Archives for posts with tag: Chiang Mai

Sometimes our senses are on high alert, taking in an abundance of sight, sound, smell, taste. The market where my aunties shop in Chiang Mai is this kind of place, so rich in everything that I wonder how I can take it all in. Yet it is all stored somewhere inside me, each sense absorbing a piece of the story. Brush away just part of the dust covering a memory and soon the whole picture emerges again. Try it. Close your eyes.

 

If I were to close my eyes,

the sounds and smells would

be the same as I remembered.

Smoky sweetness of small

bananas on a grill, high

Northern dialect voices of

women selling food,

clank of coins, shuffle

of feet. Eyes open,

and everything is true.

The grills line up on the

ground, forming a room

of smoke. The women sit

on high stools, food they

made – steaming curries,

vegetables, pastries –

spread out like skirts before

them. People move between

stands, reaching, buying,

bags bulging. I search for

the source of the clanking

coins, and then memory

clicks into place. There,

at the bottom of the still

broken escalator, she is

standing, still standing

after all these years. Neat

clothes, short hair, pale

skin, and eyes open, but

her gaze empty, blind.

Standing there, shaking the

tin can of clanking coins.

 

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While in Chiang Mai, we visited the Buddhist temple where my family worshipped. We brought food and an offering of money to the monk, and in return asked for the blessing we so needed. “Pour the water,” the monk said, and as we poured, he chanted, the words running with the water. I recognized words and phrases and our family name: Koslaphirom. “America,” he said. The words flowed and flowed until the water ran out. He stopped and bowed. We thanked him, then stepped out into the physical world again.

Blessings tumbled down on us

as water filled a bowl,

the monk chanting words,

rhythm of flowing water.

Outside, cars sped by,

people hung laundry over

balcony railings.

Cats walked languidly

across the courtyard and

fish darted about in their

watery kingdom – an urn

on the stone steps.

Inside the temple, the

blessings flowed onto

my pink-cheeked son, plump

with young blood, and

my mother, cancer cells

coursing through her veins.

And blessing reached across town,

to where my father was wheezing

in his hotel bed, hooked up

to an oxygen tank, tethered

still to our world.

Blessings poured over memory –

of Grandfather, long gone,

though we reached for him.

Grandmother, too, and my

oldest aunty, and others I

have never known. Blessings

flowed, chant like, waking

us with a splash of water

and the presence of

each other, everywhere.

Sadly, we hear of bombings every day, usually in far away places. Today one terrified many people in Boston. When stories like this come close to home, we begin to relate to the panic and fear that violence creates. Hopefully, we feel more human in our need to connect with people and find the goodness in each other, even in the midst of such terrible acts. This is a story of a bombing that happened in Chiang Mai during World War II. Many years later, my Aunty learned that she was born just before this bombing and that in the confusion, her birth certificate was not recorded until much later. No one could remember her true birthdate. The one she has is just a good guess. Even more significant than losing track of her birthdate, was her family losing track of her, a newborn baby, in the panic on the day of the bombing. This story is how I imagine that day, the blessings to be found in it, and the things we can count on even when the world seems to be falling apart.

 

Imagine this, now, in your comfortable life:

A family preparing for a faraway war

to come crashing into theirs.

They did not want this stone of fear.

Preparation comforts some:

an underground shelter, food, a plan.

But when the rumbling came anyway,

imagine the panic.  Scurrying

underground, taking meaningless

things, forgetting the important.

Among them, a baby, newborn, nameless.

When the mother had gathered all

the children underground, and then

realized what she had left,

she turned.  The ground shook

and children cried.  Imagine

the choice – when have you

had to make such a choice?

When it grew quiet, they all emerged

into air and light –

these things were still theirs,

and the baby, too, alive.  But

what she had seen above, they

had all missed in their dark hole –

that though the ground shook,

her small view of the sky remained the same,

that from where she lay, the

sky stayed true.  Imagine, then,

the square of sky the baby girl watched.

It, more than anything, you can.

My grandfather Motiram settled in Chiang Mai, working first at a watermelon farm and saving his earnings to purchase the beginnings of his small business in textiles. He started very small, and took his bolts of fabric to communities that were not used to commerce and opportunity coming to them. The people of the hill tribes around Chiang Mai became his loyal customers and also his friends. I believe they — Motiram and the hill tribe people — must have shared an understanding of what it meant to be outsiders, immigrants, people in search of community and home.

 

His idea came in a flash,

the momentary blindness that

comes from looking at the sun,

even just for seconds.  When

the spots of light floated away,

he saw what he could do.

His investment:  three bolts

of cloth, one under each arm,

one tied to his back, and a

shiny pair of scissors, hung

by a string from his waist,

catching the sunlight as they

swung back and forth.

 

When they saw him coming,

leaning into the hill, arms

full, something shiny

dangling along, they

were curious.  And when they

understood that he had

brought this cloth to sell,

they were surprised.  He was

not asking for anything –

no food, no shelter for sleep,

no favors at all.  He was

bringing something.  No

one did this.

 

The villagers ran for

their money.  Hidden

away, buried in the dirt,

rarely used.  They gathered

around the man.  As he cut

the fabric with a zip of his

scissors, the women’s eyes

sparkled with the vision of

children darting about, bright

clothes swirling, of husbands

in fresh shirts, even of themselves

draped in flowing color.