The boys arrived in Sangkhom, a small town further along the Mekong, with just a little trepidation. They had visited the friendly workaday settlement four years previously, and had loved it for it’s exquisite ordinariness.
Paul rarely liked to journey backwards, much preferring the surprise and adventure of the soi less travelled. Quite often somewhere revisited had lost the very essence of why one returned, tarnishing both the return trip and the original stay. It was always a risk.
Fortunately very little had changed in Sangkhom.
On pulling in to the two-horse town they’d noticed a new ATM outside the local supermarket but that seemed about it. Fortune still seemed to smile down sunnily on this little stretch of the great river.
At first sight at least.
They were, however, to discover that was certainly not the case. The real riverine tale being a steady stream of sadness and survival.
As they entered the little ‘Buoy’s Guest House’ and crossed the precarious rickety bridge to the small island to which their dilapidated hut creakily clung, the familiarity of their surroundings were at once entrancing. Paul recognised the even tinier shack across from what was to be theirs on this occasion, and was immediately reminded of an evening they’d shared on it’s verandah with a gregarious Gallic couple. They’d inhaled some herbal tobacco together and laughed into the star-studded night as Paul hazily revisited his schoolboy French.
The fat yellow dog was also still padding around amicably, although her hips now appeared to have seen better days. Paul knew the feeling!
And Buoy, the smiling, ebullient proprietress, was still there to welcome them effusively into her home. No need to show passports on checking in. And beers and such were to be taken from the open fridge and written down into book number ten. The number of their shack.
Probably far too frequently!
Paul and Andrew adored an honesty bar. It was so refreshing in every way.
But something at ‘The Buoy Guest House’ was not the same!
The Boys had arrived on a rather special day. It happened to be the very day on which they’d fallen for each others dubious charms, twenty-six long years ago.
Paul thought of it as a milestone, though he was well aware his partner sometimes considered it more of a millstone!
They celebrated in the afternoon with bottles of honest beer and some honest downtime.
The earth didn’t move, but their shaky accommodation certainly did!
Later that day, as the boys bravely crossed the bridge of sticks back to the main house, they twigged! It was a different bridge. It was longer and lower than before.
It also leant a little to the left, much like Paul!
They then spotted the crooked concrete pylons which had once held up the restaurant. Unevenly sprouting from the river bank like a contemporary Stonehenge.
And the main house, they now realised, was half the size it had been on their previous visit. They knew at once, the earth had certainly moved for Buoy.
They discovered this joyous and spirited lady was also marking an anniversary, yet not the kind most people were eager to reach. She explained that three years before she had lost her husband to a massive stroke, and shortly afterwards, half of her home to the mighty river in a single stroke.
The wet season had brought with it tragedy, her husband and livelihood went violently downstream to join that great spiritual estruary.
It was heartbreaking, as the boys learnt how the Mekong had changed it’s mood during the last few years, growing angrier and more ferocious than ever before. Buoy, having lived on the river all her life, had never witnessed the ‘Mae Nam Khong’, as it is known in Thai, behave in such a torrid way. She was certain the current situation was due to global warming. But there were darker forces at work too.
As the Mekong snaked it’s way down from the Tibetan plateau, through China, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, before escaping into the sea via the majestic delta in Vietnam, it’s ancient course was being irrevocably altered.
There was now a veritable deluge of huge hydro-electric damns. Great ‘green’ projects that did very little to help the farmers on the verdant plains downstream.
As the Chinese government intermittently flushed these monstrous constructions in their own national interest, little interest was being shown to the thousands of villages who saw their once fertile fields inundated with mud and thereby rendered useless.
Masses of farmers had flooded to join the urban mass in the growing cities of Bangkok and Phnom Pen to work as building labourers.
Growing condos instead of cabbages!
It seemed the vegetables making the big decisions upstream didn’t give a damn.
They could only build them!
Paul also discovered that there was an ambitious plan afoot, headed by none other than China, to blast a vast channel through the Mekong all the way from Yunnan, a province in it’s south west, right down to Luang Prabang in Laos. Thus creating an artificial, all season waterway capable of carrying 500 ton cargo vessels.
He thought of the incongruity of these giant ships which were to set a course and dwarf the beautiful Buddhist temples, he and Andrew had previously delighted in, situated along the shoreline. Gigantic steel river monsters washing away thousands of years of antediluvian beauty in an instant with their giant wake.
A tsunami of slime and greed!
He wished the world would awaken to the disaster that was already taking place. Mankind was getting itself into very deep water. He’d read of the growing consensus which predicted that in just ten years time the natural habitat of the mighty Mekong would be entirely washed away. Completely destroyed. And there would be no way to turn back the tide once this precious waterway had been dynamited to damnation!
A turbulent point that has got much of the Thai population,who will be affected by this blasted idea, close to boiling point.
Things had certainly changed beneath the surface in Sangkhom, and right along the Mekong’s exotic serpentine journey. And now it was beginning to bite back.
Paul knew one only had to listen to Buoy to realise the evidence didn’t need any buoying up. The rising waters and their now frequent tempestuousness were proof in themselves that the plimsol line had been crossed.
He was, for once, very glad he had trekked backwards, as it had enabled him look forwards. But the future was not bright. It was not orange. It was sludge grey and stultifying.
He silently cursed the Chinese and the equally ignorant President ‘Chump’ for their reckless and shortsighted view on the level of the disaster. They were ignorantly allowing this watershed moment to drift on by He was sure they would rue the day when they had tampered with the globe’s natural plumbing. They, after all, would also be submerged when the waters rose.
And Paul knew for certain that he would not be drowning in pity on their behalf.
Neither would the beautiful buoyant Buoy.