The Journey Om


They say that things come in threes.  In my experience, 2 of the things will be similar in nature, and the third will be ‘same same, but different’, as they say in Thailand.  What I mean is that… well, maybe this story will speak for itself.

Cyrus had been taking jewelry classes in downtown Chiang Mai.  He loved attending his class, I’m sure because he was getting a break from his little sister as much as how much he loved the silversmithing.  It wasn’t far from our home, only a few kilometers away, so I had been driving him there in the morning, and picking him up in the afternoon.

It was about a 10-minute ride, as long as traffic was normal (which means heavy but moving steadily.)  In the afternoon, the traffic was usually quite bad, bumper to bumper, moving slowly.  The habits of the song thaew (taxi truck) drivers didn’t help, as they drive halfway between the lanes, and drift over to the side and stop in the outside lane whenever they see someone who might need a ride, which is generally anyone not already in a vehicle.

So there I was, just starting out on my journey to pick up the lad at 4:30, slowly making my way along the inside lane (which is unofficially reserved for motorcycles) as we all made our way up to the front of the traffic, which would give us a jump start on the cars and keep us out of the direct exhaust spewing out of their tailpipes.

Out of the blue, a fellow motorcyclist decided to pull into my lane from in between two cars, neglecting (as all motorcyclists do in Thailand) to see if anyone was coming.  We were both doing about 10 km/h, so all I really did was lightly bump into him, and neither of us fell over or were injured.  I checked myself, and the other driver to make sure we were ok, accepted his apology, and we both drove off.  I was a little shaken, but unhurt, and counted my blessings.

Upon picking up Cyrus, I noticed that my front tire was half flat.  It seems that the impact on the other motorcycle had done some damage that I hadn’t noticed before.  Luckily, Cyrus’s school was only a half a block from the motorcycle rental place.  I wheeled up, and they got to work on changing the tire.  They offered me another bike in exchange, which seemed like a good opportunity to try something a little different.

A new line of automatic scooter had recently come out in Asia, called the Fino, made by Yamaha.  The Fino blends the retro looks of a Vespa with the performance of the Mio (the bike I had, and quite liked.)  The Fino also rents for twice the price of the Mio, but after some wrangling, and a reminder that I had been a customer for over three months, I was given the Fino for only 500 Baht more for the remainder of my rental.  That’s about $15, and well worth it to spend my last two weeks in Chiang Mai riding around in total style.

That was, until I actually started driving the thing.  Honestly, it felt more like a toy than a motorcycle, with poor handling, weak rear brakes, and oversensitive front brakes.  Not a good combo, as any motorcyclist scooter rider will know.  I might have looked good, but I felt that I was riding a thing of all style and no substance.  Still, I decided to give it a chance, to see if I could get used it.

That night, I received my first ever tattoo.  Not just any tattoo, but an authentic Thai Bamboo tattoo, from a dreadlock Thai Rastafarian, in a grungy Reggae bar.  How much more authentic can you get than that?  Unlike most tattoos, which use a mechanical device that fires the ink into the skin, traditional Thai tattoos are created using slivers of bamboo tied to a steel rod, which is then dipped in ink and repeatedly and rapidly maneuvered by hand to pierce the skin and embed the ink.  This process causes less damage to the skin tissue, and takes less time to heal.

My reasons for getting a tattoo were many, but it was not based out of the desire to inflict pain on myself.  Truthfully, I wanted to have a symbol that would help keep me grounded when doing bodywork, and would keep the flow of energy between myself and my client clean and clear.  I also sought something that would remind me that we are spiritual beings inhabiting a body on this physical plane.  The piece I was being branded with was original and spiritual in nature, and I had spent many hours over the preceding weeks researching a design I liked, drawing it out, and working with the artist to create something that suited me.

I chose a Buddhist symbol of a six petaled lotus, with the Sanskrit Symbols OM MA NI PAD ME HUM in each petal, and the eye of the Buddha in the center.  The lotus is a flower that grows from the mud of a pond, which is a reminder that we can transcend our suffering to open and become a flowering, enlightened being.  Om Ma Ni Pad Me Hum roughly translates as “Praise to the jewel in the eye of the lotus”, but has a deeper meaning that contains the full teachings of the Buddha, and is recited as a means to help all beings alleviate their suffering.  The eyes of the Buddha perceive the material world, and the inner world, and reminds us of the connection between the two.  To go any deeper requires a deeper study in Buddhism, which is a worthwhile pursuit for anyone interested in esoteric knowledge and the exploration of the nature of our beings.

The work took until about 2 am, (over 4 hours of inking,) and it took me a while after that to be ready to sleep.  Bright and early the next morning, I was up getting Violet ready for school, trying to make myself seem more awake than I felt.  As we set out down the dirt road shortcut beside our house, navigating the potholes, my front brake locked in some mud, and the bike went down, taking its passengers with it.  As we were only doing about 5 km/h, it was no worse than falling down when jogging, and we were both fine, only a little bruised, shaken and muddy.

Violet was, however, pretty scared and upset, and her new kitty shirt had gotten dirty, which may as well have been the end of the world to a four-year-old.  I whipped us back home (50 feet away), and Theresa got us both cleaned up and back on the road to school, (thanks Mom!) this time not via the muddy shortcut.  Violet and I agreed that the new bike was no good, and I should get the old one back.  I was still shaken at the odds of riding a scooter for almost 4 months with nothing even vaguely like an accident, and then to have two close calls in two days.  I was also worried that my ‘third thing’ was due, but then it dawned on me, our brush with the dirt was the painful third thing.  The tattoo was the second.

My relief was overwhelming, or perhaps it was the knowledge that I had found the key.  Maybe my belief that things come in threes was shaping my reality, and deciding that they had all happened alleviated the need for any other calamity.  The following day, I took Cyrus to his course, and traded the fancy new bike in for my nice old one.  That afternoon waiting for Violet to exit her school, she spotted me on the old ‘new’ bike and visibly sighed in relief.  I think we were all relieved to have our comfortable steed back, and glad to know we would be getting off the roads of Thailand the following week… and into the wilds of India.

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