Thursday, April 17, 2008

Lessons from a Northern Town

My little northern town; what have I learned:

1. The family has a huge chunk of the wilderness that it has been working for over twenty years. It seems that most of the way-back mountain areas cannot be deeded to anyone, but anyone has the right to go out and stake a claim and work it. It’s thirty kilometers from the city, way past the end of the road, past, in fact, the end of the dirt road. It’s an inhospitable mountainside, they had to cut the road to the home site and terrace the hillside to grow things. They only grow things that are real expensive, and they make great money every year, like GREAT money. The family has five sons, one of whom was elected to get a college degree in plant husbandry. He’s about forty, looks about sixty: nut brown, with the dreamy wall eyes of a drinking man. It’s quite a beautiful place. The house has solar electricity, great water pressure and UBC cable TV, in the living room there’s a pile of car-batteries hooked up in series with some kind of jury-rigged transformer;

2. As if I needed to be reminded, Thai people are as convinced as Germans that they know much better than you what you need and want, and especially know best what you need to do RIGHT NOW. I was off-balance for four days with the sudden meals, trips to the temple, and start-and-stop trips to Shangri-La. I didn’t have a minute to see or even call anyone; the complete loss of control made me dizzy after a while;

3. You CAN buy last minute tickets on the Songkran holiday. Everything is sold out way in advance, like a month, but on Friday night, the biggest travel night of the year, I just went to the bus station at seven o’clock and within a half hour I had a bus ticket, we left at nine. There was a premium of about fifty percent on the ticket, and no amenities, but the bus was fine. The bus station is bedlam at the best of times, and Friday night it was really like from outer-space. I have never, in complete truth, seen such a packed crowd in Thailand, shoulder to shoulder doesn’t really convey the density of it, everybody shuffling along in the wake of those in front, and the buses! There were thousands, parked on every dirt patch for a half mile all around. After enough people had purchased tickets for any particular bus a guy with a plastic thing held aloft would start yelling, “Phrae! Nan!” or something and lead the group to the bus. When it was full, it left; and

4. The evil white dog will leave the house if you pour very hot water on his ass. And fast, too. Mere enticement with chicken bones is no longer effective.

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