The Thai Quietness


Chiang Mai sky

Chiang Mai: 04.30 hrs. Air that’s as warm outside as it is inside, soft and comfortable, wraps itself around me like a quilt. There’s an easy silence about this place, near to nature, trees and the mountain Doi Suthep. Window open but comfortably quiet; no sounds entering conscious awareness. This is what it feels like, sitting on the cushion and I’d forgotten it was quite simple to fall into samadhi here. How can it be like this? Maybe it’s because at this time of the day there are Thai monks sitting samadhi in all the Wats (monasteries) near to here and also everywhere in Thailand, of course. It has an effect on the outer environment. Or is it just that this is a gentle place – no extreme life-threatening weather conditions – except it does get hot. But then, sensible people sleep in the afternoon. Is it, then, that it’s just a laid-back society? Probably yes, but could be that’s not exceptional, just sort of normal here. Maybe this is simply me responding to being here in Thailand; an easing from the dukkha of Northern Europe. Over there we don’t have so much of an awareness of metta, loving kindness – Greed, Hatred, Delusion (sounds like members of a Heavy Metal band?) means it’s warlike by comparison.

People here are rural, humble folk, shoes off at the door, and everything is done quietly, with the family, the community and anybody passing by – and that includes me, a foreigner. ‘Where are you going?’ someone asks and smiles pleasantly as I pass their door. There’s a quality of simple friendship we don’t have in the West. It’s a mutual understanding arising from the shared experience of being alive. ‘Just going for a walk’ I reply. It’s this trusting quality that’s everywhere, all around. It says something about social behaviour; the Thai quietness.

In BKK yesterday, it was less quiet. I went on the Skytrain down to the mall area – I had to get a few things. It looked to me more like a young persons’ social event than necessary shopping at the mall. All the doll-like girls and boys and katoys too (lady-boys) in classy design conscious department store environments, neat and clean; expensive iPhones and everybody looking at everybody else. I could write the whole post about that… ok, some other time. The noticeable thing, though, was the closeness to the cogwheels of the city infrastructure. The incredible NOISE of urban traffic, street sound reflected off concrete wall surfaces of pillars, underpass overhead panels. And is it that the vehicle engines are paced higher than they are in Northern Europe because of the fuel, to account for the heat? The din of it seems extraordinary.

I’m in a taxi waiting at the red light; it can take about 5 – 10 minutes to allow the immense volume of traffic  coming the other way at high speed, to pass by; race-track conditions. I’m looking out the window and there’s a dog wearing an old Tshirt or is it a child’s upper garment? – it’s a doggie coat. Somebody feels this dog should be kept warm in the cool season (although 28°C is warm enough for me). So the dog gets an old Tshirt to wear with front legs through the arms, head through the neck, where it should be, and I see the collar of the shirt and a couple of buttons done up to get the garment to hold round the neck. There’s a faded Hello Kitty logo, and all remaining loose parts knotted up over the dog’s back, held with safety pin. The folds of it fall in a familiar sort of ‘dressed’ way. Amusing to see a dog dressed as a person, and this particular dog smiles at the world anyway; since he’s wearing the Tshirt, maybe, smiles even more. What does it matter?

And smiling at the world continues at Don Muean airport for the Nok Air flight to Chiang Mai – the aircraft is decked out like a cartoon bird – how can I take anything seriously when it all looks so child-like and seems to be so light? Reminds me when I first came to Thailand,  people used to say: ‘You too selious Mr Bobby!’ Meaning lighten up, okay? And I wasn’t aware of being serious at all, just normal (as far as I was concerned). It’s good to be reminded that all the small stress points that come from just being part of urban life, waiting in lines, getting across the road etc., just don’t matter. If you have a clear mind, it helps. This is what is important to Thais; a focussed mai pen rai (no worries) attitude, I have to learn how to stay light.

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