16 October 2008

Letter 3.66

Despite the Reagan shooting, and the endless instant replays on TV, riveting the nation, perhaps there's been some mention in the US papers of the trouble in Bangkok -- practically on the eve of my departure for the North.

First there was the hijacking, ending in a deadly shootout, and then the attempted coup, which saw fewer fatalities, but a lot more excitement. The latter came close to a shootout too, but Sant, the usurping general, seems to have lacked sufficient strength and his troops, understanding that they were something less than a quarter of the army, and that neither the navy nor the airforce supported them, seem to have refused orders to fight Prem's troops (Prem is the PM) when several thousand of them actually entered the city.

That the navy and airforce were opposed to Sant was clear from the presence of some large warships in the Chao Phaya River, which flows past Bangkok not far from Wat Bovaranives, where I was staying, and from the fly-over of a number of F-5A fighter-bombers, who executed mock bombing runs over several of Sant's strongholds (all of which are within walking distance of Wat Bovaranives, which is on the 'government' end of town -- the business end being on the East Side).

Nevertheless, even if fighting had broken out the wat would certainly have been safe, for neither side would endanger a place whose first 3 abbots were crown princes. (The King of 'The King and I' was a monk, as you know, before he was a king and he was, as a monk, the first abbot of this wat -- the present abbot is the 6th.) So we had grandstand seats for a show that was better off not having happened. Still, there was a little nervous rush, what with the announcements crackling over the radio, sirens, sounds of distant gunfire, leaflets dropped from planes, etc.

The King of Thailand came to the wat the night before the coup attempt. Obviously he knew what was up and wanted to consult the abbot, who is his special adviser. He looked bewildered; now I know why.

Far from the King's bewildered face, I sit 350 miles north of Bangkok -- not as far north as Chiang Mai, but most of the way -- in a spacious cave in a limestone hill overlooking a forested valley. On the other side of the valley rise a fairly steep range of hills, running north/south, and on this side of the valley a lower range runs parallel. There are several caves in this hill, some as spacious as this one, but this one goes all the way through the rock and out the backside (maybe 250 feet), and, in this hot season, it's delightfully cool. Far better than the heat of Bangkok even with an electric fan. No bats seem to share this abode. The Northern RR line runs along the valley floor and I can see but only hear like a whisper a train at this moment. It's a 5 mile round trip to the village for alms, but I do it early in the day (leaving about sunrise) to get back before the heat. A small stream nearly dry each evening but fresh and clear each morning provides water. Since I'm unlikely to find another place as pleasing as this, not for a while, I'll stay here a while before heading north to Chiang Mai and beyond before I have to stay put for the rainy season.

No comments: