Northern Thailand revisited
26 February – 2 March
(written by Jacob)
I went from Burma back to Thailand to spend ten days or so recuperating on my own before meeting Jessica in Bali. I had no plans for this period of time, and the culture shock upon arriving in Bangkok was intense. No one smiled at me – hardly anyone even looked at me. I felt disgusted by the scene along Khao San Rd, the backpacker district. It’s like Mardis Gras every Friday night – except with more alcohol and less creativity.
Luckily, I soon learned my friends Matt & Lisah, the couple from SF we traveled with in Laos, were also in Bangkok and my dear friend Kirsten was just flying in from the US to meet them. I surprised her at their guesthouse and that afternoon decided to join them on their trip up north.
Matt and Lisah were about to go to Burma and had just come from Bali, so we exchanged travel tips. I had a great time catching up with Kirsten as we walked around the entire moat of the old city of Chiang Mai at night. I also ran into a couple of friends Jessica and I made back in December while at Panya, the permaculture farm. The next day, we all decided to return to the farm for the 11th anniversary party for Pun Pun, the neighboring farm.
Matt, Lisah, Kirsten and I were all excited to be in the flow of synchronistic travel, and to show Kirsten a special part of Northern Thailand not as many people experience. It was great to see the crew from Panya again and appreciate the progress that had been made on all the projects we had worked on a few months earlier. The party was like a mini permaculture music festival and, in my opinion, a great blending of different cultures – Thai families mixed with Western travelers and environmentalists dancing to Thai musicians playing funky jazz on land dedicated to preserving a laid-back rural life using old and new sustainable living systems.
Taking a break from the music, Kirsten and I wondered through the rice paddies at sunset and throughout the night. The plants were lush and green now, a big change from December when the fields had been burned after harvest. A massive chorus of frogs of all sizes and voices enveloped us as we talked about the direction our lives had taken since we met in San Francisco in 2006 and wondered what the future might hold. We bravely felt into the unknown and questioned what hopes and intentions we might move into this future with. Since American culture thankfully allows for freedoms of religion, intellect and sexuality, we are left to pretty much make up meaning and construct the self as we go along. It can be a fun creative process, but it can also be exhausting and confusing. One coherent system of thought that has persisted, remaining mostly unquestioned, is the belief in ever-growing happiness, technological progress, and economic growth based on exploiting natural resources and human labor. More and more signs are showing that this probably isn’t sustainable, and it doesn’t provide much moral or spiritual inspiration. What do we do in the face of the unhinging of a major framework for understanding and navigating the world? Life doesn’t turn out to be what we were told, those we looked up to are eventually seen as also having made it up as they go along, and then we ourselves don’t turn out to be who we thought we were.
But we have each other along the way, and that is a genuine solace. True spiritual friendship, the Buddha stressed over and over again long ago, is the whole of the holy life. That night spent heart connecting with an old friend and pursuing existential inquiry was one of the best of my entire trip.
We watched the sun rise together and then left for our flights out of Chiang Mai. I was looking forward to reuniting with Jessica and seeing how our separately-cultivated travel threads would weave together. Her experience in India had opened her to new expressions of connection to the sacred and my travels had renewed the spark of spontaneity and joy.