March, 2009

  1. Thailand memories

    March 28, 2009 by Christopher Buxton

    Now as the cold rain slaps my face, it’s time to record those crucial moments before they fade into the wet grey of England’s Spring.

    Daniel’s barn now stands proud and scaffoldless in its field – the workers have departed – and it only awaits Tony’s paint brush. Away to the right the cotton bushes, grown from seed this year have delivered a rich harvest.

    I close my eyes and sink into the green of Siripan’s garden – seen from so many decks and floors of buildings. I hear the rasping of frogs and the apologetic hiccup from the resident gecko. The orchids writhe and blossom in mid air.

    The temple of elephant carvers – whole backyard devoted to totem poles of elephantine shapes.

    The shops on the Tarpei road – so many dusky interiors of dark shelves and rich glowing fabrics

    Ness’s party and the joyful abandon of Tony’s singing a duet with Siripan over Love Potion Number 9 getting the timing exactly right.

    On a morning bike ride Siripan encounters a snake writhing near vertical in its attempt to escape an oncoming lorry. It dances into the path of her bicycle. She lifts her feet just in time to avoid its lashing coils.
    Caught in the headlights on the narrow back road the body of the neighbour’s drunken nephew lies motionless across our path. Tony goes to rouse the neighbour and together they pull the boy’s unresisting body homeward. With a suicide this year the family feels cursed by evil spirits.


    Up early in the morning to meet with a group of bird watchers led by a heart surgeon. We are all ages. Our leader can spot a speck in the distance and train his telescope in seconds. His enthusiasm galvanises us all. Here a kingfisher; there a falcon breakfasting on its prey; we just miss a sunbird.

    Our trip to Udom and Siripan’s mother as giggly and tactile as ever, teaching me the scansion of classic Thai poetry and Dun so good humoured and On so optimistic and beautiful.

    Tony’s decisive driving, so concentrated, sensing the opening gaps, aware of drifters and blind drivers avoiding the flocks of heedless motorcyclists that blow about the road like mad starlings.

    Siripan’s sumptuous meals, her photographs from Myanmar – her passionate advocacy of that country and its need for foreign visitors to sustain the ordinary people.

    Siripan’s and Tony’s fierce commitment to Thailand, its arts, culture and natural beauty

    For more information visit

    http://www.siripankidd.com/

    Written with love and gratitude


  2. Jarring Notes

    March 19, 2009 by Christopher Buxton

    The cylindrical stone jars point in every direction from hilltop and plain. They have sat buried the dry ground for over two thousand years. They look like guns or base organ pipes. But their mouths are muted. They sit scarcely stirred by the earth crunching bombs that fell around them from 1964 to 1973.

    Across the Plain of Jars there are still thousands of unexploded devices that will take a life, a leg or an arm – all dropped by the Americans in a war that was never declared or acknowledged.

    The villagers use bomb casings for fences and house support. But the children pick up the little bomb-lettes spread by cluster bombs. The boys have been told that when they explode there are valuable ball bearings for their catapults. Often it is too late before they understand the terrible price for their ammunition.

    Across the Plain of Jars there are efforts to clear the area of mines, bombs and bomb-lettes. The whole job is reckoned to take four generations.


  3. Bangkok ludicrous

    March 8, 2009 by Christopher Buxton

    Well we land in Bangkok airport without a hitch, collect our luggage and make our way through the customs and according to instructions seek out the official taxi rank.

