In Britain, if you're middle class and between the ages of 19 and 25, you have to complete a compulsory two months back-packing excursion to South East Asia, as part of a new government incentive to help citizens 'find themselves'. With Thailand's impeccable history of human rights, glistening temples and under-age sex trafficking, it's no wonder the country is quickly becoming the tourist hotspot of our era.
Thailand is of course a phenomenal country. A never-ending voyage of jungles, winding roads, fantastic people and constant adventure. It's pretty much the same as Leeds or an acid trip in Kew Gardens.
Leeds city hall at night
It's also a great place to escape the world. If you want to hermit away there are hundreds of isolated beaches and petrol stations to nestle yourself in. However no matter how hard you try, you can never escape one thing. That being the pretentious droning gurgling sounds of a well-off backpacker who's just come back from a village after staying with a family, and is bloating at the eyes to tell you all about it. His name is Benji.
Every time you bump into a Benji he appears to be the same person cloned repeatedly and draped in slightly different clothing. The custom ripped jeans, showing enough knee to be interesting but not enough to be useful in a hot climate, the sleeveless shirt that he spent 2 days kicking around his room to make it look 'worn' before his flight and the bracelet that he bought from Camden Market to keep him safe, which ironically had been hand woven by the kid sitting next to him.
Why is he photographing me?
Benji has just returned from an organized trip in which he spent three days in a mountain surrounded by locals and enjoying the relaxed village lifestyle. An amazing thing to do and one that will certainly help re-evaluate his life. However, how warped is Benjis view on the reality of his stay?
Benji recalls sitting around a fire, eating with a family, watching the children play and trying hilariously to catch a chicken. Picture you're part of that family. What Benji has essentially done is wandered into your house and then given your dad £5 to be allowed to sit in the living room, eat your dinner and stare at your younger siblings. Because the country is far far away from Benji's hometown it somehow seems normal, however if he popped over to the Isle of White and tried it out I'm pretty sure he'd get his legs caved in.
"One day, when you're all grown up, you can go and stare at Westerners..."
Something mysterious happened to Benji during the course of his flight too. During turbulence his brainbox got a shunting and in his mind the word 'poor' was replaced with 'beautiful'. Benji is now sat opposite a field watching 40 people slave away in a hot sun. They're exhausted, over-worked and trying to survive. Benji thinks they are beautiful.
He recounts his travels over his 8th bucket of vodka and bleach, to tourists who don't speak English:
"Oh man you should have seen them, there was this one guy he was just so amazingly peaceful, he was just raking the land, he was so [poor] beautiful. It was amazing, and I was just looking at him, and he was looking at me, and we felt a connection"
Benji has spent the best part of two months staring at a guy doing his 9-5. The same as peering through a window at Simmons Bakers, or nursing an ale at Wetherspoons all day whilst leering at the waitress.
It's exactly the same as if someone from Thailand came over to Wiltshire, stood next to a farmer and stared at him for hours and hours. Farmer Ted is baffled, but none the less continues milking his cow, whilst the tourist quietly whispers to himself 'Just... beautiful'.