We got there by boat. There was no other way we knew of. She and I sat at the edge of the river-beach for 3 mornings in a row, waiting to be called. He said the boat wasn't going this week -probably- and we would have to turn up ready to go each morning until it did.
Unless we wanted to charter one ourselves…
So we turned up each morning, and on that third morning, one of them came over and pointed at long-boat by the water's edge. It was the one with the scallop-edged, blue canvas roof - open at the sides a bit like the Pimms tent at Henley Regatta. There were nine plastic chairs - Chinese-made - of flexible nylon - in sun-faded primal colours. They were as small as the chairs 7 year-olds use to sip their 'tea' during afternoon grass-parties in leafy Surrey gardens.
We heaved our packs onto our shoulders, and crunched across the grey sandy slope.
There were two of them - one was obviously in charge - he held our gaze. The other was round shouldered, and he followed orders.
There were 5 of us. We two, a single light-haired girl, and a couple. We didn't seem to speak much… Even when the engine broke down after 2 hours, and we disembarked onto a sand-bank in the middle of the river, we didn't speak.
We sat on the sand and watched the families panning for gold on the far bank.
Thinking back to that time, I realise the 5 of us had probably all developed the skill to handle misadventure and potential stress with equilibrium. One of a set of skills different from those we use at home where we can expect multiple layers of organized support and rescue to be available at all hours of the day.
The visitors to this land who failed to develop 'local' skills would have been agitated. They would have been distracting the two men from their repairs - asking unanswerable questions. Prodding and poking the situation - watching it flex and wobble like a thick-skinned soap balloon. Testing it.
In fact, there is little chance they would have been on our boat at all. They would have required a middle-man - paid from their 'Tour Price'. A man who would have organised a bigger boat; a better engine; a larger cost. This boat would be more comfortable than ours; it would be faster; and it would probably get stuck on the sand-bars that were increasingly visible under the soft waves of this shrinking river.
We five, we lucky five… Sitting on the sand-bank, quietly watching the men clear the fuel-lines. And we were in balance with this place and time. We were adjusted to how things happened here. We saw events and held expectations as vague aspirations rather than hard and defined targets.
The boat arrived at Nong koi bridge as the sun began to set over the low hills to our left. And the two of us found a bamboo room to rent for the night. The path running down from the road was lined on both sides with small blue-plastic bomblets - sitting on their tails, looking skyward. They lacked noses which left dark gaping holes. Some were filled with yellowing herbage.
Four men clustered in the dust. They squatted around a stack of greenish glass tumblers and two bottles.
With our arrival, the biggest man heaved himself onto his feet. He leaned over and shook two glasses free of the stack. Filled them from a bottle. We all sat down.
He was the son of the Nong koi Post Office. He was paid by NGOs to defuse the cluster bombs that regularly roll up under the local farmer's ploughs. And he came home each evening to joke and chat with his friends as he welcomed passing guests to his huts.
The alcohol was harsh and unforgiving, and there was little need to over-drink. Watching him converse with us and his friends confirmed his place in the village - a small part of the ongoing process. A process much like a machine that rotates, chews and spits out.
Some of the cogs in that machine are tiny. Some are larger and they rotate more slowly. They relate to one another and respond to variance. Each is important to the other and each is vital to the whole.
The machine is built of components, and they are assembled with skill, and they run in balance.
Ponyo is about balance too.
It's about the balance that exists between a father, a mother and their son. And it's about how that balance remains when the father is at sea. Because the mother can take his energy - for a while.
Ponyo is about the balance within a friendship circle: Old ladies, some noisy, some quiet. Some mothering and others critical. There's one stiff old man for them all to bounce their ideas off.
Ponyo is about earthly balance. The story of what we know as the global ecosystem can be told as a morality play which uses figurative spirits as our wardens and guides. And it shows us how benevolence can become tyranny with a conscience.
Ponyo shows us how a fishing town can be in balance with the elements. Notably with the sea. And also how its inhabitants can be in balance with the town: When a ship is beached onto the harbour road, there is no outcry of 'what about my rights', but more a sense of membership. Of being part of a greater thing.
Ponyo shows us how symbolism can be used to exaggerate imbalance: Huge angry waves made entirely of gentle black fishes. How young good-looking men with rampant blond hair can responsibly carry the world's mistakes and make them right. And how when someone is offered a choice of two, sometimes in a real world, they can't have both.
Ponyo shows us that being a small cell in a greater organism can actually broaden your vision. An unselfish and cooperative life can facilitate abstract ideas: Spirits of the sea, magic and unsubstantiated beliefs. And these spiritual elements can weave their stories within those of the 'real' people.
And working together in cooperation and balance, they can resolve and secure the world.
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