These were the thoughts that were running around, stimulating our imagination, as we left Santa Barbara via an Airbus for Los Angeles. At LAX we boarded Thai Airways to take a 12 hour flight to Osaka, Japan from Los Angeles. After a short layover we would take a 5 hour flight to Bangkok, Thailand.
On the long plane flight to Japan, my Person experienced increasing discomfort from the altitude. First just pressure in the nasal passage and then a pain above his eyebrows. To relieve the discomfort he went to the back of the plane and stretched his body and mind. While back there he met a variety of people including one named Chu who was a native Thai but had been living in Los Angeles for the last 20 years, and was just going back for one of his regular visits.
After chatting for awhile, my Person Don asked: "Why are the Thai people so peaceful?" (Despite evidence to the contrary, Don was still holding onto the illusion that the Thai people were the most peaceful people on the planet.)
Chu: "They are peaceful because they forget. They bear no grudges. They just move on. Like California."
Don: "Of course. Forget the past and remain in the present."
Chu: "Simple. The Thai people just forget."
Tingles up his spine, Don, thinking to himself. "Why ruin the present by regretting the past and fearing tomorrow. Dwelling in the past keeps recreating the atrocities and injustices over and over again. Let the past go into the Void where it belongs. Its only reality is in the Mind, where it is just reinforced by some kind of electronic signal triggering certain synapses. Nothing else."
We got off the plane in Japan so they could refuel. Then we made our way back to the jet for another 5 hour flight to Bangkok, the capitol of Thailand. As we were waiting for the plane to takeoff, Don struck up a conversation with a couple behind us in the plane,
Don: "Where are you going?"
Man: "Cambodia and Laos for about a month."
Don: “Sounds exciting.”
Woman: "My husband speaks Cambodian even though he's American. I'm Laotian.”
Don: "Going for business or pleasure?"
Man: “Mostly pleasure. Speaking Cambodian I’ve wanted to see Angkor for a long time. I've read so much about it. Now that it has been reopened, I couldn't miss it. Are you going?"
Don: "We would love to but we're not sure yet how easy and affordable it is to get there."
Man: "You should really go if you can. Everyone who has been there says that it’s unbelievable. Plus if you're interested in Southeast Asian history at all, the Khmer empire, which founded Angko,r is certainly the heart. Everyone else, including the Thai people, borrowed from them."
The pressure in Don's head ceased upon landing, but then began growing again when we got back into the air for one of the last legs of our journey. Again Don walked to the back of the jet for some exercise to relieve the pressure. This time there were a different set of passengers to talk to. There was a fellow from the desert in Nevada, who was obviously well traveled. It turned out that the man worked for United Airline, so he could fly for free.
Nevada: "No wife and no kids. That's the way I like it. I can travel anywhere I want anytime I want as frequently as I want and I do. Been to all the great ruins all over the world, most of them more than once. Learned more about myself from traveling than I ever did in school. Saw Angkor Wat last time I was here, a few months ago. Nothing like it, anywhere. If you're all the way over here, you can't miss it. A three day package for $400 and some change, everything included. Be stupid to pass it up. Certainly one of the top few of its kind in the world. Beats the Pyramids of Egypt or Mexico, hands down. Much bigger and lots of interior light. The pyramids are dark and damp inside."
Don: "They are as big as the pyramids of Egypt? I had no idea."
Nevada: "Bigger. The Inca ruins were a disappointment. A week to get there and then it's not that big and no accommodations. However, first class hotels with great food at Siem Riep.”
Don: "Siem Riep?"
Nevada: "It is next to the ruins of Angkor. The package flies you right there. If you do it on your own you have go through Phnom Penh, the capital. No need to. Just another big city. Now's your chance to catch Angkor Wat before it becomes too commercialized. It's a large city of ruins, more than you can even see in three days.”
Don: "My wife has always wanted to go.”
Nevada: "It was incredible and I've been everywhere. Gotta do these things when you're young and have the energy. If you wait till you're older you won't even be able to make it up to the temples. I've been on tours with people who have me describe what it's like at the ruins because they can't make it because they're too old."
Don: "What do you for jet lag?"
Nevada: "Always give my body one day to acclimate, whether to altitude or time change. Always go on my trips for about 2 weeks, never more. If it is longer than that, you get stale. How much can you really absorb before the sights and experiences begin to merge together."
Don: "Nice talking to you."
Nevada: "My pleasure. Don't miss Angkor; you'll regret it the rest of your life.”
I might not have mentioned it, but the energy bundle called the Lehman family had absolutely no agenda. Everyone recommended planning everything once we had arrived in Thailand. We had been thinking about Cambodia and Angkor Wat but weren't sure we could afford it this time around.
Don: "After all, Nevada's talking about $400 for himself. It will cost 4 time as much for me with my wife and two daughters. That comes up to $1600, not exactly pocket change for a poor waiter like myself. This trip has already cost us nearly $3200 on round trip tickets to get over here and back. With Cambodia that's nearly 5 thousand dollars! For just transportation. What do they think? That I'm made of money. That's two months of work. Hard work. We waiters have to work hard for a living.
But why did the Universe put us together?
Passing over the international dateline in the middle of the Pacific, we jumped a day and arrived in Bangkok in the middle of the night on Tuesday, the day after. Because of Bangkok's corrupted, polluted reputation, we decided to head right for Chiang Mai, the 'spiritual capital of Thailand'. We slept for four hours and then flew at dawn on Wednesday to Chiang Mai, a one hour $50/person flight away.
Something that became immediately apparent from the window of the plane as we took off from Bangkok was that Thailand was not as densely packed with people as we had expected. Friends traveling to southern and eastern Asia, notably India, Japan, Korea, or China, had consistently mentioned the overwhelming number of people. One of our friends even had nightmares about all the millions of people she had seen on her far east Asia trip. Another had mentioned that Los Angeles had seemed like a small village compared to Bombay in India. Others had said that New York seemed quaint compared to Tokyo and Shanghai. Being in Asia my Mind had come prepared to see millions of people. Instead the population density was very similar to California. While Bangkok was dense with people the surrounding suburbs were lightly populated.
Looking at a population map of the world both Thailand and California were predominantly in the zone of under 10 people per square kilometer. The heavier populated areas were in the zone of 10 to 50 per square kilometer, while only the immediate zones around the big cities were in the 50 to 100 people per square kilometer zones.
Contrast this with the US east of the Mississippi, where the entire area is in the 10 to 50 zone or greater population density. Further east on the northeastern seaboard there are major swatches of area which have between 50 to 100 people. Finally in the big cities whose populations are connected in a continuous flow, the density rises to between 100 to 200 people per square kilometer. There are no equivalent population zones in the west.
Contrast this with India and China. Each country has enormous geographical areas, which have over 200 people per square kilometer. The overall population zone of the Asian countries of India, China, Japan and Korea, in the least populated areas is 10 to 50 people per. Thus the big metropolitan areas of India and Eastern Asia dwarf the Eastern seaboard of the US in the same way that the East dwarfs the West in population.
Southeast Asia on the other hand is very similar to California, with large population centers surrounded by lightly populated regions. Thailand was not the huge megalopolis that we expected it to be. Instead it had some big cities surrounded by farmland. Note that North and Central Thailand were not even connected economically until the early 1900s. Anyway this was the reality that was reflected from the window of our airplane as we flew to Chiang Mai.