Thursday, June 29, 2006

STORIES - Thailand in the Sixties Introduction

If there were time machines, I'd go back to about 1960 or so and travel slowly around in Thailand, watching all the beautiful women (I did tell you - didn't I? - that the ugliest woman I'd ever seen was drop-dead lovely?) in various stages of life and various states of dress and undress: from walking down the streets of Bangkok in mini-skirts to plodding along behind the water buffalo wearing a sarong and blouse out in the countryside.

Listening to the water in the Chao Paya River. Watching Wat Arun light up in the mornings - it is the Temple of Dawn, after all. Having a small house with a garden and a competent staff, out on one of the far lanes of Sukhumvit Road (in those days, probably about Soi 35 or 40), and a driver with a small car to drive me around.

To wake up and hear the sounds of Bangkok in the 60's. To give food to the monks along the soi early. To pay respect to the Emerald Buddha in his magnificent temple on the Royal Palace grounds before all the Japanese, Vietnamese and the European tourists started coming. Take a boat ride up the Chao Paya River to Ayuthaya and walk through it listening to the ghosts. To watch the fireballs of the Naga King rise out of the waters of the Mekong River, without 7,000 foreigners and their inevitable noise and cameras. To see the original bridge over the Kwainoi River that those British POWs built at such terrible cost. To leave flowers at the British and Indian military cemeteries in Kanchanaburi, when they were on the edge of town not downtown. To see the elephant round-up at Surin when the elephants were really employed afterwards. To see the orchids open on the northern mountainsides before Christmas, through a medium mist and a gentle breeze. To visit Pataya Beach before all the building-up and sit on the beach again and watch the waves and listen to the wind. To visit the temple on top of Doi Sutep and feel the transitory, illusory nature of things. To watch Thai movies at the old (now torn down) Krung Chalerm Theatre, sitting in a 30-baht air-conditioned box with our own waiter and smoking permitted. To ride from Bangkok to Khorat (and return) on the old orange buses, buying fresh fruits and "coca cola in a plastic baggie" at the stops, smelling the burning marijuana as the farmers burn off the weeds. To hike again to that temple along the old Friendship Highway and spend the day in meditation and prayer.

To drink so much Singh beer that I cannot remember where I was after the third one. To indulge all the fleshly urges to anguished excess. To repent and know without thinking about it that there is time yet to successfully repent of such sins.

To travel to the States and - unbeknown to them - watch my Mom and Dad and brothers and sisters (and myself I suppose - how odd!) from time to time and feel sad and nostalgic and all that. To visit all the places of my childhood, still as fresh in reality as they are in my memory. To see all the old friends and relatives mostly long gone from this vale of tears.
And finally, to sit in the Friendship Bar next to Barbo's Dive Shop in the village of Pattaya just south of the Tree-in-the-Road on the Beach Road and drink myself insensible toasting to absent friends. All those things, my friends, would I visit and re-visit were there time machines.

Ah, yes. That's why there are no such machines: the world would stop for all the people scurrying back into their personal pasts to relive "the best parts" and to watch "just one more time" long-departed loved ones; the temptation to meddle and speak to Dad again would overwhelm even my good sense and eventually the time-space continuum (or whatever it is) would collapse. And, since it hasn't ended, there are no time machines. Allah the Merciful and Loving-kind be praised that is so.


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