‘Where are you going?’
‘I’m just walking.’
‘You want taxi?’
Going for a walk isn’t one of the things they’ll think you’re doing. OK, Mao went on a Long March but they’re still talking about that eighty years later so it couldn’t have been the kind of thing he did every Sunday afternoon.
If we invite people from our village to share one of Mrs Pobaan’s legendary home-cooked dinners (not too spicy please, teerak) and it’s more than 100 metres door to door they’ll come by car.
‘It’s so hot.’
If you have a motorbike you’re proud of, with ‘Zoom!’ decals on each side, why not use it, even for walking the dog?
In our neck of the woods people are losing the use of their legs. In time, the legs of people who can afford automatic scooters will become entirely vestigial and they’ll have to park beside the bed. Nature doesn’t tolerate redundancy. If you don’t use it, you lose it.
Which makes it all the more remarkable that Mrs Pobaan, the Blizzard in my Pokemon Go and an Asian if you ever saw one, is an inveterate and incorrigible walker. She goes for a walk nearly every day, not in order to get anywhere—if she wants to get her hair done at the salon, which is about a kilometre distant, she’ll naturally take the car—but just for the exercise. I’ve watched her disappearing up the slight rise on which Khao Talo Towers is situated. If she stops to talk to someone she’ll carry on trotting on the spot so as not to lose momentum. It’s wondrous to see.
The point of all this, if you feel you have to have one, is of course to maintain a healthy lifestyle and a constant bodyweight. Mrs Pobaan knows enough biology (but not much more, actually) to recognise that if you’re going to eat as many lunches as she does (on the same day), you’re going to be punching new holes in your trouser belt if you don’t take regular exercise.
I may not have mentioned this before but the youthful Mrs Pobaan used to be a jungle girl. She was brought up in the jungle, not unlike Mowgli, and retains much of the knowledge and skill required to survive in a jungly environment. She can climb trees, both up and down. She can spot birds, snakes, insects etc which confidently assumed they were camouflaged against their natural background.
‘Where? I can’t see it,’ says Mr Pobaan, city man.
‘There! Now you’ve trodden on it.’
‘Oh, wasn’t it pretty.’
She knows which leaves are poisonous and which are good to eat. (Actually, I have to take issue with her concerning many of her finds.
‘Here, try this,’ she says.
‘Do I have to?’ To me, most of her wild gleanings taste of raw paracetamol, but I suppose if it were a matter of life and death I’d munch them happily enough.)
And she knows which plants yield drinkable water if hacked down in just the right way. Despite their limitations, these are important survival skills if you happen to find yourself in the jungle, miles from a 7-Eleven.
With all this as background, you will not be surprised to hear that a week or so ago Mrs Pobaan proclaimed that we were Going Walking.
In The Jungle.
Our destination is Khao Yai, the biggest and most popular of Thailand’s mighty national parks. Khao Yai is home to wild elephants, tigers, bears, deer, monkeys and a very small number of humans, some of them walkers in a variety of walking garb, but mostly coachloads of giggling kids with ice creams and selfie sticks.
We make an early start and duck under the leafy jungle fringe into the dark around 11.30. It’s tough going. We’re trying to follow an eight-kilometre trail over a hill that feels like a mountain to an observation tower from which we will be able to survey the vastness of the park from some height. The trail is very faint and there are few markers. On occasion we veer from the human path and find we’re following a bunch of ants instead. We climb cliffs, straddle fallen trees, trip over roots, ford streams and hack our way through the encroaching fingers of nature. Throughout we are pursued by a cloud of mosquitoes and blood-sucking flies, clearly a bit peckish due to the shortage of juicy walkers on this trail (we meet no-one else all day).
Although it’s tough, sweaty work, the jungle is beautiful and everything goes well until a dark red patch appears on Mrs Pobaan’s trouser leg. She lifts the hem and uncovers a leech which is busy snacking on Mrs Pobaan’s vital fluids. It’s only small, but it’s fat from feasting and massive in its capacity for inducing horror in my intrepid life-partner.
She screams. She wails. Her cries echo through the trees to mingle with the jungle cacophony of monkey shrieks and insect buzz.
In a desperate search for other leeches, Mrs Pobaan peels off her trousers and sits on some gravel by a stream to examine herself. Within seconds another leech, perhaps alerted to the new dining opportunity afforded by Mrs Pobaan’s unprotected flesh, advances on her across the stones, looping and stretching in that leechy way with menacing determination.
This is too much. They didn’t have leeches in the jungles of Mrs Pobaan’s girlhood. Dealing with them is not in her mental survival guide. She leaps to her feet, blood still leaking from her leg, and we make haste in search of a revolving door marked ‘Jungle Exit’. Mrs Pobaan suddenly craves the safe predictability of civilisation.
When we get back to the car park she says, ‘Never again.’
I think she’s reverting to type, that like others of her cultural persuasion, she will now abandon walking for driving.
‘No, there’s no problem with walking. I love walking. Just not in the jungle.’