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Sunday, July 26, 2009

river Kwai or Kwair ?


Kanchanaburi / River Kwai TrainImage by motg via Flickr

This is a province nestled by the Burmese border with tourist attractions such as the Erawan waterfall and a meandering river whose serenity is broken each night by floating disco restaurants, frequented by tourists who like to eat overpriced Thai food while dancing to Ring My Bell amid the jungles of Thailand.

CHONBURI, THAILAND - OCTOBER 24 : Thai buffalo...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

The big attraction is the Bridge on the River Kwai. Thais love the fact we call it the River "Kwai", when in fact it is the River "Kwair". The way we say it sounds the same as the Thai word for "buffalo", which has a vernacular definition of someone who is lazy and stupid.

There are two cemeteries from World War Two for POWs who lost their lives building the Death Railway. They are well worth a visit, the JEATH Museum in town features pictures of the construction of the Death Railway.

The first time I visited the museum I was shocked by the plight of the POWs another m

Boo!Image by Esteban Cavrico via Flickr

usuem is at Hellfire Pass displaying depiction of the horrors of the time.

Tourists and travellers of all description flock to Thailand for sights adventure and the unknown, thais have a special word for backpackers and some Farang.... "farang khee nok" literally "bird sh*t westerners". The notion is that of a stingy traveler who doesn't wash, a definition unfair to any non-British tourist to Thailand. The traveller ends up all over the place, not dissimilar to a bird whose droppings do the same. And while Thais will tell you that the definition is affectionate, it's jus tthai style but in fact it's right on target.

kanchanaburi's number one siteImage by permanently scatterbrained via Flickr

I read a very funnystory by a local jurno in Thailand .....(and my sincere apologies to him... for absence of his name .. I can not find it only the notes of his article that follows......... "20 years ago I was a farang khee nok staying at cheap guest houses populated by eager young Americans, Europeans and Aussies taking gap years to see the world. Everybody was reading The Incredible Lightness of Being and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (except for me, of course - I was into Agatha Christie and Jackie Collins). Those same guest houses were home to ageing hippies who sat around smoking dope and strumming tuneless guitars. I swear by the end of my trip if I heard Neil Young's Comes a Time one more time I would have purchased a dagger on Khao San Road and beheaded these long-haired lunatics.

One night there was a group of hippies next to me enjoying their fruit shakes while a Thai guy was explaining to them: "While you're here, you must see the Floating Nun. She is truly amazing!"

I immediately lay down The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Sure enough, claimed the Thai guide, the Floating Nun was a phenomenon that couldn't be missed.
"She is a very old nun who has been doing this since anyone can remember," the man said, dragging on his Krong Thip as he spoke. "Every day at 11am and 3pm she goes down to the water. She prays and meditates. It's truly unique, and she reaches a deep state of meditation by doing it. And she floats! She doesn't sink! It's incredible!"
I have to admit I love such attractions. A floating nun! In my life I had only ever heard of the Flying Nun, my favourite TV show as a child in which Sally Field played a sister in Puerto Rico who whenever the wind blew, managed to tilt her headwear and was able to fly through the air. Was the creator of that show on drugs or what? I can't remember any of the storylines now, and why would you? Now, here I was in Thailand, listening to a story about a woman who sounded like a Siamese Sister Bertrille.

Mo & the Cover Man of Lonely PlanetImage by kudumomo via Flickr

That night I consulted the Lonely Planet and was happy to see the Floating Nun mentioned briefly. She performed her ethereal aquatics at a temple called Wat Tham Mangkorn Thong.
Back then the temple was a tourist attraction with its sparkling Buddha images, but I wasn't there for those. I'd seen so many temples in two weeks I surprisingly found myself yearning for an image of Jesus on the cross just to break the monotony. All I wanted was to see the miraculous Floating Nun and was thus happy to see a handwritten sign at the entrance: THIS WAY TO THE FLAOTING (sic) NUN, accompanied by an outrageous arrow. I followed the sign.
I was led by a temple boy to a stark concrete pool, probably about three or four metres across and about one metre deep. There were another two or three Thais standing around. I was the only representative of the Western world.

I should have known it was a scam by the fact the old and wizened Thai woman dressed in white arrived at 11am on the dot - no trustworthy Thai ever comes on time. She climbed into the pool and lay on her back. She clasped her hands together, then using her feet pushed herself off from one side and floated across, like a lackadaisical torpedo, to the other side. Then back again. Then out of the pool. Then she was gone.

I was extremely impressed by the sheer audacity of this temple in its ability to attract me there to see an old biddy do what any woman can do; namely, float in a pool on her back. And at what stage did she achieve nirvana? I must have blinked when that happened.
Somewhere in the very back of my photo cupboard I still have a picture or two of that "famous" Floating Nun. It was my first introduction to sham tourist attractions in this country, though certainly not in my life.

Queensland cities, towns, settlements and road...Image via Wikipedia

I grew up not so far from the Big Pineapple, a monstrosity along the Queensland coast where you can actually go up inside and see the amazing process of growing pineapples - if you can stay awake of course. In Brussels recently I admired the underwhelming statue of the urinating little boy - I had travelled halfway across the world to see that? And now I was in the jungles of South East Asia, having paid money to see an old lady use her mammary glands to stay afloat in a concrete play pool.

Not long after my initial trip to Kanchanaburi I read in The Nation newspaper that the Floating Nun may have been able to escape the rigors of a regular day job, but she wasn't able to escape her mortal coil. She died in 1990.

Story Bridge PanoramaImage via Wikipedia

But the ever-resourceful Wat Tham Mongkol Tong didn't miss a beat. A week later there was a new Floating Nun in the concrete pool unimpressing tourists. And, as I have just discovered on YouTube, there is one still there to this day. Only these days you are required to throw money into the concrete pool as she prays. Of course you are.

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