Subject: Moving On
Date: 12, Oct 2002

I'm going to keep this one short...

Several things have happened that I never imagined would happen. I've developed a taste for nescafe'. I've developed a taste for lager beer. I've started noticing how filthy the budget guest houses really are. I've grown averse to looking at ruins and moving about quickly. And worst of all, I've developed a social conscience.

That's right, I'm suffering from a bleeding heart. Chalk it up to too much self-indulgence, and too much third world travel. By the end of this trip I will have spent a year in south Asia. The problem arose when I befriended a ten year old girl named Annie (different than an, the girl I was seeing... fear not (you sickos)). Annie works every night selling flowers and tribal trinkets in the bars in Chiang Mai. I've seen her out till four in the morning, still pedalling her wares. There are several children doing this, out till four in the morning most every night, but what makes Annie special is her command of the english language. She's nearly fluent in her understanding and expresses herself well. Looking into her eyes I saw such intellegence, such potential. We kidded around alot, me pulling her hair, poking at her, her running away, pointing at a spot on my shirt then flicking my nose, playing foosball and pool (she has a devestating shot for someone of any age). One night I wanted to give her some money, so I bought one of the bracelets she was selling for Nuy (Ann declined). I haggled mercilessly with her, just to prolong the engagement, and because she asked for a pad and paper. The price started at 7,000,000 Baht (2 mil USD approx). I counter offered five baht, and we went from there. We got stuck at her insisting on 45 baht and I wouldn't budge from 40. So Ann chipped in the other 5 baht and it was a deal. Shortly thereafter, the four year old who was out with her selling roses handed me a little woven bracelet, saying it was from Ann, and I simply broke down. I couldn't speak to anyone for about 15 minutes, and I nearly had to leave, the tears welling up in my eyes. Even now, nearly a week later, tears are in my eyes writing about this.

Its painful to make connections. Most painful of all when you know the score, and know that Annie will most likely end up working as a prostitute, if she's not already (a question I try not to face every night). The night before I met a man who was working for the International Justice League, a christian human rights organization out of D.C. He's an ex-cop from florida, who is one of the strongest people I've ever met. He's worked in Bolivia, Kenya, India, Cambodia, and now here fighting human trafficking. In Thailand that takes the form of villiagers being smuggled across the border from Burma, often at ten or twelve years old, and brought to Thai brothels, etc etc. His job is as an NGO worker and ex-cop, providing oversight for the law enforcement, counterbribing at a higher level, and trying to stop the flow. The stories he told started hammering at my stone wall reserve I've carefully cultivated over the years of travel . But it wasn't until I let Annie into my heart that I broke. Hopefully for good.

Travel has become a whole lot less fun all the sudden. Several of y'all have written back that you've read the book I just finished "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius." In the very final pages, the Appendix added to the paperback version, its Dave as a 28 year old writing in fall of 2000 about being asked to speak at a cancer research institute fundraiser. For those who haven't read the book, both his parents died of cancer within a month of eachother. He explains how we're all born with a need for purpose in life. A need for adventure and a need for purpose. Something that extendeds beyond the self. I think 28 is the magic turning point in a person's life where that urge grows inescapable. Jesus began his mission at 30, the buddha at 29. Interesting, huh.

Anyway, so I left Chiang Mai, my mission being the extention of my visa. Also the more complicated emotions between Ann and I showing no sign of abatement. And further, not being able to look Annie in the eyes without wanting to adopt her, or at the very least provide for her. A paternal streak a mile wide and fathoms deep developing... I bought her a Thai-English dictionary so that I could at least possibly maybe sleep a little. And then left the next day, Between Ann and Annie, one being open wound.

And went to Sukhothai... Yay!

Sukhothai is the... shit I said I was going to be brief. sorry... home of the most significant ancient ruins of Thailand. The first kingdom capital, Although, Ayuthaya and Chaing Mai make similar claims, but whatever. THese are the most extensive ruins, an entire city with walls and ponds and everything. I used it as an excuse to rent a motorbike again. Spent the day touring the beautiful park in the excavated town center, then some light hiking in the foothills up to the hilltop stupas which where much less restored. Lots of grass covered stupas up there, and various other sites one could "discover" if one has the eyes for such things. However, after seeing ruins in Rome, and Athens, and Turkey, and Morrocco, and Germany, and all the fuck over India, and Nepal and... the thrilll really was in the one tiny stupa, off a tiny trail off a secondary road, and completely buried benieth a bush. Scarcely three feet left of it. I really was nowhere at that point. Also I found a meditation chamber, some 700 years old covered in trees. It was nice meditating there knowing that in all likelihood a master 500 years ago had sat in that very spot and attained at least the Jnana states. And I must say my head cleared rather fast, never mind the ants that were everywhere and the blazing sun baking my skin, even through the trees. In all Sukhothai is exceptionally beautiful, 800 year old buildings, 50 foot tall Buddhas, and the purported stupa that contains the actual relics of the Buddha. (sorta like pieces of the actual cross). I shot two rolls of slides just oogling at all the textures and contrasts... It was fantastic. I was even up at 6:30 in the morning to get the morning light. Note to all temple goers. Every temple in the world faces east. So if you want to take pictures, go early.

