Monday, October 31, 2011

The Thai Art of Being (Carolann's Story)

(This and other stories by Carolann can be found at Maturetraveler)

We were in Thailand only briefly, just long enough to breathe it in, bathe in its humidity, and be touched by the Thai art of being.

 At the brilliantly designed Suvarnabhumi arrival hall, we walk through light-drenched hallways lined with intertwining metal spears as if we were migrating birds caught in a tubular bird-cage. Architecturally, more World Fair than airport, the building impresses with its balance of form and function. We move effortlessly through each station, customs, baggage, and money exchange.

Seeking the hotel pickup zone, we ask directions from a smiling, smartly dressed attendant. We receive a meaningless, confusing, if not a contradictory response to what our guidebook says. The attendant smiles, pleased to be of service, and closes her palms together is a soft bow.

 "Did you get any of that?"

"Haven't a clue."

 Based on our experience of a month roaming around the country some years ago, we understand Thailand to the extent that we know we will never understand the Thais. It doesn't matter and we don't get rattled about it. Thais want to please and will not say no, nor will they own up to not knowing an answer to a question you ask. Face saving is almost everything, and presentation is the rest.

 Still, if you gravitate to beauty in any form, singing language, sensuous movement, arresting aroma, artfully appointed hotels, someday you will find yourself in Thailand.

 At this point in time, we are merely transiting over 24 hours and have enough time in Bangkok to admire the precise arrangement of slippers beside our bed, down a welcoming glass of lemongrass water, enjoy dinner out, and make some necessary purchases in a shopping mall. The mall is so dazzling, we are drawn to this 21st century arena where consumption is boldly celebrated; we take it in like a spectator sport. Still, we need to remember we're looking for a pharmacy. Dan is under the traveler's curse and I'm coming down with a cold.

Transitions are tiring and I'm looking forward to reaching our next destination. And it's just as well we are leaving quickly. They are piling up sandbags on our street. Flood waters are rising in other parts of the city. Our hotel is about half way between the city centre and the new airport which itself is about thirty kilometres east of the centre (the old airport has already been closed by the floods). As other neighbourhoods prepare for the worst, the Suvarnabhumi airport is opening up its parking lots and roadway shoulders to people who want to protect their car from the floods.

It's classic Thai that the staff assemble to wish us a good journey, smile, and bow. I admire their jai yen, literally meaning 'cool heart'. The culture avoids raised voices, visible signs of irritation and confrontation of any kind. On this early morning, almost five years after their last natural disaster, the boxing day tsumani, it's as if these people are saying, "what me, worry?"

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