A Simple Story of Human Interaction
I anticipate that the preamble to this story will resonate deeply with many who read this. Whereas the latter part may seem strange; analogous to an incredibly vivid dream that slips away from your recollection and into the ether upon waking up.
The art of conversation and being present is no longer something taken for granted throughout our day to day lives.
Something has been terribly wrong since circa 2010; ergo the advent of ‘smartphones’. There are fewer and fewer people fortunate enough to have lived in a different time when everyone was present, in the moment, all of the time.
That world that was filled with smiles, laughter, intrigue in stimulating conversation, and an absence of widespread narcissism. This is not a parallel universe that I am describing, nor is it a fictional account of the way things once were.
If you were born after the year 2000, I am afraid that this most likely will be an alien concept to you. Many people nowadays are simply not there.
They exist as a facsimile of influencers, celebrities, and ‘current things’ they wish to emulate and mimic in their fabricated reality, which is the online world.
However, that does not mean that we cannot rediscover the
old real world, where we are consciously present, engaged, and undistracted.
On the contrary, we can literally curate our own reality through the way we interact with each other, through our actions and behaviour. Our shared reality could be filled with wonder, awe, curiosity, spontaneity, and free will.
Indulge me, as I describe a couple of short instances, whereby my fellow human has exhibited a complete detachment from reality, a total lack of social self awareness, or caused endangerment for themselves and others around them.
The Taxi Driver
The proliferation in Bangkok taxi drivers using smartphones distractively has reached a peak saturation point. There is a necessity for passengers to insist upon drivers not browsing their next app generated fare notification whilst driving at 80mph.
The angry reaction received after asking them to refrain from playing with their phones is commonplace and unsettling.
Taxi drivers incessantly sending voice messages to their friends via chat apps whilst taking passengers to their destination is all but guaranteed.
For the driver to be simultaneously watching videos on their phone or tablet has very much been normalised and accepted by passengers, except for those willing to be assertive and firm enough in their stance that this is an unsafe driving practice.
On more than one occasion during a taxi journey with friends, the driver has irately told us to stop talking because it was interrupting his (video) call with his friend.
The ‘Candid’ Couples
Wander into any popular café in Bangkok and notice the non-stop photoshoots. We all love a good group photo, maybe even two to commemorate the occasion. The dopamine hit-seeking social media addicts take it to another level entirely.
One can observe couples and groups that utter no verbal communication to each other whatsoever, for the entirety of their patronage to said establishments.
They arrive and spend several minutes using their slave devices to ‘capture’ the most ‘candid’ looking moment of them gracing the stairwell or making their grandiose debut through the doors.
Next the food arrives. It really isn’t for eating, don’t be ridiculous. A frenzy of photography ensues, encapsulating the ‘artwork’ of the foodie delights on display, cue multiple rearrangements of surrounding decorative adornments on the table.
Noticing the occasional outlier in these groups is entertaining. The one who expresses (non-verbal) frustration over the prolonged photoshoot, assuming this individual wants to perhaps eat the food in front of them.
Once the (uneaten) food has been taken away by the waiting staff, the group moves onto the ‘candid capture’ of portraying the shindig as being one of hilarity, joyfulness, and earnest human connection amongst friends.
This entails lots of ‘funny face’ pulling, self-timers, and manically forced smiles.
All stages of the café experience have 15 minute intermissions of complete silence, whereby the participants must concentrate all their energy into choosing the right filters.
The stakes are high and competitive for likes, shares, and engagement with their posted content on the
antisocial media platforms.
These empty vessels are trying to curate their own reality through their (lack of) interactions, their (anti)social behaviour, and their intrigue in how others will respond to their fabricated online masterpiece.
There are a shocking number of news articles here describing serious injury and death as a result of phone preoccupation and / or selfie-taking without being aware of surroundings…
Being Here Now
All of the aforementioned subject matter considered, I have been incrementally disregarding my
tracking device smartphone for the past several years.
I started by getting off all the social media platforms, which was liberating. I then began turning the device off 2-3 hours before bed, and bought an old-skool alarm clock.
