I find it hard to be narcissistic out here.
Back home, as I go about my day, there’s a feeling in the very back of my head that, in some strange, impossible way, the word revolves around me. It’s possible that this is a #mosesproblem and that anyone reading this is judging me as delusional, but I don’t think I’m quite that unique. I have this impression that my life is like The Truman Show or that I’m the main character of some ongoing narrative like in Stranger Than Fiction (the only Will Farrell movie I can tolerate, btw). When I wait at the train stop to go to work, I’m in my own head and the other people around me – even though it is very obvious that they came from somewhere, are going somewhere, and have their own lives independent of mine – feel like extras. When I accomplish something that I consider “important,” I feel like it is some pivotal scene in The Book of Moses that will change the plot from here on out.
In some ways, I guess, the feeling is valid; our lives are indeed stories. But, realistically, the things that I do on a day to day basis are pretty unimportant. Even the things Barack Obama does on a day to day basis are pretty unimportant in the scope of human history. That’s the nature of the mundane.
Out here, though, I’ve come to realize that I feel incredibly, wonderfully unimportant. Part of it likely has to do with the language barrier; it’s pretty difficult to assume you play an important role in reality when you’re sitting at a table full of conversing people who don’t – and couldn’t, even if they wanted to – say a word to you. And part of it likely has to do with how much history I’ve learned about a place that I only knew existed in theory. American history almost comes off as mythology due to how ingrained it is and how few of the actual locations I’ve been to, but when I’m learning about the Kings of Siam while looking at their ancestral palace, it’s kind of hard to deny that there has been and will be quite a bit going on, whether or not Moses is around to see it.
Moreso than the two above explanations, I subscribe to the belief that this denarcissification effect is due to the abundance and diversity of life I interact with out here, and I don’t just mean wildlife. As far as animals go, the only ones I see on a daily basis are dogs, cats, geckos, cockroaches, and various flying things.
What I mean is, literally, the diversity of life. I see life in all it’s forms every single day. The various packs of street dogs finished birthing season a month or so ago, and there were litters of puppies chillin close-eyed on the roadside on my way to school. Those puppies have since opened their eyes and learned to cross the street. There’s a young pigeon couple that lives [and shits, relentlessly] two feet above my front door. The mosquitoes bite me, the geckos eat the mosquitoes, and the neighborhood cats fight each other to the death every night. With regards to humans, I wave to babies, instruct children, co-teach with adults, and receive all my services (food, laundry) from the elderly. In a one mile radius from my house, there are one room wooden shacks, two story houses, and expansive mansion compounds, and the people in that radius are just as varied as their living economic conditions. On the same day that I saw a newborn, my coordinator went to three funerals.
There’s so much life that I’m witness to that it seems absurd that my tiny handful outweighs any other. There’s a whole system that’s moving and flowing very visibly and very independent of me, like a Circle of…things living.
This comes up for a reason. I was waiting for the bus the other day and, after about fifteen minutes, it came by. The bus stop is on one side of the highway and the bus picks up at the highway median. By the time I looked up from pausing the song on my phone, the bus was already leaving.
I got up and waved frantically, but the only person who saw me was an old lady in the back of the bus. She gestured “You supposed to be on this?” and I nodded “Yeah!” The bus drove away, then came back two minutes later to pick me up.
Despite this seeming intuitively like it should’ve made me feel even more central to Thailand’s workings, it instead made me feel very, very insignificant in the best way possible. If my life were a book, then me missing the bus would’ve been simply a part of the plot. I didn’t pay attention, so I missed the bus. But the bus coming back made me feel like just a cog in the clock, a small part of the system. The old lady was the main character in that exchange, not me. It was her agency that turned around the whole bus to pick up one inattentive foreigner.
I like it. I like the world being so big and me – and the insects and the birds and the other people and the mountains – being so small.