The rambler returns
08.12.2006 33 °C
Damn this country is grey and cold! Left the haven of a stunning wee island and landed back in blighty last nighty, inappropriately still wearing a rather salt-encrusted bikini. It's weird having itchy mosquito bites in mid-winter. Now all i need to do is find a home and a job. Hmm
The last couple of weeks have flown by without the chance to update. Leaving the home was a wrench – the last few weeks it really began to feel like my home, I’d started to get to know the older boys a lot better, bonding over countless games of pass the pigs. The ‘School of Rock’ are really getting into the swing of things, and with our coaching have picked up their game and are putting on really good performances at local guesthouses. They were the hot favourite on my last night over a painful Thai karaoke team who’d been specially enlisted to entertain the government visitors to the guesthouse that night.
Since I left they got to perform at an AIDS awareness benefit, on a huge stage in front of a large audience. Things are looking up…all of the kids now have sponsors and Dada finally got enough donations to buy a truck!
The week before I left we hosted a belated Halloween party for the kids – had the younger ones making paper plate masks and painted everyone’s faces.
The balloon games went down a treat, as did the ‘face in the flour’ game, until I foolishly rubbed Amon’s face in it, triggering a full-scale pizza dough war in which myself and Lindsay were pretty much annihilated. We were also having the monthly pizza party to celebrate the birthdays that month, rolled out with a section of bamboo and baked in dada’s hand made clay oven. Most bizarre pizza I’ve ever tasted, with tofu and chilli topping, but pretty good nontheless.
Had a bit of a dispute with a taxi driver one evening when trying to make out way back from the local town Sangklaburi, to the home. After lying to us about the public taxi having already left he encouraged us to charter our own private taxi (at a pretty high price) and then proceeded to pick up all manner of people and parcels and took various diverions to other villages,picking up more taxi fares along the way. When we eventually got out I just handed him the same fare that everyone else had paid, the correct fare for the usual taxi ride home, and he went crazy and was shouting at us. Fortunately Harrish, one of the girls from the home was riding by and acted as translator. We managed to solve it with us paying only double (!) but it really makes me angry when the taxi drivers etc just expect you to pay extortionate amounts just because you’re foreign. He told Harrish we were selfish and didn’t care about helping others. Right. Poor lass, getting caught up in it as translator, she was quite upset at how unfairly we get treated sometimes.
Harrish is a real interesting one, actually. Dada calls her the home’s first girl, though biologically she’s male. She’s what Thais call ‘kathoey’ and we misguidedly call ‘lady boys’. Roughly translated it means ‘the third sex’, something not uncommon in Thai culture, having its roots firmly in the Buddhist tradition, which respects such people as those serving a life-time of hardship as penance for previous sins. They’re accepted, but not respected really outside of the narrow sphere allocated for them, in entertainment and beauty etc. I got to know Harrish quite well over the last 6 weeks, and she began to tell me a bit more about herself and in particular her fears over her future. One night as we rode the moped home she asked me “Do you have people same like me in your country, sister?” I wasn’t sure if she meant ‘orphans’ or if she was referring specifically to her gender at first, but then she went on to tell me she worried that nobody would ever really love her for who she was. Unfortunately Kathoey can often be treated merely as sex objects – many thai men have no problem accepting them as ‘girls’ and enjoying their company, but wouldn’t consider an actual serious relationship. Harrish has been taking hormone tablets for years now, wears a bra and squeals at everything. She permanently texts her numerous ‘boyfriends’ – most of whom she never sees and the other being a monk. Some of the other boys aren’t particularly fond of her as you’d imagine amongst teenage boys. But she is a doting mother-figure for the younger boys who adore her. She checks they’re clean, cooks, helps with homework, evens teaches Thai to the mothers and some of the younger kids whose level isn’t yet good enough to attend local school. I hope the future treats her kindly.
Took to riding motorbike taxis back after that incident anyway - usually on zero gas with the drivers challenging each other for the lead. Gives you a slight thrill as you grip on tight, hands behind you as you try desperately not to slide too far into the driver’s back. Every time I went downhill I had to clench my thighs to retain my balance, which the driver seemed to take as some kind of geeing on and sped up further, The wind whips through your hair with a greasy tingle as the occasional bug thwats you in the face. It’s the best way to view the sunset as you fly over the mountains, the clouds like whipped peaks over layer upon layer of crumbly blue-green hills.
Took a brief trip to Kanchanaburi in my last week - a kind internet cafe owner has allowed to use a wall in his shop for Baan Dada advertising, whilst a guesthouse has offered to try to sell some of the weaving produced by the women in the weaving centre at the home. We went to the stunning Erawan Falls 2 days in a row, and frolicked with the biting fish in various pools of blue. Perfect after the sweat we worked up on the climb.
