Sunday, February 5, 2017

When the Market Freezes

After a few days, we went walking. We’d already been walking, but I decided to try to take it a little more seriously, going farther than just a few blocks.

We went down to the vegetarian restaurant and on our way back, decided to stop by the bus station. I wasn’t sure we were going the right way, until we began to see an increase in backpacked tourists sitting in cafes with beers in front of them or schlepping down the street in flop flops made louder by the weight of their packs.

At the bus station, an elderly woman approached us, asking where we were going. She seemed almost over eager to talk with us. I found it hard to be genial, because I worried it might be some kind of hustle. Still, I told her we were heading to the Tesco Supermarket on the outskirts of town—which, until I said it, hadn’t really been a solid plan. I repeated it a few times for the woman’s benefit, but she didn’t seem to know what I was trying to say. I’d been warned about this by Talisa, who’d been to Thailand before and told us that she was never able to get the tones in the language right. “I couldn’t help it,” she’d said. “When I’m trying out a word in another language, I ask it like a question. ‘Mai sai tung?’ Everything I said came out in a rising tone, so, in a tonal language, none of it was right.”

I gave up trying to ask the old woman, who just kept repeating “Bangkok” to us, like she knew where we were trying to go better than we did.

We went over by some of the small pick-ups with a bench seat in the back which may or may not be tuk-tuks. Gina said she thought tuk-tuks were smaller or something. I said I’d never known what a tuk-tuk really was. It’s a word that gets bandied about a lot with a lot of real comprehension, I think. We walked over to the nearest one and asked the driver if he went to the Tesco store. He nodded yes, we got in and he started down the street.

The view from the back of the truck was interesting. It reminded me of being a kid, sitting in my friend Eric’s mom’s station wagon back when they had the jump seat in the back that faced the opposite way. When we were kids we’d loved to sit back there and make faces at all the cars behind us. Even now as an adult, I had the temptation to do the same, but only stared at the blank faces pressing eagerly forward in their impatient cars which soon overtook us and passed with no change of expression.

The buildings thinned out a little behind the cordon of stalwart places stretched along the roads to hold back the chaos of the jungle beyond. We crossed a bridge and came to a massive suburban roundabout, the kind of place that spins drivers and passengers alike out to farther-flung places: other towns, states and nations. I saw the cars rolling out of the curves to Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Myanmar.

We took a left at the roundabout and came up to the Tesco. “We made it!” Gina cheered. But the pessimist in me wasn’t convinced. “We’ll have to wait and see if we can make it back.” I added, looking back toward the line of (possible) tuk-tuks waiting to ferry other passengers away from the Tesco. They all looked a little too eager.

Still, it was hard not to be a little elated with our success. I hadn’t asked the driver a price and was (as always) afraid of being gouged. When I gave him 100 baht and he handed back 40, I was presently surprised. It was less than a dollar a person.

Gina had lamented that she hadn’t seen any kathoey or ladyboy since we’d arrived in Thailand. She said she thought it was cool that Thai society recognized them the way it did. A kathoey was at the doors of the Tesco giving out samples of perfume or something. I nudged Gina to make sure she noticed and promptly realized how rude this may’ve looked to anyone observing, but, well, whatever. It’s not our country; we’re bound to do all kinds of rude stuff and not realize it and, let’s face it, we go to different places to see the differences. Kathoey are a difference, at least in terms of their cultural position, besides, we weren’t ogling anyone.

Upstairs, in the Tesco, we started our slow procession down each aisle, assessing the necessary changes our diets would have to make based on price and quantity available. I was relieved as hell to find potatoes and see they weren’t too expensive. I hadn’t seen any in the open-air markets so I was worried, if I did find them, they’d be a costly foreign delicacy. Like the tomatoes, they didn’t look too great, but they were priced by the kilo, not individually. Even the New Zealand avocados were under a buck apiece. Wheat flour was about twice the price it would’ve been in the States, but, considering how cheap flour normally is, it still wasn’t cost prohibitive.

Touring the rest of the store, I wasn’t too impressed with any of the packaged food products. Maybe it would be better to not eat this stuff for a while anyway, but it’s only been two weeks and I already miss cereal, bagels and packaged cookies to the point of homesickness. We bought some oats and some bowls for oatmeal in the morning along with the avocado which just felt like something safe to buy; I paid with my credit card and was surprised it worked. I felt like I was committing an identity theft against myself using the thing so far from its point of origin. I guess I just have to get used to how global the world has become.

