POSTCARD #19: Chiang Mai: M came to visit for the day, my Thai niece aged 9yrs, and her mum brought a bag of pa tong ko (Thai donuts) she got in the Saturday market. And just before we ate them all I remembered to take a photo [click this link for recipe]. But I’m getting ahead of myself, it began quite early this morning. I open my eyes and there’s a sound, a Skype call – where’s the phone? Stumble out of bed, follow the sound… phone has slid down the side cushion on the sofa, singing and buzzing in there; hello? It’s M, hello? Her video appears – hello, hello? I can see the top of her head, she’s watching a YouTube video at the same time as skyping me.
Where are you now Toong Ting? She calls me Toong Ting, a remnant of her baby-talk days. I tell her I’m in the condo, arrived last night from Bangkok; this is what it looks like, where I’m calling from, then slowly move the camera-phone around so she can see the interior of the room.
What you do there? She speaks English like text messaging – maybe social media is how she learned? I tell her I’m not properly awake yet and that’s why my hair is all mussed up.
What’s mussed-up mean? I tell her that I was sleeping, just woke. But it’s difficult to hear what she’s saying, I need to adjust the volume control. Where’s the clicker? Can’t see well with these glasses, I’ll have to hold the phone so I’m able to see her face on the screen then put it to my ear to hear her voice – she’s laughing because there’s my big ear in close-up, filling her screen. Laughter…
Why you do that Toong Ting? The conversation lasts about a minute. She asks me, Can I come stay with you today, mummy go out, OK? I say yes; see you soon, bye-bye.
Shower, dressed, wash dishes, tidy up and in 1 hour, ping-pong! door opens, M is scooting down the corridor, running around the rooms and jumping on the sofa: yaaaaay! Her mum gives me the pa tong ko and some of M’s items in a bag and other food things, asks if I’m sure it’s okay… yes, of course, and there’s the handing over of responsibility with a few last words of caution to M and bye! Mummy is gone.
We put everything on the breakfast table, and taking the photo of the pa tong ko reminds me about the problem with the phone-camera earlier, with the sound – not finding the volume control and I tell her about this – can she fix it for me? M holds the phone in her small hands then clicks the little button with a tiny pointed finger.
I feel heavy and clumsy by comparison. She tells me I need to change the ringtone… so let’s choose one together, okay? There’s a long list, the names read like a poem; apex, beacon, by the seaside, chimes, crystals, night owl, playtime, presto, radar, radiate, stargaze, summit, twinkle, waves and we go through them all, one after another, like a strange inter-related melody; a breathtaking journey through the diverse world of heavenly and celestial, twinkling ringtones.
Which one you like Toong Ting? I’d like to make a choice but it’s like a kind of hilarious madness to me, they’re all good… M makes her choice and I’m wearing my glasses to see how she’s doing it. It’s this that causes her to quit the ringtone selection as the discussion moves round to my recent eye operation.
What the doctor do? M comes close to my face and looks at my left eye, carefully, then looks at my right eye. She’s a bit scared of the thought of it, yet kinda fascinated when I tell her about making a hole in the eye and sucking out the lens shloooorp! then putting in the new lens folded over to get it into the hole and it’s made of plastic, so it opens out flap when it’s inside and lies down flat.
I see her small face and almond-shaped eyes absorbing the story into consciousness. It’s a mirror I can see myself in. The ‘I am’ feeling – the sense of ‘I-Amness’. All the way through one’s life, the constant. It’s the same today as it was when I was 9 years old. Absolute subjectivity.
‘Consciousness veils itself from itself by pretending to limit itself to a separate entity and then forgets that it is pretending.’ [‘The Transparency of Things’, Rupert Spira]
We take other photos of the rest of the food things brought by M’s mum and here they are:
1. (below) Kao nyaow: glutinous rice cooked in banana leaves