Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Return To Tsunamiland/Ten Degrees From Comfort Zone

Return To Tsunamiland/Ten Degrees From Comfort Zone

From snow boots to flip flops; fry bread, meat and potatoes, to rice and fish; from the sacred pipe and feathers, to buddhas and amulets; from the Lakota Nishnabotna to the Thai Chao Phraya; and from the pow wow drum to the bamboo flute. We're not in Kansas anymore, are we Toto?

Suddenly...well, not so suddenly...actually, after a 26 hr. round-about flight, everything is hot and steamy at 8.5 degrees off the equator. Tropical jungle, lizards, giant slugs, and tiger balm.

Still trying to master the Thai toilet, a porcelain affair with two footpads on either side, designed for deep knee-bend squatting. For a man with bad too-much-basketball knees who's accustomed to a cigarette, a magazine, and a prolonged...uh...engagement...during the course of evacuation, a Thai hole-in-the-floor can be an excruciating daily exercise.

Upon return to Khao Lak in Phang Nga province, where 78% of the deaths in Thailand occurred, the one thing most evident was the industry of the reconstruction effort in preparation for the one-year memorial to take place on December 26th. Nature had rebounded, and everything was green again, after being torn, scarred, and denuded.

Where nine months earlier it appeared that most of the work was being done by volunteers, now everywhere Thais were at work, building homes, pouring concrete, re-opening their shops for the Christmas high-tourist season, and rebuilding the destroyed resorts up and down 'The Strip', a 30 kilometer stretch of beautiful sandy beach peppered with fishing villages and tourist industry.

"It's a good thing so many countries came to help us," said the home owner in Khuk Kak village of the immediate post-tsunami volunteer aid. "We were still in shock."

The Tsunami Volunteer Center moved from its mountaintop base to a permanent storefront in Khao Lak at the southern end of the strip, abbreviating its nine-syllable name to 'The TVC', which is strange, saying 'the TVC', or the 'VC', eliciting negative associations for anyone who can remember fighting the VC in the Vietnam war.


Out at the boathouse at Cape Pakarang, boatbuilders were finishing their 42nd boat, with a target of 47 for the project. Among the friends there, was the interpreter, Kong, the former monk 'from the waist up', with whom I'd been teaching figures of speech.

After a long hug, he greeted me by saying, "It's a piece of cake. It's a walk in the park."

"I'm just along for the ride," I told him, which was impossible for him to repeat. 'Arong for the lide,' he kept saying before giving up. It's okay to laugh. They make fun of us, too.

Some sadness accompanied my return, to learn that Digger's guardian in my absence, Mr. Kon, had been murdered in a dispute with another Thai, shot in the head; and Mr. P. Korn, who died of a heart attack at age 37.

P. Korn worked at the VC as a driver, and we had become friends last spring after providing medical assistance following a traffic accident that left him trapped in his vehicle. Three days after my arrival, his family conducted a 100 Days memorial at their home in a small Thai village south of here, attended by friends, a dozen monks from the local wat (temple) who led the service, and another couple dozen foreigners from the volunteer corps, including Digger and me, who were invited by his wife, who informed us upon our arrival, 'P. Korn. He die.'

It was a short service in sweltering heat. They fed everyone under tent shades, and the old men sat around tables smoking cigarettes and chatting, while the women prepared the food, and the volunteers clustered in small groups. It seemed the family was thankful we were all there.

That wasn't the end of the immediate misfortune, for on Christmas Eve, Digger splashed his motorbike on the pavement of Khao Lak when a fifteen year-old German girl wearing aviator sunglasses behind a tinted visor, and an ipod plugged into her ears, failed to look both ways before pulling out directly in front of him on Khao Lak's major thoroughfare.

Digger caught her broadside and ended up with rasberries on his leg and hip, the bike suffering minor damage. Her father (who didn't witness the accident) insisted it was Digger's fault, saying 'he should have gone around her...he should have let her go across...he should have stayed in the bike lane...he should have slowed down...'

Of course he was defending his daughter, and I wondered what her version would be...'I was just sitting there, and when I tried to cross, he hit me.'

Despite the father's protestations, we noticed the next day, she was no longer in the saddle, but sitting behind her mother on another bike.


Merry Chrissmaaaaats! That's how they say it, and in the English/Thai dictionary, it's sort of spelled like that. Despite being a land of predominantly Buddhists, they celebrate Christmas here, with people running around in Santa hats and tiny lights strung up around the shops.

The volunteers made the most of being away from home for the holiday by holding two parties and big feeds in the afternoon and evening, with Santa and his helper elf, all dressed up and arriving at the party on an elephant.

Khao Lak was buzzing with thousands of people arriving either for their Christmas holiday, or for the next day's big event, the one-year tsunami memorial. Traffic up and down the strip was horrendous and dangerous, with the tweet of cops' whistles incessant throughout the day.

Concerts and performances were held up and down the strip, from Khao Lak to Bang Niang, where the police boat, which had been swept inland two miles, taking with it countless lives, now sat as a permanent memorial and testimony to the suffering of that dreadful holiday-turned-disaster.

Hundreds of Thai students had come in from Bangkok to plant 10,000 trees in one day that was previously estimated at a month's work. The shops were full, and the resorts and restaurants were packed. People were coming in from all over the country and the world, with surviving families of the dead flown in by the Thai government.

The Prime Minister and Princess Ubonrat, who lost her son to the wave, were also coming in, along with embassy staffs and other dignitaries zooming around with siren police escorts, so security was intense, with more helicopters in the air at one time than I'd seen since Vietnam.

Driving along the strip on a motorbike, the energy and intensity of the day with the helicopters whopping overhead, was a pure adrenaline rush, something like the buzzing, flesh-prickling moments outside the stadium preceding a Minnesota Vikings playoff game, or a hot combat zone.

We met survivors. John, from Austrailia, who lost his younger sister; another young man who was in bed with his girlfriend when 'the wall exploded', and he never saw her again, waking up in the hospital, asking, 'what happened?

We met Sara, from Sweden, on the beach. She had lost her mother, her husband, and her baby in the tsunami. She said she had been on CNN and Larry King, and that the Americans 'were fantastic', helping her in trying to find her son, who someone said was seen in the top of a coconut tree.

She has been back several times, still trying to find him, she said, and still loves the Thai and the country. I asked if it was painful for her to return to the scene of trauma, but she said, "No. I'm not afraid of ghosts, and everything I love is here. But I don't enjoy the sea as I once did."

Her face looked narrow and drawn, and she didn't smile once during our conversation, but as we departed, I looked back and saw her enter the water for a swim.


The One-Year Memorial was Thailand's big event of the year, taking the entire year in preparation. It began in steamy heat in front of the police boat with an inter-denominational Buddhist/Muslim/Christian prayer service for the 'releasing of the souls', attended by perhaps five thousand or more people.

Then it rained cats and dogs in the afternoon, with everyone seeking shelter. A cleansing, it seemed.

As darkness fell in the evening, the rain had stopped, and thousands of people gathered at the beach at Bang Niang where row upon row of plastic seats had been placed among the coconut palms, and a half-dozen huge green LCD screens displayed closed-circuit video for the audience too far from the stage.

Along with the VIPs and dignitaries seated up front were scores of survivors from foreign countries who had lost loved ones in the tsunami. It had even touched the royal family. Despite the huge mass of people, the atmosphere was incredibly quiet and composed.

Hundreds of student volunteers distributed free green tea and boxes of tuna sandwiches, orange juice and sweet breads donated by Thai Airlines. Everyone was funneled through security entry checkpoints where we were scanned by Thai and Swedish security police, just like prior to boarding an aircraft or entering a courtroom.

The media were everywhere with satellite dishes, cables and antennae sprouted from their huge production vans. Thai navy patrol boats cordoned off the sea in a huge arc, and tsunami paintings were on display, as well as a commemorative wall of photos of the young prince, surrounded by flowers, flowers, flowers, everywhere.

Each person was given a commemorative candle in a plastic flower holder to light after the Prime Minister's and Princess' brief and to-the-point addresses to the crowd. Taking their cue as the Princess lit the ceremonial torch, the lights went down, the navy boats lit their searchlights, and the entire assembly lit their candles as five thousand five-foot lanterns were lit and sent aloft from the beach by a battalion of Thai army men in three 100-yard rows, assisted by groups of students.

Representing the lost souls and the releasing of their spirits, the ceremony was spectacular and deeply emotional, as the lanterns floated upward and south toward Khao Lak, as awe-inspiring as any Fourth of July I've ever seen.

Digger said, "You'll never see another sight like this in your life."

- end

Full Moon Over Khaosan Road

Full Moon Over Khaosan Road

As the full moon shined down upon the steaming streets of Bangkok, I wondered, "Is the moon full over there where you are, too?"

Probably not.

The internationally famous Khaosan Road is like Times Square in New York, or the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, Colorado - frequented mainly by tourists, and avoided like the plague by the locals.

Nonetheless, with little else to do in the evenings, I made the obligatory stroll up and down the street, hoping maybe to see someone I knew, or just sip a Singha and take in Bangkok's nightly circus freak show.

Thousands of international tourists slogged down the avenue lined with brightly lit restaurants, guest houses, bars, souvenir and tailor shops, passport and visa services, ATMs, currency exchanges, portable food vendors, bookstores, CD shops, tattoo artists, hair stylists, and a plethora of t-shirt and clothing salespeople.

At curbside you can have your hair done up in dreadlocks, corn rows, or shaved bald, like some of the European girls, making their statement. Or you could get that new tattoo.

Obese middle-aged Europeans, still pastey white from a scandinavian winter, roamed the boulevard, while 60 year-old German bastards, their guts hanging heavily over their belts, strolled along with their 20 year-old Thai girlfriends-for-a-night.

Everyone who had been in Southeast Asia for any length of time sported new t-shirts proclaiming where they'd been - Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Thailand's islands.
I thought a good t-shirt marketing idea would be, 'I've been to the International Space Station,' with a picture of the ISS, and underneath it - 'And You Haven't.'

