Friday, July 02, 2010

In Which I Walk to the Wat

(Life must be slowing down here, if my blog topic is as bleh as a walk. Still, while I was doing it this morning, I noticed enough unusual (for me) things to start mentally blogging it. Here goes!)

I leave the Trina House just after sunrise each morning. I step over the inevitable trails of ants in the kitchen/dining room as I go out the front door. My sandals are to the right of the worn door mat - no shoes are worn inside houses here. I also get an indication of whether the lightning I saw from my bedroom window the night before led to anything - my shoes will either be dry, dry, dry or quite soggy. Either way, I pull them on and make my way down the precarious stone path.

The gate to the Trina House is this big, rusty, white thing. It squeaks when you unlock it, so I can tell from inside the house when someone else shows up. To the right of the gate, draped over the hedges that encircle the yard, is something that is fantastically called a fire tree - it's blooming with hundred of bright fire-red flowers that cover the walkway.

I walk under the fire tree along the gravel road. If the road's very muddy, I take a right at the end of the "street" so I can take the longer, paved route to the wat. If it's dry enough, I turn left and walk down the long, wider gravel road.

This is typically where the flies and mosquitoes start up. I don't know what it is, but three or four of them persistently come along with me on my walk - landing on me, getting brushed off, hovering above my head, then landing on a different part of me. I get more franctic with my brushing the further down the road I am; if there was anyone around to see me, I'm sure I would look quite crazed, flapping my arms all about me as I walk.

On my left is just jungle - brambly, thick, jumbles of various shades of green. On my right I pass the only house on that street. It's a good house, even by Western standards, so the family must be wealthy. They have a brightly painted gate and at least two dogs, who greet my coming from a long way off. One stands behind the gate while the other runs out into the middle of the road and barks at me. When I get closer, he runs ahead and then resumes his barking. He's just noisy, though - I just walk right past him and eventually he quiets down.

When the road ends in a T, I take a right and follow the worn little footpath that branches off into the coconut trees. This is the shortcut and also the muddiest path. I cut through the edge of the coconut plantation, with a canal full of sludgy, sludgy ooze sitting all still and murkey and green on my left, a row of palm trees on my right, and all kinds of folliage hanging in my way. I invenitably get a spider web to the face as I crouch and creep and lift branches out of my way, including this one huge brown palm tree branch that dangles right in the middle of the path.

The path takes me up to the back side of the coconut factory, which is hardly a factory as I tend to picture factories. The building is simply the plantation owner's house, always with a TV on in the room I can see into through the open door as I pass it. The area to my left is shaded with a rusted roof and on either side are piles and piles of coconut husks, bright green shells closer to me and furry brown shells further away. I always think of this as a coconut graveyard, since the piles look like the mounds of bones and skulls you see in grisley photographs.

The workers are always out when I pass by. There's the toddler who's always on the ground near the metal swinging crib, sometimes gnawing on a husk. There's an older girl, maybe 3 or 4, who stares at me from the patio of the house as I walk by. A few stray cats cross my path, two or three of their dogs come running to bark ferociously at me from a safe distance, and the famil/workers usually don't look up from their work as I walk by. I always wave and smile, but they keep on splitting and peeling the coconuts using sharp sticks and their hands.

The always-open gate to the plantation faces the highway. I always look the wrong way first, since I never remember that they drive on the left here, before crossing to the grassy median. There are Thai national flags and the yellow flags with the red Buddhist wheel of fate lining the median right now, leftover decorations of the conference this week.

After crossing the other lane of traffic, I go to the right side of the white gate that marks the always-closed lesser entrance to the wat. The "secret passage" is simply a matter of stepping down off the concrete into the bushes on the side of the gate, then pulling myself back up onto the sidewalk on the other side.

The road to the main gate leads off directly to my left, but I walk straight ahead across the white bridge. There's a concrete statue of a cobra next to the bridge, for no apparent reason. Usually this part of the wat is deserted, but this morning there was a local man fishing off the bridge. He's not at all supposed to do that, but I can understand the appeal - there are huge catfish here thanks to the tradition of feeding the wat fish for good luck.

The bridge takes me to the gravel path that leads through the men's area. Technically, I'm not supposed to go through there, but the alternative is to go quite far out of my way and cross through one of the sacred buildings. So long as it's not when they're supposed to be sleeping, I figure it's alright.

The path curves to the left. The wat grounds are covered with a variety of trees, some of which are labeled in both Thai and English, such as the cinnamon tree. The roosters and hens peck along the road and the rooster noisly declare themselves over and over as I walk by. Occasionally I see one rooster who somehow has settled onto a branch that's 6 feet in the air.

I pass the gorgeous white hall where evening chanting is held, cross a bridge with white concrete railings and paved with slippery red tiles, and pass between the tower with the drum and bell that's used to tell the monks the time and the complex of five white buildings where Phra Bart teaches meditation (in the inside balcony of the middle builing, up the stairs with the elephant statues, through the wooden doors on the left). Another bridge, almost identical to the one before it, and I face the mini-mart, the social hub, such as it is, of the wat.

I follow the road to the left, past the women's salla (dormitory) and over a paved road-bridge. In front of me is a huge gravel lot of the wat. The two university buildings are to the left of the lot, the cafeteria is in front of me, and the entrance to the monk's dormitory area is to the right. Here I see the first signs of other people on the grounds - a line of monks either going to or coming from breakfast, depending on how early I left the Trina House. I wait until they finish crossing, wai-ing as needed, then walk around to the back side of the grand building to where the workers eat, near the kitchen. I leave my sandals at the entrance and go through the yellow doors to the left. It's labeled "VIP Room," but usually it's just us volunteers here for breakfast. If there's no food on the table already, I follow the routine. I sit on the faded floral sofa outside the yellow doors and look confused and hungry. One of the kitchen workers usually notices us and brings a serving of whatever is for breakfast. I follow her into the VIP room and take a cup of water to the seat where she's set my breakfast down. This morning we had my favorite wat-breakfast - small Chinese noodles with cabbage. I stab the little plastic straw through the plastic seal stretched over the top of the cup of water, wipe the sweat off my face, and settle in to enjoy my breakfast. Or at least try to identify it.

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