An Early Morning Isaan Sunrise
A past trip over I got to spend 7 days in the village house after celebrating New Year's Eve in Bangkok, and a few days spent on the beach in Pattaya. Things were looking good! The house is finished, well almost, and looks great. A few more things were done by me while I was there, and the finishing touches were explained to my lady as to how I wanted them done. There are a few small details to be attended to before I come back, and we talked about what we wanted to do, and what colors and that type of stuff. Nothing big, but the hot water heater needs to be bought and installed for the shower. I'd like to see if we can find one like the one my friend has in his house in Penang Malaysia. The POWER SHOWER!! This was a great shower he had in his house, it just blows the other of these type of wall mounted water heaters I've seen in Thailand away. I want one! Even if I have to go to Malaysia to get it.
The first day in the house I was approached by my lady and our daughter. Rather timidly it was explained to me that my look sow (daughter) was wondering if Papa could drive her to school the next morning. I don't know if I told you guys this but recently (back in 2001 when this story took place) we started sending her to a school in Surin. Ostensibly because the village school is lacking in many ways, and the schools in Surin are much better. She is a smart kid, who will benefit from the smaller class sizes and closer attention from the teacher. Also, because next year she will be able to take full time daily English classes. I really want her to have a good grasp on English before she comes to the states, and goes to school here later on. It will be difficult enough coming to a new land and new schools, and I'd like her to have a year or so, at least, learning as much English as is possible to make it an easier transition.
This schooling in Surin entails an onerous hour or more journey every day by mini-van from the village to the city, and an even shittier long wait and ride back in the afternoon. She has to be to school by eight a.m., and gets out at 3:45 in the afternoon, and has to wait an hour or more before the mini-van picks her up after school, around 4:45 or so. This means she is up at 5:30 a.m. getting ready, and doesn't get home until around 6 p.m.!!!
As I said, quite taxing and exhausting a schedule for a little girl. The kids also are a bit afraid of the crazy mini-van driver's driving. I guess he drives like most of the other Thai guys, like a fucking nut.
Their trepidation in asking me to do this driving gig derives from the fact that everyone who knows me, especially those who sleep with me, or at least in the same house, knows that I am NOT a morning person. To say the least. The only time I've seen a sunrise in the past twenty years is usually because I'm just getting home!! (From work, or from partying) I'm a night shifter. I've worked the 4 to midnight shift for twenty years or more. A farmers life is not for me! Early to bed and early to rise my ass! I'm a city boy. Green Acres ain't the life for me.
BUT, seeing our daughter looking up expectantly at me with those big brown, Bambi, fawn-like eyes, and after my girlfriend explained the details of this torturous schedule, which I hadn't really understood until then, I relented, and said, "Sure darling. No problem. What time do I have to wake up?" "I wake you 6:30 darling." says the wife to be. "Eeeeeeeeekkkkkkk!!!!!!!" I screamed, clutching my heart as though I was having a freakin' coronary and falling to the floor. Laughing at my antics my look sow grabs me in a huge hug and plants a big kiss on me. The broad smile splitting her face made this new adventure into the caustic morning sunlight almost bearable. Women!! Ah crap. They'll be the death of me yet. Little did I know how great an adventure these early morning drives would turn out to be.
So I made plans for an early bedtime that evening. What's that saying about the best laid plans of mice and men being for naught? Well it's fucking true. Everyone in the village I know, knew slightly, and others I had never fucking met in my life, stopped by to say hello. Needless to say Chang beers were quaffed, rounds of Black were thrown back to cries of "Chok dee" with abandon, and sticky rice and fried chicken went down the gullets of the starving, drunken village wastrels in enormous quantities. Boy, do these little fuckers love to party and eat. Next thing you know it's after midnight. Fuck! Okay, everybody out! I gotta get some shut-eye you crazy bastards. Out, out, OUT! Jeez.
I grab my lady and it's off to bed to test the durability of the mattress for an hour while the oscillating fan at the bottom of the bed blows around the hairs on my ass with its cooling breeze. A rather disconcerting feeling this can be.
6:30 came very quickly that next morning. My lady was up at 5 to prepare breakfast, lunch, and clothing for school for our look sow. I felt too guilty at sleeping until 6:30 to even be able to bitch and moan too much. "Aaaarrrrgh! What the fuck is wrong with my head? It's killing me!" I mumble thickly, with woeful voice, upon being awakened. Must have something to do with the early morning air or something. Christ!
I stumble out of the bedroom, walk into a wall, stub my toe, hop around on one foot swearing softly as a grizzly bear, bounce off the bathroom door twice before getting it to open, I think my eyes were still closed, and fell into the bathroom, almost slipping and splitting my head open on the already wet floor. Now I just had to take an ice cold shower, puke a few times, piss, shit, brush my furry teeth, and dress, and I'd be ready to face my first hour long drive to Surin, and catch the early morning Isan sunrise. God help me. I think I'm gonna puke.
My screams of utter joy as the ice cold water hit my hot flesh woke the people in the village two klics down the road.
