Thursday, February 24, 2011

Just me, Buddha and the bats.

“Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die."

-Mel Brooks

Just me, Buddha and the bats.

It’s an easy bus connection from Ayuthaya via Suphanaburi, so why not spend a few days in Kanchanaburi, Thailand? The town’s fame is tied to it’s bridge, which happens to extend over the River Kwai. You may have come across a book or film related to the site where the Japanese operated a prisoner of war camp during World War Two, forcing thousands of allied soldiers into indentured servitude to build over 400 kilometers of rail line linking Thailand with Burma as a supply route. It’s known as the Death Railway. Over 100,000 men died in its sixteen month construction.

Having walked through multiple cemeteries of allied prisoners who perished amidst slave labor I remain perplexed by the aftermath. Not just with this particular atrocity of World War Two or the War itself, but with all large-scale armed conflicts. How is it that in such short measure all is forgiven, or at least largely pardoned? So it goes. Yet if there is any reason to hold a grudge this is it. Slavery so harsh it results in the loss of over 100,000 lives.

Who am I to talk. I drive a Honda.

I’ve partaken in every version of the Sony PlayStation video game console.

I’m a closet Pokemon fan.

Pearl Harbor? So it goes. Can you point me to the nearest sushi joint?

It’s an event that still brings crimson to the cheeks. My sister and I in an Arkansas national park several years ago exploring a cave. One that we didn’t just stumble across, but was quite well-traveled. Hell, we even bought a flashlight at park headquarters a short walk away. A circumstance that makes my conduct all the more shameful.

There were noises. Odd echoes coming from deep within the cave, maybe even a screech. Yes, definitely a screech. Survival instinct commanded screaming and running. Survive indeed. Having not made it more than fifty feet into the cavern it didn’t take more than a few seconds to resurface. Minutes later so did a family of four, of which included a boy who wasn’t old enough for organized education. Seemingly bored with the cave and it’s quarter mile length.

When I entered the Wat Tham Khao Pun, a Buddhist temple made up of an underground network of nine different caves outside of Kachanaburi, my intestines were knotted. I was alone. Just me and some Buddhist shrines, the statues’ eyes following my movement. Ducking and sucking in the stomach to make it through narrow passages, the deeper in the quieter the cavern became. Then silent, save for the dripping. The stalactites perspiring. The flutter of bats overhead. The beat-beat of a drum in the void, or maybe my heart. I can’t tell which.

A flying rodent whizzes by my neck.

Akin to a tree falling down in the forest, does one’s vocal chords make a sound when there is no one else around to hear the shriek?

A fellow hiker wasn’t so lucky in Erawan National Park, about 80 kilometers north of Kachaniburi. A new sign of maturity, I didn’t laugh. Not when it happened. Not as I witnessed the epic spill. A slide down a muddy hill by a farang female a bit heavy to be wearing that two-piece bikini. A ten foot drop in altitude  later she’s heels over head with mud coming out of her ears. Grunting and moaning and maybe we need to put this calf down. A significant other comes to her rescue as she’s digging her camera out of the muck and still, not even a snicker. Instead focusing on my serene surroundings, the tiered waterfalls exceedingly beautiful, sufficiently distracting. Fifteen minutes later the footage replays in the mind’s eye and during mid-stride a lunatic laugh erupts. Here it comes again as I type this, fit for the asylum.

Does one acquire negative karma when the object of one’s derision is unaware?

There’s a kink. It starts in the toes and ends somewhere in the vertebrae at the base of my skull. The result of a three hour bus ride from Kanchanaburi to Ratchaburi, followed by a 7 hour train trip from Ratchaburi to Chomphon, topped off with a 9 hour twisting and turning bus joggling from Chomphon to Phuket (pronounced ‘poo-get’, this is not an excuse to swear in front of your pastor). A day and a half of ass-comatose travel after factoring in waiting time at transport terminals. 3rd class all the way, sitting aside Thailand’s underprivileged, grateful for the pre-trip vaccinations. They want to give me an ‘American’ handshake when I’d much prefer the no-contact Thai wai.

“Please, allow me to show proper respect by utilizing your own customs.”

Apollo Eleven, you are now on the dark side of the moon. We’ve lost contact.

Time to break out the hand sanitizer.

Keep drifting.

Kwai River Bridge; you’re looking at 7 Academy Awards.

Erawan National Park, where people fall farther than the water does.

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