Chaing Mai, Where the Railroads End
Right now I am in Chaing Mai in northern Thailand, in the nightly thunderstorm. The lightning flashes are actually turning the sky green. It is quite eerie.
I guess one could consider Chaing Mai to be where the railroads end. The old Anglo-Siamese rail network that linked the 19th Century imperial outposts of Batavia, Singapore, Kuala Lampur, Rangoon, and Saigon terminates a few mile from here. So, from here to Southern China, it is travel overland via elephant, boat, or boot - 1000 miles of jungle, mountains, and clandestine opium farms.
A surprising amount of human detritus has washed-up here in Chaing Mai. It almost as if the philosophy, comparative dance, and quantative mysticism departments of second-rate state colleges airdropped their frustrated doctorial students into the area. It is funny to see these privileged children of the Western professional class parading around as saffron-robbed monks. Albeit monks with tattoos, multiple piercings, and $300 ergonomic sandals.
A good number of these baby Buddhas are American. I spent several hours talking to one on the train up from Bangkok. He could not stand the religious fundamentalism of North Carolina - "Jesus this; Jesus that" and people being more concerned with the next life than the present life. So, to escape the religious fanatics, he is spending time in a Buddhist Monastery several miles north of here. I pointed out the irony of this - plus the irony of his "time off to decompress" in Bangkok. He did not understand my comment and proceeded to describe how much better he understands the world now that he has become Buddhist. He spent several minutes describing his path to enlightenment and then asked me whether I wanted to come with him back to the monastery. Funny, I never met a Jehovah's Witness on Amtrak.
It is the German and Dutch Baby Buddhas that are truly scary. While the Americans display an almost harmless cluelessness about the world and their place in it, the Germans and Dutch have the arrogance that comes with the supreme confidence that they - and they alone - have discovered the one true path to happiness and the end of human suffering. Nearly every sentence begins with, "The trouble with you Americans is...." Choose One: you are too narrow-minded; you think having a nice car makes you happy; you eat too much meat; you spend too much time thinking about god; you spend too little time thinking about god. They then describe their plan to make the world a better place. I am too afraid to object - I may be branded a heretic for following a "false god" and be sent to the local salt mines or be visited by the Buddhist Inquisition.