POSTCARD #37: Chiang Mai/Hat Yai journey: The Chiang Mai flight to Hat Yai was discontinued just before our departure date, so the journey had to be made in two parts; the first flight to Bangkok the second to Hat Yai – a bit frustrating, yes, but that’s how my Western thinking can be fixated on the way things ‘should’ be, and not how they are. This is Thailand and no upset, just the sense that people were a tiny bit miffed about it. Then we discover the baggage can’t be checked through either, it means we have to collect everything from the luggage belt at Arrivals when we get to Bangkok then to Departures and check in again for the next flight. There were a lot of bags, and we had little M with us who is 9 years old and she’d have to be guided through the crowds safely. I felt I was beginning to lose it at that point but still no reaction from the others, just a kind of ‘no comment’ attitude and the sense of something being ‘held’.
I go along with the way everyone else is doing it; chai yen yen (keep a cool heart) chai ron mai dai (being angry is no good). Patient understanding, putting up with it quietly; othon, in Thai, it’s about accepting things as they are and not fuelling the fires. There’s a cultural tradition of this kind of inhibition of anger in public. It’s a big no-no. Why? Because when people really lose their cool they can go crazy. The word in Thai is baa, a kind of madness; political demonstrations with crowds running into a hail of bullets and not stopping until the cease-fire. So, we don’t want to go there. Thais have acquired the skill of abiding in the suppressed anger state so that the feeling can be allowed to pass and there’s sufficient clarity of mind to see what action can be taken.
We arrive at Bangkok, wait for the luggage at the belt, I get it all on to two trolleys, with little M sitting up on top of the bags and we make our way through the crowds to the elevator. Up to the second floor and enter through security and the baggage X-ray machines to the check-in desk again. There’s not much room and a large congestion of luggage trolleys. Tense pale faces, no anger, only the difficulty that people are having suppressing it. Sweat forming on the forehead, no expression, a tight smile when required, a mutual understanding and a calm appearance. Tread carefully, the fear of becoming angry makes the whole thing kinda fragile.
Recent political demonstrations highlighting the underhanded manipulative strategies that take advantage of this cultural quietness are an example of there being suddenly a legitimate reason for everything to go totally irrational. In this case, organised public protest against a Prime Minister who was put in place by a group of behind-the-scenes bad guys; a situation not unlike the period of George Dubya, the 43rd U.S. president. Both leaders were puppet-like, inarticulate, and the public fell into a kind of embarrassed silence; how can our leader appear to be so hopeless like this? This odd acceptance allowed the controlling group to manipulate events behind the facade. It was tolerated for a while due to the cultural ‘holding’ behaviour, then it exploded. These public protests pull things back into balance because Thais value peace. Anarchy and lawlessness are a scary alternative – almost like insanity. There will be stability, but only for a short time, it seems. Sadly, it’s likely to break out again. An impossible cycle…
We get on the next flight, take-off and up into the clear blue sky again; out there, where there are no problems, the beautiful great curvature of the Earth. One hour and fifteen minutes later we descend into Hat Yai. The outer arrivals section full of Thai muslims in colourful head scarves and matching costumes, children running around. Into the car and out on the great North/South highway that connects Thailand to Malaysia and all the way South to Singapore.
“In essence, the process of division is a way of thinking about things that is convenient and useful mainly in the domain of practical, technical and functional activities (e.g., to divide up an area of land into different fields where various crops are to be grown). However, when this mode of thought is applied more broadly to man’s notion of himself and the whole world in which he lives (i.e. to his self-world view), then man ceases to regard the resulting divisions as merely useful or convenient and begins to see and experience himself and his world as actually constituted of separately existent fragments.” [David Bohm]