POSTCARD#93: Chiang Mai: Nine-o’clock-in-the-morning rush downtown in a tuktuk, traffic is okay, no hold-up at the lights, one large swerve to the right and it’s a long straight run to the mall building where I’m headed – have to pay a phone bill, overdue for four months and they disconnected me. Sorry about that… ah well, they probably figured I was out of the country, no problem, I’d be back eventually. Foreigners (farangs) mix with the population here like benign extraterrestrials, disappear sometimes then reappear later.
Tuktuk takes me right into the mall car park, jump out, pay the driver and there are steps straight down into the basement arcade. Ask the lady there at Information for directions to the phone place and set off in the direction she indicates… can’t find it, searching and searching, it’s not there. So I go into this other phone place and ask them if they know where the place I’m looking for is. Oh, they say, this is the place, you’re in it – yes, we changed the name, you see… laughter. Fine, okay, and I’m not sure if I’m happy, or a bit upset about it – what’s going on here? Have a quick look around; everybody wearing turquoise and lime green costumes to match the same colour-coordinated interior and huge logo above our heads. A total makeover, new look with pale pigmented, cosmetic faces of little women who smile all the time.
So this seems to be very welcoming, I give my number over at the desk and it takes a moment to realise I’m not talking to a woman but it’s a small man, not overtly feminized, but wearing orange lipstick and disconcerting dental brace — smiles open-mouthed and giggles… going for the orthodontic barbed-wire look. Some caution required here, these effeminate guys can be a bit bitchy, but he (she) is okay, self-effacing, small gestures, acting the part, making a thing out of not being able to speak English, and doesn’t hear when I reply in Thai. The upset feeling I was having is gone when I contemplate this example of the human condition. Compassion for what that must be like. The gist of it, though, is that they need to have my passport, and I didn’t bring it. There’s no way they can do this without a passport, sollee na kha (uses feminine gender honorific).
What to do? No point in getting upset, this is Thailand, nobody gets upset, if there’s any difficulty, it just goes into slo-mo and everybody is really, really careful… the tension in the air like a wine glass about to shatter when the violinist plays exactly the right high-pitched note in resonant frequency. And structural integrity gives way, POP!… but it doesn’t usually get that far – just prolonged holding. I can feel an accumulation of negativity – something unloved beginning to appear at the edge of my vision, gives me a poke in the ribs, Hey! Yeh, been here before; the aversion is about ‘me’ struggling to accept the reality of it being there. Accept it, allow it in to conscious awareness, let it be there… but I’m still struggling with it. It’s the thought I have to go back for my passport – but it’s about registration, that’s all, it’s normal, should be easy enough.
It’s somewhere around here that I realise I’m concocting this whole scenario based on an attached memory of things that aren’t very lovable – I can’t love that thing; unlovable, unloved. Kinda hopeless and childish, but I can have loving-kindness mettā for the feeling that I can’t do it; loving-kindness for my resistance to loving the unloved. Walk back along the corridor, up the steps and out across the car park, there’s a tuktuk. Tell the driver where to go and we’re speeding back up the way I came, slow down at the lights wide turn left and soon back at the apartment. Jump out, ask the driver to wait, into the building, up in the lift, in. Get the passport, down again and we’re off back downtown again, wide turn right after the lights, and a straight run back to the mall.
Back to the turquoise and lime green renovated place and by this time things have woken up a bit, more people, more staff than customers. The ‘person’ with the dental work and orange lipstick greets me like an old friend. We get the paperwork done in about a minute and I’m out. Texting everybody to say hello: Hi, yes I’m here in Chiang Mai and it’s good to be back.
‘By reminding ourselves to have metta for the feelings we experience – not thinking about them or analysing them but going to the place in the body itself, to the mental quality, really embracing that – really being willing to feel those particular emotions, they become bearable. By changing our attitude to one of acceptance rather than of rejection, to interest, rather than just wanting to get rid of them, we find that they are things we can tolerate. Then they cease on their own, for all conditions are impermanent.’ [‘Universal Loving Kindness‘ by Ajahn Sumedho, Forest Sangha Newsletter, October 1997, Number 42]
Acceptance and loving-kindness for the feeling that we can’t love the unloved…
of your capture
of each moment
brings the metta
for the feelings
to my door.
Thanks Marga, the universality of it is inspiring…
A beautiful discipline.
Thanks for this, there’s something paradoxical about it that catches the attention. Ajahn Sumedho has so much to say about the practice of mettā, loving-kindness…
Having loving kindness for the unkind feeling — you put it so well, especially about the tension building. You don’t have to be in Thailand to experience that. Thanks.
Thanks Ed, yes there’s a universality about this. The automatic thing is to act on the tension and there’s not much by way of real practical steps in our education system that’ll guide us towards a clear balanced way of seeing the world. It’s all about reacting to the things we dislike, or like, or want or feel we deserve because we have endured so much in the longing for… all kinds of stuff to do with consumerism. But it doesn’t have to be like this, the Buddha’s 3rd Noble Truth…
There are exceptions.
And when you find yourself in a crowd of people all wearing shirts of the same colour you might be about to encounter one.
At least the ‘turquoise shirts’ seem a placid bunch.
More seriously, my experience is that Thais almost never lose it, but when they do they often lose it big time.
I know exactly what you mean, safety valve on the pressure cooker is blocked… the tension I see on their faces is an awareness that this could happen – a kind of natural disaster
Not a practitioner of Buddhism, I try to apply Buddhist-like concepts to my armchair zen. Forgiveness is a key. Loving-kindness is another key, and sometimes intertwined with forgiveness. I’m working toward a place where I can not only love the unlovable, but forgive the unforgiveable. I’m not quite to this point where I can say with truth that I feel forgiveness, at the least, if not loving-kindness, towards the greatest evils in the world. Milosevic, Vlad the Impaler, Hitler.
When I feel at peace with these forgivings, I will know complete non-judgement.
Be at peace,
Thanks Pazlo, yes, forgiveness is a difficult one… compassion is a more immediate possibility. I find it helps to consider the Buddha’s teaching on Suffering (dukkha), we are all caught in wanting things to be different than what they are. It’s the human condition. The desire for power or control over the perceived random waywardness of life itself is a fundamental aspect of suffering. To some extent I can understand why these ‘unforgivable’ persons in history believed what we’re doing was right, even though it was obviously wrong.