Everyone has a one-upmanship story to tell to a willing listener, their story not of their historical past or their country of origin, but where they've recently been. It's always the same: "We did Vietnam, and then we did Laos for two weeks, and then we did Cambodia."

"Yeah, I did Vietnam, too. Back in the sixties. But when I got home, I discovered Vietnam did me."

Everyone but me has a cell phone now, so to fake it, I just hold my hand to my ear and press an index finger onto that little piece of cartilage and start Jesus or whomever else might be listening in, like the CIA or the Dept. of Homeland Security, from what they're saying these days on the TV set.

The parade continues all night long and into the early morning hours, with old couples in retirement with the time and money to be there; young couples carrying enormous long-haul backpacks and weeks of road dirt; insecure, wide-eyed girls travelling alone; pretty, mini-skirted secure girls with their boyfriends; lonely old farts of both sexes, looking tired and forelorn; and entire families with babies in strollers and kids tagging behind, most all of them Europeans...and small groups of giggling Japanese. No Americans, no Mexicans, and just a smattering of skillet-black Africans.

Like the Khaosan Road t-shirt with the evolutionary graphic of the ape to upright bi-pedal modern man, proceding to a hunchbacked ape-man at a computer, with the comment, 'Somewhere, something went terribly wrong,' I kept thinking, 'something is terribly wrong with this picture.'

Wealth. People with money. That's why there aren't any Mexicans. And fear. That's why there aren't any Americans. Fear has kept us within our borders.

But there's no need for fear on Khaosan Road, or in Thailand as a whole, or anyplace else on the planet for that matter. Just like the t-shirt says, 'No Fear.'

- end

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Instant Karma/Garlic Breath of Jackal

Instant Karma/Garlic Breath of Jackal

Bangkok - On the long-way-around 26 hr. flight to Asia via Paris (weren't we supposed to be flying the other way?), they gave us a flyer about the H5N1 Avian Flu virus, commonly known as the 'bird flu'. Maybe you've heard about it already. The news was slow getting to the rez, but we found out anyway. Essentially, the info said, 'No eat da chicken that sneeze.'

What about the seafood? Is it ok? The waiter said, "No. The seafood hab peeple."

Just yesterday, they said, another skeleton washed up on the beaches of Khao Lak.


In a city of 7.5 million people and tens of thousands of t-shirt designs, I'm the only one running around in a Running Strong for American Indian Youth T-shirt, promoting the cause, where no one has ever heard of South Dakota, much less Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. And alllllll those Lakotas up there thinking we're the center of the universe.

You might be thinking, 'I'll bet the first thing he did was go out and get laid,' but no, as Dave from Alaska said last night while watching the Khaosan Road circus freak show, where skinny European guys in orange and purple dreadlocks and huge backpacks parade down the street with their newly tattooed girlfriends, 'Sex without love is empty.'

Actually, the first thing I did upon arrival was race to the airport men's room and dispose of my socks, longjohns, hooded sweatshirt, fleece jacket, and cheap-ass Wally World insulated moccasin bedroom slippers.

The second thing I did was race back through the airport and return to the men's room stall and ask the new occupant for my passport and money belt, which I had left hanging on the toilet paper dispenser.

Not knowing how to say, 'Excuse me' in Thai, and since the flight was from France, I tried my long-forgotten French, "Scusay Moi...passporrrr."

The guy just laughed, and through a crack in the door, handed out a money belt to the distraught and anxious fool on the other side. Yes, that would be me. And though much relieved to see he hadn't ripped off the cash inside, I wondered if he was laughing at my absent-mindedness, the stupid accent, or both.


Every day there's a tattooed cripple on the sidewalk just around the corner from the hotel, sitting with his begging bowl, to whom we (Digger, too) always give whatever spare change we have at the moment. Late in the day yesterday, for the first time, I saw him walking away from his spot with all his belongings.

That's okay. Him same same Buddhist monks who go about shortly after sunrise with their begging bowls, supported by the faithful populace. They say by giving to the monks, one gains karmic merit, but who knows if it's in this lifetime or the next.

For me, it seemed instant, but I didn't know if it was the monk's daily ration of rice, a chicken leg, a sweet banana-wrapped rice thing, rice sauce, and flower; or that old Thai grandma I escorted across 16 lanes of traffic, or that recently mangled dog with the raw foreleg learning to hop around on three, to whom I offered my breakfast, or maybe that other old lady I aided getting up those steps, that seemed to be in some way connected to all the good fortune I experienced yesterday, with everyone giving me everything for free.

'Mai mee ben ha, no probrem. You hab (have). You take,' they all said, waving off my effort to pay.

So, yesterday, everything was free. Free ride even from the cab driver who asked how many babies I had, then gave me three buddha amulets for their protection and good fortune. 'Rong Po Thuot. Him numba ONE,' he said, giving a thumbs up and handing over three buddha pendants, refusing payment.

While looking for the mangled dog I had seen the previous day, the fortune teller who gave me a free reading came down the street pulling all his belongings in a wheeled suitcase to his spot across from the royal palace.

The previous day, while drawing in red ink the lines across my palm and telling me if I stayed in Thailand, I would get married to a Thai 'laydee', he told me that I would live to be 85 yrs. old. We shared a cigarette, and he told me I should learn the language.

Then he stared seriously and vacantly through me, reached up and touched my eyebrows, and said, 'You lib to be old man. Eighty years old.'

That's revised down five from the day before. At this rate, I'd better get out of here within the next six days, or avoid the guy altogether.

Nevertheless, it's better than the life expectancy on the rez, where the lifespan is something like 47. Told Bro Tom, "We'd better get out of here (Pine Ridge), man. We're stretching the limit."

Also stretching the limit on this internet access machine at 1 baht per minute. Cheap cheap, but like the downloads that adjust the price to more like 3 baht per minute, I'm old and slow.

Garlic Breath of Jackal

Lots of garlic in everything down here. Reminds me of Lupe' on the rez, when one day after eating the burritos he had fixed, he commented, 'Your breath smells like a DOG'S ASS!"

I had to ask him, "how would you know what a dog's ass smells like, Lupe?"

- end

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Plane To Stay Aloft/Chilis To Come Down

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation -

If you've ever been in this cabin, you undoubtedly noticed the 'old-school' balsa wood airplane suspended from the ceiling, climbing and diving in the draft of the blades of the perpetual motion ceiling fan. Back forty, fifty years ago, you could get one of those planes for free inside a box of Crackerjacks.

Some assembly required. Took about twenty, thirty seconds. No instructions in three languages, and no child-proof packaging that required your mom and scissors to open. Larry and Rachelle, from Indiana, sent it in here, along with the complimentary 2 lb. can of coffee for 'the boys', and a batch of Rachelle's giant meal-in-themselves cookies.

The plane was set in place with a thread and a thumbtack, and after two or three minor adjustments to the delicate balance of the wings by remote engineers in mission control, she's flying straight and true, just like the shuttle. No foam is going to bring her down. No burnup upon re-entry.

The plane is one of the few things that will stay on here after my departure. The plane, and of course, the pond. The fish are going, the pond pump's going, the carpet's going, the kitchen table is going, and...what the the words of the furniture warehouse salesman, 'Everything must go.'

"What about the fridge?" asked Bo.

"Yep. It's going."

Chili lights? You bet. They're coming down.

Buffalo robe? Don't even ask.

The Chilis, sent in here by Susan down in Arizona, where they have LOTS of chilis, and Mexicans, but not as many as Mexico, are, I've concluded, one of the primary causes and attractions of people to these crossroads. Amost everyone, upon their first visit will comment, "Hey. It's like Christmas in here." Nearly everyone says that.

I've run tiny lights year-round since I've been here ('Cabin With Tiny Lights' 4/12/01), installing them around the framing of the deck, as well as encircling the kitchen, and later covered them with the plastic chili covers they find so appealing down in Arizona and New Mexico, where EVERYBODY runs chili lights, and where I first saw and envied them.

There's no question about it. They brighten up the atmosphere of an otherwise dismal, despairing, depressing, dysfunctional, alcoholic, suicidal, homocidal, diabetes-stricken, methamphetamine-mindbog, 'commod-bod' (commodity food wide-body, jumbo jet XXXL), poverty-stricken environment known as Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Some people call it a concentration camp, because everything here is concentrated. The food, the disease, the life-span, everything.

Here at the table last week, someone said the life-expectancy was 47 years-old. "Hey. We'd better get the hell outta here," Tom said. "We're a decade over!"

So, if it's that bad, then why do all these people keep coming around? I had to ask myself that, and the only thing I could come up with, was, 'to marvel.'

I think, right behind Yellowstone, The Rocky Mountain National Park, and Disneyworld, we're right up there at the top as one of the most twisted places in the USA. Oops. Did I say, 'twisted'? I meant to say vis...well...never mind. It can stand.

Among foreigners, we're right behind the south of France, and among Germans, we're the top tourist destination. There's about six or seven hundr...hell, I don't know how many, really...Germans on the rez right now, the height of Sun Dance, pow-wow, and tourist season.

Gudrun, on her fourth annual visit, down over the hill working in the garden, says they've got whole societies over in Germany composed of sympathetic wannabes who 'costume up' for regular pow-wows and all kinds of other celebratory reasons to dress up in skins like an American Indian of the 1800s. Feathers, fans, beaded moccasins, and the whole nine yards.

Besides Germany, there were three Austrians who were here in the kitchen just the other day, a woman from Brazil day before yesterday, a guy from California, and another first-timer guy from New York who just arrived last night. Next week, we expect people from Tennessee and Connecticut. Yeah. Tony. Tony from Connecticut.

Tony's the guy who brought the five brothers in here from Ghana, 'The African Show Boyz,' who made a sensation with their drums and impromptu performance over at Pine Ridge High School, and took in ceremony with us, one of them saying about the glowing rocks in the sweat lodge, "Dat's da firs time I have been dat close to God, and I couldn't touch Him."

