Hi, everyone! Here we are, s-t-i-l-l on the third-class train, getting more and more punchy as each excruciating hour drags by. We’re about four hours into the trip now, and contrary to Nick’s prediction, the train car has not cleared out. Instead, more and more people cram on at each stop. Even so, by some miracle, Linda, Ellie and I have managed to finally find seats. Well, Ellie and I are sharing, but it’s still better than balancing on our suitcases. Linda’s wedged in next to a young man wearing a leather cowboy hat who keeps throwing lascivious glances her way. He’s probably about 5’2″, and she’s over six feet tall, but I guess he likes the long drink of water.
We’re traveling through an endless succession of bright green rice paddies occasionally relieved by small muddy ponds and a few low trees. The land’s flat, no mountains in sight, and the sky is a hazy blue. Every once in a while we pass herds of water buffalo wallowing in the swampy fields with their curved horns, but I can never get my camera out in time to get a decent picture. Enormous cranes of all types weave through the heavy, humid air, giant wings flapping slowly, trailing their long orange and black legs behind them.
As we pull into one tiny station, I see several wide plastic basins with rough jute netting over them on the platform. I figure there’s something alive in there, because water’s splashing up through the netting. Nick explains that the basins are full of frogs. Thai cooks throw them live into the soup if they’re small enough. If they’re bigger, they stretch them out on a table, whack them into three pieces with a cleaver and then toss them into the soup. I’m trying to be open-minded about cultural differences, but I can’t help flinching when Nick tells me this. Poor froggies!
A young woman standing in the aisle in front of me is wearing a hot pink T-shirt with an enigmatic message outlined on it in rhinestones: “Disturd the love.” She’s holding a little girl with Down syndrome who’s about two years old. The little girl kisses her mother over and over, pats her cheeks and strokes her hair. Her mother kisses her back, tickles her and feeds her small balls of sticky rice with mango, a Thai delicacy, bought from the food trolls. (I hope her little immune system is strong enough to handle those germs!) After a while, her mother sets her down, and the laughing little girl climbs into everyone’s laps and smothers them with kisses. The people she favors with these attentions don’t mind at all; on the contrary, they laugh and hug her. Next to the little girl and her mother stands a boy of about ten with the face of a patient angel. The little girl tugs on his arm and throws her arms around his legs. He smiles down at her and pats her head, and everyone gets dewy-eyed. It’s a lovefest!
Next week: We finally arrive at the Cambodian border, more dead than alive.