Archive for the ‘hearing’ Category

The Gateway

Location: Khao San Road, Bangkok
Soundtrack: Hardcore house trance

Coming back to Khao San is an appropriate end to a trip, as well as a fitting place to start.

It’s a place of beginnings and endings, a gateway from one world into the next. It envelops you in gaudy neon advertising, shouts at you with the latest dance tunes, spins you around with touts and tuk-tuks and street food. You’re slammed with a sensory overload that is uniquely Khao San.

But all of that is a gloss over the surface, a veneer rubbed on to give the impression that this is what Thailand is. But scratch at it – travel away from Khao San, Ko Samui, and Phuket – and you’ll see the real Thailand underneath. A land full of amazing people and stunning scenery, mixing ancient history and modern experiences together into an intoxicating elixir.

It makes sense, then, that Khao San is a fitting final counterpoint to your Thai experience. Sit at any one of the plentiful bars or cafes along the street, and just watch the wide eyed backpackers fresh off the plane stumble through the gateway and into the adventure that awaits them. You know it’s going to be an adventure – after all, you’ve just finished yours.

And you take with you your memories, and your learnings from the road. In my case, I took the clarity I’d been seeking, and had finally found in Pai.

Harold Stephens, writing for Thai Airways, summed the road up well:

So what is Khao San Road?  It’s a street, or a road, that is true. But it’s more than that. Khao San is about people. It’s a place where not all dreams may come true but at least those people who go there dared to dream. For the young travellers, it’s a place they will remember all their lives. For the young Thais, it’s meeting these crazy foreigners and perhaps even imitating them, for one night at least.

Then the time arrives.

You pay your bill. You pick up your bags. You take one last glance around at the veneer of Khao San, and behind it – your Thailand.

You promise you’ll be back, and know that you mean it.

Then you straighten up, and walk towards the gateway that the backpackers are coming through to start their adventure.

And without hesitating, you step back through the gateway and start your own journey home.

 

What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.
~ T.S. Eliot (1888 – 1965)

The Day

Location: Pai
Soundtrack: Fireworks

Dignity.

It’s the only word I could come up with that describes what I experienced last night.

The night sky was full of floating khom loi or sky lanterns/balloons. They often represent the fears and worries of a person floating away – it’s like refreshing your spirit at the end of 2010 as the calender shifts to 2011.

Sky lanterns, and lots of them!Image not mine: courtesy of Takeaway from Wikipedia

The best thing about these balloons, though, is that the larger they are, the more people you need to help you launch it. And you can’t launch one on your own. Read into that what you will about our new years resolutions, which are often made privately.

There was a dignity and a restraint to the celebrations. Children ran around in delight, proud parents watching on. Teens and adults weren’t stumbling around in drug or booze induced hazes.

As I walked the streets, the sudden bursts of pops, fizzes, and sparkles from hand-launched fireworks echoed through the night. The few foreigners I saw had a look of annoyed reservation on their faces. They were promised “the Khao San of the north”. There were a few bars out of town that lived up to the party hype, but they were few and far between.

Instead, we were all part of a dignified celebration of the end of 2010.

I’ll always treasure the memory of standing by the river, leaning against a fence, and looking up at all the sky lanterns as they floated across the stars.

It’s my idyll of how a New Year (or Countdown?) festival should be celebrated.

It wasn’t a gala party in a giant hall filled with strangers.

It was an event to be shared with your loved ones and family, and a time for personal reflection on the past year and resolution about the year ahead.

You might be able to tell that it had a profound effect on me. That’s because it was a turning point in my journey – watching the lanterns and listening to the fireworks, I finally found the clarity I’d been looking for. All it took was a festival in the mountains of Thailand to get me there.

The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul.
~ G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)