mourning the loss of spring

yellow blossom2POSTCARD#61: Chiang Mai: Looking at all these posts written by my blogger friends about springtime in the Northern hemisphere and something stirs in me… that urge for seasonal change, I want to be there. No seasons in Thailand, every day is pretty much like the day before. Time disappears, days become weeks, weeks become months, months become years. The whole thing is one very, very long day – night interrupts the flow, hardly noticed, and goes unremembered like the blink of an eye.

New leaves bud, grow, turn brown, fall and get swept away all through the year. There’s no autumn, no winter, no snow, no hibernation, no spring returning. The same bright light day after day, everything is awake all the time, and there’s an exhaustion about it. Necessary to take a rest in the afternoons, find my place bookmarked in the dream… I remember the silence of no ceiling fans. Natural AC, always a chill in the air and the sky a curious indistinct grey, sometimes, neither one thing nor another. It suits the transitory way of things, anicca.

I am a hoarder of old notes and among these there are references to spring in Switzerland, enthusiastic words written by a younger ‘me’ about buds beginning to appear on that yellow shrub that’s always the first to have colour around lac de Genève. Birdsong and smells of growth or greenness, leafy fragrances, moss and pebbles and the presence of the lake, lying there on its side like some vast mysterious being.

Date: 26 March 2001. Spring has sprung and just yesterday morning around 6am I suddenly noticed there wasn’t any birdsong and how could that be, what happened and why so dark? But it was because it’s all one hour earlier than the clock says (daylight saving time) and birds don’t change their watches.’

And another note about going to teach an English class in zone industrielle, Date: 10 April 2001. Yesterday was a bright sunny day and about 11 am, in the garden outside the building, I noticed the cherry trees with buds and tiny bits of bright pink. At 12.30pm, class was over and when I came past the same cherry trees, the buds were totally open and blossoms everywhere. It’s like Spring suddenly happened in just over an hour…

In the same way, it can disappear in an hour and I’m mourning the loss of spring… then that changes too. Everything is impermanent, including the idea that everything is impermanent – steel embedded in concrete, seemingly permanent, demolished by a man with a jackhammer in a single afternoon. But we don’t want to believe it, reluctant to accept that the world is so fragile, touch it and it falls to pieces – almost as if it’s not there.

Seen from the apartment here on the third floor, level with the tree tops, these exotic yellow and black squirrels jump around as if they had wings. Tremendous long leaps and landing: crish-crash! Branches spring back, rise up with the weight like uncontrollable laughter, high in the tops of slender trees, boughs bending to take the mass of one small body chased by another. Always having to catch up, never getting there, I follow them dashing through the foliage, my eye leaps in the field of vision – where are they now? The “now” moment slips from my grasp, I focus on it and it escapes. A new moment arrives, or is it the same one continuing from before? World without end….

‘…linear time melts in the now, self-dissolving, fading into space; 
days and dates fade away; months, years and eons dissolve; 
the one and the many vanished, sacred and profane both clarified;
 the delusive ground of samsara and nirvana clarified in its innate spaciousness. Even “spaciousness”, as an intellectually contrived entity, dissolves.
 Whatever we have practiced, however we strive, is useless now,
 and intellectual gall exhausted, what a great marvel is the sky.’ [Longchenpa] source

Photo: View from 3rd floor window and the trees where the squirrels play, yellow blossom appearing now it’s the hot season



BkkTaxi3POSTCARD#47: Bangkok: So profoundly stuck in this traffic jam it feels like time has stopped. It’s not today; it’s yesterday – same taxi, same traffic jam. I raise my head from the book I’m reading and look out at the world. No sense of having moved further on, the back ends of vehicles and bits of buildings. This is a continuation of the same day and the interval that happened in between, dinner, 8 hours sleep; it was a daydream. Look at my watch, same time, same place I was in yesterday. The same people (probably) all headed in the direction they go in every day. Look down at my book again, eyes scan the text… where was I? Remembering my place by association with events taking place around me. The sounds of the gear stick shifting through its worn engagings and the accelerator pedal, the brake, then the gear stick again… parts of the story seem related to parts of the journey. The words I’m reading are flickering around the interior of this cab. Parts of sentences and interesting phrases get wrapped around the objects in this small space.

It feels good in here, inside this metal shell that’s holding me cushioned in a womb-like environment, bent over the book in my lap and looking outside from time to time. The experience of the ‘now’ moment is the same ‘now’ moment everybody else is experiencing… a hesitant, preoccupied ‘now’, maybe, for many of us; teetering on the brink of wanting things to be different from what they are. The traffic is hard to believe. Skillful avoidance of the tendency to hold on to the thought it ‘shouldn’t be like this.’ Look around the interior of the taxi, devotional flowers hanging up front in the windscreen and up above I see the painted marks of a holy person’s blessing on the underside of the roof. Grey/blue seating, a public space, registration numbers for the driver and the vehicle. A photo of the driver with his name in English.

We don’t have a conversation. I say: rod tid… (bad traffic eh?). And he says: yeu! (too much). We’re comfortable with the silence after that. For him, it’s a pointless journey to nowhere in particular – no problem; it’s often like this. Pause for a moment and watch the in-breath, the out-breath; mindfulness. A moment’s reflection and meditative contemplation in a Bangkok taxi… this is how it is for him. After I get out, somebody else will get in and off to the next place. When he gets there it’s the same as the place he just left. Where are we now? There’s a huge map in his head. City traffic is like a river, it gets into all the corners and any place where there’s space for it, finding its own level and passing through the hundreds of miles of its landscapes as it makes its way to the sea.

