Siam I Am

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Siam Chronicles 16 - A Day of Thanks Between River Banks

A Vacation of Extreme Brevity

On a vacation of extreme brevity there is a simple formula that I espouse to ensure the maximum RPM (relaxation per minute) and the minimum OSI (overall stress index). First, I do as little as possible, followed by doing less and less each hour until I reach a sublime syncope, preferably while submerged in water.
Our furlough was well-timed. I had reached my threshold of annoyance at two vociferous roosters, the daily purgation of six-legged giants auditioning for the role of pet, the limits of the local cuisine, hard beds as a general rule, being the token American for all amounts of vitriol target practice, and our sorry spigot with three drool drips doing double time as a shower. Although Bangkok would not be my first choice of places to vacate to, our hiatus was successful by strategizing to spend as little time in the smog and swarm of the city as possible.
Instead we were medicated by the muffle of a western resort. There was a bed both clean and soft, a real shower, my Aunt on call for affection allocation, and tons of non-rice based food types. We stuffed our craw holes until we gagged. I even took a bath.
It was perfect.
The room also had a package the size of a refrigerator waiting for us on arrival. The Laos post office is run primarily by donkeys and goats being cycled through the penal system on probate, and after four packages were expensively digested en route we were forced to give up on this mysterious and beautiful natural process. So my Mom had availed herself of Thai mail, which has a weird knack of reaching its intended destination. She had dumped in all their leftover Halloween candy which melted in transit, coating each item in a fine layer of solid chocolate like an Easter egg. We had a capital if messy time excavating the contents, which interestingly enough included a jar of mayonnaise the size of small dog, two boxes of bacon, a large salami, and a ham-sized hunk of Velveeta. We were rich as trailer-park sultans.
We did sally two forays, first to a nature park that featured wrestling crocodiles and jigging elephants. There was even a magic show, which was much like any other except that the magician kept whacking his lovely assistant in the head, just to add that special savor of the profoundly disturbing to the timeless Colored Scarf From the Great Beyond enigma. The elephants roved free and were a bit frisky - one even gave me a sloppy kiss. I was told returning the favor would bring me luck, but I'm a married woman and I don't need to get lucky with a pachyderm. We called it a day when we were all appropriately anointed in elephant snot and toddled back for a shower, swim, jacuzzi, then another shower for good measure.
Second we walked all of three steps to a cozy dinner boat, modeled after an antique junk in honeyed wood. This propelled us lazily down the river for a sterling view of the illuminated barge fiesta that we had coincidentally arrived just in time for. There were fireworks.
For a brief moment, Bangkok was beautiful.

A Little Feathered Holiday

Presently we were returned to our quiet village to feed the starving mosquitoes that had been locked in our bedroom. A few days later I was thrilled to discover that ants had infested our towels, so after drying myself with an eggy dishrag we set out for a Thanksgiving stuffing at one of the only restaurants in town with a real oven. Although turkeys grow in nimiety here (as do the rest of the feathered pantheon)*, they are accorded the title beloved family member instead of a nutrition label. So we settled on steak and a bottle of wine, distinguished primarily by the absence of a wrestler on the label.
It was perfect.

*Note: Although the "Global Pandemic” light may be flashing, in a place where people use macaws as pillows at night and brush their teeth with the first readily available chicken come morning, it's best just not to think about it.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Siam Chronicles 15 – Monktion at the Junction

monk·tion (mungk shun), n.
1. an action undertaken by an aggregate of monks for which there is no seeming purpose or explication.
2. any activity which is too complicated to explain.

Full Moon, River of Fire
The festival was coming, that much was clear by the preponderance of frenzied monktion cincturing the city into an undulation of orange cassock. Boats in the shape of nagas, twined together in palm or paper and titivated with a pendantry of flowers, popped up in front of every house. Paper lanterns in a rainbow of gem-like color swagged the streets and temples, and candles camped out on every available surface.
Neither the monks nor the secular denizens were able to inform us when the festival was to be or what it was commemorating. Further inquiries at the library were less than illuminating – the section on the Full Moon Festival read like a free-association poem authored by a three year old. We were able to cull with effort that it had something to do with the end of the rain, and letting all the bad things wash down the river in purification.
Days later, the fireworks and singing were a dead giveaway that the festival had commenced. We ran down to the street and were embraced by a city steeped in a corona of colors, thousands of paper lanterns spinning above the Hephaestian glow of row upon row of candles. The heavy orange moon slung supine over the brightness of the night. Children were running with sparklers, laughing and luminous. Each major wat had contributed a large hand-made boat to the parade, thin paper glowing from within as the wick of lamps flicked the floats into an aureole of light and beauty.
The transvestites had dressed in the soigné garb of the royal dancers, and were leading a group of fat drunken men in a lissome ballet. Young scallywags were chucking explosives at the fleet of feet. The drums thrummed and the people sang proudly, pumping their hands into the air and dancing with abandon as we flowed with the floats through the town and down to the Mekong. Each reveler had an oblation of a small lotus-shaped buoy or boat, crested with candles. As the monks set the floats into the river, thousands of these devotionals flooded the water with fire. The Mekong was magma.
It was one of the most magical things I have ever seen.

Special Cauldron Potions
I had forgotten about Halloween completely until one day a hay witch appeared on a sidewalk corner near our house. “Glah!” I screamed in shock, as is only natural, and jumped into the street. Regrettably, like a horse, every day I forgot about the hay hag and every day her deformed silhouette startled me as it lurched into the periphery until I started to take personal umbrage against the inanimate object.
Halloween is an American holiday. Why it is celebrated here, of all places, especially since there are only three Yankee expats including us, is beyond my understanding. However, it DOES coincide with giant centipede mating season, so the atmosphere just tingles with terror anyway.
Alex and I dutifully scrimshanked finding a costume until the last possible minute, but, never one to forego inebriated trumpery, I rummaged some latex gloves and gauze from our first aid kit, donned them and proclaimed myself Herr Doktor. Alex put on a superman t-shirt under a half-open button-down and khakis and went as a disheveled Clark Kent.
The gay bar was having a show, so we set our course. I immediately got into the Special Cauldron Potion. It DID make me feel special, but it also made me feel very, very drunk. As the show began, I realized I was the only person born female in the establishment, excepting a small girl with eyes as big as tomatoes clinging to the doorway, entranced. I surreptitiously patted the chair next to me and she snuck in with a smile.
The show was a prosaic lip-synch dance act to American hip-hop divas. The pinchbeck Marilyn Monroe was convincing except for the big shiner that even the inch of geisha-white foundation couldn’t quite conceal. Sham Celine Dion was less so, as no amount of lace can conceal the shoulders of a line backer.
After a few more bars and a few more cauldrons, I managed to lose my gloves, only to spot them again atop a Canadian clucking around as a chicken. When I started listing to port it was time to call it a night, and Superman whisked me away and saved the day. Again.