POSTCARD#43: Chiang Mai: It’s been a long extended morning, awake before dawn. My day began at 3 am – not a day, a night… correction, not ‘a’ night, just ‘night’, no defining characteristics. Night, as in: ‘the state of night.’ Night as an abstract noun, the darkness that envelops all beings in sleep, including a few birds, head-under-wing, perched on small branches in the treetops, level with my apartment on the third floor. All the lights are on here, dishes make noise, kettle boiling; cups rattle but there’s no coffee, and I can’t go out to get some because everything is closed… a long time to wait before the little supermarket round the corner is open. I sit near the window and look at the birds breathing, their small chest movements sometimes visible.
A couple of hours reading friends’ blogs in the UK and the East coast of the US. And by the time it’s daylight, and Chiang Mai is awake, I feel like going back to bed. But instead, I’m walking along the road blinking in the sunshine. The air is warm like a soft blanket; no heaviness of winter clothing or hard shoes. T-shirt, shorts and rubber slippers, everything light and easy. Noise and clatter, traffic, smells of food cooking. Everywhere you look it’s like a children’s picture book, blue sky and golden people who smile all the time. The world has been photo shopped, vivid, maximum-pixels. Everything appears as if lit from within, bananas are almost luminous; papaya fruit is a magic-marker orange. Too bright for me, I feel like an owl in the daylight, a nocturnal shadow… let me hide in the shade of my sunglasses; deep, cool, blue-green, cloaked in my dark, quiet space.
After the eye operation I’ve been disturbed by bright light. The doctor says the surface of the cornea is exposed, I have “the eyes of a twenty-year-old’ (wow). It’ll take a couple of years to adjust to the world. The sunlight in Thailand is bright like a television studio and I might have felt less sensitive about light, maybe, if I’d been living in the North of Scotland, where I’m from, and been the pale, indistinct, colourless being that I really am, with the pigmentation of a plant growing in the darkness – long and extended tendrils seeking out tiny sources of sunshine and taking on the glow of colour only when the growing tip finds its way through a crack and into a glimmer of light.
So I’m making my way along the small pavement, looking out for traffic hazards in this busy place and staying alert because of the rough paving underfoot I could stumble on – all kinds of obstructions and sometimes no pavement at all. A small temporary restaurant has arrived that wasn’t here yesterday, the owner just drives up in a pickup truck, sets up his stuff on the pavement, tiny tables unfolded and stools to sit on. It blocks the way, pedestrians cannot get past, have to step down on the road and walk out in the traffic, then back up on the pavement again. Can’t help feeling they ‘shouldn’t’ be allowed to do that… I notice though, that nobody here seems unduly affected by the inconvenience. Thais don’t impose their ‘preferences’ on a world that is for the most part neutral. It’s a Western thing to try to customize it according to what it ‘should’ be like, and engage with all the feelings conjured up by a ‘self’ that makes ‘my’ world into something good, bad or whatever.
Suffering a bit and thinking about this turmoil of having to adjust my expectations of the world according to how things appear to be and why bother with all that because things never turn out exactly as I want them to be – but the best is yet to come, really, because when I get to the little supermarket, the whole place has been demolished! It is totally not there. Doors taken out and nothing remains of the place that I recognize, just this very large, dark, dusty hole in the building. Some kind of major renovation. Hmmm looks like I’ll not get the coffee I came here for… but on the way back I see the temporary shop erected on the pavement is selling coffee. So I sit down and have one there.
‘For life in the present there is no death. Death is not an event in life. It is not a fact in the world. Our life is endless, in just the same way that our field of vision has no boundaries.’ [Wittgenstein]