POSTCARD #206: CHIANG MAI: Sitting in a taxi stuck at the red light in Nimmanhaemin, Chiang Mai town. The nearness to Southern China is obvious these days with the occasional Chinese number plate seen in Thai traffic and streets full of Chinese tourists, women in curious long white costumes and wide brimmed hats in the tremendous luminosity of sunshine. The border is do-able now the roads have improved; road 3Asia (R3A), part of the GMS North-South Economic Corridor. The total distance is 350 miles from Chiang Rai across the Mekong River into Laos, then on to the border town of Boten, and China’s Yunnan Region at Mohan.
I’d prefer it to be darknight, but instead it’s brightday, step outside and it feels like I’m in a television studio. Inside the car, cold air blasting through our enclosed metal bubble; this could be an ice-cream headache… then I remember this one is the one that’s always with me, ‘my’ headache is part of my life; ‘my’ arm, ‘my’ leg. Part of everything and right now, undeniably out there too, exposed in high resolution Photoshop enhancement. Light penetrates everything; the orange color of papaya fruit blinds me, street vendors’ cut pineapple painfully vivid. I feel I’m really a nocturnal owl-like creature, squinting in the daylight through slit eyes; a quiet presence behind sunglasses vibhava tanha, (buddhist term for the desire to not exist)… I am not here.
I’ve been away for only 2 weeks and now I’m back, all recollection of where I went and what I did when I was away are suddenly gone. There’s this feeling it never happened, I’ve been here all the time, only imagined I went. Somebody asks: where did you go? I went to Delhi, North India 2,300 miles away. Sixty-eight hours driving time on NH 28 through Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan and India to Delhi… but I went by plane of course, so fast, and it’s as if I went there in my mind, gone from here for only a moment. A pause in mid sentence in the timeless ever-present…
My niece M, aged 12, is taller since I saw her 2 weeks ago; taller, longer and elongating as we speak, like a plant in the darkness searching for the light, sprawled on the back seat in an adolescent bundle of legs and arms, wearing a diver’s watch, colorful T-shirt; long black hair curtains a small oriental face, sometimes seen, when adjusting the thread of earphones cable, then disappears again. Sorry, she’s unavailable at the moment, plugged into the tablet device and YouTube videos while checking for messages at the same time on her phone device. Questions addressed to her remain unanswered.
It’s all one extended ever-present time, no seasons, nothing to say where we are in the year. Summer every day. Night comes at 6pm, instant darkness, then at 6am, instant daylight and each day is like the one before, and it all runs together, days become weeks, weeks become months, months become years. The whole thing is just one very long, continuous day.
Time disappears, I’m startled to discover I’m now an old person – lifetime is running out. Rip Van Winkle fell asleep and woke up with a very long beard. He discovers fifty years have passed since he fell asleep; people have died, his daughter is middle-aged, her children are grown up. There’s an awakening to this reality, unasked-for, it just falls into place…
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Yes, how did it happen that we got old. Some days years ago seemed interminable meanwhile years flew by. I think time goes even faster when you flyaround a lot. My must be quite beautiful now. Take care, Ellen
Good question, I don’t know, can’t remember. It’s like a dream the interminable days and years flew by it seems and one day I woke up as an old guy, still reasonably fit but slow instead of quick. And all these flights end to end make up not just one journey but a kind of buzzing around like bees; a state in itself. Altogether it looks good from here, how is it with you?
That was supposed to be “M must be quite beautiful now”– sorry. My phone adds letters and doesn’t like the worder I choose. Seriously?
I don’t understand time. Nor age. My best friend is 20 years younger than I am. Some kind of time warp. She is an old soul.
I have a migraine but it is not bad yet. Tomorrow I take Tom to a pulmonary guy. We went to an Urgent Care Center and it was impressive until I looked up the medicines and found out two together have a bad interaction. He didn’t take them and I called and got another antibiotic. I am happy because he seems a little better. The coughing so scares me. It is a deep, gurgling Tomorrow will be a new office. We may well be the only white people. Like you. The doctor is Arab. Glad you sound in good spirits. So am I.
Yes, sometimes I look at M and for a moment I’m speechless. She was here last night with her school friend, busy with talk and laughter. We have to be careful she just becomes who she is and will be. At the moment fairy-like… timeless. It’s a classical thing, old people and beautiful children, while those aged in between, the middle group carry the burden of making our world fit and be as we like it.
Sorry to hear about migraine, I know you usually disappear for a few days at this time. I imagine drawing the curtains and day becomes night, comfort foods, TV channels of the natural world, animals, history. Then you emerge. Except of course you need to take care of your T now, and see that he has the correct medicine for the cough. Pneumonia is a serious thing at this age. And all the good and effective service people and doctors caring for people are from the Southern world. We don’t seem to do it so well in this age.
Well, I don’t disappear. Can’t, and certainly not tomorrow. The Urgent Care Center seemed so impressive until I came home and looked up all the meds he was given. All western medicines have such bad side effects. One was actually carcinogenic!! They did do a chest x-ray and said no pneumonia but I want our Arab guy’s opinion. They said it’s bronchitis. We’ll see what he says. Still that’s bad for T. His mother died of a cold that progressed so badly, she died in three weeks. This is why I get so terrified when he gets a cold.
It must be bittersweet with you and M.
Take care. Now back to a Bollywood movie.
Ah yes, Bollywood. I forgot it’s your passion. There’s something definitely feminine about India. All kinds of examples but caring for people like a mother and a huge population. Medicines are so cheap in India; they have their own version of everything you buy in the West, some cost so little, a few pennies. Even the expensive drugs like the ones I take are less than half the price, maybe a quarter of the amount I pay in European countries. Same with hospital outpatient services. They embrace alternative medicine, separate departments for homeopathy etc. So there’s no hard sell on pharmaceuticals, and I hope your Arab doctor is able to see the wood from the trees and prescribe something suitable.
Yes, bittersweet to see M coming to ‘be’ someone…
Life did seem to pass by so quickly. The Rip Van Winkle story has a new perspective. Reading as a child it was a fairytale. Today it has its own reality. Your niece is the same age as my granddaughter 12. They are in their own world and we are no longer interesting.
Yes, the Rip Van Winkle story to me today is about the waking-up, and when I was a boy it was about the falling-asleep. And my relationship with M is as if I were a grandfather, sometimes she speaks with me like she did when she was little and she likes that, I think but mostly busy with social networking on phones, tablet computers and I’ve seen her do it on all three devices at the same time. I suppose most kids her age have these kinds of skills. She fixes all our devices, knows much more than I do…