People or Places?
Is travelling about being in the right place or meeting the right people? Sometimes it feels like the place is a pretext for meeting the right people. Rather than having some intrinsic quality, it's redeeming feature is that it attracts the sort of people that you want to meet.
I've just spent a few weeks in Pai, and a few overlapping groups of people bonded in a way that none of us (or at least few of us) had experienced whilst on our travels. Many tears were shed as we all gradually left, and there was a real sense of us having unexpectedly stumbled upon not just a great community, but a group of fascinating, idiosyncratic, diverse individuals. Almost everyone was travelling on their own and was without a partner and they all had very distinctive and, I suppose, forceful personalities. Pai, for us, was not a place for wallflowers, travelling groups of friends or insular couples. This being my only experience of Pai I'm tempted to assume that this is the 'Pai' experience, but of course it may just have been a small personal experience rather than a generic Pai one. I, of course, will never know.
Our days consisted of often 4 hour long breakfasts in Good Life, where, in the grips of mass hangovers, we ripped open the underbelly of human existence. Or played stupid games. There was no small talk, only very big talk. One girl, the lovely Christina, mentioned to me -as she was guiding my pick-up truck through the Northern mountain roads - that whilst we had all bonded, she didn't know lots of the basic facts that are normally the subject of initial meetings. Namely: where you're from, where you're going next, how long you've been out, what you do at home, and so on and so forth. We didn't really discuss things like that, too many more important things to discuss. I mentioned in a previous post my intuitive aversion to small talk, and the fact that this group made no demands of it was both notable and curious. It seems that if you send out the right signals it is possible to skip the initial 'getting to know you' part of a relationship and get straight to the nitty-gritty. These friends were like friends you had known for many years, and it was as much a pleasure to sit silently doing your own thing near them as it was to chat incessantly.
Our evenings were taken up by the gigs in Edible Jazz which had a very special feeling about them. We never rehearsed, and the feeling of the music being put together in real-time added a frisson to the evenings that was quite infectious. It meant that each song was a journey of connections: of really listening, of playing mindfully. Sometimes we fucked it right up. But that was ok, because everyone in the room knew the rules. This wasn't a band on stage, it was a community experimenting and connecting. Sometimes people joined in, and we accompanied them. Sometimes it was just myself Matt and Aaron. But it was inclusive. We were the crowd, and the crowd were part of the band. It was all about human connection.
I'm a people traveller really. I love seeing amazing sights, but seeing them alone just doesn't do it for me. Even seeing them with someone I don't fully connect with doesn't do it for me. I've become aware, gradually, that travelling for me is a search for connections. For those transcendental, unexplainable, chemical, undeniable moments of clarity where you know that you share an understanding with someone; that there can be no ambiguity, no doubt, no insecurity; only reassurance and solidarity. They happen so rarely, but have arrived in abundance in the last 3 weeks.
These moments can happen between two people anywhere: of course. But when they happen with a large group, I can't help putting on my hippie hat (big pointy one with stripes and a bell on the end; it's a hypothetical hat by the way, I would never actually wear one) and wondering about leigh lines, and magnetic grids etc. Because there are certain places that seem to draw people together. Pai seems to be one of those places.
I wonder though, if I had arrived in Pai a month earlier or a month later, what would my experience have been? Would it have been less special. Would it just have been another place on the map? I know my experience was grounded in a group of fine people, so in the end I can only put it down to coincedence. Or fate, if you like. So travelling for me, is all about the people. But, of course, you have to go to the right places to meet the right people. Why can't we all just form some sort of online forum where only the 'right' people are registered? Wouldn't it make travelling easier? Or perhaps, restricting membership to the 'right' people would make it tedious. Because, individually, everyone I met in Pai was very different; they were only the 'right' people in that place at that moment.
In the end, travelling involves the psychological interaction of so many different people with different motives and viewpoints that none of it can be tracked or planned. We just live for the serendipitous collision of the right elements at the right time. It's a constant search, but maybe it only happens when we stop looking for it.
THE PRACTICAL STUFF
I'm in Chiang Mai now. Leaving tomorrow. My flight has been delayed and I and the five other people who have also been rescheduled were sent an email about it. They didn't bcc it, so I have the email adresses of the other 5 people. I sent them an email saying that we should all have a sock hanging out of a pocket to identify ourselves at check in as the rescheduled 6. Just for fun. I don't know if anybody will do it, but I will. Of course. Will report back.
So next stop Bangkok and then England. I will continue to blog of course, but not here. A new blog is in the offing. For now, food, booze and dancing are the order of the day.