Then there's the film crews and documentarians from France and Japan (Yes, Japan, where, incidentally, they too, have their own Japanese-Indian thing going, like the wild wild west, or somebody's compelling imagination about who somebody used to be), and the writers and the nutritionists, and the straw-bale people, and the wind and solar people, and all those other folks who aren't here as tourists, but rather, on a mission.

Now, I'm not saying all these people, like the Governor of Kentucky (that's 'Ex-Gov', actually, but Craig, who brought him up here, always liked to keep saying, 'The Governor, The Governor, The Governor this, The Governor that'), the Beverly Hillbillies, rez dogs, hemp heads and other Don Quixotic dignitaries and luminaries come here for the chili lights. That would be illusory, wouldn't it?

Most, if not all of the people who come through here are here because of Bro Tom and his programs, or ceremony out back here, which Tom runs as well, since the Old Man's incapacitation. The dogs come through for handouts.

But despite being here on a personal misson, they've already been here on at least one prior occasion to marvel. It's only after marvelling that they return home and wonder what can be done to help alleviate the third-world conditions alluded to earlier.


Just reached an impasse, a mind-lock, so I went out and took a dip in the pond (it's 98 degrees today), twisted up a roll-yer-own and hopped in the truck, rumbling down to that magical idea spot on Slim Buttes Road I was telling you about ('Only One Time', 7/24/05), and returning.

On the way back, I ran into Sandy & Lupe, headed into Wal-Mart, and mentioned taking the German, Gudrun, into town tomorrow for the Sunday morning breakfast buffet, where one can marvel at the sheer size and girth of the buffet and those Nebraskans who eat there, because Gudrun seemed in need of company, a good meal, and getting away from the rez for awhile.

Sandy said it was the same thing with that lady from New Jersey. "They come here to help, and you end up baby-sitting and chauffeuring them around, and..."

"Well. She don't have no transportation."

"Yeah, that's another thing," said Sandy.

I asked her immediately if I could quote her on that, and she said, "Sure. Go ahead."

Well, we try to be as accomodating as possible with those who come through here, just like you do at your place, whether people come to visit, help, or just to marvel.


So, where was I? Something about crackerjacks...

No, the theme was chili lights, what to take and what to leave behind, like karma or someone fleeing a threatening wildfire. Most people snatch the family photo album and some other things if they have the time, and I wondered how many people lost their lives in the tsunami, when instead of listening to people screaming at them to flee for their lives, they tarried to get the passport or some curio recently purchased at a local shop. Or her purse.

The dead would have a tale to tell of their last seconds in this realm of physical existence, of going through a windshield, of being swept up in a 300 mph wave, of incredibly crashing into a skyscraper aboard a jetliner, of being instantly incinerated in a vaporized atomic mist...a million ways to leave Mother Earth.

So there's this guy who's trying to get into heaven...did I tell you this one? Have you heard it?

And St. Pete asks him, 'What have you done to merit entry into heaven?'

The guy says, 'Well, once I saved this poor girl from a motorcycle gang who was hassling her.'

"What did you do?" asked St. Peter.

"I went up to the biggest, baddest guy there with the most tatoos, kicked over his bike, snatched his nose ring out, and told 'em, 'If any of you want to harass this girl, you'll have to go through me first," said the man.

"When did this happen?" asked St. Peter.

"Just a few minutes ago," said the man.


Ok, then. 'Bout time to wrap it up.

Which brings me to fabrication, since one of the readers took too seriously the remarks of one of the characters, who, for purpose of providing a persona behind a real 3-D world verbal exchange and telling a complete tale, just happened to be a pure fiction, like charging two five-star hotel buffet dinners to an anonymous guest. Although we sneaked into the pool, we did indeed, pay for all our food and drink.

Except for the times when 'Rick Larsen' signed. You couldn't make out the chicken-scrawled room number. With sheer delight, we watched without directly looking up, the confusion among the Thai restaurant staff at the desk, trying to figure out whose room to charge the meal to.

So, what the hell. Did he go to Thailand, after all, or was he just sitting up there in that cabin on the reservation, junction of the crossroads, making it all up?

- end

Friday, July 29, 2005

He Just Sat There, Watching The Sea

He Just Sat There, Watching The Sea

Growing tired of the culinary monotony of fish heads and rice served up three times a day at the volunteer center, I invited a friend from Sweden to the Friday night dinner buffet at the Marlin, a five-star resort hotel where you could excessively indulge yourself on several entrees of premier Thai cusine for 400 baht, about ten bucks.

The Marlin was situated on the south side of the mountain, about halfway between our primitive gecko-jungalow-bungalow and the volunteer center up on top at the Khao Lak Nature Preserve.

Several of us volunteers had been using the Marlin's six swimming pools, enjoying the facilities as if we were staying there, being turned away only during the stay of the Prince of Denmark, whose entourage occupied the entire resort for the four or five days during the memorial service for the hundreds of Danish victims of the tsunami, over which he presided.

"These guys look like they're ready for a day at the beach," Digger had said when we went for the modestly-priced Sunday morning all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, nodding at the dozen uniformed Danish security men standing around in the lobby waiting to see what the Prince wanted to do next, all wearing tan summer shorts and towels around their necks, laughing easily like they had the day off. For a security force, they all seemed extremely relaxed. Assignment to accompany the Prince to Thailand? Not baaaaad. Not bad at all. Pack the fins and snorkel.

"We're with the Prince," Digger told the manager when he stopped us in our traverse across the lobby, but when I realized he knew I knew he knew who we were...we had far too advanced tans, compared to the recently-arrived pale white Danes, and didn't resemble the resort's primarily German and Swede clientelle, and besides that, he'd seen us frequenting the pool for weeks...that I relinquished the ruse and told him we were there for his modestly-priced breakfast buffet.

"You should have said something in German," Digger said.

Although the main reception facility, restaurant, bar, and several of the resort's 4,000 room occupancy were on high ground and undamaged by The Wave, many of the rooms below 30 ft. sea level and beachfront bungalows had been swept off their foundations and were in the process of being rebuilt by dozens of Thai workers who smiled and used whatever English they knew in greeting me whenever I sneaked into the pool.


You know how dogs can talk. They've got the standard expressions they use for 'friend', 'glad to see you', 'wary distrust', 'get back', and so forth, but if you watch them closely, they can tell you much, much more.

It was late and dark by the time we had finished a sampling of the half-dozen inspired buffet desserts the chef proudly encouraged us to try. After signing off the bill to a Mr. Hendricksen in room 309, we walked down the concrete walkway to the beach, illuminated by small yellow lights, accomplanied by a generic short-haired brown Thai dog with the customary arched tail up over his back.

I'd seen him around before in the lower level of the resort where the Thai military had set up headquarters for their massive tsunami relief effort, with their huge tent encampment adjacent to the grounds of the Marlin.

When he appeared at our heels, nuzzling my hand in a wet-nose greeting that demanded recognition, I wondered whose dog he might be, there on the grounds and all. His confidence and air of unchallenged authority said, 'This place is mine. It's all mine. I own it. Come. I'll show you around. Please follow me.'

We walked down to the beach and stood under coconut palms looking out at the blackness. Tiny lights of fishing vessels were far out on the Andaman, her waves crashing in methodical thunder.

My dinner companion said six thousand Swedes died in Khao Lak, some of them right here, where the day after Christmas, on their winter holiday, they were having breakfast, walking along the beach, or maybe just sleeping in a little longer from the previous night's festivities when the water, as the Thai strangely put it, 'went away'.

Everyone attests no animals died when the water 'came back'. Just human beings. There were still more than 2,000, they said, still 'out there', somewhere in the sea.

Our escort had gone to high ground, as well, but he had returned immediately in the first wave of stunned survivors to help with the aftermath. He had seen incredibly sad things that his ancestors never knew, and he experienced some truly horrible smells, but these days were pretty much back to normal, with his job to oversee all the reconstruction work that was going on there at the Marlin, and to coordinate things with the military.

He wouldn't let us go near the water that late at night, and gently suggested we stay on the walkway, up under the coconuts, walking between us and the beach and leaning into our legs to direct our stroll.

When a young couple, walking hand-in-hand, came up the beach, he leaped up and ran out to the water, staying with them until they returned to the Marlin's grounds and their bungalow, then he returned and found us, and on the sand, he just sat there, watching the sea.

- end

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Only One Time

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation -

Sometimes, especially at night, when driving home on Slim Buttes road, lulled into an anesthetized mind-numbing semi-coma by the rumble of studded snow tires on rough gravel, and the numerous idiosyncratic rattles of a '62 Chevy tank of a truck, I'll wonder, "Have I crossed the White River yet?"

Until a familiar stretch of road opens up before the tank's fan of light, there'll remain a disquieting uncertainty. "Is it still up ahead, or behind?"

It's happened more than once.

The White River, flowing under a short two-lane country bridge, marks the halfway point to the reservation border town of Chadron, NE, and heading north, you can take the 'S' curve leading down to the bridge at 60, 65 mph if the road conditions are just right, and if you can get a good clean look through those branches of that bush on the north side to see if there's anybody coming the other way, which happened only one time.

If not, you can hug the inside of the curve and accelerate across the bridge into a three-mile climbing straightaway, churning up a massive cloud of dust that forces anyone behind you to fall back a mile or so. Bo Davis knows what I'm talking about. So does Tom Cook.

If the first of the cattle-gates appears in the headlights, then I've already crossed the river. It's behind me. If I come up on the Rod and Connie Sandoz property, where Connie's name is crossed out on the archway sign over their drive, then the river is still up ahead a couple of miles.

And so, I'll have to ask Tom or Bo, or maybe Beatrice...anyone who regularly travels that road, if they have the same experience, especially at night. In the daytime you can tell where the hell you are.

