Here's another sneak peak at a part of Five At Table (formerly “Baby Makes Three”), which will be released next week (I hope). It describes a trip David makes with Tom, the university student he and Gun are mentoring, while the two are still getting to know one another.[caption id="attachment_794" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Some of the ruins of Ayutthaya, the old capital of Siam, talked about in this excerpt."][/caption]
David and Tom set out early in the morning to go to Ayutthaya, the old Siamese capital, by train. Gun offered to drive them, as it was only an hour or so away, but David liked the occasional train trip. Thai trains were slow and decrepit, but they were dirt cheap and allowed you to see some countryside and meet the kinds of people that most tourists never encountered. Arriving at the station, they negotiated with one of the small three-wheeled taxis the Thais called tuk-tuks for the noise they make, to take them to the hotel, which was just on the edge of the historical park.
David had received an invitation to stay at and review the new small hotel. He was getting more and more of these kinds of things. Some, he knew, were the result of Gun's connections, but more and more were coming simply because his reputation was growing. David received a warm welcome from the desk clerk, who called the manager out from the office. The manager was a young man who appeared to be still in his twenties. David had emailed the hotel to let them know he would be bringing a friend, who would share his room, and the manager gave him a knowing look when he saw Tom. David was used to such things, but was a little embarrassed for Tom, although the young man seemed too overwhelmed with the dÃ©cor of the lobby to notice. It was all done up in a mix of traditional and modern Thai, with lots of brightly colored silk everywhere.
The manager showed the two guests to their room, which appeared to be one of the largest that the small hotel offered. The rooms were in Thai-styled wooden houses, but with all the modern conveniences, including a rather large bathroom. There was just one king-size bed in the room. David ignored the manager's leer as he pointed it out, along with the room's other amenities.
Once the manager had left, David sat on the bed to see how comfortable it was. “Do you mind sharing the bed?” he asked Tom.“No, it's huge! I might get lost on there.”
“Don't worry, I'll come find you,” David laughed. “Ready to do a little exploring?”
“Do you mind walking? It's not too far to the main temples. Tomorrow we can get some bicycles and ride out to some of the farther sights, if you don't mind riding. I prefer it over a noisy tuk-tuk. Oh, you can ride a bicycle, can't you?”
“Yes, I can,” answered Tom with a smile.
“Okay, let's go,” David said with a grin.
They set out on foot from the hotel, which was close to the river that encircled the old city. They passed several small abandoned old temples, most of them little more than brick platforms and the stubs of a few columns, before coming to the center of the old city. In front of them stretched the massive ancient royal temple, with its three huge bell-shaped pagodas sitting on a platform that ran the length of a football field. Tom stood almost dumbstruck when the structure finally came into full view. David stood there for a moment, letting the young man soak it in. The building was just faded brick and plaster now, but in its time, early in the eighteenth century, the big pagodas would probably have been covered in gold leaf, the doors to the numerous chapels would have been decorated with lacquer and mother of pearl, and the balustrades might have been covered in colorfully glazed porcelain.
“Your ancestors certainly knew how to impress,” David finally commented.
“Yes, I guess so,” Tom answered slowly, “although it's hard to think of the people who built this as my ancestors. It seems so stately and orderly.”
David chuckled and said, “Not like Bangkok, is it?”
Tom just grinned.
“Come on, let's go in and take a closer look.” David led Tom to the entry kiosk where he paid the small admission fee for both of them, and then they passed through the outer wall to the compound surrounding the giant temple. Surrounding the huge platform were numerous smaller pagodas, as well as the ruins of chapels, ordination halls, and other buildings. David took a few pictures here and there. It was almost noon, so the light wasn't the best, and he already had a large library of photos for this sight anyway. He let Tom wander on his own, although he tried to keep him in view so they wouldn't lose each other in the big compound.
Tom seemed fascinated by the old building. David had visited this and other ancient sites with friends and lovers before, but none had ever taken much interest in them. Most, like Tom's friends, saw them as boring old piles of rock. Tom seemed anxious to see every detail. He climbed up the stairs on the sides of the pagodas to get a closer look at the decorations. David was pleased and a little amused by this. He even sat for a while in the shade of a tree while Tom climbed around.
It was well passed noon when David decided he should probably try to get Tom to move on. He was in no real hurry, and if he had been alone he might well have just skipped lunch, but he knew Tom had a strong appetite and worried that the lad was just forgetting to eat. David casually intercepted Tom as he climbed down from one of the platforms and asked, “Aren't you getting hungry?”
“Yes, sorry, I just lost track of time. It's all so interesting. I didn't mean to keep you waiting.”“No worries. Actually, it's nice to see someone take such an interest in these places. Most people just take a few pictures of themselves in front of the ruins and leave.
“But, they've been here for 300 years, they'll still be here after lunch, and there are a dozen more to see as well. Why don't we take a break for lunch?”
Tom grinned and nodded.
