a house in the trees

washing line

POSTCARD#95: Fifty miles from Hat Yai: Exotic birdsong from the forest, it’s early morning and I’m hanging out the laundry on a washing line tied between trees… dogs bark, chickens scatter. Heavy rain all through the night but the days are usually bright and sunny. Then back in the house and there’s time to find an unoccupied bathroom. The house is crowded because today there’s a wedding; some people still sleeping, others preparing costumes, looking in mirrors. Everybody hoping it won’t rain… fragility of perfected hair styles, lacy gold costumes, and eye-liner painted like a work of art.

In a room upstairs I find M, my Thai niece, putting on makeup using the iPad screen, switched to front camera, a mirror-image unreversed… can this be what we really look like? And I’m thinking, do we have to have the mascara? She’s only 10 years old, spinning her head around like this, trying to see herself from the side. Wearing the face that’s seen by others, the glassy-eyed gaze that looked-at eyes have. It’s been four months since I’ve seen M and now here she is as a miniature adult, but still a child. She puts a piece of tissue in her mouth and holds it there: too mush lip sticks… English is a second language, I want to say it’s a non-countable noun, like air, it’s a mass noun – there’s only one lipstick in the world. But I don’t say that because it’s boring and she’d think I was starting a conversation about cosmetics.

garlandLet her get on with it, it’s a girl thing; I have to prepare myself too for the main event of the day. Not difficult, ironed shirt, combed hair, shoed, socked and I’m done; the only Caucasian in a guest list of more than one thousand, all of whom are all related in some way, including a local politician who goes around smiling at people. This is M’s family on the maternal side – on the paternal side she’s Taiwanese/ Japanese… same old sad story about an absentee father. Everyone here is curious about her, they’re all of a oneness, share the same ancestral pathways – they even look like each other. They believe in all of this, a deep familiarity with the clan. The familial matrix, if there’s a question about the lineage, it’s addressed by an elder who can remember who was who in the old days, and the received knowledge. But most of them are shy to delve into it, just watch, observe, depend on each other for confirmation, looking at each other often, trying to see the familiarities – there is no individual ‘self, everything I see is ‘me’.

We’re all standing at the door, ready for the 7.30 am pickup of a multitude of people, and just as the minibuses start to arrive, M comes downstairs dressed in Thai costume. There’s a kind of collective gasp, she looks like a mystical being from the Deva realms. She carries it well, knows there’s something about her that holds the attention of the local people. Yet, this is her heritage, following the lineage of the old families. She tugs at my arm, pulls me down so she can whisper in my ear: can I borrow the iPad, Toong Ting? (it’s her name for me) A little uneasy about the naïve stares of these ordinary rural folk, and glad that I’m a bit of an oddity here too, so some of the staring will be deflected on to me. We agree that she can do her iPad activity as soon as I’ve taken all the photos of the wedding procession and I keep talking with her so she can be seen to be engaged with what I’m saying and that seems proper – quick sideways glance dodging between the eyebeams focussed on her, just to see who else is here, then back into her pose of averted gaze.  We are in the first minibus, get in the front seat behind the driver, and the whole convoy moves off, following the musicians…
[to be continued]

“Every one of us is an aperture through which the whole cosmos looks out.” [Alan Watts]


Lower photo shows reflection of M in the rear-view mirror as the minibus follows the musicians in the pickup truck, leading the procession

18 thoughts on “a house in the trees

  1. We agree that she can do her iPad activity


    When I was a kid I always wanted to escape the adults. Especially at family events.
    My virtual world escape routes were usually between paperback covers.

    Neuroquack, Susan Greenfield, says escaping grown-ups through a computer screen will permanently mess up a kid’s head.
    That’s what they said about the books I read too.
    Maybe they were right.
    Maybe ‘neuroplasticity’ is just life messing with your head.

