15 December, 2006
Routine now gives way to impending movement, to the smaller island of Koh Maak. In the meantime I alternate the basic elements of daily life: where to eat, when to swim, checking email, and editing. The weather alternates from stifling hot and humid, to pleasantly warm and breezy. I start to make a little headway on long-term projects, given the abundance of time in each day and night . . . yet without any sense of pressure or obligation. When my personal focus becomes too narrow, I have to let go of my habitual cravings (for accomplishment, activity, outside validation), and give way to the sensuous unity of present time. In this place that merger comes in moments unannounced: while eating a dish of light fried rice and crab, and transcendent green curry. The evening air is imperceptible, and the food inspires an inner glow, until the boundary of skin gives way, and soft fire infuses all. Air, water, body, sunset, vegetable, animal, light, spirit all become one, and there is no longer any need to distinguish "self" or its doings.
An email arrives today that expresses my otherwise poorly articulated and seldom focussed quest:
A human being is a part of the whole, called by us "Universe," a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest--a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.
Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security. (Albert Einstein)
Last night on impulse to do something different, I bought a ticket for a night fishing trip. Once again it didn't turn out to match very well what was advertised. Instead of one part squid fishing, and one part regular fishing, it was all squid--and only one caught, in the end. And the promised on-board fish barbecue never materialized--perhaps due to the absence of any fresh fish? In any case, I was not disappointed because, though I embarked at first as the only passenger, I was joined before we left the dock by a jovial party of ten Russians, mostly rather hefty specimens of the Slavic breed. It didn't take long before one man about forty years of age, with passable English, sat beside me on the gunwale and said, "You will drink some vodka with us?" My own Russian blood moved me to take the bait with hardly an instant's hesitation. I gave my name, Nowick, explaining that it was the name of my Russian grandmother. Sadly, she left Russia too young and never taught me any of that rich language, which swirled around me on the boat for the next five hours. I was fed white bread and mini-kielbaski, Pringles and pineapple. My tiny plastic cup was refilled and, when the vodka bottle was dry, refilled again with gin. The flow of Russian from the "Russkies," as they called themselves, increased with the flow of spirits. One man from Latvia worked back home as a "mechanic of spirits." My translator, with twelve years of part-time instruction in English yet an elementary grasp of it, worked in Moscow as an automobile insurance adjuster. His wife was a dentist. It was strange on the surface, yet somehow, genetically perhaps, or by Canadian temperament, I resonated more closely, and felt more at home, with this voluble crowd speaking with obvious and uninhibited humor and passion, than I had even while jamming on the beach with the Turkish hippies, and certainly more than in the British pub-with-hammocks back at the Elephant Garden. These, I sensed at a visceral level (maybe it was vodka warming my heart) were my people. "In there," my interlocutor said pointing to my half-empty cup, "is your health."
The Latvian woman sitting at the other side of me, who kept thrusting bread and kielbaski at me, was going on the whole evening about the absent "barracuda," as I could tell by that word's appearance once or twice in every sentence. Meanwhile we absently jigged for squid, holding rods baited with strips of white flesh, or simple line wrapped around plastic bottles and dangling weighted white lures. One woman won the night's lottery with a lucky catch of a six-inch squid. The gimpy-legged captain apparently did hook a barracuda at one point, but lost it before landing it. The stars were bright, the moon was missing, the sea air was soft and warm.
This morning while meditating on my bed back at the bungalow, I felt the almost queasy sensation of still being on the boat on the gently rocking waves. Was it a hangover, the remnants of sleep, my body's lingering attunement to life on the water? Maybe just more of that self-dissolving into an all-encompassing fluid element, where body and language and mind and world flow as one.
And today? The blaring canned Thai music from the temple celebration down the road pounds me outdoors and on my way, away. Down the road into the unsettled corner of the island? To a shady corner of the beach to write? Back up to Lonely Beach for the crowds and night life? Taking it slow till the evening and one last Turkish jam?
To begin with business at hand: email correspondence and Web documents, breakfast of chicken pastry and cinnamon bun, real latte. With the last sip, I rise. Next step: on the road . . .
. . . later . . .
