POSTCARD #240: Chiang Mai: Getting into a tuk-tuk by way of the acquired skill of folding myself in half to get in then, for me, partially unfolding the upper body in a laid-back posture, knees almost level with shoulders – and I can get home by way of a wormhole in space-time, narrow streets and shortcuts known to tuk-tuk drivers only. Getting out the same way I went in, it’s a tight squeeze but many things are like that for me here. I live in a world tailored to fit a population that’s smaller than me and different in all kinds of ways. In the shopping mall, if I ask for their XL sizes, they show me, say it’s a shirt, something that would fit a ten-year-old boy in Northern Europe. So I get the clothes I need in a special ‘Export’ shop that brings in Cambodian-made garments with their labels removed that’ve first been exported to Australia.
It does require extra effort to see how to fit, and you just can’t take things for granted – size is not the only thing that’s different here, of course, it’s the way people think. The Thai worldview is culturally tight (there are important exceptions) compared to what has become for me a shape-shifting global opinion. I’m a foreign resident so I’m the one who needs to fit in with the host culture. How to get the mind to change? Buddhist practice, and I’ve learned how to literally put myself in the shoes of a different cultural background, tight fit though it may be, and I’m so used to doing it now, after thirty years of trial and error, it mostly works okay. Sometimes there’s a part of me that automatically resists, but there’s also the learned behavior of… hold that thought, how can I get around to intelligently accepting this? Not just making the best of it, but developing the ability to change.
And, the fact is, this awareness of the cultural norm, a sensitive subject for most of us, also the custom-built, bespoke, consumer preferences and attitudes that go with it, not to say politics – all this is something I gave no attention to when I lived in my own part of the world, thirty something years ago. In those days I never even considered the cultural parameters within which people like me stumble along, unaware of the rest of the world and blind to anything outside of received perception, based on received knowledge, behavior and the frequency of breakdowns over this incomplete knowledge, questioning and “what’s the bigger picture?” So there comes the inevitable cut-off point.
When I was a kid, I had no opportunity to see how the world view in any given society is tailored to fit it’s own people in every conceivable way; philosophical, political, ideological belief systems, language, the way we think and behave, every single thing. Not completely unresponsive to change though. Thailand is a culture that has managed to prevent the take-over by a Right Wing political presence (currently the resistance against business tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra’s family), over the years since 1973, through the continued upsurge of public feeling.
Simple, we have to open our eyes, look and see the devils are built-in to the system of democracy. Thailand’s effort, easily achieved some would say, in a small country with a predominantly Buddhist population. Not so in the USA in all its vast diversity where, by some strange unexpected turn of events, Donald Trump, a real estate mogul/gangster is in the white house, “the fox is in the henhouse, the cows are in the corn”*, and everything is going to shift around now to accommodate this new circumstance. Public opinion shaped by CNN coverage of fearful disasters that’ll soon control, and then gradually withdraw the formerly expansive embrace of American generosity and welcoming.
This is the world wake-up call! Lessons learned. Four years for the electorate to find a strong candidate and really get the complacent, sleeping democrat population out there to vote. Nothing is impossible.
“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” [Cynthia Occelli]
*Steve Earle, from the song: Christmas in Washington
Lower photo source: Combo Asia Tours
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Thanks for the pingback…
Such a well thought-out post, Or at least that’s the way it seemed to me. Although it may have simply arose “by itself” in the author’s mind.
There were a number of early drafts then it began to form and as you say simply arose “by itself”, as most things do, I find…
Most of my writing happens that way too.
This is it, there’s a tentative probing at first, in a few directions, to see which we it’ll go. Then it takes off…
“hold that thought, how can I get around to intelligently accepting this? Not just making the best of it, but developing the ability to change.” That’s the secret. Not easy to learn, but the rewards are great when you slowly do. So enjoyed your post.
Thanks Don, I suppose I was simply required to do it, in all my travelling I had to learn how everyone in this new place I was in were interacting and seeing the world… I had to become that.
I always enjoy your posts, T! you paint such vivid word pictures.
Thanks Sonnische, good to hear from you again. This is the way blogging works for me, exchanging with others about the way things are in the place where you are in the world, sights, sounds and impressions.
A thanks so much, and congrats in the new book! Should do very well.
Liked the disemboweled seed-pod…
Yep, caught in a freeze-frame stage. Which came first, the chicken or the egg – the seed or the flower, the plant, the bush, the tree? Amazing acrobat-like cyclical transformation through time and space…
The scientific answer to those questions is… evolution, which somehow doesn’t quite cut it…
Evolution revolution, a kind of spinning revolving. I like these time-lapse films of shoots sprouting out of the earth and freeing themselves from the soil in a kind of wriggling movement then swaying with the movement of the sun as it moves across the sky. Something like that, going on as we speak. Do you think the scientific world could give that a name, more descriptive than evolution?
Possibly, possibly not, science is not poetry, unfortunately, and they’re currently poles apart… What is the difference between a seed and a flower, after all, possibly only perspective…
Yes, perspective, place in time? Science tells us how things are to be measured and so on. But meanwhile the whole thing goes on regardless…
The answer, then, to which came first is neither, they both occur simultaneously…
I’m so glad we have the time construct. Otherwise, confusion of everything happening at once, the entire history of the world in an instant…
Useful isn’t it…though for some, this wouldn’t be a confusion…
Language falls to pieces, names are offered up… “enlightenment” is one.
You are a wise and old hand at cultural sensitivity and acceptance T. 💛
This quote by Cynthia Occelli really resonates with me. We are heading towards a break in the shell and a new age of change. It may not be what we imagine or expect. We must learn that that is okay and trust that there will an unfolding towards connection and love.
