Tuesday, September 16, 2008

And the road flows on, without the slightest splash

Jesus. My ego might as well be a screaming jackrabbit in a trap.

The Chinese proberb says "Crisis: Opportunity", but perpetual crisis can wear you out. Gotta do something.

Call for action in a crisis, you will do this, and this, and that.

But where do you start again, and in each direction, the road goes on and on, with frequent turns and many laborious terraces where there is a mountain.

Well damn. Give from the need, give from the panic.

There are other people out there in crisis, and they too, are writers.

Like my friend Tony MacGregor, lately of Bangkok.


By Tony MacGregor

I dream often in the Thong Poon Hotel.

It is always the same dream. My father, his frantic face and shrunken body enclosed in a transparent egg, rolls and twists on a riverbank. His maddened blue/gray eyes shriek out to me. He is trying to warn me of something - but he can't say what it is - and I am floating comfortably on the river, disconnected - while the egg twists and rolls and my father's face grows more and more frantic.

What is he trying to say to me? Why does he come to me here in the breeze of my electric fan as I sleep naked in the tropical heat in this erratically pulsating hotel on the banks of the Bangkoknoi canal where great chunks of floating green bushes float up or downstream, depending on the tides, before drifting into Bangkok's mighty Chao Phraya River.

My father was a wanderer, restless, driven, always grasping at tiny straws of peace that kept him going.

When I look up from the typewriter to the mirror, I see his blue/gray eyes, still young and intense, powerful, staring at me from a 63-year-old face with skin hanging loose from my neck and a forehead that now stretches to the middle of my skull.

My temples are still suffering from an attack of rosacea or acne that erupted in my last months in Korea. What remains now are scars and redness.

I am here by accident. Officially I'm here studying for a degree in Buddhism, but really I'm recovering from three years of a frantic life Seoul - too much happiness and sadness, too much work and too little sleep, and a lot of pain from falling in love with the wrong woman.

I had planned to study at a university in Myanmar, but the military government wouldn't let me in because I'm a journalist so I ended up here on the banks of this canal.

The canal is peaceful in the evenings and I often sit in the hotel's open-air restaurant on the river bank. I'm usually the only one there and I like that. I can't speak Thai so I can't speak to the staff but that doesn't bother me. I haven't tried to learn Thai because I'm studying Pali, a dead language similar to the one the Buddha spoke and the language in which his words are recorded. I don't want to attempt too much.

So I sit there alone in the dark next to the brown/gray shimmering canal listening for the thruup of a fish's tail in the water. The water gives off a subtle smell of wet weeds and cool living fish skin. Occasionally, from further up the canal, the compelling, honey-like scent of an orchid searching for an insect floats by.

The high-heeled shoes of the waitresses in their slinky, black, full-length gowns with a slit up the side, click on the plank floor. They smile at me a lot.

Their attire contrasts with the generally run-down appearance of the squat brown hotel surrounded by scrubby unkempt municipal land. Three guards in dark blue uniforms loll around in the languid heat at the gate to the entrance of the hotel, eyes half closed, barely awake.

Now I'm in my room waiting for Nok, the girl who works in the snack shop, to arrive. I didn't really mean to ask her to come to my room. I was just being friendly because I'm going to be here for six months at least and I will be seeing the hotel staff every day.

I said I would help her with her English. Then she said she would come to my room after she finishes work. When she said that her eyes softened and she smiled. Does she want to sleep with me? I don't know. She has large, dark Asian eyes with thick pink lips and dark hair sweeping over her forehead.

I bought four cans of beer, two of a brand called Season 3 with the picture of a sexy girl in a red dress on the cans and two Singha beer. Singha is a Thai word that comes from the Pali siha, lion. I have laid out some snacks – peanuts a sweet roll cake and a chocolate cake.

I'm doing my homework while waiting for her. I have to make a presentation on the life of the Buddha. I chose that topic because I need to understand the essentials. My classmates, almost all Buddhist monks, know them already.

I'm trying to focus but Nok's face keeps interrupting. She smells of chocolate and raspberry syrup. Her thick lips taste of strawberry pop and her hair smells of sunlight and blue, perfumed soap.

The truth is a man is what he believes as well as what he thinks and eats. What do I believe? Nok is young enough to be my daughter and I'm not looking for a long-term relationship.

