Tag Archives: Southeast Asia

“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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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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