IMG_0395bPOSTCARD #40: Chiang Mai: Watching the construction of a new condominium next door that’s been going on for 6 months or more. It’s like a story: Once upon a time there was a construction site. Then there was the first floor. Now they’re up to the fifth floor and the structure is above the tree tops. I can see the workers, including women workers wearing wide brimmed hats, sitting there creating the metal reinforcement of the support pillar. They’re doing it by hand; twisting flexible metal wires around the vertical and horizontal parts, like you tie a plastic bag closed with a plastic cable tie. Not moving around too much, aware of the flimsy platform they’re on. No safety measures, other than the mindfulness of being careful.

There are another two condos being built on the other side. A constant coming and going of cement trucks through the narrow streets, and all around the clangs and bangs of construction site sounds. Noisy but I’m attracted by the creativity of it. These large structure were once an idea in an architect’s office and I can see the plans and diagrams that were drawn on draftsman’s paper coming to life in three dimensions. Throughout the day, I stop what I’m doing and go over to stand by one of my windows and maybe watch the huge crane lifting things up from the floor below and placing them on the new floor above. Then to the other window and see what’s happening there. The workers are active the whole time; rural/urban migrants from another strata in society, pluralism. Where they come from you could buy 5 acres of land with the money paid for one small unit in the condo they’re building here. What they get from this is an income, and there’s stablity, their children can go to school here, an opportunity to break out of the mould, social change is generational.

Their stamina humbles me, I’m a foreigner living in their country, my life style is so distant from theirs. I wonder if they have times when they get fed-up with it all? Are they as dissatisfied as I am? Would they understand how I sometimes pause in the writing of a piece, reflect on how much my original idea has changed since the beginning of it, and what I’d really like to do is take the whole thing to pieces and start again? Probably not, and I’m trying not to give up on it because this is already the third revision. In the West we can’t think of constructing without deconstructing. In the process of learning how to build things up, we learned how to knock things down. Click the remote and we’re watching a different movie; basic truths were disassembled overnight. Postmodernism arrived and everything came to pieces – nothing to hold on to. A world that’s always a work in progress, no final ‘finished state’.

New possibilites arise and one of these is the thought that maybe I’m not seeing the real world at all, what I’m seeing is something created in the mind; something ’seen’ in the way I want it to be. I can change the world to get it to fit when it doesn’t seem right according to the image I have of it – so how can I be sure I’m not simply thinking up a theory and creating supporting statements to prove it? My continuing engagement with it somehow confirms its reality… but is it really real? The question is the answer, it’s open-ended, exploratory – inductive reasoning. The solution is revealed in the process of examining the question. No subject/object dualism. Instead of trying to impose a structure on Nature, things take place subjectively. Finding the way that has a starting point inside, not outside; something I recognize in the interaction with the question.

Around noon, all the noise and clatter suddenly goes quiet. Lunchbreak. From my window I see the workers sitting in groups and some lying  in makeshift hammocks strung across the scaffolding supports in the cooler shaded floors: zzzzzzzz… the world is a kind of analogy, a figure of speech – the metaphor and reality. No final conclusion, forever on-going….

IMG_0403‘… houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
 are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
 is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
 Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
 old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
 which is already flesh, fur and faeces,
 bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
 Houses live and die: there is a time for building 
and a time for living and for generation
 and a time for the wind to break the loosened pane…’ [The Four Quartets, East Coker, T. S. Eliot 1943]


13 thoughts on “structures

  1. postmodernism is also limited 🙂 rules upon regulations and exceptions — while there should be no building at all, only sky or even skies … (just some crazy thoughts … )

  2. It’s an amazing process, is it not?
    Once watched 6 storeys appear out of swampy waste ground in Bangkok over, what seemed, an entirely too short 18 month period. The first clue that anything was going to happen was the unexpected appearance of half a dozen young men who proceeded to build a wonderfully ramshackle, two storey, corrugated tin shed, engulfing a couple of trees within it, which would become their home for the duration.
    Then the entire crew showed up; their wives, their kids, their street dogs; their bedding, their domestic utensils, the trappings of a simple, nomadic life.
    That first extended family stayed the entire build, and it was a real blessing and privilege to get to know them, all be it a relationship restricted by largely insurmountable language barriers, and to witness the simple joy that they found in each others company through the entire day.
    Sure, there were squabbles, there were outright battles (when the “others” arrived about half way through the build), and more than their fair share of domestic “misunderstanding”; but the over-arching impression was one of communal harmony, a joy in simply being, and a deep, shared pride in engineering something new and “useful”.
    Then moving on to the next, and the next…

    • Thanks for this. I can see you understand the fascination, I’m following the progress daily and the structures are going up floor by floor at a tremendous speed. The corrugated tin accommodation buildings must have been built somewhere hidden from where I am, looking out on both sides, but I can hear a couple of cockerels that weren’t there before, so I guess they have space for chickens too. There’s a pickup truck that stops next to one of the sites, selling food items I recognize as variations on sticky rice. It’s as you say, smiles all the time…

  3. “Instead of trying to impose a structure on Nature, things take place subjectively. Finding the way that has a starting point inside, not outside; something I recognize in the interaction with the question.”

    Wonderful. More and more it seems to me that direct experience, prior to interpretation can speak volumes and sometimes without words. 🙂

  4. This is it exactly. Language has the characteristic of naming. In the West we have deductive reasoning and can’t seem to see beyond that. In the East it’s inductive – the context, just that…

  5. You began by saying it’s like a story. I thought that was a beautiful description of the scene, of suggesting a pageantry to the unfolding ensemble of events, but then the story blew through you, and through your piece, and soon you were saying, “Would they understand how I sometimes pause in the writing of a piece, reflect on how much my original idea has changed since the beginning of it, and what I’d really like to do is take the whole thing to pieces and start again?” I’m glad you kept going. I’m glad I can’t figure out where the story ended, or who was telling it, or whose story it ended up becoming. Because now, it is blowing through me… It’s a story that blurs into so many stories…


    • It was to be something that would parallel ‘storeys’ and ‘stories’. Then I started to think about the workers, their lives and their hardships… their sadnesses, and the ‘story’ of it had to go in that direction. A change in mid-course and it became deconstruction rather than construction; endless change. But anyway, the building is still rising, they’ve gone up another storey since I last wrote. I’m fascinated by the creative energy of it all and planning to write another post about it, now you’ve provided some new inspiration. Thanks for your insightful comments.

  6. Pingback: light-headedness | dhamma footsteps

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