POSTCARD #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….
‘… 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]