POSTCARD#299: Bangkok: I’m standing on the escalator, ascending the Skytrain levels, up to what looks to me like 3 floors in height. There’s a small place here above the traffic, selling drinks and snacks. Open door, air-con, find a table. So I tell the waitress what I’d like, she writes it down, and just as she’s reading back my order, someone opens the door and a huge noise of traffic deafens everyone. So I have to lip-read in Thai, thinking is this just a wild guess? The ubiquitous misunderstanding, we’ll see what happens. Quick glance around these calm and easy surroundings, I reach for my phone, but it’s not there!

Wow, devastated, no phone, nothing to fiddle with, to tap, swipe, to scroll down, up – nothing to feed my short little span-of-attention. Someone else opens the door and enter again the huge roar, screaming horns of traffic. Shocks me out of my ‘there-and-then’ location in that space and time instance, there’s no ‘me’, let that go and events just generate their own time. Senses alert, listening, feeling, searching… how can this be? Don’t ask me, I am the escapee… the one who disappeared (story of my life), and now I’m left with it, disasters I think I have to run away from, but on closer inspection, there’s only the learned mechanisms of escape, and I lose track of what it was I came in here to get away from.

So who are these nice people here in this place? Elegant males and females sit in twos and threes at small tables, rarely speak, each one looking at a screen, held fondly in the palm and fingers, the glow of colors reflected on their inclined faces, and the rest of the world is one vast blind spot. They’re not office-lunch-hour people, it’s too late, who are they, then? Conclusion, wow, they’re people like me, a mirror reflection of how I’d like it to be; stretching out the hours with a lunch plate, one cup of coffee, and the only difference between them and me now is they have their phones and I don’t.

Door opens again and high amplitude of decibel vastness slices through part of my head like a chain saw. Involuntary existential moment, looking out at the world and wondering if I can mount another escape attempt at such short notice? Even though it can be said that it is the searching for the way out that maintains the fear of being trapped. I need to make a note of that, in these circumstances, but no device to key it in on and tap save. I’ll have to write the old fashioned way, there’s a pen in my bag but no spiral notebook to write on – forgot that too. So I rummage around in my wallet for receipts that I can write on the back of, all kinds of blank bus tickets and paper I’ve had in my wallet for years.

There’s an immediate familiarity with holding the pen, pressed point seems to etch the characters in new ink into the surface of old wallet pressed paper. Encouraged to write only the gist of it because of limited space on these small scraps of paper, and I have to number them in order. Try that and see… everything seems possible now I have a system. Encouraging to see that, even though we suffer the ugly Trump regime, we can still have the Buddhist sense of what’s right, and wholesome action, Right View, Right Intention.

Shortly after that, the waitress comes with my lunch and it’s not what I ordered, kwiteao moo sen yai naam. Eat with chopsticks in right hand and spoon in left hand. No complaints, it’ll do, notwithstanding splatters of it on my shirtfront and not recommended if you’re fiddling with a phone screen at the time. But I’m not and soon I start to get down to it.








19 thoughts on “notwithstanding

  1. I know it ( the phone) has destroyed my mind and perhaps spirit, too. Get our food by phone, clothes, gifts. Materialism in one’s hand. And it DOES shorten the attention span. Husband is always making disparaging remarks about it. He has a flip phone with no apps or anything. But he is addicted to news online and on TV. Just as bad, ESPECIALLY with the horror that is Trump. I don’t want to break the phone addiction. But have re-found reading now and it is so much more calming and contemplative. I do some spiritual practices with the phone so it is not all bad. Even our Yogananda monk friend was obviously in love with his phone. So what is the answer? Sadhguru says these phones are destroying our children. He is right of course. What to do?

    • This is it, ‘the phone addiction’, I suppose there are worse addictions but this one unravels one’s mental capacity – the distraction addiction. Heartening to read: ‘husband is always making disparaging remarks about it’. And it conveys the horror that is Trump, he and others exist as a result of social media. Everything he says is shortened and could be a tweet, he doesn’t read, they say his attention span is as short as the last person he spoke to. His followers must be the same. So, what is the answer? It must be the same as over-eating, smoking, drinking heavily, greed, hate and delusion know when to put it down, something like that.

  2. Lovely post! Yesterday I went out for the day and my phone battery ran out in late morning (I hadn’t charged it fully). Once I got over the silly/horrible reflex to turn my phone during every spare moment, I ended up enjoying this new-found (and recently-lost) freedom.

    • Thanks J, reading your comment I’m thinking that, when the phone-companion is unobtainable, we discover so many things about the World we’d forgotten, and when the phone is accessible again, it’s seen for a moment to be simply a black, flat, hard piece of inert substance, and that’s really what it is!

  3. I forgot mine twice this past weekend. Once when I went to the gym, which was fine. My Apple Watch kept track of my workout. My husband called to see when I was coming back, which always annoys me, but I didn’t know about it. He didnt’ even realize my phone was on the table in the foyer, because I keep the ringer off. Then last night we went to a Super Bowl party at the home of good friends. And I forgot it again, which was wonderful! I would have been scrolling through Twitter to see what people were saying about the game, the commercials or the half-time show. As it was, I sat next to my friend while my husband chatted with her husband about football, and we had a lovely long visit touching on many topics. I hope the kwiteao moo sen yai naam was good! Looked yummy.

    • Thanks Sunny, it’s at times like these we realize how much the phone sucks up all our attention. As you say it’s quite wonderful to discover the phone isn’t going to intrude. It’s amazing to think I spent half my life without anyone depending on the phone – I would step out the door in the morning with no guarantee I would ever come back 🙂
      Yes the dish was acceptable, a noodle soup with pork and fish…

  4. So well written, Tiramit. Your honest, instant and deep reflection of being present amid the chaos of modernity is at once recognizable and honorable. I know you know that your efforts and focus to be present DO influence those around you, sooner or later.

    • Thanks C, for these kind words and encouraging feedback. I know that others who read these posts can respond to the first person singular, “I”, the subjectivity of conscious experience. We are all the same in this respect…

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