the unexpected thing

IMG_1043bird1POSTCARD#70: Chiang Mai/Delhi flight: The journey from Chiang Mai to Delhi unfolds as a sequence of corridors within corridors, connected end-to-end with moving walkways, security points, departure areas and flight gates. Before that happened there was the sad goodbye scene with little M at Chiang Mai airport drop-off point. It was like I’d already gone – she was stuck in silence, looking at me with these deep eyes, holding mindfulness of this moment as a child does. And the question: how could this be happening? Not coming back for four months? A long time if you’re only 10 years old. Then I’m waving bye-bye, her car accelerating away and M waving back to me through the window, small windscreen-wiper movement of the palm: bye-bye Toong-Ting, and she disappears round the corner. I turn towards the queue at the security gate and the journey begins.

Here in the bardo of the in-between; 1 hour from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, a short transit there, and 4½ hours to Delhi. Not far, but we have all the processing to go through. Three, maybe four X-ray machines; take off belt, remove shoes, go through, get dressed again. Then the immigration zone, show passport, scan everything, and stamp passport thump! I am who I say I am… look at the photo – yep, that’s me. Out into an area of duty free shops the size of a small town; gold watches, cosmetics and leather bags. Follow the signage, stop at the same coffee shop I was in last time, and the unexpected thing occurs: a small bird flutters by, perches on a glass wall. Small head swivels around, lost the way out, or maybe doesn’t know there’s any reality other than this; hatched in a nest in the roof structure… this is a world of metal trees. I take a photo and it flies away. Down to the flight gate, more waiting before we’re allowed through the walkway into the aircraft, and I can find my seat – the whole point of the exercise. Squeeze into the allotted space, chair moulded to fit the human body. Fasten seat belt, take off… these are the days of miracles and wonder. Look out at the sky, clouds, and the surface of the planet. I am a tiny speck of life, a microscopic cell in a universe so vast I cannot understand the totality of it and live in a world of concepts.

They serve the meal then shades are drawn and we watch the movie. Stewardesses appear in the darkness with drinks then disappear like the kuroko in Japanese Kabuki dressed in black, appear on stage like shadows, change stage scenery in the middle of the performance and disappear. I think of M and remember finding her one day in the shadows of a late afternoon turned into early evening having forgotten to put the lights on as it started to get dark. Face illuminated in the bright light of the smartphone display, a mesmerised 10 year-old sitting there for hours, didn’t hear me when I came in. Didn’t look up when I sat next to her, the reflected digital display making colours flicker on her small face. That’s probably what she’s doing now…

The plane arrives in Delhi, through the airport formalities and out into the immense heat. I get to the house, and looking around to see what’s changed in the three months I’ve been away… then the unexpected thing occurs, I see the shadow of a bird perched on the fencing, take a photo and it flies away….


“Advaita (nonduality) does not mean “one” in the sense of eliminating all differences. The differences are present in the one in a mysterious way. They are not separated anymore, and yet they are there.” [Bede Griffiths (1997)]


Upper photo: the bird in Bangkok airport. Lower photo: the bird in my back yard in Delhi.
Note: Kuroko reference from: The Ptero Card
– G  R  A  T  I  T  U  D  E  –

19 thoughts on “the unexpected thing

  1. I love reading your travelogue. Nuts and bolts from faraway places. Lovely reference to Paul Simon’s Boy in the Bubble too! Thanks for the pingback.

    • Thanks, yes the nuts and bolts of it, just carefully noticing things – also the half-seen things, aware of a lack of presence… the invisibility of the karuko in Japanese Kabuki, you mention. Another line from the Paul Simon song goes something like: an affinity with millionares and billionares. That sense of hidden power that you get in modern airports.

  2. Love reading your adventures, as you now must know. Synchronicity with the two birds. A sign of some sort. Can’t wait to read your posts about India– a place dear to my soul though I have never been there… Poor M. Four months can be forever.

    • Maybe I wouldn’t have noticed the shadow of the second bird if I hadn’t seen the first, but what does that mean? It still could be a sign of some sort. I like to think of it as the presence of M in my life for the last three months… sweet! Now here in Delhi it’s hot like an oven, sand and dust storms – a different world. Thanks for commenting, it means a lot to me.

  3. Children are our teachers. My eyes filled with tears at the immensity of 4 mos for a 10 year old and for you, too.

    • This is it exactly, we don’t think of these things until the child’s reacts to it in a completely natural way – a really sad event. This is what it actually means, overlooked in the adult ‘complexity’. Thanks for dropping in…

  4. Great writing, emotional, true, bright with the images painted in my mind. Love the Paul Simon quote, and the secondary mention ‘billionaires and millionaires’ in the comments. Shiny shiny post, thank you! Namaste

    • Good to hear from you again Liz. Had another listen to the Paul Simon song, amazing to think it was written in 1985 – reaching out from the past like this. It’s like being able to step back and suddenly see how the world actually works, what’s really happening. Copied the words of one section: ‘… staccato signals of constant information, a loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires. These are the days of miracle and wonder, this is a long distance call…’

      • yup, these are the days of miracle and wonder has such a great resonance, we are playing the Paul Simon Anthology a lot at the moment. Quite amazing how it has lasted. I always love your posts, uplifting and grounding at the some time. Sorry I don’t get round to commenting often enough!Take care, Liz

  5. I loved your description of the bird in the airport, raised in a stand of metal trees. You see birds in airports and shopping malls. I remember seeing them deep in the underground labyrinth of Penn Station in New York City. How do they get in there? Maybe they adapt, as you say. Maybe it’s what they know. I was sad like the others here to learn of your long hiatus from M, but I suppose this is where technology helps maintain the link. Some video calls perhaps, to fill the gap between Chiang Mai and Delhi, a gap between hearts that is paper thin…


    • It’s possible other animals will migrate to these shopping mall havens and adapt to the fake surroundings, like the birds hatched in a nest in a stand of metal trees, built from woven drinking straws, serviettes and scraps of cash till receipts. Maybe it fits in this kind of artificial environment, “constructed reality” of glass, steel and plastic foliage falling from stylized pillars made from polystyrene, surfaced with a resin that looks like marble. A thing of the future and I think of how the world will be when M comes to be my age…
      We communicate through social media, a word or two nearly every day. Video calls sometimes but they’re not “real”, a kind of a funny thing to do for a while, gets boring and sadly I’m looking at her face as she’s watching something on youtube, forgetting to keep up the conversation.

      • Yes, there is something about setting aside “time for a video call” that takes it out of the natural flow of the day-to-day and marks it down on a map, can even make it akin to a chore. So different from a conversation that rides along the surface of life’s movements as a commentary on what arises…


      • This is it, improvising from a script, basic guidelines on what to do and say, then from there everything is invented. Yes that’s how M rides along the surface… what’s good about talking to a screen showing a portrait of a person with lip movements? If anything it’s a bit sad – the emptiness of it. Sometimes she engages with the dialogue, other times attention wanders and I’m left looking at her empty chair while she’s busy somewhere else in the room. Gradually coming to accept, sadly, the M chapter is closed for the next 4 months…

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