We walked around the surrounding mall aimlessly for a while. I felt like buying something consumable and went upstairs for a kiosk coffee. I think I must be one of the only people ordering hot drinks around here. Everyone else buys boba tea with plastic bag handles; the stalls are everywhere.

Coffee in hand, we went back down to the parking area where we’d gotten off the tuk-tuk. Immediately several drivers tried to hustle us and I knew we weren’t going to get the same fare going back. “150!” They yelled. “120” They countered when I shook my head. But when I said 60, which is what we’d paid to get there, they shook their heads and walked away. There didn’t seem to be another option, but just as I was about to take the proffered inflated rate, a driver jumped off the bench; he’d take us to the bus station for 60. We climbed on and immediately the ground was whirring underneath our feet as we watched the bevy of sullen drivers on the bench recede into the distance.

When we reached the roundabout, I watched in helpless frustration as the driver turned in the direction nearly opposite the way we’d come. I thought about knocking on the window, but I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to distract him from the chaotic streets with gestures, besides, it’s hard to gesture directions in a roundabout. I told Gina “There’s another bus station and I think that’s where we’re going.” Within a few minutes, the driver was slowing down in front of a yard of derelict-looking buses. The smell of fried food was heavy in the air. “Bus station” the driver turned around and called out from the front seat with a big smile. I jumped out and went over to his window. With no Thai, I gestured copiously and tried to use basic Latin cognates like ‘center’ for the general downtown area, hoping the leagues of tourists before me had managed to make an impression with some word and that this guy would remember it. But he stared at me like I had tried an unsuccessful joke and he wanted to make me feel the full punishing effect of his silence.

Uncertainly, he nodded like maybe he’d begun to understand. I put my hands together in a wai and made a slight bow to acknowledge his graciousness.

When we hit the roundabout the second time, I prematurely started to cheer that we’d gone the right way. The driver looked back and I gave him a hearty thumbs up of encouragement right before I realized we weren’t going the right way at all, but up towards a mall called Central Plaza. So, my cognate may have worked, but not in the way I’d intended.

When we pulled up in front of the mall, I dove out again to head the driver off and began my frantic gesturing anew. In front of the mall, there were a few other drivers watching the spectacle; it must’ve been familiar enough as one of them detached himself and came over to help. “Where you go?” He asked, smiling. “Downtown,” I said, imploring his understanding. Our liaison turned to the driver and said something, presumably a translation, in Thai where upon our driver, eschewing the translator, turned to me and demanded more money. I explained we had no more. This was translated and with solemn understanding and tacit irritation, our party returned to the tuk-tuk—or whatever. No one was bounding around anymore, it had become a solemn ride.

Finally on the right path, Gina said she felt bad, but I pushed down my own guilt. We’d only paid 60 going one way, why should it be 150 or 120 to go back? This guy had agreed to take on our fare. It’s not like we weren’t going to pay him; maybe we just weren’t going to overpay him. But, being from outside a country, the line between pay and overpay is often difficult to gauge.

I had an extra 20 baht, so when the guy dropped us off, I gave him 80 instead of 60. He didn’t seem to care much but at least I felt like I’d compensated him, somewhat, for my inability to communicate. After all, this is Thailand. It’s my fault I don’t speak Thai. The driver couldn’t have been too mad at us, though; when he saw something fall out of my wallet, he pointed it out to me before driving off.

Back downtown, I was resolved to find a map so that we could at least try to maintain a semblance of location. With just one major river at the edge of town and no tall buildings, Surat Thani is slightly difficult to navigate. You walk a few streets in and disappear. The streets have no shade trees and the same store fronts seem to repeat themselves. Here and there, a small dog barks from behind a shop window or a rat scurries from a bag of trash left on the corner. Heavy and unfamiliar smells drift from the cooking stalls and lunch counters: fish sauce, oyster sauce, durian. I get lost in a hive that is not my own and peek in on everyone else working, contributing, making more hive.

After we got off the tuk-tuk—and it turns out it was not a tuk-tuk but a song tao— we walked to the tourist office and asked for a map. A man came out to speak with us and showed us photos of kids holding up Thai shadow puppets. The pictures showed small, back-lit stages, more like large dioramas. The man told us he did work with young people teaching them how to make and manipulate these traditional shadow puppets. He seemed very proud of the fact that there were some foreigners in his pictures. Here and there, he pointed out a blond head or a pale face and said ‘Denmark” or “Canada” lovingly, like they were the names of great friends or brothers.