    Smug in the knowledge that we have a hotel booked over the internet months before, I show the name of the hotel and its  address to the driver – The Royal paradise  836/1 Ladkrabang Road (only a few minutes from the airport) and off we go in his rickety taxi with one case in the boot – tied shut with wire Bulgarian-fashion and the rest occupying the front seat.The taxi does have a meter and it is working. It is seven thirty and now dark.
    After ten minutes on ramped freeways, we exit a roundabout and he exclaims “Ladkrabang Road” as though expecting a round of applause.  
    We proceed down a long road of a thousand neon signs all in Thai, roadside cafe’s and workshops but no hotels. After a while the driver slows down next to a closed factory and says “Telephone!” I fish out the confirmation slip printed from the internet.  There is the hotel address printed as clear as clear and of course my address and even my telephone number – but no telephone for the hotel.  The booking agency has witheld it to prevent me ringing direct and getting a better deal.
    The taxi driver scans the page, shaking his head. I point to a traffic police point behind us and we get out of the car.  But our driver is reluctant to involve the police at this stage.  Instead he prefers to wake up a local who has been asleep on a bench. The local waves his arm in the general direction of ahead and we continue down the road at speed. Annie points and says the word meter enough times for it to be returned to the beginning.  
    After ten minutes we reach the end of the road and the driver performs a U turn.  We proceed back up the road.  Perhaps I reason the driver has worked out that all the even numbers are on this side.  After a number of slowings down and short halts and conversations on a mobile phone the driver is clearly no closer to knowing where he is going.  So at a busy intersection I spot another Traffic Police point and insist he stop.
    We sit in the car and crane our necks.  Yes! Our man has gone into the post.  Yes! After five minutes he emerges with a tall Traffic cop in white helmet who is talking on a walkie-talkie.  Problem solved!  But no!  To our surprise instead of walking to the taxi to bring comfort to lost travellers they cross to a cafe where a number of young motorclists are gathered. There they stand chatting for the next half hour.
    All sense of logic has now deserted me.  I now know that a call to the police warning them of a murder taking place in the Royal Paradise Hotel would result in no action as they would not be able to find the hotel even with the address supplied.
    Meanwhile we are now freezing in the back of the car.  The aircon. has been turned to maximum cold.   We huddle miserably together.  I hope that the motorcyclists might turn out to be couriers  who know Bangkok like the back of their hands.  But no.  Girlfriends turn up and one by one they chug off after pointing in all directions to our driver.
    Still Thailand’s honour or at least its address system is at stake and finally the driver returns with the policeman.  Their body language does not inspire confidence.  At first the policeman prepares to mount his bike to provide a mounted escort but then decides to join us in the taxi.  This means squeezing our two big cases into the boot so that the lid is now upright obscuring the driver’s rear view.
    At least the driver now has a companion in his grief and for the next forty minutes they chat away as their shivering passengers are taken on a tour of Bangkok’s industrial zone.  Occasionally we stop at the end of dirt roads and peer down their dark length to see no buildings of any kind.
    As we get further and further from the famed road, so I begin to chant the address like some crazed Budhist monk.  Our efforts to communicate our discomfort over the air co. has met with total incomprehension, but my chanting of the address does seem to focus the mind for the driver retraces the route.
    The meter has been put back seven times and I am beginning to wonder whether we should not return to the airport and sleep in a chair.
    Suddenly we turn off a main road and go down an alley way of shops.  At the end there is a sign in Thai and English.  Yes!  It says Royal Paradise Hotel.  It is now 9.30 and the stumpy building in a large carpark looks like paradise to us.
    Next morning it takes just eight minutes to return to the airport and our flight to Chiang Mai.

  4. Bali

    March 6, 2009 by Christopher Buxton


    I feel a perverse need to watch Road to Bali again. You know one of those family approved comedies back in the fifties where warbling Bing Crosby always stole Dorothy Lamour from wisecracking Bob Hope.

    What I learnt back then at ten years old was that when Bing began to sing it really was a chance to nip to the toilet and that the exotic world was full of dark skinned people who flashed wide grins and danced strange dances.

    What I learn now as we travel from temple to temple is that there must be more wooden and stone statues than there are people. The road between Denpasar and Ubud is lined with workshop after workshop stacked with monument size sculptures of Gods and mythical events. Who buys all these?

    Certainly the decreasing number of tourists must be a problem for a population dependant entirely on tourism. Our guide speaks sadly of the effect of the recent terrorist bombing. Bali is a 90% Hindu island. Terrorists – muslim extremists – from outside the island felt that Australian tourists needed to be punished for flaunting their bodies on the beach and liking a drink of Bintang beer.

    Half past seven in the morning I am woken by a phone call from a travel company. Great news! You’ve been selected to win a free holiday. You just have to come across to breakfast 40 miles away and attend a presentation. You see we’re really worried by the fall off in Australian tourists. But I’m not Australian – I say. We know that. But we still want you to enjoy your prize. My mum taught me to always look a gift horse in the mouth but I put the phone down.

