Tag Archives: intrigue

“I don’t want a pickle…”

Honda Phantom, rented from Tony's Big bikes in Chiang Mai.
Honda Phantom, rented from Tony’s Big bikes in Chiang Mai.

“…I just want to ride my motor-sickle.”

So goes singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie’s ode to his beloved red Triumph Scrambler. And so goes the mantra of every man and woman who loves to ride.

Non-riders might have a difficult time understanding a rider’s devotion to his machine. They might shake their heads and consider this devotion to be a form of arrested development. That’s probably because… they’ve just never been there.

They don’t know that riding a motorcycle induces a state of visceral bliss that can’t be conveyed in words. Though this joyous sensation radiates from the body’s core, it is spawned by a mental abstraction, because the motorcycle is much more than an exquisite mechanical contrivance. It is, in the truest sense of the word, an icon, and it embodies the two most important things in the rider’s life:

1.Personal Freedom

2.Unfettered Mobility.

To most people who ride, this metaphorical stuff is meaningless. To them, riding is just totally cool, and the idea of giving it up is unthinkable.

But riding a motorcycle is inherently dangerous. Riding one in Thailand is even more so.

Let’s assume that, despite these obvious risks, you find yourself riding a Honda Phantom, a truly pristine example of the breed, and you’re cruising through northern Thailand on steep winding roads, passing through lush mountainous jungle fit for a King Kong movie.

You’re humming along, lost in that indescribable state that is a common experience to those who ride.

This is soooooo sweet !

Then, on a steep downhill curve to the left, a series of unavoidable events occurs. The details are irrelevant. All that matters is that whatever skills you thought you had as a rider, they are not up to the challenge of this situation, and you tumble into every rider’s nightmare – you go down.

You go down, and you and the bike slide right out into the middle of the highway.

In an instant, you’ve gone from bliss to black rage. Your left foot is pinned between the bike and the road and you can’t get up. You shake your fist and pound the asphalt.

Do you rage against a fate that has reduced you to helplessness?

No.

Do you tremble with fear, knowing that on oncoming vehicle could turn you into hamburger?

No.

Do you survey your wounded flesh, hoping no permanent damage has been done?

No, because all you care about at that moment is the damage done to that gorgeous motorcycle.

You try to lift the bike but can’t budge it. Then you’re distracted by the squeal of tires.  You look to your right. A pickup truck swerves to miss you, then jerks to the side of the road and skids to a stop.

The driver, a dark-skinned Thai man wearing a wife-beater undershirt, camo pants and flip-flops runs to your side. He lifts the bike off you, pushes it to the side of the road, drops the kickstand, leans the bike onto it, and without even looking at you, he jumps back in his truck and speeds off.

Stupified, you stand there in the middle of the road, staring at the vanishing truck: this guy just did you a serious favor, and you didn’t get a chance to say thanks.

You limp to the side of the road. You don’t feel much pain yet – a surge of endorphins has seen to that – but all you really care about is the bike.

When you left Tony’s Big Bikes in Chiang Mai, this bike had nary a scratch on it. As far as you can tell, you are the first one to lay it down. You are not proud of this.

So you survey the damage. The headlight is cockeyed and its rim is scratched up. The left mirror is bent. The  rubber foot peg is bent too, and the left saddlebag is scuffed, but worst of all, the voluptuous gas tank has a dent, maybe a half-inch deep and about the size of a tennis ball.

You fuss with the headlight and get it re-aligned, then you stand back and look at the bike. Like a rider thrown from a horse, you know you have to get back on. You straddle the bike and press the starter and the Honda surges to life. As far as this bike is concerned, it’s as if nothing had happened, and if it could speak to you it would say, “Quit sniveling and let’s get going.”

You try to stay loose, but gradually your body stiffens and your left leg feels like you’re standing too close to a blowtorch. As the days pass, these aches and pains don’t let up much, but when you take the bike back to Tony’s in Chiang Mai, the worst pain is in the middle of your chest. It’s the same feeling you’d have if someone had entrusted you with a fine horse, and you’d returned it to the stable lamed up.

You’re legally responsible for the damages. The owner, an Englishman named Duncan,  is very reasonable about this, and you leave feeling grateful. To him, the bike is just a financial asset. But to you, it is… more.

Most people who hear you story will shake their heads, thinking it exposes your distorted emotional attachments and immature disregard for risk, not to mention a complete loss of perspective.

And, they’d be quite right.

But then, that’s what love is all about, isn’t it?

So, my friends, for those of you who ride, here’s wishing you a lifetime of safe and happy miles. For those of you who don’t (this writer is now among you) the only thing to offer is…condolences.

Either way, happy trails,

Bruce

PS. For the morbidly curious, corroborating photos showing the damage to the writer’s body are readily available upon request at weberbruce5@gmail.com.

No photos, however, were taken of the damage to the bike. That would have been much too painful.

 

 

old-tree-s-house

 

 

 

Also, if you’re ever lucky enough to be in northwest Thailand, do yourself a favor and stay at Old Trees House.

After you cross the bridge going out of Tha Ton, watch for the sign on your left. Turn and go up the steep gravel drive, then walk into the gardens. In the cool shade, you’ll see lush plants with exotic colorful blossoms backed by a thousand shades of green. You’ll hear the gurgle of fountains, the chirping of birds, and the soft murmur of Thai women’s voices.

You’ll see six brightly painted houses, all with big porches, tucked into the manicured foliage, around a free-form pool with two waterfalls.

By the time Paolo, the owner, comes out to greet you, you’ll feel like you’re on a morphine drip.

The only downside to Old Trees House is, it is very hard to leave.

And the breakfast is always first-rate.

 

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The Lunatic Express

 

India Train
India Train

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greetings, friends,

An astute fiction writer once wrote, “Every man has the same dream. All that varies is their mode of transport.”

He wrote this because he knew that, though some great travel writing has been written by women, the desire to cast off the shackles of civilization and head out for parts unknown is primarily a male urge.

Journalist Carl Hoffman, after spending years reporting from some of the most dangerous places in the world, decided to carry this urge to an extreme. His plan was to go around the world, his modes of transport being only the most statistically dangerous buses, boats, trains and planes. He chronicled his experiences in his book, The Lunatic Express.

At first this seems like a journalistic stunt, and Hoffman admits that, like so many other middle-aged dudes hitting the road after an existential meltdown, his own personal life had hit a serious snag.

But he also had a legitimate journalistic goal: to show how the rest of the world gets around.

Here in the western world, we complain about the vile drama of air travel, with its overbearing airport stooges herding us like cattle and frisking our under wear, and the sulking flight attendants that we who fly in steerage have to abide.

But these are luxurious conditions that the rest of the world would envy. And Hoffman shows himself, and the reader, no mercy in portraying the almost heroic measures the people of the rest of the world must undertake, just to get around.

He writes, “I wanted to jump on and circumnavigate the planet on that unseen artery of mass transit. I wanted to know what it was like on the ferries that killed people daily, the buses that plunged off cliffs, the airplanes that crashed. I wanted to travel around the world as most of the people in the world did, putting their lives at risk every time they took off on overcrowded and poorly maintained conveyances because that was all they could afford or there were no other options.

Africawhyilivehere2

He rides with manic minibus drivers in Lagos, Nigeria, who pilot rickety vans crammed with as many as 30 people as they negotiate the city’s potholed streets, driving at breakneck speeds, always wary of the cops they have to pay daily baksheesh to, working sixteen hours a day, chewing a narcotic weed to stay awake, just to earn the meagerest of livings.

images

He rides jammed ferries in Bangladesh, ramshackle buses with bad brakes through the Andes, takes listing, overloaded passenger boats down the Amazon, and takes a hair-raising mountain passage through Afghanistan over washed-out roads policed by gun-crazy Afghan fighters. True to the spirit of his journey, he flies on the world’s most dangerous airlines.

Mumbai Train Station
Mumbai Train Station

But the most heartrending tale of the travel woes of the world’s poor is that of the trains in Mumbai, India. Each day, millions of Indians board these relic trains which ride over decaying rails, packed together like canned meat. IndiaDaily reported on May 9, 2012,

In the first three months of the year, 805 commuters have lost their lives and 867 injured in train-related accidents.”

This was no statistical anomaly. So many Indians die from the simple act of getting to work that most of the train stations have morgues to handle the bodies.

Hoffman rides these trains, of course, but he concedes that he could not have survived this experience, or his entire journey, if not aided constantly by some of the world’s poorest people, and he finds daily reminders of the truth many travelers learn; that the most generous people on earth are the ones who have the least to give.

To stay sane, Hoffman develops, in the face of all this danger, a sort of phlegmatic attitude. He stops fighting the nastiness and the dirt and the delays and the dangers, and as he lets go of his resistance, he slips into a form of misery that he comes to find almost comforting.