Also paid a brief visit to the Three Pagaodas Pass and the Death Railway with the notorious bridge over the river Kwai. Horrifying to read about the Japanese mechanical brutality, yet seems strangely unsurprising, knowing their impersonal approach to matters requiring 'efficiency' - the railway even today is hailed unapologetically by some Japanese as a remarkable feat of engineering. Yet having experienced too what a warm and peace-loving society they can be, it makes me feel torn.
On my last evening at Baan Dada we broke the rules and snuck some wine into the volunteer house. We’d also managed to aquire some cheese so it was a veritable feast, and exciting in a childish way, like we'd stolen rations vouchers. I got up early the next morning to say goodbye to the children before they left for school – some had already gone, so Dada sent Kiik zooming off on his moped to bring them back for a final photocall.
Aung Sunai wouldn’t let go of me and kept running back, jumping up into my arms, wrapping his legs around me and giving me the tightest hug. It felt so hard to just walk away from them all. Just before I left I sat on the dusty floor of the weaving centre, looking through photos with Chinamu sat on my knee, the sticky humid smell of sand with a faint tinge of urine making my nostrils smart, in a peculiarly nostalgic way. Farewell, Bann Dada.
I am now a qualified and certified Thai massuese! I headed to Bangkok and enrolled at the Wat Po school of Thai traditional medicine and massage. The course/exam were surprisingly intense, and was kind of weird being paired up with a random German guy, Christian, as my model, particularly in the more fart-inducing positions!
On my first morning in Bangkok I bumped into Musti, rather bizarrely. He had volunteered at the home for a couple of weeks and then headed off on his travels. We ended up sharing a room where he most obligingly allowed me to practice massage on him, without too many bruises I hope. Also took a trip to watch Muay Thai champions match at the Lumpini stadium. We sat umming and ahing over whether to actually go inside, after realising we were being charged 5 times the ticket price of locals, for the dubious distinction of being VIPs (ie - foreign). I expect to pay more than locals for most things and don't mind generally, but when it's that much of a difference it just gets ridiculous and is downright unfair. Imagine the uproar that would ensue if non-Brits were charged enormously inflated prices to football matches at home!! Was really exciting though to be in the thick of it, standing on rickety wooden benches, the stench of sweat and urine wafting up from the basement as old men made a series of gestures with their hands to indicate how much they were betting. An astonishing 'performance' of traditional Muai Thai (hands bound in bandages, dipped in honey and broken glass) was followed by the big match, which always begins with a ritualistic dance by the contenders to invoke the power and grace of whoever the fighting gods are. Like peacocks strutting around the ring, yet with the grace and agillity of a ballerina. The match seemed to be a forgone conclusion from the start, with one guy clearly taking the lead, but a lucky uppercut directly into his stomach brought the match to a sudden and rather brutal close. The audience, cheering wildly for the favourite only moments before, lost interest immediately, turning to continue chatting without a second glance as the fallen fighter was unceremoniously carried away.
Finally I headed south to Ko Chang for a bit of beach relaxation. On the boat over I got chatting to a welsh girl, Jenni, who’d been doing similar volunteer work in Cambodia, and was also an English teacher. We hit it off so stayed in a bungalow together, first on Ko Chang at a bit of a hippy resort, before heading further afield to a coconut plantation island called Ko Maak. And there lies paradise!! The most perfect pristine white sands and blueblue water, with hardly any tourists and no big hotel developments to spoil things..yet.
Stayed at lazy days resort, which was formerly a commune (all that’s left of that is a slightly unhinged irish guy named ray who spends his days smoking bongs and reminiscing. We shared a hut right on the beach front, fully furnished with a bed and a mosquito net. Ah what paradise. Paddled out in kayaks, snorkled and generally lazed, and it was over all too soon. After one last dip I zoomed off on an excitingly bumpy speed boat and made my way back to BKK, in time for the King’s birthday celebrations, which mostly seemed to involve lots of yellow Tshirts, candles, dodgy firewords and squeaky music blared out over tanoys. After a last round of bargain shopping on Khao San and a final foot reflexology session I was off, back to Kuwait to, well, wait. Before I knew it I was hovering over London with its toy streets and houses, the jungle sunshine already seeming like a dream. That familiar cagey feeling descended with the plane, but not nearly so gloomy as it was, almost a year ago to the day, when I ended my last Asian adventure.
How long till the next, I wonder?