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août 1, 2014

Copulation (and octopuses)

Wonder,

Before talking about octopuses (and conpulation), I want to confess that there are really a lot of things I don’t understand in this world. Half the time, I wander around like somebody who just got here and hasn’t figured out the rules yet.

I do my best to not make this so obvious, of course. I look calm, self-possessed, slightly reserved. A normal guy, who knows his stuff. I wear clothes, I can hold a conversation. I know how to drive, I exercise, I vaguely seem to have a job of some sort. I wear glassses, which seems to suggest that I see things clearly.

This fall, I’m even giving a lecture. Sounds pretty credible, right?

But if you scratch the surface, usually I am lost in a mystery. When things are going well, I’m just at peace with the fact that I don’t know what’s going on. I love the mystery I’m bathed in, I savor it, I dive in relish.

When things go less well, I’m under a spell called fear. What if I’m screwing everything up because there’s some fundamental rule I’m ignoring? What if my ignorance / incompetence / insignificance in this swirling, noisy world condemns me to eternal suffering?

What if life is passing me by, just because I didn’t understand the game?

Maybe you can explain it to me. Unless you are as dumbfounded as I am. Unless you, also, have the impression that you just boarded a bus in Thailand.

Life is a bus in Thailand

I was there in 2010, in this wondrous country where no foreigners speak the language — all the better for the Thais, who can speak without being understood by the tourists.

Our hosts were so charming and (usually) benevolent that we quickly learned to relax. To enjoy just being there, letting it all hang out.

Even my daughter, nine years old at the time, was dramatically emboldened during our one-month stay. On our last foray into Bangkok, I was amazed to see her scampering a good dozen steps ahead of us, slight but self-assured, in the dense and motley crowd. It was beautiful — and a far cry from the fear she felt during our first excursions in the chaos of this tropical city.

After a month, we were more relaxed… Even though most of the rules of this world still escaped us.

Cultural subtleties

bus2

For instance, take this bus we got into. I never did understand why the company chose to put certain stickers on the back of the bus. But I can try.

First, no copulating. Well, okay. We can all go without seeing folks copulating in the back seat of a bus. I mean, enough already.

Farting too, frankly. You can hold it till we arrive. Or do it silently. (I think the illustration suggests it’s forbidden to break wind really loudly, the kind that leave a cloud of gas behind, whereas the silent ones are a-ok.)

With the other two signs, it’s more difficult. I try to imagine the conversation between the boss of the company and the illustrator hearing his orders.

No mangoes allowed? No mangoe-cutting? Durian eating strictly prohibited?

And the other one: Squids are forbidden? Carrying an octopus? No octopusing aboard?

No talking to an octopus?

What would happen if I took a squid out of my bag? Or started farting loudly in the back of the bus? Would they stop the bus and call the police? Or would they say “that poor stupid tourist, he doesn’t understand anything, let’s just ignore him”?

How are we to live life, make good choices, if we can’t even know what to do with our octopus, and whether or not we should be ashamed of bringing it with us when we travel?

I tell you, Wonder, I don’t understand the first thing about life. Way too complicated. Trying to understand the rules raises too many agonizing questions.

My bus

I’d rather stick to the few things that I can be sure about and that, by their nature, cannot be disputed by anybody else: What matters to me. What I want. What I love. What I want to create.

Which may very well be as arbitrary as forbidding octopuses — except that I’m in my own bus. I’m the one making the rules here. If I decide to authorize the octopus, don’t you dare say otherwise.

In my bus, everybody can copulate on the back seat. Anybody can bring his favorite squid. Go ahead and eat mangoes, you’ll be fine. It’s my bus, dammit. And I love mangoes. (Probably would love durian, too, but haven’t had the chance yet.)

Welcome aboard.

Let’s create what we love,

Yan

p.s. Comments about the nature of the mangoe and the squid are welcomed…