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 yob...an' 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.