Thursday, June 11, 2009

It is Impossible to Become Enlightened in Bangkok

It has been said [citation needed] by monks that it is impossible to become enlightened in Bangkok.


My friend Tim (ติ๋ม, a not uncommon girl's name) is probably an good instantiation of why Bangkok can be a hellish place to live: people in LA drive narcissistically; Tim drives sociopathically, seeing the narrow spaces between lanes and cars like psychopath with a steak knife sees spaces between a living person's ribs: a place to go, a place where something can be inserted rapidly and without hesitation, because it'sfor me. this time Tim is squawking on the cell phone in a voice that sounds like bawling, like stepping on a baby, sometimes while showing me pictures on the same cell phone. She's complains about her boyfriend, but I'm not sure which one or why, because there are two of them on the phone, neither of which, it turns out, was the one introduced to me as her boyfriend the other day.

Tim is (to put it quite clearly) built so that her shape approaches constant mean curvature; her boyfriends seem like really attractive nice guys; there is some unspeakable explanation for this, but my mind refuses to consider it and it eludes me.

Tim asks if I want to go the mountains with her for a few days: she needs a break. Like myself, Tim is unemployed, so this is quite understandable. I ask what's there. She says rocks, goats. I ask her what she'll do there. She says look at rocks, goats, make food, barbecue, look at goats at night. Anything she wants, really. I tell her how great that sounds. I tell her that unfortunately, I am leaving the country on Monday, and never, ever coming back again. She shows me a picture of her friend. Cute, I say. She's not that cute.

I notice that in some of the photos Tim is wearing an unusually shapeless outfit in bed. Was she in the hospital? Yes, she replies enthusiastically. Then Tim shows me pictures of her friends visiting her in the hospital. Apparently she had an operation. To remove something. From her head. From inside her head? I ask. Yes, apparently from inside. She cannot translate the word for what it was. "Ask your Mom," she says.

I ask if she was scared. She said yes, because she saw ghosts. What did they look like? She said they looked exactly like the ghosts in in every Asian horror movie you've ever seen. Except for the one with the hair dryer. That one looked like “Baywatch.”

Good thing. That they got that thing. Out of her head.

After driving through a completely unrelated parking garage, we arrive at the Emporium. The Emporium turns out to be a mall, a kleptocratic upscalery, a sort of Valhalla for vain, rich people. Here I narrowly escape watching Seven Poundsby simply blurting out the ending. After that close call, survival instinct takes over and I casually ask when we're getting back. When I want to, seems to be her answer.

A man by the escalator offers Tim a flyer. She takes it and throws it away as she gets on the escalator. I laugh. I've been laughing a lot. Like every time the car seemed like it was about to crush a living thing.

Tim drops by a weight loss clinic that is apparently set a few years in the future. The illuminated pictures seem to suggest that once you complete the program, you will be able to fit into all sorts of plastic bondage gear, that seem to have bluetooth built into them for some reason.

On the way out, Tim falls upon a case of shiny things, nosing up to a display of gougeous horloges with an audible squeal of avarice which is not unlike the sound when doves cry and shit themselves. When she managed to pull herself away, the ghosts of her nose and her fingers hung on the glass.

It turns out that we are going to a grocery store. It's quite a fancy grocery store: it has actual cheese. Once you do the conversion rate, the food is quite affordably priced. For a Whole Foods. In Low Earth Orbit. I consider getting my Dad some nice ham for a sandwich, but then realized that this would make the retired physician about as happy as a carton of cigarettes and cost about the same.

Tim is apparently there to buy some juice and frozen carrots, that, for some reason, require the attention of the store manager what I presume is the juice sommelier. She tells me to go look around. She gives me her cell number. It's completely wrong. I giver her my number, because I can always destroy my phone later. I get around the corner, where there are tooth brushes and a blonde farung riding on his skateboard, when I realize that if I lose sight of Tim, she is never going to be able to explain where she is or where we should meet. So I go back to looking at all the famous, well-known brands of liquor they stock, like Black Velvet Whisky, Gibby's Gin, and El Oucho Tequila. Then I realize I don't drink anymore and go back to looking at Fanta. I had promised myself a Fanta earlier. It's 13.50 baht. What do you know, I thought, the old man was right: nothing costs 1 baht or less, but they slap pennies on it anyway.

Tim meanwhile, has successfully gotten the manager to open a bag of frozen carrots, to reveal that, to Tim's satisfaction, the bag of frozen carrots has frozen carrots in it, all meeting some unknown and private rubric. The juice is juicy enough. I ask Tim what flavor of Fanta I should get. She doesn't know. I pick one. Tim insists on buying it for me with a remarkably strong and consistent grip on the bottle.

I'd been having trouble buying things myself lately, the kind of trouble that only comes from a lifetime of shame and dread at not speaking Thai. I was doing better on this trip but that's only in comparison to a lifetime of shame and dread at not speaking Thai. Because, it's all very well until I actually try and say anything, because then, instead of communication, the result is sometimes an unforgettable look of shame and betrayal. Or this could just be in my head. And, except for people audibly talking about me, I suppose it is.

I let Tim stand in line at the checkout and went over to look at Staedtler pens: this is how you know you are perhaps spending too much on groceries: your grocery has it's own stationary store with 0.05 mm pigment liner pens. Now I had just bought a pen, for all of 50 cents, but it was a little thick. By my father's book, this meant I could not spend an additional dollar to buy another pen unless it was an emergency and I needed to sign something to save a human life. But I was sick of letting myself down, so I mustered up the courage to actually hand a pen to the cashier and hope no questions were to follow. I held my breath but thank god, no one has any manners anymore and nothing was said.

On the way out, there is a television crew and an off the rack looking pop band on stage full of good looking kids. Tim suddenly turns to me and says: wait here and runs off. I don't know where. This seems as good a time as any to deploy my Fanta and ask myself if I really have any idea where I am.

I once got lost in Bangkok when I was a kid. This seems to have left the indelible impression on my family that I can't be left anywhere in Bangkok for fifteen minutes without falling into some spontaneous jeopardy. Now I don't. Really believe that. Any more than. I believe. That people really care. About the fact. That I talk. Like an idiot. Like someone who has had. An operation. On their brain. No, I don't care about that. I can't anymore.

Tim actually reappears. All the frozen food we bought means we are actually going home. On the way, I ask Tim if she wants to go to America: she can have my room. My mom likes you, I said. This was true. Everyone thought that Tim was crazy. My father always thought that my mom was crazy. But Tim always knew the great places to eat. And she knew how to bargain.

She said she wanted to go to Austraila. I asked her if she liked it cold. She said she did. I said that Sydney sounded great. I wondered aloud of what the Austrailian people would make of her. Then I laughed aloud again.

It was only later in the dark of the evening, I considered how I really didn't mind being bossed around so much, or being dragged on unclear errands by Tim. I was a pretty boy and a nice one. That's where she got them.

1 comment:

  1. I hope there are more stories like this on your blog. You have managed to capture exactly what it feels like to be dragged around in a foreign country by a native in all its hilarity and absurdity.