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Clearing the Eyes in Thailand

Thanks to everyone who has sent good vibes and healthy wishes this way. If all goes as planned, in a few hours we’ll be on a long-haul plane, leaving Thailand to its messy future. No one predicts an easy recovery from yesterday’s bloodshed and the weeks of protests leading up to it. In fact, I doubt this is an end at all—but merely a beginning. Too much anger remains in the burnt, bitter ashes of yesterday’s clashes. The history runs long and deep.

For four days preceding the worst of Bangkok’s violence, we escaped. We flew north to Chiang Rai and rented a car. We traveled the serpentine roads to Mae Salong, a little town high in the mountains of Thailand’s tea country. It’s a fascinating history that led former Kuomintang soldiers into these hills. No longer fighters, they’re farmers growing some of the world’s most renowned oolong tea from Taiwan. Culturally, Mae Salong is Thailand’s Little Taiwan.

We rented a lovely bungalow perched on a hillside overlooking miles of tea plantations. Nothing but chatty birds and happy insects disturbed our peace and quiet. By day, we made the rounds of the many many Mae Salong tea shops, sampling dozens of varieties. You’ll have the opportunity to read more about this in the future.

For sampling, oolong tea is poured first into an elongated cup with a small round cup placed on top. The ensemble is flipped and the longer cup removed. It’s rolled between the hands and lifted to the nose for the full scent of that particular tea. And then, the cup is lifted to the eyes in order to steam them with fragrance and heat. (Next, of course, you can drink the tea.)

This was new to me, the eye maneuver. But once I started doing it, I couldn’t stop! Almost an addiction, I kept wanting to steam my eyes for clarity and life. I’m sure I must have imagined these effects (at least in part), but the steam seemed to cleanse my vision and lift the weight from my lids.

As I prepare to leave this country (for now), I wish its people a future of peace and clarity.

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