Monday, May 15, 2006

Slicing Through The Ectoplasm

Slicing Through The Ectoplasm


Khuk Khak, Thailand - On the beach of the Andaman Sea in timeless monotony, one wave rolls beneath the next, crashing behind another; one day bleeds into the next, one lifetime rolls onto another. A generation, then another. What is gained? What is lost? Want to know the future? What happened yesterday? Check the DNA. Today, what did Earth spin into motion?

And for how long have those Sea Turtles dragged themselves ashore to lay their eggs?



The drive north on motorbike to Takuapa ('Tah-koo-uh-pa') seems longer than it really is, a mere 25 kilometers, a half-hour ride, a lifetime aboard a Honda. North of Cape Pakarang, approaching Bangsak Beach, the air beneath a cool, tunneled patina canopy of jungle is thick and lava lamp gelatin, the road lined with orange blossoms, surreal, dreamy, and two dimensional.

Slicing through the ectoplasm aboard a Honda Wave, skin and sense of self stretching deep into the jungle, entering a timeless dimension of amorphous being.



They say it's good luck to see a cobra, and the Thai will even chase them, getting them to stop, coil, and fan out its unmistakable hood. So it was good luck, I suppose, to see that cobra exiting the garden, headed for the jungle. I didn't chase him, but thought of what Milo had said about that rattlesnake under my cabin on the reservation.

"You've created the perfect environment for a snake," he said. "Water, mice, birds."

On the television set, the ten-year old son of a Thai snake charmer played with a cobra, squatting, constantly moving his knees, hands, arms, swaying his head before the confused and undulating reptile, poking the snake's chest (if a snake has a chest), up in the snake's face in a stare-down contest, the cobra flicking its forked tongue, until the cobra finally struck, and the kid, practiced enough to anticipate the snake's attack, would quickly leap or lean back, just milimeters from the snake's deadly fangs. Quite a spellbinding show.

But once, the snake got him, right on the nose. The father and somebody else, maybe a grandfather or a medicine man, jumped up quickly, pulled the snake from the kid's nose, and immediately applied a paste. The studio audience gasped, and then applauded. Quite a show.



Just east across the quickly-filling reservoir, the Wat Komaneeyakhet, a vast, manicured complex of buildings, the school, the Temple, monks' dwellings, administrative facilities, open-air pavilions and dining rooms, they're getting a new swimming pool and tennis courts.

The Wat is getting a complete make-over, including a big opening ceremony a few months back for, I think, the completion of the entry-way arch at the highway, a beautiful, ornate, relief work of mostly gold and lots of other colors, all executed in Siamese style that you can sit and look at for a long time.

Three or four dozen men and women Thai workers have been busy over there for months, and after wondering for a long time just what it was they were building, along with the new long, two-story classroom buildings, and new monk's quarters, it looks like, finishing touches are being completed on the pool and courts.

It's probably for the school kids and not the resident monks. If it's for the monks, I'd like to get a shot of monks playing tennis in flip flops and saphron robes.

Went over there (to the Wat) the other night at the invitation of my students, who informed me that they (the resident monks) were having a Vientien ceremony, a lighting of the candles ceremony, there under the full moon.

One of my students said it was Buddha's awakening, but then they said it was candles. Same student said we shouldn't kill the mosquito in the temple when I brushed one away. Then, one of the monk's assistants, a local layman dressed in white, an adherent or something, was standing talking with another of the students, and reached up and slapped a mosquito on his forehead.

"What about that?" I asked. "He just killed a mosquito."

"Reflex," said my student, grinning.

Lizards, frogs, sa-corpions and sa-nakes. And the ever-present-in-the-evening mosquitos here are like the three rounds (bullets) between tracers - it's the ones you don't see that get you.

In a huge open-air pavillion with a stage occupied by six or seven resident monks in front of an enormous buddha, much of the evening's hour-long repeat-after-me chanting, prayer, and amplified teaching ceremony went right past me for two reasons; the mosquitos around my ankles kept me fidgeting and divided my attention, and the whole thing was in Thai. After the half-hour discourse/teaching/dharma talk, I leaned over to ask the Laundry Girl, "whud he say?" and she said, 'Uh..." whispering, "I'll tell you later."