Thanks Val, it helps if you can play a role, be an actor to the extent that it becomes who you are at any given time. The production can change but the character changes with it. The imagery of the seed bursting open is dynamic and whatever stages we have to go through may not be what we imagine or expect, as you say. But that’s okay as long as we’re able to go with the change and the onward unfolding.
Awareness is everything at this point. Thank you T for honing in on that 💛
Your observations on being an outsider are interesting. I suppose you don’t notice it anymore except on certain occasions. Breaking out of our birthplaces is transformative for learning about different cultures, etc. I didn’t do it by changing countries but rather by changing racial milieus. My husband did it your way. Definitely a harder ride. I am going to see what he has to say when he reads this. P.S. Love the photos, especially photo no. 2!
Being an outsider is the first thing that comes to mind when I recall arriving in London at Kings X station. I was 19 or 20, it was a formative experience. After that everywhere else was seen through the eyes of an outsider. It was this that facilitated the journeyings which unfolded in the years to come. I separated from my self in the end, stood back and saw it from a distance, inflating like a bubble then ‘pop’… nothing there. Thanks for your comment Ellen, yes it happens to all of us one way or another.
Thank you for yet another lovely post! Your description and photos of the tuk tuk experience remind me of my own travels and how ready I am to get back out there. I must say, I seem to be suffering late-onset dyslexia, often doing some “Freudian reading.” In your 5th paragraph, I read, “‘the fox is in the henhouse, the cows are in the corn,’ and everything is going to shit…” Very much the way it feels here in the US. Thanks for the outsider’s viewpoint that “nothing is impossible.”
Good to hear from you again Jeff, after so long. Maybe I can recognize the tendency to drift off into ‘Freudian reading’ and after that you move on and do something else, I find. It just goes on through all these transformative stages. Seems to me the US and the UK are somersaulting through some unexpected choreography. It’s all getting to be history too soon and who knows where it’ll come to rest. Those of us who have learned how to release the clinging thing will fare better in the long run, but easy for me to say over here where I’m simply a well behaved guest and that’s all there is to it…
wishing you happiness
& good health
in this new year 🙂
Thanks and best wishes to you for 2017
A fun post Tiramit, I think you need to be put through a very hot wash cycle, then you’d shrink and fit into the tuk-tuks! Seriously it’s not easy as one (especially a tall one) gets older. I’m tall with dodgy knees and find I have to fold and unfold myself when getting into cars. Think they’d have to pull me out of a tuk-tuk if I ever made it into one!
Have a wonderful 2017, and stay fit and well 🙂
Hey Jude! Yes Happy New Year to you for 2017. True, I’m too large for this world, injuries on elbows, knees and the crown of the head. Also in crowded street markets where they have huge umbrellas, very old – spike of umbrella rips through canvas and is sticking out directly at my eye level. Well, nobody thinks it’s dangerous. Luckily I wear glasses and it’s been a narrow escape a couple of times. The thing is I’m not exceptionally tall 184cms, it’s the local population who are the short guys. I do my best to fit in…
This is so great! I don’t know what I prefer more, your thoughtful call to arms or that awesome photo at the end…
This is it, I think most of us see it as clear as clear can be. It’s necessary to get things moving fast in order to stop the slide into the Trump way of seeing the world.
Chiang Mai? Small world…
I’ve been following your posts about ordination, I never did it even after being here on and off 30 years. How is it going?
In a holding pattern right now, with so many people ordaining for/because of the King’s death, that and a couple other considerations, just seems better to wait on it for the time being…
I can understand that, there’s got to be the right circumstances…
I just nominated you for the Blogger Recognition Award, see my post for more information on what you need to do next:
Thanks for the nomination, let me take a look and see what I need to do…
You’re welcome. 🙂
Hi I am playing catch-up on posts. This one was so interesting. It sounds like you still feel a bit of an outsider there even after 30 years. Easier for me moving from the US to the UK. Unless I speak, nobody can tell I’m not British. The changes I’ve had to adjust to were small and not many which probably is why I rebel at times…like my complaint that some of the Christmas carols are sung in the wrong melody. I imagine it must be hard for you moving to a country you love, adapting but still sticking out like a sore thumb.
Also found interesting your comment on the worldviews of individual countries. I found news portrayal startling when I first came to the UK. If you visit the US and turn on the news on TV, you hardly get any world news. What you mainly get are the various crimes happening in your area. I have been living in England for nearly 15 years and only just found out that there is a lot more local crime than I was aware of. It’s just not televised. I thought I was living in a virtually crime free country.
I will probably be coming back to this post. Very interesting!
Here you are!
Down at the end of the string, playing catch-up on posts. I had forgotten you might resonate with this one, of course, being a long-term foreigner living in someone else’s country. It’s possible for you to blend in, not so for me. I’m the one who sticks out like a sore thumb. One of those giants with pale pigmentation who appear sometimes then disappear like visitors from another planet. Having to adjust to different language, culture, the perception of things, ‘is the cup on the table or is the table under the cup?’ Relearning concepts and inductive/deductive reasoning.
It is interesting to discover there is more than one way of seeing the world, there are many but for me, Thai and India are enough for one lifetime. I’m amazed really how most people are totally enclosed in their world view, of course, that’s the way society and the consumerist system works, media TV reinforces this creating identity in that specific social group. But it would be better if people were to embrace foreign cultures a bit more, and widen their perspectives.
Thanks for visiting, come again.