After we’d talked to the man and gotten our map, we were about to leave when another employee of the office approached us. She greeted us and said her name was Tin-Tin. She asked what we were doing in Surat and I began my spiel again for her benefit. ‘Fellowship, teaching, Rajabhat University, etc.’ When I got to the point where I mentioned we were looking for housing, she lit up. “I think I know a place,” she responded. I assumed we’d be getting an address to check out or maybe she’d send a text later, but no, she was about to finish work and would take us there herself, right now.

Tin-Tin, her co-worker, Gina and I jumped in a new pickup outside the office and took off down the crowded streets of Surat Thani. The first stop was an apartment that looked much more like the American concept of a motel. There was a staffed front desk and what looked like snacks available for purchase. We were taken up to see a room which contained a large bed (in the middle of the room) a bathroom and a small balcony. The only appliance was a small refrigerator. These rooms are apparently very common in southern Thailand and are called, quite misleadingly, ‘Mansions.’ We thanked the owner or concierge or whoever for her time and returned to the truck. Tin-Tin’s co-worker (who, if I heard right, asked we called her ‘Madame’) said she knew of another place nearby. When we arrived, I knew what we were looking at was another ‘mansion.’ Such places are characterized by an un-lived-in look. They all look brand new and empty. Luckily, this place was full so we didn’t have to bother taking off our shoes to go in and have a look.

When we got back in the car, I asked if there weren’t any places where people were able to cook inside. As foreigners, I explained, it was important to us to eat our foreigner food once in a while. It was explained that most Thais (at least those currently in the market for apartments) prefer to eat out. This is certainly understandable in a place where a hearty bowl of noodle soup is a little over a dollar. Indeed, why bother to make your own food when you can buy very intricate dishes for under two bucks, unless, of course, you like to cook. Perhaps that was our problem; we enjoyed cooking and I couldn’t easily think of a place as home until I could chop onions, boil beans and accidentally burn rice inside it.

Tin-Tin had one more idea and took us back into a beautiful neighborhood, the first I’d seen where the houses had front yards and where plants were growing from the soil, rather than from pots and empty oil canisters. The street was quiet, a small, dead-ended narrow neighborhood street. At the end, there was a large spirit house beautifully painted and, past that, a turbid chocolate milk-colored river. The house for rent was the only one with a concrete yard and no plants, but in such a neighborhood, it wouldn’t matter; besides, I knew we’d soon fill the place up with our own plants. While ‘Madame’ called the number posted on the place, Tin-Tin took us down to the river. She was wearing nice shoes, but, without any hesitation, she stepped down into the mud to walk over to a concrete dock. From the dock, she pointed out a house across the river, cobbled together with several different types of materials, but a solid, nice-looking home. “My home,” she said proudly. Earlier she’d told us that she’d just gotten engaged. She pointed out a room at the end of the house that looked like it’d been recently added on. “The room for my future-husband and me.” I thought how lucky this guy must be to have met a girl with such a great house on the river who was so friendly and so genuinely concerned with helping strangers lime me and Gina.

The house by the river wasn’t available, at least not to us, the owner wanted at least a year’s lease. We could only offer ten months, the length of my contract. Our quiet house by the river would have to wait. About a week later, we moved into a ‘mansion’ but, at least, one that had an area where we could cook. It’s not by a river, but there are some banana trees by our back window. The street isn’t quiet, but it’s not too loud either. I night I can hear all kinds of crazy bugs chirping and clicking their strange jungle insect calls to each other. I sent Tin-Tin a text telling her when we got settled in, we’d invite her and her fiance over for some California cuisine.

We left a few hours after moving in. We unpacked our bags, tossed our stuff into our new closets, unwrapped soap for the bathroom, put our American food rations in the cabinets and then locked the place up. There are three islands out in the Gulf of Thailand which are serviced by night boats departing from the banks of the Ta Pi River in Surat Thani. These islands attract tourists from all over the world, most of them in their 20s. The two larger islands have a party vibe, though there are still some quiet beaches to be found if one looks hard enough. The smallest island supposedly had the best snorkeling right off the coast and not quite as substantial of a party scene so we headed there: Koh Tao.

