I found Joy in Bangkok, at a coffee shop, in a soi off of Thanon Pra Athit, a young man about my age, maybe a year older.
While all of the other waiters showered attention upon me, he was slow to open up. They said I was a curiosity to them. Not Thai, but not farang. Most were chatty but bland. But Joy was different.
It took awhile, but after some time he talked. Curiosity got the best of him I guess. His first words... "You and me look same-same. You same-same like Thai people."
I had to smile at that. Just the night before, I'd seen a tee shirt at the night market. A black tee with thick white letters on the front that read: Same Same. At the time I'd wondered what that meant. I kind of had an idea of it's meaning now.
At first Joy apologized to me for not knowing english so much. I only smiled and nodded. But after a pause I apologized for not knowing Thai at all. I think that broke the ice, because an hour later, I'd learned much about this young Thai. I learned that in fact, we were not same same, and that besides our age, we had nothing in common at all. The life of an average Thai is unlike anything that I thought I understood.
Upon my arrival in Bangkok, I took note of the many young people around my age living here. I thought that we may have much in common, but now I just feel simple and ignorant saying that. Because it wasn't until after I found Joy that I realized where the line of similarities was drawn, and where a world of difference began.
Joy was a baby when his papa died. He and his sister were raised by his mama and her family in a northern province of Thailand called Isan. At the age of 14, Joy moved into the city, 9 hours away from his home, to find work. He never finished school. "I'm not student." For ten years he worked at whatever jobs he could find. On the streets of Bangkok at first, and eventually working from dishwasher to cook to waiter. This is as good as it gets for him, and for 3 bucks a day, six days a week, Joy is able to pay for himself and his family and make enough for them to live. The only time off he has to go home and visit is once a year during a five day buddhist festival. He drives the 9 hours home by motorbike, and drinks away his time-off with his family and friends, before heading back into Bangkok to work for 72 bucks a month. His sister managed to somehow move to France, the details were intentionally vague, but she became pregnant while there, and she returned home to Isan, Thailand with a half-farang baby, and without a husband.
In the middle of our broken english conversation, I began to wonder how much of Joy's story was the truth, and how much of it was embellished to gain the sympathy of just another well off visitor. But I realized that I didn't care. In any case, his story was enlightening, and he never asked me for a handout, for money nor any contact information. It was just a conversation between two people who, at first glance, looked the same. Nothing more, just a conversation for comparison.
Joy pointed to one of his fellow workmates who walked by, "She from Bangkok. She student, live with mama and papa. Me her not same-same." And there it was again. His simple phrase to compare the situations of two very different people.
I began to understand what he meant. In this world you may find someone whom, on the surface, may seem to be the same as you are. But if you scratch a little deeper, you'll find a world of difference.
Surprisingly, we finished our conversation on the topic of politics. Joy told me of the Thai Prime Minister, Taksin, who is currently instituting new laws that will alter the face of Bangkok. This was a concern for Joy. It meant a lot of change for his work future. "If no work, than only die. I die... family die." Truth or not to this tale, there was a deep sadness in his tone.
I wanted so much to tell Joy about the true security soon to come... for both his family and worldwide. But I didn't. I held back. I walked away from the coffee shop hit with the realization that I was in a world that I didn't yet understand, and to try and speak to a man in this world on an equal level would only cause more confusion. I was afraid I would seem simple minded in my assumptions. I left Bangkok that night, and I never told Joy the truth, that one can live a satisfying life despite whatever challenging circumstances. Ultimately, I've thought about it, and I regret that decision.
But maybe when I go back to Bangkok, I can find Joy again.