In Bangkok it's almost 1 a.m. In Seattle it's almost 11 a.m. yesterday. Still on Seattle time, my mind is wide awake, buzzing with thoughts and plans for the day that won't begin here for another five hours.
Pico Iyer, a man who has spent huge amounts of his life perfecting the art of continental drift, urges his readers to explore jet lag, to accept it as the legal drug that it is, and to relish the opportunity it gives to see our lives differently. The cool, dark silence of my neighborhood as it passes through midnight is an unexpected treat, and in it my thoughts slow down, freed from the goldfish- darting that daylight brings.
During one return to Bangkok, many years ago, I woke up rested and ravenous, heard noises downstairs and knew that my housemates were up early, preparing for the day. I showered, dressed, and went down in search of coffee, finding instead my friend Scooter on the sofa sleepily watching tv, with the hands of the living room clock at 2 a.m.
This is a temporary state of being and I like it. I like the enforced relaxation of airplanes and being rocked into a weird quasi-sleep by light turbulence. I am particularly fond of arriving in Bangkok at night and walking out of the airport's artificial chill and glaring light into deep warm darkness.
What is not pleasurable is standing in line at the airport of one city that has claimed me, with hours to go before I resume my other life in Bangkok. All of the reasons why I have spent so many years in Seattle are at the front of my mind after spending wonderful time with my family and my friends, and the reasons why I am now in Bangkok are so deeply obscured that when a Thai friend asked me what I ate in her country, I was unable to name meals that I ask for every day of my life in Thailand.
Feeling homeless as I leave one home for another, I think of leaving the line of travelers, walking back into my old Northwest life of people I love, finding a bookstore job, setting up housekeeping once more in a Chinatown apartment. At this point, my home in Bangkok feels as hazy as these vague possibilities, and the only real and fixed point for me is the knowledge that I am leaving people who are so much part of me that I feel as though I'm going through amputation. Yet there is that airticket...
So I pass through the line, say goodbye to the two men I love most, buy gum and water and magazines, get on the plane, and bite the inside of my cheek hard to keep from crying. Fifteen hours later, I walk to a taxi that will take me to my bed, and the thick moist warmth of Bangkok wraps around me like a blanket and welcomes me back.