Well, it’s been almost exactly one year since I moved to Thailand indefinitely to work as a travel writer. I was able to recently come home for a short visit and finally found the time to reflect on everything I did between October 2011 and now. It’s been quite a ride — I’m going to start posting some of the photos I took and posts I wrote for Travelfish.org while hopefully throwing in a few little nuggets from my most recent travels. I’ve also outfitted the blog with a new, simpler theme, which I hope you like. For now, here’s a shot taken on the plane ride from New York to Bangkok almost exactly one year ago. I’ll be back in the air in a couple days, and I’ll be moving in one direction only: forward.
An empty lot sits by the Chao Phraya River, next to the 25th floor apartment in Thonburi (west of Bangkok) where I’ve been living since May. Until last week, the lot was filled with low-growth trees and brush. I never thought anything of it. Just another vacant, overgrown lot.
Then one morning, I awoke to the buzz of electric saws and weed-whackers. A group of workers were clearing foliage and debris from the lot. “I guess they’re going to build something”, I thought. No big deal. This is a city, after all.
As soon as that thought had passed, I noticed a family of four white ducks walking aimlessly in the lot. It was the first I’d seen them, but they’ve obviously been there for a while. They had trees for shelter, and a tiny pool of rain-water for bathing and drinking. Not a bad home for a family of urban ducks.
On each of the following mornings, I’ve checked on the ducks. The trees are all gone now, and yesterday I saw workers filling in the pool. For now, the ducks are still there.
I’m not being some painfully romantic tree-hugger. I’m not going to launch a “SAVE THE DUCKS” campaign (although I’m sure it would get plenty of likes on Facebook). If it were my riverside lot, I’d probably want to build something too.
But that doesn’t change the fact that I feel very sad whenever I look at those four helpless ducks.
Who knows what will happen to them. I hope they move on and live happily ever after at an even better overgrown lot. I hope they don’t have to suffer. Yet I know – as sure as the morning sun will rise – that suffer they will.
I’m not judging it. I’m not saying it’s “right” or “wrong”. In due time, we’re all going to feel whatever those ducks are feeling now. None of us are safe. The weed-whacker’s nipping at our heels too.
It’s just four ducks. Yet they embody all of the uncertainty, fragility, fear and sadness that pervades this world. Birth. Life. Suffering. Death. With some love splattered in for good measure. The river flows.
16 April 2012 – The Moken are a small ethnic minority group who live as nomads in the Andaman Sea between Myanmar’s Mergui Archipelago and Thailand’s Andaman islands. Citizens of neither of these countries or any other, they are considered “stateless beings” and are truly nomadic, spending most dry seasons living at sea on traditional wooden boats before settling in to an island or group of islands for the monsoons. With only around 3,000 Moken said to still be living in the traditional way, their compelling culture is now under threat. I was honored to bear witness to their ways of life, exemplified by this shot of an elderly Moken woman gathering edible shells on the coast of Thailand’s Ko Chang Noi.
13 April 2012 – The Songkran (traditional new year) festival has begun in Thailand. For the next few days, the streets of every Thai city, town and village will be filled with people young and old happily splashing water on each other so as to cleanse away any bad that happened during the previous year. While the festivities have become something of a big, wet party in some places, many still celebrate in the traditional way by splashing fragrant water on images of Buddha, such as seen in this shot from a Chiang Mai Songkran parade.
12 April 2012 – Thailand is full of sacred, ancient temples, and their presence often helps to remind me that the full breadth of life should be embraced and understood, not controlled and manipulated. While I practice being calm, composed, and content throughout all of life’s nooks and crannies, I’ve found that a subtle but real sense of ease and clarity arise from just being in sacred spaces like this small enclosed shrine at Chiang Mai’s historic Wat Doi Suthep.
11 April 2012 – Unlike other Asian cities like Saigon and Beijing, bicycles have largely gone out of favor in Bangkok, probably due to the danger of cycling on narrow streets crowded by intimidating trucks and buses and endless streams of hastily driven taxis. In the old alleys of Thon Buri (west of the Chao Phraya River), however, bicycles are still a great way to get around. I found that this one, bathed in late afternoon sunlight, turned an otherwise nondescript alley into a memorable scene.