Should I Drink the Strange Elixir Offered on the Train to Kanchanaburi?
On a train to Kanchanaburi and the River Kwai I am unsure of what the “Miracle Concoction” offered contains.
I am reluctant to buy even though 35 baht to become invincible, as the man with an unusual interest in my well-being claims, seems like a good deal.
Departing early, my travel had commenced at seven am from Thonburi’s train station.
After about 2 hours travelling starting to become relaxed with the lurch and sway of the train I’m making notes of the sensations and types of snacks the vendors that climb aboard at the frequent brief stops at small stations and wander through the carriages displaying their wares.
Staring at the page, it starts to grow fuzzy and my eyes close.
I wake a few moments or minutes later —or how long was I asleep?
Sitting opposite me was a guy studying me.
He starts talking in broken English asking my origin.
He picks up a jaded cotton carry-bag from the seat beside himself. Reaches inside and produces a small jar that he holds in front of me. This very good, make you strong. You drink, you…” He slapped an open palm on his arm muscle.” …very strong.”
I have observed Thai people regularly reach into fridges selecting mysteriously labelled small bottles. Mysterious, I say because I find it rather difficult to transcribe the odd squiggles on the colourful labels that make up the Thai script.
Taking a mental step back from the offer I evaluated the situation. I was travelling by myself on a five hour journey to Kanchanaburi and still had three hours ahead in the humid train carriage. If whatever was in the jar caused an unsettled stomach, headache, or dare I imagine, loss of consciousness, my pleasant trip could result in an awkward situation with me slumped unresponsive in the carriage.
Racing through my mind was possibility of being relieved of my wallet, camera and even my backpack disappearing.
I looked around. In the seat a few rows behind on the opposite side of the carriage a monk in bright mustard robes appeared sound asleep. Or was he deep in meditation? Did one eyelid flicker open? My imagination again.
Back to the mighty jar. Or the jar of might! I had no way of knowing what elixir boiled within, anxious to slip down my throat and…
I shook my head and he persisted.
I said no and he insisted.
What is inside it I asked? What is it made from?
His command of English was limited and so was my bravery.
Maybe it was made from crushed scorpion essence? I had already eaten crunchy fried scorpions and they were okay in small doses. I don’t recall any side effects from that occasion.
Let us pause here for a moment and jump forward three years.
Glimpse of The Elixir
I am waiting for a train at Phra Rama 9 —a station in the Bangkok subway, when I look up at an advertising screen that also displays the minutes remaining before the next train arrives. It reads ‘4 minutes.’
The tiny jar is being displayed by an upwardly-mobile youthful couple. She is drinking the contents with no scruples.
The advert changes and cycles through four others.
“Train arriving…” the display informs as I hear the pulse of air pummeling the glass barrier and see the glaring headlamp streaking towards the platform.
I stare up again at the screen willing the ad to return.
I decide to miss my train and watch for the information that will satisfy my lingering curiosity.
‘Excuse me.’ A passenger pushes past bumping into me.
Distracted I take my eyes off the screen.
I catch the last moments of the promotion.
“Flavored pick-me-up drink,” is all I glean from the body language of the actors in an ad in an impossible to read Thai script .
I laugh to myself and climb aboard the next train.
So it was completely harmless.
Three hours later I am at the airport. I need a snack to take on the plane for my long flight home.
In the departure lounge, I recall the location of a convenience store at one end of the vast hall.
Finding it still in the same place, I decide on a salad sandwich together with a piece carrot cake. ‘Anything to drink,’ asks the girl behind the counter.
I go to the fridge cabinet.
A row of individual packets with jars pictured on the pack.
The elixir! In my rush I nearly break the door.
I choose forest fruit berry essence.
Back in the lounge area sitting waiting for the embarking tone and announcement I play with the bottle turning it between my fingers as I read the packet. High in vitamin A, B and C; enhance vision… Well, I could do with improvement in that department. I really need to see where I am heading.
I can’t wait to taste it now. I unscrew the lid and raise it to my lips.
Sweet and fruity flavours explode my senses. The jar is now empty.
The airport speakers boom.
Boarding of JQ29 to Melbourne in fifteen minutes.
Snapping out of my reverie, I grab my bag and bolt down the corridor.
* * * *
Three months later I am on a flight lurching through a black cloud two minutes from touchdown at Survanabumi airport, Thailand, the site of my initial insight.
One minute to landing and the plane is powering smoothly through calm air and the lights of the highway to Central Bangkok gleam like a necklace of diamonds.
Inspiration strikes repeatedly.
What if a questionable elixir offered to a train traveller really had an adverse effect?
Or an enhancing effect… or time twist.
Read the extract… Getting Creative
Inspiration: Creating Storylines, Chapters and Scenes
Developing challenges for characters in my novel.
With the protagonist attempting to thwart the adversary?
During travel through this location I could envisage Nick, the protagonist encountering this man on the train and the elixir he buys really causing serious side effects. The result being that he falls from the train in an hallucinogenic state and wanders lost in the mangroves meeting with strange creatures and an eccentric scientist.
Looking deeper into the events I then explore the possibilities of relocating to another train where exist many such growths of mangroves and more off the beaten track (by western tourists) where he struggles to return to his mission, but in this diversion actually learns more of his adversary.
The train continues its journey through Kanchanaburi, over the Bridge on The River Kwai and further on slowly passes the steep cliffs, with the tressle viaduct nail-bitingly high above the river. Finally it grinds to a halt at Namtok at the end of the line.
Creative Travel Plan
Great Ideas In Travel
Beyond Time Restraints