POSTCARD #198: THAILAND: In only a few days we’ve been to Bangkok, Hua Hin, and Chiang Mai , where I am now, alone with my headache that’s always here requiring attention, so I can’t do much else. Looking through the photos taken by my Thai niece M that come to my computer through our shared network. Images of the beach that carried so much meaning at the time, seem commonplace now… sadly not interesting anymore. It’s the experience of the moment; that great rush to take a photo, to capture that elusive quality of the moment. Later we see it as a record of the event, and the actual subject matter we were attracted to is caught in too wide a lens, overwhelmed in a landscape of other things.
Reminds me of the time I had to meet the Air France flight, arriving Bangkok 06.15 hrs. I got there in time, but the flight was delayed by one hour so there was time to sit in the seats at the tour group end of Arrivals, near Gate 10 and have a cup of coffee. Gate 10 is a lonely place where diplomatic vehicles park and tour groups gather, bleary-eyed and sleepless, having just got off the plane from some distant part of the world. The people around me were speaking Russian and I could see from the Arrivals board it must be the flight from Novobirisk. I googled the name on my phone and found that Novobirisk is a large industrial city in Asian Russia.
So I start to watch these Russians who are caucasians, like Europeans, and look like they’ve probably never left the area around their home in a lifetime. Stepped out of a time warp. They gather around their Thai tour-guide and have their names ticked off the list. Half an hour is allowed to have a cup of coffee; children run around, go to the toilets most of them are getting ready to get on the coach. Those who arrived first are now busy taking photos with old fashioned digital cameras, intensely absorbing everything around them. Taking photos with arms around the tour guides and taking pictures of everything; roof structure, walls, illuminated adverts, airport signage. Photos of each other posing in front of vases of purple orchids, dressed up in their best summer frocks and smiling for the camera. It’s as if they’ve emerged from black and white, greying photos of the 1950s, remote from anything I know of and yet there’s a familiarity; they could be people I knew in my childhood in the North of Scotland.
There are so many photos being taken, it’s like a small press event; digital camera lights flashing like strobe lights in a disco. I’m dazzled by it, blinded for a moment and have to look at the floor to allow normal vision to recover. Look up again and they’re leaving, the whole place captured in pixels and taken away back to Novobirsk, at the end of the holiday, where all the views of it are reassembled to form one composite image of the waiting area at Gate 10. ‘… and here is Aleksandra and Nikolai at Bangkok airport don’t they look so bright and lively?’
The tour leader has everyone present and accounted for and shouted commands gathers them together. Off they go, cameras flashing and blue lights twinkling at everything, on through the wide passageways and happily shuffling along with their luggage and running children. The mass exodus of the group is dynamic, all following the leader in front who’s holding a coloured flag high in the air so they can see it, moving as one great lake of beings in the direction of the coaches somewhere in another part of the airport.
And it’s suddenly quiet here at Gate 10, all the seats are empty and I still have time to wait for the Air France flight. This high-ceilinged place looks different, light slowly coming up and suddenly it’s daylight same as it always is. People again start to assemble in the seating area again; trickling in like water fills a pool. I see from the arrivals board It’s a group from Beijing, same as last time but the conversations are in Chinese.
In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so with present time. [Leonardo da Vinci]
I have often noticed and wondered about the way space “comes alive” with what it contains. The Russian tourists. Their energy and curiosity. The space is seeming something altogether different. Then it is empty, and it is simply as it has always been. Just what it is. Not Russian. Not Chinese. Not even Thai in a way, because of so many faces it wears in the day. It sounds to me like the mind. The ebb and flow of attention and mood. And then a moment of emptiness.
Beautiful writing as always, T.
Somebody said once, the mind is like a hotel lobby, people are there to check in, check out and various events take place in the lobby 24/7. The lobby itself is what it is, a space contained by walls, a ceiling and a floor. I like the idea that it has no specific identity because of the many faces it wears in a day. I spend so much of my time in airports, on the way to and coming away from; the travel experience, and this is thought to be the largest network in the world. I’m amazed by the gigantic scale of it – expressed well by Pico Iyer, ‘The Global Soul.’