It’s a conundrum, the financial markets and the people maneuvering (or fumbling) into ridiculous amounts of wealth. Master of Financial Engineering, Adam Smith and his Wealth of Nations, Keynesian economic philosophy, and that’s just the basics. Which is why I can find solace in the simplicity of a Bangkok marketplace. It’s true, they speak a different language, but their guttural English makes more sense than the mathematical anomalies of derivatives. And the fact is, before there were stock markets, the gold standard, bonds, and all the other financial legerdemain of credit history and cards, there was barter and exchange. Give me a cow in exchange for x amount of barley. I’ll buy this land and give you a hundred shells for it.
The streets are lined with vendors, a variety of fruits on exhibition. Look there for the biggest watermelon in the world, look here for crates and crates of never ending bananas. That’s squash and basil that grant virility, those miniscule chili’s will make your tongue burst. Crimson shallots bleed blood while lemon grass and kaffir limes contribute to the international canal of curry flowing through the intestines of everyone passing through the city. Day and night, you can buy soda pop bottles and headless pigs. Hidden in the nooks of the thanons are the fraternity of merchants who sell rambutans that can make you look a decade younger and boil durian that make your hair grow back. They don’t hide their greed which might involve overpaying 10-15 baht, not billions on an unpayable mortgage or a pricey education studying- well, Friedman’s flat world.
It’s easy to think thoughts like, am I a failure because I’m not a billionaire like the 20 year-olds I read about in Fortune 500? They have a book on sale by Robert Kiyosaki that tells me I’m part of a rat-race in which I’m a sucker. I can’t deny it. I remembering reading somewhere how magazines were the economic bubbles in the late 19th century like dot coms were recently and green technology will be in the near future. How to get in, make money like those tulip merchants did before the Tulip Bubble where two-cents tulips were more expensive than houses? It’s depressing cause I’ve never even thought about those questions before. But nowadays, I have friends whose only mission is attaining money and fame cause they’re so desperate to become gazillionaire’s. Everyone else is doing it so I just gotta get in before they do, they share cynically, watching yahoo finance and reading up books on stock tips.
I feel like an idiot, Dostoyevski’s idiot, cause I’d just like to enjoy creating art and telling a story or two. And if I can barter for a cheaper chicken, I can feel a sense of victory for a day.
According to old Thai myths, if you want to scare an evil spirit, point a mirror in its direction and the reflection will terrify it. I stare at myself in the mirror, I stare at the digital marketplace of our generation that’s a thousand times crazier than anything in Bangkok’s bazaar. It should scare us, it should have us weeping and gnashing for change. But it doesn’t. Only time will tell what my proper response to that should be.
PETER TIERYAS is a visual effects artist for Sony Pictures where he’s worked on movies like Alice in Wonderland and I Am Legend. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Camera Obscura, Gargoyle, Pear Noir!, and ZYZZYVA.
ANGELA XU is an international photographer who enjoys taking photos of the obscure. Her photography has recently appeared in Anderbo and the Ramshackle Review.