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juxtaposition

He had a face that demanded respect.  His nose protruded and his eye contact was steady.  His forehead showed the grooves of time that made their way down his cheeks and ran towards his long straight neck.  His hair, more salt than pepper and his posture immaculate.   You could tell that under the age he was a physically attractive man once.  His experiences made him attractive today. He knew his body and therefore every movement made was graceful and had a purpose.

The Bangkok streets are lined with those begging and selling the only things they can, whether it be food or sex or clothing. They stare steadily.  They know if I look long enough they will convince me that I should feel guilty or sympathetic.  It’s hard to differentiate the two in these situations.  I look down staring at my old, warn tennis shoes that have not taken to the heat well.  I try to drown out their sad, tired eyes with the blasting of my music in my ears.  Their stares are constant.

I sit next to my respectable, graceful colleague.  The foreign teachers have been invited to another elaborate meal.  This one was with the governor of a nearby province.  The plates of food in front of us were brimming with sweet and spicy and savory dishes ranging from curry to French fries.   Malcom looks at me, “Here we go again.”  He says in his Australian accent making me giggle.  He smiles exposing his two front teeth, with a gap in between as though time had forced its way through, no matter how tightly he clenched his jaw.

As I pass a mother with the palms of her hands faced towards me, and her child laying asleep at her feet, on the filthy concrete, I begin to feel greedy.  I think to myself, “How can I give one person money, but not the rest?”  This question is merely an excuse for me to follow suit with the rest of the passer byes.  I am just another foreigner unwilling or unable to help.  Again, the differentiation is difficult.

I sip on my beer as I eat this delicious food and speak to Malcom about my future plans.  We talk about traveling and experiencing different cultures and lives and moments and people and eras, exposing ourselves to raw instants that are not as common in our home countries.   He talks to me about the Peace Corps and what the flaws are in the programs and the people.  I begin to feel passionately about the inadequacies of the human race. Our selfish, sexual, corrupt, natural beings.

Another question enters my brain, “What have they done to get here?”   With this I look at the child once more.  My pace quickens.  They are making me uncomfortable with myself and the only solution I see is to seek refuge.  I find myself in Central World, one of the biggest malls in Asia.

The governor says something in Thai.  One of our Thai hosts translates, “He is inviting you on his speed boat, down the river.”  She says fairly fluently in English.  All of the foreign teachers wai and thank the governor for his generosity. “Kop Khun Ka.”  We say, nearly in unison as we slightly bow our heads towards him.

Lady Boys dressed to the nines were wandering about Central World.  They had floor length gowns on with heels that must have been at least 3 inches tall.  Their faces were flawlessly made up, complete with fake eye lashes and red lipstick.  Their thick, straight, dark hair was slicked back and tied into neat buns on the top of their heads.  They were modern and sleek and gorgeous. Every last one.  Once again I looked down at my tattered tennis shoes still suffering from heat stroke.

Malcom gives me advice about what to go see in Nepal.  I am dragged up to the microphone to sing karaoke.  “Hero” by Enrique Iglesias.

I escape into the comfortable world of the movie theater.  The cool air brushes my skin.

The governor stands.  We all awkwardly make our way to our feet, not knowing exactly how to say our good byes.  My stomach is nearly bursting and my grin cannot be deleted as I am feeling excited about traveling and pursuing my dreams.

The movie ends.  The Lady Boys had gone home.  I made my way to the sleek, glass doors.  Walking to the BTS there she was, still on the black cement with her child at her feet and her palms raised towards the heavens. She is there to haunt or remind me of reality.  I reach into my purse in an intense pursuit.  I pull out my ipod, blasting away her somber, exhausted eyes once more.  I am momentarily disgusted with myself, however the moment passes as one of my favorite songs erases everything corrupt and helpless and selfish.

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2 replies »

  1. It’s really difficult to know what to do when faced with the issue of begging. We know how lucky we are in comparison / don’t give / are aware that giving especially to children only extends the problem / may volunteer instead / may not / feel guilty / give a little bit…and repeat and repeat.

    (And, as always, I loved your relaxed, descriptive, often poetic voice…)

  2. Taylor,
    The most important thing here is not the answer, but that you are asking the questions. As always, we are proud of you.
    Dad and Mom

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