|Sent: Sunday, February 16,2003 1:42 AM
Subject: field notes from Bangkok
Got dropped off on Khao San at about two in the morning. The Cab driver used his horn instead of headlights the entire way. Realized this about halfway from the airport and held on tight. This is nicknamed the "tourist ghetto"--utter chaos and all night party. People spilling outof doors intoxicated, motor bikes zip through the crowd, one western man stood blank faced as another held a blood soaked cloth to his head. Everything imaginable bought and sold. Fried crickets, cockroaches, and scorpions pushed through on carts, transvestites, prostitutes, dogs, cats, all bathed in neon light.Saw a tee shirt with George Bush Jr., Osama B., and Saddam wrapped together in a big heart. Can buy anything here, all knock-offs; there are DVD's being sold of movies still in the theaters in the States. Food stalls line the street, eat lunch for 10 bhat, about a quarter. Banana pancakes, fried banana, Thai soup, Pad Thai, pineapple, mango, fish and all sorts of seafood. During the day the Chaos is beautiful. Chaotic smells, sounds, favors for your eyes, so much to take in, surrounded by people of all sorts but no sense of fear. Thai people just want to talk with you, want nothing from you.
Been visiting temples, arrived for the second biggest Buddhist celebration, monks from all over Thailand descend on the capitol. I've been waking up early just as the first light fills the sky. I move through the streets as the saffron robed monks walk by collecting alms. People slip off their shoes, bow, place their food offering in the silver bowl, bow again and the monks walk on barefooted. So wonderful to watch. The sky is filled with tower Wat spires, even more golden in morning light. For the madness of the streets the temples are the only peace. Dogs and cats hang out on the steps of shrines, beaten from the world here but so close to refuge inside. Within one temple a Buddhist statue of Kuan Yin, next to a venerable Thai master immortalized in gold, and then next to a six armed-eye fingered Hindu deity. All living in Harmony.
Nothing is left out here. No sense of alienation, only acceptance in its more brutal and beautiful manifestations.
In the United States we consider it a burden to feed the homeless, in Thailand it is an honor.
Have a ticket to Chang Mai tonight, heading north on a night train, going to trek along the northwest border just across from Burma. There are still hunter and gatherer tribes in these areas, waterfalls, mountains, mist...
Almost no Americans are traveling. Many Brits, Australians and other Europeans but I'm a content lonely breed. Everyone hates Bush but say they still like Americans. So glad to be in exile from the Kingdom of Fear. Honestly, it feels safer in Southeast Asia. I have no duct tape in my backpack. I don't even know what time it is.
Bangkok is very polluted but not as bad as Ascension. Flowers grow everywhere. Banyan trees have shrines built into their roots; there is decadence and reverence everywhere. Yesterday went to the world’s largest weekend market. Everything, everything, everything.
Will only be in the North for a week and a half or so. So much to take in. Already adjusting plans. Will be going to Laos and might bypass India. People say that because it just opened to tourism it is unbelievable. Travel is slow, roads are bad in all these countries. Life is so cheap. My guest house room costs three dollars a night.
So very very hot and humid. In the low 90's today. Already returning to my traveling aroma. My backpack is very happy to be on the road again. We are the best of friends. Bags within bags within bags is the way to go. Sort of like Russia nesting dolls but more practical.
Sent: Wednesday, February 19, 2003 11:03 PM
Subject: field notes from Pai
Left Bangkok on a night train.
Woke the next morning to see the early light rising in the flooded rice paddies. First sights of the countryside from the rails. A little girl was awake who had been up crying most of the night. I had some roasted peas to snack on and held out some in my hand for her to take. She put her hands together and bowed to me, then proceeded to take what I offered. So incredibly innocent and beautiful. In that little girl's bow there was eternity.
Got talking with a guy from Manchester England. He said,
"I had to get out of Bangkok. Was spending too much money. I was there for only a week and slept with three prostitutes. I made a bit of a mistake though. I went down on one of them. You can't get AIDS from doing that can you?"
"Yes you can."
"Oh now my head is spinning. I got to get tested."
Arrived in Chang Mat and spent the night there. One of the most interesting night markets I have ever seen. In hot countries the night is a flood of life.
The next day took a bus to Pai. Got to the station late and had to ride upon piles of boxes. The bus leaned and moaned over the mountainsides all the way.
