I spent nine weeks during the summer of 1989 in Thailand with a group of about 100 college students. Most of the summer was spent in Bangkok, hanging out at Ramkhamhaeng University. Then, at least, it was the largest university in the world, boasting over 500,000 students. We met with students, debated God vs. Buddha (though most of them knew very little about him) and we talked about America. It was a challenging and sweaty summer, full of pop-in-a-bag (in the interests of reusing their pop bottles the venders poured pop into ice-filled bags and gave you a straw), bargaining over trinkets (actually I’m a horrible bargainer – I’d way rather just pay the money they’re asking and be done with it), and salmonella due to an unpalatable “dessert” of an egg poached in coconut milk complete with tiny rice balls floating around in the bowl. I had two bites and could stomach no more but it was enough to keep me indoors for the next several days…and then led to more fun later on back at home. Oy, vey.
We also spent some time in northern Thailand in Chang Mai and Khao Yai National Park, which was a lesson in identifying land leaches and in what not to do when you see a small hole in the ground right outside your cabin door.
We visited a waterfall at some point, driving down a heart-stopping, narrow, curving, hilly road. The fact that I survived that drive is a miracle, as we swerved past busses, trucks, and other wide loads that almost gave us heart-attacks, let alone almost sent us careening over the edge of the road into land-leach-filled tropical jungles.
We also took a train to see the actual bridge at the River Kwai…which broke our hearts and caused me to quote Rupert Brookes “The Soldier”, which famously says, “There is a corner in a foreign field which is forever England” as we saw the rows upon rows of white wooden crosses marking the British cemetery. Still makes my heart ache to think of it.
But then, at the end of the summer, we went to Phuket Island for a few days. (Yes, you’re remembering right: it’s one of the scenes of the Tsunami in 2004. It’s just one of the places I’ve been that afterwards has suffered incredible loss…I need to blog about that whole topic sometime.) We also spent a week in Krabi nearby, which I’m sure also suffered beyond belief from the tidal wave, though I’ve never heard details.
Krabi is a nice, small, southern city on the coast of Thailand. We spent most of our time there in a jungle village outside of Krabi proper. It was there that I saw my first lightning bugs, incidentally.
While we were there we visited some homes located on the Andaman Sea.
Yes, ON the Andaman sea.
On stilts, over the water, with the tides coming and going not far below their floorboards.
We visited with the familes, talked, ate a little something, and then – SHOOT! – I had to use the facilities.
Now, virtually all of the potties in Thailand were “squatty potties” – non-flushable bowls with a handy water source nearby which, after you “went” you cleaned by filling a pan (or two) with water, pouring the water down the bowl, and hopefully sending all the nastiness far away so as to not offend the next person.
Not so with a house-on-stilts over the sea.
I told our interpreter of my need and he, knowing what I would be facing, asked me just how badly I needed it. I told him I was rather desperate. (This memory gives me a little more patience with my children on long car trips.)
He then relayed my need to the man of the house who, with an agreeable smile, motioned for me to follow him. There was another girl who needed the same thing so the two of us followed him into the house. (We had been sitting on the deck outside.) There was, of course, no electricity, no hallway lined with school photos, no recycling bins, couches, or TV guides on over-laden coffee tables.
There was one windowless room, the bare grass-woven walls leaving chinks of light on the smooth floor. There was a cooking corner, some sleeping mats rolled up for the daylight hours, and a walled-off area smack in the center to which he led us. He gestured inside, picked up a door (with both hands) which was leaning against the wall, and, with a few incoherent words, indicated that by strategically placing the door over the opening, we could shut ourselves in. Smiling and unabashed, he turned to go.
My friend and I looked at each other, our eyes wide. The door, which was made of uneven sea-worn boards held together by a board or two nailed across them, was heavy. I entered the room, which is surprisingly large in my memory, and there, in the far corner, was a hole.
Below the hole was the sea…which, at low tide, was simply a beach. I was glad the tide was high just then.
Gotta admit, though, they had a good flushing system!
The hole was bordered on both sides by bricks, to elevate the feet (often bare or possibly in flip flops) in case of misses, I suppose.
I heard kids playing outside, and voices floated in from the deck. I shrugged my shoulders and proceeded with the task at hand.
And that, my friends, is why I am so thankful for my life. For the blessings I enjoy. For the bills that get paid and the firm roof over my head. For the food in my cupboards. For my lovely kids and patient husband.
For toilets that flush.
And the tides that wash away our iniquities.
P.S. – I’ve heard, though haven’t been able to confirm, that military cemeteries in foreign lands have been deeded over to that country. So the military cemetery for England, for example, there at the Bridge of the River Kwai, is officially on British land. I think that’s very cool.