Calum McSwiggan

The Tiger & The Thai Girl

In Eat, Love on July 10, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Tiger Temple

‘How people treat you is their karma, how you react is yours.’

– Wayne Dyer

My shovel dropped to the ground with a clang and I broke into a run as the tiger growled ferociously and came bounding through the open gateway. Leaping onto the stone platform and blocking our exit, he bared his enormous claws and teeth, let out a snarl of ferocity, and readied himself to pounce.

I froze perfectly still, looking at the Thai girl by my side, and wondering how on earth I had wound up in such a ridiculous situation. Face to face with an enraged adult tiger that could kill me in a single swipe, I began to regret that decision to stay an extra week.

I had intended to leave the temple a week before my flight so that I could tour the islands and lay half naked on the beach, but one morning, as I dug a pond in the blistering heat, that all began to change.

I winced with pain each time I drove the spade into the sun hardened ground, swearing and complaining loudly, and just not getting the job done. My hands were sprouting with purple bruises from where Bubbles, the six month old bear, had attacked me, and even holding the shovel was agony. I peeled off my shirt in the heat, wrapped it around my blisters for protection, and watched the tiny Thai girl ploughing through the earth with gusto.

She was my favourite because she embraced any job with a refreshing positivity; whether ankle deep in a slurry of tiger diarrhoea and chicken carcasses, or cutting through overgrowth populated with deadly snakes and insects, she’d wear the same smile and remind me that all of this brought very good karma.

She wasn’t strictly Buddhist, her opinions and beliefs were as wide and diverse as my own, but like most Thai people, she believed that karma was a currency as real as pounds or dollars. It was almost as if it were a real tangible thing that could be weighed and measured, good karma was valued more than any amount of money, and bad karma was like a crippling unpaid deficit.

Everything she did was good natured, she’d escorted a poisonous centipede to a safe distance after I’d tried to cleave it in half; she’d spent hours of her time with the tigers that had left deep lacerations in her back; and she’d even held her tongue and silently spent time in prison for a crime she didn’t commit.

I admired her so much that I wanted to change my behaviours. I had already given up on obeying The Precepts after managing to drink alcohol, gamble, and kill all within my first week, but the path of karma made sense. I could break the rules as long as I was doing what I believed to be fundamentally right. I made an effort to stop bitching and whining about every little thing, and to show The Universe that I was serious, I gave up my secret island hopping adventure and opted to stay for the final week.

So there we were, me, the tiger, and the Thai girl, in this impossible situation. The steel gate lay in pieces, strewn across the yard from where the tiger had destroyed it in his fury, and now he was eyeing us as if to say you’re next. My heart thumped, my hands trembled, and I desperately waited for instruction.

Oh silly tiger! she cried out lovingly, pointing at the destroyed gate and shaking her head like a displeased mother. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, this snarling beast had his six inch teeth prepped and ready to tear us apart, but this five foot Thai girl was entirely unfazed. To her, this was just an ordinary day of work. Just like having a baby tiger nibble on your ears, or listening to the sound of an adult tiger’s heartbeat, these things amazed and astonished us temporary volunteers, but the long term staff weren’t fazed in the slightest.

Don’t worry, she said as the tiger growled fiercely, slinked off his platform, and began to circle us. He’s just being silly. Petrified, I watched as she leaned her head to one side, smiled, and reached down to stroke his back. He jolted suddenly and just as I thought she was going to lose her arm, he retracted his claws and playfully nuzzled into her side.

Had she been aggressive or defensive, I’m pretty sure that both of us would have been floored and ripped apart. It was her loving attitude that allowed her to see past his snarling maw and ultimately save our lives. Unbelievably, she was right, the tiger was just being silly.

I may not have been showered with riches and virgins for my hard work and good deeds, but I knew that The Universe was looking out for me. I’d made the right decision in staying that extra week, and the fact that I was able to walk out of the gates with all of my limbs firmly attached was more than repayment enough.

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