Beneath golden, setting sun
Hazy, sun-warmed memories of a recent trip to Thailand
My mind was last to get the joke as always; made at its own expense by heart, gentle laughter the first sign that something had escaped its gaze. Yes, I am running after several days not, the reasons for which prove absurd as soon as I leave my Cha-Am, Thailand beach-front hotel.
Leaving the resort village, township of tourist convenience and the music was there—I would recall this later clearly by memory—but side of the road loud speakers and their radio tune made no impression to mind still speaking, thoughts turning wildly at the start of the run.
Running, running... breath yet to catch my legs, legs yet to catch my head, head still insisting body is ten years younger and two minutes per mile faster, but body knows and protests loudly the truth proud mind resists.
Half past five in the evening; work is finished for locals, holidays continue for tourists, sun is setting for all but only just—there is light yet for dinner in road-side shacks come restaurants, old men sitting where they have sat all day, every day, watching young men and women pass to the places where only the young go; light yet for watching the sun set, or for running, and joy—sun heated air warming overworked lungs. Suriya, lord of the sky still holds dominion outside air-conditioned, water by the bottle hotel.
There is litter by the side of the road. From tourists or locals—how could one possibly know? In a settlement that only exists for tourism, neither guest nor host have brought out the best in the other.
Against expectations held almost nothing is beautiful—outwardly. There is a smell, whose source I choose not to contemplate; fields are barren and unkempt, all that grows is that thrown, discarded, and houses are barely houses—not in the sense those more fortunate understand a house, live in a house—more scavenged than built, of a type you would see never in my “first” world.
Though dusty and dark, and flimsy, these homes have a solidity to them not a part of their construction—solidity born of the heart of those who call them home? They have four walls and a roof, and happiness—what more is needed truly?
Parents and children alike smile as I run past, and stare—perhaps tourists do not normally run in these parts. I am forgetting myself now, starting to smile as well, impossible not to return warm, friendly heart-felt smiles from human scenery passing. Eyes twinkling from doorways and windows reflect more than still sparkling sun, a sight more beautiful than anything growing out of ground or built by hand. Yes there is beauty in the air here, something hard to define, pin down with precision; it is a quality of human heart perhaps, a hidden character of the soul invisible yet present all where, running with me step for step, watching over shoulder like an angel along the shoulder of this country road.
Motorbikes pass with double passengers, friends riding shoulder to shoulder. Children wearing football shirts from European clubs smile as running tourist passes. Shared happiness requires no exclusive membership or price of admission. A child runs and gives me a high-five, as though he, or I have just scored a goal.
Puppies only weeks old and probably belonging to these children chase me along the footpath, although in this country pedestrian way fare, roadside and front of property merge like passing scenery into one.
The saddest sight I have ever seen, which perhaps speaks more of my sheltered life than of sadness, of my good fortune at being born a New Zealander. A dog whose hind right leg is mangled beyond recognition, horribly dislocated or broken I don't know which, struggling desperately to cross a road before oncoming vehicles on only it's haunches, a panicked and not entirely effective half crawl half hop its only method of movement, dragging itself along with front legs as though they are hands, a pleading look in mournful, almost human eyes. All this in a second as I jog past, then I am gone round a corner, wondering why I didn't stop to lift it to safety, to share an iota of my time and kindness in a land where reminders of the Lord Buddha's compassion are in shrines next to every household letterbox run past.
White cows crossing the road in front of me, a herd of them, nonchalantly walking at a pace their own, just as cows have always walked, from pasture to pasture across inconvenient road of men and machines; motorbikes stopping, now reversing, impatient, cow herd unperturbed and all patience, walking with rather than guiding his herd. To say he is patient is to say that he is not impatient, which is not quite correct—he appears beyond the duality of either, at one with the timeless rhythm of heaven-white beasts just as cowherds have always been.
Running is the body's meditation it is said. Yet stride after stride beneath redolent red-golden ball over lazy sea-side palms, I am entering into meditation proper as well.
A sloka, prayer without end and of Indian origin repeats over and over from speakers mounted on posts, words I do not understand carrying a tune that does not need to be understood, music out loud and in mind as well, rising and then fading to ear but not soul as body way fares, prayerful music splashing upon these sandy road shores.
The music is gone for a moment, voice resting still upon silence and then returns like a breaking wave, carried by new speakers that draw quickly near. I the only soul present marvel in the moment: here, in the middle of nowhere, soulful, haunting music is playing to an audience of dusty, barren fields. Were they built for this single, transcendent moment?—sound heard everywhere as though radio waves skipped antenna and machinery to broadcast directly into my heart.
Although I hate the term tourist, and avoid the label just like those whom it describes, I want to lose my foreignness forever in the heart of Thailand.
Suvarnabhumi we are one, beneath golden, setting sun.