Mimesis and Violence

July 7, 2007, 6:40 am
Filed under: Rants, Thailand, Travel

We came to Umphang this past Thursday afternoon because Eta wanted to see Thi Lo Su, the largest waterfall in all of Thailand and the sixth largest in the world. Already exhausted and entirely sick of transportation from the 36 hour boat/bus/train/bus combo we’d pulled to get from Kho Phangan to Mae Sot, I was more than happy to stick around and chat with the volunteers, reporters, and refugees in Mae Sot (more on this to come). But Eta insisted, and so we went.

We took a dizzying and queasying 5 hour seung tao (a pickup truck with 2 covered benches in the flatbed) south through the mountains to Umphang. I tried to sleep but I hit my head. I didn’t even try to read. My eyes found the misty mountains, quiet farm villages, and rainforest breathtakingly beautiful, but my stomach disagreed. I spent a while mastering the urge to throw up.

The seung tao made several stops along the way picking more people and more cargo. I wondered how, even with the extra cargo, drivers could make a living charging only 100 bhat per person (~3.30$) for a 5 hour ride. But all questions were answered when we got to Umphang – we were dropped off at the Riverside Resort and told “you get room here!”

Put off by the mosquito infested showers and slovenly owner we got a room at the much nicer Garden Hut Resort where we met Andy and Callum, our soon-to-be Australian trek-mates. The Ausies had already organized a 2 day rafting/hiking trip to see Thi Lo Su and asked if we’d like to join them.

Planning is overrated.

We left for the falls at 8am on Friday. It’s the wet season and the river was high, lazy, and browncloudy with silt. Our guides (Burmese Johnny and his buddy whose name I missed) did all the paddling. I sat on my lazy ass and looked for animals in the surrounding rainforest. No tigers and bears (oh my!), but several snakes, monitor lizards, and nameless but extraordinarily colorful birds.

We stopped for a half hour at a natural hot springs, without question the highlight of my Friday.

We hiked 9k from the “harbor” to campsite. I wore my Crocs. Perhaps a poor choice as the ground was muddy and rubber is slippy, but I made it to camp just fine and at the end of the day I washed them off in the river, waved them around a bit, and had clean and dry shoes. Take that, haters.

It was only 5pm, so we decided to check out the waterfall. The path is an unlit but paved 1.5 kilometers through rainforest. Though the waterfall was spectacular from the concrete viewing deck, Andy and I hopped the fence to get a bit closer. 20 feet closer but still hundreds of feet away, Thi Lo Su was slightly more spectacular. Still, with a fine mist falling on me from the behemoth waterfall, the experience was 99% spectacle and 1% physical.

I scraped my leg jumping back up onto the deck and found that Callum and Eta had gone.

Eta’s a fucking flake so I assumed she wandered back to camp or went swimming or some shit like that. It’s totally in her character to saunter off and tell no one. And besides, Callum, an experienced (if a bit injured) trekking guide, was with her. Andy and I walked back to camp. On the way there he asked me if I saw those two Thai guys “running with bamboo sticks.” I hadn’t.

We got back to camp. I showered and changed. About 35 minutes before sundown Callum and Eta hadn’t come back. I was content to stick around and wait, but Andy seemed to think the running Thais a ominous sign. His worry infected me, if only a bit.

Andy and I got to the mouth of the path and realized we had maybe 25 minutes until sunset, so we jogged the distance. Sweating up my hoodie, I checked all the reasonable swimming places. All the while Andy listed the ways in which my sister and his high school friend might have missed us, enumerating the possibilities in a way that made clear that he feared something much more frightening had happened.

We jogged to the waterfall’s viewing deck and found no one. Climbing a pseudopath a third of the way up to the waterfall itself, we still saw no one. No longer beating around the bush, Andy worried aloud what those Thai men were doing running with sticks. Sunset was imminent. Without flashlights (torches in Ausie) we felt uselessness encroaching on us.

Walking back I began to imagine ways in which my precocious sister (yes, the word applies beyond the age of 6) might have offed herself. My mind held images of her walking through the river only to be swept under by the forceful current, bashing her head on limestone, being beaten to death by Thais running with sticks. I wondered hurriedly how I’d react if Eta had died. I imagined the difficult phone call home, explaining how I’d left her in the care of an Australian I’d met the previous night, how I’d walked away from her, how I’d paid no attention at all.

“Fuck that,” I thought, “she’s a big girl.”

I wondered if I’d cry when I found out. Still unsure.

I told Andy, “If she’s back at camp I’m gonna fucking kill her. Selfish bitch doesn’t care about anyone else.” “Yeah,” he said, clearly uninterested in dealing with a sibling relationship at the moment.

About halfway back to camp we heard a stick break. Paranoid Andy crouched to the ground, strained to see anything at all in the darkening forest. Whether he was looking for Thai men or tigers is still unclear to me. I stood up and waited for him.

A few minutes later we got back to camp – a summercampy lit rotunda under which our tents were pitched (to protect against the moquitos). Collum was there. Eta was showering. They’d climbed up the hill to the falls and then gone swimming. We just missed them. The watch had broken and they stayed out an hour later than the guide asked.

When Eta got back out I gave her the evil eye and the cold shoulder. We ate dinner, vegetarian for the selfish kosher cunt. I told her off quietly, told her she should have had enough fucking courtesy to tell me where she was going off to in a southeast asian jungle. She apoligized for making me worry but said she’d do it again. She’d experienced Thi Lo Su and I’d only seen it. I got over it enough to play some games of asshole before bed.

We woke up this morning (Satruday, July 7th 2007) at about 7:30. Breakfast was rice, bamboo shoots, and potatoes. It was more filling than I needed. Eta was tired and had blisters on her feet. She wanted to sleep and wasn’t comfortable walking. Callum, Andy, and I went back to the falls. I’d worn my Crocs again but shed them for the wet limestone path up to the falls. Barefoot and bathingsuited, we climbed the paths, waded through the fast-moving river, and climbed some more all the way up to a spot right in front of Thi Lo Su, where the mist came off the falls so fast and so forcefully I nearly fell over.

Elated but blinded, waves of experience hitting my eyes and body faster than they could bear, I turned away.

I understood what took Eta so long.

All was forgiven.

As if my forgiveness matters.