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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Barefoot to the Peak

I am kneeling down before a shadowy Buddha. I am in a temple, so I assume there is a Buddha at the other end of it. So dark and cool in the deepest part of shade. Vapor of ancient wood planks seep up to me through amber, knee-polished shellac.

Minutes before, the temple was closed. But children on rollerblades circled me in a frenetic cluster of broken hellos and, "where you from?". They buzzed me with smiles then quickly disappeared like a hand full of seeds thrown into tall grass. Then, a tentacle of poppy-colored robe lilts around a corner on a breeze, preceding a gentle man. Butterscotch skin, stark against the orange fabric. Not really butterscotch. More the color of where milk meets tea. I look at the dots where a shaved hairline or eyebrow might have once been. He stands, haloed by the black silhouette of the alleged Buddha. Light at the end of a tunnel smile, he unlocks the double-door chain that falls to the sidewalk with a pleasant, haphazard melody. A clatter made profound by place and moment.

Every wisp of scent and sensation reminds me I am in Thailand. I am here for business, or as a tourist or, most likely, because I am in love. And I’d thought love had been disappointed out of me long ago. The monk bids me to observe the obscured teakwood deity. He seems so sure it's there. Squinting, I can't see anything but darkness. But the monk gently insists that I wait. I hunker down hurting my knees, unaccustomed to bearing my weight on them. The monk disappears for a moment then returns with a jelly glass of cloudy water. I take it gratefully and pretend to drink. I am a little nervous now. What is it I'm waiting for? What's in the darkness?

The answer arrives in the form of an ancient electrician. He shuffles barefoot and dragging a toolbelt that looks like a greasy shop-rag. But within seconds he throws a switch and the entire temple lights up like a carnival. There is the Buddah! Right there! That and a hundred strands of primary-colored Christmas lights. Gold leafed relics throw light into my head. The monk is giving me a knowing look that reads, "yep, happens every time". The look is similar to the one my mother gives me when she's trying to impress me with a DVD of Yanni performing live at the Acropolis. But I might as well be all alone. Here, in this temple. I am at one with this confusing sideshow. I am in heaven with this Buddah, on this day, in this country. I can no longer feel my knees. I could sit here sipping this boggy water forever.

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