Out Of The Blue
KHUK KHAK, Thailand - Out of the blue, just as mysteriously as it ceased to function, and as if it had a mind of its own, my computer ‘decided’ it wanted to return to operating status, after being unable to even turn on, at which point I took the machine a half hour north to Takuapa (Tah-koo-uh-pah) IT, where last month they installed a new hard drive, and then informed me after this latest visit that it needed a new motherboard, the warranty had expired, maybe they can fix it at Pantip Plaza in Bangkok but it’s going to be so expensive I might as well consider a new computer, but otherwise take this one back to the U.S. and have Dell fix it there.
So today, it works. God works in mysterious ways, they say. Or, maybe it can only be explained by swamp gas.
A lot of my material comes to me just as I’m falling off to sleep, and I think, ‘I should get up and write that down,’ then think, ‘no, I can remember this one – it’s too good to forget.’ But then, as sleep would have it, I forget it, and…or remember it but can’t ever again find a cohesive context to use it sensibly, so you can look at it two ways; you aren’t getting my best stuff, or, I’m forgetting my best stuff. So, all this is second rate, right?
Activity on the Lake
This lake, Lake Komaneeyakhet, I call it, since the locals know the Wat, the temple on the east side where there is an elementary school, a swimming pool, and tennis courts, with at least three semi-permanent Myanmar camps of several hundred second-class citizens between here and there, is one of several small lakes in the area that absorbed the shock of the tsunami five years ago that left the inhabitants of Khuk Khak relatively unscathed psychologically, but they say there are too many ghosts down on the beach, and there’s a crocodile in the lake.
Big shindig going on over at the Wat tonight under a full moon, with a big shadow theatre stage set up, dozens of vendors selling food and drink, monk toiletry buckets, kid toys, games, tools, used shirt, and your favorite Buddha amulet. A three-day celebration, the significance of which I am ignorant, but there’s a lot going on over there, with a monk walking around all day with a remote microphone on loudspeakers blasting across the water, doing a MC public address routine, I think. Come one, come all.
Ooooh, it’s big. Really big. Huge, in fact. Just came back, weaving my bike through a evening sea of several thousand people on the paved road through the temple grounds. Luang Pau Weng’s 40th memorial celebration, they say.
Big amplified sound, fireworks, floating lanterns, the wide palm-lined entrance avenue from the highway to the wat filled with vending carts, alternating blue and white florescent lights, dried squid on a stick, cotton candy and other sweets, pork on a stick, ice cream, people dressed in white, sitting on blue plastic chairs in a large pavilion, the large grounds turned into a parking lot, a double-decker bus full of people, a van full of monks off-loads. It’s big. Really big.
Across the lake, Karl’s wife, Mon, says, ‘Maybe croc-o-die come out.’
My neighbor four doors down, Damon, the tattooed bad boy biker from England with whom I have nothing in common other than living in his proximity, was sitting out on his front porch, taking a break from whatever was going on inside the house, when I suggested rather than just sitting there, we could fix his rotted, jerry-rigged bamboo frame that held his porch lights, two strands of amber tiny lights encased in small bamboo balls about the size of tennis balls.
“All you need is a new piece of bamboo,” I said.
“I’ve got it right there,” he said, nodding at two lengths of bamboo lying in the yard that had been spliced together with four nails as a splint. “Style ThaiLAND,” I said to Damon. “On the rez, we fix this with duct tape.”
I came back for my ladder, then held the bamboo across the handlebars of his motorcycle as Damon struggled with a claw hammer to removed the nails, which had been driven through the bamboo, then bent over. After watching Damon proceed to destroy the bamboo pole, I said, “Like Manny always used to say to me, ‘Here, let me show you an easier way to do that.”
“Who’s Manny?” asked Damon, giving me the hammer.
“My trainer,” I replied, turning the poles around and straightening the nails, then easily driving them back through the bamboo and removing them. Damon didn’t say anything more, nor ask what kind of trainer, as I thought he might.
“Didn’t you used to be a tradesman in England?” I asked. “A carpenter?”
“Yeah,” he replied.
After replacing the bamboo frame and re-stringing the lights, we plugged everything back in. They didn’t work. As Damon fiddled with the light plug, I collected my ladder and drifted on back down here to my place.
Over at Karl’s Lakeview Bungalows, I sat in the afternoon eating a slice of Karl’s two-day old chocolate chip cake. It was dry, I told him, and he said in a tone that suggested I was stupid, “You should have had the mango. It’s made today,” as his sign out front attested.
Joe, a returning German guest of Karl’s who I met last year, sat nearly drunk, arguing with his Thai wife, who grabbed the truck keys and sped off, leaving Joe grumbling and mumbling. Mon, waiting tables, asked if he wanted another beer.
