Communication is an interesting animal. This entire trip has been just a huge lesson on communication, and I still hardly understand it - how and why it works; all its different mediums and forms; language, art, music. My adventure started in Thailand, where our group could hardly speak a word of the native language. We were quite lucky that many people in Thailand could speak english, even if only a small amount. Holding a conversation was difficult but often very rewarding. And words are only the beginning. In a place as destitute as Thailand, a smile can go a long way. Love can be shown in infinite ways. Our group from Discovery Church went to Bangkok and Mae Sai as servants, to love each and every person we might encounter, including eachother. I could feel that love from the very beginning. We acted as a family (a functional one to boot!) and our love was multiplied. This spoke volumes to the people we encountered. Verbal language was almost completely unnecessary.
During my stay in Thailand, I immersed myself in a book by Neil Postman entitled Amusing Ourselves to Death. It's a book about communication and the media we use, particularly in the states. Written in the mid-eighties, it is a criticism against our television-centered culture and compares modern discourse to that of our typographically-centered forefathers. The information from this book became particularly relevant in Thailand and Japan, where TV shows seemed to be harkening to an American style of entertainment and public discourse.
Language is often taken for granted, I feel. It's not until you are in a foreign and unusual place that you learn to appreciate common language. In Thailand, I was always accompanied by my english-speaking colleagues, so I was never in want for efficient communication. Once I departed Tokyo, though, I was on my own. On the flight from Frankfurt, I met a couple of Germans who could speak a bit of english. What a blessing. The rest of that evening was torturous as I rambled around Paris. I considered english-speakers godsends once I realized I had lost my French-english dictionary and phrasebook.
Even this morning, my last in Paris, Chris and I struggled in communicating with the security guard at the metro station and our cab driver (the cabby was also not familiar with German).
I'm now on a plane headed to London for a layover to Boston. So communication problems are a thing of the past for me. It is now someone else's turn. As I stood in line at the baggage check in, I could hear a group of French travellers brushing up on their english.
"Thank you. Hello. I'm fine. Just in transit. I love you. I like you. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. I'm good."
Some forms of communication are more subtle than others. Having spent the past three weeks in intensive musical study, I've been forced to confront music not just as a source of entertainment, but as a medium for communication and as an art form. Even before that, the evidence was formidable. When words failed in Thailand, music served as a common language. I couldn't speak a word to my sponsor child Nantakarn, but I could sing and play guitar for her and even got to hear HER sing. The same was true about the music teacher at the DEPDC, the boy who sold musical instruments at the "Thai Walmart," the children in the slums of Bangkok, and the young musicians in the Piazolla chamber group at Les Arcs. When our common bond was music, other language barriers seemed puny and irrelevant. Moreover, I found that when I played music, even alone, I had a voice. I had something to say. Like paintings and poetry, music is a form of expression, be it in the form of performance, recording, or composing. It is a chronological artform, to quote Stravinsky, an art whose canvas is a timeline.
In Mae Sai and the Alps, I encountered a whole different level of artistry. I saw the works of an Artist whose creativity, passion, honesty, integrity, and vision surpass all human understanding much less human practice. In fact, the creations of even the most accomplished and acclaimed Renaissance men pale in comparison. Such a term as "Renaissance man," if it could even be applied, would belittle and utterly insult an artist of this caliber. I mean this guy is seriously my Idol; and I'm coming to realize that even His creation is a huge cosmic message to me and to the rest of humanity.
To sum up everything so far, communication has been a topic of great relevance for the entirety of my trip. So it is entirely appropriate that I might have this payphone conversation with a boy on his way to London. Of course, it's not a typical payphone conversation by any stretch, but it is a conversation nonetheless. When I flipped those two phones, I made a statement. When he got up and undid my flippage, he was making a statement of his own; I can only speculate what that statement was. Is he of a conservative nature, not appreciating my tampering with the status quo? Or is he instead a dualist, creating a yin to my yang by leaving one phone still upside down? Was it an act of vindiction, or was it a repetition in solidarity? Disdain or admiration? Perhaps i'll never know. But that doesn't bother me so much. At least I've made an impact.
(This journal entry was originally called "On the Flippage of Phones, Part 1". To read part 2, which has been renamed to "On Flipping Phones" click here!)