When the Sun Comes Up in Amphawa
I’m not a morning person. At all. I’d much prefer to stay up half the night and wake up about 10 a.m. Still, under certain circumstances I can be persuaded to get up. To watch the sunrise, for example. Or, to take part in the alms giving ceremony in Thailand.
When the Carolina Southeast Asia Summer Program traveled into the countryside of Thailand, we got to do both. At Amphawa we awoke at 6 a.m., dressed in the dark and crept down the stairs of our homestay and into the early morning light. But our creeping was for nothing. Our homestay was already cooking breakfast in a large pot over the stove and women were socializing on the front porch. As we passed down a quiet lane, heading towards the riverfront, we saw many food vendors well into the cooking process, roasting kabobs over open flames.
The town seemed wide awake as we rubbed our tired eyes and wandered to the dock. Others were already gathered by the waterfront, legs crossed behind them (pointing your feet at another person is considered highly disrespectful in Thai culture), awaiting the monks who would row up to the dock in their canoes in order to collect our offerings of food and lotus flowers.
The first monk to approach us came with a driver and a canoe already laden with toast and sweets. An elderly Thai lady walked forward and handed him freshly baked bread, smoke issuing from the top. She presented the offering on a large banana leaf to keep from accidentally touching (and thus tempting) the monk. Upon receiving the bread, he blessed us all, holding up his hands and chanting rhythmically. The sun’s pale rays reflected over the water as the monk pulled away from the dock.
Later, we stuck out like a sore thumb as we descended the hill to a nearby farmers’ market, teeming with locals. We picked from roasted corn on the cob, bubbling in butter on the grill; chicken and pork kabobs; pineapple and watermelon bursting with sweet juices; mango sticky rice and sweet breads still warm from the oven. As we feasted, we returned to the waterfront.
As the morning deepened and more and more people awoke, so too did life on the river. Vendors selling fresh rose apples wet with dew and steaming Pad Thai rowed toward us, offering the later risers breakfast from a boat. We swung our feet from the edge of the dock as our friends enjoyed tiny dishes heaped with noodles and shrimp along with freshly cut fruit.
As I chatted with friends, I noticed a few young boys playing with reptilian toys as they awaited their own breakfasts. (While we seemed only able to order Pad Thai from the vendor who had pulled ashore, they all ended up with plates of roasted chicken over rice, an excellent alternative had we been able to communicate with our boat chef.) Suddenly, one of the kids let out a cry, and I watched as a crocodile flew overboard. All three boys flipped onto their stomachs and stretched their arms to catch the falling reptile, but to no avail. He sunk into the murky depths and they were left with one less crocodile and zero appetites.
We returned to our homestays shortly before 8 a.m., with an entire day stretching before us. And yet we’d already seen so much! I was almost ready to become a morning person. Except … except … except for the heavy weights that pressed against my eyes threatening a (mid?)-morning nap before I’d normally even wake up!
Emily Palmer, a junior global studies and creative writing student from Durham, is an intern for the Carolina Alumni Review. She is blogging for the Review and wants to hear about your can’t-miss experiences while at Carolina.