Last night at dusk I walked several hundred meters by foot to find a street market which extended as far as I could see in every direction. I didn’t know which way to go, so I chose to go left because that direction smelled the best – a vendor was selling what looked looked like waffles.
I followed this path, weaving around a dizzying array of people which seemed at the time to span the human spectrum. The tan 60 year old man with white hair, leather-like skin, and handlebar mustache walking by himself wearing sandals with arms adorned by navy tattoo’s; the Scandanavian girls with white hair walking around dazed and excited with more than an eyefull; the 30 year old businessman holding his wifes hand, wearing a yellow Polo shirt and khaki shorts; the wrinkled old lady wearing loose fitting traditional Thai clothes selling fresh squeezed orange juice; the tuk-tuk driver with the most unsightly tattoo’s you’ve ever seen, cigarette almost falling out of his mouth, eyes scanning for lost tourists; the lithe Thai students walking in a small group wearing¬† school uniforms – short black shirts and white button-up shirts. On the periphery of all of this are hundreds of vendors, most seated on blankets on the brick street, selling their wares – from incense, to sculpture, oil paintings, hand-woven cotton clothes, to street food.
As I weave between people in this busy scene just before nightfall, fewer and fewer foreigners come into my vision. Soon I’m in the local area, and moments after making this silent observation, I hear Thai spoken over a loudspeakers. I can’t understand a word so I continue on my path until suddenly everything around me stops. Only a moment ago everything around me was in motion, like a Bangkok intersection. But now, motionless. I stopped to collect more information about what was happening and looked around, using only my eyes, as I too stood motionless. People everywhere, in every direction, frozen in mid-step. Music played over the loudspeakers as I looked half a mile down the road to see that everything had stopped. It wasn’t as if everyone took a pause and just stood there, but more like a game where everyone had frozen in the exact position they were in when the music started. A Thai person next to me buying cigarettes still had an arm extended to hand a bill to a vendor while others were kneeling while looking at items laid on a blanket. I can’t describe the feeling, but the “Red Dress” scene from The Matrix came to mind shortly after what felt like the effect of the surreal punch to my gut had started to fade. Later I found that the song being played was the Thai national anthem. I’d heard it before, but like this.