I’d read conflicting things about the boat leaving at 10 or 11 pm, so we went down to the docks a little early. Arriving about 9:15, we bought a ticket for the boat leaving at 10 with no problem and walked back into town to buy some water and a couple of beers to kill some time. I hadn’t had a beer in a few weeks; in Surat Thani, you don’t see many people sitting around drinking beers, as a result, one doesn’t have the same desire for it as in, say, Paraguay where in the evening, everyone is drinking liter bottles of Pilsen brand beer to cool off. In Surat Thani, people seem to eat in the evening to cool off. There are also the boba tea places, but I think it’s only young people doing that. The cold tea comes with multicolored tapioca pearls usually in an icy base served in a huge plastic cup, with a big plastic lid and straw and, to top it off, a plastic handle. It’s like the ultimate construction in conspicuous consumption, a birthday cake of a drink that I don’t think I’d ever be able to indulge in. I see the cups sitting on the curbs in the morning like the leftovers from an indulgent but innocent party, each about half-filled with a limpid color, the result of mango and coconut dregs and large amounts of melted ice.

Eschewing the boba tea, we sat on the dock with our beers. I took a small drink and got a mouthful of dad beer. Anyone whose dad gave them a taste of beer when they were younger knows what ‘dad beer’ is. When you haven’t had a beer in a while, it’s like your body becomes deacclimated to the taste and reverts back to the childhood perception of ‘beer’ it’s not disagreeable, but you smack your lips in contemplation. What is this bizarre stuff we’re drinking? It’s like the normalcy has drained from the experience. Really, it’s great. It tastes like summer, grass clippings and spent fireworks to me, but I guess it’s different for everyone.

Gina and I got on the boat and were surprised to find many of the berths empty. Still, someone was already sleeping in ours so we took another bed, tried to read for a few minutes until the rocking of the boat, the drone of the motor and the light cranking sound of the snores of other passengers forced us to drop our books and curl up into the lap of the ocean and sleep.

The sun hadn’t yet risen when we docked at Koh Tao. No one came in and tried to rouse us, but the cabin lights had come on; gradually, we shook ourselves awake and stumbled down the gangplank. As expected in a tourist-heavy area, there were a bunch of taxi drivers waiting for that boat to come in. Praying on the unwary, they carted people a half mile up an easy stretch of road for 600 baht or about 15 USD. I kept my wits about me and refused to say anything committal to anyone until I’d had a coffee and a chance to collect myself. We hadn’t brought much, so we decided to attempt the walk. The taxi drivers were disappointed but seemed to understand.

We walked to Sairee Beach where most of the cheap bungalows were supposed to be. The one we’d decided to check out wasn’t open yet so we sat by the reception area until the mosquitoes drove us off. The sandy streets were partially flooded and sandbags had been stacked around the businesses which were mostly ticket agencies specializing in getting tourists around the country and out to the beaches. I’d planned on trying to snorkel on the beach where we staying, but after we checked in, we found the area wasn’t ideal for snorkeling or really even swimming. A lot of boats were tied up on the beach and the water glistened with rainbow oil slicks and plastic bag skins. Still, I ignored the offers for ‘boat taxi’ and walked down to the end of the beach where it looked like there were fewer boats and some rocks that might provide cover for some fish or something to see. Gina wouldn’t even get in the water. She walked out to where it was just above her ankles, stopped and crossed her arms as if to say ‘this is as far as I’m going.’ ‘Fine,’ I thought. ‘Be stubborn. I’m going snorkeling.’ I swam out to the rocks through the bags and the oil and couldn’t see anything, other than a few small fish. I swam back. “Alright,” I said, coming out of the water, bags and crap clinging to me, “we’ll take the damn boat.”

600 baht seems to be the going price for services on Koh Tao, on the mainland, this is like a small fortune, but, on Koh Tao, service providers think nothing of charging this terrific amount, no matter how small the service provided. The price to be taken around the island for snorkeling, however, was quoted as 2,400 which is more than half a month’s rent, so we took the 600 baht ride to Nang Yuan Island, figuring there’d be plenty to do in the area for a day.

Since I started looking into the region of Thailand where we’d be living, I’d been seeing pictures of Koh Nang Yuan where a bar of sand connects three islands; it truly is a stunning place, unfortunately, as with all stunning places, it’s been rendered nearly untenable by avarice, both on the part of the tourists who come in hordes just to take selfies and the locals who overcharge these self-obsessed hordes. I knew this was to be the case when our boat pulled up and I saw that there was to be an entry fee for the island. 100 baht apiece. Once on the island, we sat on the provided beach chair as everywhere signs proclaimed that sitting on the sand was forbidden. I saw no sign that said the chair cost anything and was beginning to feel like I’d actually gotten something for my 100 baht. But, before long, someone came up to claim 150 baht for use of the chairs. I sighed and handed it over without a word, with sand like that, nothing would be free.