It's really strange, that, 'Where the hell am I?' thought, to be occurring in a normal, or did I say 'semi-coma' state, to be differentiated from say, a sharp blow to the head, or any other physical impairment.

Maybe you've experienced it. 'Where the hell am I?' Maybe you've thought it.

It's on this same road, where a few miles out of Chadron the way inclines north to the crest of a butte, and with the town of Chadron over one's shoulder in the mirror, the land opens up in a great yawn for miles, yielding an expansive view of chalky white buttes emerging from rolling yellow ochre hills, and brown, parched sunburnt grasslands.

Perhaps its the liberating sensation of leaving civilization behind to enter another universe of reservation life, or maybe it's just the emergence of that spectacular vista that engenders a volcanic spew of literary ideas, almost as if the washboard road was rumbling out prose. This happens all the time. Tom, and others, say they haven't experienced it, but I'm sure there are other roads where the same phenomema occurs.

On past that special place atop the butte, just before Rod and what used to be Connie's place, there's a sharp left-hand turn that can be taken at 50 mph on the inside of the blind uphill curve, where a number of people I know have gone off the road, coming downhill from the opposite direction.

Only one time did I meet someone coming the other way as, out of habit, I hugged the inside of the road. It was snowing, I had the whole family with me, and we were returning to Slim Buttes from Chadron in Loretta's old Ford SUV on some kinda fry bread gopher mission after sitting up all night in peyote meeting, which, under the influence thereof and circumstances, I already felt someone approaching from the opposite direction.

Whipped the car to the right, shot across the road, barely being missed by the other guy, a couple of Indians in a low-slung rez ride. Spun the wheel back to the left, knowing we were already going into the ditch. I saw a roll-over in my mind.

We didn't. We spun out, stopping right in the middle of an access to a pasture, probably Rod's, the kids in the back seat wide-eyed and silent at first, then freaking when what had happened caught up to them.

A mysterious stretch of road, almost as if Rod's direct ancestor, the famous writer of the West and author of 'Crazy Horse', Mari Sandoz, was beckoning for attention.

- end

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Like A Duck, Smooth on the Suface, Paddling Like Hell Underneath

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation -

Long time since last entry. As they would say in the land of a billion buddhas, 'Long ti, you no wry.' Returned to US for Sun Dance in the Black Hills of South Dakota, leaving Digger behind in Thailand, where he is teaching English and happy not to be living here, 'here', being Denver, the rez, the USA, or western hemisphere.

Back here, same same as before, if you're absent for more than a couple of hours from your home, the liklihood of being a victim of theft increases dramatically in exponential proportion to a thieve's anticipation and calculation of one's time away, and all sorts of haywire things can occur, for instance, the least of which is the witch switch being forcibly yanked from its pull-chain socket, rendering the ceiling fan on-off switch inoperable and permanently set at 'low', which during these sweltering dog days of July, is disconcerting, but glad we're not out there dancing right now.

Yeah, I got ripped off, but not too bad this time, because during the second break-in, Poncho (my landlord who just happens to be a uniformed member of the local Oglala Sioux Tribe Dept. of Public Safety, read, 'Pine Ridge Cop') just happened to be checking on the place and apprehended the two adolescent thieves before their departure, a crime in-progress, with a shit-load of my belongings piled high on a Pendleton blanket in the middle of the floor.

"I asked them," said Poncho, "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Learning this upon my return, and fresh from one-room simplistic living of the Thai, my first impression when entering the cabin was, 'Gee, this place smells like mice.' My second impression was, 'Gee, I've got wayyyyy too much STUFF.

Better to give it away to a smiling recipient friend than to have it stolen, so I began trying to give away as much as possible for two reasons; the first, theft; and the second, before I die; and the third, I've got to move, making a permanent departure from these here crossroads and this little mouse-nest of a cabin, the smell of which I haven't yet been able to eradicate with Lysol, bleach, incense sticks that Jamie or Kathy or somebody sent in here, and the introduction of a pregnant cat.


Here in the family, two nephews died just weeks before the Dance. Same-o stuff as always. More hardship and more heartache, setting a pall over this year's Dance. Many visitors here on the rez, with three Germans presently in camp, going into sweat lodge with us last night. Four or five rez dogs coming around each day, looking for handouts, tongues hanging way out the sides of their mouths, trying to beat the heat.

Many thunderstorms at night, with temps over 100 F. in the day. One of those electrical storms knocked out my screen for three weeks, predisposing me to silence for about that much time.


While traveling, I passed a small spiral notebook to the passengers down in the smoking lounge car aboard Amtrak, asking them to write anything. Some of their entries:

- "We partied so hard, it'da made Jim Morrison throw up." - Barron, Denver, CO.

- "I'm like a duck, smoothe on the surface, and paddling like hell underneath." - Biloxi, Mississippi.

- "It's all good! Your lips are moving, but I can't hear what you're saying." - Portland, OR.

-"Life's funny, if you're lucky." - Osceola, Iowa.

-"Got three apples. Take two. How many you got?" - Toledo, Ohio.

-"Don't listen to..."(scratched out) "Working with the mentally ill is a lot like pissing in a dark suit. You get that warm feeling, but nobody notices." - Arkansas

-"Due unto others, then split." - California

-"Drink your milk all down and do well in school." - Lincoln, NE.

Regular American folks down in the smoking car. It got loud and boisterous at one point, with people disobeying the posted rules forbidding food or alcoholic beverages in the smoking lounge.

Barron, the guy from Colorado who was both high and drunk, gave the frowning black porter twenty bucks immediately upon his entry into the lounge, and the man smiled, took the twenty, spun on his patent leather heels, and departed, leaving us to our continued merriment and the shock of the apprehensive couple from the UK who were stunned to know that such things could be done, fully prepared to offer an explanation of their uninvolvement in the outrageous debauchery in the car, the introduction of alcohol therein, or the tearing down of the signs from the walls indicating the management's wishes for order, conformity, and compliance with railroad regulations.

Barron, incidentally, was partially blamed for the sudden heart attack death of the large man in the Rocky Mountain tunnel that had us waylaid for two hours with all the medical people scrambling aboard, and then the coroner, later departing with the sheet-covered corpse, because, they say, he, Barron, in his inebriated state, wouldn't remove his size 13 feet from the headrest of the man's seat after several appeals on the part of the beleaguered party, resulting in the man's quickly attaining a frothing state of outrage, and grumbling about the rights of passengers, just before entering the tunnel, they said.

That was before the age of terror, before Amtrak was beseiged with dogs, and exorbitant ticket prices, and while everyone, including homeland security, had their eyes fixed on the friendly skies.


Life before terror. Life before the computer. What was it like? Now you can get a laptop for $50 bucks. On the rez. It would be a pity to ask if it was stolen.

So, we've got thieves in the neighborhood. They hit Sandy and Lupe and Uncle Joe, too. So, you may wonder, why would anyone wish to stay there?

Spiritual Family and friends. And that crest in the road on the way back from town, where all those ideas percolate to the surface, like all the iron and nails in this driveway after a heavy rainfall. And the pond.

Despite my imminent departure from the premises and Tom's continued assertion that 'Poncho ain't gonna do JACK,' I persevered toward the completion of the pond begun last fall, sealing the concrete and installing a 600 gal. per minute pond pump that has created a collosal cascading waterfall, and introducing swordfish, marlin and Albacore tuna to the delight of nearly everyone except the smallish toddler Indian children who find the fish quite frightening and won't go near the water, notwithstanding life jackets or their parents' urging from the canoes.

That huge frog appeared and came in on his own volition and willfull accord, the largest I've ever beheld, about the size of a family reunion serving platter, except for the 100-pounder seized by Mike Shoemaker from the Wabash River some 40 years ago, a cause celebre that was deserving, according to the editors at the time, a photo and special recognition in the local paper.

So, it's a tossup who'll get the fish - the frog or the cat.

'Tuna fish salad,' said Misty.

'Swordfish steaks, grilled and blackened,' I replied.

We all laughed, gazing into the pond, reflecting the rising full moon and the strands of chili lights inside the cabin's kitchen, left up since wayyyyy long before Christmas and producing a Mexican hacienda effect that Lupe just loves and insists he'll replicate over at his place across the road once Wal-Mart stocks its shelves for the holidays and he gets a chance to slide down to Taos or Santa Fe.


Moving - Not Moving

Sometimes our movement is of our own volition and willfull accord, and sometimes we require a foot up our ass. In any case, whatever the prompting, a move can cause one to 'take stock'. We can take stock in all our amazing accumulation of belongings that must be either boxed up or given away; we can take stock of one's capacities and capabilities, as in, preparing a new and updated resume'; and we can take stock of our options and relative station in life, deciding whether or not we have achieved our objectives, or maybe take stock of our net worth. Stock options, I guess you could call it.

It could be another of life's crossroads, more definitive and less obscure than the emotional or economic vicissitudes of everyday life. It also presents the opportunity of being shaken from the ordinary, causing a need within the ensuing vacuum for the creation of a new universe in which to exist, and then going to live in it.

- end

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

All Buddhaed Up - Pt. II

All Buddhaed Up - Pt. II

"Welcome back to Urine and Cat Vomit Avenue," said Digger jokingly in reference to Khao San Road as our overnight train crawled through Bangkok's bleak back alley tin roof slums to the heart of the steaming city.

After wrapping up our work and commitment in Khao Lak, we hopped aboard the tourist track to Chiang Mai, over into Lao to the ancient capital Luang Prabang, and down to Vientianne where we met an old British ex-pat friend formerly associated with the UXO Lao program.

Time for temples, long walks and attempting to see and absorb other parts of the region before returning home, hitting a few spots we'd visited before. Digger left last night, excited about returning to his girlfriend, his apartment, and his new job at Takua Pa High School, north of Khao Lak, where he'll be teaching English the next six months to Tsunami kids through the World Childhood Foundation, a 25-year old NGO founded by the Queen of Sweden.

