him that if he desired to live longer he could. But if he wanted to go, he would most certainly do that. She had unblocked the blockages and it was up to him to keep the flow going for a few more years, perhaps. To this day, I don't know which one he chose. Although, I do know that when we left his skin had a healthier, ruddier complexion to it and within his eyes you could see a mind, a human, a soul. He was awake now and he registered Nina's speech. We left the rubber tree plantation as the sun departed over the ocean.

More to follow....

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

"Take Up Your Mat and Walk."...Well, Sorta...

One morning while staying with this Thai family, just after I was having breakfast and the little granddaughter was playing around on the front porch and we were sitting there engrossed in the absolute slowness of a Thai household, there came an old man at the gate. 

He couldn't walk but he was being helped to walk by some relative. And he limped into the front porch and sat down on the mat. The interaction was quick and to the point, though I couldn't understand the conversation, I knew what was going on. They had heard about Nina's ability to heal people so they had come. The poor old man had no idea what he was in for.

For Nina had a way with her acupressure of puncturing the most delicate sinews and nerves underneath one's arm sending a sort of shock and electricity where you could feel it radiating way down on the ring finger of one's arm. But this was after wincing and fidgeting and fighting the subliminal suggestion that she was going to touch you before even did. The one thing that comes to mind when I think on this, is back in the few times that I have fished and while cleaning the thing, you'd strike a piece of cartilage and the whole dead fish would jump up from reflexes appearing to be brought back to life. That was Nina, striking pieces of cartilage, galvanizing one's limbs. She did this professionally as her job when she was in Denmark and would work on very special cases where people would pay a lot and fly from goodness knows where of  all places to have her do this type of acupressure.  Nina, though, was the type of person who would help whomever and all these cases that I write of were spontaneous and free of charge.

They sat on the floor on the mat inside this front porch area while she did her treatment. The old man had these broken teeth and when she touched and pulled the muscles under his arm he'd grin out the empty slots, while squinting his eyes. At first, he found the treatment hysterical and would laugh for she was basically tickling him. But soon his high-pitched laughing started to sound more and more like crying. And he was...the man was beginning to whelp. It was difficult to watch. The relatives of the man were helping to hold his hands from obstructing the process. For whatever arm was free he would try to take Nina's hands away. Eventually, they had to tie the free hand to the gate with a piece of cloth in order for him to stop intervening. I felt sorry for the guy. She turned to working on his legs. Mainly the one that was lame. This lame leg was very withered from a considerable time of neglect and no use.

Jeorgen, who had been a friend of Nina's for years told me that these types of cases are never immediate for the leg would take time to build back the muscle to work again. She was finished with the leg, and she said that it could move on its own, it was just a matter of building up muscle tissue then. I don't know how long this poking and prodding took, but soon they took the old man back around the house near where the stream sang and they were going to start allowing him to try and walk. He hobbled out, glad, I think, to have a break.

The way this works as was partially explained to me was very, very simply put and in the words of Nina it was something like, “He was blocked and I unblocked him. And now he is good.” And this will suffice for her, for it is always the most skilled practitioners of an art that are at odds at how to communicate what they do exactly.

But allow me to get at what I think she was communicating and therefore allow for my own eccentric interests to come to light. This whole thing was absolutely fascinating to me because of my own studies and interest in the Chinese principles of “chi”and dare I admit it, my current fascination with this topic was one reason that I moved to China.
But it ties directly with these ideas. That there is this sort of “life force” or “vital energy” that is inherent in everything. (Ha, I know it sounds like the Force), but when something is healthy, chi is at a correct balance of yin and yang and flowing. When something is weakened...chi levels are diminished. This weakness is many times due to blockages. And those blocks can be apparent physically. Now, this is all speculative, but a long, long history has been passed on for centuries upon centuries and there are manifestations of such things though no clear way of measuring accurately. Although, hints can be seen.

