Monday, March 24, 2014

Thung Yai 2.8

Bamboo forests sound a lot like creaking pirate ships with occasional weirder sounds that I can’t identify.

Today, I again was struck by the devotion of the student to the teacher; or, in this case, the kuba (regular monk) to his head monk. Lungpaw Boon Long was determined to keep the legacy of Ajan Satien alive and we were all joined in with him in doing our best to accomplish that.

It was Winter Solstice, so I found myself trying to explain why, even though it’s the coldest time of the year, the earth is actually at its closest point to the sun…

At night, we went to the Karen harvest festival, held in the village’s largest open space (not counting the school yards). The harvest festival was referred by the Thais as being like American Indian celebrations, but I found it more like a typical modern-day American presentation. The pictures aren’t the greatest, but here are some:

Interestingly, there were quite a number of Buddhist monks present, but none other than our group were Kamattan.

(Khun Paw left front, Thip and Lott, Lungpaw Som with lips pursed and some of our monks front row bamboo elevated)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Thung Yai 2.7

We had come to the temple at Washuku to do some repairs to the foundation of Lunpaw Boon Long’s teacher, Ajan Satien’s khu-thee (monk’s abode) and put a hat over it to retard its deterioration. So, this was a work trip and once at Washuku, we were all focused on the khu-thee.

(Ajan Satien’s ku-thee)

Over the course of the week, I performed various duties, including helping to move steel, burning old bamboo, brush cutting and weeding, brush burning, recycling, clearing paths of bamboo, assisting sanding of wood boards… basically, wherever an extra hand was needed, I tried to contribute.

(Lungpaw inspecting the ku-thee’s foundation)

The night of our first full day, I just stood and stared at the night sky. I hadn’t seen so many stars in the sky for several years!

(Some shots of Lungpaw Boon Long in front of his teacher’s abode)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Thung Yai 2.6

Although I consistently got better at 4-wheel driving the route into northwestern Thung Yai, I still got in trouble a few times; two times seriously. One was a shift issue and the other was an acceleration issue. My passengers that day have some stories to tell!

All the way along, I was careful to keep my eyes on the track ahead of us, not even daring to look at the beautiful scenery surrounding us. This was in keeping with necessity, as I guestamate that in the course of the day’s driving, I made thousands of minor decisions that strung along second-to-second. Focus was, if not everything, certainly at the top of the list.

 Yes, it was a real challenge for me, but in the end I received positive reviews from Lott and those who travelled with me and those in the truck following who could see how I was doing. It helped to have Thip along to translate more complex sentences.

 After we finally reached the Kamattan temple at Washuku that Ajan Satien founded, I again brought up my joke about getting my diploma from the “Kamattan School of 4-Wheel Driving.” The best of the drivers, a guy I call “Big Baby,” joked back, in return, that I don’t get that until I can drive the route also using 4th and 5th gears.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Thung Yai 2.5

I slept pretty well in my tent pitched at Gosadeng with the rest of our four-truck group of Kamattan monks and lay people; probably more due to exhaustion than comfort. Of course, my wife Thip and I slept in separate tents, as it was the polite thing to do. Surprisingly, it was not as cold as I thought it would be, but the cold would come in subsequent nights.

Thip’s father Khun Paw (Nah) even bathed in the Song Kalia!

(Khun Paw at upper right; Thai washing dishes lower left)

(Thip and a Bikkuni [a kind of temporary Buddhist nun] preparing our morning meal)

After jahn hahn, held in the open field at the Gosadeng communications center, we hit the track/road on my second time behind the wheel and first full day 4-wheeling the route to Washuku.

(one of the prettiest spots along the trip: Mae Khasat waterfall)

Several of the climbs seemed at least a 45-degree angle and were a real challenge for me. It was at this time that I had my first big insight: I’d jumped at the chance to drive thru Thung Yai, pretty much just thinking about myself; how exciting it would be, what a challenge and certainly a memory to rack up. But, actually driving it and being in situations where I could have lost it and killed or seriously wounded myself and my passengers – or, at very least damaged the truck… that’s when I realized this trip was more about responsibility to others rather than just a thrill for myself.

(Thip on the footbridge at Lankah Pass, over the Khasat river, just before leaving the Sanctuary boundary)

(another view of the footbridge and Khasat)

This second day, I learned the wheel widths a better, learning to travel in the grooves made by previous trucks. I also learned to let the truck “drive itself” to some degree, not being too strong on the wheel, and watch the tilt of the truck. I never got out of gears 1, 2 and 3 in high low.

I also discovered that driving with bare feet was the way to go; much more sensitivity.

(most of the route we traveled our second day in)

(Some other drivers, L-to-R: Thai, Yah, Lott and “Big Baby”)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Thung Yai 2.4

Lott and I switched seats upfront in the white 4WD Toyota Tacoma – not unlike the one I used to have in California, except this one had a backseat cab, huge off-road tires and suspension jacked to the max.

Lott would be my teacher, in essence, this day and the next, in what I jokingly referred to as the “Kamattan School of 4-Wheel Driving.” Thip provided translations for compound sentences.

I’ve driven in Thailand a fair amount, beginning in 1999 when I first met my wife. I’ve probably logged a couple of thousand miles, but most all of it on surfaced roads using an automatic transmission. So, I was already pretty used to the steering wheel on the right and driving on the left.

Yet, now I not only had to traverse a dirt road that could sometimes disappear, but learn to drive a 4-wheel drive manual transmission, and shift with my left hand instead of what I was used to (right of wheel stick). I had had absolutely no experience doing this, if you don’t count the 5 minutes I spent in our dried up rice paddies showing Lungpaw Boon Long and Lott that I could do it.

It took me two days to really get it down, but I got it and we’re all alive as testimony.

The track/road from Sanepong to Gosadeng mostly goes along the river Song Kalia. So, there were numerous river crossings (water 1-3 feet high) and sometimes the route ran along and in the river.

Ever since we had turned off Highway 323, we travelled through small communities that were more Karen than Thai. Wood or cement houses were nowhere to be seen. Bamboo, thatch, and woven bamboo were ever present and milled lumber or solid walls only a hope in a homeowner’s dream.

When we had made that turnoff from Highway 323, it was already mid-afternoon and while it was still light when we checked into Thung Yai’s northwestern gate at Sanepong, the light started to fade after the first couple of hours of my initial time behind the wheel.

That was another skill developed: driving through Thung Yai in the dark!

It was pretty exciting, actually; driving in and across the Song Kalia maybe 20-30 times and the lights go out and we still keep going – all four trucks – until we reached Gosadeng where we would camp out and spend the night.