POSTCARD#479: Bangkok: Getting ready in my mind for the visit to Scotland in September and thinking of those, over there on the other side of midnight, (I don’t mean the book by Sidney Sheldon), six hours back in time, in a Westerly direction from here to the UK where it’s still yesterday. And everything is in the past for me although that goes without saying now I’m recently diagnosed with AMD, Age-Related Macular Degeneration in the right eye… squiggly lines of text and faces appear distorted. It’s treatable and I’m glad about that, of course, but injections in the eye once a month for the remaining years is not something to feel at ease about, at this time.
Besides it feels like I’m living in the past tense anyway I’m so out of touch with the ‘now.’ I don’t know what it’s like to be part of British society, it’s like a section of my memory has been surgically removed, and all migrants will know how that feels. I’ve been in Bangkok since 1984 and looking back to a time in the more recent past when the best audio/video, computer technology first arrived in South East Asia, TV and other products I still don’t know about – also imports from Japan and Korea, and in Thailand, the Western model has become the norm for many of us, today. So a few years ago I bought a flat-screen TV, and stepped into a cultural time capsule.
The simplest of things can trigger an emotional response; just listening to the sound of Western voices conversing in English, the mother tongue – the familiarity of it quite strange. Sudden recall of whole pieces of my life, forgotten until that moment. I’d get quite tearful about just seeing the streets, the traffic, and the easy pleasantness of it. The pace and the way things move along, a created production of course, director and advisors on behalf of those unseen, propping up the Western model as we would like to see it. So what, who cares if it’s cultural programming – how wonderful to have all these generous close-ups of immaculately groomed faces, portraits, talking heads, good-looking news anchors in Breaking News.
Ordinary faces are extra-ordinary on TV, super-ordinary, the face is an act in itself, head swings, facial gestures, lovable laughter and skilful edits in the cutting room show a wealth of cosmetic dentistry – more than enough. If I’m watching a video – and nowadays I watch more videos than I read books – I recognise ‘self’ in the various actors and the parts that they play – it has all been created in order to induce a specific emotional response. I suspect I could become addicted, as others are, driven to seek more and more situations that’ll satisfy the cravings of ‘selfhood’.
I’m stuck somewhere in a story of the past, the irretrievably lost, “A la recherché du temps perdu.” A part of me I left there got forgotten about and died while I was away. And all these family funerals I did not attend, living relatives I’d forgotten about, somehow seen through the wrong end of a telescope, farther away than I remembered. They look at me like I am a ghost. I am a ghost, recognising the patriarchs from a remote past. I play the part of an elderly actor in a movie, possibly the last screen appearance before the end.
It’s about the performance, the skill of the illusionists, the politicians, anyone with a way with words, convincingly dressed for the part, standing front-stage, in the right context and there you are. It’s about how one is seen, ‘selfing’ as part of the production, and we are swept away by the person on the podium saying what we all want to hear – like back in the day, and somebody would grab a bit of the news, re-tell it, then we would all analyse this reinterpretation knowing deeply that the whole thing was an interpretation, to start with.
But it’s too slow and not interesting for those in the ‘now’ of the present moment, the forever now. You can look at them but their eyes hardly ever meet yours. They are selectively introspective, ‘find’ rather than seek, ‘listen’ rather than hear, ‘see’ rather than look (see: intransitive verb, doesn’t require an object, I just ‘see’ (everything) in an unblinking gaze… creak of the aperture mechanism of enhanced eye muscles as the view widens into the corners.
Passionate about these devices that can render the self as ‘I’ choose to project it; mind reflects upon itself in its own sense of being. Only partly conscious of what’s happening in ordinary reality, schoolgirls hidden behind long bangs of hair like curtains, face not seen, lowered into the forever window of these hand-held devices, coloured displays reflected on skin of nose and cheek… conversation shrivels up.
I remember the immense silence of the London Underground, from Heathrow to Paddington, careering through the tunnels, blind, deaf and dumb, everyone transfixed by their devices, dependent on their soundtracks in the dark and grim public transport corridors carved into the earth, sudden push and shove, bullied by the train, clatter of metal wheels on rails, spurts and sparks of electric energy in the darkness outside and no-words-at-all in the journey to get there.