There was a large collection of souvenir and food stalls not far from the temple. David led the way but let Tom choose the stall that looked good to him. They ended up with a spicy rice noodle soup with meatballs. Tom had two bowls. David marveled at how the young man could eat so much, yet stay so slim, but he wasn't the first Thai man David had met that was like that.They sat at the food stall for quite a while. Once David had torn Tom away from the temple, the lad settled down as the heat and exertion caught up with him. There was no reason for them to rush off to another place, so David ordered plenty of water and they sat in the shade of the stall resting up. Eventually they both felt like moving on, so they strolled across the street to another smaller temple with an unusual older style tower similar to those the Khmer built at Angkor Wat. As before, David let Tom wander around on his own while David took a few pictures and then retired to the shade of a tree. Tom didn't get quite as caught up with this temple and soon joined David in the shade, where they both had a good view of the ancient tower.
“I never really get tired of coming to these places,” David offered.
“You're so lucky.”
David gave Tom a side-long glance. “You're the first person I've met who sees it that way, except maybe for Gun. And even he's not as keen as you are.”
The young man simply blushed.
“Maybe I should think about taking you to see Angkor Wat. If you like this you'll probably go crazy over that.”
Tom's eyes looked like they would pop out of his head. “Really? You would take me there?”
David shrugged and said, “I don't see why not. I do go back from time to time to check up on things, mostly what's happening in the tourist town nearby, but I always visit the temples when I'm there.” David paused for a moment, trying to decide if he was promising too much, then an idea hit him. “I know, we can make it a graduation present. Finish the year with grades good enough to get you into graduate school, and I'll take you to Angkor. How's that sound?”
“Are you sure?” Tom was still wide-eyed.
“Well, I should probably discuss it with Gun, but I can't imagine what objection he would have. It's still six months away anyway. There might be something else you want more by the time graduation rolls around.”
“I can't think of anything I would want more than that.”
David was skeptical but decided not to question it. Instead he stood up and dusted off the seat of his pants. “Shall we move on?”Tom grinned and got up to follow.
They strolled out of the temple and into the large park next to it. A large lake meandered through the park, and the two men walked down a path next to the lake, where it was relatively cool in the late afternoon heat. They came across a cart selling Thai-styled coconut ice milk and found a bench in the shade to eat it. After resting there for a bit, they moved on. The sun was edging toward the horizon when they emerged on the other side of the park, next to two more temples.
“This is my favorite place to be around sunset,” David told Tom, “If we hurry, we can see the murals inside the tower while there's still light.”
They made their way to the smaller temple, which was the only one of the two that still had an intact tower like the temple they had left on the other side of the park. They made their way carefully up the outside stairway, which like most of these temples had very high steps with very narrow treads. They more or less had to go up sideways. Once at the top of the stairs, they passed through a narrow chamber and then down a ladder into what was once a secret crypt below the main chapel. In the 1950s, robbers discovered the crypt and nearly made off with a fortune in gold and relics. The huge cache of amulets and grave goods was now on display in the local museum. The only things left in the crypt were some badly degraded murals on the wall.
Tom noticed the plaques describing the precious items found in the crypt. “Oh, can we go to the museum?”
“Sure,” David said, “we can stop there tomorrow.”
They left the damp musty air of the crypt to go back outside and examine the exterior of the tower, and then moved on to the other, larger temple. David led Tom around to the western side of the old ruins, where the amber light of the setting sun painted the structure and sculptures with a warm golden hue. Once again, Tom stood rooted where he stood, slack-jawed in wonder. “See?” David said, grinning. “Best place to be around sunset.”[caption id="attachment_796" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="The ruins of Ayutthaya around sunset"][/caption]
Tom barely acknowledged him, and then walked slowly over to a seated Buddha image. It was one of the more intact sculptures, probably restored. It still had a head and fine details, although it was covered in just plain plaster. Someone had draped a golden cloth over the image's shoulder. The cloth glittered in the light of the sun. Tom reached out almost reverently and brushed his fingertips lightly over the long fingers the Buddha pointed toward the ground, calling on the Earth goddess to bear witness. David continued to be surprised at the deep feelings this young man had for these ancient monuments. He quietly maneuvered to get a picture of Tom and the statue without disturbing the lad.
Once he got a picture, David moved away a short distance and pulled out his phone. He typed a quick message to Gun:
Our boy has a few surprises. Might need to discuss his future when we get home. Seeing new potential. Love,
David hit 'send' and put the phone back in his pocket. Tom was looking more and more like a very rare young man, one who had a great deal of respect for the past. Yet he was studying for a business degree, which seemed an utter waste of his passion. David wondered if the lad could be steered in some other direction, but he wasn't sure what direction that would be.
They stayed around the temple until it was nearly dark and the attendants were urging people to leave. They were just a block or so from a street that was turned into a large night market every evening, selling lots of food. David suggested they find a place there to eat dinner. They found a stall selling roasted pork with rice and sat down. It was only minutes before they both had big plates of rice covered with roasted red pork, crackling pork belly and gravy. David always added a generous amount of chilies in sweet soy sauce to add spice to the otherwise bland dish.
Tom grinned at David.
“What?” David wanted to know.
“You eat so Thai,” Tom said, shaking his head and smiling.
“Well, not everything,” David chuckled, “I saw a cart of deep-fried grasshoppers at the end of the street. I'm not touching those, even with chili sauce.”
Tom laughed hard at that.