I received a birthday card from my younger sister Marliza last week. It was three months late, which is normal for her and the tasteful illustration pictured that gothic horror shop of England, the Bloody tower of London. On it she wrote, “Wish you were here.”
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She’s always been a woman of words; not many, but always meaningful. Speaking of words, I was leaning against the wall of smog the other day, nonchalantly filing my talons, when I realized how little of the Thai language I have truly learned since my arrival.
Yesterday, when I asked someone for a light, I was really asking them to set me on fire. Then last night, I asked the manageress of my apartment block to give me an early alarm call – yet apparently she understood that I wanted her to wash me at 6 a.m. With a surprised look and a raised eyebrow she was evidently caught between saying, “how dare you and how much?”
Whatever, it was another social blunder.
Beside language, there is the question of alcohol.
Do foreigners tend to drink more in Bangkok? Yes.
Do foreigners really have a problem with the stuff? Of course they do.
What is it? The expense.
Drinking alters not merely out state of mind, but also the fate of nation. It kills far more people than heroin and promotes more benevolence than religion. Above all, being awash makes reality tolerable, even enjoyable and don’t panic, it’s organic.
I have a friend who is tiny and remarkable and was formerly addicted to self-help groups. He has a face like a surprised potato. His life in Bangkok is one long happy hour, and his favorite dish is the ashtray. He is permanently at that stage where he is unable to recognize anything and memories are blurred. He asked me, “Wot’s dish Russhun brandy made of?”
“It’s made of criminals,” I replied and asked him if there was anything he wanted.
“Yesh, an ecstatic hour.”
He lives in an apartment which has all the comforts of a World War II submarine with a leak and because his numbers are dazed, his days are numbered.
Yet he can still raise a finger to the health nuts.
“Jogging?” he snorts. “Yogurt? Jogging on yogurt? Yuck. It sounds like luggering. Listen, the longest-living people on this planet come from the Carpathian mountains. They make love a great deal, which is the foremost circulatory exercise there is. They smoke disgusting cigarettes made of pig dung that clog the arteries and then drink copious amounts of vodka to open them. It’s balanced diet.”
His mother, who was a well-known poet and a drunk, once brilliantly remarked, “I’m too important to be famous,” and promptly fell over.
Their family motto was, “Lead us not into temptation, just tell us where it is and we’ll find it.”
Indeed. The Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas proclaimed with noble resonance, “Love the words, love the words.” He also loved his alcohol too and it killed him.
Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible and cautious but because it has been playful, rebellious and immature. Creation is not yet complete and being merely human or at least apes with briefcases, we are allowed to make mistakes. The hitch is responsibility and self-discipline-words which may seem out of place in this city where a stop sign is seen as a suggestion.
Yet when your liver is on incipient meltdown and screaming for mercy, and your life becomes so messy that you can’t even organize a bucket in a monsoon, you are left with two choices. You can either retire to a monastery and read The Tibetian Book on 101 Ways To Avoid Reincarnation, or you can get Ray, a gay bartender, to whip-up a cocktail in the cold light of an empty glass.
As they say around here: “Up to you.”
All that's in my mind, is those words we never say but always hear falling between the cracks.