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March 02, 2006

Safe Journeys

I had really wanted Kong and Nid at my going-away dinner last night—but Nid likely had family stuff going on at home in Takuapa...and since I didn't have Kong's phone number any more I relied on someone else to give him the details and I suspect the message didn't get through.

So even though I'd planned to spend the morning at the pool again, I needed to say my goodbyes at the boatyard. Jonathan, in a year of volunteering and working in the area, had never seen the boatyard and tagged along for a tour. We all met at the usual morning spot, the Dive In (Dine Out), and rode to the site in the back of Scott's pickup, the way I did every other morning.

I gave Jonathan the nickel tour but the boatyard was humming like a busy hive, with preparations to make delivery on the Georgetown boat. I thanked Gaugin, the caulker who taught me how to fill in the slim lines between the planks with string and sealant, a chisel and hammer. We couldn't find him at first, so Kong and Jonathan helped me write him a note that said I enjoyed meeting him and I admire his work.

Nid wanted to get a photo, and Kong did too. Nid kept taking hold of my elbow, and stroking my arm, squeezing it in a polite, anxious way. Thai custom dictates that out of respect you avoid touching people high on their bodies as it would indicate that you think they are "lower" than you are. So, for example, you don't throw your arm around a Thai person's shoulder for a picture, you politely hold her around the waist.

Kong was rushed because he'd just been assigned to run out to the Sawasdee Homemart to buy a second or third cement ring to cap off the new sceptic tank for the boatyard (a long, smelly story that has been developing over weeks; you can fill in your own details). Scott had just accidentally cracked it with the backhoe and was in quite a state with himself about it.

Jonathan and I had hoped to get a ride back into KL on Kong's motorbike, but as ever the winds of change flowed us to a new plan. We asked only for a ride up the 2Ks to the main road to find a sawngthaew (a taxi that runs on a given path sort of like a bus) to get back.

Kong hopped in the back of the pickup with us, even though there was plenty of space in the cab. I tried to hold back the tears, the reality of leaving Thailand by leaving behind one of the true Thai friends I had. Banged on the side of the truck to get the driver (Chris?) to stop at the corner.

I wanted to give Kong a hug to tell him I would miss him. But hugging isn't really what Thais do (they don't even shake hands), and I remembered how embarrassed he'd been when I hugged him in thanks for giving me the Buddha amulet last year. So I didn't know what to do, what to say, how to translate it into Thai.

Kong held his fist out to me, and I thought it was for some sort of secret boatyard handshake. But Jonathan said, open your hand, he wants to give something to you.

From his hand, Kong dropped his braided ring into mind and siad, "For good luck on your trip. Good luck to you." This is one of the highest blessings someone can give you in Thailand. It's what monks say to protect your spirit as you travel. Kong had been a monk for eight years, though he had left the wat since then.

I was choking back the tears and gave him wai. He climbed into the cab and the truck sped off.

I didn't see that Kong's eyes were full of tears as well.

"He's really sad," Jonathan said.

I just tried not to cry. How is it that this journey above all others is never a trip, but a change of life? Each time I come here I don't just travel through but somehow manage to move my life, to live here, and to go back home is to move away again.

Jonathan kept me company at the pool the rest of the day, and kept me distracted from the inevitable. We talked about teaching, Thai customs, the past, the future. G. called and I had so much to tell him but my overwhelmed words came out stuttered, abrupt, halting.

I wanted him to understand the power of this place, the messages and gifts I receive in being here, in wanting to help. But any shortening of the story might have sounded like: "So I'm in this beautiful resort pool with this guy you don't know? And we're sipping fresh pineapple shakes in the cool water? And this other guy gave me a ring."

So I gave G. headlines and told him that Kong had sent me off with a special good luck charm. Then G. and I quickly exchanged I Love Yous so I could squeeze the last few minutes of Thailand out of the bright humid air and store them in my heart until I can come back and see these friends again.

Posted by sedda at March 2, 2006 04:05 PM