Following a spate of family crises, which pushed our relationship to its limits, my partner Deb and I travelled to Thailand in 2019, perhaps searching wistfully to recreate the magic of previous trips.

I took my OM10 Olympus camera with me and captured what was, in truth, a troubled time. For different reasons, we were both fundamentally disconnected from ourselves, and therefore had trouble connecting with each other and with our experiences on the island of Ko Samui.

The blissful state of unity that people seek through practices such as yoga, is a state of deep connection. Considering that we were in one of the prominent Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia, it is disappointing to acknowledge that we couldn’t have been further from this state of mindful connection.

Deb and I made a pilgrimage to Wat Plai Laem and its 18-limbed statue of Guanyin, a bodhisattva who embodies metta, or loving-kindness.

If I were to look upon our trip with loving-kindness, I would remind myself that yoga is a practice. One must continue to show up with no expectation to achieve any particular state, or feel any particular way. All we can do is notice where we are at with non-judgmental awareness.

Our trip was imperfect. Our minds were turbulent. And that’s OK.

Having not slept in nearly 24 hours, and having just taken the kind of international flight I couldn’t justify given the impending climate crisis, I slipped into a panic attack during the taxi ride from Don Mueang International Airport to the centre of Bangkok. In just one year, the city had grown even more dense. The air was hot and thick with pollution. Unfinished concrete sky-scrapers with exposed rebar mushroomed across the horizon. I was overwhelmed by a dark certainty that humankind will never find a way back to nature in time.
Wat Saket, the Temple of the Golden Mountain, rose up above Bangkok on what seemed like its only elevation. The tower of gongs, bells and flags made the hint of wind blowing over the city tangible. I found a moment of quiet respite in the breeze.
Around the edges of Wat Saket, there was a dark, rundown-looking grocery store with plastic garden furniture outside the open front for the owners to sit on. Deb stepped in to buy herself a mango ice-lolly.
There is no auto-focus on an OM10 and I often misfired, but I love the quiet symmetry of this stolen shot from the window of a moving taxi.
The Thai inclination for adornment isn’t practical or utilitarian. Often times a taxi driver would have to grab the thick rope of talismans swinging from his rear view mirror to stop them from chipping his windscreen. But coming from a practical and utilitarian family, there is something so appealing about the care and attention given to things that serve no wordly purpose.
Before traveling to Thailand, I had googled temples on Ko Samui to practice drawing on my iPad. Unknowingly, I’d drawn Wat Ratchathammaram, the very temple that would act as the landmark signposting the hidden turnoff to the Airbnb that Deb and I ended up booking for a month. When our host pointed it out to us, it was the architectural equivalent of meeting a celebrity. I’d spent so long studying its angles and sculptures! The coincidence felt portentous.
The seat of our scooter beaded with falling rain as we explored Wat Phra Yai – the Big Buddha Temple. The stairs were slippery and treacherous.
When I think of Guanyin, I picture a mother holding a crying baby to her shoulder as she calmly rocks and soothes it. The power of this image lies in the possibility for us to internalise the Good Enough Mother and listen to our own struggles with loving-kindness.
The statues in the Secret Buddha Garden were made from tacky cement, but it was magical to get caught in a tropical downpour amidst the quiet figures and waterfalls.
Deb’s personal epiphany on this trip was coconut water. She was preaching the good word coconut even before we googled all its health benefits, and before she got hospitalised at Bangkok Hospital Samui with dengue fever and drank litres of coconut water to keep herself hydrated after days of terrible fever and diarrhoea.
I, on the other hand, discovered ice cream rolls. This talented market stand owner made them by mincing together freshly peeled mango and freshly scooped granadilla on a flat icy canvas. Then she’d add a magic creamy mix to the pulp. I didn’t dare to ask, but I’m fairly certain condensed milk was involved. Between the rhythmic mincing action, the deft swipes of her tools to spread the mixture thin enough for it to freeze, and the gentle technique she employed to peel the ice cream off into rolls, the spectacle was almost as captivating as the ice cream itself.

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