Sunday, October 31, 2010

Postcard from Penang

The hills behind my building are where the storms roll in and as clouds begin to crawl down their slopes, I begin to think of hillstations and Somerset Maugham and gin on the veranda and malaria. They are green-covered; they look uninhabited and very, very nearby, so today I went off to see how close I could get to what appeared to be a place that could harbor tigers and the bones of Jim Thompson.

What I found was mint-chocolate ice cream that pretended to be gelato and suburbia that wouldn’t disgrace any residential community of Dade County. One-story cement houses with low-pitched roofs behind hurricane fences with paved yards had me ready to cut my throat within five minutes. They boded ill for what would be found on the hillsides, and I remembered the slopes of slightly grander suburban domiciles that I was shown when searching for a home in my first week. As I turned back and trudged down the empty sidewalk toward my home in Symphony Park, I realized how grateful I would have been in Bangkok for that amenity and tried not to wish for the community that would have clogged it solid on Chokchai Ruammit.

In my neighborhood on the edge of Georgetown, there is very little garbage. The food vendors probably thrive on gossip but they are discreet in their observations. They share a public dignity that isn’t unfriendly but is definitely unobtrusive. Thailand’s slapdash entrepreneurship seems a universe away.

And I do not miss it, but I miss people—the coffee guy with his baby, Nim and her Burmese assistant, the songtao driver who looks like Carabao, Victor, Don, and Jerry Hopkins, wonderful Nana, Khun Anusorn at the Villa Bookazine—and of course the damned cat.

Kinokuniya and grilled chicken I would import in a heartbeat given the chance. And the riverboats. Definitely motorcycle taxis. Cute shoes and handbags, but I can bring those back here, given the chance.

I don’t miss the selfish, greedy, cruel politicians who are ruining the country, or songtaos. Or the pervasive grey of dirty concrete, or the condos that are taking over the neighborhood in my corner of that city.

I will make a life here in Georgetown, at least for a year. But at the moment, I do not think I will find a home.

I know if I went out right now and got on a bus and went to the Indian section, I would immediately feel happy. But I don’t want to use that panacea up too fast because I need it to buoy me for eleven more months in this place.

And then? Beijing? Mukdahan? Who knows? Three months ago I had never been to Penang and now it’s my address—a long way from Anchor Point, Alaska.


Dr. Will said...

No blame, no shame, if you change your mind and come back home. Even with our follies and foibles, BKK has a warm niche for you.

janet brown said...

You know, I know that Bkk will always be a home in the world for me. Thank you, Will!

Kristianne said...

Home seems to be the most complicated concept. I look forward to hearing more about your relationship with your new place.

janet brown said...

Weird but what I'm exploring isn't blog material--it's still on the same subject though! We'll see what comes of that...