Monday, September 26, 2011

The spring - Bangkok, Thailand

The drunk foreigner has been hanging around bare chested for a while. He gets into the first of a series of mischiefs that will eventually drive him into a mess at one of those open air little bars where they serve beer and cocktails by the bucket (see the photo above). He kicked one of the plastic stool. The young owner doesn't even think about it: first he slaps him and then he gives him a big push. The foreigner is tall and stout but enfeebled by a few-hour-long spree with his mates Bottle, Can, Glass and Bucket: he falls over heavily and when he stands up he doesn't seem to know what has just happened.
I spot him again later on, some hundred meters away. He's yelling, making threatening gestures at god knows who. The street is crowded, everybody is passively looking at the funny scene, but no one seems to be interacting with him. The foreigner keeps acting funny, with mounting heat, and at a certain point he goes totally crazy (provided that what he has done so far doesn't already qualify as totally crazy). He grabs a table at the edge of the street, lifts it as if it were made of styrofoam, rips two legs, throws the rest away and starts to use those sticks as if they were katanas. He crosses them, hitting one against the other, making them whirl in the air, then poignantly poses, flexes the muscles of his arms and chest, makes faces like an angry warrior: he looks like the bad character of one of those lousy martial arts movies. Looking at him one might well feel ashamed of being a foreigner. Unfortunately for him the enemies that he is provoking are not exactly the good and fair characters of his epic imagination. He continues with his show, compressing a spring that, when released, will shoot back at him with a force that, judging by his optimism, he might not be aware of. 
As far as my experience goes, the nature of the Thais drives them to avoid, whenever possible, direct and open confrontation. They don't give vent to anger and frustration by means of yelling, gestures, facial expressions, bluff threats and shoves, like some of us do: the poisonous feelings are simply accumulated in the more or less capacious patience tanks that everybody is equipped with. Until when, like a tire inflated over its limit, the system explodes, especially if one feels that he has suffered what here is considered to be one of the vilest offenses: losing face. In cases like this the so called cultural differences are not just limited to subtle incomprehensions or funny little scenes: they are expressed through values and principles totally different from the ones we cherish.
Let's see, street fighting rules:
- 10 against 1? Allowed.
- Armed against unarmed ones? Excellent advantage that should be exploited without hesitations.
- Trying to convince a friend that he might actually be wrong? This technique is not used here: just stand by your friend and hit his enemy without asking why.
- Mercy for the opponent's body, helpless, unconscious, bleeding, lying on the ground with an unnatural posture? This reaction is not provided for, and it's almost out of place: you don't stop for girlish scruples of that sort, you only let go at a signal coming from inside of you, that rings when your anger has been placated. 
A dozen of them come out from a dark corner of the sidewalk, brandishing crossbars, belts, bottles and other stuff, they corner the foreigner against a wall, they push him down with kicks and keep going at it for long, way too long, until they - not him - have had enough. Then they go back to their street camp, walking slowly, smiling, cracking silly bully jokes, without any trace of regret or worry for the fate of the guy that they used as a boxing sack who, for all they know, might well be dead. At this point some of the locals might even be ashamed of being Thai: the world is full of idiots, and if one is prone to the natural but sensitive process of identification the embarrassing moment arrives for everybody. 
You cannot help thinking that, as much as he had it coming, now they are the ones who deserve to be taught a lesson, and you start to dream that another gang, more numerous and better armed than this one, comes and wipes that hateful satisfied look off their faces. Then you think it over: what a silly thing, this mess would never end. It's much better to tell them to fuck off in silence and call an ambulance. 
What happens now is interesting though: another tourist and a Thai girl are taking care of the messed up guy, find a chair for him, try to stop the bleeding, until the paramedics arrive, disinfect and dress his wounds. These two people are giving everybody - Thais and foreigners - a chance to stop feeling ashamed of one's own origin. It's already time for the guy to get on the ambulance and go to the hospital (I suspect they are expecting him to pay the bill as well), but he doesn't even think about that, scornfully smiles, takes off his bandages like Lawrence of Arabia uncoiling his turban, hastily thanks everybody, says goodbye to the incredulous nurses and leaves, surprisingly energetic, toward new, astonishing, ingenious idiocies.

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