Thursday, December 18, 2008

Taking to the Streets

If I spend too much time in my apartment, crouched over my laptop, working with people in the States and Canada, I begin to feel fragmented and lonely, wondering where I really am. 

My apartment is Western enough in its appearance that it could be in Seattle, and my soi is quiet enough during the day that I could be on the moon. (At night, when the little street urchins come out to play, it's quite another story. I leave my windows open to hear their exuberant shouts, and to absorb some of their joy.)

My attention is completely gobbled up by news and emails and web content from the other side of the globe, and my thoughts rest there as well. When I go out to get food, I blink like a dazed mole, stripped of any sense of place, and I begin to yearn for the company of friends.

My best female friend Usa is in Sydney until April, my best male friend Rodney is in Idaho until the end of this month,  my two friends Mickey and Banana, who were always at their restaurant for a drink and a chat, now live in Pranburi. A woman who was becoming a good shopping/lunch/conversation friend was called by a family emergency to London until February.

When I lived in Bangkok before, my life was one big classroom, which means I was always on stage and always talking with people. Now my life is one big computer screen.

Unless I pull myself away from it--this is an essential survival skill, I've discovered--turning off my laptop, leaving my neighborhood, getting on a bus, and finding new neighborhoods or new things in old neighborhoods. 

Riding a bus puts you in a community that the faster, more efficient subway and skytrain do not. Bus riders are all in it together--the hygienic, rapid transit capsules provide privacy bubbles for every passenger. You see and hear people behave on the skytrain and subway as though they were in their living rooms. On the bus, people are in a new, temporary village--presided over by the conductress, headed by the bus driver.  And for the moment, all passengers live together.

On a bus, there is contact, fleeting, but very real, and the view from its windows provides ever-changing entertainment. The best buses take me to a destination I hadn't anticipated, the "mystery buses" that seem to change routes on the whim of the driver, although it's actually a result of my poor reading skills, or the ones I've chosen to ride to the end of the line.

It's a bargain--community, exploration, and therapy--all for around thirty cents US. I can't do it every day of course--I have work to do, appointments to keep--but every three days or so, my prescription for disorientation and missing my friends and family is to take two buses and keep my eyes open.


Tokyo Ern said...

That's pretty much how we decide our neighborhood walks. We pick some neighborhood we've never been to and just start walking around. Of course Tokyo being the giant megalopolis it is, there really isn't that much contact with locals. I miss the old yatai (Japan's outdoor food stall) that was a little world in itself.

Kim said...

There are days when I make sure not to turn on my computer. I read, bake, walk, or just stare out my window ... and it makes all the difference in the world.