An afternoon wind blows up the Ping River in Chiang Mai.
It is a south wind.
Always a south wind.
Cheeky swallows cavort in the warm pillows of air above the rippling water. They are feasting on tiny insects that rise on the heated draughts.
As the insects ascend to the swallows, green leaves from ancient tamarind trees fall to the ground.
Life is breathtaking but death waits patiently behind.
As the descending sun bursts through the clouds the insects seem to rise quicker, almost in a burst of joy.
Are they grateful he muses.
He looks down at the hair on his toes and notices a faint foot tattoo.
Just like the insects and the leaves.
The hair is still growing but the ink is fading.
And he feels grateful for the small things.
The gratitude provides him with a burst of energy, so he hails down a tuk-tuk and asks the driver to follow the river up to the old markets where the Northern Thai locals shop for fruit, flowers and vegetables.
It is a bustling square of smells, noise and colour. He pays 50 baht to the driver as he is dropped off but it is too noisy, so he takes the footbridge back over the river into a village that time has forgot.
It is a lazy afternoon; even in the cool season afternoons can be stifling hot. Too hot to walk, so he is forced to do nothing.
Nothing is what he needs, so he chooses the veranda of a traditional Thai coffee shop, and stops and sits. Watches and listens as hundreds of double-winged dragonflies zip and zap in the haze.
Doing donuts around shimmering coconut trees.
Dragonflies that used to occupy Sydney summer backyards when he was a boy.
But those days are over when the dragonflies disappeared from the suburbs.
Man’s progress is nature’s demise.
There is always a price.
The coffee shop veranda has square vanilla tiles and deep brown wooden handrails that guide rickety stairs down to a front yard with a huge apple tree.
A huge apple tree dotted with small, dark green apples.
Under the canopy of the apple tree a fading canvas poster of the old King is all that appears to be holding up a wooden shed. To the left in the next yard, two doves with beautiful head crests kiss and cluck on the eaves of a magnificent, two-storey teak home. The paint on the walls is peeling but the footings of the home remain strong.
Roosters call out in the backyard, scratching at sun-roasted twigs and leaves on the ground. Even the grass has retreated in the heat, but the surviving dirt is neatly raked.
Among the trees and the houses and the birds run clumps of precariously suspended electric wires. And privately owned satellite dishes poke out their metal hands, forming crazy bowls of data-carrying alphabet soup. A meal for the Western consumption gods.
In the surrounding lanes Thai children call out to their grandmothers as the older ladies peel long beans for the approaching dinner.
It is always about the food.
A woman rides past on a spluttering motorbike kept together with duct tape and a welding iron. Her brown coat is festooned with plastic bags carrying banana leaf parcels of sticky rice and packets of pork rind and sugar-coated rice cakes.
Off in the back blocks calls a loudspeaker. It is a local politician on the back of a flat-top Toyota truck, proclaiming his right to govern.
Another motorbike flashes past. The young male rider is miraculously balancing blue gas bottles and two crates of Leo beer. The noise of the bike disturbs the nearby temple dogs and they lift their dusty, dirty heads from the pavement. A few muffled barks voice their displeasure.
He drops his head to his chest and closes his eyes.
And prays to his god.
A particular god because many spirits reside in Chiang Mai.
The spirit world can be just as crowded as any city.
He prays: ‘Lord, take me to the river and wash me clean.’
And his god answers back. ‘You are the swimmer and the wash cloth so YOU must choose to bathe.’
Sounds like an answer from his god, so he opens his eyes and stares into the apple tree. It is a magnificent natural structure.
The tree stands 10 metres high and the span of foliage is 20 metres.
There are tens of thousands of leaves in many shades of green.
Mid green with yellow edges.
The branches form Ys and Xs under a sweeping top canopy. It shows the patience of a tree life well led. This tree chooses to live and its roots meander in the earth, following the worms and bugs to the cooler, moist loam.
Above, a tiny green squirrel scurries along the run of branches, quarrelling with itself to hurry as the sun recedes. She must finish her chores and retreat to her nest of twigs.
The tree is vibrantly healthy but one day it too will pass.
And deep within its white sap the inevitability of death resonates.
Northern Thai Buddhists know that death is a natural part of the web of life.
Death leads to rebirth.
Any other belief is merely ego.
The air is heavy and magical and Daniel drifts away on the natural, opiate-like affect.
His spirit floats in the middle of the rich white sap of the apple tree.
He feels the vibrancy of life and the surety of death, and all is well.
Daniel raises his broad, brown face to the sun and smiles through the tree to the sky above.
Tomorrow will come and the sun will rise again.
Come what may.
It will rise.