And then I remembered, although the memory had the haze of a fading shadow. After going to Prasat Hin Phimai and the little museum filled with Khmer treasures, after hearing way too much karaoke and watching traditionally garbed beauty contestants waiting for their turn on stage by the banks of the Mun river, after memorizing landscape on the hour-long bus ride back to Korat and before eating food I'd never had before while being feasted upon by mosquitoes so huge I was afraid they were going to fly off with my fried fish that was still gloriously and completely whole , I had gone to a temple not far from my hotel where an abbot had reputedly raided the local caves to construct a cavern of his own on holy ground.
I was greeted at the temple gate by a cordial gentleman who took me straight back to a room that looked enchanted, with stalagmites and stalactites and candles and Buddha images. I was sure Terry Gillam would love it--I certainly did.
A shout from my escort made me turn to the door where one of the temple puppies had decided he needed one of the shoes I'd taken off so very much more than I did. His plan was foiled by a young monk who was indubitably not Thai--"from Germany," my guide told me.
The monk returned to sweeping leaves, while assuring me that yes, he was lucky to have found this particular temple where the abbot was particularly erudite, and when I looked at the young man's quiet, happy eyes, I believed him.
My escort proudly pointed out a pristine new pickup truck, telling me it belonged to him and that he had a tourist business. Handing me his card, he asked me if I'd been to Nong Khai yet--if not we could go tomorrow. As I began my stroll out of the temple gates, he rushed up to me and handed me something small and copper-colored. I thanked him, put the Buddha image in my purse, and walked back into the quiet twilight of a moated provincial city filled with trees and kindness.
Two days later, surrounded by glare and noise and dirt and concrete and carelessly dropped litter, the gift of the Buddha wasn't the only thing that felt as though it had been part of a dream.