I’m due to first meet Jack at a cafe in Dusit – an area of Bangkok I’ve never been before and one I’m not familiar with. I’ve come prepared, with the address printed, some instructions and google maps in hand (albeit in Thai), but as the taxi sails past gated army headquarters and austere government buildings, I’m not confident – and it seems the driver isn’t either. So, with no common language between us, I phone Jack’s friend, Lek, to translate and give directions.
From talking to the driver, Lek knows exactly where we are and clarifies – turn left ahead, then a right, then straight on. “It’s no problem”, she tells me confidently. As I check the street signs and map again, it’s not my lame sense of direction that has me bemused and embarrassed, it’s the fact that Jack and Lek are both blind and can navigate this taxi better than I can.
When I reach Jack and Lek they greet me with warm smiles. Jack has the look of a classic rock and roll dude – dressed in double denim and replica Dior sunglasses. With his sleek dark hair, he’s a little bit Roy Orbison, a little bit Nick Cave, yet his voice is soft, his manner shy, and his laughter frequent and gentle.
On the short walk to the cafe we link arms – with me guiding them past the hot woks and steaming trolleys of street vendors and over broken bits of pavement. I’m tentative and cautious, but for Jack and Lek this is nothing special – just part of life as a blind person in a big, heaving city like Bangkok.