In quieter moments, Hoffman meditates on the nature of travel.  He has plenty of doubts about his motives for this trip, but in the process of his ruminations, he brings to light one of the most prominent myths about the nature of arduous journeying.

It is widely believed that getting away to parts unknown is a form of self-escape. But that might not be true. At home, we are surrounded by evidence of our identity and our importance. We have a reliable source of feedback telling us who we are and what our purpose is and what our next move should be. We live out our lives nestled in this relatively comfy cocoon, where our most cherished illusions about ourselves are constantly reinforced.

But try landing in an Asian or African city at midnight, knowing nothing about the currency, the customs, the language or the culture, and you soon realize that one misstep on your part could place you at the mercy of strangers. With no familiar cues to guide you, you are, in the most frightening way, completely on you own. Short of facing a terminal disease, there are few more stark confrontations with your true self than this moment of appalling aloneness.

If you’re simply trying to escape your circumstances, the rigors of travel may not help you, because they can make you constantly yearn for the comforts of home. If you set off on a journey to find yourself, you may learn things about yourself you wouldn’t really care to know

One thing strikes Hoffman no matter where he goes; the unfailingly upbeat attitudes of the people he meets. When he asks a man how he can remain so genuinely cheerful in the face of his difficult life, the man says,

“But you never know when you will die. So you must be happy all of the time.”

Wise words indeed.

Here’s wishing you happy travels on safe modes of transport, my friends,

Bruce

 

Sources;

Carl Hoffman, The Lunatic Express, Broadway books. 2010

IndiaDaily, may 9, 2012

The Starboard Bar, from The Dark Side Of Enlightenment, Stanfield Books, 2014

 

 

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What A Guy!

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Greetings, friends

Sometimes we hear a story or read an article that is so strange it sticks in our mind’s hard drive, and then. even years later, all it takes is the slightest hint and the whole thing comes right back to us.

This happened recently when a front-page article in the New York Times appeared;

            A Finicky Thief of the Finest Silver Is Arrested Again.

This meager hint was all it took to bring the whole story back to mind, from a 16 page article in a 2004 New Yorker chronicling the outrageous exploits of Blane Nordahl, arguably the most successful cat burglar in the history of American crime.

Nordahl is so notorious that he has his own Wikipedia page and was long ago dubbed, “burglar to the stars.” though he seems never to have cared about the identities of his victims.

Those victims include some of the most illustrious members of America’s superrich. One of Nordahl’s  most notable heists was the theft of 120 sterling salt and pepper shakers from Ivana Trump’s Greenwich, Conn. mansion. He is a suspect in over 500 burglaries netting him millions of dollars. but in his all many capers he has not physically injured anyone, and he only steals one class of goods – the very finest items made of purest sterling silver. His passion for the metal is so refined he once refrained from stealing ten grand in cash that was in a cabinet of silver he pilfered from.

Standing only 5’4″ but strongly built, Nordahl’s skills are legendary among police on the east coast and in the south. And his ability to evade capture has driven the constabulary nuts. He has learned to pacify vicious Rottweiler guard dogs, disable elaborate security systems, escape from massive police dragnets, making off with loads of silver, which he carried in garbage bags, most of it sold to a jeweler in Manhattan and eventually melted down. Even when apprehended and grilled, police were unable to find enough evidence to convict him. This is amazing, considering that he often pulled off three jobs in one night.

For years, Nordahl was a source of endless frustration for the police, and one man, Detective Lonnie Mason, made it his life’s work to catch and nail the thief. though it was Cornell Abruzinni, a Greenwich, Connecticut detective, who first brought Nordahl to justice.  But this was only the beginning of a series of Nordahl’s incarcerations, releases, and returns to his thieving ways. As Abruzinni said of the Nordahl’s ability to get back to work, “It’s like watching the same bad movie again and again.

A complete list of Nordahl’s doings is far too extensive to note here. and there may be hundreds more that the police don’t know about. He rode high for years, obviously enjoying making fools of the cops, but in the end, he made the same mistake many a successful man makes; he pissed off the wrong woman. Detective Lonnie Mason approached Blane’s girlfriend, a woman named Luanne, with a picture of Nordahl with another woman. Luanne was enraged. She spilled her guts, and in 1998, Nordahl was again sent away.