    • Minecraft, yes, she’s really good at it, creative skill, could be that ‘life messing with your head’ is the desired state. She also studies Chinese, English, Thai dance and piano – like most kids, does everything with intensity

  2. Liked so much being there thanks to your painting the scene for our eyes… M looks beautiful if that is she in the mirror. Hope you are having a good time and glad M is back in the posts. Namaste, Ellen

    • Thanks, that’s M reflected in the mirror, yes. I didn’t notice it at first, busy taking the photos. On that day she had presence. There’s an intelligent alertness about her most of the time but this was, in a sense, a formal costumed cultural event and she carried it well… brought the here-and-now into a historical event and also the other way round

    • Thanks Bert, it’s a house near the Malaysian border, in an old rubber plantation, mature rubber trees and old coconut palms, very tall. At the edge of the cultivated piece where the house stands it’s a natural forested area. Some wild animals they say, no clear road through…

      • Reminds me of something I can’t quite identify; there’s this mysterious quality about words… they seem to have a life of their own. If the circumstances are right and the context is inclusive, meanings arise of their own accord.

      • I like this interesting idea of the hologram in your poem; we are living in a completely convincing illusion. It fits well with the Buddhist teaching on no self. For some people, no-self is a bit extreme, but even taking on the thought that it might be possible, that most things just run on automatic, means we can lighten up, let go of the controlling tendency and let everything find it’s own place…

      • I feel disconnected from my life. Yet at peace with myself and I’m trying to understand it. But what you’re saying letting go and let everything find its own place seems natural to me today.

      • This is it, the natural way of simply noticing it’s like this… this is how it works, watching it as it goes along and not trying to control it

  3. I enjoyed your description of the extended family, particularly these lines: “But most of them are shy to delve into it, just watch, observe, depend on each other for confirmation, looking at each other often, trying to see the familiarities – there is no individual ‘self, everything I see is ‘me’.” I think, in part, it is because I wonder about the extension of this ‘depending on each other for confirmation’ beyond the boundaries of hereditary relationships. Does it extend into the broader world? Does it cross class, political, or racial divisions? It seems that, in a very deep way, we do hold one another in being in some way, like it takes all of us for there to be any of us… But I don’t always note that this generosity of spirit crosses such divisions, and see those arbitrary restrictions on this type of “seeing” as a contributing cause to tension, conflict and suffering.

    Everywhere we look, there is something necessary at work, an essential and revelatory coefficient of the singular equation containing all of who “I am”…

    There is only lipstick, conveyed and dispensed via a multitude of lipsticks.


    • Thanks for the question. Sorry for the delay in reply, M is playing with the new iPad all the time and I can only use it when she’s busy with something else.

      Thai society has the characteristic social layering that carries with it a mutuality of trust and respect. It’s this that allows the quality of ‘generosity of spirit’ we’re discussing here, to extend beyond the boundaries of hereditary relationships. So it works within this particular cultural context. You could say it does cross class, and political divisions. It doesn’t extend into the broader world because social behavior outsuide Thailand is unknown.

      My feeling is there’s nothing to compare with the mutuality of trust and respect found in Thai behavior although I noticed something like it during the 3 years I spent in Japan. Japanese people don’t normally go beyond the known behavioral codes which are layered in a similar way, and have the same kind of mutuality.

      That’s the extent of my experience. I imagine this sort of social behavior exists in ethnic/tribal communities and would have been present in pre-modern societies too. The Thai and Japanese examples are also from the old world – whatever evolves from the racial/cultural mix we have in the West would have to have the same kind of mutuality of trust and respect.

      I like what you’re saying about how ‘we hold one another in being in some way’, and ‘it takes all of us for there to be any of us’. There are barriers but these and any other obstructions need to be included too, in some way, and an overall accepting attitude needs to be encouraged.

      One thing we can be sure of is the human experience is the same for everyone in the world, as in the lipstick example we’re fooling around with here: ‘There is only lipstick, conveyed and dispensed via a multitude of lipsticks.’ 🙂

  4. Pingback: transit | dhamma footsteps

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