Like a boat on the river going with the current, the ‘now’ feels like it’s not moving. Only when the trees on the riverbank are seen is there a sense of movement, of moving through time. The ‘now’ is experienced in this present time as it has been for millions of years. I can imagine a time in what I would call the ancient past, but a moment experienced then happened in present time; it was ‘now’. A prehistoric being may have been sitting on a rock or a branch, exactly where I’m sitting, inside this cab… looking around – just as I’m doing now – and the ‘now’ experienced then would have been no different from the ‘now’ experienced at this moment.

‘The river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth…in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere, and the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past, nor the shadow of the future… Nothing was, nothing will be, everything has reality and presence.’ [Hermann Hesse: ‘Siddhartha’, Chapter 9]


10 million to 1

Bangkok: I’m in a downtown area, standing under an umbrella, trying to hail a taxi; heavy rain here and the traffic is going slow. A taxi pulls up, bright yellow and green, open the door and get in. There’s that strong smell of krating daeng (red bull), and jasmine flower garlands. I see a Buddha rupa and various auspicious objects everywhere. The taxi is old-style, well maintained but at the end of its days. The same could be said of the driver; ‘Loong’, meaning ‘uncle’, a respectful term used with any old man. In fact he’s more like great-grandfather, smiling, childlike and ancient.

The most noticeable thing about him is he’s got no teeth and insists on grinning all the time. He’s likeable, asks me all the usual questions and it turns out his daughter lives near to where I live in Bangkok and that’s a talking point. He brings his attention to driving the car and I’m wondering how this is going to turn out, but it seems to be good enough. So I settle back and look round the interior of the cab because it is crowded in here. Blessings and charms are painted on the ceiling, a great profusion of strings of beads, amulets and decorative hanging things tinkling and clanking from the rear-view mirror, and it takes me a little while to notice that the dashboard is covered with all kinds of toy objects stuck on with adhesive. The dog with the nodding head, and they all have moving, swinging heads, like this; coiled spring necks and crazy grinning faces that wobble slightly with the vibration of the engine but roll around madly every time his taxi makes a sudden movement, a touch on the brakes, an abrupt acceleration. It’s quite mesmerizing.

I’m just taking it in here, all these wobbly heads and various swinging objects in the middle of the windscreen; a part of the journey I didn’t expect. I get in his taxi simply to travel from point A to point B thinking that he just takes me there – and he does that but feels it necessary to surround his passengers with… something, what is it? I know some Thais who would feel uneasy in here, seeing a connection with phi (superstition). I don’t engage with that stuff and thinking it’s like this because, for him, it’s just boring and pointless; there’s no reason for this journey or any journey, and this is a kind of anchor. Somebody else will get in, after I get out, and that person will tell him to go somewhere else and off he goes. When he gets there it’s the same as the place he just left, and all other places. Traffic in the city is like water in the river; it gets everywhere, into all the corners where there’s space for it.

Every passenger who gets in has a directional goal-orientated intention; this old driver is not part of that, even though he is very much present. For him it may seem incidental in a profound sort of way; just wandering all over the town in randomness and along the way he’s arrived at the concept of all these wobbly heads, I suppose. It’s suitable because it’s meaningless, like everything else. His taxicab is like this because he’s in a place where it’s always ‘now’. Most of the cause/effect, time-bound, goal-directed thinking is just not there. Apart from control of the vehicle, which he must know completely, he is free; he’s not going anywhere because he doesn’t need to go anywhere; there’s nothing he needs. He just takes other people where they want to go and there’s just the emptiness of it.

In the Hermann Hesse novel: ‘Siddhartha’ (chapter 9), Siddhartha speaks to Vasudeva, the ferryman, about a lesson the river teaches, that time does not exist. “The river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth…in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere, and the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past, nor the shadow of the future… Nothing was, nothing will be, everything has reality and presence.” He talks about listening to the ‘voice of the river’ and I’m wondering if it’s something like this that Loong is experiencing after a lifetime in the timelessness of this huge city.

Loong drops me where I want to go and it’s still raining. I get all the stuff done I was going to do and a few other things too and after a couple of hours I’m in some other part of town in another taxi. We’re stuck at traffic lights and I see this taxi go by with the same wobbly heads on the dashboard; amazing coincidence, considering there are 10 million people in this city – it’s Loong! And he doesn’t have a passenger. Quick decision, I pay off the taxi I’m in, the lights are still at red, jump out and run through the rain to Loong’s taxi. Open the passenger door and jump in – surprise, surprise! There’s wild laughter, and Loong’s great toothless mouth and all of it suddenly feels like a continuation, I was here all the time; I never got out of his cab the first time; the interval that happened in between was a daydream.

So, we set off back to my place and he’s happy about that because he gets to visit his daughter who lives nearby. I hear him explaining things to her on the phone. He’s too old to be driving, really, and as he’s doing that, I have a chance to revisit the strange and interesting timelessness that Loong’s taxi seems to contain.