POSTCARD#69: Chiang Mai: Tuktuk gets stuck in traffic, comes to a stop, driver brakes and switches off. The large sound of the 2-stroke engine is gone with the flick of a switch. Suddenly it’s quiet, only metallic creaks and random traffic noises. The outside world enters my space – inner merged with outer – no walls, just a canvas roof supported by metal poles bolted to an engine with wheels and a seat. It’s like camping when we were kids, inside a tent, domestic activities in the open-air. Gentle winds blowing through, reflected heat from other vehicles and the slightly surprising presence of tarmac. City infrastructure – experiencing it for the first time… the world has always been here, I’ve just been busy with the concept of it and didn’t notice.
I hear my phone and search for it in the bag… listening, but it’s not mine, ringtone is totally different. It’s that kind of high frequency awareness I seem to have these days, the melody playing in the sound of air-conditioners, ceiling-fans and anything that whistles and sings. Then I hear this single word, ‘hello?’ coming from somewhere behind me in the column of stationary traffic. I turn to see; it’s a girl sitting on the back of a motorbike, holding a phone to her ear. A conversation begins, quite loud, but I can’t make sense of what she’s saying – not that I’d want to… anyway she’s speaking in Thai, which is difficult enough and also, I notice, she’s eating an ice-cream cone at the same time: “wah ee ah in ai-eem ah” no words, it seems, just incoherent mumbling. So, well I’m vaguely curious about this, thinking how can she expect anybody to know what she’s talking about with a mouthful of ice-cream going at the same time? Her boyfriend (driver of the motorbike) says something to her, and he’s eating an ice-cream too: “oo ap ai ao a-lai ab?” mouth open trying to let the coldness out. Coping with a large bite of ice-cream, he speaks with lips protruding in a singsong, bird-like way, all-vowel articulation – a kind of breathy thing. She replies, and it amazes me… they can understand each other perfectly well.
It’s like the mating dialogue of exotic animals in National Geographic. I listen and realise I can also understand some of what they’re saying (see below). No consonants in Thai, no sharp sounds like /s/ /sh/ /ch/ /t/ /d/ /k/ that require lip, teeth and tongue coordination and thus difficult (impossible) to articulate without an explosion of strawberry vanilla ice-cream from the mouth. The Thai language doesn’t have that problem; it’s mostly vowels, like an arrangement of melodic intervals, five tones: rising, falling, high, low and middle. Listen for the tones and you can always understand what’s being said (if you’re Thai). Words are not spoken, they’re sung. Thai is a tune played on the acoustic wind instrument that is the human vocal tract.
Tuktuk driver (a lady) keys the ignition; other engines start up like the clearing of throats. Gears engage and there’s movement in the column of cars, a kind of careful jostling for space as everybody gets ready to go. Things start to speed up, we’re all moving as one, then spaces open in the traffic. At some point, the motorbike roars up behind me and overtakes – girl on the back, speaking on the phone again, boyfriend in front with ice-cream cone held in his teeth, gives throttle to the machine and they accelerate away…
‘All we know of a thought is the experience of thinking, all we know of a sensation is the experience of sensing, all we know of a sight is the experiencing of seeing, all we know of a sound is the experience of hearing…. And all that is known of thinking, sensing, seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling is the knowing of them. And what is it that knows this knowing? Only something that itself has the capacity to know could know anything. So it is knowing that knows knowing.’ [Rupert Spira]
Your description of the moment, of the now, of the present, while being present makes us present, engages us and sweeps us into your world with its sights and sounds and smells. It is a gift you have. Along with a wonderful writing style. I think all of these little windows into the present would make a splendid book. Seriously.
Thank you for these kind words and your observation that the posts are little windows into the present, which create the ‘present’ for readers. I had thought of ‘footsteps’ but the idea of windows is better. I’ve been thinking about putting them together as a book about the moment-by-moment experience of conscious awareness… but what kind of book could it be? I’m thinking about this often, not getting anywhere with it. Can I ask if you have any suggestions?
Oh, I don’t know my book genres well enough to say what kind of book it would be called but I know I read anything in the style in which you write and whatever form it is called, voraciously. I love this type of writing. “Be Here Now” comes to mind. You could use “footsteps” or “windows” to the present or why not what you call them already, “Postcards from the Present,” or “Postcards from the Now” or “Dhamma Diary”– you get the idea. I definitely think there is a market for this type of book. You could self-publish. I did. I think it cost me about $100 and I did it through Amazon kindle and Smashwords and iBooks. I can refer you to someone for formatting and cover design if you need help with that. I didn’t know enough to be able to do it myself. Think about it. It is already written– you just need to compile the pieces.
Thanks for the suggestions and I feel some motivation now to go ahead and do something about it. I was thinking that it’s also a good idea to get it all into a book because it’s a way of archiving the posts in another format should WordPress ever disappear at some distant future time. I like the idea of a title using “Postcards from…” Reminds me, there used to be a radio program titled Postcards From Hollywood. I’ll get back to you about getting it done through Amazon kindle, Smashwords and iBooks. I see there’s an iBook series of themes (same as WordPress) that gives you a good-looking layout but it’s only available in iBooks I think. Otherwise the ebook formatting is limited to text with centrally placed images. I was thinking of something a bit more graphic and arty to look at, in the meantime I’m going through and selecting posts and doing some edits. Thanks again for the suggestions…
I, too, am thinking of compiling photos, poems and essays but am daunted by the prospect. The book I did was all prose– don’t know how best to do photos. Let’s keep each other posted. Glad you are motivated to do it– I think your book would be great. Don’t know about iBooks themes or layout but I easily posted my book on iBooks– how, I can’t remember. Good luck!!
So, help me out with this one: man eats ice cream while driving a motorcycle! Woman talks on phone, and to man, while eating an ice cream while cleverly remaining attached to motorcycle during sudden bursts of acceleration! And in front of them a repatriated Buddhist Scotsman observes impassively, reflecting on the melodious nature of their garbled language. This is beautiful… It strikes me that the enabling factor in this whole ensemble is the thick traffic. You wouldn’t really clench an ice cream cone with your teeth and pop the clutch to take off if you didn’t trust a standstill was about half a minute off. Without traffice, everyone just shoots through space uninterrupted. No slowing down to relate, to observe, to witness, to know… Ahh, the blessings of traffic… Of observation and lovely writing… 🙂
Thanks, yes it all takes place in the context of thick traffic. Standstill every half minute because the traffic lights are set to allow traffic through at 15 second intervals. The story of it is as described in the post except that I had to cut the bit that happened before this; the girl jumps off the motorbike to buy the ice-creams from a travelling ice-cream salesman on a three-wheeled motorised vehicle with tinkling bell to get attention and colourful parasol attached, who was also stuck in the traffic. He just happened to be there, but there are also traders who walk through among the cars and you can buy bottled water, dried fruits, a newspaper, all kinds of things. I should write a post about that. Anyway, here in Thailand it’s really not too bad, as traffic jams go…
Sounds like you could move in. Design a sleeping car that has computer controls to keep it a fixed distance from the object in front of it, and just circle the grid on autopilot. Talk on your smart phone. Make some friends. Have some ice cream. Read the paper. Play some tunes. Rent free… 🙂