James Batcho, PhD | The Leaving
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The Leaving

CHIANG MAI. I’ve given up trying to understand time. Not that I can understand it. But time was different this year. The year was all about the future at every now I had. What is the next trip? It’s coming “soon.” And then it came, that now, the meeting place of anticipation and memory. And in that came the next one, and then the next. I had it all mapped out in April and it was all in front of me. Now here I am and it’s all in the past. All those previously future nows are memories. And I knew, I knew then that I would be here now at the end of the year, remembering that I knew it then. What I didn’t anticipate were the percolations, the overlapping streams. It feels like only a few weeks ago that I left Korea to come to Chiang Mai. And yet, it also feels like I’ve been here an eternity, as if I live here. I would imagine the cause of this dual condition has something to do with contentment. If I hated it, time would move slowly. If I spent all my time on the go, rushing around on this and that adventure, it might seem like a flash. But contentment is neither of these extremes. It combines experience and reflection, making me blissfully at ease twisting the grey matter as I abide a pattern. And yet the place, the place somehow pulls like gravity, stronger than it all. Here I move at different speeds at the same time. Or is it one speed at multiple times? This is why I’m confused.

In calendar time, I’ve been in Chiang Mai for about four and a half months, with some 18 days or so of that in Laos. Tomorrow I fly to Ao Nang/Krabi Town. There I will continue doing what I’ve been doing all autumn—researching, reading and writing. But I will also lie on the beach, throw a frisbee, ride a scooter through landscape. I will meet up with longtime friends from other lands, in Krabi, on Ko Phangan, and finally in Bangkok.

I will be happy once I arrive, but tonight I am sad. Such an economical three-letter word, and no other way to say it. I’m always sad the night before traveling, even if it’s for a holiday. But especially of late, the flights have become more about leaving than arriving. All of my moves these days are one-way migrations. I left Switzerland, and people that I’ve come to care about, and went to Busan. I left Busan, and people that I care about, and went to Chiang Mai. And tomorrow the leaving continues. As grateful as I am to be able to do all of this hopping from place to place in the world, the leaving, not only great people but loved places, is an emotionally draining experience. Maybe it’s that I’ve done it way too much this year. Too many fucking goodbyes. A friend from EGS called such sudden separations “violent.” She’s right.

And then… after this, some three or four weeks from now, I’ll leave Thailand to go to the United States. I could throw the word “back” in there. But that’s a funny word to me now, one whose meaning I’ve been dwelling on recently. Is back where one came from? What does it mean to go back to a place that isn’t even the same place anymore, not after seven years. It can’t be the same place, and I’m not the same person, so how is it back? My world is stretched further than I can comprehend, everything feels dangerously thin, and my identity with anywhere is particulate, scattered. In every moment in time, I’m everywhere I’ve been and nowhere that I am.

If relationships with places bear some resemblance to those we have with people, then let me say to you Chaing Mai: You’ve been wonderful and I will never forget you. Under your protection I read some 35 sources and wrote some 22,000 words. I think that’s a pretty good start to this project. And thanks to any of you reading this that I met along the way. Here’s hoping our particles collide again.