"Something about Buddha, wasn't it?" I asked.

Perhaps she didn't understand the humor.* If so, perhaps it wasn't appropriate for me at that moment to be cracking a joke.


* The genesis of this joke relates back fifteen years or so ago with Uncle Larue, Joseph Afraid Of Bear, who spoke (rarely) at length (in Lakota) during purification ceremony on the Cheyenne River in South Dakota, south of Hot Springs. Outside afterward, around the fire, I asked, "Whud he say?"

After a short silence, allowing elders Ernest and Uncle Joe time to respond, Brother Tom, it was, blurted out, "He said something about God."



Pen, the local lady who spends the rainy season in France with her husband, and arranged for the English classes to be taught in the Khuk Khak community building, was showing Mel the classroom when the village chief was testing the new tsunami warning system over loud speakers set up throughout the village. The old man's voice croaked out throughout the community, sounding something like, ''

"Do you have a siren or taped message to play in the event of a tsunami?" asked Mel.

"No," replied Pen. "We just get on the speaker and yell, "EVERYBODY! 'RUN! RUN! RUN!' "



Love Our Gas, Do Anything For It

Down at the 'petrol gah-rrahge', as Mel says, the gas is only about fifty cents a litre, and that can run a Honda for about a week - you might have to go back on Thursday for another fifty cents worth. Relatively speaking, that seems like pocket change for transportation, recalling how my last trip from S. Dakota to Denver exceeded two hundred dollars, US., one way.

Wudden on a Honda, wuzzit?

Motorbike Culture

But then, where do you have to go? In Saharut Amereeka, as they call us, we go EVERYwhere in our cars. Go to work in our cars, go to play in our cars, pick up the groceries, the kids, the laundry, go to the corner in our cars. Gotta have a car. A drive-by wouldn't be a drive-by without a car. Over here, a drive-by means, 'on a honda' .

Among other wild-ass ideas that never got off the ground, I was thinking of instituting the drive-by funeral parlor, where you could , you know, give your last respects at a drive-up window, something someone like Bryan could really appreciate. Church service, the same way. All in the comfort of your car .

Most people here are too poor to own a car, thusly, about ninety percent of the population is on motorbikes, just about anywhere you go in Asia. That's the good news? Bad news is, more people are buying cars.

So you'll see whole families aboard a bike, already told you, no helmets, everybody wearing flip-flops. Things you'd find appalling in other countries, such as the much-practiced art of propping your infant child on the seat in front of you if they're too young to stand on the seat and hold onto the mirrors. Baby can't even hold its head up. If they're three or four, they can stand on the frame and hold onto the mirror posts.

And there's a strange sort of pride you'll see in the eyes of a mother as she goes down the road with her ten-month old, can't walk yet, but old enough to stand and ride.

And before they're old enough to stand and ride, they've got a custom-made wicker child's seat designed especially to fit over the frame of a motorbike. They sell 'em in the shops, a kind of a little high chair. Most of the time, the kids don't seem to be enjoying the ride, dirt in their eyes.

Most of the time, they seem to be quite terrified, as if they know their lives are in extreme danger. It's the parents who are smiling. They've got the kid as a shield.


"Tttttttthat's a lance," said the stork from Amsterdam, who probably wouldn't like knowing he was refered to as such. "Ttttttttthat's madness," he said as I began to exit the lumber yard with three fifteen-foot lengths of bamboo for my thatch roof. "Why don't you let me deliver that for you," he said, nodding at his truck.

"It's not mad," I replied. "Everybody does it. Haven't you seen some of the loads people carry on a bike?"

"IIIIIIIIIIIII knowwww," he said, with a hint of whiny exasperation that I wondered was a cultural thing with the Dutch, "bbbbbbbbut tttttttthat stilldoesn'tmakeitnot mmmmmad."

"Ok," I finally said, taking him up on his offer after trying to balance the poles on takeoff and striking the rear quarter panel of his truck, him watching me all the while.

He also offered me advice on which thatch to buy. The ones that rotted.