The Great Circle of Life
In the early 1970s I had the amazing good fortune to choose the
village of Ban Pong, some 50 kms north of Chiang Mai in northern , as the place where I would do my fieldwork in social anthropology. For two years I woke to the glorious panorama across the rice fields to the purple hazy mountains beyond. For two years I delighted each day in the wonderful cuisine offered by my hosts, and for two years I immersed myself in the lives of the two thousand plus souls who made up the population of this lowland rice cultivating community. Fast forward to 2009, having retired after a 23 year career with the UN, I decided to return to Thailand Northern Thailand which had been for me such a voyage of discovery and joy, so many years ago. Last weekend, I went back to Ban Pong to participate in a major temple festival, and to experience my first overnight stay there in decades. Never have I felt more vividly the force of the ‘great circle of life’. Wherever I turned I was greeted by smiling, welcoming and, oh so familiar faces. I would struggle to place this or that person only to realise that I was remembering their parents or grandparents, long since departed. Yet the welcome was nonethless warm and all-embracing. I was no longer the young ajarn (teacher), there to question them about every aspect of their lives, but a respected elder, who, despite many years absence, nevertheless had a place in their midst. It was an extraordinary feeling, and deeply moving. As I drifted off to sleep that night, to the glorious sound of monks chanting well into the early hours, I felt that there was no other place on earth I would rather be.
Text and photos Chris Mougne