A Tile of History

May 18th, 2015, 3am

It was 26°C with scattered clouds. The breeze was light.

On the list of things to do while in Chiang Mai was a visit to yet another one of the city’s many temples, Doi Suthep. Unlike all other temples, though, this one had the promise of a high view all over the city at the top of the mountain where it’s located. Given that I had to start working at noon, me and a couple of mates set off at 6am sharp, when temperatures would only be around a few reasonable 30ºC.

The hike through the forest isn’t a very famous one, but it was still prettier than many other official trails I’ve done across Europe. Going past temple remains, Buddha and dragon statues spread among the jungle and even centipedes the size of my foot, these were all experiences we would have missed on the usual taxi drive up there.

We got to the temple a couple of hours later, knackered, dripping in sweat and cursing a lot. Doi Suthep was empty; it was still so early in the day that the monks were the only ones there. A very peaceful sight — disturbed only by the temple’s renovation construction works that were happening. By the end of the main hallway, a huge pile of ceramic tiles, originally from the temple wall, were waiting to be reinserted. On their back, all of them had messages written on them; most in Thai. I thought it was such a beautiful gesture.

Then a monk approached me. He asked me if I also wanted to leave a message on one of those tiles.


A message of my own on centuries-old tiles. My brain collapsed with the idea of being part of history, but… what would I write about? What kind of wise words can you write to the people who already devote their lives to a beautiful religion of impermanence and renouncing the material possessions? Would it pretentious to try to teach them something?

I thought about happiness. What it meant then, in that exact moment. Realising happiness was being invited to write a message on a tile that will again be part of a big chunk of history, that’s exactly what I wrote about. I also wrote my name on it, because I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I am a self-centered Westerner. I’m working on that.

Carefully laying the tile back on the pile, I thought about its purpose. The tile could either make it to the temple wall, or it could break by accident the next day and be scrapped for good. I’d never know. But right there, on a place that embraces impermanence and values good thoughts and intention, I was somehow perfectly okay with that thought.

I still hope it made it to the wall, though.

Aparna, Shu, Peter, David Wade and 5 others said thanks.

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Ricardo Magalhães

Doing whatever possible to soak up what the world has to offer. I try to give something back. Currently working as a web developer in London, but it's the walking, the getting lost, the words and the photography that keep me best company.

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