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Archive for July, 2007

The Mayor of Monkey town

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

I rolled into Lopburi by bus, hoped off and looked around,


Doug Brown had told me all about Lopburi months ago when he heard I was heading to Thailand, god knows how he knows about it. Lopburi is a relatively smallish city which operates under the facade of being so Buddhist that they would never do anything to stop the enormous monkey infestation. Truth being often stranger than fiction, at some point they must have nabbed a truck load of monkeys from the jungle ages ago in hopes of building tourism, they have since breed and now you got a town with maybe a few thousand monkeys. What a sight that must have been, a speeding truck load of rustled monkeys making a midnight run like an old moonshiner. Every person in Lopburi carries a sling shot at all times like a dead eye gunslinger ever ready to plug a piece of ice or a peanut or pebble at any monkey what steps out of line. Terrible and cruel? Sure it is, but at the same time these monkeys run wild in the streets (running, running…) no natural predators, and they are fatter than any monkey ever has been. Fearless of all manner of humans, they waddle their fat bodies into the streets where weary cars are looking for them and anticipating having to stop for several minutes honking for the monkey crossing, and they dance for tourists who through them junk food which they devour, plus regular secret feeding provided by the city. The telephone poles and street lamps are all covered with monkeys. The air stinks like their wet fur, many people cross the street to avoid some areas of the sidewalk to give wide birth to the monkeys, others simply whip out the sling shot on the little fuckers. POP!
No, I wouldn’t really say that the local residents of Lopburi display the spirit of smiling Buddhist tolerance. But they do know their place, sling shots or no, this here is monkey town, and the humans knew it. Cars waiting at traffic lights were bombarded by the rain of monkeys falling from trees like leaves in autumn. certain areas of the city are crammed with people, others are empty because that is the monkey territory, a line which is respected. This was monkey town, the people knew it.
And the many packs of dogs that populate Lopburi seemed to know it too, they huddled in corners across from the major monkey areas, always wearing fearful skiddish expressions, always looking over their backs, often barking suddenly and running the other way. And the monkeys knew it, they strutted with fuck off autonomy. The only thing they had to worry about were scuffles with other monkeys, which broke out frequently between what I later learned to be the two major warring monkey clans. The skirmishes I witnesses all seemed brief and explosive, not really about anything more than scarring the rival and establishing dominance over some small turf, the victor taking a prime street corner or choice telephone pole for him and his mates.
I found a hotel with air con and CNN, which was swank. The window had bars which served as a Simeon jungle gym which provided quite a view. That night I had diner at a fold out table from a street vendor, I forget what I ordered. The owner sat at my table, he wanted to know where I was from and all that and we struck up an almost non verbal conversation. I asked him if he hated the monkeys and he said no, he loved the monkeys, and I asked if they ever were trouble and he agreed that sometimes the monkeys made a lot of trouble, his English wasn’t good enough for specifics. I got a huge beer and he started bringing me small sample dishes and plates of Thai food, spicy vegetables, fish, super tasty curry, amazing things I had never heard of before. I insistently refused as he was being too nice which made him laugh and bring me more. He was a swell guy and had decided for whatever reason that I was no longer his customer but now his guest. He was just like they say about Thai people, super nice and all huge smiles. After about a beer and a half a sweaty fat man with no shirt and a dangling cigarette stood and switched on the TV, it was the start of a boxing which pitted one slugger from Thailand and one from Japan, serious business. The street corner started filling with men sitting around drinking beer and discussing the fight. This could have been any smokey bar room in any city in the world, just a bunch of guys sitting and watching a good fight. Hell yes, and nobody seemed to care or notice the one white guy in the middle of the group, so long as I was rooting for Thailand I was in like Flynn. So when the Thai boxer got in a good jab or unanswered combo I made sure to clap and we all stamped our feet, and it was a good fight and the longer it went the louder we got and the drunker we got. The others lept from their seats and screamed in Thai at the television, veins bulging and eyes bugging, their friends laughing. In the 12th our champ from Thailand delivered a devastating one, two, three which landed the Japanese fighter flat on his ass, if only for a second. Not enough to start a count, but easily enough to get every ass out of the seat, it built and built to a raucous kerfuffle. Then the bell rang at the end of the 12th, and for a tense moment every man there stood silent waiting for the decision. Then the ref walked over and held to the air the glove of the man from Japan, the bad guy had won, and the fat man with no shirt stood up and turned it off. With a few shrugs and slowly shaking lowered (but still smiling) heads filed out to the street, trying their best to walk tall, trying their best to avoid the goddamn monkeys. Me and the owner argued about the bill, I wanted to give him more and he wouldn’t let me, he just wanted to charge me for the first dish I ordered and for the beer, which I paid, all the other food he brought me was on him he insisted, which was cool of him.
Later that night I went out wandering. I went deep into the monkey zone, it was like some lance a lot link film noir of the crazy dark city street, heavy shadows, hip looking monkeys who all knew the score looking to get theirs.
In the town center surrounded by a fence is an ancient Khmer temple which served as the base for all the monkeys. There must have been a thousand monkeys concentrated on that temple, I assume that is where they get feed. It was late and I went to the gate and asked if I could have a look. The guard asked for more money than the daily admission (as I am sure he wasn’t supposed to let anyone in there at night) I started to leave and then I asked him if he wanted beer, which he did. So I ran around the corner and picked up a bunch of Thai beer and bribed my way into the monkey temple.
It was darker than pitch but the walls seemed to have constant motion from the monkeys, the odd shriek and howl rang here and there, black eyes glinting in the moonlight. The guard and I sat maybe ten feet from the monkey covered wall of the temple, some of the braver ones ventured away from the walls and sat near us and looked confused by our presence. The guard spoke almost no English but was able to explain to me that the hundreds of monkeys crawling all over the buildings across the street surrounding the temple square were members of the enemy clan, so our monkeys where the strongest, for they held the temple. This temple was like the Gaza strip to the monkeys of Lopburi, and the war was endless. After a while the guard left for his little guard house by the gate and returned with a hot bowl of spicy vegetable soup, which we shared. And we ate the soup and watched the monkeys under the stars and moon and drank beer into the night silently, everything worth saying was already understood.

I guess that was 2 weeks ago now, I made it through Cambodia and am now in Laos on a small island (Don Det) which has no electricity at night time. This morning I found myself sharing a speed boat up the Mekong in Cambodia heading to the border of Laos and it occurred to me once again how happy I am. I hope everyone else is good too. I love all of you.