Readers' Submissions

Dreams of a Butterfly

  • Written by Anonymous
  • April 4th, 2013
  • 6 min read




Thailand has a way of making visitors from western nations very cynical. They experience double pricing, lies at stores / restaurants to avoid conflict, deception in the work place, and lots of lies told by women they meet whether it's online or at a bar. For a some of these people, cynicism is their solution.

But what do they give up in exchange for that clarity?

“ 昔者莊周夢為蝴蝶,栩栩然蝴蝶也,自喻適志與,不知周也。俄然覺,則蘧蘧然周也。不知周之夢為蝴蝶與,蝴蝶之夢為周與?”

"Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didn't know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi."

The above is a classic of Chinese literature questioning whether there's a difference between a man dreaming he was the butterfly or whether he's the butterfly dreaming of being a man.

A cynical person wouldn't have any doubt. He *knows* that the butterfly is just a dream. But what is he missing out on with that cynical certainty?

There's a great deal about life which is enjoyable only through self-deception. When reading one of the Lord of the Ring books, does it do the reader any good to be cynical about the subject? Of course there's no such thing as wizards or a land named Mordor. The reader has to suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy the experience for what it is. There are limits to what constitute a healthy degree of self-deception. It wouldn't be healthy to be so absorbed into the story and attempt to find the ring of power.

The poem of the butterfly dream challenges the reader over the concept of self. It's not important whether the dreamer is a butterfly or a man because the two are not mutually exclusive. When Zhuangzi thinks he's a man, he puts himself fully into that reality. When Zhuangzi thinks he's a butterfly, he enjoys flitting around. If a person insists on being exclusively one or the other, the man doesn't enjoy the memory of being the butterfly at all.

In the context of the experience of tourists and visitors to Thailand, does the cynical person who knows the going rate, insist on paying the Thai rates, and treats bargirls as a commodity really enjoy himself more than the tourist who immerses himself into the dream? I wouldn't think so.

Tolkien is a favorite author of mine, and I have read the Lord of the Rings books plus all the other ones published by Tolkien's estate – including the incomplete works and snippets. Did any of that extensive knowledge enhance my enjoyment of the movies? Not at all. In all 3 movies, I found myself constantly distracted by where the director deviated from the book. When the movie went off-plot, it annoyed me. When plot points were reinterpreted to make things more visually pleasing, it annoyed me. I waited to watch the final movie on DVD because I knew I would want to pause the movie to yell at the screen.

That's how I *enjoyed* the Lord of the Rings movies, and it was decidedly an inferior experience compared to people who never read the books. They simply enjoyed the movie for what it was, not what they expected it to be.

It's dangerous to be too absorbed in the dream, but it's a pity if knowledge/cynicism makes dreams unenjoyable. Warn people from destruction, but I'm in favor of letting people enjoy relatively harmless illusions. If people want to travel to the site in New Zealand where they filmed the movie – what's the harm in letting them?

And if the guy next to you really believes the woman decades younger than him really cares for him, let him enjoy the dream. If he thinks the woman is impressed with his hotel of choice and appreciates the view, what's the harm in letting him keep that illusion. If he thinks he's really "too big" and that she's impressed with his "girth", why not let him believe it? As long as he can afford to indulge in the dream, why make him wake up?

You wouldn't tell a young child that Santa Claus isn't real, right?

Let's see how it plays out.

Cynical repeat visitor walks by a go-go bar and ignores the greeter girls. He walks past the service staff and selects his own seat, maybe just his regular spot. Orders his usual drink, and closely inspect it to make sure he wasn't shortchanged on the mixer/liquor. Looking around the bar, he picks out the service provider of the night. No idle chit-chat for this person, he tells her matter of factly what he wants, how much he'd pay, and waits for her answer. If she's not agreeable, he moves on to the next girl or the next bar. Once a mutual agreement has been reached, he leaves with the service provider for a physical romp. She's paid; he's done.

Clueless first-timer walks by a go-go bar and the pretty girls yell out he's a handsome man. One of them reaches out and pulls him into the bar. Very nice to have a pretty girl grabbing him, that never happens back home. Once inside, he's soliciously escorted to a seat and orders his drink while his attention is focused mainly on the dancers. He can't even taste the drink, his mind is elsewhere. Girls come up to him and are interested in him, also something which rarely happens back home. Tips of 100bht, which are just piddly sums, make the girls so happy. He meets one girl's eye across the bar, and it's an electric connection. She can't keep her hands off him, and he can't pay the barfine fast enough to get her to the hotel. The girl is impressed with everything, the room and his gentleman-like manner. He has a fantastic experience and quitely slips a couple of 1,000 baht bills in her purse because it's completely worth it. He can't wait to see her again.

Now, which of the above seems more fun experience? The cynical realist or the clueless dreamer.



Stickman's thoughts:

I have often felt that the casual visitor enjoys Bangkok at night more than the expat. Ditto, the guy who speaks little or no Thai probably may be able to enjoy the nightlife more than the guy who is fluent and hears stuff said that really doesn't endear him to the service providers.