Lying on the deck of the 16-passenger multicolored 30-foot boat where the anchor and rope chain are stored I find a small clear spot on the wooden deck one-meter square. I put my sweatshirt under my head and close my eyes searing red from the mid day Vietnamese sun. I listen to the rhythmic slapping of the Perfume River on the hull mingling with the tin loudspeaker of distant temple and honk of horns on the shore. I drift off into what I think is light sleep, closer to a narcoleptic comma. This is the romance of traveling in Asia on a mid winter day. The reality is a different story. Boat trips and train trips share the same charm of looking forward to and back on them. In truth it is chilly but the diesel fumes in the enclosed cabin is overwhelming and driven me to the deck. It is cold and the deck hard, but I am so exhausted from travel and sleeping on unfamiliar hard beds with nonexistent pillows I fall quickly into a deep sleep. I awake stiffly an hour later. Memories of six temples and tombs roll through my head topsy-turvy like a continuous Marx Brothers movie. Half my body is asleep, the portion that isn’t is sore, stiff and cold. This is the reality of a river trip. This is the lesson of the Buddha.
Buddha arises from his Rotund Chinese incarnation. Speed bumps of fat disappear as he heads west into Laos. Here he becomes lithe and feminine, raises his hand from a perpendicular forearm and salutes the worshipper with a jeweled palm and a knobbed watch cap. She travels farther south into Chang Ri Chang Mi and finally the pollution of the 21st century and Bangkok. She takes a tuk tuk and finds a space to rest her weary lungs, quietly she fades into sleep and reclines while her minions drape her in gossamer leaf of gold. She sleeps and the traffic honks and circles her. Does ever Buddha go on vacation? And if so does she have to visit her sister? Buddha’s minions are everywhere, clad in saffron, oranges, reds, light browns, complimenting the beedi-nut colored boys who wear them. Acne, spare facial hairs, stubby crowns. They walk the dirt roads of the islands, climb steps of the emerald temple, and stand around me chatty in their tentative English, amused at my query into modern religious practice. They are sandaled, barefoot, silent and laughing. They are the youth of Buddha, the boys he hangs with, Buddha’s posse. We fight the traffic all day in Bangkok, flow freely on the ferry crossing the Mekong, walk at leisure through the paths in rural Cambodia. We sit on sit on slotted bamboo platforms under trees, hiding from the heat of the white sun, baking the color of the robes. Back in the Thai cities the sun remains hidden by the smoke, saffron cloth is obscured by traffic. Two monks encircle me at the cyber café and search for enlightenment, Buddha on line. The connection is painfully slow, infinite lifetimes in fact. Monks Google Buddha’s website and images of wonderment and eternity appear. Nicely designed the absalas dance across the screen. They step from the 2-dimensional and whisper secrets in the ears of the searchers. Where is Buddha among all this magic? He is driving a tuk-tuk, stuck in traffic, using his cell phone to say he will be late to his 10 o’clock—apologies.