Suffering: Sixty seventh-graders erupt in a wild rumpus of screaming and hormones in a sweltering concrete classroom without decoration or electricity. Order and English break out at the approach of a cane-wielding senior teacher.
Despair: Seven lanes of subcompacts and pickups honking and clotting a four-lane arterial is anything but gridlock, for “gridlock” implies a stasis entirely absent from the swarm of scooters squeezing through cracks and crannies between vehicles and food stalls and parents and students sprawling across the sidewalks and roadways. During commute times, the Kingdom of Smiles becomes a roiling sea of shouting, honking, gesticulating vehicular combat a foreigner navigates with the grace and welcome of a malignant clot.
Transition: Unfiltered engine fumes and amplified exhaust pipes, horns and screams and the merciless tropical sun reflect off the asphalt to reverberate between banks of concrete buildings. But it dissipates within a kilometer as the road meanders between hedges of bougainvillea and hibiscus punctuated by coconut, banana, mangosteen, and rambutan trees.
Beauty: Just past the clutch of thatch huts, the vista opens to golden beams of sunset backlighting towering cumulus left from the afternoon thunderstorms. Stop, kill the engine, and wait until the residual roar dissipates: water buffalo grunt and grind their teeth as they plod through their reflections in rice paddies.
Home: Geckos on the wall stalk spiders and chase each other in chirruping whorls around the teak bench that is bed. Chickens plock with quietly intense reverence on neighborhood patrols that have as little regard for fences or boundaries as the smells and sounds of the neighboring families cooking dinner and pounding curry paste while catching up on the day. Sometimes, egrets flying to roost catch the last light, rosebuds stenciled on the baby blue twilight. Frogs and cicadas crescendo as fluorescent globes blast against the engulphing evening. And bedding down amid the mass of harmonies, all is well. Tomorrow will once again be relaxed and beautiful.