POSTCARD #13: Bangkok: Raining heavily at the airport, poor visibility on the highway into town. Traffic moving steadily through the downpour, a large spray of water hits the windscreen, sploosh – like driving through a car wash. Reminds me of Scotland, wild, wet and windy; weather is unpredictable. You expect it to be one thing but it’s something else instead; uncompromising in its insistence that it is what it is – and not what you think it is. Thai language/cognition is like this, so different from the West; making assumptions based on the Western model doesn’t always get you where you want to be.
I explain to the taxi driver where I want to go, saying there are two ways to get there: he can go on the tollway but better to take the turn that gets us on to vipawadi. We come to the place to make the turn, but the driver doesn’t go that way; we pass it…. It takes a moment for me to see what went wrong: he’s thinking the vipawadi turning is the way I don’t want to go, not the way I want to go. All it takes is one small slip in the logical sequence of the language and I get the opposite of what I intended. Ah yes, well, sometimes it’s like that. No holding on unduly to things you expect to be ‘right’ when they prove to be otherwise. After two decades in Thailand, I suppose I’m used to it; a familiarity with not quite knowing what to expect. ‘…many problems are the result of us expecting that there should be a solution.’ [Ajahn Tiradhammo]
Thai semantics are a bit elusive, the language doesn’t stretch the way you’d expect it to. Anticipating reactions to a request, statement or question – not the best way to go. A structure created by words to explain a concept and the assumption is that the listener understands what I’m saying in the way I mean it to be understood, but it doesn’t work like that. Words are just reference points; they’re sort of out there, ready to be shared with everyone. People interpret them in the way they understand it best. Usually it’s the meaning I’m hoping for, but not always. I try to be minimalist, the complexity of it reduced as far as it’ll go. Allow the selected words to carry the meaning and if it’s misunderstood, try to find an indirect way to approach the problem by letting go of the idea that it’s somehow ‘wrong’. This is ‘the land of smiles’, a cultural tendency to not confront the issue – we become so focused on the ‘should’ we forget the ‘maybe’. The journey takes the time it takes, through the floods and downpour, but we reach the house okay, of course. The sky clears. Rainbows, green leaves in the trees drip crystal drops… soon after that the rain stops.
‘We can easily get caught up in thinking that life should conform to some definite plan. But by keeping a close connection with the truth of uncertainty we can soften the resulting frustration and negativity when the plan doesn’t unfold the way we think it should. We may even gain a clearer understanding of the real nature of plans: mere concepts about possibilities, rather than concrete programmes of actualities. Then whenever we find ourselves having to make plans we do it in pencil with an eraser in hand, and with the clear understanding that many other possibilities are available as well.’ [Ajahn Tiradhammo]