I just know of one thing, that ever since I began to practice Tai Chi, or really Qi Gong, these exercises of tapping into one's chi or drawing upon it and balancing these energies, which began a year and a half ago while in South Korea, a change has occurred in myself. Physically, I feel myself to be stronger. I never considered myself as very strong. A quick person, yes. Limber and agile, yes. Yes. But strong, never. And now, I feel myself to be actually quite strong. (okay definitely not Hercules) But ah, that could be explained away by age and the adding on of apparent weight of full-throttled manhood. I am, indeed, a late bloomer and no longer the skinny twig I was in my early to mid-twenties.

But the most startling change has been in my personality. I feel myself to be much stronger internally. I always regarded myself as a thin-skinned person driven to melancholy and brooding and a sense of innate weakness. But with these exercises and this sort of flow, I feel an inner strength that was not very common before. And I can indeed feel my body heat up when practicing these slow movements, but during the further course of life, I find myself sturdy in life. Or just strong and less likely to be given towards any despair. Like a rock. I wish I could say more for myself being more patient and less likely to fly off the handle, for this practice is supposed to make one calmer and it has at times, but for the most part the most visible sign of improvement is through the feeling that I have a more solid entity. I am tough. Far tougher than I would have thought myself to be. My feet are attached to the ground more. If that makes more sense. Which is strange for that is one of the actual physical concepts that one focuses one when practicing these maneuvers.

Now that I have spilled the mystical, and the “way out in left field” bit out there truth about the frequent thoughts that I actually have,
I get back to the narrative. Nina, was a type of healer that is adept at unblocking these blockages and allowing for chi to flow. And of course, as I have mentioned in other anecdotes, this was most apparent with people who had serious problems. For going from absolute cut off to unblocked and flowing was extreme. While a person who was just a bit stressed wouldn't feel the difference as much.

This old man resisted change, as lots of old people do. So Nina was worried that he wouldn't try to rebuild his muscle and would just accept his lot as being crippled and the privileges and victimhood that that bestows on one. But the last time I talked to Nina over 2 weeks after this event, she told me that this man is now walking.

….More to follow

Monday, March 04, 2013

The Crazy Australian

One day while on this tropical island in Thailand and during this high time of getting roped into this random sort of land expedition with this Thai lady named Nina and her friend, a Danish engineer, Jeorgen, we were wandering near the borders of her land. This particular plot of land of hers was near the National Park with the waterfalls fell and near the Thai family's house where we were staying. 

We had forded a thick stream that only a pickup truck dare cross, but we did our crossing by wading in our barefeet through the slightly abrupt current as it rushed over smooth rocks towards the ocean, and we came out on this type of gravelly, dirt road that winded up into the jungle. But even though the paved road wasn't too far away and a restaurant was within shouting distance, all indication was that we were seeking further out into the vast stretches of wilderness that was a rainforest, when off in the distance, rising above the whistling songs of the tropic birds, there arose the sound of a buzz or a whirr. Any boy from the suburbs adverse to yard work could tell you what that sound was...it was a weed-eater. Yep, make no bets against it, it was the annoying and mundane tune of lawn maintenance being sung out into the sweet innocence of unravished nature.

Before the path, as we trudged on and the terrorizing sound got closer and closer, I saw the trees open up into a little clearing and I could see the reflection of the sun off a tinroof house and then my eyes spotted the assailant of silence holding the weed eater and he was a large mountain of a white man. He had this type of tank top on that only an Australian would be wearing, so I immediately guessed his nationality. As we approached closer he could not hear us due to the whirring and running of his yard machine and his back was turned to us and I noticed that he had what no normal Australian bloke would ever wear, this type of sarong or skirt. A member of his integrated family, called out that there were “farangs” (foreigners) and at this mention, he didn't stand on ceremony, but lifted the back part of his sarong up to moon us, where all of us saw his bare buttocks before we even saw his face. This was his greeting to us. But this was before he knew that we weren't just random tourist stragglers on his land but on some important business. In fact, Nina was technically his neighbor, though unbeknownst to him at the time.
Then he turned around surprised and embarrassed and yelled out very loudly over the weed eater, “Bloody HELL!! MATE!” which proved my suspicions correctly. He was most certainly an Aussie. He threw down the weed whacker and then the awkward greeting commenced and he apologized saying that he didn't know that his son was for real and muttered something about not caring for stragglers on his land.

