Saturday, March 23, 2013

Postcard from Sisaket

I always have a reason when I go to Sisaket. Although I love this quiet small city that’s only about fifty miles from the Cambodian border, it’s a long train or bus ride from Bangkok. If I simply wanted to restore myself, Korat was much closer and equally pleasant, Sisaket took a bit of planning, but it always continues to lure me back with something exceptional to do.

I’m not a sightseer but I’ll travel to see art. I’d fallen in love with Sisaket thirteen years ago, when I stayed there on a journey to see Khao Prah Viharn, the magnificent temple on a Cambodian mountain. Last October I wanted to go to Wat Lan Khuwit, a temple made entirely of beer bottles. It was in the province of Sisaket, not too far from the city of that same name.

So I packed a bag, got on an early morning train and headed off. The temple was enchanting.  Glass buildings sparkled through the leaves of a forest setting, green and brown bottles the building material for the monks’ cottages, the crematorium, the bathhouses, the ceremonial halls, and the most beautiful of all, the prayer hall that housed the Buddha, surrounded by a fish-filled moat.

The next morning I found breakfast and then went to a temple, wondering why I never allowed myself enough time in this town that always gives me what I want, plus peace and quiet. The night before I’d gone out to explore the night market that sprouted up in late afternoon and ended up at a place called The Cuckoo’s Nest, where expat men of my vintage sat on a porch and drank beer. They were a small United Nations, each of a different nationality, each a long-time resident of Sisaket, and each of them men of few words, but those words were friendly. I looked at them with envy. I wanted to live in Sisaket too.

Now I was leaving in a couple of hours and I wanted to wander a bit. The streets were quiet and the temple dominated the neighborhood, which was fine with me. Thai temples are the country’s social safety net and I make a donation at one in every place I travel to. In return I find an ignorant, blundering form of reverence spring up somewhere within me, not for a being, but for the practice that takes place within temple grounds.

It was early on  a weekend morning and I had almost the entire place to myself. As I walked toward the gates to leave a man in a wheelchair entered. He rolled up toward me, smiled, and greeted me. We began a brief chat, me with my city cynicism waiting for the plea and deciding how much I would give him, while wishing my visit hadn’t ended with a mendicant. The man rummaged about in a small bag that he carried and brought out a package holding two little  mooncakes.

“For your trip back to Bangkok,” he said.

And this, boys and girls, is why I love Sisaket.


Dr. Will said...

What a marvelous punchline! Worth the long trip.

janet brown said...

It always is. You should go there.