Let It Grow Organic Gardens

And I resumed the struggle. -Vladimir

Thursday, December 30, 2004


The Thais used to refer to the resorts around Phuket by the number of their toilets.
"That one's 5,000," they'd say. "That one's only 2,000. And that one, 3,000 toilets flushing into the ocean."
The pipes went way out to sea, kind of too way out to see.
I never went there, Phuket. It didn't interest me. I was close by, once. A little town called Phi Phi. It was famous for some limestone outcroppings that were used in a James Bond movie once. In fact, someone told me that James Bond movie started the tourist boom in Thailand. I don't know. Maybe. That, and Robert MacNamara.
There were some prehistoric cave drawings near Phi Phi, and that's why I went. I somehow or another had developed an obsessive interest in prehistoric cave drawings and traveled all over to see them. Even ended up in Borneo.
Now, years, decades, maybe, later, I've forgotten why they held such interest for me. And I've forgotten why I traveled around so looking at them. I'm sure I explained it all very tidily to myself in whatever journal I was keeping at the time.
It's in a cardboard box, probably, in one of the closets. Along with the photos I took. Photos of the paintings, and of the temples that the Thais and the Chinese build around them, much later.
Phuket is off the west coast. That's why it got slammed. It faces India and Sri Lanka. And the Maldives, and all the other places that have been mentioned in the news the past few days.
I stayed mainly on the east coast. Mostly at one of Buddhadasa's temples, in the early days, and, then, down in Sungai Golok, where I studied with Uttamo.
Someone had told me of a cave near Charong, about half way between the two. I found the cave, but never any paintings. The cave was a crack in a limestone formation that stood maybe two hundred feet above the rice fields. Stairs had been built in and out of the cave, and on to the top of the formation. I went up there with the monk who caretook the site. It was late evening when we got to the top, and we sat down on a bench and rested. The sun was real low, and everything was cool and calm. I can't describe the green of the rice fields before us, or the green of the jungle behind us. I just remember thinking to myself, You don't know what green is until you've seen this.
The Thais had mixed feelings about Phuket. Most were proud that their country had a place that people traveled around the world to see. But they also kept count of the toilets. And the prostitutes. And they knew they couldn't afford to stay there, themselves. That's what bothered me most about the place. The economic disparity. I just stayed away.
News of the tidal wave first came for me on CNN, in a truck stop diner. Their reporter was calling from a cell phone on Phuket. My first reaction was, and I type this with great shame: God is wiping out tourists. First Florida, and now this. Insurance rates are skyrocketing in Acapulco....
Okay, that was when I first heard about it. When the death toll was, like, a thousand. A horrible number, but something you can wrap your mind around. Especially on an Asian scale. By the time I stopped for my next tank of gas, the estimate has risen ten-fold. And it keeps going up. Everytime I turn on the computer or listen to the radio or look at a newspaper, it seems to have doubled. The numbers are now incomprehensible. And then, incomprehensibly, another twenty thousand are tacked to the grand total. These are numbers that can no longer be grasped by mere mortals. A hundred thousand members of humanity.... How do you understand that figure? Yankee Stadium times two? All the cars that passed me between here and Little Rock? Most of Woodstock? An entire city of World Trade Centers? The numbers have lost their meaning and it's time to stop counting.
I've lost contact with the people I knew in Thailand. I don't know why and, when I look back, I don't even know when. Over the years, I stopped writing letters and they stopped writing letters. And, sometimes, the whole experience seems completely unreal to me. Like I was never even there. Like it was a movie I saw that I imagined myself into.
Was that really me, sitting on top of a hill looking out at a green that I couldn't understand? Is this really me, unable to process memories of a place I'm sure I lived in? And, is this me, sitting safely at home, trying to understand an imaginably large number of people no longer a part of this world?


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