Tar Kong - Chainsaws
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!
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-à-vis the Asian belly'. I
admitted defeat and took my position in the middle.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.