As before, this is only part of the story, one of many I have written since moving here. But as I do not know who owns what I post on here…and also being a shy and vulnerable writer, I post only parts of each story. Here it is the basic intro and a section I particularly like. Enjoy!
Everyday I take a taxi to work and everyday I count what I see. I do this all the time, the counting thing, I do not know when I started or when I will stop.
Five students; 3 Japanese, 1 Korean and 1 Malaysian, sitting in 5 red chairs with 9 of the same going unused.
1 pen and paper; one blue carpet, one air con; one painting of a clown playing leapfrog with another brightly dressed clown.
I count these things while I sit and write this.
4 pends, 1 pencil, one towel on the lap of the Korean student for purposes I do not know.
I count, I do not ask why just how many. I want to count everything I see, everything in the world, just to know how much is out there in the world. This will never end there is no end. If I ever believe I have counted everything of one thing in the world, the world will just produce more. What we are is what we make and what we make will never end.
Can my ballpoint pen be unique if it is one of 4 million made in a factory in China last year? Just because I own it does not give it special status.
There are 7 billion people in the world. I began counting with this because it was the easiest, something I did not have to look up because I already knew it, and that seemed to be the most important thing.
When I started counting that is. It seemed important then. Such a big number for such a small place. There is a significance to that I am sure. But as more numbers add up while I count, that number shrinks in in my mind and matters less and less as the work continues.
Work, not fun. I do not enjoy doing this, the counting of all things in the world, seen and unseen by me. It is work to keep track , to try to imagine something so real as the number of pens made by a factory in China for a store from Japan that I visit in Malaysia but I do it anyway.
For something like that I use math, plugging in numbers that seem to make sense. 5 packages on the shelf at the Japanese store in Malaysia. Maybe 5 in the back of the store. 1 pen per package. 10 pens per store. 1 store in every mall in Kuala Lumpur. Google tells me there are 27 malls in the Klang Valley area meaning there are 270 of these pens unsold in KL.
Plus pens sold
Plus the number of malls in Malaysia as a whole
Plus the number of Japanese stores that carry the pen that are not in Malaysia
Plus the number of pens sold at stores other than the Japanese one I go to gets me to 4 million pens
Or there about.
Sometimes my counting is not exact. Sometimes it is a guess because it is something I can never know and I learned long ago, when I began counting the world and everything in it, that a man needs to know what he needs to know and be okay with not knowing the many things he will never know.
I want to have some idea, some guess about the number of pens, of this particular pen I am writing with so I did math based on guesses and came up with a number.
I am okay with that number being true and being vague and being a general concept which is that my pen is one of 4 million just like it; whatever value or conclusion I take from that is vague and ever changing at best.
Sometimes my counting is exact. I am on a subway train right now. There are 11 cars on the train. There are 57 people in my car. 7 got off at the last stop and 12 got on, giving us 57 people in this car, one of 11 in this train. All are sitting, except for one woman who stands even though there are seats available. There are 14 seats available. It is a big car. I can hear 3 different conversations with now.
Another stop. No one got on or off my car.
One of the conversations is in Chinese, Mandarin I believe, and two are in Malay. I do knot know either language but they are easy to tell apart.
It is tough to ride a train and count things as they go by.
3 got off at this stop, including the standing woman and the man sitting next to me who was reading what I wrote over my shoulder. One got on, a man, and stood at the opposite end of the train from where the woman was standing.
My stop is 6 stops away.
Back to riding and counting.
It is hard to count things as they go by outside the window but I must ry. Between the last two stops I counted 37 apartment buildings, 6 retail centers and 11 general commercial buildings. One day I stood on the observation deck of the KL Tower and counted every building I could see. I counted 1,509 buildings that one could describe as being tall, maybe 10 stories or higher, at least high enough to be clearly seen from me at a height of 300 meters or so.
This means there are a lot of towers in the world. I looked up the number. Not for the world, but for cities. There are over 14,000 in Shanghai. 3,251 in Bangladesh. Thousands in Thousands of cities. I lost count once I got north of 137,321. I rounded up to 140,350 towers of 10 stories or higher in the world, all filled with shops and offices and apartments, many people living many lives, never stopping to see that there is a whole other world in the building next to them, the building next to that building, and so on and so on.
I don’t stop to see those other worlds but I think about them. When I am counting. When my train is moving swiftly by them.
When I am sitting silently still in the taxi on the ride to work every morning, passing 107 of these towers and 1,581 of those cars.
1 off, 5 more on.
5 stops until mine
I count and I count. I think and I think; about counting, about all the lives passing me by. All the lives passing me by that are not mine, that can never be mine as they belong to someone else, and all the lives of mine that could have been, the lives of mine I see when counting, when I get to a certain time and place and know that at day 21,496 one life of mine died and another began; that the 67th taxi ride me is not the same as the 109th taxi ride version of me. All our lives, all that was and all that will never be float by us everyday. In the numbers I find them.
12 off, 17 on. We are at a transfer station.
4 more to my own.
There are 1,961 pandas in the world. I live in Malaysia, as do 9,821,576 Chinese people so it seemed like an important thing to know.
One day I was sitting at home, watching American TV shows on netflix and counting of course-the number of TV show episodes that have ever aired-when a cockroach scurried up from between the cushions and sat on the couch next to me. At the time I only thought it was a cockroach. I did not know it could fly until later, when I put it in a box, took the box into the hallway, took the top off and watched it soar down the hallway of my building until it stopped, landed, and scurried under the door of another apartment.
I think the cockroach just wanted to watch TV with me.
Sometimes I think that. The cockroach has never come back so if he wanted to watch TV with me it was a passing fancy of his.
1 got off.
3 got on.
3 is also the number of stops until my own.
I sometimes think the cockroach was as confused about his world as I am about mine and so he was counting too.
1 of everything.
He added them to the running total in his head and was happy to leave when I asked him to because he had more counting to do.
Sometimes there is a lot of space between stations. Sometimes there is not.
2 more left
After the cockroach left I started counting the insects in my head and with my computer because there are a lot of insects in the world.
Billions and billions
trillions and trillions
a number bigger than that. I don’t know how many bugs there are in the world. It bothers me, not knowing this. If the number is bigger than a billion, like a gazillion let’s say, then I would be okay saying “there are about 1 gazillion buys in the world” and be done with it.
Not knowing is okay. Not knowing how to say it, even if I did know it, is not okay.
The number of TV episodes is a big number too. I did not forget about counting them after the cockroach came. I just waited until I was done with counting bugs. I got a number and it is very big and it might not be right.
1 station to go.
And counting, because TV keeps happening. So do people. Being born, dying, getting on and off trains.
When I was younger someone told me that there were more people alive now than have ever lived and died since the beginning of time combined. That would mean that there have been about 13.9 billion people to have ever been alive.
I looked it up once and found it was not true. There have been a lot more people than 13.9 alive on this Earth in the total of time.
The train car is getting more crowded. Going the other way it is worse. I work on one side of the city and live on another side of the city so I cut through the middle on my way home.
Lots of people work in the city and live where I work so the trains going the other way are always more crowded. My train is leaving the station. There are 161 people on the platform, trying to get on a train going the other way.
There is not right way or wrong way to go, just one way and another way. People at work tell me I am going the wrong way, that I shouldn’t work so far from home and I am never sure what they mean. Or rather, why that matters.
Or why they care. It is not because they care about me, it is more an issue of general concern for them that people do things a certain way and if you live on one side of a city you shouldn’t work on the other side.
A city has four sides in terms of directions.
A city has many sides depending on how you look at it. Or what it is you wanted to see in the first place.