But this didn’t stop him  His saga of imprisonment and release continued until late 2013. After a long thieving spree in Georgia, and suspected of numerous burglaries – maybe as many as a hundred – he was caught again and is now awaiting trial in a Fulton County, Georgia jail.

What intrigues many people is why a person such as Nordahl, a man of undeniable talents, should turn to thievery. Detective Mason got to know Nordahl to some extent, and grudgingly admitted to the man’s amazing innate talents when he said, “With his mind? I honestly don’t think there’s anything Blane can’t do.

To presume Nordahl was purely money motivated is naive. People with no moral scruples who are strictly money motivated do not go in for risky endeavors requiring nerve and skill; they go into politics or work on Wall Street.

A clue might lie in the fact that Nordahl’s father David is a highly successful painter of western scenes. In trying to understand the motives of his son Blane, one must keep in mind that the essence of any life dedicated to an artistic practice is the psychological condition known as obsession.

In his Pulitzer prize-winning book on psychoanalysis, The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker states that “Art is, in the end, nothing more than a socially acceptable excuse for obsession.”

Any person who has committed themself to an artistic practice will confirm the role of obsession in their lives. That is what makes Nordahl return to his gig time and again. Theft is his art. It would be as impossible for him to give it up as it would for his father to throw away his paint brushes, because not to do it is not to exist.

Guys like Nordahl fulfill a valuable function in society. Their exploits, though larcenous, are inspiring. and they keep a certain percentage of the police force occupied, leaving them less time for harassing the rest of us

One of Blane’s old girlfriends told the police, “He’ll be seventy-eight with a goddam cane, walking down the street stealing silver.”

So, here’s hoping that Blane Nordahl, despite the fact that he’s 51, can finagle his way out of prison and eventually lead the police on another merry chase for priceless sterling.

Of course, the downside of this would be the immeasurable suffering he would bring to his ultra-rich victims.

When one thinks of the agony Ivana Trump must have suffered when she found her salt shakers missing… the heart bleeds!

Bye for now, friends,

Bruce

Sources; The Silver Thief, Stephen J. Dubner, The New Yorker, 2004

The New York Times, Articles 8/26/13 and 2/15/14

 

 

 

 

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Blue Phantom I

Blue Phantom
Blue Phantom

Greetings, friends.

If you’re like most people, at some time in your life you’ve gotten a crazy idea, about going somewhere and doing something that doesn’t make sense. You keep hoping that reason and  logic will prevail and you’ll drop the idea. But you don’t

You announce your plans to friends and loved ones, but they don’t try to talk you out of it. At first, you  think they don’t understand the risks. Then you start to suspect that you’re not the beloved soul you always thought you were.

So, despite your fears and doubts, you find yourself At Tony’s Big Bikes in Chiang Mai, Thailand, negotiating a two-week rental of a Honda Phantom. You repress the fact that between 50 and 60 people a day are killed in motorbike accidents in Thailand, and you also ignore the fact that you haven’t spent time on a serious motorcycle since 1976 when you sold your Yamaha 650. You tell yourself the Phantom is no crotch-rocket, but truth is, it’s a powerful cruiser that’ll get you killed just as easy as a mad-dog Kawasaki.

To add juice to this experience, you’ll have to regain your skills in downtown Chiang Mai traffic, among people who believe that traffic laws are an evil vestige of colonialism. Thais are a gentle people, but they can be Hell on Wheels.

Anyway, you sign a contract that says you’re responsible for everything and the shop is responsible for nothing, pay with a credit card, then hand over your passport: no shop in Thailand, to your knowledge will rent a bike without keeping it.

Now it’s time to face up to your folly. You straddle the bike, (a black one with orange flames on the tank) , you lean and turn the key, push the starter button, and when it comes to life. you feel that primordial surge up your spine, the same feeling, no doubt, that the first man to ride a horse felt when he grabbed the animal’s mane and climbed on.

But this romantic stuff fades quick, because the owner and his lovely Thai assistant are staring at you, and all you care about now is getting out of there without killing the engine. You squeeze the clutch, kick the shifter into first, the bike squats, and, Buddha be praised!, you ease out like a pro, into the maelstrom of traffic.

You stop at the first intersection, waiting for an opening, trying to stave off panic. When traffic eases, you pull out, running the revs up too high for first gear. You shift, throttle up, shift again. Now you realize that Chiang Mai traffic is like a live video game, and the price of unwariness is… nevermind that – just stay on the left!