He was a big man by white men standards. No doubt he was a giant among the Thai people. But he ambled up to me and gave me his big-fisted hand for a crushing handshake. He was the spitting image of Donk from Crocodile Dundee. Same jaw and same bustling sort of brutality.

After I told him I was from America, he imitated the best George Dubya Bush accent he could muster. I don't know which sounded more redneck that country drawl impersonation or his natural bushwhacker Aussie dialect. Anyways, he proved a gregarious sort of jolly person, fast with a joke, though I refrained from making any quips about all the bug bites or pimples that were apparent on his backside when he first greeted us. I decided that that was a little too flippant for a first time acquaintance with a man who looks like he skins crocodiles in his spare time.

He had married a Thai local beauty, probably a girl way out of his league, and he had settled down on this island in a sort of semi-solitude. Here, he had built this tin house and raised a family. He had a pitbull that he told us to be thankful was chained up. The type of taunts that backwoods, anti-government types make back home in Alabama. And he also had hogs. And I would guess that he prided himself in building his current castle across a broad moat that had to be forded by only a beastly pick up truck that he himself drove. I liked the guy; he reminded me of people back home. And he probably didn't want to be hassled by anybody.

Our greeting with him was short and we made our way further into the jungles onto Nina's land. We were finding a back way onto her property and this proved a good way other than the first time we arrived at this area near a national park entrance. Though, I don't know if this bloke was too keen on an actual neighborhood forming around him. But after all, what would you expect? Its a tropical island, not a vast, limitless outback.

On our way, back Jeorgen really had to go the bathroom so he crossed the stream where it was nearest a facility. I wanted to go that way and get something to drink at a nearby vendor, but Nina insisted that I come with her back the way we came and pay the Aussie a second visit. So I followed with my throat parched.

This 2nd visit made me realize, and I can't belief that I really didn't see it before, that the Aussie was pretty tipsy. At least getting there and this explained his rather revealing and gregarious nature earlier. I mean, it was as though he had been drinking the whole afternoon and was at the feel good stage where his eyes were blood shot and his speech, while not exactly converted to slurs was very relaxed. I suspect that this is the state that he would have liked to remain. He was finished for the time being with his yard work and was chilling out in this makeshift bar that he had adjoined to the house. It was like a barn or shed, though more like a side porch with a bar and stools if I recall. He had these emblems hanging up on the wall. A boomerang, of course. And I could tell that he considered this his sort of man-cave where beer bottles and stress were emptied.
I noticed the belt laying on the table with the magnificent Ned Kelly emblem on it. And then I recalled on his shoulder as a tattoo the same image. It was Ned Kelly with the iron helmet and suit on and guns blazing. Yes, this guy is one serious Ozzie. He offered me a glass of water that was already sitting there. Not the best hospitality, for I was greedily eying the cold beer he had clutched in his massive, knobby hands. But I guess, I was a sort of trespasser and should go begging for one of his precious brews.

Nina was talking with him about the land. He spoke a bit of Thai but his nasally Australian lingo bled through and his speech was very slow. I thought that it would be easy to learn Thai from him. They would shift back and forth from English back to Thai. Nina, I think, was seeing if he would be a good neighbor and use the aid of his truck to help her move things across the stream that only he could ford. He only looked blurry eyed and said, “cha cha”. Which was actually sort of the Thai version of “No worries” but in the negative sense. Meaning, “No rush. Slow down with your requests.”

She, like I said before, could sense the health problems in people. And this she picked up on with the Aussie. It wasn't very long before she was at his elbow pinching the muscles and tendons underneath his arms. At which his shoulders would drop and he would exclaim in exhausted bewilderment. I would even hear pops as she pinches and pulled these muscles. And when she finished, he moved about like he had just breathed in a fresh wind of air, and shook about like a big Papa bear and said that he felt 20 years younger. He admitted to us that when he was much younger he was carrying a huge slab of meat, if my memory is correct he was a butcher before moving out here, and that he slipped and fell and the massive slab of meat crushed his shoulder and he's never felt the same since. And now, he exclaimed, he felt like a new man.

Now, at this time, I had witnessed Nina do her acupressure treatment on various people with different problems. But this was the first time that I was able to hear someone in English express firsthand the difference Nina's brand of severe tweaking had made. So I was more impressed by this outcome than any of the other cases prior to this.