And then the next day back to civilization. Bangkok. Sukhothai is not unlike the midwest. The kids go cruisin' around town two and three to a motorbike all night on friday night. There's only one bar near the center of town, and only one nightclub about two km to the north. And mosquitos. Lots and lots and lots of mosquitos. Like Everglades level of mosquitos. Partly due to the unusually high flooding this year that even as we speak has several districts under water. Picture rice paddys turned to several hundred acre lakes. Its bad...

Anyway, now I'm in Bangkok, seeking an extention to my visa and then maybe some snorkelling in the south. When I left Chiang Mai it was for Cambodia. But upon further reflection, rather, upon exhausting my ability to appreciate ruins in about fifteen minutes in Sukhothai, I just can't seem to get up the gumption. The road is for shit, the border crossing is easy but a lot of hassle from the touts, Sien Reap, the town one stays at is just for tourists, the means of exchange is U.S. dollars or Thai baht, or whatever they use in Vietnam, or anything but the local currency, its the most landmined country in the world, so my favorite hobby of exploring off-trail is completely out of the question... In short, I'd rather go to "paradise" in the south. Maybe some scuba diving... Maybe renting another motorbike.

One last story extolling the virtues of solo, lightweight backpacking. I arrived today on the bus into bangkok. There are four forms of transport available. Taxi (no adventure) Rickshaw (some adventure, given the smog) Bus (lots of adventure) and motorbike (extreme sport). Because there was only one of me with one small backpack, this fourth option presented itself. The whole time knowing what I was getting into. Now, my rationale was that it was rush hour in Bangkok, so the only way to get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time is motorbike. They can bob and weave, head the wrong way up roads, use the white and yellow lanes between cumbersome cars. So a motorbike was expedient. But, damn, what a ride. I'm clutching onto the driver for dear life, heading down narrow canyons between cars and busses and trucks barely wide enough for the handlebars of the bike to fit through, only a thin, laughable shell of plastic on my head for protection, and weighted backward by my pack. I was awake and refreshed when we made it to Kao San. Back home. The familiar is always nice on the road. Part of the reason why I always eat the same food every day, and always drink the same beer. Too many surprises to crave more all the time. So this wasn't brief at all. Still I wanted to fill everyone in on the latest minute, inconsequential details of my trip... Take care, be good, I love and miss you all!!!

Next!

the entire day. Emboldened by my full day behind the handlebars, I felt (over) confident. So we drove the 30 kilometers to the elephant camp again. I paid the extortion of 500 baht each for the privilage, and 25 dollars later (read: 1/3 Ann's monthly base pay) we were on the back of the elephant. There's a loading station which reminds me of a swiss family Robinson's airport gate. There's the kwantaan (elephant handler) perched atop the animals head, his shins resting behind the ears. He holds a small bamboo stick with a metal hook on top, which he promptly put away as soon as we were out of sight of the loading "gate." We sat on the... what's the word, palanquin or something? The seat, which is amusingly like a amusment park ride's seat, with a metal bar that makes a token effort of holding you in, and does come in quite handy as the beast heads downhill and stepping from mud-filled footprint to mud filled footprint. So there we sat, Ann and I, atop this elephant, As our handler barked very well mannered orders to the animal. The love he felt for this 45 year old elephant was palpable. He smiled when he referred to her. He never once hit her, as I've heard other tourists describe in their stories (at this point damn near everyone has done this on a package tour. We were just about the only ones their on our own, without a guide or even a touk-touk (rickshaw) driver). In fact, he bent the rules, hopped down off the elephant, and took my camera, slogged up the muddy trail a few meters and took pictures of Ann and I. He seemed fairly adept at using my Nikon F3, although I zone focused, guessed exposure and had to explain which button to push. I was shooting 200 speed slide film and gave him the 55 mm lens. My best guesses all around. But what was perhaps the most definitive moment of my whole trip thus far was when he suggested though Ann, That I pose on the head of the elephant. I climbed over the bar, down out of the seat, and onto the neck of the beast. (she was such a sweet girl I use the term ironically here). Suddenly I felt the rift, the crevace, between the adventure and the amusement park ride traversed. Then he called the animal to come to him as he ran up the trail, constantly keeping an eye out down the trail for any other handler who might see us, and I was now _REALLY_ riding an elephant. I was alert, poised, ready to do.... something (short of jumping to my fate, I can't imagine what I'd actually do... Its the same feeling you have on Highway 1, the PCH, looking down the cliffs as you round hairpin turns, wondering if, should you loose control, could you actually dive from the car to the ocean's safety?) if the animal sensed my incompentance and took the advantage. Perched atop the elephant I felt anything but in control; much like the day before outside the gates of this very place when I switched places with Ann and headed down the mountain on the motorbike.