Tai ruup dai mai? (Can I take your picture?) That’s one of the most common phrases we use so far on our journey. From kway teow soup stall owners to baby cyclists, we want pictures of them all.
At first, it was not easy to use the phrase (learnt, memorised and prepared for only because of our dear Professor Andrew Johnson) due to the fear of rejection that is usually not uncalled for. In Singapore, if you try to take a picture of someone, you’re either –
1. A nuisance
4. A pervert
They will never have time for a picture anyway; they are too preoccupied with their busy lives. It’s like waving a huge “Ain’t nobody got time for dat” sign in your face. Through the larger cities that we passed through, it felt almost the same. Who would trust a stranger to not do something creepy with their picture?
However, responses were totally different in the countryside and small towns. Each Tai ruup dai mai? was greeted with a Dai! Dai! They never say no. Parents shove their children at you, asking you to Tai Ruup while the kids stare in wonderment. People stop, get off their bicycles for a posed photograph, and also a conversation. albeit a slightly incomprehensible one. People invite you into their celebrations, serve you food, and command you to take pictures of them shaving a new intitiate (monk) from the family.
Of course we being foreigners plays a huge part of their intrigue and hospitality, but beyond that, I can’t figure out why. Are they simply showing their people, their cultures off to the world? Do they love the interaction with people who speak funky Thai? Is it the rarity of cameras and having their pictures taken? I, having always been a city dweller, cannot comprehend as of yet – and apparently, cannot imitate.
I was leading the group on a stretch of road when we were signalled to stop by a guy who parked his van in front of us. As I got closer he waved his point-and -shoot camera around with some pointing action – a universal, non-verbal Tai ruup dai mai? I slowed down, but then decided to ignore him and continue on ahead, leaving him in the dust of our chakrayans. In that moment, I thought he was all of the three things I listed above, and did not want to take the risk.
We’ve been taking and receiving a lot on this trip so far, although it has only been about a week. Hospitality, experiences, memories… And I couldn’t even give one guy with a van and a camera a chance to keep in a photograph the memory of meeting four touring cyclists on the road.
We’ve just taken a few pictures with the newly initiated monks, but these reside not in my camera, but theirs. Maybe that’s a start.