As we left his place, Nina and I talked and it was a common insight that we both shared, that this Aussie had moved out here to keep from going crazy. And that it probably was already too late.

A few days later, I was walking early one morning up the paved road scooping out where any coffee could possibly be sold, when I saw him and Mama, the lady whose house we were staying at. They looked to be arguing about something. His pickup truck was loaded with items, like scooters and furniture, a beer cooler and the cage to his pet bull. And as I walked up, I thought to greet him...but I think I heard a faint. “Bug off.” a few times when he first saw me before I reached him. And perhaps the more offensive version of that. But he ended up saying rather hurriedly that he didn't have time and it was not the morning to chat and that he couldn't chat, and he sort of shooed me away. And then I heard, at some considerable distance, he yell at his wife in a very barbaric way to get in the truck now. He and his family were going away for a short trip as they were known to do from time to time, and he wasn't in a good mood. However, now some knowledge about this supposed Mama has come to light, so he might have been justified in the argument. But that was the last I saw him, and probably the last I'll ever see of this interesting stereotype. More to follow.... 

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Experiencing Thai Hospitality

It wasn't too long of knowing Nina before we were invited into many of the local's home on this island. Some of these people she had known before, some of these people her family knew, and some of these people she had just met, but she had one underlining ability that made all these appear to be one and the same as though she had known them for ages, and that was the ability to connect immediately with the person and win a matter of trust with them. I, myself, was a prime example of that. For within a day of meeting her, she was trusting me to carry her purse and ipad for her down jungle pathways.

On the 2nd night we found ourselves eating at the home of some locals. This family lived behind their own T-shirt shop that they kept open late at night for the backpacking tourists ambling down the main street going their easy way from the bars or the beaches. And it was behind this shop, where we dined and the host family was sure to leave the door open to spot any approaching shoppers, in between the savory courses.
They had no table. We feasted on top of a raised platform that I believe performs the function of a bed when it was time to sleep, but when it was not time to sleep, it was where they sat and socialized throughout much of the day.
Their hospitality was tremendous for they plentifully fed us first. Heaping plates around us and bidding us without any contestation on our part to dig in and try the variety before us.
The us, in this case, being Jeorgen, (the retired Dane) and myself. For Nina was busy talking and talking with the hosts and the other miscellaneous Thai locals assembled in this hut that was really a T-shirt shop. Always, we noticed that perhaps we were fed first not only because we were guests, but because we were males. The majority of the crowd present being women, it is the common custom in Thailand for the males to always be served first, BUT...then I have heard it said that the women actually treat themselves to more food afterwards. But in our cases, being honored guests, we were given the largest portions, what was usually reserved for the wives. What did we eat? The most delicious assortments of rice, vegetables, chicken, fish, and shrimp. The chicken was my favorite. But most memorable was the rice bowls that they passed around in these type of small wicker baskets that resemble those found South China Cantonese cuisine. But inside was nothing but malleable rice which they would scoop out with their bare hands and form into a ball and eat. The rice was far stickier than other rice I've eaten living in Korea and China and more playful like a sort of edible playdough.

The men of the house, actually sat in a different area on the floor and when we were finished eating beckoned for Jeorgen and I to join them for the drinking of the beer, some of which I had brought.
The women continued clucking and laughing in Thai, until Nina started to perform her accupressure on some of the party. The women were all but resilient during the prodding, tickling treatment, but when she came to the guys, one tough looking Thai guy would scream out. Which made me feel better about all the squirming and protestations that I had given every time she tried to press nerves and muscles on me. All in all, it was a good night, and made me quite impressed with the hospitality of the Thai people.

