POSTCARD#56: Bangkok: I’m the one that got away, the escapee, the spiritual refugee. I followed the road that led away from the place I was born and never went back. The link with ‘home’ is broken and even if I could get it reset there’s no connection now. Somehow it fits with the history of where I came from; of war and battles lost and won, victory, defeat, the pibroch, the dirge lament, death like a flood sweeps away a sleeping village; the kamma of immense grieving, Celtic calamity, the catastrophe, the ruins, the mourning, s’affliger, generations of the dispossessed, and all the elders are gone.
Is integration the opposite of disintegration? If so, I came from a world in disintegration, I stowed away on a ship, sailed over many horizons and by happenstance got shipwrecked on a strip of land in the South China Sea. I am the Western urban migrant, assimilated, integrated here, got the password, userID and blessed to find the Buddhists in Thailand. A sense of connectedness, although it hasn’t been easy these 30 years, carrying the weight of Western thinking, causes and conditions from early times, likes and dislikes. And, being the only foreigner in the family, I’ve learned to go along with the preferences of others when it comes to food. As it was this morning, for example, faced with Korean kimchi at 10.30 AM because somebody thought it was a good idea to go to the Korean food buffet downtown, and if it were up to me I’d have chosen something less exotic so early in the day, but Jiab thinks our niece, we call M, needs to eat something substantial so maybe she’ll like this. Okay go for it.
M tries the kimchi and tells me: not spicy, Toong-Ting, her name for me (see the M posts). She’s waiting for a response… I taste it, blood red and trailing strands of human skin and tissue – a vampire thing? But there’s nothing wrong with kimchi really, I’ve had things far more out-of-this-world than that. I nod with approval and give her a smile I think is convincing. But M can see kimchi doesn’t quite hit the spot. She comes over and tells me quietly they have ice-cream here too. Yeh… well, ice-cream at 10.30 AM? If I said I didn’t like that either I’d lose all credibility. So I say, Nice! Do they have caramel/toffee? Thirty years further on in the journey and I’m eating ice-cream with a nine-year-old. I’m amazed that she likes me… maybe she responds to this quality of improvised simplicity I’ve developed, anyway it’s a privilige and quite wonderful how things have gotten very much easier since M came into the world. She corrects my Thai pronunciation (the tones), has a continuous chattering bird-like dialogue with me and discovers useful-to-know things about my phone I never knew were there. M is an empath – no words for it, it’s a kind subjectivity. Maybe because she’s a child in a bilingual situation and has to find the easiest route to understanding others, or maybe all children are like this and because I never had any children of my own, it seems special to me.
Being part of her world means there’s less of the holding on to ‘self’. Anyway, there’s less of an emphasis on individuality here in Thailand, things are shared, a largely Buddhist population. And my ‘self’ is so totally different from everyone else’s self, it’s not appropriate to be imposing my ‘standards’ here, creating supporting statements to prove what I’ve already decided is the correct way of going about things, and convinced about this simply because my continuing engagement with it somehow seems to confirm it has objective reality. In the East, the ‘object’ is not the goal. The starting point and the answer are revealed in the interaction with the context of the question – inductive reasoning, it takes longer, it’s more revelatory, exploratory, open-ended.
M runs off to look at what kind of drinks they have. Comes back and tells me about one she thinks I like but can’t pronounce the name, I ask her how do you spell it? Never mind she says, can she borrow my phone? I give her the phone, she’s always ‘borrowing’ my phone. M runs off to the drinks section again and comes back immediately; she’s taken a photo of the drink, shows me: Chrysanthemum tea, wow! A difficult one to pronounce. Nice, I’ll have that. M is gone for a moment then returns with a glass of iced tea held in both hands, places it on my table without spilling a drop; loving-kindness, she steals my heart away…
‘There is ultimately no individual self or soul (jiva), only the atman (universal soul), in which individuals may be temporarily delineated just as the space in a jar delineates a part of main space: when the jar is broken, the individual space becomes once more part of the main space.’ [Gaudapada] source: Non-Duality America (Link to original)
Let us hope “growing up” doesn’t spoil her.
We all go through a stage like this, don’t we, when we are children, I think I’ve forgotten most of it when I was a child. It’s just a passing thing and when she grows up it’ll be something else – maybe I won’t be involved then, more’s the pity…
Yeah, I guess there’s no going home once you’ve truly left. Maybe you should have tagged this post ‘anicca’ as well. But I hope I’m only imagining a distaste for Scotland in it.
The late novelist Iain Banks seemed to approach his homeland with sincere warmth despite an almost forensically clear eye for its faults. I’d recommend Complicity and The Bridge.