At one point back home when we were first discussing our mission I told him, "Dig, if you're willing to do something for somebody first, then what you want in life will come to you."

It's true. All I had hoped for him occurred, the international contacts, the exposure to human suffering, the blissful buddhas...... He ain't coming home, just yet. She's a Brit, by the way. You were probably thinking Thai, right?

We ended up doing exactly what we thought we might... some construction, some maybe teaching English, some making the people laugh.

Aer, the Burmese boatbuilder who has three wives who keep him up all night, was up in one of four boats under construction, teasingly making reference to our dreadlock work buddy Nate's not having quite a full load, by winding his finger around his ear a couple of times, then slowly passing his hand in front of his face with a motion of screwing in a lightbulb.

That, and Nate's trying to speak Indian for 'Good' ('Uhhhhhhh!'), 'Bad' ('Hngrrraw'), and
'Exceptional' ('HiieeeyaaaAA!'). Not really words at all, but just sounds. He never got it right. But it sure kept it light around the project work site.

One day when things didn't begin quite right for the boathouse project director Scott, dubbed 'Captain America' by the Aussie Terry for his gung-ho attitude, I shared with him what had just been told me the night before by Helen from Sweden, who had received it from her grandmother, she said: 'Sometimes we can't fairly expect others to hold the same standards we set for ourselves.'

That was with respect to the application of an American work ethic to Thailand, where, uh, ha, you just can't. CANNOT! One hears that word frequently over here, and I'm surprised that it hasn't yet appeared on a T Shirt on Khao San Road.

The Muslim boatbuilders were tickled by the Christian God shouting down angrily, "NO! YOU CANNOT!" to my whimpering and fearful request for two wives, God thrusting down an angry pointing finger, after saying pleasantly, "Yes, You May," to my Muslim brothers up there in the boat, a joke communicated pretty much by sign language.

We were discussing 'serious' one day during an interlude in the power tools (the planer was horribly loud, and the boatbuilders used it a lot, shaping out the ribs and planks of the boats), and I think I remember somebody saying they tried serious for about fifty years. Maybe it was me. Or maybe it was Terry, who was partially credited with coming up with a list of 'Degrees of Asshole', which really sounded funny coming off an Austrailian tongue.

Of course, 'Supreme' was at the top, followed by 'Complete & Toe-ul', then 'Perfect', 'Genuine', 'Certified', 'Flaming', and 'Royal'.

I'm not sure how the topic came up, but maybe that day we were talking about the boss.

Who was really a great guy, by the way. In fact, whatever their motives, they (the volunteer corps) were all good folks. You can imagine who might show up. People from all across Europe, and backpacking hippies from all over SE Asia. Mostly young people in their 20s.

"I haven't met anyone from Mexico, yet," Digger said one night. 'Not one.'

No Mexicans. That got us thinking about the import labor and tortilla thing. "Hey Conchita! I got a yob! You can wear flip-flops on the' the weather's jus' like at home!"

Dig's Thai co-teacher asked, "You can make Enchiradas?"

That's okay. They take great delight in us trying to speak Thai. Everybody gets made fun of, and it's only the genuine and certified who'll take it too serious.


One last night before boarding the plane. Went down to Khao San road for a walk-through. Heard someone from a nearby table yell my name as I traded in a copy of 'Off The Rails in Cambodia', worth about 100 baht used, to the African 'map man', acquiring a laminated copy of the world.

'Small world, huh?' I said to David and Nikki from England, two actual friends from Khao Lak with whom Digger and I had dinner on occasion. They too, were headed home, up against a non-extendable visa and flight deadline. We talked about non-coincidence and reflected on the time spent down south as we sat and watched the circus freak show passing up and down the street, laughing at the new arrivals, white and pastey from northern latitude sun-deprivation, loaded down front and back like pack mules, looking for a five-to-six-dollar-a-night room.

Who would wear a T shirt that reads, 'Eat more rice, bitch'. ? Saw a guy wearing one. There's far, far worse. They've got anything and everything, every rude statement imaginable for sale in your size. At about six or seventeen different shops.

Then there was Roger, a wired, paranoid Nam-vet who never went home and kept calling all the Thai, even the women, 'Charlie'.

"Hey, Charlie," he'd say to a waitress. "Hey, Charlie," he'd call out to a cab driver.

"They're ALL Charlies," he exclaimed. "Didn't you read the papers? They WON!"

"We're not in Vietnam, Roger," I tried to reason. "The Thai weren't even...the Thai were on our side, for God's sake. They weren't V.C."

"You don't think so?" he asked. "Watch this," he said, approaching a crooked old man who was wearing a khaki pith helmet.

"You fight against the French?" he asked the old man. The man looked up vacantly at the big foreigner, smiled a toothless grin and sort of nodded his head, extending his hand.


It was hopeless. They're all Charlies. Everyone in Asia. Vietnam, Cambodia, Lao. China. Thailand. Everybody was Charlie. "They won in Vietnam. They won in Cambodia. They won in Lao. And they won in China," he said. "What makes 'em not Charlie?" he asked.

"Their granddaddies was Charlie, their momma was Charlie, and their dad was Charlie, so what does that make 'em?" he asked.

"We're at peace now, Rodger," I insisted. "Have been for thirty-five years. This ain't the 'Nam."

"Yeah," he replied. "Tell that to the Hmong. Why do you think there's still a steady flow of hill tribe people into Minneapolis?"

He said he had some business 'up around the mountains', but who knows what he was doing slogging around Bangkok.

Others would tell their story right away, like the two from Seattle who joined Digger, Mel, and me at our table for 'trivia night' at the Lamuan Seafood Restaurant, where a dozen teams of eight or so took part in a night's fun, and which we had successfully avoided for its sheer lunacy except for the last night in Khao Lak, so we went ahead with our team, 'Four Yanks and a Brit', and won the damn thing just for spite, missing in eight rounds of eight questions only 'how many strings does a violin have?', and 'what disease does Stephen Hawkings suffer from?', and one other, taking home 600 b. in prize money.

Anyway, these two hippies sat down, and to the question, 'Where are you from?', he responded, "We were over in Cambodia, then we did Vietnam, then we did Lao, and then we came over here after finding out about the volunteer center on the net."

I wondered what he did to those countries, but didn't ask. "Where is your home?" I asked pointedly.

"Seattle," he said.

"See, I told you," said Digger, right there in front of them, to which they both responded with questioning looks that never got the benefit of being dispelled.

So, there's this whole mass of yuppies from the U.S. who are over here, 'doing' Southeast Asia.

'Have you ever done the International Space Station?'

DUDE! That would require an education!


I just asked the blue uniformed girl here in the back office of the hotel how you spell 'surprise', and she brought me a Sprite, which they all pronounce 'Sa-prite'. Then when we got the question clarified, she said, 's...a...l...s...u...r...a...i...l.'

delightful people, the Thai.

There was more I wanted to convey this entry, like the girl at the Buddha market in Bangkok who could make a perfect imitation of a gecko, but another person wants the machine, and there's only one machine available, and suddenly the office is crowded with six or seven folks sitting around a big plate of rice and pattapao, and I've got an early flight in few hours. Gotta go home for a dance of gratitude. A lot of people to thank.

Four. Four strings on a violin.

Thank you.

Love, vic.

- end

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Run To Ranong / Made It To Here

Run To Ranong

Unless you've got special star status, an appointment with the princess, or a six month work visa, you've got to make the 'visa run' every thirty days if you want to remain in the country. Minimally, you can cross over a border into any adjacent country, then return immediately. Good to go. Another month.

One could go anywhere in the world, even the International Space Station, but here the closest choices are Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, or Myanmar. From the Isthmus of Kra, our closest choice is Myanmar, a trip made twice so far, whereupon entry our party was immediately descended upon by a crowd of begging children and viagra and valium peddling young men with opium eyes, kicking the asses of the urchins competing for our attention. A carton of cigs for 200 baht in Burma, same same five bucks.

The two-hour one way trip is a leisurely day away from the work site, but 'at the end of the day,' as the Aussies are keen to say, the trip ends up requiring a full day's patience, as any traveling can be for an Oversized, Supersized American double XL ass in a Thai bus or motor chariot, whereas one often will see a 'Thai Family Of Five On a Honda', and just yesterday at Cape Pakarang camp, there must've been 40 Thai off-loading out of the back of a tinyass Isuzu truck.

That's just the way it is, same same the impracticality of lace-up shoes in a culture of flip flops, where footgear is left on the doorstep of all homes and most businesses, and where constantly wet feet and sand are a fact of life, like gumbo on the rez.

Down at one of the reconstruction sites where Thai workmen were shoveling up another batch of concrete, the sea waves breaking behind them, just for chuckles I asked them, "Where you guys getting your sand?"

For a buried crab, the whole universe is sand, inna?


After five solid days of rain without a speck of sun, this week the god of intermittant torrential downpour let off in preparation for Buddha's birthday and our ceremonial launching of the first boat out of the boat house. After a prayer offering, flowers, incense and brightly colored silk scarves tied to the bow, and hefted onto the launch ramp by two dozen Thai, Burmese, and a few volunteers, the blue boat 'Hope' slid down into the small canal to the delight of two or three hundred there for the photo op and the following beach party that ran late into the night with multinational karaoke blaring away, big feed, and beer under an almost full moon.

"Forty-one to go," said project manager Scott in a celebratory high-five, grinning with tears in his eyes, wanting a cold beer, still dripping wet from planting the the forward end of the ramp in the canal, up to his chin in tidal water while seven others set the ramp just finished a minute ago, at 6:05, for the six o'clock launching, so they said, that happened closer to seven.

Whathisname gets the boat. The guy that 'Yeshua Nate', the guy with the three-foot long dreadlocks, rides around with in his side car, along with the four kids who survived the tsunami. Sorry I can't give you his name. He lost his wife, a son, and a leg. And his fishing boat. Comes around the boathouse on one leg and a crutch, bringing his kids and Nate, who, spreading his peace and love and open use of ganja, manages to repeatedly demonstrate how to take one step forward, three steps back, helping drive that nail in just a little bit further with a two-pound sledgehammer until the board splits.

