Ants ate my computer

Ants Ate My Computer
This is a short story from Keith E. Jones and will be part of my new book that is tentatively titled, "Ghosts in the Temple: Walking 1200 kilometers across Thailand"
Ants attack my laptop

November 2011 and I found myself walking across the widest part of Thailand. For about half the walk my Thai friend, Onanong accompanied me. While it is not too unusual to see a backpacker in Thailand, it is unusual to see them actually walking with a goal other than to drag their packs from one guesthouse to another as they move down the road a hundred yards from one guesthouse to the next.

It is even more unusual to see Thai people walking any lengthy distance. On this stretch of highway Onanong was walking along with me. She is a tiny woman, standing 150 cm (4’-11” ) and weighing just 42 kilos ( 92 pound). Her backpack perched high on her back seems larger than her when she walks in front of me.

We were walking from the city of Phitsanilok toward Sukhothai the ancient capital city of the Kingdom of Siam. Part of the road snaked perilously through the mountains, a narrow, winding thread of concrete that at some places had no shoulder so we were forced to walk on the roadway or on a steep and slippery slope with a deep drop off just inches from where we walked.

This stretch of road was really dangerous. I had visions of a car or bus careening around a corned and just knocking me and Onanong off the edge of the cliff-like roadside. We couldn’t walk on the opposite side of the road, because the road was blasted and carved into the rock mountainside. We could not risk being caught between the sheer vertical rock face and some careless driver.
To add to our visibility I took a broken branch and used the sturdy stick like a flagpole to tie a bright blue shirt onto the end of it. I carried this makeshift flag so that it stuck up higher than my pack, fluttering in the breeze.

“ Keith, what is that for?” Onanong asked as I cobbled together this makeshift warning device. I explained it was so drivers might see us better. Then in characteristic Thai fashion she didn’t say much more about my warning flag. However as we started walking again, I noticed Onanong was lagging behind me a bit. The gap of 10 yards made it seem as if she wasn’t really with me.

Later that day Onanong confessed I embarrassed her carrying the flag. The entire idea of walking and sleeping in strange people’s yard was quite embarrassing to Onanong. So much so, that when she walked with me, we generally found some National Park campground or a guesthouse or lodge to room at overnight. Only when I was walking alone did I sleep in people’s yards, schoolyards or on some temple grounds.

For me this adventure was a challenge of the physical kind. Walking 5 to 15 miles, day after day, carrying a backpack when the temperature was pushing 100 degrees in the shade was tough for me. Getting up in the morning, eating a banana and then waiting while the Ibuprofen eased the pains in my body enough that I could get up and carry the pack again was challenging for me.

The mental difficulties that Onanong faced as a devout Thai woman trying to throw off the cultural shackles of 2000 years of history, to do something beyond the comprehension of the average Thai was far more difficult a challenge to overcome. Whenever a friendly driver would stop and offer us a ride, Onanong was forced to face the same barrage of questions each time. “Pi, you need a ride? Are you walking because you cannot afford to buy a ticket on the bus? Are you okay? Is this farang (foreigner) forcing you to walk so he can save money on bus fare? You want to go to Myanmar, why don’t you ride?”

Onanong’s challenge was of the mind, something far more difficult to overcome than the few aches and pains I suffered during our walk. She could not swallow 2 Ibupropen then wait 15 minutes for the embarrassment to go away. It dogged her every footstep.
Onanong wants to say a few words about this walk. Here is what she has to say.

Walking from Phitsanilok toward Sukhothai and Myanmar – by Onanong Hukharn
Cars and buses were driving very close to us on this part of the road west of Phitsanilok. Keith decided to tie a blue shirt onto a stick. Then with his stick and rag we walked along, him feeling safer, but I felt shy a little! When we walked many people looked at us with strange expressions on their face. They thought we waiting for the bus or maybe that we had no money to buy tickets.
One couple stopped their car. Both of them were very nice and friendly. “Where are you going Kha?” (that is a polite greeting like sir or ma’am) Sukhothai I answered!

They said ,”Oh dear that far from here please get on the car we going the same place”, then they asked me more questions. “Why do you have to walk? Are you not tired? Why are you doing this?”

