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As Long as We Remember...

September 16, 2009

Monks, Monkeys and a Mad Englishman

Tom McLaughlin

Krabi, Thailand – This beach resort has the atmosphere of a quiet upscale scene as opposed to the honky tonk of Phuket Island or Ocean City, Maryland. The beaches, hotels and restaurants are filled with sexy Swedes. I can't seem to get away from those blue eyes and blonde hair, nor do I want to. They have taken over South Thailand.


I had breakfast with a tour group of middle aged Thai ladies from Bangkok. They thought it hilarious that I plunked myself among them. From what I could gather, with their broken English and my zero Thai, they were a group of pharmacists. They did understand pills and my gestures. Then they all agreed that’s what they did.


The southeast monsoon was in full force, heavy rain and high winds. I needed to find an alternative to the beach and I decided to visit a monastery, a place where those guys in orange robes live. The complex was situated in a clearing next to the rain forest. Many altars held huge Buddhas and I have decided to concentrate on the smiling Buddha since he has a big smile and gut like I do.


Because I had taught and have an interest in botany, I walked from the clearing to view one of Thailand’s largest trees. Nervous about swatting the mosquitoes because I think the group believes in reincarnation, I brushed and blew them unsuccessfully aside. They kept coming back. When I got out of hearing range, I slapped the hell out of them, getting four in one blow.


I thought the monks were supposed to live in poverty for a year but these guys had a washer and dryer and one was talking on a hand phone. They wouldn't let me take their picture and I wonder if they were cheating.


The monk who was operating the washing machine escorted me to the huge tree I was seeking. He gestured that an even larger tree towered about 100 meters further. This one was sacred and I think he showed it so I would keep my mouth shut about the washer, dryer and cell phone, so don’t tell anyone I told you about it.


Many new moms and some juvenile monkeys climbed, scattered and swung and I always seem to attract the dominant male. I don't know what that says about me. He is easy to spot within the monkey troop because they all scamper when he comes around. Anyway, we had a chat and seemed to communicate.


Following the trip to the monastery I traveled to the Gastropod formation. This incredible site at first looked like a huge slab of cement extending in an oval into a bay. Upon closer inspection, it was composed of billions of shells compressed together from an era about 75 million years ago, but the time frame is in dispute. The slab was about three meters in depth, but, according to the literature, there are places where it deepens to over 105 meters. According to the signage, there are only two other sites like it, one in the Chicago area and one in China.


Another locale to visit in the Krabi area is the marine research center. Two huge ponds and hundreds and hundreds of aquariums breed fish to be released on the coral reefs in an attempt to repopulate the area. In order to support the endeavor, the center relies on volunteers from all over the world and I met an American High school student from Arizona and an English lady about the same age. The girls were led by a French marine biologist. Some of the fish are sold to the local market. A Puffer fish, the one that will kill you if you don’t eat it properly, sells for $150.


The gentleman could easily play Santa Claus in any location. The kindly grandfather type, a retired banker with an English accent, sat next to me at a girlie bar in Krabi with his young Thai wife.


When informed he lived in South Thailand in the midst of the civil war, I asked if he wasn’t fearful. “Not at all” was his reply. He stated his home has two large ponds where he raises fish for consumption by him and his neighbors.


He also maintains flocks of free range chickens and geese. I asked him again about the troubles and he said he has a rifle. I was not sure what he meant because possession of firearms by foreigners is a big No-No in the kingdom. He related the gun technically belongs to his wife and she gets the ammunition from the headman.


I was still confused and I pressed him further. “I shoot the squirrels that eat the fruits on the trees from my house. I also dispatch any dogs that come on my property to harass my fowl” A light began to flicker in my brain. “So, everyone in the area thinks your crazy, right?” I inquired. “Yes, and I want to keep it like that.”


I could imagine that any revolutionary or soldier of the king would give his farm a wide berth.


…life is good.


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