“Sing lek ma kop,” said Joe, indicating his wanted a small Singha beer.
“What?” said Mon.
“Sing lek ma kop,” Joe repeated, then as she turned away, knowing I am an American, Joe said in imitation of an exasperated American, somebody from Chicago or New Jersey, “Bring me a Bud…Fuck!” then began laughing drunkenly, uncontrollably, covering his face with a large meaty hand in a vain effort to suppress his mirth.
They don’t have Budweiser in Thailand, never ever seen one, making his joke all the funnier. It was a pretty good joke, coming from a German to an American, indicating his appreciation of American humor and expression. Karl approached our table, raised his eyebrows and gave a slight, helpless ‘oh well’ shrug of his shoulders of his inebriated guest.
Early this morning I went down to Mr. Gui’s hardware store for a planer that Mark needed to borrow to finish his new bar tables. While there, I asked for further explanation of the weekend’s festivities at the Wat.
“Today, five o’clock, they take Luang Pau Weng to spirit house,” he informed me, so I don’t want to miss that.
He went on to explain that Luang Pau Weng’s remains had not deterioratetd for 40 years.
“Body no die,” he said, pinching the skin on his arm. ‘Has fingernails…has hair,’ said Mr. Gui, pulling on his hair.
Apparently, Luang Pau Weng was in possession of miraculous powers. “One day,” began Mr. Gui, “Luang Pau Weng sat at Takuapa bus station, and people say, ‘Get on, come on, we go to Khuk Khak.’
‘No,’ said the old monk. “I walk.’
“When the bus arrived in Khuk Khak at the Wat, there sat Luang Pau Weng, legs crossed, smoking a cigarette. All the people on the bus look and say, ‘OHHH?’ ”
As I pulled out onto the highway, I had to follow that load of chickens, the cages stacked twelve-high, four times the height of the truck, feathers blowing out as the truck sped down the road. I was certain it was going to overturn.
I had never seen a load stacked that high, except for the guy on the motorbike with two dozen crates of eggs lashed on behind him, six feet over his head.
Amazingly, the chicken truck maintained upright as the driver weaved on springs and two wheels around motorbikes and turning vehicles, losing me as I chased him five kilometers through Bang Niang and southward toward Khao Lak. In my mind I saw the overturned truck with cages burst open and chickens scattering in the traffic, what could promise to be a terrific photo op, but it never happened.
Returned to the Wat for the placement of Luang Pau Weng’s remains in the spiffy new spirit house / mini-temple built for the purpose thereof. Thousands had gathered for the ceremony, everybody but a half dozen of us dressed entirely in white. Perhaps that’s an exaggeration. Maybe there were four of us.
After waiting in silent formation for an interminable time that would have made a marine corps boot camp appear as child’s play, all the local monks, and those trucked in for the occasion, led the throng of people carrying the old monk’s body in the fanciest casket I have ever seen, three times around the small temple to its resting spot, where the crowd pressed forward into a compact, compressed knit of humanity seeking a closer reach, like an Elvis concert.
You know how they do the public funerals of slain martyrs in Palestine and Iran, with huge masses of jostling people carrying the casket on their shoulders? It was sort of like that, but not nearly as visceral and mad. The people carried a long string, a very long string, affixed at one end to the casket, and the other disappearing deep into the crowd.
Having channeled the old monk’s spirit, I sat off to the side eating noodles on the steps of an adjacent temple (there’s like, four or five temples of varying sizes on the grounds), being forgiven for eating during the ceremony and not wearing white, nor being Thai, short, with black hair. He clearly understood that I, as a non-Buddhist but empathetic foreigner, had only a slight clue of my cultural and religious impropriety.
There were other people eating, too. I wasn’t the only one. There were six or seven of us, at least. Maybe that’s an exaggeration. Could have been more like four.
The front rank of five monks carried incense, flowers, a large gold-framed picture of the monk, and holy water, which was splashed this way and that on the attendees as the procession passed.
From the photo, taken when he was already old already, looked as if he was a pretty neat guy. I wonder what he really knew, and if indeed he was resident of another realm, bestowing blessings on faithful practitioners and watching the whole affair, and me eat noodles, or if he was simply gone, his mummified remains holding a spellbound populace in a perpetuated mystical belief that somehow, by venerating his life and accomplishment, their lives will be enhanced.
Alms, tithes, frankincense, flesh offerings, gifts, sacrifices, and desperate bargains. Feed the monks, dance through fire, swim in the Sea. Mummies have hair and fingernails. Elvis has hair and fingernails. Under the full moon, firecrackers and festivities, will the crocodile come ashore?