You sleep at night! But it is not always true.
As far as I am concerned, too many times Morpheus’s inviting flattery has been too weak compared to the silence of a dimly lit road or the hum of an out-of-time neon light in the distance of the alleyway.
You sleep at night! But few times it actually happens.
During the night, I retrace the roads I’ve walked along the day to discover what I have missed, what I have not seen or simply what was not there yet.
Day and Night.
Two depths of the same surface, two extensions of the same size.
The clamour of the day in over-lit streets turns into hisses of silence that you feel vibrant in your ears. The steps that in the daytime were confident during the night become slow because you don’t want to miss anything: every window, every detail, every stain on the pavement. Your senses become sharper, and out of the corner of your eye, you even catch a glimpse of the cockroach scurrying along the wall at that instant. And you barely even say hello.
In Thailand, but I can extend the thought to all Indocina, the greeting is a national sport. We, the Westerners, are quick to say Hello, Hello, Hallo, Hi, …, a fleeting greeting because we are always in a hurry to do, to go, to disappear.
Sometimes even catch in the rush to know without bothering to understand.
Here, the greeting is not a hello. It is a wish that, depending on place or manner, could be translated as ‘may you be well‘, ‘may you have good luck‘, that you ‘… something…‘.
It is the attention of an instant towards others.
This does not mean that everyone here is pure and it is a great country. It is a country like many others, and the human being – in his weak and defective nature – does not cease to be one just because he speaks an incomprehensible language where accents and voice inflexions replace our vowels. But it is in the morning (and even during the night) that the harmony of this language lost in the millennia, forged by mysterious and ancestral dynasties, has the pure strength of the rising sun. Just receiving a greeting puts you in the position of wanting to answer in their language. Because that simple word has a sweet sound, it is harmony, and you feel they are wishing you well: SAWADEE.
And you, a white person who presumes to know everything of the world, as much as you try, you will never say it properly. But it matters little to them: you have wished them to have… something. And if you add to that word the gesture, the wài – the hands joined on your chin or chest – what you receive is not just a smile but pure energy that makes you feel lighter. Like an idiot.
You don’t know why, but you like it. And so you hope to do many things that day, meet many people, and have many experiences, so you can say to the first stranger who has had the misfortune to cross your path with your SAWADEE. And he, even if lost in his thoughts, will look at you without caring who you are. Then he will smile. And bringing his hands to his chest and bowing slightly, he will pay homage to you with his Sawadee krap.
And so, at night, where everything seems truer (cit.) I follow those lights and alleyways with their buzzing neon out of time. And eventually, I feel peaceful to have learned a new word that day.
Sawadee krap to the homeless man, but not without a roof for the night, who every morning on the banks of the Mekong waited for me to pass by to offer his greeting. To the market vendors, to the tuk-tuk men who used to auction us off for the price of the ride and to Nòi, who let me drive his own along the streets of Udon Thani, finding himself, for once, a passenger. To those who persisted in using improbable English and then smiled when you said thank you in Thai.
Sawadee ka to the waitress who dreamed of TikTok and filled me with beers even though I hadn’t finished it yet. To the guys who ask you for selfies, and you don’t even know where you’ll be posted. To the girl who wanted a photo by me that she will never use. To the gay singer with many qualities except that of his voice, capable of igniting a deserted square and an even emptier bar, capable of telling and recounting with the simplicity of a pure soul, I say: Sawadee krap
Sawadee ka to the sellers of sentiments consumed in the bars in those alleys so dear to me, to those with children, husbands who were dead, missing, or runaways. To the hospitable women, to the kind men, to the white Anglo-Saxon immigrants who fled their lands to change their lives and then found themselves crying in front of the television during the Queen’s funeral.
Sawadee ka to those of us who still believe that to tell a story, we must first live it. And looking each other in the eyes, slamming down mugs of water down beer, say Chokh dī
Good luck to you.