OLD NOTEBOOKS: Chiang Mai: I get woken up in the middle of the night… there’s a sound outside: ‘kop’. What is it? There it goes again: ‘kop!’ It’s a man’s voice, ‘kop?’ It takes me a moment to figure out he’s calling someone whose name is Kop. In the Thai language ‘kop’ means ‘frog’, it’s the sound made by these cute little green frogs they have: ‘kop-kop-kop…’ This is felt to be child-like and sweet, and it’s used as a girl’s name. So he is calling her name, standing outside her door, and she is inside the house, not responding to her name being called. Maybe she’s asleep, it’s very late. Or maybe she’s just not letting him in; she threw him out? It’s a story I just arrived in… missed the beginning.
The man doesn’t lose his patience or get angry; he’s not reacting in any kind of emotional way, or saying anything else other than her name – repeated over and over: ‘kop?’ It’s a voiceless, insistent, urgent, loud whisper: ‘kop?’ There’s something very Thai about this, the anxiety about “losing face” he’s compromised with having to call Kop just loud enough so she’ll hear him but not too loud or the neighbours will hear him. What time is it? 3.30 AM. Oh wow! Come on Kop, wake up, or whatever, let the guy in.
There’s a long silence, she must have opened the door, and now he’s inside. I drift off to sleep but the sound comes again: ‘kop?’ and I’m jerked back into wakefulness. She didn’t let him in. It’s frustrating, frantic loud whispering is not enough, he needs to shout. If this was happening in the West, he’d be making a huge noise probably. But he doesn’t do that – non-confrontational behaviour… there’s an interesting balance in this situation. There’s stress of course but also mindfulness. I’m awake enough to see how it works; the sound comes at random, it’s almost painful. I feel I’m beginning to lose it; stress – okay, I’ll not be averse to it, welcome Stress! Come on in, sit down, make yourself at home.
Then it changes. The next sound I hear is: bhrrrr and then: bhrrrrrrrrrrrrr it’s the sound of a doorbell with a flat battery, or it’s nearly flat – not a sharp piercing ring like: rrrrrrrrrrring! More of a dull rattle: bhrrrrr…. There’s barely enough battery power, I can hear it getting slower and slower. After a while there are just odd buzzing noises and the battery runs out. He persists for a couple of minutes, pressing the button on a dead battery and the click sound of the bell-push striking metallic plate; enough to remind Kop he is still outside.
Desperate but able to remain balanced, not engaging with the emotional side of it, upekkha (equanimity) – not being ruled by passions, desires, likes and dislikes. It’s a bit like that for me too, struggling with the disturbance. There is compassion for his predicament and after a short while the ‘kop’ sound has the quality of birdsong. The Buddha described it as: ‘abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill-will.’
He continues with his enhanced stage-whisper… ‘kop?’, persists with the faulty doorbell until eventually Kop opens the door. I hear it close again, there’s an indistinct mumbling after that. Then there’s no more sound for the rest of the night.