Thursday, 24 May 2012

I spoke to God - and ordered a Heineken.

I’m in Thailand – beautiful warm and friendly Thailand. A few days ago I flew from Bangkok to Roi-Et in Northern Thailand – part of Issan, one of Thailand’s poorest regions, populated by independent rice farmers working small plots of land.

I flew Happy Air. A small airline that delivered a flight exactly as their name promised. Nice to fly with a domestic airline that provides food and drink as standard service. 

But I forgot the only really important travel tip I know when touring Thailand – If a Thai person tells you something is, ‘Spicy, little bit,’ do not eat it! Fortunately my screams for water were easily heard over the small engines and the other ten passengers all had a good laugh.

The next day I drove to Yasathon where I went for a meal in a nice restaurant called Priew and ended up coming face to face with God.

My waiter God.

I'm not sure why Thai people take on nicknames when their own names are so wonderful – who couldn’t be impressed by a moniker such as – Surasak Tinsulanunda? The nicknames chosen are usually two to four letters long and never consider any meaning from another language. I’ve met many Poos, Banks, Kaks and Nods, but this was the first time I’d met God. And good for him for aiming high!

I listened to a live band, Chailai, who had some very catchy songs. Back at my hotel I walked into their own club and what seemed to be a live version of Idol. A few craggy, older musicians looked bored as they played drums and guitars without much commitment. Then a stream of singers came out and did rock star impersonations. With each new offering I was convinced it could not get any worse. I was wrong. It could and it did. But with Heineken at $2 dollars a bottle I got drunk and hoped a beer buzz would make them all sound better. Wrong again!

I drove back to Mudkahan and toyed with the idea of dropping in on Laos for lunch, but they asked a decent price for a visa, 1500 baht and I thought that, at $2 a Heineken, the money would be better spent back in Thailand.

The final leg of my Issan adventure was back to where I started in Roi-Et. I visited a temple with a famed water fall about twenty minutes outside the city. The monks were plentiful and sat at the top of the steps that led down to the falls. I inched down the many steps, first constructed and looking like scaffolding, and then out of carved stone in the hillside. When I got to the bottom I found a long pipe above a constructed altar that dripped water into a man made sink.

Assuming I’d not found the water falls I walked on, only to discover these were the falls the monks above assured me were well worth the visit.

Down by the bathroom drip falls, there was a lovely old lady sweeping the altar for dirt. There was no dirt anywhere and hardly an altar, just a tiled platform to give the drip catching sink some reverence, but she kept sweeping. I think she may have had some sort of religious breakdown, or perhaps she snapped on seeing the dripping falls after having climbed down so far. But her cleaning was very intense and she spat words at anyone that came near. Alone at the bottom of many steps, guarding a much touted, but non existent natural wonder, she swept an altar visited by few and standing guard over an ever diminishing trickle of life giving moisture. Her futile and unnecessary toil an interesting metaphor for religious devotion or perhaps modern religion itself?

I climbed the steps back to the top. They seemed to have doubled in number and steepness and in the very hot 35+ degrees heat, with clinging humidity, I was dripping sweat by the time I reached the summit. The monks, who had initially encouraged me to take the journey, now gleefully welcomed me back. They also revealed a very large ice chest that they opened. It was full of cold drinks and ice creams at inflated prices. 

Well played monks, well played.

From there I walked up the average wall of Thailand that seems to have been built, not to keep out the marauding Mongol horde, but to give visitors a better view of the countryside before heading up the hill to the temple..

The wall is about 200 metres long, styled on the Great one of China, and made of rusty coloured bricks and concrete that is a marvel of 80's engineering. Even the  fact they forgot to put in any drainage, so the tiers fill with water and make walking almost impossible, seemed a quaint throwback to the architecture of the 80's. But what can you expect from a wall that looks like a great one, but isn't?

At the end of the average wall is the entrance to the Whatmaha Jaide Monkhum temple. I decided to call it the Bob temple in the Thai nickname tradition. Bob the temple was impressive and I went through a beautiful golden gateway that lead to more gold of the main temple beyond..


I climbed the many sets of stairs to the highest part of the temple, expecting to see more monks pulling the old ice cream chest scam at the top of each flight, but they were all hard at prayer up top. I particularly liked the safe placed before the altar at the highest point within the temple.

Christianity these days underplays it’s need and greed for donations, but here the message is placed boldly up front, so anyone wanting to kneel and pray is well aware that greasing a hand makes the message more likely to get through to who it is intended.

If you're still skeptical of course - you can always travel to Yasathon and deliver your message in person.

$2 Heineken - it's a miracle delivered by the hand of God!.

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