I had to smile and say politely, "Thank you, Nate. Thank you for doing that," instead of saying like I did last week, "Why the fuck did you do that? Why did you keep pounding on that son of a bitch until it broke? Come down off the ladder, Nate. Put the hammer down."

I caught myself talking to him as one would a small child. The tone of a dad to a five year-old son in a machine shop. How arrogant of me to presume any knowledge of carpentry. What lacking of humilty to stop a saint from undoing three days work with his new skill saw toy.

The strong language required an apology, to which he replied,"No problem. It's forgotten," just like a puppy.

After witnessing the hurt in his face, his eyes reddening and plunging him into a momentary sinkhole of sadness, it appeared the Burmese boatbuilders had a better approach. They stopped him by using sign language, waving their hands and shaking their heads and taking their power tools out of his hands.

All without saying a word. Amazing. The non-verbal body language said, 'No. Don't. Don't tighten that bar clamp for us. Don't hit that. Don't do that. Don't use the planer on our boat. Stop.' They never asked him to get out of their way, or to stop climbing around in the boat they were trying to build.


How do those elephants manage to stay off the road? Most of the time they're grazing freely when I pass them each day, sometimes with their looks to be Burmese trainers aboard, lumbering down the side of the road in single file, clomping along with their heavy, steady gait, suprisingly fast. When the wave hit, people say the elephants took a bunch of children to higher ground, and took off to the mountains with tourists aboard, ignoring their trainers.

All the animals made it, people say. No cats found. No dogs among the dead. Just people. 'Tsunami Dog', adopted by the family that runs the restaurant where we lunch, lost his former family and lays around in the road, looking to get hit, it looks like. The chicken-on-a-stick lady who drives the charcoal vendor on wheels with a sidecar, gives him gizzards every day. Apart from laying in the road, disinterested in the swerving trucks and motorcycles, he seems happy for the gizzards and to be alive.


During a break in the boathouse construction when the power 'went down', as it does nearly each afternoon, Mr. 'K' said, "C'mon. I show you my farm."

We went for a ride to the southern end of the cape with Eeb and another Muslim guy who always wears a face mask around the boathouse. We passed another devastated resort just in the process of being rebuilt, onto his land, a grove of coconuts littered with sea and building debris.

You have to listen to him closely. He's speaking English.

"My rest-a-rant, here," he points at a foundation remains. Hard to imagine what it looked like. Something like a postcard setting, I suppose. Setting sun, tropical paradise, restaurant, dive shop, coconut palms, tailor shop, tour guide...

He lost all his businesses, his son, father-in-law, sister-in-law, and several employees. Already told you. What does it matter, the numbers? On the job, you'd never know. Just like the guy with one leg to whom the first boat was given. You'd never know until they tell you. Or someone else tells you.

He told me twice, making certain that I understood, although I wondered how he could know. "Right here," he said with a detached nonchalance, as if identifying a nighttime constellation, pointing to a spot of ground fifty yards from the beach where the waves crashed on the beach. "My son. He made it to here."

- end

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Whose Refugee Where

Whose Refugee Where

No need for moisturizer down here. Nobody complaining of cracked and dry skin. Open sores and raw skin ulcers, yes, but not dry skin.

Just missed a torrential downpour, warm and dry at the cafe Arthit, the system up, then down, now up again after a second cup of strong coffee. A mere splattering upon leaving the jungalow, south to Lam Kaen for petro in a drizzle, log truck spray up the mountain, sunshine at the top, then ominous black clouds coming back down the other side.

Nodding at the impenetrable torrent lashing at the street, "A nice day for the beach," said Kathy, the wife of Kirt, ceramic water filter makers from the north of Thailand seven years and previously from, I had to pry it from them, Colorado, embarrassingly, yes, I could have guessed, Boulder, no shit? yes, before that. Then Portland. Yes, I could have guessed.

Eventually, the propulsion toward revelation would have emerged naturally, but then, who knew how long the rain would last. Forgive me for asking.

Waiting for the system to pop back up, they gave me a quick run-down offering under the outside awning on what they're doing for the refugees, to counteract any stereotypical impression that may have been formed by their admitting their time spent in Boulder.

And weren't the summer music festivals in Lyons just wonderful?

Once you've acheived, or ascended Boulder and explored its multitudinous transcendental higher healing holistic helping therapies, then where can you go to feel good about yourself? Aspen? Costa Rica? South of France? Nepal? Northern Thailand? The Rez? There must be someplace.

Michael, from Belgium, says Morroco. Festival in the Desert.

Maybe the International Space Station.

And the t-shirt that says, 'I've been to the International Space Station, and You Haven't.'


Digger says we should initiate a Mexican infrastructure. Start up a Mexican restaurant, which is badly needed here, and before you'd know it, they'd be competing with the Burmese over jobs, the low-paying and menial nature of which the Thai refuse.

"Same same U.S. America," we tell the Thai when they talk about the influx of Burmese.

A huge vaccum would be felt in every American city north of the Rio Grande. Tens of hundreds of thousands of Mexicans immigrating to Thailand with their extended families, Spanish replacing English as the lingo of commerce.

Enchiladas, Burritos, and Tex Mex.

"You should tell Lupe," said Digger. "The weather's about the same. Lots of low-paying jobs. They'd love it."


I should tell you something about the projects.

There's the housing, the major efforts toward housing the thousands of displaced people. There's three that are directly affilated with the Vol. Ctr., I think, then others up and down the line, run by Thai, Japanese, and the 'Happy Clapper' Southern Babtists, as they are dubbed by the Europeans, from Oklahoma or South Carolina or somewhere, who always occupied a table for twelve or more at the restaurants and wore yellow T-shirts proclaiming their volunteer service and their faith. Big brown cross on the back.

They managed to piss off people from a number of nations around the world with their prosletizing, Bibical analogies, impatient pushy Jesus, and guilt trip in the busom of a billion buddhas, telling orphans the reason their parents are gone is because they failed to accept Christ in their lives.

"It seems exploitative with ulterior motives attached to the help," said Myra. "If their God is so weak he can't control the universe without their active help, then I'm not interested."

And the Mormons are starting a church down in Phuket, the advance team said. And a family of four Quakers, or Amish, pity the kids, all of ém wearing that hot, black, long, traditional garb, settled into Lam Kaen refugee camp, Helen said in astonishment, going to try to make it on 20 baht a day, Digger said.

"It takes a minimum of 600 baht to renew your visa," said Mel. "Per person. What will they do in thirty days? They'll be kicked out of the country."

They planned to come here and live in the camps with the refugees. "Don't they know the camps are for the refugees?" she asked.

Maybe they are.


Then there's the arts & crafts project, the English language project, beach clean-up, landscaping, the wood shop, underwater diving cleanup, the web site, the big, 4 Kali community development project organized by some people who lost their daughter, and the boathouse/boatyard/boatshed project at Pakarang.

You can't really call it a boatshed. Some call it a cathedral, and others call it many things. As having 'funding up the ass', as James said yesterday, this long-term and ongoing project (as many are) was established early after The Wave with independent funding from a variety of sources with the intention of rebuilding the three dozen fishing boats lost in the immediate area.

"Just remember one thing," I was forever telling Terry, from Austrailia, with actual, measurable carpentry skills, in a British-accented language he could understand. "You're not building Her Majesty's Royal Buckingham Palace."

To which Terry would reply, "You're not building the fucking Taj Mahal."

It's been called that, too. The Taj Mahal. Lots of people have asked when we're going to finish it.

We've got Thai and Burmese boatbuilders working alongside us since the roof, and T-shirts I'll show you later, and a web site. Three bays with three boats going, one painted and complete, and all sorts of folks coming around to check it out.

"This is my house," I told those people from Seattle, who emerged slowly from their rented land rover like they all do, eyeing the massive, impressive structure sitting in the bay of the Cape, and addressing me, probably because of my size, obvious foreigner, smile, and recognition of their arrival. Upon prior inquiry they most probably had been told to speak with the project manager, Scott, from North Carolina.

"Scott?"they ask.

"I've got three boats in my living room right now," I told them, "but that's only temporary. They'll be out of here soon."

When they realize I'm just bullshitting, I tell them, "You'll probably want to talk with Scott, the project manager. I'm just the applied physics consultant."

- end

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Everything Bass Ackward

Everything Bass Ackward

I finally realized why all those Thai were yelling at me, and why every day those maniac motorists were swerving all over the road, honking and flashing their lights. They were all driving on the wrong side of the road!

First of all, everything's ass backwards; the sentence structure, the shower hose on the bottom of the toilet tank so you have to lean wayyyy the hell over to get your hair and back, and the traffic. You look over to the left-hand lane, and there's people going in the same direction, but in my lane, there's oncoming traffic passing on either side, a bit unnerving, especially the buses and concrete trucks.

Just hold a straight line, they say. No wonder I perceived it as so chaotic.

- end

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Angry Dragon Wring Out The Sky

Wring Out The Sky

No wonder why the houses are set upon stilts. The monsoon has begun, last night in torrents, then cats and dogs, bringing down huge tree limbs, branches and leaves on the road, then slowing to a downpour this morning, offering a chance to escape the bungalow with the ponds filled to overflow and precipitously approaching our steps. Ponchos and rain slickers in high demand. Good days for reading or watching somebody's playoffs, if you have a tv.

Thai workmen at the hydraulic controls of three enormous Japanese Komatsu praying mantis digging machines on tracks have spent three weeks scooping out red dirt, then gray clay to excavate the ponds near our bungalow to accomodate the water needs of the refugee camp atop the hill, an ant-line succession of dump trucks carting off the soupy mix, leaving a muddy red tire trail out onto the highway and the road to our bungalow as a cratered nerve-wracking challenge. After being near sucked dry, the ponds are now filled from two days of steady rain.


