For a time, Ayutthaya in central Thailand was the most populated city in the whole world – its affluence was based on its strategic location between the great trading powers of the world. Built upon an island between three rivers, it was a point of convergence for merchants from China to the north, India to the west, and the island nations to the south, and early European visitors described it as being the finest city they had ever seen. And in all likelihood, you’d never even heard its name. I certainly hadn’t. Its heyday was short lived, as before the end of the 18th century Burmese invaders had razed the city to the ground.
The city has since been rebuilt and remains an important transit hub for Thais and travelers commuting to and from the cities north of Bangkok. I had gotten on my overnight bus from Chiang Mai with two Ericas and gotten off at Ayutthaya with one; Erica Camille had to continue elsewhere to shoot some weddings someplace beautiful and Krumbein and I were to keep traveling elsewhere. So henceforth, if I mention an Erica, I mean specifically an Erica of the Krumbein variety.
Despite being so thoroughly ransacked by the Burmese, Ayutthaya’s monuments were built to last, and I again found myself on the seat of a bicycle drifting through the crumbling stone husk of a long gone capital city to an empire that no longer exists. More than elsewhere I found myself meditating on impermanence and questioning the worth of being and feeling important. Impressive spired stupas housed the remains of kings worshipped as gods by people long dead in a city I had never heard of. It occurred to me that I could theoretically pass so many of the biggest film and music stars, writers, and politicians in the world alive today on the street – cultural darlings, contemporary gods worshipped by masses in India, China, Thailand, wherever – and I wouldn’t not even notice or perhaps even really care if I did.
At the feet of stupas, between the walls of monasteries, and before the smiling stone face of Buddha, magically consumed by time and the strangling roots of a Banyan tree, I felt the same humbling sense of insignificance one does when they get far away from the city and see in the night sky the multitudes of stars in the cosmos that city lights bury in their electric haze, and I again felt somehow liberated. In the past I had occasionally found myself feeling adrift and listless – without a sense of purpose that I could throw the full weight of my confidence upon. Time wears us all to dust, kings and paupers alike. Good deeds and crimes of depravity all become forgotten eventually. Yet, what once felt like meaninglessness to me and used to fill me with angst and dread now somehow makes me feel like I have the freedom to define meaning for myself – play by own rules, or something like that. I no longer want to achieve impossible things, conquer nations, or have my name engraved in stone. I just want to have a good life, learn, see beautiful things, hear beautiful music, and eat beautiful foods. Until I’m dead. I very much think there can be something cheerful about nihilism if you look at it the right way, and I’m aiming to live my life such that I can lay on my death bed without regret.