Tar Kong - Chainsaws in Forest:

The three of us squeezed onto the battered old seat and set off for Sek's village Rum Chek maybe an hour away. I was grateful for a cloudy morning as we set out across the unsheltered plantation to the forest. Clearance workers were hard at it scrubbing up stumps and raking at the remnants of vegetation, creating a featureless landscape. The bike squirmed in the loose sandy soil and 'Medic' stopped to rearrange us. The apparent problem was the positioning of the heavy Barang. I was to be moved to the middle and the centre of gravity. I protested that I was clearly not the heaviest here and offered up my belly for comparison. This the second sleight on my weight was not going to go unchallenged!

There was some conversation between Medic and Phal, which might have qualified for a slot in the Royal Society New Years Lecture along the lines of the 'specific gravity of the European vis--vis the Asian belly'. I admitted defeat and took my position in the middle.

Though there was a vehicle track into the jungle the damage looked less extensive. The deep sand gave over to orange volcanic rock, laterite, the base material for the monuments of Angkor and the going got easier. As we pulled into the village I quickly realised that we were the only the synthetic things in the place. Fortunately the dust had transformed Phal's designer attire but just as I had predicted we looked like Spock and Kirk surfing the coordinates. I was struck by the absolute simplicity of the village and yet how it looked far from impoverished. It was neat and well cared for, purposeful. There wasn't any plastic or brand names, any artificial colour beyond the faded clothing of the villagers.

Sek was waiting for us and beamed as we pulled up. Tea was brewed and he rolled a cone of tobacco and invited us to squat down. As we chatted a sinister looking guy buzzed through the village on a motorbike, "They know we're here," said Phal interpreting Sek's observation. The distant sound of chainsaws was clearly audible and I guessed the guy on the bike was making sure we weren't about to disturb their work.

Sek showed us his store of liquid resin and the rustic pots used for collecting it. He told of how it took days to get round his trees. He talked with pride. I was already in love with the way of life when Sek got on to hunting. He described how villagers created an impenetrable barrier in the forest to catch anything that tried to get through. I winced as he said that once they'd caught a Tiger. It was a reminder that even in our perfect projections all is not how we want it to be.

Sek's trees were back down the track so 'Medic' transported us in a couple of trips. As we sat on a big log waiting for Phal and the Medic, Sek pointed in the direction of the chainsaws that were working close by. The sound was probably only a few hundred yards into the forest. The prospect of a confrontation with the loggers was scary but to ignore what was going on would be hypocritical. When Phal arrived I asked him to see if Sek was up for going to check it out. Phal explained that Sek's trees were in the opposite direction and that the Medic wouldn't leave his bike as loggers had trashed it on a previous occasion. Phal clearly didn't want to go but Sek picked up on the conversation and appeared to be ready to follow the sound of the logging. "Let's take a look," I said and we started off down the track. Just a little way along in the thick of undergrowth Sek pointed to a big tree that had been cut down very recently. We were investigating when we heard a moto thrashing down the path towards us. Instinctively we all dropped into the cover as he rattled by. "The Medic must have told the look-out that we're coming to catch the chainsaws." Said Phal. "I don't think he saw us though." Back on the track Phal looked indecisive, I offered a rhetorical, "Shall we take a look?" and headed on. I was quietly crapping myself.

I looked round to see that Phal had dropped back and Sek was looking hesitant. The chainsaws were louder now and there was a good chance that we really might catch them at it. I rubbed my good luck stone and pressed on.

Over the din of the saws I hardly heard the motor of the lookout's bike coming round the corner; his face was like thunder. He flew past us and then did a smart U turn and sped back towards the chainsaws. There were shouts and the saws stopped. Now all was eerily quiet. Either they had run or were waiting for us. Sek was behind me now.


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