A couple of weeks ago I asked Kong what the monks at the temple had to say about the tsunami and the shocking loss of life here at Khao Lak.

"Angry dragon," he replied with a nervous laugh, then went on to say "It's natural," making a circular, winding motion with his index fingers of the earth turning.

With the onset of the rainy season, the sea has churned itself up into a turbulent greenish gray froth pounding the shoreline, doing little to dispell the belief among the Thai that the souls lost to the sea are seeking company to join them in afterlife, since the death last week, week before of the Thai solider in the waves, and the drowning yesterday of another Thai citizen, out in the water at the wrong time, the wrong season, the wrong weather.

Mother's Day

Someone just said something about emailing mothers for Mother's Day. Easy to lose track of such holidays. Happy Mother's Day, all you moms out there, and all the surrogate moms and godmothers who've adopted animals or the children of others.


- end

Friday, May 06, 2005

Just From The Waist Up

Just From The Waist Up

About a month ago, Kong showed me his passport, an unsmiling man with shaven head and sapphron robe. He had the look of a refugee from a totalitarian regime. He'd said earlier that he'd been in the monastery, ten years, but it looked like a recent photo.

And a couple of weeks ago at dinner, he made a joke about monks engaged in turf wars when he crossed his arms in an authoritarian manner, cocked his head back and asked in gruff condescension, "So, howwwww long have YOU been in the monastery?"

That was just after we witnessed a dog starting some shit outside the restaurant with another trespassing canine, running him off, then pissing on the boundaries of the perimeter he was defending.

Kong brought it to our attention there at the table, then pantomimed the hypothetical monks, bringing together his two hands like chattering teeth, sniping back and forth at one another.

He'd evidently spent enough time to know the politics and pecking order of a monastery.

So it sort of caught me by suprise when yesterday morning I saw him pulling into the parking lot of a beauty parlor some 25 k. from here, across from the turnoff to Cape Pakarang where the boat house project is located. He told me was going to see his girlfriend.

"GIRLFRIEND!!???" I asked in astonishment, shouting with angry Head Monk authority, "A MONK CANNOT!"

Behind his wrap-around sunglasses, he laughed and said, "I am a monk only from the waist up."

- end

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

What Would It Be

What Would It Be

And then
What would it be
to see the world
and ourselves
outside our skin

I gave a walking monk
a ride today
and he rode awhile
about a mile
then tapped me lightly
signaling his stop

- end

Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Rest Is Jungle

The Rest Is Jungle

Despite our everyday use of of the footpath to our bungalow on the edge of the jungle, the vines continue to advance on the walkway and the bungalow itself, threatening to consume it if not assiduously maintained.

On the way up here from Phuket, we identified the trees we knew. 'There's rubber, and coconut, and pineapple, and magnolia. Bamboo.'

"What's that?" I asked our driver, pointing out at the mass of green and vines.

"Jungle," he said. "The rest is jungle."

Hot, steamy jungle, sucking up the water after a rain and immediately returning to oppresive heat. It seems to have settled down at night, cooling off to allow us sleep, and the creatures out there seemingly more quiet. Only the ghosts are roaming.

The Thai won't swim because they believe all those ghosts out there, in their confused desire for company, will pull them out to sea. They won't eat the shellfish, either, believing that they've been feeding upon the flesh of the dead.

So many posters still up of the missing. So many matter-of-fact stories of lost family members and uncounted Burmese. At times it seems as if we're all PTSD counselors. There's nothing to say, no advice to offer, not even a tear. Just to sit with them in their space. They say they can't sleep.

Two of seven, Voy said, astride his motorcycle, on his way to Phuket to identify the bodies, he said. Two of seven family members had been recovered. Michael, too. A Swiss man who lived here running a restaurant for fifteen years. His Thai wife wasn't the person they found, it turned out, he said, after a day trip to Phuket to examine photos, clothing, and dental records.

Housing projects going on up and down the road. The Germans are impressive, going at their 40 home project, with villagers now living in the completed homes in Thap Tuan. Under a tin roof boat shed in Bang Niang, a production line of six long tail fishing boats are being turned out by Thai carpenters.

Our boathouse project at Cape Pakarang continues with Muslim Burmese boat builders working alongside us, laughing and telling man jokes and what that bitter green leaf they chew will do for you. They tease Aeer, who has two wives who don't let him get any sleep at night, and were as concerned as Scott about the overnight theft of some of our tools from the wooden tool shed, sprung open at the lock with a pry bar, and replaced now with a large metal cabinet that a Thai welder modified on site, today causing a burn on Kon's foot after he stepped barefoot on a red hot scrap of reinforcement iron. Flip flops are bad enough on a construction site, but barefoot is really asking for it.

Four nights a week I continue with individualized tag team English lessons for a bright and enthusiastic nephew Op, along with the translator help of his uncle Pon and the encouragement of his parents, whose restaurant he helps run, sitting around an outdoor table with a coke and his relatives and other interested parties who come and sit, mostly quietly, but sometimes offering an explanation or clarification in Thai.

It's fun to hear him hesitantly work out useful, everyday phrases like, "" to which Digger suggested adding when I told him, "hab you got a probrem?"

"Tell him he'll always get a reaction from people," laughed Digger, who has a 14 student English class of his own up in Nam Kaem through the Mercy foundation that he co-teaches with Melanie from England.

Special emphasis on 'h', 'l', 'r', 's', and 'x' for nephew Op.

They can't say 'David' or 'Vic'. Digger is 'Davis', and I'm 'Wick'. We'll repeat our names, and they'll say it the same way. Davis. Wick.

Emphasis is always on the last syllable when speaking English. That's 'Mon-KEE', 'Lay-DEE,' 'Ti-GER', and 'soona-MEE'.

The word is the same in Engish, Japanese, or Thai. Same same meaning. Big Wave.

They're selling the Tsunami CD in the shops here now, taken from an amatuer's vantage point atop a scenic overlook of Khao Lak, and where his girlfriend screamed in vain at the unfortunate tourists walking in wonder out among the uncovered seabed as the wave rolled in, "RUN! RUN! NOW! QUICK!"

Some of the people said it was sick, but I bought a copy.

The sun is finally headed toward the horizon, casting reddish rays through the sliding glass doors of the low speed internet cafe. Going to head over to the beach to watch it drop into the sea.

- end

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Monday, April 25, 2005

Timid Taiwanese, Treacherous Timber & Thai Tattoos

Timid Taiwanese, Treacherous Timbers & Thai Tattoos

Arriving at the boat house project site around ten o'clock in two oversized, double-decker, scenic-liner, air-conditioned tour buses and wearing their blue and white school uniforms, seventy Taiwanese schoolgirls showed up for volunteer work, took photos, and hung out in small groups in the shade of coconut palms until their permanent departure shortly after lunch.

They all seemed terribly frightened of conversation or something else, and clearly didn't appear dressed for work at a construction site, with their tall white socks and all. Our project manager, Scott, had them scour the surrounding grounds, gathering coconuts, downed deadened palm fronds and tsunami trash into several large piles.

We supposed they wanted to say they took part in the relief effort. Like everyone else on this site, other projects, and the planet, they were here, and then they were gone.


We were wishing we'd been wearing hard hats and more than flip flops on the project when that 400 lb. 2x8 coconut catwalk plank that Gee, from France, and I were transfering between overhead trusses, balanced on two pieces of scrap 2x4s, came crashing down in spectacular fashion, splitting open my scalp and causing the crew to finally turn down the Simon and Garfunkle on the portable boom box and momentarily shut down the power tools.

I remember Gee saying, "It's too short," as we had both ends in the air, a fatal error in our estimation of the distance between the support beams.

"That's quite an eggshell," said Gita, the fourth-year pre-med student from California, inspecting the laceration and swelling above my right ear.

"Don't you mean, 'goose egg'? I asked.

Blood excites people. Sitting there in a blood-soaked T-shirt and looking at the awe in their expressions, I remembered my reaction to the first sight of real blood in Vietnam that gave rise to my sense of doing my job as a medic if I could get it stopped.

A few of my co-workers said I should probably have my head examined, but since I've heard that phrase before, I ignored it and returned to the rafters after lunch to continue another course of roof tiles.


I'm not the only one to have taken a hit. One of the girls fell from her bungalow balcony and broke her back. Another girl who they said 'was asking for it,' broke her collar bone in a motorbike accident. Three others were injured after a drunken spilling of the motorcycle they were riding had gone a mere ten yards.

A number of volunteers are walking around with gauze bandages on a variety of injuries, the most common being the 'Thai Tattoo' muffler burn sported on the inside calf of the right leg, including Digger, whose half-dollar-sized wound is almost closed and healed, a challenge in this spongy tropical heat that lends to open sores and infection.

Aside from the bike accidents, the injuries sustained on the job may be a direct result of a number of us, if not the majority, performing tasks we are unqualified to do. We sat listening to an intoxicated man from Australia complain bitterly that his highly skilled and over-qualified 12-man construction crew was spending their week digging holes the Thai could have dug.

Somewhere between the fifth and six re-telling of his story, I interrupted by telling him, "Yeah. I used to be a tightrope walker, and they've got me working on the ground!"

Then there was the 'face-plant', according to Tilo, of the sweet little thing from Sweden, following her motorbike accident that left a huge scab on her chin, two vertical scars down both sides of her jaw, and the emergency removal of several teeth, they said, that will no doubt appall her parents and permanently serve as record of her trip to Thailand.

"Team Sweden took a big hit," said Tilo, a laid-back site director from Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

Eileen's injuries were of a different nature. A 40 year-old woman from Scotland, she suffered three broken bones in her arm following her pouring a beer over my head at a barbeque dinner prepared by our Thai hosts who own the resort at which the volunteer center is headquartered, and attacking Andy with a beer bottle after he brought to her attention his observation that her act was 'a terribly rude thing to do', whereupon after falling in her pursuit of Andy, she overturned the table of our Thai hosts, and in her attempt to regain her feet, alledgedly overturned the brick barbeque grille before the police were called to remove her from the premises. Word was, she was deported from the country upon her release from the hospital in Phuket.

