A Place Where Everything Is For Sale. Everything.
The Chatuchak Weekend Market here in Bangkok is the largest market in Thailand - some claim in the world. Today, I stopped by to see what it was about. It was overwhelming, huge, jaw-dropping.
Everything and I mean everything you can think of is for sale there. Low quality to high-end. Parakeets to chandeliers, high-end art to a cage full of snakes.
It is everything you expect from Thailand. Light. Dark.
The market has an undercurrent, though. I’ve written a few times about feeling like this city has a dark sticky river flowing under it. A river you don’t want to know about about, don’t want to get caught in, constantly know is there. As I walked through Chatuchak, I could feel it, stronger - the surface much closer than usual. And then I sat down for lunch.
I was pointed to a plastic stool across from a Dutch gentleman. We got to talking as we waited for our food - a kao pad khie for me, a pad ka pao for him.
He works for an NGO that focuses on child trafficking.
And suddenly, everything else falls away. We all try to focus on work that matters, that makes the world better. But what he’s doing, day in and day out, is take on the real dark parts. The parts of humanity we don’t want to look at, or believe are real.
He and the folks at his organization wade into that river, sticky, every day, and pull people out. Yes, it seeps into your skin. Yes, it’s hard.
Listening, I got the sense that he has to put a substantial effort in every day to believe that people are still good. There were, of course, the bureaucratic struggles all non-profits and NGOs face these days - the changing face of funding, the continuing recession in Europe and other places, and the balance between doing good things and spending enough time telling people about them that you can have the funding to keep doing them.
But there were deeper, stickier stains. “Some of the things you see,” he’d say, and then shake his head. It was clear that neither of us wanted to delve any deeper. These were things you couldn’t unlearn.
This is earth, this is humanity. These are some of the things we do.
I was brought back to this powerful article for holocaust memorial day. (If you haven’t read it, please read it. It’s three minutes, and it’s worth it.)
We look around, at our cars and our buildings and our youtubes, and say, “Yes, look at us. We are civilized, different than the other animals, advanced.”
But the edge is thinner than we’d like to admit.
And past it, that abyss — goes deep.