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An RPCV searches for the past in Thailand (Part 3)
An RPCV searches for the past in Thailand (Part 3)
Searching for the past
Part Three: Chonburi
0On the way back from Cambodia to Bangkok, Linda, Chai, and I stopped for two nights in Bangsaen, a beach resort about 60 miles southeast of Bangkok.
Forty years ago, Bangsaen was a wonderful weekend retreat for Peace Corps volunteers in the area. We would ride our bicycles or take taxis from our nearby towns and gather for swimming, volleyball, reading, drinking beer, and eating seafood. Now I was trying to find pieces of that past to show my son and wife.
I found Bangsaen still a beautiful beach but just as Myrtle Beach has sprouted hotels and condos, so has Bangsaen. Its innocence was lost in the crush of weekend Mercedes from Bangkok. A sad but accepted truth.
We rented motor scooters, Linda and I on one and Chai on another, and drove along the shore road in search of the place I used to live in Chonburi. In 1962 it was a nice wooden house on the school campus where my wife and I taught English to future teachers.
Forty years ago Chonburi was emerging like a butterf
This is the bathroom in my house in 1962.
ly from its cocoon as an old Chinese fishing village. A toll road had just opened connecting Chonburi to Bangkok with modern vehicles.
The trip took about an hour on an open–air bus crowded with pigs, chickens, and old women chewing betel nut.
A grand plan called for Chonburi to become a manufacturing center and for the area from Bangsaen south a resort area. I laughed at the thought then, but shudder at the reality of it now.
Manufacturing plants, giant shopping centers, skyscrapers, and expressways have replaced the quaint Chinese market, our favorite Thai restaurant with four wobbly tables, and the bus station next to the town’s only hotel. The smell of the marsh and the fish sauce factory is now o
This is the school in 2002.
verwhelmed by chemical and diesel odors. The green of the tidewater has given way to the greed of money.
As we entered the outskirts of Chonburi, our little scooters were forced onto the roaring expressway. Linda squeezed my chest and hollered in my ear, “Watch out! Be careful! Oh no…” I led Chai through two huge interchanges and turned toward the beach, hoping to see something familiar.
I circled rows of apartments making my way toward the center of town where I once lived. Finally, sensing a 40–year–old memory, I stopped. To our left was the marsh where the children once chased the skipper fish, where on high tide the fishing boats putted to the town dock. To the right, my mind saw my old wooden house: •On the bottom floor was the bathroom, the kitchen, and a room where we stored our bicycles. The kitchen consisted of a charcoal burner and a tin oven I had made by the tinsmith in the market. The bathroom had the typical Thai shower jar and squat john. There was a water line running from the school to our bathroom.
• On the top floor, safe from the rainy season floods, was our dining room and bedroom. Wooden shutters protected us from the rain and the sun. There were no screens, so our only defense against the bugs was the lizards that roamed the walls and ceiling.
What my mind saw, my eyes didn’t. Everything had changed. The house and fence were gone. The school, two–storied with outside hallways, was gone. In their place was a fantastic new university campus. Concrete and tile multi–storied buildings connected by landscaped roadways surrounding an Olympic–sized stadium and several outdoor swimming pools.
I tried to explain the difference between my memory and the sights before us. My wife and my son listened, but I doubt they understood. It was a place long ago and far away…but without which I would not have either one of them now. I silently gave thanks, and we scooted back to Bangsaen.
When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:
This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?
Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."
In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.
Read the stories and leave your comments.