12:45, scheduled departure time from Bangkok’s Hualumphong Station to Chiang Mai. We are still in the docks; there is no sign of train personnel anywhere that I can see.
1:15, train pulls out.
2:00, some food is coming around; it looks like some meat, might be chicken. On a bed of rice. I ask what it is. “Jut mooment,” the vendor replies. He hustles off toward the end of the car to confer with his counterpart a dozen rows away. He is back a minute later, his face illuminated by a big grin. “Rice!” he says, giving me a broad and rather unexpected wink…
2: 15, going by some industrial-looking area now. Could be Newark, but for the palms.
2: 40, here are some bougainvilleas about the size of apple trees, no kidding. Bougainvillea is one of the few flowers I recognize, along with such other obscure and little-known flora as the rose, the tulip and the orchid…
3:15, We are coming into the country. It’s flat here. Kansas flat. Flat as a Neil Young rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. (Note: I really like Neil, but perhaps more in rock-anthem than national-anthem mode…)
3:25, lovely scenery punctuated by occasional railway stations, teeming with after-school activity.
4:05, hawkers move up and down the aisle, offering cold drinks, some fruits that I have never seen before, in-shell peanuts, and Thai renditions of popular American snacks: Lai’s Potato Chips; Rit Crackers. I am pretty sure that two of these folks are ladyboys. The two cutest ones.
4:15, one vendor after another, in endless procession. Sometimes, like now, they get bunched up when one gets a big sale or when somebody is headed the opposite way toward the bathroom. By the way, the “commode” is simply a hole in the floor. If you look into it, you can see railroad ties and gravel beneath you. Prior to this, it has never occurred to me to time a bathroom break, but I would hazard a guess that this is the longest pee of my life, in distance if not in duration (60 miles per hour, for forty-five seconds, yields a distance of 3960 feet, by far a personal best; at this advanced age, who’d have thought?).
4:45, a flock of egrets stands guard at the edge of a rice paddy, their reflections standing on their heads in the water. We pass by so quickly I have no time to turn on my camera and snap a shot. It sounds as if there should be a haiku made from that
“Egrets reflected; we pass too fast for photos; %&*#^”
(Note: to fit the haiku form, in which the first line must be five syllables, the second, seven, and the third, five once again, please substitute the excised swear words with five syllables of heady language of your own. The possibilities are endless; use your imagination.)
5:15, across the aisle from me sit a monk in saffron robes and another man with whom I exchanges pleasantries in English. He says he is 43 years old, but he looks about 28. It is the Asian way, I think. In Japan, when girls hit about 13 or 14 years of age, they all look like they are eighteen. They then manage to continue to look 18 until they are about 30, at which point they look perhaps 24. This carries on through at least their fifties, during which time they appear around 35. When they hit their eighties or thereabouts, they accelerate strongly, and begin to take on the appearance of dried apple dolls, but by then, who really cares, right? Anyway, my new friend shows me photos of his sons, ages 9 and 12, who will both undoubtedly look 28 when they are 43, just like their dad. He recommended an elixir for good health, and I took down the recipe just as he said it, or at least as I understood it: 8 eggs, one bottle of Diamond-something (which can be gotten at Foodland), leave in a plastic bag in the sun for either five or nine days (presumably this depends on how healthy you wish to be), and some lemon sugar. If you decide to try this, I will not be responsible for any errors in understanding or transcription.
6:55, fields are burning left and right. There is something controlled about the whole affair, although I’d be hard pressed to say exactly what. I have been prone to a nagging cough off and on this trip, and the smoke isn’t helping matters, but it is such a beautiful contrast against the dusky sky that I seem predisposed to liking it (not that my liking it or disliking it affects things one iota; I just don’t want to be a curmudgeonly traveler before my time).
7pm, six hours and change in my half-seat; my butt is thoroughly numb. Not Comfortably Numb, like the Pink Floyd song, but Thoroughly Numb. Thoroughly Numb Bum. Ah, another haiku:
Aspens and needles (think about it…); shifting takes concentration; thoroughly numb bum
Where are all these haikus coming from, you ask? I think they must stem from my all-time favorite haiku, one which, sadly, I didn’t write:
Haikus, so poetic; but sometimes they don’t make sense; refrigerator.
10:45, my chubby seat mate has finally detrained, at some station deep into the Thai outback, a station so small that it didn’t even have it’s name written in English, unless by some chance it was called “Toilet”. At last, some stretch-out space. My grandma always told me if I couldn’t say something nice about someone, I shouldn’t say anything at all. I wracked my brain looking for something to say about the woman with whom I had spent the last hours in intimate, if unwanted, contact. This is what I came up with: for a fat girl, she didn’t sweat much. I guess it served me right that some one else got on board at the same station, and that she had been assigned the seat next to me for the rest of the trip into Chiang Mai. At least this one is smaller. And cuter. May be a ladyboy, though.
Too dark to read my watch, must be 6-something in the morning; we pull into Chiang Mai station. Koi told me to phone her whenever I got in, and she would pick me up. I wrestle with the notion of phoning at that ungodly hour. I phone anyway. I wake her up. Fifteen minutes later, she is at the station, looking bright-eyed in a way I never could have, even when I was her age.