Daily Archives: October 4, 2005

Bulletproof Monks

At first glance, this photo taken today by Sukree Sukplang, looks like any other photo taken of monks on their alms round. However, look a bit closer. Can you see the different shade of orange around his chest? This is a bulletproof vest.

Sales of bulletproof vests have been popular in the deep south where roadside killings are common. Now they come in shades of orange to protect monks who have also been targeted.

If they don’t think the vest is enough, they could also try this armoured motorcycle. Notice the little window which the monk can pop open to receive alms.

What is the world coming to?

More of “Then & Now”

It’s been far too long (for me) since my last blog. You see, American football season has started, and I am a rabid fan of the game. The time of the week that is usually set aside for blogging (Sunday) is now reserved for watching football. I get up at seven a.m. and drink my coffee and read the newspaper. That brings me to nine a.m. and the football pre-game show on t.v. An hour of that and it’s kickoff for half of the day’s games. Those finish at one p.m., just in time for the day’s other half of games. Those usually wrap up at about half past four. Still time to write, you say? But wait! There’s more! There is the Sunday night game, which starts at 5:30 p.m., and then there is the Monday night game, which starts at six p.m. Anyways, on Sunday I’m on the couch in front of the t.v. from sunrise to sunset. Poor Pon is the perfect definition of a football widow. Hopefully I will make it up to her when I take her to Disneyworld in Florida in three weeks. Maybe her experience there will give birth to some blogging material. We shall see.

Okay, so that is my excuse for slacking off. Now here comes my blog. Oh, and by the way, I handwrote the rough draft of this entry in front of the t.v. while watching Monday night football. The Carolina Panthers are throttling the Green Bay Packers, just in case anyone was wondering.

As I wrote in my previous blog, old photos, and history for that matter, fascinate the heck outta me. If a certain captured scene interests me more than usual, I will study it for long moments. I wish myself into the scene so that I can experience it myself. Why do I do this? Do other people do it? I think it may be compelling evidence for reincarnation. A strong desire to re-experience or re-visit the past. Who knows? I’m not saying that I believe in that…but, what if?.

My apologies for not having a scanner. It helps to look at these photos in a darkened room.

Okay, so here’s an interesting comparison of then and now. I’m sure y’all recognize it. This is an old watchtower call Pom Mahakan (or Pan Fah) on Rajdamnern Road. This watchtower was named for Phra Kan, the Hindu God of Death, which was a warning to any outsider who even thought of trying to breech the outer walls that were once connected to this watchtower.

Once upon a time, there were 14 of these watchtowers spaced 400 meters apart. High walls connected these towers, forming protection around the old city (some of the wall to the right of the tower still remains). As late as 1890 the towers and wall remained intact. They were all (save for two) eventually demolished in the name of progress; namely street widening. Only Pom Mahakan and Pom Phrasumane remain. The latter, according to the book, is located where Khlong Banglamphu meets the river on Phra Athit Road. I don’t know where this is, and I’ve never seen it. Here is the info though, for anyone compelled to see it.

These pictures hold a signifigance to me because I have actually been to Pom Mahakan. I’ve climbed the steps and I have gone inside. It’s unmanned and unlocked. It’s littered with rubbish inside, so no telling what goes on inside of it late at night. If any of you readers out there have been there too, you know it is situated at an intersection that is as busy as any other in Bangkok. This is in stark contrast to the sleepy little black and white photo taken over one hundred years ago.
The caption above the photo states that once beyond the watchtower, gate, and the Golden Mount, one would find themselves in the countryside. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

It’s easier to envision the aforementioned countryside when viewing these two “then & now” photos of the Siam Society. The “then” photo was taken in 1933 when it sat in a large open field.

My Ko Chang

Reading these reminiscences of a Phuket ages back (ok, ages for me, I started talking in sentences at that time, approximately), the feeling of impermanence struck me. If you start a long-term relationship with a place, you need to get used to seeing it develop. Or decay. It’s the two sides of the same coin I guess. If you’re just a one-time visitor, then you get the nice “still photos” of a moment in time and space. It’s been over four years now that I first set foot in Thailand, and I’ve started to perceive changes – even from a distance of a 12-hour flight…. and it’s caught me off guard, I cannot deal with it as yet.

