Each table has its own little glorious blossom in the small shop on the corner of fab and trendy Nimmanhemin Road and my Soi 6. “Smoothy Blues” it is called.
Whether by targeted intent or accidental patronage, the clientele leans a bit more toward farang (Western) yuppie-dom than that which I would prefer, my yen for local assimilation usually ruling. Well… I mean: There are the groupies of college-aged females, most probably summer study students at the nearby Chiang Mai University, stopping-in for their loud English gab fest as if they were back on their local campus. Each coed is wearing what they consider to be ‘gone local couture’ — the wrap-around sarong-like skirts or the pantaloons, their hair always done-up and tied in a wrapped bun as conspicuously as possible seeming to say, “Look at me as I attempt to dress like and ‘be’ like the locals.” They are betrayed, however, not only by their loud English, but also by the quite noticeable fact that no local girls dress like that! Just where did these American college girls get the idea that Asian-local meant costume clothes!
But I’m an equal opportunity complainer: The college guys are no different; the middle-aged Western couple (straight!) is no different; the children of said couple are no different. No, every tourist farang seems to believe that they must dress as if from a carnival, and in doing so they blend in. Far from the truth. Rather, it draws comical attention.
Then, here comes a young middle-aged Western couple— man, woman, child in stroller. They pause as they push. Apparently their first visit here. They peruse the little inside shop of tables, but with it’s step up-and-in they wisely choose the little outside tables. They can more easily park their child there. They round my little corner just as my breakfast baguette has been placed. I wait for their transit, not wanting to munch while I hand them my morning-nod-greeting. I return for a few moments to my new Graham Greene in which I’m absorbed. Finishing the paragraph, I glance in the couple’s direction before taking a taste of the baguette. And, is that?….yes, he’s got his finger up his nose! The little pinky is stabbed well up and in! My! Now, I know they’re vacationers.
But more intriguing of all, there’s the fellow who has just arrived solo and has taken up a place to my front. I’ve seen him many times in Chiang Mai, or rather those that he ‘represents’. He has a weathered, perhaps even a bit haggard, look. But a worn-ness that also conveys that he’s enjoyed it and would not trade the past for anything. He’s my age, maybe even a bit more. He wears those ubiquitous cargo / camouflage trousers. But on him they are not costume, as with most others. Rather, they seem to be that which was used….well, for camouflage. He wears a worn t-shirt and vest. He is trim and taunt. His hair is that brown-blond color with a few ever so slight white flecks that just says “I’ve experienced a lot of things and may even be weary at this point but not at all regretful”. Do you know the color I mean? It is not aging hair; rather, it is hair born of years of experience, real experience. He pulls it back into a small band-gathering just above the collar, considerably more natural than those of the previously mentioned co-eds. He orders a breakfast sandwich. He eats. He’s off. I’m back to my Graham Greene. hmm. I keep thinking of him and what ‘experiences’ have led him here, him and all his ilk that I see and find so fascinating here.
But back to those little flowers on the little table. That is, after all, where I started. I offer the premise that it’s unlikely to find fresh blossoms gracing a similar table in my small hometown in the States, but that it is quite often the case to find so here. It is to me a visual metaphor.
It is so simple and sweet to dress and decorate the space. This seems to so resonate with Thais. No space is too humble for a brightness. Some farang friends grouse over what they see as Thai “dirtiness”. Their oft pointed-to infraction is the dark coloration tainting the concrete structures. The only wood that could be used very well here with (natural) protection against decay, environment and pest, is teak. So, concrete is a common building material. And the dark coloration is simply the wear of time…not an illustration of dirtiness.
Stepping inside a Thai home or office or any space, you may quickly see the value attached to cleanliness. Shoes are removed before entering. And this often applies to shops and offices as well. What a wonderful metaphor, in addition to being a wonderful action of removing the shoes (of the world) before entering a home (your soul). I’ve done this back at my stateside home since first experiencing it in Thailand. It rankled me so, when on the few occasions someone came to my home and did not know my penchant and their shoes remained attached to their hooves, leaving little sod remembrances along their path. In those times it was striking to me how crude our West can be.
So too, Thais tend to decorate the space of their soul. As simple as many of them are, so elevated are they in spirit. Additional to the large pleasure, it is my privilege to live here, for now.