No going back, it’s true. My father went to Australia when I was a little kid like M. I went to see him a few times there before he passed. He talked about the old country in a critical, judgemental way. One of those converted; Australia was the new country and he was completely engaged with that. I try to be less tenacious in my likes/dislikes, looking for equanimity. The way I feel about Scotland, bearing in mind the context of a single parent family, must be like the inhabitant of Alaska feels about his/her home, or the person from Siberia… these endless days of light in the summer and darkness of winter, cold for six months of the year. Thailand was just… light and gentle? Easy, very easy on the personality side of things. It was/is just not there at all sometimes.
I know of Ian Banks, yes forgotten about that, it’s a good suggestion, I’ll have a look at Complicity and The Bridge in the Kindle store. Thanks for dropping in.
Sounds like a wonderful relationship!
Quite unexpected, it just arrived along with her developing ability to communicate in English. I’m on the receiving end of all this focused chatter…
I would prefer the ice cream in the morning or anytime to kimchi 🙂
I could never get past the fragrance LOLs…
she sounds adorable and very grounded ….
my son is in Korea, my sister was stationed there once upon a time, they love kimchi…me? I am glad I went to Germany for food LOLs..
Good post…I always enjoy wandering with your thoughts
Take Care…You Matter…
Thanks again maryrose. Yes, there’s a time and a place for kimchi… ice cream too, but it’s more benign :-). The Thais are capabable of eating extraordinary things for breakfast, beyond the limits of Western preferences – except there’s a consciousness of children having non-spicy food. I go with the kids whenever possible and M has noticed this, takes care I have the right thing.
You’re v fortunate to have your son as a contact in Korea, as he gets to know it more and more, you can go for a visit? Thanks for dropping in…
Lovely writing. Lovely grasp of the experience. I appreciate the quote from Gaudapada, that uncompromising non-duality, the sameness of existence delineated by the sensing of phenomena, the illusory being of things. All is simply Being. That’s Zen, too, I think, at least my limited understanding of it. And it’s mindfulness. We use the trite phrase “being in the moment” but that’s what really Is, Being, which is the moment. The way you pick apart such a mundane experience to realize this is excellent. Thank you for your work.
Thanks Art, the Gaudapada quote is wonderful, expressing it all. I’m grateful to http://nondualityamerica.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/the-nonduality-club-humor/ for the source. All is simply Being as you say and the only hesitation I have is that words themselves cannot properly explain it; the all-inclusive moment of Being? It’s something I see examples of in the curious position I’m in here, having thrown off a former identity and the only evidence of an identity that replaces it is in how it’s seen in the mind of my niece, a nine-year old child. Subject to change, aniccan…
So lovely, this capture of M in words; I’m enchanted!
Wonderful isn’t it, seeing the world through the eyes of child…
Your writing has brought this relationship between you and M to life for us, and it is a joy to witness. We can see the gifts you receive from M: the loving announcement of the obvious, possibly in warning, (not spicy, Toong-Ting), the wholly innocent sharing, juxtaposed with a technical acumen (may I borrow your phone) that reminds of gaps in time and place across which the relationship spans. But in your writing, we cannot help but see M’s delight in exploring the mystery of Toong-Ting, this traveler from another world. We see her learning from his embrace of ice cream and blood red flesh in the market, her curiosity to find if he will go for the Chrysanthemum Tea. There is such a lovey “third” coming to life between M and Toong-Ting, a flowering from the context that holds all things together.
Thank you Michael for this inspiring comment. The ‘flowering’ holds my attention. It arises sometimes with M getting the English language to do what she wants by means of pushing it into bendy-balloon shapes that somehow the elasticity of syntax allows, and I suddenly realize there’s a familiarity about it, a hybrid form of something I said the other day maybe or an interesting development of it. The ongoing discussion unravels meaning as things go along, thus we discover the context of what we are talking about…
I love this description, and it suggests you two stitching together snippets of the English language into a language all your own. Outsiders to what you two share may think they recognize the words, but there is simultaneously an organic, living meaning beyond the words coming into being in and of the two of you, and the words are subsumed into this context.
This is it, an organic living meaning contained in words cloned from an ancient artefact, cloaked in strangeness yet somehow reassuring, ‘…we have not come here to take prisoners or to confine our wondrous spirits, but to explore ever and ever more deeply our divine courage, freedom, and light.’[Hafiz] and thanks for the reference…
Lovely… and that doesn’t sound like one I’ve read. Did you get The Gift, or a different one?
They didn’t have it there, but now I’m in Chiang Mai there are few good Used Bookshops at Tha Pae, I think I’ll get it there. This version came up in a google search and found it in a nice site called Maori Healers