Friday, July 22, 2011

Door to Door

December, 2009

...slept poorly, with a bad stomach. Awoke at 4:40, vomited at 6, on a bus by 7. A long day of praying that my bowels would hold. Miki vomited at 8. No toilet on board, with a bathroom break on the side of the road, trying not to think about mines.

There was an Englishwoman on board who was finishing a long stint with an NGO in the jungle. She loved Cambodians, said she never saw one angry. Unlike Thais or Vietnamese, who were just looking to rip you off, the Cambodians are more friendly. They always seemed to be helping one another.

Further conversation was drowned out by the karaoke videos blaring through the bus speakers.
The music was catchy in its own way, Ram Wong sounding like lazy calypso, with gentle free-styling rap lyrics, the hands of the dancers tracing small circles. The girls in the videos all wore traditional dresses, and had tall hair and long lashes, looking like they were at a Kennedy era garden party.

Got to the border at 2, processed through quickly. Met some farang on the other side, including a laid-back Canadian tennis instructor. For a few baht, we joined their minibus ride to Bangkok. Miki and I had originally planned to head due north, taking a couple of days to get to Nong Khai. I also knew that there was a train leaving Bangkok at 8pm, though I doubted we'd make it. Yet our driver, unasked, seemed as if he was trying to get us there on time, driving at dangerous speeds, passing on the left, and forcing oncoming traffic onto the shoulder.

We got to Hufflepuff Station five minutes before the train left.
There was only one sleeping berth remaining, but Miki said she was fine in a reclining seat. She was comfortable enough, but didn't sleep all that well due to the cold air blowing through windows left open all night. I didn't mention to her that I'd had an excellent night's sleep in my cozy bunk. I did awake often, but I'd pull back the curtains to watch the jungle pass by in the dark.

The train arrived on time, which got us to Mut Mee Guest House by nine, allowing us to score the last room at this popular place. We had a lazy breakfast, our first food in 38 hours. In the afternoon, we rented bikes and rode out to the bizarre Sala Kaew Ku, with massive concrete nagas, Hindu and Buddhist gods, and walk through diorama of the wheel of life. In the temple itself, beside all the Buddhas, was the corpse of Luang Pu himself, as if contained by a snow globe, the hall flanked by photos of him, all doctored with a magic marker to fill in lips, eyebrows, and hairline. Back intown, we biked down the Mekong. Very slow pace here, tourists and locals chilling on cafe verandas. Cars and tuktuks drive sanely for a change. Climb up to the rooftop Buddha of Wat Lam Duan, look at the submerged chedi of Phra Tat Nong Khai. Even the market here is laid back, wide and clean, with no pushiness.

The rest of the two days I spend at Mut Mee, rocking back and forth in a hammock, watching the Mekong race by. The river is fast here, pulling fishing boats along quickly. I think how I've been on it twice before, hundreds of miles away both to the north and to the south. A boat repeatedly crosses between here and Laos on the far bank, transporting goods back and forth. I eat, read, get a massage, doze in my rustic bungalow with its wooden decks and shower open to the sky. After three weeks of hard and fast travel, it feels great to come to a complete stop. This pace, this life here is addicting; I could easily finish out my days here. Nothing to do but laugh at the cat siblings who ambush one another amidst the leaves and the rattan furniture. I think about how much cleaner Thailand is in comparison to Cambodia; how much more pleasant to be here, and I'm not sure why I felt so much resistance to the country to the east.

I have another massage, the most intense of my life, this small woman's elbows grinding into the areas I most need it. But the pain. As she presses onto my outer chest from above, she inadvertently gives me an Indian burn, and I howl in pain. "Too tense," she says. Afterward, I fall asleep in a hammock, and am spacey for the rest of the day. An excellent night's sleep follows...

On the turntable: Louis Armstrong, "Stockholm 1959"

On the nighttable: Eric Blehm, "The Last Season"

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