Saturday, 28 February 2009

On Context

When, a few days ago, I climbed the stairs to Mike's Shopping Mall in Pattaya, Thailand, a woman in her forties who was selling clothes next to the main entrance stormed towards me and exclaimed: "You name Hans? You name Hans?" I said yes and assumed she mistook me for somebody else for I was certain I had never seen her. "My name Kung, Soi four", she said, "Soi four, in Bangkok." I didn't know anybody in Soi four. And, I didn't know anybody by the name of Kung (the Thai word for shrimp) either. "Sell clothes", she said, "You come see Sai." She pointed to a young and pretty woman of about twenty. All of a sudden I remembered.

Many years ago, I spent much time in the Thai capital where my regular walks also took me to Asia Books in the Landmark Hotel. Kung had a stall near the Landmark on Sukhumvit Soi four. Sai, who was around eight at that time, sometimes followed me into the Landmark. I started to buy her ice cream, sometimes I just sat and talked with her for a few minutes (my Thai is virtually non-existent but I distinctly remember telling her one day that I soon would go the airport whereupon she insisted on coming along). Unsurprisingly, Sai has no such recollection.

The three of us sat for a while, smiled, and chatted. "Where is your husband?" I asked Kung. "He die", she said, "he drink too much". It is one of the explanations for a variety of mishaps (the other one is "have accident") in the land of smiles. "You have email?" Kung wanted to know. When I wrote it down for her she said "I have no email." I didn't ask her why she wanted mine if she didn't have one herself. "When you come back?" she asked. "I don't know" I smiled. It all felt supremely casual, and it all felt good.

I doubt that I would have recognised Kung outside her (for me) typical environment. She however seems to need less context than I do.

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