Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Pussy Stroking Uncle Sam?

[Bangkok, 12/30/22]

Southeast Asians start their day very early. Walking down Phra Sumen around 5:40AM, I saw businesses setting up, with a handful already open. On Soi Kraisi, all the vegetable stalls were on full display. A monk was doing his round swapping blessings for food. A white man bought roasted bananas on sticks. A noodle vendor stirred her broth.

Back on Phra Sumen, I ducked into an alley to get my 86-cent cappuccino from a familiar stand. Pulling a plastic stool from a stack, I sat at a large ice cooler, my table. Though my coffee wasn’t quite hot enough this time, it was still strong and sweet, nearly the strength of Vietnamese coffee, but with more volume. I was happy.

There wasn’t a lot to look at, but alleys everywhere appeal to me because they are intimate spaces, yet still outdoor, thus exposed to much that’s unexpected. An alley business is not boxed in by walls and plate glass windows, with very specific rules, where only the chosen, if only by size of wallets, are admitted. The most exclusive non-alley businesses are entirely sealed, so you have no idea if they’re just eating gold encrusted steaks or raping children.

When I paid, the lady gave me a wai and the brightest smile. She remembered me. When I walked by Mitramit Tea House yesterday, the owner came out to shake my hand. During our one long talk a month ago, he said his two favorite countries to visit were India and China. This very cultured man is involved with a children’s theater troupe. At the back of his shop is a century-old banister.

To be civilized is to be immersed in history. Savages are ignorant or contemptuous of it.

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