I followed three branches of roadway this morning, ending in the all-leveling warm seawater, in the shade of the palms, sipping a cool lemon-banana shake, writing, wondering . . .
In the act of writing, and publishing to the Web, am I becoming more or less self-focussed? Does this narrative draw attention excessively to the personal and the person, or does it serve as a liberation and expansion from a default level of uncommunicative self-absorption (or merely social contact) to greater identification with others and world interests? The black dog hobbling up to me on three legs at this moment to smile at me, in the process wrapping himself in the sarong draped on the back of my chair, offers some clue that there is a self-transcending impulse at work.
The first track extended as a sandy dirt path through a palm grove behind the beach, leading to the previous limit of my explorations, a narrow cement road winding into the exclusive domain of the Grand Kahuna Resort. There life-sized statues of elephants mingle with opulent buildings and exotic landscaping. I am met also with the usual morose silence of the hired workers there, and a security guard who informs me that to pass further into the grounds I need to pay a fee; there is no continuous road access here through to the other side of the island as I had been told.
Retracing my steps, I found another path leading from the cement road further into the jungle, with a flat grade and easy walking, especially in the shade and the breeze on this morning of minimal heat. This path led in time over a dry streambed and, at the second such dry creek, I could see a road on the other side. This must be, I figured, the end of the main road which represented the actual departure point for the waterfall I'd been told of, as well as the path leading beyond the road to the other side of the island. Once on the road where it was broken by the once-flooded creek, I decided to explore the extension beyond the road first.
After a short distance I left the world of motorbikes behind and threaded my way into the jungle, following a barely-discernible footpath that wound its way up a gradual grade. I'd been told it was an 8-km trek between ends of the pavement, or was it the respective towns at either end? My one liter of water was nearly gone already, and I was getting winded climbing in the rising heat of the day. When I came to a tree blocking the path, with the way even more overgrown and still gaining elevation ahead of me, I decided it would be wisest to turn back. Maybe I could settle for that waterfall and freshwater swimming hole instead.
An old Thai man emerging from the jungle confirmed that the next path led to a waterfall (I made gestures to indicate falling water, and swimming), so I followed that way again along a level grade and over a dry stream bed. At the next streambed I could sense water, and then did indeed sight a stagnant pool among the rocks. But there was a shanty on the other side, and a definite smell of cesspool or sewage turned me away without further temptation to immerse myself there.
Back on the road where it was cut off by the creek, I faced the choice of returning the easy way I had come, following the level paths through the trees, or following the main road back. The latter choice would complete my circuit of and curiosity about the terrain, since I had not followed the road to its end on my initial trip last week. At that time the number of hills and the sweltering heat had got to me, and I'd turned back short of the washout. Today I still had some energy left, and that motivation which seems to drive me from time to time to return to paths not taken in order to somehow complete unfinished business, or to redeem myself for holding back out of fear, fatigue, or simple unreadiness to act fully in a certain direction. This syndrome I could apply for example to relationships that ended, I felt, perhaps prematurely; to my journey in Spain where I was compelled to backtrack to manifest the mystery of the Moorish temple at Zaragoza; even to the trivial case of passing up one chance to party with friends, by making sure that I took the next opportunity presenting itself.
In this case I had to pay the karmic price of return by going up and down a number of steep hills on the road, as it snaked the longer way around the coast back to the beach. Was it worth it? In the course of fate, I do not yet know. In the moment, I was satisfied enough with following that due process of completion. Along the way, I was aware that exercise of the body in itself represents that more complete merger with the world, of which Einstein spoke. Especially with aerobic exercise induced by exertion of climbing, there is more interchange of oxygen, air, breath, heat, spirit, body, mass, energy. Also, travelling the ups and downs of hills, experiencing greater heights and depths and extremes of heating and cooling, represents more intensive involvement with life in its full potential--like a taste of warming vodka on the boat with the Russians, as opposed to the tepid water of solitude in my bungalow. Finally, as I come to the final rise above the beach I am granted the perspective to see, at one glance, the sea around Koh Chang, the waters where we fished last night, the beach where I will swim today, the island I will visit next week, the Grand Kahuna Resort, the lagoon and adjoining palm grove behind the beach, the mountains beyond, and the pass that leads out of sight to the other side of the island.