POSTCARD #158: Chiang Mai: The tuk-tuk driver outside the Shangri-La Hotel charges me too much – he thinks I’m tourist staying at the hotel but I’m not, I’m visiting the tailor in the lobby. So I agree to the tuk-tuk price, not overly concerned, and he starts up the 2-stroke engine; key-turn ignition, a few revs of the throttle and I climb in. He edges out into the road, and in a flash of passing vehicles makes a fortuitous U-turn in fast-moving traffic so suddenly it takes a moment to see we’re facing the opposite direction, speeding away in a swirl of noise, vibration and acceleration. The outside world invades my space, rushes through a hot wind, no walls, no windows, no glass, except the driver’s windscreen up front and for a moment I’m drawn to that. But the accelerating jolts as he overtakes vehicles in front throws me back into a kind of La-Z-Boy sprawl across the double seat where it’s more comfortable, holding on to my possessions in case they get blown away in the gusts of air. And, at least, this way I can see out, under the overhanging flaps of the stretched canvas roof, blowing in the wind.
Everywhere you go in central Chiang Mai the old canal is on your right side. It forms a square, and to go from south to north the one-way traffic has to go round three sides of the square. Water fountains, huge ancient trees and the remains of a 700 year-old wall that encloses the old city inside the square. It all looks the same, all these journeys connected end-to-end, thinking of it as a repeat pattern, the total itinerary, past lives spent here and there, divided and subdivided into periods and instants of looking out at the world flying by thinking: ‘where are we now?’ But not recognising anything and in the blink of an eye back to being busy with thinking. Everything fits together, including my perception of it – the way it unfolds is the way it is.
The tuk-tuk stops at the traffic light and driver switches off the engine to save gas. All of a sudden it’s quiet; the tick-tick and creak of hot metal, smell of tarmac. Here I am in this laid-back position as if lounging in a fifteenth century market stall waiting for customers. Bamboo poles and the roof is thatch, enclosing the space I’m in; contained in the greater space all around. People walking by the wall, fifteenth century bricks sagging and curved like a slow moving wave that’s formed with the gradual sinking of foundations.
Same ‘now’ as it was then; seven hundred years in the past, it wasn’t any different for the people who lived then, returning, as I do, to this same reference point; ‘me’ the human being, eyes looking out ‘there’ at the world. All that remains is the emptiness of the moment; the sound of the engine, the vibration and the pressure of the bench I’m sitting on. There’s skin, hair; there are arms, legs, a head and eyes, ears, nose and tongue. I am a sensory-receptive organism. Just the warm air in my face and things rushing by.
‘… impossible to be aware of an experiencer because it is always the experience itself that momentarily occupies that space.’ [Alan Watts, ‘The Wisdom of Insecurity’]