Dateline: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Haunting thoughts of her preyed on my mind.
Her angled-cut eyes had entranced me though at the time I couldn’t have been less interested. She was the kind of woman who could draw followers without ever acknowledging their presence. I don’t know why I let her lead me away . . .
That was fifteen years ago and I’ll relate more about that saga in a minute. Meanwhile, Chiang Mai has once again launched me toward the next level of creative pursuit. I’ve long been intrigued by the magically graphic compositions I encounter–captured from the corner of my eye. So now my focus will narrow, from time to time, and not just include the pursuit of travel imagery. I’ll delve into the finer art aspects of the visual experience. The other day I visited Wat Jet Yot temple and was immediately drawn to much tighter visions:
My journey will lure me to some of the world’s most exotic destinations. Of course, the primary emphasis is to capture photos that might lure others to enjoy the experience and maybe come visit.
One of the best times for visiting Thailand or Laos is during the hot, dry month of April when towns are awash in merriment and the Songkran Water Festival–where the entire population and its visitors get sopping wet.
So, what about that mysterious woman . . .
To elaborate, and to perhaps describe the madness of Songkran, I’ll quote a portion from one chapter of my love story novel, “The Journey from Kamakura.” My day job is that of a travel photographer. I write at night. And, if I might be allowed to toot a horn, “Journey” was nominated one of three finalists for “Best First Book Fiction” in the 2004 Benjamin Franklin Awards. The story is an almost true tale about a photographer who roams the globe seeking the wildest experiences the world has to offer. Along the way he blows through a million dollars and is soon sabotaged by self-destructive tendencies sending him on a roller coaster ride that challenges his will to survive.
This Songkran scene occurs soon after he is rescued from the aftereffects of his escape to the slimy pit of Bangkok drugs and sex and sin that he fell into–the result of a spiraling plunge trapping him far too long. Then a mysteriously exotic woman in Chiang Mai appears–Mika. Transfixed by her zest for life, he follows her across Southeast Asia, a journey that leads him to perceptions no photograph could ever portray. After a windswept, sensuous night (though one filled with deep introspection) she drags him out of bed to the Songkran Festival. It’s the first experience of an exhilarating journey destined to wash away stains from the past . . .
So now the excerpt:
[An hour later we were in a tuk-tuk speeding to the center of town. Mika shoved her camera into a clear plastic zippered bag and sealed it tight.
Bewildered, I asked what she was doing.
"You'll find out soon enough," she said.
It was hot outside as usual. The sky was clear and dry. Yet the tuk-tuk driver was wearing a transparent plastic raincoat. I leaned forward to ask why.
"Today first day of Songkran Festival," the man said in his rough English as he hollered above the traffic noise. "It's Thai New year religious celebration." He turned to look at his passengers. "Today we wash sins away. Too hot outside. Everybody gets cool water."
More confused than ever, I twisted to look at Mika. She grinned. Up ahead there were several young people having a wonderful time shooting each other with squirt pistols. Two or three buckets filled with water sat at their feet. As our tuk-tuk whirred by, the kids picked up the buckets and flung the contents.
I was drenched.
With her finger firmly pressed on the motor-drive button, Mika yelled with excitement and raised her sealed-up camera to fire off several frames without ever looking through the viewfinder. The driver laughed uproariously then wheeled around a corner, heading toward another group of eager kids with large buckets in their hands. Glee filled their eyes.
Everything seemed totally bizarre. "What's going on here," I shouted above the roar of the tuk-tuk's noisy two-stroke engine.
"They do this each year," Mika yelled, "on the thirteenth of April." She braced her foot against the side or the tuk-tuk and aimed her camera toward the approaching waterfall we'd be driving through.
Water splashed everywhere, and we were thoroughly soaked once again.
I hoped the worst was over, but then the driver took a sharp turn to the left up a side street where we were ambushed by a group of kids armed with high-pressure garden hoses. He drove through the onslaught, then made a fast U-turn in the middle of the street, hollering "hold on," and headed back toward the kids one more time.
The whole city had gone crazy. Tuk-tuks circled wildly through the streets, horns blaring, water flying. People were opening car doors at traffic intersections, and tossing buckets of water on the passengers inside.
Thinking it surely couldn't get any wetter, I looked up to see an open-bed truck pull alongside our tuk-tuk. In the back stood a dozen teenaged boys and girls pointing at us, mischief in their eyes. They were huddled around what appeared to be a five-hundred-gallon water tank on the bed of the truck. As they drove closer, they started dumping buckets of water on us for the next several blocks. Mika madly shot pictures, motioning for them to keep dousing me as I screamed and yelled for mercy.
An hour later our water safari ended and the tuk-tuk driver was paid with sopping wet baht. He didn't seem to mind.
Exhausted, exhilarated, ecstatic, and out of breath Mika grabbed my shoulders and whirled me in circles down the street under continuous showers coming from every direction. Everyone was dousing everyone--the street was awash with water and laughter and joy.
I looked at Mika and smiled. This was fun! The most fun I'd had in a very, very long time. Perhaps she already understood what I'd been through.
After several hours of craziness, we finally made it back to our hotel. When we picked up our keys, even the desk clerk was dripping.
Back in our room, we stripped off our clothes and toweled each other dry. Mika's hair hung in wet strings, sensuously draping into her eyes. She looked great in wet hair.
"Today was fantastic," I said.
"I had fun, too," she grinned. Then she tackled me to the floor.]
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