No one is exactly sure how she suffered three compound fractures of her arm, but many people surmised that it very well could have occurred at the hands of the Thai police, as several of us had previous knowledge of her belligerant and hostile nature.

With the beer-pouring effecting my immediate departure for the evening, I received the news first-hand, relatively from the horse's mouth, with it being related by Andy, a black man from England with a keen sense of propriety. I was repeatedly told by many people that she hated Americans in particular, pretty blond Canadians, and Aussies and Brits and the rest of the world in general.

Earlier that evening she had proudly told me that her father was a toolmaker, one of the best in Scotland, to which I had replied, "That doesn't mean you know how to use them. My father was a barber, but that doesn't mean I know how to cut hair."

Maybe it was that comment, or maybe the whiskey that set her off. I heard that they make a pretty good whiskey in Scotland, but that doesn't mean they know how to hold it.


Now Survivors Die

The cement truck was a reminder of the rules of the road. You can swing out into an occupied oncoming lane, as long as you signal your intentions, not like the car that clipped the cyclist out in front of the road that leads to our bungalow. The next day, you would never have known a fatality had occured there.

The family held a week-long wake, feeding family, friends, and everyone who came by under tables and chairs set under a number of tents. I didn't know him, but they made me sit and eat.

- end

Sunday, April 24, 2005

A Sometimes Dream

A Sometimes Dream

Sometimes we experience a dream that leaves our heart content and spirit at peace, a smile across our lips.

Then we awaken to the real 3-D world.

- end

Saturday, April 23, 2005

How Much For Two?

How Much For Two?

"How much is this?"

"Three hundred fifty baht."


"Three hundred fifty baht."

"What if I buy two?"

"Seven hundred baht."


"Seven hundred baht."


"Seven hundred baht."


"You say me." (offers a calculator)

"Five hundred baht."

(laughs) "Ohhhh. Ho ho ho. Cannot! No can do. Six hundred baht."


"Six hundred baht."


"Okay. I sell you five hundred fifty baht."

- end

Friday, April 15, 2005

Time Is My Medicine

Time Is My Medicine

We live in on the other side of the mountain. Every day, we ride up to the Tsunami Relief Volunteer Center, situated in the Khao Lak Lamru Nature Preserve, then back down the other side of the mountain into Khao Lak town and its strip of resorts, tourist-oriented shops, bars, ret-ta-rahns, and this internet cafe.

Beyond here, we all go to our respective project sites, the furthest being a good half-hour, forty minute ride away. Those who aren't driving motorbikes are hitchhiking, an easy task from the Center or anywhere up an down the stretch of disaster. People are neither afraid to pick up strangers or take a ride. You'll see dozens of 'Falang' in the back of small trucks, going to and from their projects. Everyone here is helpful in getting you where you need to go. Two minutes at the roadside is a long wait.

There are five or six ATMs along the Khao Lak strip, but north or south of here, you won't see a bank for miles, not since Phuket to the south, or Ranong, Myanmar, to the north 150 k. Here in Khao Lak, all the Thai speak easy English, but just south where we live, no one speaks a lick of English. After being here a while, I soon understood how over a thousand Swedes could die in Khao Lak the day after Christmas.

One of them was posting a notice yesterday of his still-missing son, a little boy of about three or four. The posters are all around town. Missing children, husbands, and wives. You'll see foreign survivors wandering around, having gone home, then returned, looking for the bodies of their loved ones.

"I was hoping for a miracle," said one. "Hoping I'd see him come walking through the door."

A lady and her son from Germany were here for the 100 Day Celebration, telling us that her missing husband loved Thailand, and would appreciate the memorial they made for him at a nearby temple. She said she last saw him as they walked along the beach when the wave came, and would not go near the water again, but later, she and her son were at the water, placing a flower in a coconut at the water's edge, along with the hundreds of other offerings to the sea and the dead.

The new girl from Germany said she came here with her friend who lost both her parents, then decided to stay on here for a couple of more weeks to join the volunteer effort.

At his dinner table last week where he hosted of number of us on the boathouse crew, Mr. 'K' told us of how he searched for days for his son, finally found him among the dead at the temple, along with three other family members, gave a DNA sample, then fed all the people at the temple, as he was then feeding us...giant platters of fish brought from the kitchen by his wife and daughter. Rice, Singha beers all night, and another huge platter of fresh fruit. Somewhere along the way, during the course of conversation, he told us with the utmost sincerity he thanked us for coming.

Yesterday at the boathouse project, a well-dressed Thai lady from Bangkok was there asking about where she could go and what she could do to help. She was astonished to learn that we were working for free.

"You people came from all over the world to help us?" she asked. "You're working for free?"

"Yes," replied Miriam, from Belgium.

The woman began crying, and took Miriam's hand in both of hers, thanking her profusely, over and over in Thai and English.

"Kob Kun Ka, Kob Kun Ka," she said. "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."

So, I guess we're getting paid after all. Shortly after our arrival in the country, in the lobby of the hotel in Bangkok, one of the women working there asked why we were there. She too, took my hand in both of hers and thanked us for coming to help the Thai people, tears welling in her eyes.

"Digger," I said. "I just got paid. Now we've got to go do the work."

Last night, where there was a going-away party for one of the fellows working in the wood shop, a Swede spoke of how just being here and listening to their stories was helpful.

Kong, joyfully working alongside us at the fisherman's boathouse project, whenever he sees me, will recite the phrase I've taught him.

"Whass hah-pen-ning, Man?"

Then he'll answer his own question. "Noht mush."

Each morning, he is the first person on site, playing his bamboo flute in solitude in a haunting serenade to the sea. Kong calls me 'Doc-tah'. I asked him why, but somehow his response was lost in the translation, or lack thereof.

"Can you heal a broken heart?" he asked.

"Yeah," I told him, laughing. "Doc-tah of love."

He laughed, and then grew momentarily serious. "Time," he said. "Time is my medicine."

- end

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Godzilla At The Door

Godzilla At The Door

I heard him coming, far off in the jungle, his throaty expulsions resonating through the night like a ten-pound rubber mallet on a tin shed roof; 'Bam Bam. Bam Bam Bam. '

'Bam Bam. Bam Bam Bam.'

As the sound drew closer, his voice became more distinct among all the other pitches and rhythyms of the night jungle until all became silent and his alone was the only sound. Bam Bam. Bam Bam Bam.

The stories I'd heard of giant lizards only heightened my wonder of how such a sound could be produced in such volume and such rapid succession, and also, slight concern of the creature's size as the sound grew still closer. It sounded like he was just on the other ssside of the pppond. BAM BAM. BAM BAM BAM!

I thought maybe he had emerged from the jungle to get a drink, until I heard him coming around the pond, drawing nearer to our bungalow. Between his vocalizations, I could hear his crashing through the jungle brush, and the crush of branches under his footsteps. I deeply regretted standing out on the porch the other night, loudly imitating his call. 'Bam Bam.' Pause. 'Bam Bam Bam.'

"That's pretty good," Digger had said at the time. "Sounds almost just like him."

Now, here it was, up on our deck, and I wondered if those kind were meat eaters, or if he merely wanted the Pringles. I was afraid to sneak a peek out the window, much less to unlatch the door for a token offering. We could smell him.

"Give it something!" said Digger. "Give it something! He knows we're in here."

- end

Thursday, April 07, 2005

The People Are Afraid

Our bungalow sits north of the small village of Lam Kaen on the edge of the jungle with a small pond on one side, and on the other, a small pond. There, the frogs and insects party intermittantly throughout the night, offering little rest.

A lizard about the size of a volkswagon hammers away with his song, or whatever you'd call it...'Bam Bam...Bam Bam Bam...Bam Bam Bam,' and I imagine his bulging throat making that sound, as I sit sleepless on the edge of the bed, chain-smoking cigarettes, eyes on the doorknob, awaiting his crashing through the door to devour us in a real-life scenario of a horrific Japanese Godzilla nightmare.

He must be huge. Kirrin, from Scotland, said he saw him while on his motorbike...about the size of your bed, not counting the tail, he said.

One of his relatives lay flattened as road kill, taking up most of one lane, and I wondered what must have happened to the car.

Flip-flop sandals, and no helmet at 90 kph on a motorbike. They say Thailand has the most traffic fatalities of any country in the world, and it's no wonder. The people will shoot out from behind whomever they're following in the oncoming lane, flashing their lights to let you know if you don't take to the shoulder, you'll end up in their grille.

It's maddening and terrifying the first few times, then you become accustomed to seeing someone whip out around slower traffic, right at you. Once, I saw a sign that said 'Keep Left'. No shit. That's not just for cyclists. That's for everybody on wheels.

Swinging out around a slow-moving log truck on a bridge, I passed him just as a pickup truck swung out around a cyclist. Four of us sharing two lanes. I thought our mirrors might hit, but we both stayed 'on a line', and I must say the experience was exhilarating, although it left a residual tension in my neck and shoulders that yoga nor Thai massage couldn't dissolve. The people are so polite to flash their lights in warning. How kind.

Homeless people still telling horror stories of how they became refugees after losing their homes and businesses.

At the work site of his new home, where he is setting 36 four by four ft. holes full of concrete for the foundation in anticipation of 'the next tsunami', Mr. 'K', who lived on the beach at Cape Pakarang and lost his son, father-in-law, sister-in-law, tailor shop, and home, said to me what I'd heard others say; 'The people are afraid. The people are afraid of the sea."

It would be stupid, even after this passed time, to ask why, wouldn't it?

Today, as we put away the tools at the end of the day, I ask Kong, 'Why you no swim?

"I am afraid," he said. "I am afraid of the wa-tah."