It’s finally here at last, I thought, although I was unsure if the application was one of the clones that were initially made available before the real version was launched, unexpectedly, across Asia Pacific countries.
I caught the first Pokémon in my bathroom, and, afterwards, wiped the water of my iPhone screen with a towel. I went outside, as the game required you to walk to get Poké Balls at a Pokéstop which, in Thailand, happen to be shrines in various locations across the city. I wore my Nike shorts and put on Nike trainer shoes which had been neglected ever since I bought them. I caught Pokémon while walking, I caught Pokémon while I was sitting on the back of a motorbike taxi in Bangkok. I used to be afraid every time I was on the back of a bike without a helmet, but I didn’t mind then because there were various Pokéstops that lay ahead of me.
I caught Pokémon when I was on the train. People had no idea what I was doing and I felt mixed up between the excitement (when encountering a new Pokémon) and embarrassed when I stopped in the middle of the platform to slide my finger across the middle of my iPhone screen to catch the new Pokémon.
Pokémon Go is a marketing tool. This I learned early on, from case studies in the US and Japan where it was launched a month earlier. I went to the shopping mall blossomed with Lure Module, a tool inside the game that attract new monsters to the Pokéstop where it was used. I sat in a Starbucks, right in the middle between three Pokéstops where they were heavily blossomed with Lure Module. I sat there, grabbed useful items such as Poké Balls, healing potions, etc. My boss had an urgent task, a huge fire at a cinema complex in Bangkok, where one of our businesses operates, causing one of our centers to temporarily close until the safety inspection was finished, and she asked me to craft a formal letter to inform clients. As I used to be a freelance journalist, I am always on high alert for urgent tasks and always take my MacBook Air with me every time I go outside.
I was catching Pokémon while writing the letter informing our clients that the building inspection wad underway. A monster showed up, I grabbed my phone and tried to catch it. It went away. This was the first time I learned that some Pokémon are more difficult to catch than others. The hashtag PokemonGoth started to dominate Twitter trends and my Facebook feeds were filled with pictures of my friends catching Pokémon in the toilets (a reasonable place and time to check your phone when you wake up.)
The letter was done and I sent it to my boss. By that time I had caught 80 Pokémon and had reached level 8. I left Starbucks and I felt the hype of Pokémon Go in Thailand accelerating with powerful force to outer space, like a spaceship freshly launched from earth. People stopped—in groups or in solitude—to find and catch Pokémon. I hit people, people hit me. It’s been fascinating during the first six hours, since the launch, we found solidarity in solitude and we’re all sharing the same goal. We wanna catch ‘em all.
Finally, my directionless weekend was filled. My brain started to function again. I stopped feeling embarrassed when I stopped in the middle of the crowds to catch Pokémon. In less than a week, it’s now no longer considered harmful when having lunch or dinner, especially dinner, when someone yells “Rat!” or “Caterpillar!” Everyone assumes that the person who shouts these animal names out loud is tired of encounters with the same ubiquitous monsters.
Weekdays, colleagues were bragging and held a small competition to see whose Pokémon Go avatar would earn the highest XP (Experience Points). I was in no doubt that I would be the easy winner because, being the morning person that I am, I started earlier than the rest of them. Less than a week I dressed like my Pokémon Go avatar to work. Less than a week I dethroned the gym owner at one of the prestigious office buildings in Bangkok. I stayed there 5-10 minutes top. But that didn’t matter. I knew I could do that again with the Pokémon I have.
Less than a week, things changed. Very quickly I realized how shallow this thing was (is). I am so addicted to the point that I have become bored of the game I want to start a riot. Yes, we should all conspire to stop playing Pokémon Go so when developers see the number of users drop then they will add the new features we’ve been waiting for. It’s a users against developer’s war. Why don’t we do this together? Right now and today. It’s the most Gandhi-like way possible I can think of. It’s the fastest way to get that PvP (player vs player) we want. I know that’s not going to happen so easily. I let my colleagues defeat me at the XP points.
On Mother’s Day, six days after the game was launched in Thailand, I woke up with a text message on WhatsApp from a foreign journalist friend. He asked me about the bombs. Befuddled with a head still full of bad Pomegranate Caipirainha from the previous night I texted him back with what most journalists fear the most, “What bombs?”
It was all over Twitter. Bombs went off in several tourist spots in the South of Thailand. Running right into trouble is one of my bad habits. I pulled some sort of strings to get an interview about the situation with the police captain from one of the troubled spots for the journalist friend. I also needed to pack. I had an urgent flight to catch and a new urgent job to do. I felt the journalist blood that was still left in me pumping, as I looked around my condominium room and at the life I’ve made for myself. This is what I’ve dreamed off. I am exactly where I want to be. A room with a city view, a comfortable writer’s cave, a kitchen, I earn enough to be able to buy pricey Moon Cakes from Dean and Deluca for my mom and her friends. I am staying right where one of the Pokémon Gym is placed and I am constantly the Gym leader. But why I am so astonishingly unaware of my own accomplishments?
I have to pack, I reminded myself. I have to correspond with this urgent task. The James Bond lifestyle I used to dream of. It took me longer to think about packing than to actually pack. I grabbed my phone and a Starmie showed up. I have captured many of this monster, but it’s shaped like star. So I want to catch it, no matter how soon I have to leave for the airport and that the Uber is waiting just in the parking lot of my apartment building, all can wait, I guess, because we all want to catch the star, aren’t we?