Tuesday, February 26, 2008

IMAGINARY BROWSING IN CONCRETE PAWN SHOPS

We all know the old adage that, if we're lucky, five or six or maybe even ten people we know will be thinking about us on a daily basis, but what about the people we don't know all that much -- are they, too, worried about our welfare?

For no reason whatsoever this morning, while slowly strolling through the streets of Baguio I flashed back to an afternoon last fall, waiting at the Baguio City Immigration Office for my visa to be processed. Sitting across from me was an ordinary looking gent in his mid-thirties reading a book about Japan. A history book, I think it was. I asked him if he had been to Japan, telling him that I was leaving in a few days for that very place. He said no, he hadn't, but he'd always wanted to go there. He then took a look at my passport, saw that I was Canadian, and mentioned that though he was American, his parents were, in fact, legitimate, bona-fide, born-in-Montreal Canucks. He, too, had once had a Canadian passport, in fact, but over the years hed let his citizenship slide away.

From there we made small talk, the way you do with people you don't know. He was in the Philippines on vacation, the second or third time he'd been here. He was from Oakland, California, and he worked in his family's pawn shop. After a few minutes, my number was called, my passport was picked up, we exchanged good-byes, and that was that.

I haven't thought about that guy since last autumn, but suddenly, today, out of the blue, I remembered that conversation.

Which got me thinking:

What would happen if I wandered around the pawn shops of Oakland, California? There can't be that many, right? Let's say fifty, tops? (Though I could be aiming way too high or way too low in giving that estimate.) And if I saw him behind the counter, I would probably remember his face, though I can't for the life of me bring it back to mind right now. Would he remember me? Probably not. Would he even remember our encounter in a distant land? Hard to say. I would simply be another customer in his pawn shop, browsing for whatever it is people in pawn shops browse for. (I've never actually been in a pawn shop, I'm just realizing, so I'm not even sure what's available there: Jewellery? Dishes? Guns?)

We don't know the effect we have on other people. We can never be sure of who will remember us, or why, or for how long. Sometimes I'll remember somebody I forgot that I forgot -- somebody I met only briefly, in a store, or at a restaurant. A stray conversation.

Do they remember me? Do we need to remember those who we don't really know?

Probably not.

But the brain is a funny thing. There's so much gunk stored up inside, useless knowledge and random trivia, and memories sometimes, or actually often pop out into the air and then promptly dissolve as quickly as the fizzy foam part of the Coke in your glass.

Still.

Think about it: Somebody you don't really know could be remembering your face, your words, even your breath. And we have no way, ever, of knowing who is doing this, or when, or why.

I think it's actually cool to think that somebody random is thinking of us, for no reason whatsoever. It means some sort of impression has been made, a footprint in the sand of our collective consciousness.

The alternative is that nobody is thinking of us, and that would make for a lonely little life, wouldn't it?

1 comment:

Noi said...

Living with you for a few years I think I know you well enough to know that there are surely MANY people who have you on their mind each day. Of course, what they are actually thinking about is a different story.. "That darn Canuck...!"

Here's hoping that when you reminisce to chance encounters throughout the world, that your special moments with Mr. Ahn come up many times...