F.U.S. Files: Thai Bus Stop, Lying A-holes, and Birdsong

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I have yet to see a bus stop in Thailand that has any useful information on it beyond the route numbers of the buses that stop there. No mention of the previous or next stop, no map of the entire route, no list of big intersections, subway stops, or sights served. In some cases, there’s nothing written at all. If you want to know how to go somewhere or how often the bus comes, you have to either ask a local (good luck) or hope there’s a tourist info booth nearby.

To some degree, it’s fair to chalk this up to the fact that less-developed economies still rely more on commonly held knowledge conveyed by word-of-mouth than on systems of government standards. For example, South Korea, one of the richest and most technologically advanced countries in Asia, didn’t even have a country-wide street address system in place until 2011. Taxi drivers navigated by well-known landmarks like department stores, apartment complexes, or markets. Even after the official implementation of the nationwide address standards, the post office insisted that I write my address as “Daegu City, Bokhyeon District, Woobang Town Apartments, Bldg 105, Apt 1303,” rather than as “Daegu City, Bokhyeon District, 84 Gonghang-no Street, Bldg 105, Apt 1303.” No surprise then that Thailand, with a per-capita GDP only about 1/3 of Korea’s, has yet to formalize the exact name and location of every bus stop.

And yet, something in that explanation seems a little lacking. Clearly, the bus drivers know where to go; they probably won’t get their paychecks if they don’t follow the prescribed, established routes. The passengers know where to get on and which number to take. And somebody has even built bus stops. With seats, and walls, and rooves. And plenty of room for useful, relevant information…such as advertisements.

Of all the bus stops I’ve come across in Thailand, not a single one tells you anything pertinent to your ride. But they do have plenty of space devoted to the art of trying to sell you “things you don’t need and can’t afford that are overpriced and don’t work.” [George Carlin, at 6:00 or so in this clip. I won’t spend any time defending this definition since there are plenty of books and documentaries on the subject by people much smarter and more elquoent than me.] I guess this isn’t a new situation; as long as I can remember, I’ve been exposed to billboards, TV commercials, catalogs in the mail, cereal boxes, and who knows how many other forms of advertisement. Still, this one seems like a pretty flagrant instance of private companies being permitted (invited, expected) to use public space for their own profit.

On a personal level, I don’t see anything to be done about this except to ignore as much of it as I can. If something is being recommended by a celebrity, or shown in the posession of someone with a nice smile or sexy body, or being demoed by someone who speaks a mile a minute, or even being shown in public, chances are I don’t need it. It’s easy enough to leave the getting suckered to the suckers.

Then one day it occurred to me that I had essentially made peace with being constantly surrounded by lies.

It was probably on the day that I read chapter three of Culture Against Man by Jules Henry:

“This kind of thinking – which accepts proof that is not proof – is an essential intellectual factor in

our economy, for if people were careful thinkers it would be difficult to sell anything. From this it

follows that in order for our economy to continue in its present form people must learn to be fuzzy­

minded and impulsive, for if they were clear­headed and deliberate the would rarely put their

hands in their pockets; or if they did, they would leave them there. If we were all logicians, the

economy could not survive, and herein lies a terrifying paradox, for in order to exist economically

as we are we must try by might and main to remain stupid

Most people are not obsessive truth­seekers; they do not yearn to get to the bottom of things; they

are willing to let absurd or merely ambiguous statements pass. And this undemandingness that

does not insist that the world stand up and prove that it is real, this air of relaxed woolly­

mindedness, is a necessary condition for the development of the revolutionary mode of thought

herein called pecuniary philosophy. The relaxed attitude towards veracity (or mendacity,

depending on the point of view) and its complement, pecuniary philosophy, are important to the

American economy for they make possible an enormous amount of selling that could not otherwise

take place. (pp 49-50)”

After reading that, the whole enterprise of advertising took on a much more nefarious tone for me; I began to conceive of it not as a personal annoyance but as an omnipresent societal problem. The primary sensation was no longer one of merely being tricked into wanting things that weren’t good for my health or finances. It was of being trained to accept that our whole economy – indeed, lifestyle – are based on deception and misinformation. Every day, I felt I was developing expertise in turning a blind eye.

Imagine if the friend you ride the subway with to work every day insisted on pointing out the fallacies, inaccuracies, and devious aspects of every advertisiement he saw. How quickly would you tire of him, label him a curmudgeon, tell him to stop pointing out things that everybody already knows? Indeed, I already hear my imagined readers muttering the same things to themselves about this very post.

I’m not offering any solutions here (another line of Henry’s: “It is also argued that whoever criticizes without making suggestions for improvement ought to keep quiet. This seems to me like saying that a person who cannot make a roast should say nothing about one that is served burnt.”), though I do think that my whole blog/trip/lifestyle can be interpreted as an attempt-in-progress to deal with this problem, and others like it.

So, uhm…how about a poem that’s tangentially related and may explain why I find cycling – in particular, the way cycling makes it easy to get out into the countryside without having to worry to much about where exactly to go, how to get there, or how to get back – so splendid?

The poet is a Korean who goes by 철수 (Cheol-soo). It, along with a bunch of others, was given to me by my friend Mina before I left Daegu. I’ve been distributing them randomly to hosts and friends, throughout the trip, taking a few minutes to read them before I give them away. This one struck a chord.

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거짓말을 듣고 있기도 힘들다.

Even just hearing lies is tiring.

눈보다 먼저 귀가 열린 새벽, 새소리에 잠깨다

On a morning where my ears open before my eyes, I awake to birdsong.





거기 어디 거짓말 한마디 있는가?

Does it contain even a single word of untruth?

새소리에 귀도 씻고 마음도 씻고

In birdsong I clean my both my ears and my heart.

뜰에 나서니 모처럼 쾌청!

As I step out into the yard – ah, so fine!

좋은 날이다.

It’s a good day.

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