I was riding my motor scooter from Mae Rim to Chiang Mai early yesterday morning and passed a group of women sitting by the side of the highway, crouched perilously close to traffic, all selling what appeared to be the same vegetables and fruits. As I drove by, the face of the newest arrival to the phalanx of sellers caught my eye. She was smiling broadly. Despite the fact that she was preparing to sit on hard concrete with her inventory spread in front of her on a piece of cloth, an inventory that in no way seemed unique, she was glad to be there.
Buddhism emphasises acceptance. If I were in her place, I would have a hard time accepting the fact that I was joining an already overcrowded market, and would find some way to stand out from the other sellers. If I could, I would also find a way to maximise my comfort. Maybe I would just throw up my hands and go home, vowing to find a better way. But not her. She was glad to be sitting on the edge of the road among friends.
In our neighborhood, recorded music comes over the public address system followed by announcements by the village head man. Listening to this is not optional. Here, there is no assumed or implied right to sonic privacy. I was complaining about this to a Norwegian woman who had been here longer than I, and she suggested instead of looking at this as someone stealing my right to privacy, I might view it as the gift of community.
As an American, I view my neighbors as competition. As Moe of the Three Stooges used to bark at his fellow knuckleheads “Spread Out!” Like Daniel Boone, when I can see the smoke from my neighbor’s chimney, I know it’s time to move on. Here in Indochina, tucked between the two most populous countries in the world, India and China, only the super-rich can afford such notions. Here, where most people drive motor scooters, those who have office jobs aspire to drive the largest trucks they can purchase, usually on loan, often with no money down.
As the Thai economy continues to tank, I imagine quite a few of those will hit the used truck market. But none of this effects me, as I am not in the market for a loan, or a truck, or land, or a house. I’m here to live as simply and cheaply as I can, and maybe absorb some of that acceptance that allowed the woman I saw to smile as she joined her community.