Ashes to Ashes

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Yesterday, I saw a Buddhist temple in a forest surrounded by cultivated fields. It struck me as strange because there was a tall chimney coming from the glazed tiled roof. I thought it was probably a crematorium, and I should have cycled over to investigate further. But it was threatening to start to pour down and I was eight miles from home, so I decided to take a “rain check”.

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Sunday afternoons tend to need filling, so today I thought I’d see if there were any crematoria in the wats in Mae Sot. The first temple was undergoing renovation and resembled a building site. Two monks were watching a man working on new drainage channels around a new building plot. Another monk turned up with some tools and an orange beanie hat to match his robe, but he didn’t stay long. I asked about cremations, but no one understood. They directed me to a massive metal gong and a drum with an amplifier extension, resti on some old tyres. Was this a public address system? Did they beat the drum and bang the gong to alert people of a funeral ceremony? Or were they just pointing out items of interest? I moved on to another temple.

The next temple had a road running through it. The massive golden stupa was a roundabout. I saw a row of small decorated monuments against the far wall. These elaborate funeral urns each had a small plaque, with a photograph (presumably of the deceased) and an inscription. A dog eyed me suspiciously as I peered at the urns. It looked as though there was a crematorium down an alleyway, but it was guarded by Cerberus, the hell hound, who was now growling. I took some photographs and moved away, but it kept following me. A delivery boy on a bike contraption cycled past and the dog switched its attention to him. As it snapped at his heels on the pedals, he started whipping it with elastic rope with hooks on each end.

I decided to make a break for it and got back on my bicycle, but the hell hound noticed me and transferred its rage onto me. “Keep calm and carry on,” I thought to myself. “Don’t show any fear,” but just as I was getting away, there was a furious honking from a lady on a Honda 50 motor scooter. Ostensibly this was to inform me of her presence, but it just served to infuriate the dog. It couldn’t catch her, but I was back on the menu.

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Sweating, but not from cycling hard, I looked over to a little shack selling offerings for the temple. The occupants were in stitches laughing at my performance. They shouted out something in Thai, which sounded encouraging. I don’t know whether it was, “Don’t worry, he won’t bite!” Or “Just give it a kick, yer big wuss!”

Maybe if I’d made an offering in the first place, this wouldn’t have happened. Eventually, the dog gave up and I escaped. Dangerous places, these wats.

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