November 2, 2015
Yesterday I witnessed an automobile accident. I did not see the exact moment of impact, but right as I was leaving the gym, an SUV managed to hop over about six inches of concrete and onto the median where it smashed into a palm tree. As I turned to see what had happened, a wave of disgust swept over me. I looked at the scene, and it didn’t make sense. I was still processing everything when a man burst frantically out of a store like an action hero, whipping open the vehicle door and grabbing the woman who was inside. He ran across the street and lay her on the sidewalk like a soldier who had just removed his battle buddy from a firefight, and, unfortunately, due to the low impact and exceedingly low chance of any kind of serious injury, he looked rather stupid in what I’m sure he felt was a heroic deed.
Taken by the absurdity of it all, I tried my best to see if the woman was conscious or was bleeding while trying my best not to make it obvious that I wasn’t looking out of concern, but morbid curiosity. Personally, I always thought that running in and tearing the person out of their seat was not exactly the prescribed course of action, so I had that running through my mind as well. But once I was certain there was no blood, I turned back to the scene of the collision. It didn’t make sense. Traffic on that road is far too slow, especially mid-afternoon on a Sunday. How on earth did it happen? How did she manage to hop over the concrete and then not have the wherewithal to hit the brakes? It just didn’t make sense.
There are things I will never understand here. I have grown rather accustomed to being unaccustomed, but quite often in my day-to-day life I am thrown for a loop and left wondering what I should feel. My initial reaction to this event was shock and sympathy, but the longer I surveyed the scene, those feelings quickly turned to disgust. The accident just didn’t make sense. It seemed to defy the laws of physics. It just seemed like somebody wasn’t paying attention. That’s all.
I like living in Thailand. I don’t love it, but any creative slump for a lack of material is long gone. However, this long look at humanity from an entirely different perspective leaves me wondering sometimes what is left of my own humanity. As that woman slumped on the sidewalk clutching her head, I found myself disappointed in the whole thing. I found myself disappointed with the people around me. Not that the Thai are here to please me, but every now and again you get a glimpse of the “Too Much, Too Soon” effect of a rapidly developing nation, and it shows you not only the folly of such a drastic economic leap from one generation to the next, but it shows you the folly of your own people as well.
I could delve further into these observations, but this journey isn’t about trying to figure out the Thai. That has stopped being my objective. Identity is something they are still trying to sort out, so I am just out of luck if I am looking for patterns or well-defined mores. No, this has become a look at myself and my own people. There is no becoming embedded in this culture. The couches are treated with Scotchgard and covered with plastic on top of that. The best I can hope for is neutrality as I try to sort myself out and begin to understand what it means to be American. Events like the one I have described in this letter often prompt a great deal of self-reflection, especially regarding my rather uncharacteristic bloodlust and absence of sympathy for a victim of something bad.