Featured image: Buddha at Wat Mahathat. Pix by Juana Jaafar.
Sunday & Monday, going back and onto the Northern route
What is this fog I’ve been seeing, a tint on the landscape of Buriram? Is it smog from burning paddy fields? But I don’t smell it in the air. Could it be some kind of perpetual winter fog? Whatever it is it’s giving the sunset a glow.
… I did it again. I’d fallen asleep barely half an hour into the journey. It’s been two hours since we left Buriram. I’m sitting next to an old lady. She’s very nice … and old. I feel like cuddling her as she reminds me of my late grandmother. We’ve just eaten the dinner provided to us. It was surprisingly good, though it looked like prison food. Not that I’ve been to prison.
It’s dark outside but once in a while we’ll see a light or two shine in the distance. I have a long way to go before I reach Sukhothai. It’s a pretty crazy route to take and without any restful breaks. I’m backtracking from Buriram and stopping in Ayutthaya. I should arrive at the Ayutthaya station at about 9:45pm tonight. I’ll then jump onto another train, changing lines, and head north to Phitsanulok. I expect to arrive at 4:30am.
I probably could have done this journey by bus. I could cut through the province of Chaiyaphum but that would mean I’ll have to break the journey and check into another motel. I don’t have time for that as I leave for home on 15 February to be with my sister on her birthday. So here I am destroying my body with exhaustion, but what the hell.
It just hit me that I’ll be in the “Dawn of Happiness” on Valentine’s Day. How cool is that? Such symbolism, and far away from the hawks that are my country’s “religious” bodies.
Sometimes I wonder if they have a secret agenda to embarrass Islam in the eyes of world. While I was away it seems they released an edict banning Muslims from celebrating Valentine’s Day. That’s not even the bit that made my skin crawl. They went further to calling it a Christian celebration and an attempt by Christians to sway Muslims from The Right Path. Embarrassing was when the Council of Churches came out with a statement to clarify that Valentine’s Day wasn’t at all a Christian celebration.
I mean dude … If you think of yourself as the highest religious intellectual authority in the country, and you’re going to make a statement, do your homework first.
Okay, I just got onto the Northern line. What the f*ck, it’s freezing cold in here! This is the temperature for preserving freshly cut meat from the abattoir! I walked into the carriage and got the shock of my life. I thought I was in a morgue. People have their blankets over their heads. I guess I’ll do the same.
Monday, at the “Dawn of Happiness”
If I should say a prayer for someone on Valentine’s Day it would be for Lalita, the daughter of the family that runs LV Gardenhome in Phitsanulok. Lalita insisted I called her upon my arrival at the train station so she could personally give the taxi driver directions to the motel, and also to ensure I wasn’t cheated.
So she woke up at 5am to do just that. God bless her and her children. But there weren’t any taxis around. I found out later taxi drivers in Phitsanulok were on strike. Fantastic, I thought. There’s nothing like a good strike, especially in this case where there’s only one taxi company operating in the city; a complete monopoly.
I ended up taking a tuk-tuk, and thanks to Lalita I wasn’t taken on a Thai goose chase. Thamikom, the tuk-tuk driver greeted me when he found out I was from Malaysia. His father is Pakistani and mother, Thai. It was 5am and my genealogy is a bit too complicated to explain at that hour, after spending 11 hours on two trains. Wa’alaikumsalam, was all I could afford.
I requested for a 9am wakeup call. I got it, and woke up at noon anyway. This journey for “peace” and “happiness” turned out to be one full of naps. Yay! But I did manage to go out to Sukhothai today, the “Dawn of Happiness”. And what joy to discover the paddy fields all green here in the North! Man, Major Sakchai eat shorts!
Sukhothai1 was a pleasant visit. Low season, apparently. I’ve been really lucky on this trip, not having to share my bubble with too many people. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the “Dawn of Happiness” so I rented a bicycle with a bell on it. I spent most of the afternoon cycling around in circles at the Wat Mahathat as this made my “Dawn” a lot brighter.
I hadn’t been on a bicycle for ages. Sometimes I’d snake through the temple and speed through the narrow pavement. I could have crashed and cracked my skull against a 14th century structure, but it didn’t matter then. And something was up with my bell. It rang on its own. Maybe it was happy.
I found happiness on the bank of a stream (drain) on the western side of the temple. How blessed am I that despite the naps and oversleeping I managed to see what I wanted to see on this trip; the two cities and paddy fields. And despite being far away from the comforts of modern civilisation, I even got to witness the end of Mubarak’s rule live on TV. Alhamdullillah …
Tuesday, on the train home
I just got up from a restful three-hour nap and I’m well into my journey back to Bangkok, heading home. Interestingly, the carriage is almost empty. I’ve hogged two seats to myself since we left the Phitsalunok station. No need to cover my face with a blanket this time as the temperature is non-Arctic.
I miss home and can’t wait to see my mother. What a silly baby. Anyway, this train seems pretty new. And smooth. And pretty damn fast. … The train is definitely faster than the other trains I’ve taken on this journey.
It was drizzling outside, and because I’d never felt drizzle on my face on a moving train I decided to step out at the back of the carriage on that little slab of metal that bridges ours to the next one. The space between the two carriages was narrower too. Leaning against the door of our carriage, I only needed to put my arm forward and I could rest half of my palm against the door of the other carriage. I could get crushed while standing there if the train took a quick, sudden brake.
I wonder, how aware are we of the spaces we occupy? In any case, I felt drizzle on my face on a moving train.
There were no stars in the sky. I couldn’t find the moon either. To my left and right was just pitch-blackness speeding by. When the sounds around me grew louder I knew the world was closing in. And then it would back away again.
I admit it was pretty scary, mostly because the train was moving so fast. Standing outside the carriage tonight would have been the only time I felt afraid on this trip. I could have dissolved into the night if I had fallen off.
There was no light in the sky. I think everyone Upstairs is asleep, so I only had the black night gushing through me. The sun will only rise in about an hour. I realise how blessed I’ve been on this journey. My Maker has been most Compassionate and Merciful, and has sent angels to pave me a path safe from evil, injury and bad weather.
I am now asking myself, at what cost?
On the occasion of Maulid Ar-Rasul, the Prophet’s birthday. May peace be upon him.
1. The old city of Sukhothai (Dawn of Happiness) was the first capital of Siam founded by King Ramkhamhaeng. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. the 193 ruins in the Sukhothai Historical Park were built in the 13th and 14th centuries, and are maintained today by the Fine Arts Department of Thailand. ↩
Read about the first leg of the journey.