January 30, 2017
I was at my favorite vegetarian restaurant today, perusing a rather heavily picked-through a la carte assortment. The lunch rush seemed to have ran off with all the usual items, so I picked through ten or twelve items that remained and selected vegetarian larb moo, two servings of stir-fried mushrooms, and some wontons.
I put all my items on a tray and was perusing the shelf of snacks while I waited for the lady to come and put my purchases in a bag. As I was picking through the banana chips, a college-aged girl and her boyfriend walked in. She saw the tray and picked up the mushroom wontons, and for a moment I was about to let her have them.
But I did not.
I didn’t say anything, I simply took them from her hand and put them back on the tray. For a single moment in time, there was a collective gasp from the girl, her boyfriend, and the two ladies who worked there. For that moment, I wondered to myself if I had done the right thing. As the moment, which felt like ninety full seconds of breath-held awkwardness, came to a close, one of the women said “sorry” to the girl and she simply went and sat down with her boyfriend. I echoed the apology, as politely as I could put them back on the tray.
As I was paying for my food, I thought to myself hey, now’s your chance to do something cool. Go give her the wontons. That’s the absolute last thing anybody would expect from you.
And that voice in my head was right. They were twenty baht, and it would have been a rather unforeseen gesture to not only relinquish the item, but to pay for it as well. Furthermore, there is a woman who works there that still regards me with suspicion and scrutiny in spite of frequent patronage. For a moment I thought of her as well. Giving this 20 year old college student these wontons may completely break down walls. Giving this young lady those delicious mushroom wontons might actually build bridges with a hard to read and harder still to understand culture.
But I did not.
Now I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking that I was taking revenge for some ancient slight, or perhaps trying to even a decidedly tenuous playing field. You would not be wrong in assuming those things, but there was a different motivation today.
The food was on a tray. Other a la carte items were on the counter. Pay attention. Situational awareness. It’s one thing to be a stranger in a strange land, but the awkwardness and the near-ignominious lack of regard for their surroundings that I have to see on a daily basis with these college students is infuriating. Not only were they sheltered, but now they are loosed upon the land with money, a vehicle, and no clue. I know that most kids that age have no world experience, but I’m talking about world experience scores that are in the negatives when you take into consideration what a semi-closed and semi-private society this is.
The food. Was on. A tray.
If this is your first time, I’m sorry. That’s really what the apology was for. I’m sorry you don’t pay attention. I’m sorry you had a startling moment. I’m sorry that you live in a country where nobody disagrees with each other. It must have shaken you up a bit to have a large white dude snatch a carton of delicious food out of your hand.
But the food was on a tray.
So I took the wontons, Matthew. I took them with a smile on my face. And you want to know something? They were fucking delicious.