Currently am staying in a bamboo hut, with a palm-thatched roof and sitting porch. Have strung a hammock up and have been writing late into the night by the flicker of candle light and thin wisps of incense smoke. It is only $1 a night. Living on three dollars a day.
School children came into the guest house area where I am staying. They came to practice their English with all the different travelers staying in town. A small crowd of smiling children gathered around me.
"What is your name?"
"How old are you?"
"How long will you stay in Pai?"
"About a week."
"What is your favorite part?"
"Where are you from?"
Murmurs passed among the children as they repeated "America" to each other. Then one of them said,
A shiver ran through me when I heard that word. I couldn't help think about when someone mentions they are from Germany and another mentions "Auschwitz."
Donald Rumsfeld may compare Germany to Syria and Libya but the rest of the world is comparing the United States to Germany some sixty years ago. I know. I've been speaking with people from all over the world.
I love America. I love North America. I love the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevadas, The Appalachian Mountains. I love the Mojave Desert, the Sorana Desert, The Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Smokey Mountains, the Great Lakes, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
I love everything that is rooted, has feet, have leaves, has a beak, has feathers, fur, a shell, scales, can swim, can sail, can fly, can dive, can bark, can bite, can pollinate, can replicate, can bleed, can breath, can make love...
I love the First Amendment.
February 27, 2003
For a long time I haven't known what day it is and for many days I haven't known what time it is. Last night the natives were burning, clearing slopes for coming crops. Orange, flame, smoke and stars. A gray cloud passing in front of the Milky Way.
My travels have stopped, something I thought I would never say. They have stopped for a while, I have found a wonderful home. The town I'm living in is mostly Burmese refugees who have started again in the mountains between these two countries. There are native hill tribe people here, there are Buddhists, there are artists, there are travelers, there are Water Buffalo, there are Elephants, there are mountain temples, there are waterfalls, there are computers, there are families, there are many friends.
At night the Muslim towers call and all is quiet.
I have started to really study Thai and Japanese because I have made many friends here. A few Thaifriends are helping me to find a small house, a small motorcycle, and a typewriter. All the essentials. Everyday begins here.
I will stay until my visa is up and then travel to Laos to come back again. I have a feeling I will be in Asia for a long time.
March 4, 2003 Home
I have moved from guest house to guest house to home. I now have a motorbike, a bamboo house with the breeze that crackles in the sun and moans in the night. I am living just below a Buddhist temple on the side of a mountain with a Thai friend and his French girlfriend/lover. I have my own small house and they share their own open air Structure. It is away from town and we wake up above it all. The first day I met him he said I could live on his land with him, write and live quietly. Zaang was once in the Thai military but now is a pack rat businessman, buying what is broken and repairing it to beauty. A few days ago he said, "I can make time bombs!" and started laughing. It is a nice place to find inspiration in the morning and finish it by candlelight in the evening.
People from all over the world are digging into the earth in Thailand, settling down to live a simple life close to the ground, close to life, closer to something new. In a way we are all refugees but more importantly we all have found refuge. There is a group of Japanese that have built a traditional farmhouse, fireplace in the center, mats around the outside. The are making community, organic farming, conversations, thinking in new ways for a new world. It is called Moon Village.
I have been giving poems away, trading them for music, trading them for other poems, smiles, appreciation, anything and nothing. A new friend from Switzerland has been changing my writing into songs and composing guitar music to go along. It is incredible to hear things I write change into something I've never seen before but think is beautiful.
I have met a beautiful Thai woman, I will ask her to marry me soon.
I have an idea that needs the help of everyone that reads this letter. So much of Asian culture has come West but so little of the American culture I love has come East. Many artists here are interested in Native American art and culture but there is little evidence to show them. If people could send me pictures, books, postcards, anything, new old tattered, torn, rusted, wrinkled, ripped, beaten, beautiful, from the Pacific Northwest, Navajo/Hopi Southwest, Great Lakes Great Plains, East, South. All directions can lead here. I hope to cross pollinate cultures to see what will bloom. Anything people can afford to send would be fantastic. We are always planting seeds, send me the seeds.We must keep our visions fresh...awake...alive...breathing.
may be the luckiest person today... tomorrow never comes
Mae Hong Son