2006- Entry 6: Return of the Non-native: Bang Boh in Disguise

I woke up early this  morning and decided to go out to my old Peace Corps site, Bang Boh. The town in located about 30 kilometers outside of Bangkok. Last year every time I went out there it was with a group of people and there was always an agenda! So this year I didn’t contact anyone that I was coming. I just needed time to visit the nooks and crannies in my own way and time. I realize now that Bang Boh and I needed some time to “talk” and “listen” alone.
 
Finding the town by bus is not so easy as there are few signs to actually mark where it is now. It is part of one virtually continuous line of houses, buildings and shops that line the highway heading southeast to the coast. But find it I do.
 
I get off the bus and use the footbridge to cross the highway. But then I decide for some reason to walk the two kilometers along the highway to see the school and temple first. As I walk, the sky opens up several times. I am thankful that it isn’t a sustained rain at any point. I am glad to see that there is now a footbridge over the road to the temple. There too is the hospital that was long ago promised for this area. I take some pictures at the school, but opt not to go in as it may end up in a formal tour of some sort and visit. I then walk beyond to the bridge that now crosses the canal. I am engaged by several of the elementary school children out on recess….. “Good morning!” they cheerily cry…… “Good morning to you!” I respond even though it is in fact the early afternoon. Never mind. The canal is so clogged with banana plants I can’t imagine any boats big or small getting through.
 
With so many changes, the trip to the temple is not reassuring. Everything old, save a few of the chedis, has been renovated. Many new structures have been added to what can now only be called a “complex.” It is nice, however, to sit by the canal, it’s cool breeze still a gift. Despite all the houses on the other bank, enough is the same to inspire a few memories of 30 years ago.
 
After a quick lunch of stir-fried vegetables and prawns over rice in a little restaurant across the street from the temple, I leave and start walking toward the village two kilometers away. It used to be a dirt road. I’d often have to get off my bicycle to make way for the lumbering buffalo meandering along. They are docile enough, but one quick flick of the head can send a horn into your side! It is now a paved road with all sorts of shops, houses and buildings lining the route.The town has enlarged greatly. The old bridge over the canal is there– the view of the market along the canal looking east still has a recognizable look. There are a number of new schools in town. Bang Boh really is growing. So many structures and buildings not here when I lived here, yet they look so old and worn.
 
It isn’t long before I find myself back at the highway where I started and soon on a bus bound again for Bangkok. Not needing to stop for 20 minutes at Bang Na so the “grapow” (busmen) can walk around soliciting passengers for the trip out from the city, saves us time getting back.
 
                                                —————-  …. ————-
 
  (Some random thoughts from Bang Boh bridge)
 
Everywhere I look I see things that make no connection to my past. It leaves me with a certain sense of wondering why I am here and if I will want to return to Bang Boh. The only thing I recognize now is the old house I once lived in so long ago– its once-new timber now  weathered and changed. But still somehow things still resonate with me. Perhaps there really are spirits of the land that can speak to us of the past in ways that balance our sense of “loss” for all the changes we see. Maybe Bang Boh now only exists for me in the many people I have met here. My students and teachers who are now my friends— my connection. I still see and hear 30 years ago in so many of them despite all the changes they have gone through. They so willingly made a place for me in their lives in spite of the passage of so much time— possibly Bang Boh and I can come to the same understanding.
 
Isn’t it strange that I can now walk through this town and not be recognized— not noticed even. Years ago everything I did was a fascination around here— shaving, fixing my bicycle in the market, eating, just walking around and shopping. No more—- and I cannot but help feel that sense of finally not being the outsider– and it makes me smile to finally blend in somehow.    
 
As I walk toward the highway for my return to Bangkok, my foot steps into a puddle. As I look down, I take note of the ripples of the water distorting the reflection of the sun. I sense there is a message in this for me that only time will reveal. One last riddle from the spirits of the land….. an odd sense of peace.
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