POSTCARD#403: Bangkok: Young people are among those most socially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the most prepared to cope with the quick shift towards virtual environments that the pandemic triggered. Our 16 year-old niece M is one of those surviving the lockdown. She was fortunate to find some good friends towards the end of her time at school and now classes are online they are able to help each other by way of their own networks. There’s also a quality that M and her friends seem to have; it’s the ability to improvise and to confront the problem, find solutions and move on.
She was always like that, even as a child; there was the direct flow of intention to get something done that needed to be done. Then on to the next thing. I’m looking through some old posts and see this characteristic everywhere.
APRIL 25, 2014 : Going home in a tuk-tuk with M aged 9, sitting beside me, small body-mass pressed against my side. The urgency of speed, kinda scary, canvas roof, no walls and immense sound of 2-stroke engine fills our space. Impossible to hear properly what she’s saying, M indicates that she wants to borrow my phone. I pull it out of my pocket, thinking, is it okay to play with a slippery glass-like instrument like this in a speeding tuk-tuk?
I press it into her small hands. Hot, prehensile fingers grab, grasp and clasp the phone. Go to settings, clear away unwanted windows with the swipe of a tiny finger and launch multiplayer Minecraft. So fast! I’m surprised she’s managing to get Internet, 3G signal reaching us here in a tuk-tuk racing through the streets of Chiang Mai.
My arm is placed around the slight presence of M, taking up such a small amount of the space on the seat, legs don’t reach the floor. In the little window of the phone in her hands Minecraft’s digitally created landscapes of mountains and seascapes appear. She’s now in player-hosted servers with visiting players from all countries in the world.
“How do you say this Toong-Ting?” She spells out: G-A-V-I-N. I tell her it’s a boy’s name, ‘Gavin’, probably English. I see name labels moving around the landscapes, Japanese and Italian names; Spanish, German, Norwegian – players I assume are about the same age as M? I see boy’s names and girl’s names, all here at this very moment – and, where is ‘here’? Good question: now here and nowhere, depends on the context… space and time are not separate – this is (always) where we are at.
“Remember this number Toong-Ting: 19122,” she says. I consciously remember the number, repeating it to myself… In a moment she asks me what the number was. I tell her, 19122 and ask what it was for? She doesn’t answer… I realize later she must be creating a new ID or registering a username. Sad really, there’s not the dialogue there used to be, ‘I’ am held in a suspended state, waiting for the next question.
“What’s this mean, Toong-Ting?” M spells out: B-R-O-S and I tell her it’s short for brothers. It must be a boy, he’s African American probably. She doesn’t ask me anything else so I think she knew the word ’bro’ already. Obviously interested in this and next thing she’s in with the BROS, their mountains and volcanic lava, burning fires.
Then there’s a little wail – she gets disconnected. It feels to me like a catastrophe, but for M it’s not a problem, she changes to a different player-hosted server with new players – or maybe some of them are they same ones who just got here from the same sites we were all in earlier.
In a sense M is directing everything, I simply facilitate. Maybe because I was always looking for communicative indications in English when she would dialogue with me as an infant. There’s a wonderful book ‘Words For A Deaf Daughter’ by Paul West, that’s become the idea behind writing these posts about M. The author writes the book for his daughter who is deaf and has no understanding of language, but the author is aware of innate language skills and knows that when she becomes an adult she will be able to read and understand all the feelings he had for her as a child that couldn’t be expressed at that time…
“As wave is driven by wave
And each, pursued, pursues the wave ahead,
So time flies on and follows, flies, and follows,
Always, for ever and new. What was before
Is left behind; what never was is now;
And every passing moment is renewed.”