30 May, 2011

Ode to my Feet

I am currently very happy with my feet. I realize that almost everyone has them, and usually they are associated with dirt, smells and sweat. We often try to adorn them with bright, painted toe-nails or perhaps a toe ring, I've even seen some very creative tattoos. 
However, though they carry us about in our day-to-day activities they seldom receive the praise which they deserve. Since coming to Thailand I have begun to pay more attention to my feet. 
In this country, feet are considered the dirtiest and most offensive part of the body; shoes are removed before entering any house or temple, feet are to be kept clean out of courtesy to others, and it is rude to point ones feet at another person, and even more offensive if done to a Buddha statue.

Because of the need for constant vigilance concerning the state and direction of my feet, I have began to pay closer attention to them and I feel as though I have been ignoring them all my life. The other day I was reminded not to take them for granted.

It was a day when I put my poor and uncomplaining feet through a great deal of walking - first from my apartment to Kad Suun Keew mall and back - about an hour walk each way - and then all around the Sunday night Walking Street for a few hours. If this was not enough, I then took the long trek home from Tapae Gate (another hour's walk)! It was only after showering and laying myself down in exhaustion, that I turned my attention to the appendages at the end of my legs. I stared at them in wonder; sore and swollen they had carried my towering body across the city as I trudged back and forth. What strength and perseverance! With a new appreciation I lay on my bed and massaged those tired and faithful friends. 

Thank God for my feet!

08 May, 2011

Airports and Coffee Shops

Have you ever felt happy with the present? Not 'The Present', that large, general and ambiguous category of time that we stick somewhere in the middle of Past and Future, but the present moment. As if you are suspended in time, not even thinking about time at all really, but content just to be? Its a wonderful feeling; to be thrilled at this amazing thing called existence, grinning for no apparent reason at the world - so full of normal, every-day, average life! I suppose that is what it really feels like to "live in the moment". It's not simply taking life as it comes by being spontaneous and crazy, living with a live-for-anything attitude, but rather it means standing still. Stopping. While everyone else rushes by you just look at the world around you. We seldom have time to remember the present. We're always rushing to and fro, from one task to the next, always planning the future or regretting the past. We forget the present and how wonderful it is to simply be, now.

There are certain places I have found, where this "living in the present" feeling comes on quite strong, places that contain a lot of fodder for this craving for life. One such place is airports. Having done a fair bit of travelling in the past five years or so (the latest of which has brought me to Asia, to a 5 month semester abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand), I have come to appreciate these fascinating places. Airports are like giant spice shops or spice cookies; the flavours of the world come to mesh momentarily in delicious, often surprising combinations. (Incidentally, spice cookies and spice shops are not for everyone...)
Airports are portholes, existing unattached and not really part of anywhere. There is a certain universal quality to them for though each one carries the particular flavours of the home country, they are essentially the same from country to country. Airports hold combinations of languages, fashions, smells, generations, styles and every state of human emotion and interaction you could think of - humanity in all its glory and misery! You have prim and proper air hostesses, travel-worn families, tanned tourists, suited business men, flurried officials - travelers and workers all suspended in time, waiting for the destination, for the journey to be over, for 'real life' to continue. Or begin. 

The second place in which you can suspend yourself above time and watch the rest of humanity - those poor souls still caught up in its grip - is at coffee shops, or cafes. Here you can see the anxious businessman, late for a meeting but not willing to give up his caffeine, the  students - a gaggle of girls on their phones and ipods, giggling and texting. The silent young male sent by friends to get all the orders - he leaves with 5 drinks in a bag or a box to take back to work or to the party or the video-game marathon. There's the old man, a teacher with his laptop and books, the shy couple, the mother with her espresso and daughter with her fruit juice. 

I am currently enjoying a large iced mocha (or  มอคค่าเย็น if you want the actual Thai name), courtesy of Groon Cafe. I'd like to boast about this little cafe, of which I have become extremely fond. Over the past three weeks it has become my favourite coffee shop in Chiang Mai. It is a small, one-roomed cafe off of Suthep Road, soi 4, with delicious drinks, free wi-fi and friendly female baristas. The  inside of the cafe is decorated with old pictures - scattered photographs of the King and his wife when they were young, and also shelf after shelf of random collections - magazines, empty drink cans, old toys...there's even a couple ancient-looking television sets. The place is frequented primarily by young people; students of the University and a few resident Farang/foreigners like myself and is a perfect place to sit and observe (and judge, let's be honest) the life around me. In fact, I would suggest that everyone follow my example, give it a try: perch yourself in the corner of your favourite coffee shop, preferably with a view of the door and one of the road/sidewalk outside, order a nice iced latte or hot chocolate or a fruit shake, arm yourself with an ipod, a book, a laptop, a notebook and pen, even a text book - its not important, its merely the facade you'll be hiding behind. Once you have assumed this position you can sit and enjoy. And just watch life and people.