Farewell old friend…

Today for the first time in 8 and a half months I left something in the back of a songthaew ( redbus/taxi ).

It wasn’t anything expensive or vital. It wasn’t a thing of great beauty or importance. It was just an empty bag. An empty,old dirty, worn out bag. I am unreasonably sad about the loss of my old, dirty, worn out bag.

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Today for the first time in 8 and a half months I left something in the back of a songthaew ( redbus/taxi ).

It wasn’t anything expensive or vital. It wasn’t a thing of great beauty or importance. It was just an empty bag. An empty,old dirty, worn out bag. I am unreasonably sad about the loss of my old, dirty, worn out bag. We have a history you see. A full and wonderful history.

the bag of wonder

Somewhere in the middle of the Nevada desert, it was waiting. Waiting for the moment that fate and an excess baggage problem would bring us together. Waiting to be found. I could feel it drawing me ever closed like a fish on a line pulled inexorably to the shore. I turned a corner of the tat filled mall in a tourist trap laid out in the sand. And there it was. I didn’t know it at the time, but we would be together for an age of adventure, spanning continents, conquering new worlds….

OK so I’m probably getting a bit carried away now but it was a REALLY good bag.
We have been together on many adventures, starting with the honeymoon in Vegas and LA, it’s still got the hotel stickers on. Although we bought it together it was soon ‘my bag’. My husband thinking (probably quite rightly) that it was just too small for him. But you would be amazed at how much you can fit inside. It could happily contain the necessary requirements for me and small person for up to a week’s worth of travel.
It’s been with me on buses, planes, trains, motorbikes, boats, cars. And travelled to many destinations including. Paris, Rome, Nagoya (Japan), Holland, back to America (twice), Macau ,Hong Kong, Phuket and all over the UK .It has suffered in the bowels of many a national express coach the length and breadth of the country, been trundled through as many railway and underground stations as you could mention and been the mainstay of many a house move, not to mention yomping through the country lanes of rural France filled with groceries from the nearest shop that was 2 miles away through rugged forest and field paths.

From Rural France to Thailands second city, my trusty bag has continued in it’s service. Due to its slightly worn ( already once replaced) shoulder straps, the ever-so-slightly awkward zip and the slowly growing hole in the bottom it has been demoted from essential travel bag to family workhorse. Accompanying me on the weekly water run and on trips slightly further afield to Tesco Lotus to assist in the conveyance of ‘the big shop’. It was todays ‘big shop’ that led to my distress. For unknown reasons we jumped from the back of the songthaew, paid the driver and watched him drive off into the distance. It was only then, a minute too late, that I realised my bag was not on my shoulder. I must have set it down as we got in and got carried away eating sno-cones and chatting with small person and not realised that I had left my wonderful bag inside.

I KNOW it is unreasonable and quite ridiculous to become emotionally attached to a travel bag. I know.  But that doesn’t alter the sadness I feel. I KNOW that I needed to get a new companion as after 13 years of faithful service it was more than a little frayed round the edges, and yet I haven’t . I KNOW its just a piece of luggage and I haven’t lost the memories contained within its canvas shell and I KNOW I will find a new bag, but my goodness it will not be easy, it will have a VERY hard time living up to it’s predecessor.

 

Jer Gan Mai

Burn Baby Burn

Here on the ground it is an otherworldly scene reminiscent of a galaxy far far away. Above the smog you can easily imagine the twin suns of Tatooine burning, searing and blinding, but the dust hangs so thick that the power from our single sun cannot penetrate.

 

The heavy haze hangs listlessly in the air unheeding of the gentlest of breezes. Even the butterflies seem weighed down as they career in a tipsy fashion across the garden .
The sounds in the air , like the air itself, have a slightly muffled quality.
The voice of a monk backed by the melodic auto harp oozes ethereally through the temple speakers, punctuated by the calls of the cicadas as they drift lazily by, slightly slowed by the not quite oppressive heat.
Here on the ground it is an otherworldly scene reminiscent of a galaxy far far away. Above the smog you can easily imagine the twin suns of Tatooine burning, searing and blinding, but the dust hangs so thick that the power from our single sun cannot penetrate. We are left in shadow, edges blurred, life through a soft focus lens.
It’s burning season.

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Farmers throughout the north of the country as well as those in the south of Myanmar, Laos and China are illegally burning their fields after harvest to prepare the ground for next seasons yield and clearing tracts of forest to use as agricultural land. The smoke hangs heavy and dense across south east Asia, with no real winds to disperse it and no rain of any significance since October add that to the traffic and industrial pollution that rises from the cities and you get the ‘perfect storm’ for the whole of the north of the country to be locked down by smog.

*(For a more comprehensive read about the problems of Burning season this is a great article that was featured in this weeks Chiang Mai City News)
We had of course read about the burning season and thought we were ready for it and had our dust masks purchased , but nothing can really prepare you for the reality of the alien landscape and the sheer lack of visible familiar surroundings day after day.

From our bedroom window the usual view is this;

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During burning season most days it has been this;

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Quite a difference.

When you are in a city it can be easy to believe that this is a local issue but my visa run to Myanmar showed me just how widespread the problem is. The further north you travel the heavier the gloom becomes and the more the eyes sting from the acrid smog.

The problem, categorised as ‘urgent’ for the last 10 years, is deliberated over and debated every single year with proposals put forward and initiatives rolled out to convince the farmers not to burn but clearly once again the initiatives have not succeeded and the locals of Chiang Mai have either donned their dust masks or done what we will be doing at this time next year and fled south to enjoy clean air and fresh breezes. It’s no mistake I’m sure that ‘summer holidays’ coincide with burning season.

I love my new city with a passion I haven’t felt for a place in a very long time, but I can’t recommend visiting it at this time of year ( there is a reason the tour packages to northern Thailand are significantly cheaper now). It’s still a beautiful city, but its much more spectacular when visibility is above 500 meters and your breathing isn’t impaired. For now we go on in the hope that ‘they’ are right when ‘they’ say it should be over by Songkran ( Thai new year festivities mid-April ) and in the meantime join the locals in their happy dances when the occasional storm passes over. The last couple days have been significantly better due to a tropical storm front sweeping through bringing with it the cleansing power of the rain and as I lay in bed last night gazing out across the mountain that has been hidden from view for most of the last month it feels like the end of the burning season, as well as the lights from the temple, are in sight.

Jer Gan Mài