2009-02-01 Busy end to January

Busy end to January

Itís been a month of travel and adventures, and the last few days have packed in a few more, prompted by the arrival of guests from foreign parts.

Giampaolo and Giulia Velo arrived from Verona, staying here for three nights before their beach-holiday on Koh Samui. We went to the Mekhong River at Chiang Saen, and then north to the Golden Triangle where Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet. We walked round the vast, annual fair and market (celebrating King Mengrai, the founder of Chiang Rai) at the old city airport (buying all kinds of miscellaneous odds and ends, including some pine tree saplings) and ate in the Night Bazaar (with more shopping).

We had a brief trip to the farm, where Giulia, assisted by the group of novice monks who often travel with me, delightedly set to work, transplanting twenty sakura saplings (Japanese flowering cherry) and half a dozen pine saplings into new pots. The sakura we had picked up from what appeared to be an abandoned nursery near Phu Chee Fah on the previous trip.

Then Steve and Sue Noble arrived. He had been a senior manager at Northumbria Buses where I had worked for Tony Kennan on the launch of the company in the 1980s, and subsequently in the days of EQUUS. We had not met for fifteen years or so. Now, semi-retired, Steve and his wife are active globe-trotters making their fourth or fifth trip to Thailand.

I took all four visitors and four novices from my friend Gumponeís temple on a two long-tailed boats up the River Gok to Prasert Hot Spring, Ruamit elephant camp, and then, on the way back, for a short stop at Khun Kataiís house by the river. At Ruamit the novices fed bananas and sugar cane to the elephants, and we all marvelled as another group of tourists had their photograph taken holding a huge snake, maybe four metres long, weighing (we were told), 120 kgs ñ the largest of the several docile reptiles available for such eccentric thrills.

The guy driving the boat with me and the novices had a taste for speed, and we had a thrilling trip, with some amusing competitive overtaking of the Italians and the Brits in their boat.

That evening, we all ate in the Night Bazaar restaurant again, enjoying the excellent food and the charming music and dancing on the stage ñ with the usual heated speculation as to the genders of the performers. We visited the stall of the talented artistic family whom I have come to know, who produce lovely paintings of bamboo and flowers, and bought some samples of their work. I always try to take my friends there in the hope that we can support their talent. At least two of their children (including Nong Pantukit, whose picture was in this yearís Tropical Telegraph), turn up after school in the evenings (often still in their uniform), and sit and paint along with their very talented father. (They were telling me that their future is now less certain as, since the Night Bazaar was upgraded and improved, the monthly rent for their few square metres has more than doubled, and they are being asked to pay three months in advance ñ an almost impossible burden for such a fragile business.)

The Italians departed, and the next day, Steve, Sue, Pramaha Gumpone and three novice monks piled into my truck and we set off for the Princess Motherís garden on Doi Tung (Flag Mountain). It was great to see the high-mountain garden again, filled, every month of the year with millions of flowers. This time the stars were dahlias, snap-dragons and roses, along with hundreds of other less assertive blooms. The rare orchids are always an amazing sight. The hillside landscaping, with rocks and water-features and thousands of trees and shrubs is a small miracle. At the Royal garden shop, Sue and Steve bought two lampong plants for me to take to the farm. (Itís that impressive shrub which has white or pink hanging trumpet-like flowers, about 20 or 30 centimetres long.)

We then went to the ancient Doi Tung temple, on an even higher mountain, where a skeletal relic of the Buddha is reputed to have been brought over a thousand years ago.

To round off a wonderful day, we went to the farm, where, with the active help of the novices, we planted the two new shrubs in open spots with enough space - assuming they thrive in their new environment - to accommodate their eventual spread of two or three metres.

We took Gumpone and the novices back to their temple, where Sue and Steve ëmade merití by offering some cash for the temple and Pramaha Gumpone tied their wrists with cotton bands.

The pleasures of guests

I do love having guests and sharing with them the rich delights of this splendid part of Thailand. Iím not slack at enjoying them when there are no guests (as youíll know from the diary of my life here), but fresh eyes and brains always bring new impressions and reflections and theyíre always enriching. For example, Steve drew my attention to the fact that, as we walked down the main street in town the other night, I greeted and spoke with half a dozen or more people (all but one, Thai) whom I knew well for one reason or another, and he was impressed at this evidence of my level of engagement with the place and the people. Itís a thought I have had myself, but an outsiderís observation does give it some new weight. Visitorsí questions about Thai culture or Buddhism or food or plants often draw attention to areas of ignorance, too, and prompt new enquiries and discoveries. (Travelling with Pramaha Gumpone, of course, means that we have, immediately to hand, the best possible source of information about Buddhism!)

Troubles and travels

Now itís the first day of February, Sunday, and tomorrow we go to court again. This will probably be a largely administrative session, as I understand it, while the judge reviews the documents, witness lists and so on, and sets a date for the first full hearing. I have a meeting with my lawyer this afternoon, and I may get a clearer picture of what to expect then. I remain curious as to how Chaiís sister is going to meet the financial challenges of prosecuting her case against me, and as to the impact of the criminal case against her on 27 February (resulting from her lies to the police about the loss of documents related to her civil case against me). Itís difficult to see how the criminal case (especially if proved) can leave her credibility intact in the civil court. Weíll see!

On Tuesday, Iím off to Sweden for three weeks for work and holiday, returning for the court hearing on 27 February.

The book

The page-proofs have been corrected and returned and my last task, in the next couple of days, is to review the 20-page index which has been compiled. Thereíll be some discussion about the design of the cover, and then it will go to print ñ published in April. Itís still quite hard to believe that the whole project has got this far ñ and will soon result in a real book available round the world. There is an element of dread, as the scope of my knowledge and thinking is exposed to the critical (maybe hostile) eyes of an international audience of practitioners, academics and experts ñ have I got it right? Iíll know soon enough!

So, from the agreeable climes of the Thai cool season, I am off to the sub-zero temperatures of Sweden for a bracing three weeks. When Iím here, I find it quite hard to pack my bags and up sticks and leave: but itís just the same when Iím in Sweden, which shows, I suppose, just how much I love both places.