But the degree of Thai hospitality didn't stop there. It grew and grew. The next evening, we didn't sleep in backpacker tourist bungalows on the beach, but we were taken in by a large family. Whom, as the days progressed, I was uncertain as to the relationship they shared with Nina or how she won over this amount of reception from them. Unfortunately, the story is darkened further in the future by something unforeseeable at this point in my narrative, which I will get to sooner or later, but we stayed 4 rather pleasant and gratuitous nights with this family. And it passed as a agreeable time. None of them spoke English really. So Jeorgen and I were left to guess what was going on and the relationship dynamics at work for Thai families are not a a traditional Western nuclear type structure. They would have aunts over and cousins and children, though you were uncertain as to whose children they were. But for the most part, the house was owned and ran by grandparents. Most prominent was a woman whom every one referred to as Mama. And she seemed to be the big boss and rule the roost of the whole operation. Her name, personality, and looks all met together for she looked like a silent and severe Native American chief. These looks being high cheekbones, fat, pudgy, and a protruding bottom lip that was forced that way, perhaps, because of a perpetual grimace. She had no neck and small shoulders, but her head was large and her nose bulbous. She had one of those presences that commanded authority and a sort of fear. She looked more Sioux than Thai and every morning you would find her on the front porch swiping her teeth with some sort of twig. The local form of brushing one's teeth.

Her husband was a very silent and agreeable man. Who appeared youthful and not to have taken on his wife's aged ugliness. (I apologize if my description of my hosts appear a bit brutal; but I have good reason, but this I will tell later on.) In fact, it did not really seem the two were married. But I was assured that they were. I think he just took orders from her. He was a kindly man, hard working and reliable. He would drive us around in this pick up truck that I think he was proud of, to all the different things that we were undertaking involving the land and tending to the crippled. He rarely spoke while his wife liked to bark out either orders or opinions or both.

Then there was an assortment of other ladies who I was uncertain if they lived there or not. One seemed to be of no relation to anybody and do to all the cooking and a lot of the chores, as though she was the hired maid or something. And another one, I believe was a cousin who lived in a different house down the way but seemed to always be around. Then there was the children. Two girls. One was a school girl of around 11 that had this big poofy hair that I guess is the fashion of Thai schoolgirls. It was her and this cousin who I once, sitting on their front porch, gave an English lesson to. And then there was the youngest girl, a daughter or granddaughter of around 4. And she was the cutest little thing always climbing around Jeorgen and I. I drew her cartoons on the first full day there and immediately became her friend.
It is my understanding that the mother of these children worked all day, so these kids actually stayed with their grandparents for they were better able to look after them. The father seemed missing. And that as Jeorgen, described to me was a very typical Thai set up. Mother works, Kids are looked after by grandparents who is paid by mother, Father is absent. And then the intricate networking of other relatives and friends who always stop by in and out the day constitute a typical Thai household scene. One day, I arrived back at the house with this obvious Ladyboy on a scooter stopping by to say hello.

The house was actually 2 houses. The front house being where the kitchen was, this bustling front porch where the main life was, and 2 rooms and a bathroom. And there was nodoor to the house adjoined on the backside of the property near the stream. This back house was where most everyone slept and it looked newer. Whereas our sleeping accommodations was in this older part. The 3 of us, Jeorgen, Nina, and I shared a room with each other. Jeorgen and I shared a mattress on the floor while Nina insisted that she sleep without a mattress. So every one of these nights, Nina would bow and say her Buddhist prayers and the light would cut off. Some nights the neighbors dog would bark and I more than once, emerged from out the house to chase the dang idiot dog off to little avail. In the mornings, I would awake to the 66 year old Jeorgen sitting, silently, cross-legged doing his Transcendental Meditation and I would emerge onto the front porch, where I said before that all life was. The cook would bring me two toasts with eggs and I would be greeted by some of the family with the only English that they knew which was “Good Morning”.

The day would begin and it would be a variety of different situations which I will describe soon. But for the most part, the family frequented this front porch area with only its little gate right next to the road where some of the tourist traffic going to the waterfalls raced by and not far from the Elephant Trekking road where the pachyderms would silently be lugging around tourist on their backs. All large meals were conducted sitting on the floor in this front porch area at which were were graciously coerced as participants. Even some naps were taken here. Thai friends and family or maybe just acquaintances would stop by this front porch to talk about goodness knows what. A very relaxed sort of existence.  

