Saturday, January 27, 2007

Dead Monk, Waterfall Bathing and a Mall

Not dead SKUNK (the Louden Wainright song), but dead MONK. He's ensconced at Wat Khunaram on the southern tip of Ko Samui which we visited today on our second trip around the island. The place was swaming with tourists taking photos, but he didn't seem to mind. Maybe that's why he was wearing shades. I thought he looked kind of like Ray Charles. His name was Luang Phaw Daeng and he's been dead for over twenty years, but his corpse seems to resist decay. The clock at the left mystifies me. When we visited Wat Plai Laem yesterday, a fairly new Buddhist temple complex not far from Big Buddha, there were two clocks on the main altar, neither telling the right time. I asked a man who spoke English and who seemed to know and he said, "no reason, just a symbol." Of time, I suppose. At Wat Pah Nanachat, which I visited three years ago, there was a corpse to remind people of death, and a baby in brine to remind them of birth. The Buddha in front of the late Luang Phaw Daeng is not immediately recognizable as Gautama Siddhartha, but looks rather like some local monk. Again, I asked the knowledgeable fellow and he didn't seem to know either. Perhaps any icon in a meditative pose is a Buddha. At Wat Plai Laem, where a giant happy Buddha (my favorite, since he resembles me) is being constructed, Weela bought food for the catfish in the large pond surrounding the Wat and dropping a few pellets into the water brought on a feeding frenzy that even included a turtle. (Ko Tao, the nearby island famed for its diving and snorkling, is named after the Thai word for turtle).

Outside the dead monk's quarters, a live monk was greeting the tourists and delivering blessings, with three taps of a water stick on the head followed by the tying of a string around the wrist. I've got three of them now, and should have a dozen before this idyll on Ko Samui is over. There was also a large gong with a sign in English that said "Make me Cry." A number of people were trying and failing to get a sound out of it by rubbing the center with their hand. Finally, a Thai driver for one of the groups succeeded. The trick was to wet your hand first. I tried and got a squeak out of the gong if not a cry.

I had no idea where we were going when we started out. After a Thai breakfast of rice and pork, I dropped off my laundry and we got on Weela's motor bike. Last night there had been a short but heavy shower, soaking all of the clothes I had left drying on my balcony. Today there were some ominous dark clouds, and an occasional sprinkle. I didn't think traveling on the back of a motorbike over wet roads was the best of ideas, but Weela is an excellent driver and very careful. Again I got to see much of the countryside. And this time I was struck by how many of the advertising signs are in English as well as Thai. Although most of the tourists whose voices I've overheard were speaking languages other than English, English seems to be the universal currency, just as American rock and roll is the universal musical currency.

First stop was at Hin Do Hin Yai, the strange rock formation south of Lamai Beach that distinctly resembles genetalia, and the locals have dubbed them grandfather and grandmother. We took a few pictures, had a few laughs, and in one of the shops along the path to the shore I found a pair of white pants similar to the ones I bought in Khao San road in Bangkok three years ago. I wore them as pajamas, but the bottom wore out and I had to throw them away. Along with the pants, I got a nice white shirt.

After about a half hour of windswept driving, I discovered our destination was Hin Lat, the other major waterfall on Ko Samui. There is also a wat nearby with the same name. The falls are not as nigh as at Na Muang, but there are some large boulders around which the water burbles, and downstream there were tourists trekking on top of elephants. Thim had decided that washing in the waterfall was an experience not to be missed, so she bought some soap and shampoo, and I discretely stripped down to my underpants behind a boulder. In the water she gave me a scrub worthy of the best masseuse. Once clean, I took a swim around the pool under the falls. Afterwards, I dried off with the shirt I'd been wearing and put on the new one I'd bought at Hin Do Hin Yai.

Our last stop on this trip around the island was another cultural icon of a sort, the Tesco Lotus Mall. There we ate pizza, along with the unpronounceable Thai dish with peppers, Papa something, and drank Pepsis. Down the hall was a Cineplex showing the latest Thai historical drama that opened when I was in Bangkok. I watched an advertisement for "Dream Girls" with Thai subtitles and made a note to go see it when I get to Bangkok on the 5th.

In the Tesco Lotus Mall, I spied a nun but before I could think to ask her about where Catholics go on this island, she had disappeared. Weela wore a shirt yesterday under his "Taxi" vest that said "St. Joseph's Ko Samui," but when I asked him if he was Catholic he did not seem to understand. I'd like to be able to go to mass on Sunday if a Catholic church church can be found, and as I was loading a photo and looking at the map I spied one not far from the airport. Now I think I'll google it and see if I can find out times for mass. In Bangkok I've been to mass in Thai several times at a church near Sukhumvet presided over by Passionist fathers.

I've been thinking about my spiritual journey and how this hedonistic romp in Ko Samui fits in. No easy answers come. But I believe that each one of us is on a unique journey and I can't turn it into something it isn't. I'm not going to become a monk. And my orthodoxy is certainly under suspicion. What I've realized here is that I was more lonely than I knew, and now that a different door has opened I am beginning to reevaluate my life in all its dimensions. Praying to the Buddha at the temples with Thim has reminded me again that there are an infinite number of paths to union with God, and that the Spirit flows where it wills.

No comments: