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An RPCV searches for the past in Thailand (Part 2)
An RPCV searches for the past in Thailand (Part 2)
Searching for the past
Part Two: Scooting to Chonburi
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Chai took this photograph and called it, "Dad drives Linda mad."
I was in the Peace Corps in Thailand in 1962–1963. One of the places I lived was the town of Chonburi, about 50 miles southeast of Bangkok. My wife and I taught English in the local teachers’ college.
Our home was a nice wooden house on the college campus next to the seaside. 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. During the rainy season, the bottom floor was two feet deep in water after every rain. And it rained every day for six months.
A long bicycle ride from our home was the seaside resort of Bangsaen. We spent most weekends visiting British friends who lived there. Both had recently moved from India and taught at the provincial school as part of the British Council English–teaching program.
This 100-year-old lady told us the secret of long life
> One, Roger Hawn, was married to a beautiful Indian woman who wore the most elegant saris; the other, John Hall, was single and quite outrageous. He had converted a fishing boat into an African Queen–type pleasure boat and docked it at the British Mariners Club at Pattaya, another 15 miles down the coast.
Since a syllable cannot end in the L sound in Thai, both of these men were called Mr. Haan, which led to many funny situations especially from Mrs. Hawn.
That was 40 years ago and I wanted to check out those old stomping grounds before Linda, Chai, and I left Thailand last year. We rented 90cc motor scooters in Bangsaen and scooted off to visit my past.
My wonderful and understanding wife and I rode one scooter and Chai rode alone. Not wanting to muss up her hair, Linda did not wear a helmet.
Little did she know where we would end up. Where there was once just a goat and bike path along the coast, we discovered a two–lane paved road. We circled around Monkey Mountain dodging begging monkeys to the small fishing village that backed up to a huge Chinese temple.
We parked our motos and strolled through the temple with its many gaudy statues, then had lunch at a restaurant adjacent to the fishing pier where scores of brightly–colored boats were tied up. Linda and I shared fried oysters and rice. Chai chose a seafood soup.
A few minutes out of the village, we came upon one of the most memorable places in my past, the Boat Temple of Ang Sila. From bow to stern this concrete boat was over 100 yards long, poised to leave for China with its passengers to the motherland.
I was told 40 years ago that Chinese people believed they must be buried in China in order to go to heaven. The boat temple provided that service since all of its passengers were in caskets.
Forty years ago, its bow was in the water; today it is has definitely run aground since the shore is a quarter mile away. However, the captain still stands on the bridge, the oarsmen still pull the oars, and the steersman still mans the huge rudder. Just as their vessel, these boatmen are made of concrete.
For four decades the Chinese nuns dressed in white have watched over their flock who have come to the temple to die. Additional small boats have been built around the mothership to house an overflow of guests.
As I took my wife and son on a tour, I realized the Boat Temple of Ang Sila was actually an old folks home, a retirement village.
We spoke with an old lady who said she was over 100 years old. Despite her lack of teeth and abundance of gnarled toes, she seemed vital enough for a centigenarian. I knelt at her feet, praised her in the Thai way, and asked for her blessings with her hands in mine. She smiled and told us to live life hardily and do good things.
(Continued next week)
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.