I replied, “We will walk all the way across Thailand. This trip is really spectacular.
They had more questions like “where do you sleep? Do you bathe in the rivers? What do you eat?” And the most difficult question for me to answer, “Why are you walking? You will get hot and tired.” I tried to explain we were doing this because nobody had ever done it before. I said “kah we meet nice people like you and get to know more about Thailand.” The nice couple offered me a ride one more time before driving away.

As they drove away I felt even more shy (sic embarrassed) about what Keith and I are doing. But I told him I would do this, so I must do it.

This ends Onanong’s comments for now.

The day went by quickly. It was a day without any really memorable events. We walked, we rested and then we walked again. Some days are like that, even on a great adventure.

As my watch moved toward 3:00 p.m. we arrived at the outskirts of Sukhothai. Once we passed the City sign and had officially entered the city, Onanong flagged a songthaew (pick up truck taxi). We pushed our packs into the back on the floor between the bench seats. Weary from the 18 kilometers (10 1⁄2 miles) we had walked that day we stepped into the back of the songthaew to gratefully ride the next 2 kilometers to the TR Guesthouse where we planned to stay for the next couple of nights.

The Songthaew dropped us a few blocks from the guesthouse, leaving us a short walk before we would get to dump the packs for few days.

A clean brightly decorated bakery was temptingly situated just where I clambered from the back of the truck taxi. There was a display case filled with various cakes and pastries. After a long hot day of walking a piece of cake sounded heavenly. I left my backpack lying at the door of the bakery while I purchased a full double layer chocolate and vanilla cake. Meanwhile Onanong waited patiently, not once reminding me that I was still supposed to be on a healthy diet plan.

At the guesthouse, once inside our room I placed the cake on a table. Since we planned to stay in Sukhothai 4 or 5 days, I emptied my backpack so I could launder everything. Then after a shower, shave and a second nice hot shower I went out with Onanong to find some dinner.

After dinner we returned to the room. I had big plans to eat that cake we had bought earlier. Sitting down to a small table in the room I pulled out a folding knife I carry. It is spring loaded to open and has a very sharp 7” blade I use for peeling fruit or cutting cake.
As I made the first slice, a swarm of large red ants burst from the cut in the cake. I jumped back, cursed and then finished cutting that piece of cake. By then the ants were swarming all over the tabletop. I quickly moved my laptop off to one side of the table.

With the large slice of cake removed, we could see ant tunnels throughout the cake. Apparently these industrious ants had found an entrance to the bakery display case and in just a few hours had set up house in my cake. I closed the box on the cake and ants and folded it inside a plastic bag. By then it was late. I was tired, Onanong was tired so we just left the cake, thinking the ants were trapped inside the bag.

I slept in until sunrise the next morning. As the sky grew bright enough for me to see easily in the room, I climbed from bed and opened the laptop. The Macbook Pro powered up while I brushed my teeth. Then sipping a cup of hot tea I opened my email program and began downloading mail from the night before, which time is daytime in the USA and Britain.

I noticed a few of those red ants crawling near the laptop and brushed them to the floor. As I waited for the email to download the laptop screen began to get strange colors and missing spots. Clearly something was wrong. I jammed a USB memory stick into a port and as fast as possible began transferring my most important files, those I knew were not backed up on my backup drive.

As I finished and ejected the small memory stick my laptop screen was turning some awful blue and orange colors one pixel at a time. I just sat and watched the computer turn to garbage. Finally I turned it off. Then knowing what I would find I picked the dead laptop off the table and began shaking it. Perhaps 50 or 100 red ants swarmed out and ran in circles on the table top.

I was too disgusted with myself to bother the ants. I ignored them as they swarmed around the table searching for their next portable home. I looked at Onanong, shrugged my shoulders, said “let’s go change this for a cake with no ants”. I grabbed the ant riddled cake and headed for the door. Onanong was quiet, waiting for me to explode in anger. But how can you blame ants for searching out all those warm crumbs of food that had accumulated in the spaces on the keyboard between the keys.

There’s probably more than one lesson in this story, but I never bothered to try and figure out what I should have learned from the incident. I found new cake without ants. I eventually bought a new laptop. I still eat too many sandwiches and salads while I write on this laptop. I do try to put the laptop away in the carry bag at night when I’m traveling.
Keith E. Jones
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