Ko Chang’s Treehouse is closing down in December….

When I bought my first and last Lonely Planet (inevitable, isn’t it?), there were no paved roads reaching all the way down to the fishing village on the southernmost tip of Ko Chang. The Treehouse was only accessible on dirt roads or by boat. When I first visited, the break-neck serpentine road was already there, and along came the electric cables. And goodies to be bought. A small petrol pump. Maybe even a few atm’s and internet since then as well…

At that time, Treehouse was still stuck somewhere in the 70s or 80s. Not that I remember the 70s so clearly, but I heard my impressions echoed in those memories of one-time Phuket. I didn’t really like the usual clientele of hippi-like travellers though, I have always had a hard time mixing and blending in with other farangs. Many of them were soooo keen on being casual and as hippi as possible, it took them considerable time and effort to look ragged. There were meditations at the beach, and someone told me she could smell ganja – I couldn’t identify the smell myself. But I just loved the place and didn’t care about anything else. I loved having the kilometer-long beach all to myself when it was raining, or right before sunset – others were having a drink at that time, usually.

Playing with the Thai kids in the sand for hours or just watch them play. Lying all day long in my hammock, listening to the easy music at the Treehouse restaurant, ordering coconut milk rice for breakfast, fruit salad for lunch, fried red snapper for dinner, and putting the flowers coming with my shakes in my hair (oh yes, stone me but I do love those stereotypical banana shakes).

Making friends with the local cats. Watching the waves and take in their smell. Jumping in the waves at high tide, even with that very, very strong sideways current. I never washed away the touch and smell of seawater, it made my skin soft and young. And when the night fell, the twelve-hour downpour started. I was lying on my bed in my small hut, blew out the oil lamp, opened the window, and the stormy sea almost rolled in. Sometimes I could feel the foam of the huge waves in my face. I dreamt about the water rolling the stones back and forth, and the waves smashing against my tree – my hut was sheltered and virtually hugged by an ancient banyan tree.

(I have only found this photo – I don’t have one of my hut….)

I was feeling truly blessed, at peace with the world and with myself – I had become part of an irresistible, all-encompassing ONE that took care of me and took away my fears, instead of fighting and fighting my dragons. And then one night it didn’t rain, and a million stars appeared. I had never known so many stars existed. I stared at them and they stared back, and I realised that it’s not just me looking for my own personal star for years and years, but there is also a star looking for me out there. The key is that we must catch each other’s glance simultaneously…. I felt it was hopeless. I had never felt so lonely in my life, I was crying for a long time that night. But the waves rocking the pier muted my crying.

(out there, but with the sun off and the starts on….)

I rented a motorcycle, and that was the first time I had ever tried a non-automatic. I learnt to deal with the pedals and gears on that very serpentine road that scares the hell of people when they see it for the first time. I went along all the roads and accessible dirt paths on the island. I just love that feeling, riding for miles and miles slowly, feeling the breeze in my face, and taking in the moments. Waterfalls, an elephant conservation centre, villages, beaches with nothing but palm trees and nobody but me. The crowded tourist hangouts were really limited to a few kilometres on the Western side of the island, otherwise it was deserted, at times almost haunted.

When I went back to the mainland and looked into the mirror for the first time in weeks, a stranger looked back. A stranger that was the most me ever.

That’s me and my brother on a later visit, at the entrance to the “Haunted palm valley” leading to a waterfall, as we called it. We got drenched on the one-hour ride back home, caught in the darkness, with fallen wire posts and trees on the serpentine road, and all hell broken loose. I really thought we were all going to die that night.

It’s hard to swallow that it’s slowly disappearing. At that time, there were rumours that the government only wanted to allow five-star luxury spas and resorts and intended to do away with the backpacker scene. I have no idea about the latest plans and the current situation. I don’t know if I want to go back once more. After all, the Treehouse is closing down, and moving from Lonely Beach to Long Beach, trying to escape development and higher rents. Maybe I should look around and find a new getaway for myself, another Ko Chang of a few years ago and Phuket of the 70s. Surely there must be some more islands out there with a road or two to ride along, a few reefs to snorkel, a simple lamp to be blown out before going to bed.

You know, I just really hope that my ancient banyan tree will be spared at least.