The crowds churning through the place carrying selfie sticks and walking back and forth along the famous sandbar like it was an escalator in the mall were starting to make me feel claustrophobic so I went out with my mask and snorkel. The water was a bit too stirred up to see much, but I found if I drove down and brought my face right up against the coral on the bottom I could make out some beautiful fish and bright undulate clam mouths opening and closing. It took a while to coax Gina out to the coral; she was accustomed to Hawaii’s bright and clear water, deserted beaches and sea turtles.

We stayed on Koh Nang Yuan all day, making the most out of our rented beach chair and returning again and again to the water when we got hot. The place was a bit too crowded and expensive, but it was something we had to see. When we got back to Koh Tao in the evening, we were languorous and happy. We drifted down the hectic streets as evening fell, the drunken tourists yelled and the scooters roared through the crowds. Exhausted as I was, I felt like I was floating above everything, totally unaffected. Back in the bungalow, I read for about 3 minutes before I fell asleep.

Early in the morning, I felt something pulling me out of sleep and was annoyed to suddenly find myself staring around the spare room, searching for the source of the intrusion. I strained my sleep-sodden senses and gradually became aware of a screaming, a liquid and musical screaming; birds, tropical birds, clawing apart the dawn with their bright and warbling calls. Gina was awake, too. “Damn,” was all I could say. “those birds are loud as hell!” There must’ve been 100s of them right outside our bungalow, all calling at once. I accepted this as normal, and even as something to be appreciated and soon fell asleep again to the refrain of their whistling, bubbling and gargling calls.

After coffee, we decided to follow a road that narrowed into a foot path and crossed to the other side of the island and to a small, isolated beach. I’d read the road got rough, but was surprised to find that almost as soon as we’d started walking down it, it fell away completely. Even the sand bags had been washed away and now only shreds of plastic burlap lay strewn here and there on the exposed rocks. We climbed back into the jungle. The path narrowed further and there was a crash as a large green and black snake fell from a tree just off the path. We watched as the snake, seemingly dazed by its fall, slowly glided away. I was thrilled; finally some adventure. There’s nothing I hate more than paying extravagant sums to be carted around to places already full of people. After the previous day, I was afraid that was all Koh Tao was going to be, but here we were on a narrow jungle path with snakes falling out of trees; I was thrilled. Gina, luckily, has the same independent streak and was also happy to be out on our own, although she wasn’t as happy about the falling snakes and large, bug-clotted spider webs along the trail.

We walked through the jungle talking about different things until we crested a rise and saw the Ocean through the trees. Coming down from the hills, there were remnants of an abandoned resort and we used the crumbing stairs and walked around the collapsing straw bungalows, the scattered boards and rusty nails. It was too beautiful to be believed, down the shattered stairs and through the banyan trees covered in sap and ants, was a clear stretch of white beach leading into crystal turquoise waters. From where we stood, I could make out the outlines of coral in the water.

We spent the afternoon swimming around, chasing after fish and diving down to point interesting things out to each other. We’d neglected to bring enough water, however, and had to go back earlier than we would’ve liked, but after two days in the sun and water, I was feeling tired out and the walk back through the shady jungle was gradually growing more enticing. There were some Russians down by the beach now, sunning themselves, we said good bye to them and climbed back up into the jungle. On the way back to town, we must’ve passed about 10 people all heading out to the beach; I was glad we’d decided to go when we did. It wouldn’t be Koh Nang Yuan but we wouldn’t have had the place to ourselves anymore.

We spent the later afternoon walking through the fancy resorts on the south side of the island, pretending to be guests, checking out the private beaches and using the bathrooms. After the freedom we’d enjoyed that afternoon, it all seemed very superficial, still, we found a nice place to watch the sunset. Our boat left at 9. It was much more crowded than the one coming in had been. We got back to Surat Thani around five am. All the vacationers got in taxis, but I knew where we were. We walked the pre-dawn streets home, sharing the roads with monks out in the morning begging for their breakfasts and the bicyclists enjoying the, relatively, quiet streets.

The sun was starting to come up when I got into my new bed for the first time and fell asleep. Outside, the same tropical birds were shrieking their fluid calls, but through the walls of the apartment and over the hum of the air conditioner, I barely heard them.

