Only days before, we had been walking down a bustling street in Shanghai’s former French Concession. But that setting seemed a world away as Eden and I ambled along a narrow dirt path, lined on either side with stilt houses and lush vegetation. We used sticks to draw pictures in the sand, and Eden found a most irresistible rock. (She has a thing for rocks, you see.) It was a nice, smooth stone, nearly too heavy for her to lift. It must have at one time been in the river that we’d just crossed via a flimsy bamboo bridge. Meanwhile, Anna sat in a circle of believers, meditating on The Word, the mountains just beyond them, climbing to the sky.
Oh you should have seen that clear, blue sky.
There was a birthday party later that afternoon. We all found ourselves in a house full of people we’d never met, and then this family of introverts experienced the strangest thing: immediate connection. There was no pretense, no posturing. Just people genuinely loving life and inviting new friends into the joy. At least five countries were represented in this hodgepodge of interesting people. Over half of them sported dreadlocks, but those who didn’t were the most unconventional looking people in attendance.
There was music everywhere. At any given moment, somebody would spontaneously begin playing the ukulele, and singing. Invariably, someone would join them. There was conversation about the realities of living as a foreigner, of things back home, and of the feasibility of living green. There was talk about the racist politics that are apparently behind Australia’s policies concerning refugees, and one man lamented that so many in his country don’t realize that Australia is a nation of immigrants. And in that moment, this American saw a glimpse of just how small the world is and how depravity, prejudice, and fear live within us all.
As children’s laughter, stimulating conversation, and joyful music permeated the air, I felt for a moment that I’d made an amazing discovery. This, I thought, was real life. How could I return to big, fast-paced Shanghai with its constant pressure to keep up appearances and to climb the ladder? How much better was this slow, unassuming life tucked away in the mountains of northern Thailand?
But I know myself. And I know that if I were to settle down in a place like that, after the honeymoon period was over, and I was struck by the reality that the only way out of this little 3,000-person village was a three-hour trek down a winding mountain road, there is very little doubt that I would totally lose my mind!
I don’t know. Maybe it’s something one just gets used to. Maybe it’s something worth getting used to. Maybe I was on to something when I started fantasizing about life in a traditional Thai house, a little goat in the courtyard, semi-communal living, and breathing in fresh mountain air. Or maybe I’ve simply seen that there is more than one way to live. Maybe I’ve simply found a good place to return to from time to time for respite from my busy world. And maybe it’s good enough that I’ve returned to Shanghai with wonderful memories, stunning pictures to help me recall the feelings I had, and lessons learned. Oh, and a very impressive round stone!