You know sometimes there’s a thing on fire in the street and it doesn’t phase you because the part of your mind that used to say “hey, isn’t it weird that cargo goes on boats and shipments go on roads?” no longer exists? If you live in Asia for more than a day and a half this either had to happen to you or you’ll spend three years shadow-cowering like an abused dog before realising you made a terrible mistake coming here and you catch the first plane to safety. Otherwise the “hey, that man has a boner in the supermarket” bit of your psyche will have disappeared along with your faith in people to Do The Sensible Thing On Escalators and your pride in being able to use sticks to eat. After living here nothing is weird or strange or even a little curious – not the boat thing, not the guy having a midnight dangerwank in an alley, not the doorstep hooker proposition after you JUST PUT YOUR GIRLFRIEND IN A CAB.
It’s a defense mechanism. If your conscious mind realised that what you just saw is an old woman separating two frozen chickens by throwing them against the kerb it might revert to factory settings, or try to escape out of your ear, or take the easy way out in the library with whisky and a revolver. Much better to steel your gaze and move on, much like God when he caught Eve taking a shit in the garden of Eden. And it’s not until you’ve tried that you realise how difficult it is to find a metaphor for that situation, much less one that doesn’t imply some cultural hegemony over a cloudy-eyed poultry thrower.
The point isn’t that nothing’s weird anymore because that’s given. That bit’s gone and we can’t mourn its loss. Even the stuff that’s straight-up legit bizarre, like the hit-it-harder approach to general medicine and the leave-an-orange-on-the-stoop-so-the-gods-bless-my-shisha-bar theology becomes more endearing as time goes by.
There are questions that truly stump you. What do you do when your taxi driver gets into a fight with another one? (Slip away quietly). Is Monday afternoon street drinking acceptable? (Depends what you were doing on Monday morning). How many Buddhas does a city really need? (Ten thousand small ones or one really big one). These are the questions that drive men to great things. How can a small city support a whole street of dressing-up stalls? We can’t know.
And now you’re the guy who eats salad with chopsticks because it’s easier (it really honestly is) but listen, don’t be that guy. And don’t be the guy who refuses to eat Korean food back home because it’s not authentic; in fact (and this is important) never use the word authentic again. It’s like the guy who takes out his blackberry at a dinner party: I don’t mind, really, in my heart of hearts, but it does make you a dick and there’s nothing either of us can do about that now.
The last time I had my palm read was by a lawyer – an actual real-life lawyer, in a bar, on a Tuesday. A Tuesday. Try living this life and then tell me that there isn’t something a little rotten in the state of Denmark.
Whenever people say “this isn’t my first rodeo” it reminds me that one day nobody will know what it means, because rodeos won’t happen any more except in the folk memory of pensioned film stars and bad movie directors in need of exegesis. But this was my first rodeo and I’ve got no clue how to process it all, except to say the whole damn thing is coming to and end and it’s been a hell of a ride.