Sputtering like a walrus coming out of the Arctic Ocean, and shivering in the chilly 70-ish degree frigid Isaan morning temperatures, I bound out of the hong nam filled with a new sense of vigour and purpose. I dashed for my clothing in the bedroom, bouncing off the opposite wall like a pin ball that has just been whacked a good one by the flipper. Shit! I'm actually shivering. Damn it, I think I broke my friggin' toe.
After quickly dressing I grabbed a bottle of Nom Yen, (cold milk) and chugged it down to soothe my rebelling tummy. It ain't used to having to work this early in the day, and doth tend to protest a bit too much when not coddled with a sufficient amount of rest and recuperation. I grabbed my sunglasses, knowing full well the lethal effects of early morning sunlight on us vampires, and shouted out a few Bah's (Lao for let's go) like a demented Isaan sheep, or a Lao version of Scrooge, minus the "humbug's", and the family heads out to the infamous red shitbox pick-up truck. The lady who owns this piece of crap swears she just recently replaced the gear box. Fucking thing still grinds gears in third though. Musta picked up the new gear box in a junkyard.
As I head towards the truck I'm amazed to see a shitload of ducks waddling toward me down the street in a Teutonic-like parade formation. Jesus! What a sight! They all do an eyes right as they pass me by and the head duck (a Sargeant I think by his stripes) seems to salute me with his wing as he passes me. I snap back a smart salute in return, cut a nice fart as I jump in the drivers seat of the truck, (must be the milk I drank) and turning to my lady say, "Wow! There really ARE too many ducks in Thailand! We're being invaded!" Catching a whiff of the nasty fowl, actually my infamous colonic nerve gas, she quickly rolls down her window crying, "Waaaaaa! Me no like ducks!" and turns and hits me. Hey! "What the hell you hittin' me for? They ain't my ducks." I grumble to her. I fire up the diesel and off we go, scattering the little sauerkraut loving vermin as we go. Some old Thai guy yells a few curses at this as we speed away. Fucking duck lover.
As we head out the village, there on my right is the strangest sight I've seen in many a year. There was this orange glow in the sky to the east, and an orange red ball was hanging just over the trees. What the hell is this? Somewhere in my brain a word for this strange phenomena pops into my consciousness. Sunrise. Wow! Creepy.
Over the rice paddy fields lies a ghostly fog, misting the landscape within its dewy grasp. Smoky fires of rice chaff burn in small piles along the dew slicked tarmac, adding an aroma like a New England autumn's burning leaf piles. Huge piles of mushroom-like water buffalo-dung droppings dot the highway, along with mangy soi mutts still asleep in the middle of the road. The sun rises slowly, pink and cool over the tree dotted fields.
Occasionally seen water buffalos, awake since God knows when, munch grass in a slow moving catatonic-like state, hidden in patches of ground fog cover, sometimes just their horns and head can be seen through the fog. The air is conditioned and cool as it flows in the windows of the truck. Roosters can be heard crowing from their woven bamboo strip cage covers, and small birds hop on the back of a buffalo looking for their breakfast, as I drive by. Clusters of sleepy eyed, uniformed, school children shuffle on the sides of the road toward their bus stops, chattering quietly to each other in the chilly air. It was perfect, and beautiful. A perfect Isaan morning, and I drew it all into me, like a tonic it soothed my soul. I fell in love with Thailand all over again. The beauty of the countryside overwhelmed me. It was like driving through a water color painting. It reinforced my longing to live here on a more permanent basis. I dodged another stupid soi dog lying in the middle of the road and down shifted while cursing the stupid canine, and the mother who bore him.
As I sped through the next village down the road along its thin tarmac strip I accidentally ran over a mountainous pile of buffalo shit. I could here it splatter off the front tire wheel-well, like slush on a winter's road back home in Boston. A passing cry rang out in the cool air. Looking in the rear view mirror I spied a man standing on the side of the road just passed, shaking his fist at the receding truck. "What the fuck is his problem darling?" I mumble to my lass. She is smiling, and laughs, saying, "I think you splash him big-time with buffalo kii. (shit)" "Whaaaaaaa….??? Oh shit. Boy, he must be pissed!" I say, and start laughing. "He'll probably be waiting for me on my return trip with his rat hunting rifle." I say to her grinning face, still laughing myself. Watch out where the buffalo go, and don't you eat that yellow snow, flashed quickly through my demented brain, as I pondered the significance of short person behaviour and other highly ambient domains. "Arf" I said. God I loved Frank Zappa's music. Wish he hadn't died an early death.
I laughed all the way to Surin. I couldn't help it really. Where else but in Thailand can you get splashed with water buffalo shit by a deranged, hung over falang, who has strains of Frank Zappa tunes running through his twisted noggin? The phrase,"You're shittin' me.", takes on a whole new meaning over here. I try to drive more responsibly there after.
For some reason this trip the parties that be, who run the city of Surin, had decided to tear up every road into and out of the city, and replace all the sewer pipes at the same time. This, from what I heard from the little lady, has now been going on for months. Huge ditches have been dug in the red dirt on both sides of the roads. Huge potholes have also been created to make your trip into Surin an amusing little challenge. It's sorta like a new theme park, — construction derby — entrance is free. Trucks and backhoes, and graders and water trucks, and all sorts of construction equipment block your path at random intervals along the roads. Monsterous holes dot the road just waiting to tear off your undercarriage and exhaust pipes.