I began turning off all notifications unless I was expecting an important call, yet still the ‘phantom vibration’ syndrome would strike, and I’d reach for it just to take a peek, or absentmindedly get it out for no reason whatsoever.
Like countless others, I had been festering at home, working entirely virtually, remotely, and in isolation. Owing to
COVID tyrannical government measures taken to protect menticide the general public.
I became apathetic, lazy, and dependent on relentless food deliveries. The damn
slave smart device had me by the balls, and I became increasingly aware of this.
I decided to massively cut down on screen-time, by leaving my pocket-sized Plato’s cave at home whenever I had solo errands to run, such as grocery shopping or exercising in the park.
I wanted to support local businesses more, cut my online and in-person supermarket shopping by at least 50%, have more conversations and interactions with strangers, street market vendors, hawkers, and taxi drivers.
Incredible things started to happen, culminating in (what is usually the most simplistically mundane walk around the neighbourhood) an uplifting reimagined perspective and reality.
Most of the ‘characters’ in this story are people I have seen, yet barely noticed, walked past, yet never acknowledged, spoken to, yet never had a conversation with…for the past eight years.
It was a particularly humid morning during the beginning of Thailand’s monsoon season, with the ominous swirling black sky warning me of a small time window, before torrential downpour, thunder and lightning.
Setting out on foot, my mission was simple enough. Head to the local fresh market, and buy fresh ingredients to make the biggest batch of Thai Massaman Chicken Curry I had ever attempted (for 10 people).
The first local character I came across was a street hawker selling plants by the sky-train stairwell, next to a 711. This lady had an impressive assortment of beautifully coloured plants & flowers.
I was in no rush, so I knelt down and gave the flowers a good sniff, wary of the stares I was drawing from passers-by.
The lady and I began conversing in Thai, and she thought it was hilarious that I recognised she had a kratom plant; recently decriminalised in Thailand for recreational use.
I expressed an interest in purchasing that specimen, along with others. I told her I’d be back shortly after the fresh market mission.
Although I have been buying fruit and vegetables from the local fresh market for about twelve months now, I still had an unfounded ridiculous hang up about buying meat from there.
I suppose I had been brainwashed into thinking that the supermarkets must have fresher meat, poultry, and fish, because it was in a fancy ice filled glass cabinet, or wrapped in plastic.
Most of the sellers at the market were packing up to go home, as I whisked around foraging for garlic, potatoes, veggies, coconut milk, and curry paste.
I joked with the market vendors that they must be excited to take their masks off soon, following recent headlines from the nanny state.
One by one, they all began to take their masks off, and gave me these incredible, great big, beaming Cheshire cat smiles.
I told them this was the first time I had ever seen any of their faces, and remarked how beautiful & kind looking the old lady’s face was.
“Ohooooo, bak wan!” she chimed in (“sweet talking mouth”) and we all laughed.
I asked about the man who sells chicken, and she told me he’d already gone home. Upon seeing my forlorn facial expression, and after I had explained I was rustling up a massive batch of Massaman Curry for a friend’s house-warming party, she called chicken guy up.
He came all the way back to the market from his house, especially for me.
Whilst we waited, the old lady and I talked about family and our quiet optimism for Thailand’s economy to bounce back. It was a nice conversation, personal and upbeat.
The chicken guy arrived and I bought a few kilograms of chicken thighs for less than 150 baht ($4.5 USD). Incredible.
Feeling encouraged, I approached the fish guy, and snapped up two giant fish fillets from his ice cooler box. He told me they had just been caught fresh in Chumphon (Southern Thailand).
I remarked that I was going to buy all my meat & fish from this market from now on, because it is cheaper and fresher and because I like supporting small businesses and meeting people in real life.
“Oooowweeeeee, Farang chu-aye-gan tu-ra-kit lek-lek geng-mak, tee-nee ah-haan sot mak tee-sut, la-gor tuk-gwa duay!”
= “The foreigner wants to help our local businesses, and here the food is the freshest and also cheaper”, he turned and said to his wife, chortling and smiling ear to ear.
I felt so present, lifted, and connected to these people through our small talk and shared sentiments, it was wonderful.
