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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

The Simple Joy of Skipping Down a Wet Road

The interconnected nature of my memories, reminiscent of the webs spun by the massive spiders found throughout Kunming. My mind forms a web of woven memories and waits for a fly – in the form of a word, an image, a feeling – to come along and snags on a single strand. A slight tug disturbs the order and strings of memories begin to tumble loose. Walking down the road leaving behind the Karen village an unlucky bug catches, my mind wanders, and my thoughts begin to skitter gracefully through my web. The cycle begins.


On the smooth, wet road as we leave behind the Karen village. I scamper down a narrow road. Beside me an edge falls off into thick jungle trees which hide behind a curtain of leftover raindrops. The joy of dance-running down the empty road comes over me and I fling my arms out to the side gliding like a seagull in the misty breeze. I slide through the air touching down just long enough for the barefoot balls of my feet to press into the asphalt.

Feet pressed
On a field behind our hostel on the outskirts of Kunming. I pressed my feet into jutted rocks as I made my way to a secluded gazebo. I followed Som in morning walking-meditation. He instructed me to feel each step below me as my foot rolled into the ground. Heel, Ball, Toe. I could feel each rock’s sharp edge in the soft arches of my feet.

Sharp edge
On a rock face beyond the bustling Chiang Mai. I shifted my weight and felt my knee scrape against a sharp edge in the stone. I reached to wedge my fist in a crack between two rocks. As I hauled myself up the rope went slack and the muscles in my arm pulled taut.

Pulled taut
On a floating home on a lake outside of Chiang Mai. A hammock was pulled taut under my weight as I settled in with a good book which I never ended up opening. I gazed out to the mountains across the water and admired the stacked stillness of it all in the early morning light. Leaning over the water, my feet dangled loosely.

Feet dangled
On a balcony outside of Kunming. My feet dangled over the edge of the concrete wall. I gently leaned against a roaring lion statue to gaze back at the billions of brilliantly bright stars above. A calm breeze picked up. The silent void left by sleeping roosters and dogs was filled with the drifting sound of crickets.

On the path to tree houses in the jungle near Manzhang. My ears filled with the all too familiar buzz of crickets as I slipped behind the group to admire shading of the moon. In the dim twilight, I gazed up at the mountain peaks before me. They were outlined in a deep purple ombré before the final peak disappeared into the dark sky. The colors implied a distance beyond my grasp in comparison to the oversized moon which somehow felt close. I followed the swinging beams of golden light on the twisted path that mark the headlamps of my friends ahead.

Again, I find myself on the smooth, wet road as we leave behind the Karen village. I stand in the center of the road watching most of the group disappearing around the corner ahead, waiting for Marcus to round the corner behind. The quiet of a car-less road leaves space for an emptiness that allows me to find a new freedom in an otherwise crowded world. The cycle restarts.

On a swinging bench in Shangri La. The emptiness of the normally bustling court yard struck me as the early morning hour meant that no one had risen yet. I swung steadily to break the silent stillness and create a momentum that ruffled the pages of my book.

Under my stilted Dtai home in Manzhang. The familiar scent of parchment from my book mixes with the homely smell of the dirt. I was slowly lulled to sleep by the rhythm of pages turning and the slight sway of my hammock. Light dripped through the wooden floorboards of the balcony above and danced lazily across my swaying face.

Standing before the altar in Manzhang. Blood dripped in steady streams from a chicken’s neck and I responded by feeling an unexpected, calm acceptance settle in my stomach. I expected this to be hard to watch, but the chicken stayed still just prior to its death due to the farmer’s hold. There was no clear line separating life from the limpness of death. It felt humane to me as the chicken just faded away. I felt glad that I chose to be here to witness an often ignored truth that at home we chose to turn away from. The blood mixes with the puddles from a recent rain and fades away.

Again I find myself on the smooth, wet road stepping into the back of a song taao as we leave behind the Karen village. I am soon headed towards Chiang Mai. My head rests lazily on the side of the window and my eyelids start lazily drifting together. I notice the violent swells of the roaring river next to me match violent bumps of the road beneath me. The cycle restarts.

On a kayak headed towards Om Waters. I bumped along gently to the rhythm of Thumper’s paddle strokes as he pushed us through the swaying surface of the lake. The sun warmed my eyelids and my head rested on the edge of the kayak. The kayak’s bob on the water’s ripples matched the rise and fall of my chest as I drifted off in relaxed breathing.

On the roof of a hostel in Kunming. The noises of a group of strangers drifted into silence as they began to quiet their minds and mouths for an opening ceremony. Dimly lit unfamiliar eyes glanced around a circle of candles; each member of the group opened their heart to the others. An incense stick glowed as a wisp of light smoke carried off the weight of being strangers in a strange country. After this we would find family with each other for the next three months and beyond.

With the passage of time my web spins wider, the memories collect. In each passing moment new strands are wound in, drawing together dozens of moments from the past. I often find myself glimpsing a vibrant yet simple image from before. A plain memory someone else may unknowingly allow to slip by weaves its way into my web. In this way, I have guarded the simple joy of skipping down a wet road.