If I could turn back time…
Approaching the end of term with so many international exams on queue, I had time to read a book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck” by Mark Manson while waiting for my soon-to-be-full timetable. And as I flip every page, getting engrossed with the author’s way of thinking, and how I can actually apply it in my daily life, I recalled a certain moment when I didn’t really give a fuck about anyone or anything.
One winter day, after sending off a couple of lanterns to the sky the night before to welcome the new year, I took my overhead bag and set out for a hilltribe trek with my friends. We felt so caught up with life that we thought it would be a great idea to stay in the wilderness away from any fuckery. And it turned out to be the best decision we’ve made so far.
The journey on foot started from a village in Mae Sapok, Chiang Mai. I was not even sure where we were but the Karen tribe guide told us to get off the truck and start walking, and so we did. The trek was not that difficult at first, maybe because we were laughing and chit-chatting how tribal people thrive in life in a traditional way, and by this, I meant no electricity, no gas stoves, no fast foods, not even a single medicine from any pharmacy, nothing fancy or anything.
Carrying only his knife and a small backpack, the guide taught us so many things – how to hunt using a single stick of bamboo; how to get rid of a cough using chunks of a tree bark; and how to not get dizzy by munching herbal leaves. So many how to’s and all these were made impronto. I was really impressed! So much laughing and exchanging of jokes happened along the way that we really didn’t notice how steep we climbed. We did pause from time to time to let us catch our breath, take photos, admire a remote waterfall, and to take notice that it was becoming more and more quiet.
It was noon when P’ Kham or rather known as ‘Jackie Chan’, the tribal guide, suddenly led us downhill. In the middle of this mountain, there was nothing else to hear but the burble of water as it dropped aggressively onto a rock. A waterfall! We were instantly excited to take a dip. However, the thought of helping P’ Kham cook in a bamboo culm and watching him make eating utensils out of bamboo were more interesting and so we skipped that swimming part. Later on, we settled in sitting, eating our slices of watermelon, while watching the waterfall.
After a couple of more elevated trails, the guide showed us to a small cabin in the woods where we spent the night. The cabin was something I did not expect because I thought we would be sleeping in a cottage, with tribal people, in a tribal community. As a COVID preventive measure, we were brought somewhere else which absolutely sucks. However, the place speaks nothing but tranquillity which was what we yearn for in the first place so it sucks less.
There were two cabins erected in a row with an elevated bed each. There were mattresses and duvets available too, and a toilet which was most important. But the water, I presume, was from a flowing water source. It was too cold! Nevertheless, at least it was safe. In front of these cabins, was another waterfall. This one was wider and more suitable for swimming so everybody, including the father and son who joined us, changed into their swimming attire and took a cold satisfying dip. It was a great reward after a whole day of trekking. I couldn’t help but notice the untouched jungle around these cabins. We were surrounded by towering trees I couldn’t name – could be a resin tree, a bo tree, or teak and timber. They were all spread out in a vast forest, giving us so much shade and refusing any light to come in. Then, I started hearing crickets chirping as the night approached.
P’ Kham was cooking dinner in his little kitchen next to our cabin. We hurriedly changed into warmer clothes because the cold was becoming unforgiving. The guide cooked delicious meals, made us prepare glutinous rice in bamboo and pour it with milk, let us drink hot coconut milk in a bamboo cup, with tribal music playing in the background. We then gathered around the fire to get warmer and sipped a little Hong Thong (whiskey) brought by Mr James (the father). Then, a silly conversation started. Like, how we would survive the zombie apocalypse since we were in the middle of nowhere which ended in a serious talk about life.
Life can be so funny. We go out our way to chase things we thought will make us happy – career, relationships, jobs, money, and all the material things – the latest iphone, luxury cars, grand houses, in short, we gave so many fucks about everything. Then you join a trip like this and realise you were chasing meaningless things, that grandiose attitude wasn’t that worthwhile. I dozed off with a little too many thoughts in my head, and it was so vivid I could finally hear myself. I slept hearing the sound of the waterfall nearby, with my phone battery striving to last, and the signal – still zero.
The next morning, we started the trek going uphill, no warm up. Yes, it was exhausting but it was all worth it when the guide took us to a not-so-secret temple standing in the middle of the jungle. It was a 700 year old temple made of wood, tucked away in the forest, so remote and undiscovered during the attempts to conquer the Lanna Kingdom. I found it enchanting as it stood there beautifully peaceful. The guide also took us to the river for bamboo rafting. It was fun! I wasn’t exhilarated before like that but what thrilled me the most was the trek with the elephants.
After releasing a couple of screams in the river, a truck picked us up and took us to Chai Lai Mountain. A herd of elephants was waiting for us. Some were munching maize grass, some were having a nice mud rub to relieve an itch, and a baby elephant was being so playful! We trek to a nearby river where we bathe with them. We gave them a nice little rub, flashed water, received a trunk hug and sloppy kisses in return and of course, took a lot of photos. And we call it a lucky trip when we realised that Mr James was actually a professional photographer. What a nice holiday present!
I looked around me and couldn’t help but notice that everyone was genuinely smiling, laughing even. Exhaustion was erased and happiness took over. Nobody cared if we looked bloated in our swimwears, or if we looked ridiculous laughing while flashing water onto Ronaldo (baby elephant), or if we looked pale without wearing lipstick, or if our hair was undone. It was an overwhelming feeling, something you cannot control. I held onto my gopro camera tightly, hoping I perfectly captured all the contentment and satisfaction we’ve felt.
Moments like this, moments of non-fuckery, are moments that most define our lives. It’s when you realised that perhaps we can still give a little fuck about something but we need to choose what to give fuck about – something important, something that truly matters to us.
If I could turn back time…