Saturday, March 22, 2008

Have A Nice Day

The longer I stay in Thailand, the less exotic it seems. Even some of the objects and images in Bangkok taxis are starting to look too familiar.

Occassionally, that feeling of "the exotic" returns. Yesterday, on my way home from work, I momentarily had that feeling. In the taxi, facing the driver and next to a sacred bodhi leaf laminated in plastic, there was a striking image of Buddha in an elegantly shaped frame. I assumed it wasn't from Thailand because of the style of the Buddha. So, I asked the driver where it came from, and he proudly told me it was from India, and that it was given to him by his close friend.

I sat there, staring at it, mesmerized by its beauty. From where I sat, it looked antique, and I imagined his friend buying it from an old Indian man in a market in Delhi. And, maybe he did. But, as my imagination ran wild with images of spice markets and snake charmers, the driver handed it to me, and on the bottom part (previously concealed under the edge of the dashboard) there were bold letters, in English, spelling out, "Have A Nice Day".

While it struck me as funny, I also felt let down. The object that I had originally revered as a sacred artifact had turned into a tacky souvenir with a cliche' message. Rather than continuing the journey in my mind to the old Indian market, I was directly transported to a bland, all-too-familiar place in middle America. I tried hard to convince myself that the message was perfect in a taxi, and that the printed phrase gave the object a hint of Bollywood and a bit of colorful Indian-style kitsch. But, I just couldn't shake my feeling of disappointment.

So, then I started to think about why it's so important to me to seek out exotic things. Why do I crave it so much? Yesterday, it may have had something to do with wanting to break out of my usual daily routine and experience something completely different. I wouldn't say the discovery of the "Have A Nice Day" message ruined my day, but, in my case, it didn't quite have the positive effect that was intended.