You’re soon overwhelmed with all this input. Your sphincter is puckered three inches off the seat, your neck muscles are clenched so tight you can’t turn your head, your eyes are burning from sweat and pollution, but you don’t notice the smell because you’re hardly breathing. You don’t really care about any of this, because, truth be told, you’re having too much fun.

To get the feel of the bike before you leave town, you follow the moat road around the Old City, and soon the old reflexes are coming back. You shift and brake smoothly, avoid three vehicles that pull straight out in front of you, getting used to Death being just a few inches away. But at a traffic jam, the bike won’t go into neutral. You fiddle and fuss, but no dice.

Back at the shop. the owner, an Englishman named Duncan, looks at the shifter, shakes his head, says here, try this bike. It’s a black one, good tires, no parts falling off, so away you go. You get to the street that leads to Route 107, and about two kilos up the road, you hear a whining sound and the engine dies. You pitch forward, instinctively push the starter button, the bike fires, then dies again. Can’t have this. Back to the shop.

The owner says sorry, try this other one. Hope springing eternal, you strap on your bag and ride away. At the intersection, you notice that the handlebars are at a twenty degree angle with the front wheel, and the tank has a huge dent in it.

By now, you think Lord Buddha’s trying to tell you something. Back at the shop, you tell the owner the deal’s off – you don’t want to get stranded out in rural Thailand on one of his junk bikes.

He tries to sell you on another Phantom, but by now, your doubts are getting the better if you. You refuse to deal. He points to a sign on the wall that says no refunds. You say you don’t care, give me back my passport.

The owner nods, goes to his desk, gets your passport and, just to be nice, gives back half your rental fee in cash. You stuff this in you pocket, pick up your bag, and head for the door.

But you feel sick. Now, it’s either the same process at another shop or scuttle the plan. Just as you get to the door, Duncan says, “Wait, try this one,” pointing to a bike in the corner. “I was gonna take it out this weekend, but you can have it. It’s all gassed up and ready.”

It’s a blue one. It looks clean, with gleaming chrome and new tires. It beckons. Your heart leaps.

You get on, ease her out, and oh my, she’s a true sweetheart, behaving like the perfect woman, responding to your every command. You pull back into the shop. The owner’s way back in the corner gabbing. Quick as you can, you strap on your bag, wave to him and shout, “See you in two weeks.”

He smiles and waves, and now you’re the only guy in all of Thailand who has rented a motorcycle and still his passport, plus half his rental fee, which’ll come in handy if the bike breaks.

Now you’re really on your way. You get to route 107, glide along, singing songs, can’t believe how great your voice sounds as it reverbs against the helmet’s visor.  Then just outside of Mae Rim, you hit an unavoidable pothole and the gas tank lid flips off and slides down the tank into your crotch. You squeeze your thighs, look down and see gas in the full tank gurgling like boiling water. If any of that spills out and hits something hot on the bike…

You pull over, shut down and fuss with the cap. It won’t lock. But you stick it back on and say that’s too bad, ’cause you’re not going back to Chaing Mai.

Things go fine till you get to Doi Wiang National Park and it starts to rain. This tropical rain is so heavy it’s like being under water. The road winds through steep jungle-covered hills. Trucks pass and throw waves of water that make you swerve. Under the fogged-up visor, you see the road drop off into a place they’ll never find you, if they ever bother to look.

The rain lets up, and you realize that you have to urinate immediately. You find a bus-rider’s shelter and pull over. You stand shivering, waiting for the flow to start, then you feel stings on the back of your leg. This is Dengue Fever country, and you don’t fancy three weeks in bed with a temp of 104. After you slather your skin with Deet, you breathe deep, finish your business, and get back on the road.

Darkness falls, but you don’t notice, because you’re focused on Thais on motorbikes coming at you head-on. Driving on the wrong side is considered normal, but what’s even more annoying are the countless stray dogs that dart in front of you.

When you reach the village of Tha Ton, up near the Burmese border, you’re cold, tired and hungry. You get fed, find a bed, and fall into an eight-hour coma.

You wake to the sound of gongs that are far away but seem very near. You pull on yesterday’s clothes and step out of your room, stunned by what you see – steep jungle-covered hills shrouded in heavy mist, a few houses here and there, set amongst a riot of tropical flowers backed by a thousand shades of green. A wide muddy river, the Mae Kok, rustles at your feet.

