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Friday, 29 March 2013

Monks in Taxis

By Warren Lieberman who blogs at 65 and Alive

Lieberman at work My assignment as a microwave radio repairman at Camp Warin Thailand in 1965, had two great perks: work in air-conditioned trailers and scheduled time off. Time off gave me an opportunity to experience the local scene and explore the countryside.

I worked closely with an American civilian, Ryan Laughlin, who worked at Camp Warin. He had everything I didn't - money, girls, houses in town and motorcycles - all beautiful concepts to a 20-year-old without any.

"Do you want to learn how to drive a cycle?" Ryan asked.

I eagerly accepted. He handed me a helmet and took me for a ride on the rear of his BMW. We rode the streets of Ubon and back to Camp Warin several times over the next week. He tested me. He observed how I balanced and leaned instinctively as we traversed narrow streets and undulating roads.

"Watch my hands and feet when I shift gears," were his only instructions. His feet rocked the shifter up and down the gears without a miss or lurch.

"I think you're ready. Bring it back in one piece." He handed me the keys and climbed the stairs to his living quarters.

That day I toured the city of Ubon and returned unscathed two hours later. Over the next few weeks I borrowed his bike often. Ubon could be covered in 10 minutes in any direction from his place. There wasn't an abundance of sites to see inside the city limits or on the five-mile stretch from Ubon to Camp Warin.

A month or two later I was granted a two-day pass and had Ryan's bike. Armed with 20 bucks, a change of clothes and a hand-drawn map with directions to Det Udom, past the Si Thep Ruins.

I hoped to ride south on Highway 24 to the ruins and then into Det Udom for the night. Nothing fancy, no side trips. A 30 mile cruise on a paved road and back to camp the next day.

About halfway to the ruins I opened up the throttle. An empty road became an invitation to test my skills and nerve. One quick twist and I was up to 40, 50 and then 60. Then I backed off the throttle. My heart raced and I laughed out loud.

Thailand truck

On the horizon a truck rolled steadily down the middle of the road towards me. I inched closer to the shoulder and slowed even more. The distance between us closed in seconds. Something solid grazed my arm as we passed. I became airborne.

The ground and sky reversed at least four or five times in the next two seconds. The bike and I stopped only a few feet apart against a guardrail. The bike on its side, its front wheel rolled freely.

I looked up and down the road. No truck and no idea of which direction I had been traveling. Everything felt intact, no severe pain, no blood. I leaned against the guardrail with just a dazed semi-awareness of a crash.

Do something, anything. Move, my mind shouted, but I just sat.

Sweat poured out from under the helmet and irritated my eyes. I removed the helmet and stared blankly at the gouge marks on it. Five or ten minutes passed. Not a single car, bus or truck rode past. Quiet. I remember how quiet the day seemed. The heat stilled all activity.

The sputtering of an out-of-tune vehicle interrupted the stillness. A beat-up Datsun-like, rusted taxi passed me and ground to a halt 15 yards further away. Loose exterior parts rattled and a rooftop tarp flapped. Gears clanged as the taxi lurched backwards towards me. Smoke belched from the exhaust. I coughed, but smiled.


I gathered my strength and stood up. A second taxi stopped. The occupants of both taxis exited and faced me. Five diminutive men with saffron colored robes approached me and simultaneously spoke in Thai.

I couldn't differentiate the words; it was a cacophony of voices and tones. The oldest monk raised his hand and the others stopped speaking instantly.

v"Hurt, you?" The senior monk asked.

"I don't think so. Just a few scrapes."

He stared at me blankly. His English obviously limited.

"No," I simplified my answer and hoped that he understood.

"Dee, Good." He stared at me again. I think that exchange exhausted his command of the English language. We reached a communications impasse.

The two cab drivers participated in an animated discussion. The driver of the first car righted my cycle and inspected it for damage. The clutch and brake levers were bent and the handle bar didn't face forward.

The two drivers worked furiously in a futile attempt to straighten the handle bar. One driver tied a rope around the taxi’s rear bumper and secured it to the handlebar. He motioned for me to sit on the bike and pointed down the road. "We go Warin, okay?"

I mounted the bike and the monks returned to the taxis. The second driver held me steady as the other driver slowly inched forward and the rope tightened. He ran alongside me as we started to move. I maintained my balance as the speed increased; the running taxi driver stopped and laughed.

A taxi filled with monks towed me silently. Two guardian angels smiled out the rear window as we glided down Highway 24 to Warin.

Triple A, Thai style.

Lieberman and cycle

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


You've led a charmed life in more ways than one! Are you still riding a bike?

You were darned lucky not to be hurt! I took a header off a motorcycle in 1965 and fractured my skull. I have ridden since, as recently as last year, and always make sure my licence renewal has the 'cycle code and organ donor mark on it. Monks in taxis is a wonderful story. Thanks a lot, Warren.

I just love all the diversity on this site. How interesting. We have so many stories in our heads to tell, and all different and fascinating. Thank you Warren, I too ride a bicycle.

You sound like you were in China for that is just the way the truck drivers drive; all over the road and saying, "get out of my way to the others as I'm bigger".

I wonder what you hit or what hit you. I also wonder what your friend had to say about his bike.

Glad you finally had someone to render help. I guess that is where the phrase Monk He See and Monk He Do came from.

It just popped into my head.
I'll keep looking for you.

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