Nakonsithamasat was Nakonsithamasat with or without the fair. I suppose what people saw at the fair depended on their orientation. And we men, oriented the way we are, saw that the women were naked. Most of us are attracted to women, and are not capable of being oriented in another way, which to a large extent defines who we are. There is no use pretending that this is not the case. Then it is safe to say that at least half of us would’ve paid attention to the naked women; but I don’t know about my wife, who was standing next to me in that huge crowd. With all of the usual distractions of a carnival, she may not have seen what I did.
The next leg of our trip was defined by before and after I jamb my index finger into the bell on my bike. It was a nasty cut, requiring four stitches and a tetanus shot, and a stick to keep me from bending it. It was this injury that brought us to the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital in Phuket and the hospitality (and snorkling) of a couple of doctors, hospitality that continued in Bangkok with two other doctors associated with the Adventist hospital there. In Asia such hospitality was not unusual. In the Phuket home, we were treated well for well over a week. The reason we stayed so long was not because of my finger. It was because of a weeklong Chinese festival. It was in sharp contrast with the glitzy, gimmicky fair in Nakonsithamasat. No naked women.
So in Phuket we entered a strange world, a world outside of our experience that was filled with what to us were impossible feats, or at any rate, a world we only might’ve seen bits and pieces of on television. It was a religious festival that included penance and trances. It started with a parade, where Chinese men danced and shook themselves into a trance; it enabled them to be pierced all over their bodies with nails, needles, spears and spikes, and according to what we were told, they felt no pain. And we witnessed no bleeding. I looked into myself; I tried to imagine myself doing any of that, and quite frankly, I got nowhere.
There was fire walking the following evening; not running, walking. The bed of hot coals was about 15 feet square and 1 ½ feet deep. The walkers worked themselves up to the same trance-like state we saw the night before. That was all we could see and believed it when we were told they wouldn’t be burned. We knew nothing else of this rite. This idea of walking on coals, however, was not new to me. Again, remember I grew up watching television. There was, however, something extraordinary about watching men walk slowly across those hot coals; some even stood and sat down in the fire. The whole time I felt afraid for them, a fear enhanced by the heat of the coals and the nighttime atmosphere.
But these two nights prepared us for the last night of the festival. If it were not for our previous experiences, I would’ve been more concerned about all the fireworks, especially when many of them were thrown under the feet of Holy men. The smoke from the firecrackers limited our visibility. It gave a mystic feeling to the procession, as they scared evil spirits and sent them out to sea.