It had not been an easy year. The three jobs I’d had since arriving in South-East Asia almost a year ago had been a comedy of errors. If errors include getting stitches from motorcycle crashes. The third job was on a small island in southern Thailand that had once been called “everything that can go wrong with development.” I had decided to take a couple of weeks off from living on the small island to stay on a much larger island, Phuket.
A lovely Thai doctor at the small island’s nicer clinic had diagnosed me with strep throat from one look at the unpleasant yellow color of my Esophagus. When I asked him why he didn’t need to do a test like doctors back in the States he gave me that sweet smile and shrug which I believe translates as “I’m sorry you weren’t born Thai” and in distressingly articulate English explained the color and appearance of my infection.
I left with a package of antibiotics and an immaculately professional latter to my insurance company. I quickly came to the conclusion that some place where the bars did not have sound systems that reverberated across most of the island until 4am might be a better healing environment for me. Even if I had known that the boat ride to Phuket in monsoon season would come with barf bags and really impressive waves, it still would have still seemed like a good idea. After five or six days at Travelocity’s best bargain hotel in Phuket I was starting to be adopted by the hotel staff. One of them kept regularly asking me if I had enough towels with the same degree of concern that a Jewish mother might ask if I was absolutely sure I’d had enough to eat. They were otherwise remarkably restrained; I had been there nearly a week and no one had tried to marry me off yet.
Once I started to feel better, I had a nightly ritual of strolling through Phuket’s two block long red light district on my way to the beach. The groups of beautiful young women who rushed to the doors of the bars to wave at me as I walked past made me think of Bangla Road as the international capital of self esteem for white men in their 40s. Once I got to the beach, to my left was where you could buy a candle driven paper balloon to float out over the ocean. On my right were the restaurants and bars scattered along the beach. I headed right. It was low season and one restaurant was closed for renovations. The concrete steps leading from the beach to the empty dining room were a nice place to sit and watch the waves and moon. Looking back in my journal, I described sitting there as “Feeling all the arbitrary constructs that there was something wrong with my body, mind and soul simply drop away; as if a heavy item of clothing had fallen off my shoulders.” I sat for a while. Not so much at peace as relaxed enough to not worry about being at peace. After an uncertain amount of time I was disturbed by a rustling sound behind me. I turned to see a rat about as large as a medium sized Chihuahua running directly at me across the deserted restaurant floor. Squealing something like “Blach!”
I bolted off the steps and put a couple of dozen feet of sand between myself and the rat. Once my heart stopped pounding I started to wonder if there might be a Thai tradition of having guard rats to keep nonpaying foreigners from having epiphanies on their unoccupied property. If there were such a thing as guard rats, my hotel room with air conditioning and working cable seemed like a good place to avoid them. A few day later I walked back the same way. I was disappointed to not see the rat again. It had scared the hell out of me; but like so many things that year, there was something more to it than my fear. Maybe it hadn’t been a guard rat at all. Maybe it was a reincarnated Buddhist monk who’d chosen to show up in rat form as an act of compassion. A kind of Karmic cheerleader who had come by to offer encouragement. Had I blown my chance to receive the Rat Sutra? If so, I like to think the rat won’t hold it against me.
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