    The hotel is a society in microcosm. At least fifty gardeners work in the cool of the morning across the lawns. Each pool has at least four attendants. Uniformed personnel stand on every corner and intersection of every walk way and nod and wish you the best of the day. Breakfast must be a military operation involving tons of food broought in from off the island each day. Chinese tourists swoop on the fruit and empty whole plates of cut pineapple into plastic bags.

    As you walk through the streets of small shops and stalls, there are no obvious signs of poverty. There are no beggars. Teenagers who flock the beaches in the evening on bicycles and scooters are unfailingly polite, always calling excuse me when coming up from behind on the pedestrian walkways.

    But there is desperation here. There aren’t enough spending tourists – the women clamour for your custom. Come see my stall: looking! looking! Every five metres you are approached by a driver wanting to take you to palaces volcanoes rice fields or temples on far away points on the island. So many unsold trips, Batik shirts, sarongs, massages, wooden sculptures – and every night the same Dutch pensioners walk on by – pensioners who winter a whole three months at cheap rates.

    The offerings to the Gods three times a day have not brought back the numbers of tourists that Bali once enjoyed. The guide explains Karma to me. Sumatra was hit by the Tsunami because the people were destroying the environment. In Bali the environment is often close to a version of Paradise. Gouged by Lava the island is full of sudden lush gorges with steep high cliffs and miraculously stepped paddy fields.

    However take a look at their Gods – particularly Shiva and his wife – Gods of destruction and Death. They must be honoured and held in equal repect with Rama and Vishnu and so on the road you will see statues of Gurga eating children.


  5. Sydney with Doc Martin

    March 5, 2009 by Christopher Buxton

    First a big thank you to Martin Belinda Mila and Theo for making space for us in their distinguished long old house in a Sydney suburb. Our bedroom window is by the frangipani tree.

    We arrive at Circular Quay on our first day, through the precipitous Sydney Business district. We get off the bus impatient to see one of the world’s most famous views. Behind us is a wall of skyscrapers. In front is the long building that marks the entrance to the waterway hub of the city and the view.
    But just as we make our way through the crowds, a sheet of water drops from the heavens and the brief glimpse we had of the harbour bridge disappears. As soaked tourists and locals squeeze together under the shelter of the ferry wharfs, the curtains are drawn on the outside world.
    Driving in Sydney – don’t take the wrong turning you’ll find yourself in a jam on the express way with no means of retracing your steps.
    The Magic Flute featured dancers hanging from creepers in the magic forest and Masonic symbols in the temple – and a vertically revolving room in which the singers tumbled. Papegono strolled onto the stage with a six pack of Castlemain XXXX.
    To Sydney Botanic gardens to see the bats. They hang like some grotesque fruit on trees that are stripped of foliage. When disturbed there is a cacophony of shrieks and their flight is straight out of a Hammer Horror film.
    I really like lime and ginger marmalade.
    On Bondi Beach a group of young men as thickly bearded as Ben Gunn sit on the pavement on mats. One gets up and performs a party shuffle that is slow and almost menacing in its apparent playfulness. To hoots of hilarity, he suddenly bends his body and in one sinuous move he rolls onto his back and spins. It is his party piece and it never ceases to delight his friends. At last he jumps up and proffers his cap to imaginary passers by.
    There is a pedestrian walkway that takes you from the headland of the Sydney inlet along all the ocean beaches. If you want to watch the surfers the best viewpoint is from the cliffs as you have turned the point so that your eye is in line with the breakers out at sea hundreds of yards from the beach.
    Has Doctor Martin tried surfing? He nearly died. “You’ve got to do it from a young age. No-one tells you you’re up on the crest of a wave and there’s a sheer drop down to nothing. They brought a young Englishman in last week; landed on his head; he’s a vegetable now.”
    Recent Incidents of dangerous marine life – sign below The Ladies’ Beach at Coogie.
    How weird and scarey is Australian wildlife?
    The flight to Bali took us over the centre of Austrailia – unremitting emptiness just black lines in the red.
    Among the photographs of those 200 burnt alive in the Victoria fires, one face catches my eye: he poses with jaunty hat and cheeky grin, a few beers inside him and ready to yarn, have a crack at the poms, wind up his mates and pull a tipsy sheila. Rest in Peace.

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