Phanat landscapes

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Since Eid’s funeral at the end of April, I have returned to her hometown twice. The first time was in late July (I left on the 21st, my birthday) and the second was for a week in late October. The photo above was taken during the first trip, on the day before we held the 100-day ceremony for Eid. The photos below were taken on that occasion.

The second trip coincided with the funeral of the late King Bhumipol, who died last year on October 13 (six months and 10 days before Eid). The photos below show Eid’s mother and her sister watching the funeral on TV.

Since Eid died, the house has been largely uninhabited: Her mother and sister, the only two people still living full-time on the family’s five-rai property, both sleep outside of the main part of the house, which includes the living room and two bedrooms (the one that Eid and I used, and the one that Eid’s brother uses when he visits on weekends). These days, it is home mostly to Kanda and family members who dwell there only in spirit.

The third photo shows Kanda with the portrait that Eid’s mother wants to be used at her own funeral. Here it is again in a photo of Eid taken during the last month she lived in the house, between her release on December 23 of last year after her first surgery and her return to the hospital on January 22 of this year:

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During my last visit, Eid’s brother told me that he would like to get his mother and sister to move into town. I can certainly understand why: They are both getting older and experiencing more health problems. The property itself is almost unmanageable, as it quickly becomes overgrown if it’s not tended to all the time. But it’s difficult to imagine the two surviving women of the family ever leaving the small patch of land that has supported them almost their entire lives (apart from the decade or so when Eid’s father was still alive and moving his family around the country because of his job with Thailand’s national railway, before he killed himself in 1971).

I have always been intrigued by this connection that Eid’s family has to the land that they live on, which is so different from my own experience of restless rootlessness. I’m sure that a large part of the reason I wanted to move there more than three years ago was because I have always had an unacknowledged longing for such a sense of belonging. (Ironically, it’s difficult to imagine a place where I — a non-Thai-speaking foreigner — would feel less at home than in rural Chonburi, among people who speak almost no English. Without Eid, my fantasy of building a life for myself there quickly evaporated.)

Here are a few photos of Eid’s mother that show her spiritual connection to the land of her ancestors (some of whom emigrated to Thailand from China):

Even though she lived in other parts of Thailand (in the North and Northeast) for most of her life, I felt that Eid also had a strong connection to this landscape. These two photos were taken during the month after her release from the hospital at the end of last year. (Her release coincided with our tenth anniversary, which we planned to celebrate in Canada with my family).

Finally, here’s a poem (accompanied by a video clip of a bamboo grove on the family property) that expresses my own, more tenuous connection to the land:

No Fixed Abode

This morning I awoke from a dream into another dream.

I dreamt that I lived in a house I had built myself,

And wrote poems wrought from bamboo —

From the sound of bamboo when it creaks in the wind

Like a wooden ship far out to sea.

I knew then that I was lost.

And with that thought

I finally awakened.

(When I was in the hospital with Eid earlier this year, this poem — which I wrote in August 2014, shortly before I decided to quit my job in Chiang Mai and move to Phanat Nikhom, Eid’s hometown — became a sort of mantra for me. It was around this time that I recalled this verse from the Dhammapada: “O house-builder, you are seen! You will not build this house again. For your rafters are broken and your ridgepole shattered. My mind has reached the Unconditioned; I have attained the destruction of craving.”)

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2 Responses to Phanat landscapes

  1. tiramit says:

    Yes, the House-builder verse was a turning point for me too

    • Loong Ling says:

      Thanks for your comment, Tiramit. It’s odd that in my case, I was thinking of literally building a house — a baan din, or earth house — on the property when that poem came to me. It was only much later, when my wife and I were in the hospital together, that I recalled the poem, and later still that the House-builder verse came to mind. At each point, I was acutely aware of the precariousness of my plans and of life itself, and realized the need to abandon desire. (When we returned to the hospital in January, my greatest desire was to leave as soon as possible; but when my wife’s doctor told us in mid-March that her condition was terminal, I lost that desire completely.)

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