Saturday, July 09, 2005

by the light of the mobile phone

being alone can be quite romantic
like jacques cousteau underneath the atlantic
a fantastic voyage
to parts unknown...
i fascinate myself, the shit i do when i'm alone

--andrew bird

ok, so last night i checked out of the lopburi residence hotel by candlelight, after packing all my crap in a hot, sticky, pitch-dark room. the power went out around 5 or 6 and stayed out, and since it gets completely dark by about 7, it got really hard to see anything. next time i travel, i will remember to pack a flashlight, but as it was, i had only my cell phone, which is not terribly helpful considering that anytime you press a button, the screen only stays lit up for about 3 seconds, so you have to continuously keep pressing random buttons while shining the screen towards your crap and trying to roll things up and jam them into the suitcase with some semblance of efficiency. ahhh, thailand.
anyway, travelling alone is ok, but i think it would be a lot more fun (and fascinating)with someone else along. still, you meet a lot of people when you're alone. yesterday i rode home from camp with 2 doctors, an afghan guy and a ukranian woman. they were both really nice, and we all went to the Big C department store together to get stuff for dinner. i felt funny cos i realized we must have looked like a family, they were both tall and basically white, and about the right age to be my parents. they were funny, though, and had great accents. the conversation on the way home revolved first around sarongs ("it is very attractive. i will have to study how to wear it, i do not know how to wear it. i try to look how they wear it but it is such easy movements, such quickly, i cannot understand how to wear it") and onto international phone cards ("it is possible to buy such a card? is it possible to use such a telephone?"), and so on. it really is amazing how international this group is. i met a czech-filipino guy, a ukranian, a french guy, an afghan, a canadian, a swede (?), a bunch of thais, etc... cool.
anyway, friday was my last day at camp. in the morning, instead of teaching CO, i walked over to the temple (the camp is on the grounds of a temple, Wat Tam Krabok) with Subin, a young Thai woman who teaches TB education to the refugees. It was really interesting. WTK, which means the temple of the opium pipe, is famous for its drug rehabilitation program. Addicts of all kinds can come there, and actually many of them are from Europe and the US. I'm not sure how they all hear about it, i think it's mainly word of mouth. During the Vietnam War they had really high numbers, like 2,000 or so patients, but now they have about 200. I met a monk there, Gordon Baltimore, an older black guy who is originally from Manhattan, lived in B-more for a while, and then was a mercenary soldier for a while...and then his bus stopped there. He's been in Thailand now for 44 years, a monk for 24. He's quite a character... i'd love to write his life story. He walked me around and told me what they do there... it's pretty intense. When the patients first come in, they are given herbal concoctions for 5 days which make them vomit intensely. After that, they go through a meditation period and stuff... they have to choose something to believe in, whether it be God or Buddha or Allah or the sun or whatever, and it becomes their god, and they have to believe in it intensely because everything else in their lives has failed up to this point, and then they write it on special rice paper, and then actually eat the paper, and be all committed and stuff... it's crazy. Also, they make art and soaps and stuff, and the temple is primarily self-sustaining. They make their own paint, electricity (biodiesel now, but in the process of switching to solar), and food (no almsround, because the people around dont have anything to give). They just finished building a big boat to go up and down the coast and provide medical care to people. Oh yeah, and they have a pond with 3 crocodiles, although where they came from i wasnt quite clear on. They have an herbal sauna, of course... oh yeah! and also they have a Buddha relic, supposedly his finger-bone, which is really sacred to Buddhists. So it's in a glass dome inside a fancy glass case all strung around with blinking colored xmas lights. Woah.
so yeah, after camp i went back to the hotel and perspired for a while, and then got dropped at the lopburi train station and hopped onto the overnight special express up here to chiang mai. i like the overnight train rides. you get a nice comfy little curtained-off bed with a big window (if you get a lower berth) and the train just trundles along, gently rocking a bit (but not enough to make me motionsick if i don't read). it's dark for most of the ride, but in the morning i got a couple hours to watch out the window. we rode through a bunch of verdant mountains, covered in banana, tamarind, and coconut trees, and passed some small farms with cows. when little kids see the train, they wave. i got here about an hour late, around 10am, and keng was waiting at the train station to take me to crystal spring house, where i stayed last year. it's not exactly the cheapest, but it's nice and includes breakfast, and i remember the neighborhood and can get where i need to do. tomorrow i will see our payap friends from last year. how funny. when i left here last june,i didn't really think i'd ever be back, but here i am!
So, i guess that's it for now. Have plenty of time the next few days, so will update again!


Blogger alexander schuetz said...

Hi, Sister! I've just registered with how abhorrent! ;) But now I can post replies to you! How nice!

Your trip sounds amazing so far. I'm jealous. But most of all, I'm glad you're getting to do all these amazing things. It's neat to hear about all of the things you see and experience from your perspective. From what you've written, it sounds like you're learning a lot! I'm proud of you.


11:06 PM  
Blogger Mom said...

Hey Erica,
Wish we could get video of that karaoke session! You're brave, Erica!! Hope you catch up with Nyui (?) while you're in Chiang Mai.
Will call you tomorrow.

10:52 PM  

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