Stepping out into the day for the first time, into Bangkok life on that bustling street, my senses instantaneously became overwhelmed. The smile of a Thai student flashing by on the back of a revving mini bike helped set the stage – a vibrant, colorful day in a chaotic, sun-filled sanctuary of life.
Traversing the sidewalk, raised a few feet over a narrow canal like street, I watched agile pedestrians dodge speeding motorcycles that weave through every crack they can find in the bright, noisy traffic. Bandana-masked workers hammered the concrete next to content, napping street dogs. People avoided the heavy sun, lounging at endless open-air storefronts and kitchens that seem to pull everything in their direction. The scents of the street, innumerable, unfamiliar and complex, mixed with dust and thick heat in the constricted air above me.
Breaking from the chaos, I stopped at an umbrella shaded street cart where the sweetest, juiciest mangoes sat in a rainbow of tropical fruit. There in the short conversation I had with the vendor, I found the spirit of Thailand. Kop khun krop, thank you, I said. The weathered woman turned with a laid back grin and softly replied, Mai pen rai, the phrase with a thousand meanings – Nevermind, No worries, Give, Take, Forgive, Forget, Enjoy the mango, Enjoy the moment, It’s all good.
After another dirt cheap and remarkable Thai lunch, a hot bus ride led to a cool boat taxi ride on the San Sab Canal, leaving us at a typical, amazing Thai market in Bankapit. Neither of my travel companions, Si and Fay, both from Bangkok, had told me what we were doing until Si nonchalantly said, “Dave, man, we gonna buy life”. Not knowing what she meant, I gave her a curious smile as we waded deep into the crowded market.
The vibrancy is breathtaking. Life, so bright, out in the open and full of energy, bursts out and the colors, like off Van Gogh’s pallet, fit together in a wildly perfect way. We walked around, buying a few things – dried squid, fresh fruit, live fish. When Fay purchased the three small fish encased in plastic bags filled with water, I still didn’t know why. “Maybe Miss Si’s gonna cook up some fish”, I thought. “Mmm, Miss Si cooks a mean fried fish.”
These fish, however, were not to be fried. As we headed back to the canal, Si explained how we’d set them free as a blessing. “This is how to make life interesting”, I later remarked. Take an everyday trip to the market, combine it with a mission of infinite importance. We’d already bought life, three small fish, which Fay carried with care as she stepped. Soon we’d set life free, putting energy and compassion back into the water, the world, the universe.
Extending from a dock high above on the bank of the canal was a small, narrow, slippery footbridge with no hand rail that led down to a tiny wooden platform perched directly above the greasy water. Apparently, this was the best place to set life free. Si “walked the plank” first, as though she could have done it in her sleep, gracefully crouching, praying and blessing the fish before letting it slip gently out of her hands, into the ripple below. After Fay made the ritual look even more tranquil and moving, they handed the last fish to me. I took a deep breath and quivered onto the wobbly wooden planks.
As I made my way downward, at about ten feet above the water, two motorboats came scrambling by causing the tiny bridge to move and shake as waves splashed from underneath. Si and Fay yelped in suspense when I lost my balance for a moment and nearly dropped the plastic-entangled fish into the water. This would have certainly killed it in a slow, torturous manner while sending my karma hurling back 100 years, Worse, it would make me look like a clumsy idiot in front of these two beautiful, spiritual women. Somehow, though, I held on to the fish, to my footing and continued down to the platform.
Now the fish, sticking tail first out of the crinkled, twisted mess the bag had become, began fighting, flipping and flapping in my hands. I knelt down, started untangling the bag and made my very first genuine Buddhist blessing while setting a living thing free. It was something like, “Okay you damn fish, I feel your pain right now and I want to make this happen just as much as you do and – whoops – suddenly the fish (a true fighter) freed itself from the bag, slipped out of my hands and fell with a bang at my feet, smacking into the platform before propelling itself into the water. I watched the whole time. I saw the fish swim away. It wasn’t hurt. It was fine. At least that’s what I told Si and Fay, who got a big kick out of the whole thing. Thoroughly embarrassed, I chuckled, Kor toht, sorry, to which Fay replied with a warm smile, Mai pen rai, don’t worry.