A Whistle-Stop Tour of Monkey-Town
So I’m feeling pretty settled in my home town of Lop Buri now so I figured I’d tell you a bit about it. Lop Buri apparently means ‘monkey town’ in Thai; so named because the monkey/human populations are roundabout the same figure. Despite this I have unfortunately not yet had a proper monkey encounter which I’m a little disappointed about. I may have to go seek some out and try to get acquainted. I’ve nipped passed them on a moped (more on that later) and on Saturday there were quite a few lounging about and swinging from the telegraph wires near a market stall from which I bought myself a necklace. I have not, however, had an encounter like Rachel who was mugged by one; although all it got away with was a carrier bag whilst she managed to cling on to her shopping. Now I’m not saying I want to be the victim of a monkey mugging but I would like a few monkey related tales since I live in monkey-town. The monkey temple is definitely high on my to-do list.
In addition to the monkeys there are the town dogs, for whom absolutely no place (including school) is out of bounds. Despite being more widely spread about than the monkeys the dogs are often very sorry looking creatures. My heart bled for one in particular that we found at a bus stop. He was quite a young dog with a glossy black head and he was zonked out under the bench, chest pumping up and down rapidly in an attempt to keep cool in the ridiculous heat. We made a fuss of him and he was the sweetest-natured creature who wagged his tail and nuzzled up gratefully to our hands. When the bus arrived we clambered on (sharing out the hand sanitizer) and I took my usual spot hanging off the back where it’s cooler and you get a good breeze. The dog pulled himself up and tried very hard to follow us onto the bus but as soon as he stood it was apparent that his hind leg was useless and dragged behind him miserably. He must have been hit by a car at some point. He stood in the road trying to clamber on and crying whilst I did my best to be horrible and shoo him back on to the pavement before he got mowed down again. When the bus finally pulled off again he loped after us down the pavement, howling and whining utterly dejectedly. Evidently he’s not used to much kindness and didn’t want to go back to being alone. Generally in Lop Buri you either see dogs in this kind of state or you see the absolute other end of the spectrum; like the Thai lady wheeling two Chihuahuas in grubby pink tutus round the Wednesday market in a shopping trolley. We have our own dog back at our apartment whose name is Molly. She has a bit of mange and a pretty nasty prolapse but she comes running with her tail wagging every time she sees any of us and barks off any strangers. She knows she’s the falang dog; she’s probably cottoned on to us being soft touches who’ll feed her and give her affection.
The only other significant mammal in the town are the night elephants; elephants which are kept hidden in the day and brought out at night to roam the streets with their owners who try and convince people to part with their cash in order to feed the elephant or have their pictures taken with it. It’s illegal to beg with elephants (which is effectively what this is) hence the hiding in the day part. It’s definitely neither a natural nor a very pleasant life for an elephant.
After the animals the next most significant feature of Lop Buri has to be the mopeds. Driving regulations are really more guidelines than enforced rules in Thailand and I don’t think any of the locals have ever heard the expression ‘right of way.’ Lop Buri’s a pretty big town and it’s not always possible to get everywhere on foot or public transport, particularly at night when the buses have stopped running. In this eventuality you have to take a taxi but in Lop Buri there aren’t any of the 4-wheeled variety. What we do have is taxi-peds; you can tell the taxi drivers from in amongst the wacky-racers by the fact that they wear tabards. You hail one over, swing your leg over the back and race off into the sunset in a cloud of hot tarmac and exhaust fumes. If there’s quite a few going you sometimes have to squeeze two of you on behind the driver and share the little foot rests. Much like Bangkok’s tuk-tuks if you have a convoy of you all going to the same place you do sometimes get a race which is extra fun. Sometimes you get a helmet but, as it’s only legally mandatory for the driver to wear one, this is pretty hit and miss so most of the time you have your hair flapping about and getting whipped into some sort of ornate bird’s nest sculpture. Just to reassure my parents I would like to point out that in the entire history of western teachers coming to Lop Buri no-one has ever had an accident on a local taxi-ped; they’re very good drivers. Quite a few people have had accidents when they’ve hired their own mopeds but I can’t even drive a dodgem so attempting to tackle Thai roads myself is not something I’ll be investigating in the near future. I’ve yet to acquire my first Thai tattoo; a distinctive scorch mark from a moped exhaust that quite a few people sport on their calves.
There are two other defining features of Lop Buri mopeds. The first is that it is quite remarkable what you can get on them; several times I have seen riders holding onto several large bird cages full of ornamental (and quite bewildered) birds as they zoom along. Another Lop Buri staple is an entire family of four squeezed on board; including a toddler fast asleep with his face squashed on the back of the person in front. Of course it is only the driving father who wears a helmet. So far Waz has won the award for taking the most stuff on a bike out of our group for managing to ride with a laundry basket, shopping bags and a large desktop table fan under his arms. I myself have not really progressed from taking my hands off the driver’s shoulders.
The second defining feature of a Lop Buri moped is that, whilst technically pedding under the influence of alcohol is illegal, like most traffic laws it is utterly ignored. The taxi-peds of course are always sober and available but most people choose to conserve funds and drive home after any quantity of alcohol; including when they’re so drunk they can barely get their leg over the seat. This includes quite a few of the ex-pat falang community who would never dream of doing it in their own countries. I personally quite like my face and body the way they look at the moment as opposed to how they would look after colliding at speed with the road so I will stick to taking the taxis and giving disapproving looks.
To conclude, here are a few non-ped related observations about life in Lop Buri:
Fresh, un-fiddled with, vitamins are hard to come by. I’m craving a simple Mediterranean salad that isn’t soaked in gawd knows what.
There are geckos everywhere; dozens on each wall, and they make a really loud clucking noise that we all thought was birds. Who knew?
The cicadas here are loud and massive and get everywhere, there’s one under the table right now the size of my thumb.
The thunderstorms here are so loud and dramatic that it feels like you’re right inside the storm cloud. Sometimes you are right inside the storm cloud.
Bowel movements are equally acceptable as a topic of conversation to the weather and the traffic – just generally more varied and interesting.
Children are children right up to adulthood; 13 year olds wear the same uniform and have the same hair-styles as 6 year olds and don’t make any attempt to sly in any make-up/nail varnish/modifications.
Millipedes can grow as long as my forearm and when they walk it looks like their legs are doing little Mexican waves.
All you need do is step outside your door for 5 minutes and smile and you can make new friends.
One last little update – I’ve broken into my precious little pot of black gold. On the tail-end of my hideous sickness last week I needed some home comforts so I sat on my bed, said to myself in my best Optimus-Prime-on-his-deathbed voice it is time, and proceeded to smear marmite on skinny slices of bread with a chopstick until I felt better. And you know – it totally worked, although the black gold is starting to run low.