Insert into this amazing mass of public works stupidity and ineptitude an overwhelming number of retarded moto-cyke drivers of both sexes, and of seemingly all ages, what seems like thousands of the 3-wheeled samlor bicycle taxis, who are moving in slow motion in the middle of the road most times, and who pay no attention to traffic that I can discern, shitloads of school kids trying to cross the road, anywhere, not at a crosswalk, cops and apprentice cops directing traffic, who don't know what the fuck they are doing, and don't really seem to care, and whose hand directions make them seem to be on crystal methadrine and have some sort of palsy, soi dogs galore darting here and there and everywhere, red dust plumes swirling about in the air, and into your vehicle, and you, sir, are now in the Thailand driving twilight zone. Don't think, don't look, don't brake, don't give way, don't pay attention to anyone or anything, especially your lady's garbled and insane instructions. JUST STEP ON THE GAS PEDAL AND DRIVE!!! As though your life depends on it, because it does.
Don't worry about the mafia, or bad food and food poisoning, or disease, or rabid dogs and killer chickens, or insane bar ladies on ya baa, or knife wielding katoeys on dark sois at 4 a.m. looking for a shit faced, vulnerable, and stupid falang carrying 8,000 baht cash in his pocket and wearing a 2 baht gold chain openly, or nasty thugish Russian pimps, or natural disasters, or enraged elephants at the tourist park who will gore you because the stupid Chinese asshole tourists next to you decide to tease him with their bananas, or the corrupt cops, or the inept doctor at the hospital, or the falling coconuts on Jomtien Beach, or consuming massive quantities of Viagra even though you are 68 years old and have a major heart condition and are fucking 18 year old fuck machines on ya baa, or flying on Korean Airline, or mad Thai men with axes and machetes on ya baa and Lao Kao. JUST DRIVE!! Because driving in Thailand (or worse, riding in a conveyance driven by a ya baa fuelled Thai man) is the surest fucking way to die during your stay in the Land of Smiles!! Jing jing! (It's true!)
Remember this saying when driving in Thailand, it is my own, and I own the copyright on it……….."SomChai WANTS to die!!" It has become a standard running joke of my lady's and mine while driving the soi's and lonely backwater "highway's" of rural Thailand.
Yes, you see, SomChai is a Buddhist. He is NOT afraid of death. HE KNOWS he is coming back again. Hopefully as a rich man next time around. Hell, he ain't got much to live for anyway. No money, a rented dirt floor wood and corrugated steel roofed shack on some dirt and mud soi, outhouse included, and shared with two other families, or ten other relatives, a pair of 10 baht rubber flip flops, two pairs of tattered t-shirts, one with the Chicago Bulls logo on the front, (his favorite) and two pairs of tan shorts made sometime in the late 1970's, 3 sons, all of them as poor as he is, and as dumb, without chance of a university education and without a job, and not likely to be able to care for him in his dotage, if the Lao Kao doesn't take him to see Buddha early on, and an ugly ass daughter with bad teeth and a severe overbite who will never be a superstar dancer in a Patpong gogo bar, or even get a job in a blow job bar in Pattaya, and a wife who nags him all the time and is a rotten cook, and beats the crap out of him when he's drunk, and has a really bad violent temper when she herself gets ahold of some whiskey, and a sharp kitchen utensil. So dying doesn't seem to faze him too much. It would be a pleasure.
These guys have no fear, and drive their rusted, unoiled bicycles, 1968 junkyard makeshift scooter, rattle trap moto-cyke, 1945 era samlor, rented brakeless taxi or baht bus accordingly. They laugh at death. Ha ha ha!! (While you scream in terror and piss your pants at nearly every 100 yards.) And actually the educated and well-off Thai guys with their brand new Toyota Tiger 4X4's, Volvos and Mercedes Benz' are even worse! They rule the road, as do the kids on the brand new Honda and Yamaha 125 rice rockets. Beware when you drive in Thailand. It's freakin' nuts!
You, as a Christian, who knows we supposedly only get one shot at this fucked up merry-go-round we call life, must remember this. If you care, that is, to make the carousel ride last as long as you possibly can. Your chances at surviving go up if you remember SomChai's mindset while you are driving here. And use the VIP buses whenever possible.
The early morning drive to my daughter's school in Surin continues. My little hangover headache has now reached migraine proportions. I still feel like I'm gonna puke, my palms are sweaty, the ac is broken by the way, fuckin' A, and my lady seems to continue to insist on playing some Lao cowboy / buffalo boy music at head splitting levels. Even after I asked her to, "please turn it down!" She may very well become the first casualty on the road to Surin this fine morning. Nice ass or not!
At this moment in time I feel I'd trade places with the buffalo shit splattered guy back in the village in a heartbeat.
What the fuck did I get myself into?
(The Central Scrutinizer)
Written in February of 2001.
My crap comments to follow.