Electronically Serving Monterey Park, Alhambra, San Gabriel, & Rosemead



By Charles N. Stevens

This is the fourth in a series of articles about the fascinating country of Thailand.

With some difficulty we climb into a shallow sharp-nosed boat with five other people. Sitting down in the very bottom of it, we try to decide what to do with our legs. A canopy over the boat protects us from the tropical sun. With a surge of power, we skim down the canal, the water flying from our prow and the unmuffled roar of the engine drumming in our ears. Again, we zip by canal houses on stilts where I see people cooking, chopping meat with a cleaver, washing dishes and clothes in the river water and two young women who had just bathed, wrapped in large towels. From a smaller canal we turn into a larger one where so many boats have stirred the water with their wakes that it is nearly as choppy as the open sea. In the roughest water, the boat must slow down, but when it smooths out again, the driver opens the throttle, a surge of horsepower sending the water into a frenzy behind us.

We extract ourselves from the boat at the floating market, a semi-commercialized market based on the remnants of what was once common. Women wearing quaint straw hats pole their shallow boats of vegetables, fruits and prepared foods into the canal, all congregating in one area  to sell to each other or to people at the side of the canal. Boats loaded with melons or pineapples scrape by others with flowers or bananas. Sausages arranged in a great spiral sizzle on a barbeque in one boat while bananas boil in a wok of oil on another. A woman standing in her boat holds up hats on a long pole, and cries in a high-pitched voice, “Yoo-hoo, Yoo-hoo” to attract the tourists. Sometimes tourists also in shallow boats make their way through the other boats in the market. At times, the number of boats so congests the canal that it appears like watery gridlock, but they always find their way through, all with patience and calmness. All around the area of the floating market are huge sheds abounding with shops and souvenirs for the tourist.

Back in our bus once again, we drive by papaya groves, klongs, small villages, chicken farms and a yard where tapioca dries in the sun like fresh-fallen snow. We pass a pure white Buddhist temple built especially for meditation. Sawmills for cutting teak wood then coconut and banana groves stand by the roadside. Stopping along the road at a sugar cane stand, we are shown whole canes including the leaves arranged in rack so that they appear like a sugar cane fence, the bottom of the canes reddish. The woman selling the canes lops off the leaves, the canes being placed in the underneath luggage compartment of the bus so that they could later be fed to the elephants.

We come to Nakhon Pathom, a city on one million people, where the largest stupa in the world stands. We pass groves of pomelo trees then join the traffic on the main road, a steady stream of trucks and a few cars all wreathed in a haze of exhaust fumes. In contrast we pass the bright colors of orchid gardens.

We arrive at the Rose Garden Cultural Center, a kind of cultural Disneyland.

Where the bus lets us out, purple orchids bloom from coconut husk planters fastened to the trunks of the trees. We walk across a white arched bridge that looks out on a small lake with a Chinese pavilion at its far end. From here we move into a large white building where hundreds of tourists serve themselves from several long buffets. Sitting at large tables, most of us on the verge of dehydration enjoy glasses of cold water they had set out for us. Since this is a buffet we have paid for, I feel I must make the most of it.

I first spoon rice on my plate then ladle a mild curry sauce with potatoes and onions over it. From a bowl I take a small amount of fish sauce in which float cut-up tiny hot Thai peppers, each bit loaded with fire—to add spice to the curry. I also help myself to fried rice, noodles with vegetables, fish, pan-fried pork and French fries. All of it is wonderful. Dessert is flan jiggling in a small sherbet glass—delicious.

We wander over to the other side of the park where we enter the cultural center itself. Shortly after the entrance elephants are taking tourists for wobbly rides in howdahs. Bare-chested young men with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths sit on the elephants’ necks to guide them. We stroll by numerous tourist shops then watch two grim-faced young women create beautiful flowers out of delicately incised vegetables.

We then walk into a large, air-cooled tiki-like theater to watch folk dancing. A band similar to the Indonesian gamelan bands plays music on the stage. We watch young women dancers with long metal nails on their fingers dance slowly and gracefully, their hands and nails always held about neck level, always moving hypnotically. Their dark eyes look straight forward, and their lips wear a half-smile. We also watch Thai boxing, sword fighting, a mock wedding and other dances, one of which is a dance using bamboo poles. Two people move bamboo poles back and forth rhythmically, the poles clacking together as they meet, while dancers move their bare feet in and out of the moving poles.

On our way back from the cultural center we nick a school bus at an intersection. The drivers stop and compare damage, but soon we are on our way again. We drive back toward Bangkok on the truck-choked roads, the moving lines of traffic stretching far ahead in their soft cloud of smoky haze.

Near Bangkok we come upon a series of roadside stands all selling cooked ducks hanging in glass-enclosed cases. Our guide tells us that the Thais call this “Duck Road”. In Bangkok the streets are more crowded than ever. We stop and go, halt and creep. Somehow our skilled driver gets us through it all and delivers us finally to our Bangkok hotel.

MONTEREY PARK AUTHOR PUBLISHES 4th BOOK – Seeking More of the Sky: Growing Up in the 1930’s:

Charles “Norm” Stevens, a 43 year resident of Monterey Park has recently published his 4th book: Seeking More of the Sky: Growing Up in the 1930’s. This is the story of a young boy growing up in Inglewood, California in the l930’s. This was a time during the depression when unemployment was affecting many and the banks were closed, while the clouds of war were gathering in Europe. But he was lucky enough to be raised in a loving family, the power of that love reflected throughout his stories.

Stevens is the author of three previous books about his experiences during WWII:

An Innocent at Polebrook: A Memoir of an 8th Air Force Bombardier (Story of his 34 bombing missions from his base at Polebrook, England over Germany and France)

The Innocent Cadet: Becoming A World War II Bombardier (A prequel to the first, telling of his training in the U.S. before going overseas into combat.)

Back from Combat: A WWII Bombardier Faces His Military Future from Combat: (This book details the time from when he returned from combat in England until the end of the war.)

He is known to the readers of The Citizen’s Voice as the author of Travel Log Articles including “Cruising the Rhine and Mosel”,” Best of the West”, “In Search of Snow” ,  “From Paris to Normandy on the Seine”, and “Exploring New York”.  He is retired, having taught for 32 years, primarily in the Montebello Unified School District.

Those interested in purchasing an autographed copy of any of his books, may contact the author at 323-721-8230 or  Normstevens24@gmail.com.

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