Monday, June 05, 2006

The Temple of the Floating Nun


I wove scenes from my time working in Thailand into my new novel, Slippery When Wet. The book is set in 1992, and that visit was in 1991. Maggie, the central character, moves out from Bangkok to the town of Kanchanaburi--famous for 'the Bridge over the River Kwai'.
The Internet was in its infancy then. It's interesting to follow old travel routes through the eyes of recent travellers. Maggie cycles out of the town for two fundamental scenes in the book at the temple of Wat Tham Mankhon Thong. Climbing the vast staircase to enter and emerge from a complex of tight caves is essentially a rebirth for her. She then descends to encounter the floating nun.
From travellers accounts, a nun still floats in the temple pool. In fact, it seems that several nuns now float there, taking turns--some perhaps buoyed by a discreet life jacket. The spectacle now raises funds for the temple, spectators sitting in a small auditorium built around the pool.
There was no such auditorium for Maggie's visit -- or for mine. Just the pool, and the one aged and original nun. I'm glad the novel is there for its record of one of the world's distinctive holy beings. The nun's body was eased of its pains to achieve real grace in the pool, and pull the spectators into her own meditative space. When she climbed out, pilgrims lined up (as did Maggie) for an encounter that in Hindu terms would be darshan, an audience with a holy person. Her own form of transmission was one I have not seen elsewhere, biting the flame off a candle and blowing its smoke onto the pilgrim's forehead.

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