Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Superstitions: Speaking About Death

The two-lane road from Chiang Mai up to the beautiful mountaintop temple Doi Suthep is a series of switchbacks and blind turns, none of it graced by guard rails or enough heavy shrubbery to keep one from making an end-over-end detour a ways down the extremely steep mountainside.

I was reminded yesterday about a ride back down that winding road on my first trip to Thailand. The Thai friend along with me that day was named Voy, the “first generation” off of the family farm into the Big Mango that is Bangkok. Although he had already been Westernized to a degree he was a country boy at heart, and seemed happier in Chiang Mai than in Silom.

He’d suggested we commission a
song taew (a pick-up truck with a metal roof over the back to cover the bench seats along the sides) to take just the two of us up to the temple, wait while we wandered around, and then drive us back down into Chiang Mai to my hotel by the Ping river.

It had been misting the whole time we were at the temple and had begun raining in earnest by the time we were headed back down the mountain towards town, and the driver seemed to be in a hurry. He was going far too fast for
my comfort on a road that was now slick with rain, in addition to being twisty.

I was hanging tightly onto the bars along the inside, wondering how I'd fare in the semi-open back of this truck if the tires lost grip on the asphalt and we attempted a "shortcut" into town. Other than the two of us there were no others in the back and I imagined us tumbling around like sheets in a dryer. I asked Voy to tell the driver to please slow down. "I don't want to arrive back at the guest house dead," I said.

From the look on his face you'd have thought I'd just suggested Voy had enjoyed having relations with his mother the previous night. He was absolutely shocked. More than shocked, really; his face paled as he gasped in surprise and then said (more forcefully than I’d ever heard him speak) "
NEVER say this! VERY bad luck!" I understood and immediately apologized, but he continued to frown - although he did ask the driver to slow down. He then sat silently, his brow knitted as we rode along, the tires singing on the wet pavement.

There was a break in the rain so we made a stop at a scenic vista point (panorama photo above) where he quickly fired up a cigarette while I played tourist and took photos. Soon he calmed down and began to clown around in his usual manner. By the time we were climbing back into the truck it was evident he’d let it go, and we joked about many things the rest of the way...
except dying.

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