Usually I keep my head down, next to no niceties, I’m civil, polite, I get in, I get out.
Wandering back to the plant lady, I noticed the substantial weight of my food produce (approximately 10kg+) was not bothering me. I was invigorated with a latent energy that morning. It was a long yet pleasant walk.
As well as the ‘bonus’ Kratom plant, that I had been curious about trying, the lady upsold me like a boiler room tele salesperson on fire; albeit in the nicest possible, most wholesome kind of way.
I ended up buying around 10 plants.
I told her about my curry cooking task, mumbling that I still needed rice; she excitedly pointed to her thermal box full of the stuff. I told her I needed enough for ten people and she dished it out.
The lady was literally hopping from one foot to the other, giggling and telling me this was the most money she had ever made in a single day. It came to 500 baht ($14.5 USD).
Meanwhile, two construction workers (earning minimum wage of roughly 500 baht per twelve hours) were taking a break next to us, outside a building site. They had been watching, listening, and smiling.
They joined in with our conversation and we all talked about plants, food, and tourism looking better for Thailand.
The market vendor lady tried to sell me another plant before I left, so I negotiated with her that I would buy it, on the condition that she took her mask off and showed me her face.
She obliged, so that I was gifted another beautiful smile, and we all had a good chuckle.
I felt as if I was in a dream-state, because it was so surreal to be talking to so many strangers. Everyone in my path seemed to warm to me, to smile back, to be friendly, approachable, inquisitive, and helpful.
Smile and the world smiles with you. Weep and you weep alone.
Now I was literally on the home stretch, powering through the ‘burbs with 10+ kg of plants in one hand, and 10kg+ of food in the other. Yet still, the muscle fatigue never came. The bags felt light.
I saw a young man in worn-out tattered clothing, the sandals on his feet were merely soles tied to thread-like straps. He was pushing a large metal cart on wheels, with cardboard and bags of rubbish piled sky-high.
It looked like it weighed a ton and the poor bloke looked exhausted.
Mostly, these individuals operate motorised versions or bicycle-powered carts. I can only assume that the most impoverished in Thai society that fall through the cracks and into this line of work, are using a push-cart version out of absolute necessity.
I wanted to help him and I knew he was almost certainly headed for the rubbish collection site a few hundred meters away to sell his collected waste.
I ran over to the other side of the road, shifting both my food & plant bags into one hand, and I asked him if I could help, as I placed my free hand on the push bar.
He looked bewildered as this strange foreigner co-commandeered the rubbish cart, yet he smiled with the eyes (face masked).
We spoke in Thai, and I asked him how much money he gets for selling everything loaded up on the cart. Four hundred baht, he told me ($12 USD).
I asked him how long it took him to collect this much rubbish and he said it took two full days. His eyes were tired, bloodshot, and weary. We pushed and pushed and walked and talked.
As we neared the garbage collection site, the workers came outside smiling, rushing over to us, seemingly perplexed and curious as to why I was there and what I was doing, which then became self-evident.
I told the คนเก็บขยะ (rubbish collector man) that things were going to get better for Thailand. He needed to hear it, I needed to say it, we both need to believe it.
These garbage men don’t get the credit they deserve. Rubbish collection provided by the state-apparatus is poor and insufficient.
These independent garbage collectors should be much better compensated for seeking out rubbish and endless cardboard waste generated by our online-consumption-addicted society.
They keep Bangkok’s streets cleaner than they otherwise would be.
The garbage men are largely invisible, ignored, unacknowledged, unsung heroes within Bangkok’s suburbia.
They are human beings and they need human interaction, warmth, and respect, just like everybody else.
Maybe this story wasn’t the marvel cinematic universe crescendo you had hoped for. Maybe it is the most anti-climatic piece of so-called journalism you have read in a while.
Maybe you picked up on the message within the message.
All I can tell you is that day was the most transformative experience I have ever had living in the Kingdom of Thailand for the past eight years.
Every action or non-action we take every waking moment, either curates or curtails our reality.
Nicholas Creed is a Bangkok-based journalistic infidel impervious to propaganda. If you liked this content and wish to support the work, buy him a coffee or consider a crypto donation: