It was common practice at the World Fair each year in England to bring natives – often whole family groups – from around the empire to live their daily lives, to exhibit themselves, for the edification and education of the British. Basically, it was a sideshow of daily life.
There’s something profoundly good-natured about the Thai. I wonder about the connection between national character and language. The Thai language, being tonal, has these wonderful uplifts and lilts, and even the wai, the Thai bow, is more sweet than the Japanese bows I’m familiar with.
There are these open-air scooter cabs called tuktuks. The way to get into them is a little small for Thai people. So, imagine how they are for me. The utter hilarity of Thais watching me get in and out of these things (I literally have to bend double and crab-walk in & out) should be humiliating. I mean, they point, they laugh open-mouthed, they jostle their friends who are not seeing and point again. And yet, I don’t feel laughed at… exactly. I mean, sure, the first couple times I was like, “really!?”. But it’s the same way they laugh at themselves when they do something funny, the same way they laugh at friends.
Of course, I feel compelled to help. If I’m going to be a spectacle anyway, why not be a major spectacle? So I put on my ‘adventure kilt’, which the Thais all call a skirt (like most Americans!) even after I tell them it’s Celtic/Irish and called a kilt. They laugh. Oh, do they laugh. Teenage girls are the best. I mean, this is the land of ladyboys, and in a skirt I’m the height of easy comedy. Teenage girls don’t titter politely here, they guffaw. They take pictures. They run up to me and say, “hello, hello!” Then when they are leaving they laugh and say “helloooo!” meaning goodbye and run off laughing.
In Sukothai I walked into a monastery school as the minimonks were getting out of… whatever they get out of. Four were playing with a briefcase like Lewis and Clark discovering Aztec machinery. Another gaggle were playing some chase game like fresh orange myrtle caught in a dust devil. I followed another barefoot group across the bridge, gamboling and making noises like monkees, like all little boys sprung suddenly free. They stopped at the other side where the ground became barefoot unfriendly. One noticed me and yelled, “whoah!” and then, “hi, hi, hi!” And they fled around me, laughing, the grey wide river reflecting the diesel-lavendar sky.
I don’t feel so much like an Indian at the World Fair here, as the big man in a 65-million person comedy act.
I’m not sure, but I think I love it.