They say history is written by the winner. That’s about the only thing we can say with conviction when it comes to tales of the past. Every side of an event experiences a different reality and every witness walks away with a different story. However, the victorious are anything but quiet and the losers tend to push the memory out of the collective conscience as quickly, and quietly, as possible.
“Ok guys, go over and stand in front of the ruin.”
“Perfect, hold it, hold iiiiit,” I drew out the final word as my friends shuffled into position before the remains of the ancient Kingdom of Ayutthaya.
“Now be happy conquerors.”
The three Burmese before me broke into beaming grins and waved behind them.
All I remember from the Sanam Chandra Palace was the flowers swaying in the slight breeze of the day, the roosters clucking about and the castle-like building—with its bridge drawing over the small river meandering through the neatly manicured and sharply-shaped gardens.
“Please be invited to pay homage to the thousand years Buddha, the happy monk and the four faced statue of Brahma. Our officer is being service to you inside.”
“What do you figure is down there?”
“Think we can go in?”
“Let’s go,” I say to my friends as I slip past and slowly descend into the tunnel.
Reassured by the echo of accompanying feet I mentally pull out my “tourist card” just in case. It usually works wonders displaying a confused expression when people find you in places you shouldn’t be. A bit of scolding might be dispersed but that’s easy enough to digest.
It was like the first gust of air that strikes you when you watch a thunderstorm creeping up across the prairies. The moment when the air is sucked away and the world goes mute as the distant clouds display spats of brilliance. Then, as you watch, the wheat at the horizon kneels as everything bows to the shrieking force in the distance. Settled on a small green embankment your fingers grasp at the grass by your legs. Gulping down a breath as you clutch the protective blanket of stillness around you, the gust finally hits and yanks it from your presence.
We had just left the Kuantan Firefly Park and driven up the road surrounded by mangrove trees. When we came up to the main road a brightly lit building shining across the road caught our attention. It stood out like a New York theatre on Broadway in the darkness.
“Wait, what is that?!” I asked my friend as I pointed through the windshield.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven…. Our voices melded into a rhythmic trot. With each stomp we made our way past bystanders and left a trail of numbers. 50, 51, 52, 53, 54… The sunlight was beating down on our backs. The heat penetrated our clothes and gathered on our skin. The numbers began to catch in our mouths as our climb slowed to ensure each number was included. 123, 124, 125… “I want a picture,” I gasped balancing on a step to catch a shot of the scene ahead of us. “Ok.” 234, 235,235-236… “Oh wait, we are out of sync.” 234, 235, 236… Seeing the stairs cut away just ahead our legs pumped as we threw ourselves up the last few steps. 269,270,271 aannnddd 272…
“Please don’t use flash photography,” said the man who’d offered his hand to help me get into the boat. The moonlight bouncing off the water seemed to cling to his teeth as he grinned heartily and waved our little boat off into the dark water.
“Of course!” I replied, easily smiling back as I casually twisted my camera’s settings into No Flash mode.
Scooting to the edge of the bench I looked off to the far side of the river so I wouldn’t have to peer between the couple sitting in front of me. We’d been organized into four people per boat with one oarsman standing at the back, tugging the oars to his chest as he propelled us around.
I’d hoped to nab the front seat, but all was forgiven as I earnestly peered into the low trees hugging the river’s sides.
As we drifted closer what I’d see next wasn’t at all what I’d expected.
So, I’m a picky eater. At home in Canada my diet pretty much consisted of original chips, some kind of ham/pepperoni/ sausage and cheese combination and a need to avoid the veggies unless they are on their own. Translation: basically a happy carnivore.
During my first semester in Thailand I had the opportunity to listen to at least two fellow exchange students grumble about how, “once you’ve seen one wat (Thai word for temple) you’ve seen them all”.
I’ll admit this wat displayed many familiar features: a massive stupa, a humble temple, a tall surrounding wall, a line of Buddha images ready to receive coins and two growling nagas racing down the hill to greet temple visitors. But it was the details that were the most intriguing.
With the initial awe wearing off I was starting to wonder about the meaning of the curious objects around me.