You’re planning to leave that day, with an agenda of places to see. You sip coffee and consult your written plans. but despite the caffeine, you now feel like you’re hooked to a morphine drip. You breathe slow and deep. You gaze at the lushness around you. Your body sags. The agenda slips from your fingers. You aint’ goin’ nowhere.

You stay for days, enchanted by this village and its friendly people Twice you try to leave town, but you can’t do it.

Then one morning, you tell yourself you’ve had enough of this inner peace business. You’re an American – you’re not built for Nirvana. You settle your bill, say your goodbyes, and top up the Phantom’s tank. But before you leave, you gotta do something about this gas cap.

You pull up at the local repair shop. The shop owner says the cap’s locking mechanism is shot, but he fusses with it for ten minutes and it seems to be down tight. You pull out money. He says no charge, but you hand him twenty Baht. He smiles and takes the bill. You won’t know till a few hours later how important this offer of payment turns out to be.

Slowly you cross the bridge, easing away from a place you don’t want to leave. Three kilos out of town, you’re still going slow, which is very fortunate, because a Thai woman on a motorbike with a young girl on board, paying absolutely no attention, turns directly in front of you. You see the terrified looks on their faces as you slam on the brakes, but there’s no way to avoid the crash.

To be continued.

Source for statistics on Thai motorbike deaths; The Nation, nationmedia.com, May 16, 2013

 

 

 

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Rice Whiskey And Muddy Water

Chiang Khong,Thailand
4 October,2013

Greetings Friends,

If you ever make it up to these parts, you might like to try a drink called “Lao Lao” It’s a form of rice whiskey made across the river in Laos, aged long enough to go from the copper tubing into the bottle.

It’s among that class of beverages that repels with the first sip, bequiles with the second, and after the third, you’re in love.

If you’re staying in one of the tiny bungalows down by the river, you can take your bottle out onto your rickety wooden deck, settle into a rattan chair, pour yourself an inch of firewater, and watch the Mekong drift by.

bigstock-mekong-river-lao-26059583_500If you’ve come during the rainy season,as it is now, the river will be high and muddy. You’ll see green-bean shaped boats passing up and down, belching black smoke from their worn-out motors, As the sun sets to your left, you’ll feel a breeze rise from the river, cooling the last of the sweat under your arms.

When the half-moon rises, you’ll see very few lights come on across the river, because most of Laos is still mired in the Late Stone Age, its six million people locked in serfdom to a brutal Communist regime. But just as darkness falls, and your tongue is numb from the drink, someone flips a switch and a burst of colored lights comes on across the river, followed by American Pop music played at speaker-shattering volume. Maybe you’ve already been told that the Laos are mad for Karaoke, so you pour yourself another inch, kick back, and laugh yourself silly through a long serenade of drunken Laotians pouring out their hearts to the tune of golden oldies. This may last through three more inches from the bottle, preparing you for the grand finale, which is every drunken Lao in that bar garbling the words to Bertte Midler’s “The Rose”

When their last bit of breath is spent, the lights go out as suddenly as they came on – there’s a curfew that is harshly imposed – and then comes the sputtering of motorbikes and the rattle of rusty pickups as the revelers wind their way home.

Again, a quiet settles on the river, and maybe on you as well. By now you’ve probably scuttled your travel plans for the next day. thinking another day by the river is needed. You’ll probably feel a sense of heaviness, less a result of the drink than of the darkness, the silence, and the presence of a primordial river that begins as a trickle in the Himalayas and ends in the South China Sea. That heaviness evokes a desire to do nothing but sit, listen, smell, watch, absorb.

Before you can lapse into somberness, you might swear you’ve heard something down by the river’s bank. You might have heard stories about the immigration problems in the area, about the thousands of Laotians and Burmese who cross the Mekong in the dead of nightt, to disappear into the vast cheap-labor underground the feeds Thailand’s thriving economy.

So you’re leaning, cocking an ear,staring into the darkness, waiting, then yes…. you’re sure you hear them, their rustling in the water, their whispered voices, their footsteps squishing the mud.

Then, once again, silence.

You might find yourself in need of a deep breath, and after you take it, and glance at that bottle of Lao Lao, you’ll be stunned at how little is left. But you can’t forget the sound of those whispers in the dark, so in honor of all the desperate peoples in this world who risk life and limb to get from their Land of Bread and Water to a Land of Milk and Money, you might stand, pour a final drink, raise your glass in a solemn salute to their courage, and wish them all Godspeed.

Sweet Siamese Dreams, Friends,

Bruce

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