POSTCARD #208: CHIANG MAI: Before my Thai niece M runs out the door to spend the day with her friends, she comes over to where I’m sitting and says: Toong Ting? I am going now. Bye bye! And she’s gone. I sit there for a while being Toong Ting, her pet name for me, part of her baby talk that remains because it’s thought to be cute when applied in a grandfatherly way. I feel like I don’t deserve it… the Judeo-Christian sense of guilt that doesn’t fit in this Buddhist country (I need to remind myself always). M is courteous and respectful as she’s been taught, a learned thing which reinforces the natural world-view children have. But I wonder if I’m worthy of it – am I simply taking advantage of people’s natural desire to believe in, to trust?
More than thirty years of living with other people’s preferences, adopting them as my own… how it is for the migrant in his/her host country. North Americans must have a deep familiarity with this. There’s a slight doubt that enters sometimes, it’s as if everything that’s done or said is a form of compliance, has the quality of procurement – how can I be as committed to being here as everyone else is when I know I could get on a plane any time and disappear? Moving from one ‘safe house’ to the next, the leave-taking between is sudden and children may forget me completely, or think about it for a lifetime and never understand why I went away. It’s something unknown, unthought in the Thai world. They’re so kind here. I feel I don’t deserve it.
The silence of the room comes as a surprise, birdsong in the trees opposite the window, and I wake up from this prolonged moment in search of the memory of who I am. The same as it always is; I’ve arrived here by the same route I’m accustomed to when reviewing the image of who I want to be and who I think I am. It happens in a tiny fraction of a second, so fast it feels like the process of trying to figure it out is in slow motion.
Objects scattered on the desk in the position they were in, unmoved, a pen, papers – a cup with a curious handle that appears to stick out further and wider than it should, waiting for my fingers to come and hold it… I’d be that person I think I am if I were to I reach for the cup. Alice in Wonderland, Drink Me says the label on the bottle… but I don’t and it doesn’t happen. Everything on the desk and the sofa and the floor remains as a quiet presence of M, these are her unclaimed, unidentified objects that come alive when she’s here. Maybe it’s easier for me than for the native inhabitant to choose to stay with the emptiness and silence of inanimate things, the motionless space where everything is situated, aware of context and content, and seeing that which normally passes unseen.
It’s a perception, and only seems real by comparison with other things that are thought to be not real… falling into the delusion it’s not delusion, or knowing it’s reality – we do it knowingly, we go with the illusion. For a moment it’s seen and this is how we escape from it. Sometimes it’s a familiarity displaced and we’re tricked into staying there believing it’s really real but we’ve only convinced ourselves that it is, and it can take years, a lifetime. A pattern found in the itinerary of former lives, all these journeys connected end-to-end, divided and subdivided into periods of looking out the twin windows of the upper front face of the skull as if it were a moving vehicle, and looking out and thinking: ‘are we there yet?’ Then back to the conundrum of being busy with thought, and never arriving.
Later in the day a message on my phone goes ding! A picture of somebody’s lunch. It’s from M they’re all in a restaurant I’ve been in before and I can imagine how that is right now…