After the Buddha achieved enlightenment he is reputed to have said,

"Vainly I sought the builder of my house

Through countless lives I could not find him

How hard it is to tread life after life!

But now I see you oh builder!

And never again shall I build my house.

I have snapped the rafters,

Split the ridgepole

And beaten out desire.

Now my mind is free."

Who is the builder of his house? Who is he talking about?

I met Adrian on my second day here. A friendly Australian who was born in Scotland - red face, shiny blue eyes - I rarely see him without a can of beer in his hand. He is kind, and drunk or sober, tends to his five-year-old son Johnny like a mother hen.

Last night he told me the story about a former resident of the hotel – a virtual hermit, he said - who collapsed after a taxi ride and is now in hospital in a permanent vegetative state. The matter-of-fact way Adrian told the story unsettled me.

Adrian says the Thong Poon Hotel is a state of mind.

The homework tires me out and I fall asleep. I dream the same dream, the dream of my father.

How I long, one day, to be able to call out to him from the river and say, "It's OK dad. I understand. I know what you want to say.

--Tony MacGregor


Merely Me said...

What to say? That was a phenomenal piece of writing.

Donnetta Lee said...

"A man is what he believes..."

I like that. We are what we think we are. And what we think the world around us is.

"...and what he eats."

Oh, I do like butterscotch ice cream.

Well, you can't be philosophical all the time. Donnetta

ivan@creativewting.ca said...

Hi merely me.

It's uh, just me.

Yeah this is a remarkable piece.

Sort of Hotel California,but way east.


ivan@creativewriting.ca said...


I love non-sequiturs.

Heh. I love cornflakes. Can you swim?

the walking man said...

Ivan...I think about you during the day. Strange seeing as we have never met even though it is a short commute. I have never been one to sit at anyone's feet for an overly long time.

I wonder at your crisis' and what actually brings them about. You've lived a life far from ordinary while traveling an ordinary path. What difference? Mexico or Thailand, both are strangers in a strange land far from home thinking of the things that make home palatable.

A funk is a funk no matter the location eh? It is the duration of the funk that counts, that leads to the canvass jacket with locks that ultimately killed Houdini. Not the attempting the escape, attempts never kill, it's the getting caught that kills.

Want out? Want escape to Thailand find a counter girl 1/4 your age? Or simply change the direction of a lifetimes build up of mind? Which? I think the latter would be more than sufficient, not because of your age but because you've already been to your Thailand. Why go to the second show when there is always a new release in the theater?

Sit, have a vodka and beer and ask yourself; "self...what fucking thing is there to do that I have never done? Rocker, politician, author, dumpster diver, mountain tops and valley floors...been there and done that. So what is there to do now?"

When I was hosting a poetry open mic, I met a professor. An astute professor much like I imagine you would be to talk with, enjoy the company of. He was funny, creative and because he had tenure could not be fired but spent more than a couple of semesters suspended from teaching because he used words like pussy, cock, tits and, cunt.

He then spent the semester walking the campus with a picket sign, (true story)vilifying the administration as an off shoot of Hitler and repressive censorship.

I asked him what that was all about, he quietly told me he was bored and he had enough of everything that needed to be shaken up.

Cool I got it.

Funny thing was, the last time I saw him on a stage he dialoged something that will always stick with me...he was taking his UofM MFA and putting it up for sale on EBay. The worth of it was valued at 30k.

He knew he couldn't take all of the literature he'd learned out of his mind, his thinking. It was a part of him no surgery could ever cut out. So why sell the paper, it at best would be a symbolic exercise, at worst illegal because some numb nuts would change their name to actually use the damn thing.

Whether he did or not I don't know but what I am sure happened was that he wasn't bored that week.

ivan@creaivewriting.ca said...

Heartening stuff, Mark.


Gonna catch me som wild horses now.
The woods are polluted with them.

...And where's that polar bear I'm suppose to shag?

Brng him on. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Indeed, a very nice piece. Infinite crises will wear on you. tear you down. It killed my first marriage for sure.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...


You are an honest man.

Tough thing to be in this cannibalistic business.
Last time I made a major sale to the Toronto SUN, my editor said,
"I am a a cannibal, after all my marriages. You can be too."

Welcome to, I suppose, literary succcess.
Gotta be a cannibal to earn your halo, I guess.
Art exacts, I suppose a terrible price.

Look, for example at Tony above.

But, I think, you have still made it.