Sunday evening, we went for a walk down the main road that passes our apartment. The sun was setting and despite the usual high amount of traffic, there was a peacefulness in the air. Perhaps it was inertia from living in Latin America for three years where everything shuts down on Sunday. In Surat Thani, Sunday looks much like Tuesday or Friday. Buddhist countries do not seem to have a designated day of rest, but I had to return to work the following day, so it still felt like Sunday to me.

Further down the road, I discovered the businesses thinned out a little, allowing patches of jungle to break through; between buildings, here and there, an unplanned space would erupt with banana leaves and stray dogs. We passed a Chinese Temple and a few stores selling various cheap goods, like US dollar stores. The odor of the ubiquitous food stalls curdled the evening air in places and thinned it out in others.

A market had been set up. There were tables selling food, both prepared and raw, under a tent and others selling clothes in the open air. We walked first through the clothes and then, deciding we didn’t need anything, plunged into the darker area under the canvas where steam and clouds of flies were alternately rising and settling.

We stepped under the tent and found ourselves immersed in heat and odor. The tables were piled with sundry items and didn’t seem to be organized in any particular way. One table supported five bowls of Thai chilies. One bowl was filled with red chilies, another with green, one bowl only had smaller chilies and the one next to it was filled with larger peppers, but they were all the same chili; they just appeared to have been picked at different stages in development—like green and black tea. Next to the chilis, was a table with soups in big brass bowls. When purchased, these soups are ladled into plastic bags which are tied off with rubber bands, trapping the air and creating something like a soup-filled water balloon.
We were looking at a table covered in greens when everything stopped. I didn’t notice it at first and we kept walking and talking. We had protected ourselves with the natural means of all people moving through a large crowd: obliviousness. I probably would’ve kept walking had I not noticed one woman who looked so thoroughly frozen. She stood a few steps away from a table and seemed neither in the act of deliberation nor remembrance; mental acts which usually make people stop. It was clear from the way she was positioned she’d been on her way elsewhere until she suddenly found herself rooted here. Her features were not alarmed. She accepted her immobile state as through it were as natural as her earlier mobility. I looked up from the woman and saw an entire room almost brimming with mannequin stillness. Then, I noticed the music, the crooning pop had been replaced by a thin melody which sounded at once hypnotic and dramatic: the anthem.
We’d heard the anthem once before. We’d gone to the movies and, before the show began, the screen requested that we rise for the king’s anthem. Such a thing had never been asked of me before while at a movie, but I was in no mood to be contrary and when everyone else got to their feet, I followed.

It was one thing to stand for something in a theater where all you can see are the back of people’s heads. At a movie, the audience is already still, but a market is characterized by movement, robbed of this element, it changes its nature into something I’ve never seen before. It was like diving into an aquarium. A spectacle that we were at once part of and removed from.

In the west, when people are being reverent, they usually bow their heads. I looked around the room and found not a single head bowed. Everyone was looking straight ahead. Two women next to us almost seemed to have their eyes antagonistically locked, but I could see there was no enmity in their look—only the strangeness of looking at someone so long. All the eye contact made the place seem much more frozen rather than observant.

When the music stopped and switched back to pop, everyone began moving again; hands shot out to receive goods or hand over money, legs moved, heads turned. Life came flooding back into the market all at once as though stilled for a moment by a divine hand and then released. It was like a look at death.

We continued through the market, bought some garlic, watched a woman who’d been cutting meat pet a dog with her forearm, as her hands were covered in blood. We passed the skinned frogs and the roasted horseshoe crabs, considered large green bunches of unfamiliar plants and then left. In a moment’s time, we were outside and the market seemed almost cut away, like once again it had been stilled, only now we were away from it and its stillness was remote.

We walked on, past the rows of shops, glimmering in the evening with merchandise and light. We stopped in a dollar store and bought a roll of tape; we probably would’ve bought more if the place hadn’t been so strongly perfumed with naphthalene. Back outside, I blew my nose to try to get the clinging smell out of my nostrils.

We walked as far a Amphura Road, which, to the south, looks like a banana plantation. The sun had nearly set and I watched their bright and waxen leaves dip and rise in the night air. Like the leaves supporting a flower, these fronds sprang up around umbilical cords of suspended bananas, still coiled and green.

When we got back home, I returned to feeling out of place, like I was neglecting some task. I ignored the feeling and lay down to bed. Instead of curling myself up as I usually do, I tried to sleep unbowed, my chin and the tips of my feet pointing at the ceiling like one of the devout in the market—stilled, but only for a time.

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