lonesome highway 2

POSTCARD#396: Bangkok: [Reblog from September 3, 2013]: Travelling along the highway to the airport in a taxi that has past its best – seen better days. It’s veering off to the left, trembles for a moment then corrects itself. There’s another problem, the driver has it revved-up because the engine stalls when we slow down, so the sound is a bit alarming. We stop at the toll way to pay the fee, engine stalls, driver gets out to push. Fortunately there’s a little slope down at the tollbooth and the car moves forward easily. Driver jumps in, ignition on, and the engine comes to life. Big sigh of relief, driver apologizes to me: koh tod khrap, polite. A nice guy, just trying to earn a living with a vehicle that’s barely roadworthy. The Thai compassion for this kind of predicament means it’s tolerated more than it would be in other Asian countries.

In a moment we’re accelerating down the road again with this huge noise and there’s still about 20 km to go. I’m thinking that if the engine fails, we’ll have to stop at the edge of this long and lonesome elevated highway with nothing around except sky up above… this really is the middle of nowhere. I drop into a state of alertness; being mindful is exhilarating, the inclination to be awake, watchful. All senses switched on, an awareness that sees also, at the edge of this, some anxiety – the Buddhist term: samvega pasada describes it – a sense of urgency. There’s clarity too, even though things are not looking good at all.

It’s like a death, we might just end up stopping at some place on the road, anywhere’ll do and that’s it, engine is gone. Nothing extraordinary about death; we die and come to life again from one moment to the next. Physical death comes along and instead of coming to life in another moment, we find ourselves in another lifetime. This is how it is, according to what I’ve read, and it could be time’s up for our taxi, it’ll die anytime now. Worst case scenario is waiting in the heat of the tarmac with no air-con running because there’s no engine and hoping another taxi will come along – unlikely… empty taxis don’t normally go out to the airport. What to do? Ah well, miss the flight, I suppose, go tomorrow – yes, but I’m getting ahead of myself here, it hasn’t happened yet.

In the end, the taxi holds on to life and we arrive at the airport okay. Get the bags out of the car with engine still racing and the last I see is the driver heading off in the direction of Arrivals; hoping he’ll pick up another passenger and make it back to the city again. I wheel my luggage into the cool airport and go look for the check-in row. Doorstep to the world.

“Samvega was what the young Prince Siddhartha felt on his first exposure to aging, illness, and death. It’s a hard word to translate because it covers such a complex range — at least three clusters of feelings at once: the oppressive sense of shock, dismay, and alienation that come with realizing the futility and meaninglessness of life as it’s normally lived; a chastening sense of our own complacency and foolishness in having let ourselves live so blindly; and an anxious sense of urgency in trying to find a way out of the meaningless cycle.” [Thanissaro Bhikkhu]