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Buddhist Sacrifices in the Jungle

I don't know how it all supposedly happened. I mean, I don't recall the particular coincidences that led me to embark while only after a few days in Thailand on such a excursion, but what is emblazoned on my memory was when we, the 3 of us, went into the jungles to offer a Buddhist sacrifice on the land of a friend that I had only met the day before.
Now, the way Buddhist sacrifices go, nothing perishes. Or nothing is killed. What I mean, is with the idea of sacrifice we either think of virgins being hurled into volcanic lava pools or of the more Hebraic one of a goat having its throat slit. Perhaps, sacrifice was a wrong word....but offering is a better.
This only required for us to carry some cookies, candles, and incense into the rainforest. Why?

The speculative answer is too much for me to answer. For in ideal Buddhism, I always got the sense that such rituals were not the point. But this is further from the case, go to any Buddhist Temple in the East and you will find incense sticks being burned as much as any Eastern Orthodox Church. Except in Buddhist circles, perhaps its the brilliance of the light that the candles and incense emit rather than any propitiatory atonement being purchased.

My friend, Nina, whose land it was and who wanted to sort of bless the area, insisted that we go back and find the land and the markers from the day before. Now, our party was at a scant 3 persons. Myself, Nina, and the good friend Jeorgen, the older Danishman who was retired living in Thailand. The entourage from the day before had dwindled down.

Nina wanted for me to rent a motorbike and go zipping through the small road that the jungle was engulfing on this island. But I was hesitant for having only driven a scooter for a few days once upon a time in Bali, and concluding that while I can actually carry myself, having another person on the back, especially when she is pregnant, which Nina was, I would feel very, very uncomfortable and do not hold faith in my own ability at driving a motorbike up and down hills on a tropical island in such a meticulous fashion.
Now, the place was not far at all, but later that day, a scene bolstered my instinct at caution when some luckless hipster tourist girl had wrecked her scooter and some how had done some neat trick in getting it wedged underneath a roadside railing. She was okay. But was covered in mud and probably would pay some hefty scooter repair for attempting to drive that thing up a steep hill at the first onset of a light rain.

So Nina hired a taxi truck driver; her personal driver being on the mainland stuck at a mechanic shop, and we hauled off in the back of this truck down that narrow civilization-ending road. When we pulled up next to the end of this road, we noticed another truck or two and all these tourist crowded around huddled as though they were about to go on a scavenger hunt or something. Their trucks had a logo of “Jungle Trekking Tours” painted on their doors. There was a local guide or two with them and from the overall sense of their bearing, it seemed as though they were getting a thorough briefing and cautionary introduction into hiking in the jungles. They all had face paint smeared on their visages and a few of them had bandanas around their heads as though they were about to descend into some survival camp safari. And then we hop out of the truck. A pregnant lady, an old man, and myself and we are carrying a bag of miscellaneous items such as cookies and candles and without saying a word to them we scuttle across a dry river bed into the jungles.

When we get to the area where her land begins there is really nothing noticeable about it from the surrounding rainforest plants and trees other than the rectangular cement markers and she begins to stoop down and spread the cookies out at the base of two trees each across from each other. She had forgotten the incense sticks, had left them in the truck, and tells Jeorogen to go back and retrieve them. We stand outside while a cloud falls across the sky. I notice potato plants on the ground and pull up the little tubers.
When Jeorgen gets back, she lights the candles at the base of these trees and then the incense sticks and waves the bundle of them in a vertical fashion letting the incense waft through the jungle air. The sky had slowly darkened. There was a rain cloud and it was late afternoon, so mosquitoes descended upon us as an early evening feast. I tried standing close to the little fires thinking the incense smoke may shoo them away but to little avail. Out there in the quiet of the jungle, with both of the fires lit at the bottom of these two trees on either side of the trail and with the candles gleaning and pure yellow and orange light flickering in the shadowy rainforest it made the impression that a sort of gateway was being opened and we were standing at the brink. Nina was very fast with her prayers, fortunately for the mosquitoes were not one for fasting. And I was not one for Buddhist ideology of nonviolence, for I was swatting at the little vampiric bugs with little honor.
Before long we were headed out of there, right as the rain managed to pierce through the leafy canopy. We left the cookies and the little embers glowing before perhaps a gateway to another world, or at least, the threshold to the thick of the wilderness, which will one day, probably be inhabited if Nina has her way.  More to follow...