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Posts Tagged ‘River Kawai’

Three or so hours later we had crossed the entire central plains of Thailand and arrived at the foothills of the mountains that separated Thailand from Burma.

The huge blue sea of a sky sporting an archipelago of white clouds relieved the melancholy press of Thai traffic as we crossed the central lowlands.  The shocking green of the still flooded rice paddies with their rapidly maturing plants, lined each side of the highway. These were not your cute little paddies tended by picturesque farmers in conical hats, but industrial agribusiness paddies of many acres each i, much like those one sees in California’s Central Valley near Sacramento. It is from these paddies that Thailand feeds much of southern Asia.

Hoards of the Southeast Asian version of egrets and herons (Storks? Spoonbills?) thronged the paddies. Not just one or two here and there or even the hundred or so one sees while traveling along the Coast Highway in and around Bolinas Lagoon near the rookery, but hundreds and hundreds maybe even thousands, standing one-legged, head cocked, sharp beak and dark baleful eye searching to devour whatever wiggles within their reach. Above them swarmed flocks of the Asian equivalent of starlings and swallows swooping up any insect rising from the water.

The first city we encountered was Kanchanburi, where almost 20 years ago Richard “Uncle Mask” McCarthy, Bill Gates and I ventured to view the Bridge over the River Kawai (or fully translated, Buffalo River Bridge). It was on that trip, if I remember correctly, that the three of us came up with the idea of opening a bar in Bangkok. Originally we thought of naming it, “California Dick’s,” but Richard was still sensitive about his youthful nickname. Then in a fit of originality, we came up with the alternative name “California Joe’s” (I having no objection to embarrassment and humiliation). Later when we suggested it to our Thai partners, they objected because Thais could not pronounce long western names. So, despite the fact that our target cliental would be westerners and not Thai, we acceded to the name AVA. The first of what would be many mistakes in our business, social and personal dealings with our Thai partners.

The Bridge over the River Kawai was an Oscar-winning movie that glorified the less than heroic deaths of the 16,000 allied prisoners who were forced by the Japanese during World War II to labor on the construction of the bridge and the railroad line between Kanchanburi and Burma that came to be known as the “Death Railway.” Unfortunately, in typical western centrism of Hollywood, it failed to acknowledge the 10 times as many Southeast Asian slave laborers who also died in its construction.

Alec Guinness played the British military officer in charge of building the bridge on behalf of the Japanese who goes bat shit over the attempt by the allies to take down the bridge by sabotage. In real life the bridge was destroyed in an allied bomber attack. Cinematic heroism was in short supply in POW slave labor camps during the Second World War.

The city has grown considerably since I was there last. The allied prisoners who died  working on the bridge are buried in a cemetery that at the time I visited it over a decade ago was located in a rural area surrounded by fields and meadows. It appeared then to be large and stately. Now the city has grown up all around it and the cemetery mostly looks surprisingly small and forlorn.

We met up with a woman friend of Gun Girl’s named Lek and stopped for dinner at an outdoor restaurant. No sooner had we  sat down,  when a police car drove up disgorging a handsome young Thai policeman who proceeded to walk off-hand in hand with Teddy Bear Boy. They did not return until the rest of us had finished dinner and were ready to leave. After talking a few photos of the cop and TBB with their arms entwined.

Following the photo session, Gun Girl instructed me to get into Lek’s automobile for the remainder of the drive to wherever we were to spend the night. I was introduced to who would be driving. He was accompanied by his girlfriend. Lek and I got into the back seat.

Lek, a pleasantly round Thai woman informed me that she wanted to practice her English. So I patiently listened to her story of growing up poor but through the sacrifices of her honest farmer parents and her hard work she became a nurse and labored 10 years in the emergency room of the local hospital. She now is retired and works as a part-time tour guide in the area. That is why she has to keep improving her english skills.

It was night now, the road rose gently into the mountains much like the roads into the Sierra when one climbs up from the Central Valley.

About an hour or so later, we arrived at a resort that straddles a river containing a stepped waterfalls. Lights illuminated the water tumbling over the staircase cascade until the river itself vanished into the shadows. The river was not very wide about 30 feet or so, but what it lacked in breadth in made up in exuberance. I counted at least 23 major steps to the falls each about 3 to 4 feet high until they disappeared above and below me into the gloom of the jungle. Innumerable smaller falls and cataracts were interspersed among the larger ones as well as on the many lesser streams that discharged into the main water course. Some of these tributaries passed under and around the resort buildings.

The the place was called “Bamboo Hut Resort” and indeed it included a large bamboo structure that housed an open restaurant and reception area. About eight similarly constructed (but enclosed) small cabins made up the remainder of the resort.

We rented two nice cabins with double king sized beds perched directly over the falls. Exhausted by the events of the day,  I needed to sleep so I took one of the cabins while everyone else  partied in the other. Teddy Bear Boy was assigned as my cabin mate. Despite my slight discomfort at that, the surprisingly mesmerizing roar and rumble of the falls and my fatigue put me right to sleep and I slept undisturbed until morning .

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